Katrina and I stepped under the pale stucco archway. To our left, tucked between the eastern and southern arches, stood a tall statue of Sekhmet, ancient Egypt’s lion-headed goddess. To our right, between the eastern and northern entries, was an altar covered in small representations of the Divine Feminine: Quan Yin, the Venus of Willendorf, Parvati. The flagstone floor glistened with desert rocks, sand, and small glass pebbles.
Above us, open sky beckoned beyond a dome of intersecting copper circles.
Gazing up, I realized I’d made an error. The small, open temple wasn’t cut off from the Mojave Desert surrounding it, but the feel within its walls was different enough, and familiar enough. Sacred space.
“Hey,” I said, looking back at my sister. “I need to take off my shoes.”
Katrina stepped backwards several steps. “I was thinking the same thing.”
The Temple of Goddess Spirituality doesn’t ask visitors to remove their shoes, and there were no shoe racks to be seen, but Katrina and I kicked off our sneakers and left them just outside the entrance. An internal relic of having been raised in Thailand: you don’t wear shoes in sacred space, or in anybody’s house. Even open to the desert in all directions, this stucco structure was both.
Katrina and I had heard several months before that the Temple of Goddess Spirituality existed about forty-five minutes outside of Vegas, and we’d each wanted to visit. I won’t speak for my sister, but I’ve enjoyed a lifelong love for sacred spaces, regardless of tradition. Cemeteries, long-disused ruins, stupas, wats, cathedrals, temples, chapels, shrines, well-loved trees fluttering with prayer flags—these are spaces I crave. There’s something about the accumulation of reverence: something deeply human, broadly intimate, universally connective.
This temple, built by activists, artists, and feminists in 1993 at the edge of the Nevada Test Site, and dedicated to a fierce desert goddess named Sekhmet, particularly interested me because of its eclectic neopagan open-heartedness. The land surrounding it was purchased from the US government by peace activist Genevieve Vaughan and deeded back to the Western Shoshone in 1992. Now a small portion of that restored land houses a sprawling pluralistic hub for any and all goddess traditions, providing space for anybody called towards any aspect of the Divine Feminine.
The grassroots nature of the temple’s existence appealed to me. Its blend of young traditions and ancient foundations—its syncretic approach—its remote location all intrigued me. This temple was not built hundreds or thousands of years ago, but during my own lifetime. The land was not consecrated by a legendary religious figure, nor was it the center of some critical New Age mythology. Instead, it’s a small oasis in North America’s driest biome, overlooking a swath of desert stolen from its original inhabitants and wounded and poisoned by nuclear testing throughout the mid-to-late 20th century.
No kings funded this temple’s construction; no popes or governments or widespread systems. Its very existence protests such institutions. Instead, the Temple of Goddess Spirituality grows like a pearl: through the gradual accumulation of art, meditation spaces, offerings, and human reverence.
Katrina and I didn’t know what to expect. Photos online fail to accurately capture any space in the best of circumstances. But we’d decided to go, Nevada summer notwithstanding, on the last Saturday in July—if only just to say we had.
At nine in the morning that day, Las Vegas roasted beneath a clear sky. By afternoon, the temperature would reach 107 degrees Fahrenheit, but for now, Katrina and I had beaten the heat by several hours. A mild 100 degrees would suffice for starting with, thank you very much.
“Turn left onto the 95-North and drive for an hour,” Katrina told me when I put her in charge of directions. “There’s nothing out there but the Goddess Temple and nuclear fallout. Not even a ghost town.” (This is not strictly true. There’s also an Air Force testing area and a medium-security state prison that once held O.J. Simpson. My sister lied to me.)
Significant navigational risks aside (and omitting the off-roading adventure resulting from my doubling down on a wrong turn), we prevailed. Two miles past Indian Springs, I turned my Prius onto a dusty gravel track and parked in a wide, empty space—vaguely parking lot-like, I thought—beneath a cottonwood tree full of ravens.
Grasshoppers and cicadas sang from the desert brush as we approached the temple itself, an open-air stucco structure gently rising from the coarse sand. Beyond the insects, the ravens, and one jackrabbit, Katrina and I were the only living creatures in sight. The sun sizzled across my shoulders the way it only ever does in the desert summer, a heat you can taste as it seizes you.
There’s something unnerving, being alone in an unfamiliar space. Even with all the signs welcoming the public, I proceeded slowly, taking in my surroundings, ready to be turned away for trespassing. But the desert sprawled in every direction, the sky arched over us, and nobody appeared to chase our curiosity away.
I was reminded of other times Katrina and I had ventured into spaces bridging the human and the wild. She’s seventeen months younger than I am, and in our shared childhood, we explored drainage creeks between our housing development and the fields beyond—empty neighborhood lots overgrown with honeysuckle—swampy spaces at the back of the playground, full of tadpoles and dragonflies and mysterious seeds.
But the Temple of Goddess Spirituality is an intentional bridge between those two worlds, not an accidental one. People inclined towards traversing worlds and witnessing wonders built the temple in the first place. Of course we were welcome.
And so it was we entered the main temple and realized we needed to remove our shoes. The sensation was immediate: reverence and sacredness thrumming at an unconscious level. This humble space pulsed with all the same energy as any other spiritual site I’d visited throughout my life.
We intended to explore, visiting the temple, wandering the meditation tracks, finding the various shrines across the desert grounds, admiring the ritual circles, identifying goddesses we knew and ones we didn’t. We’d hoped to find lunch before coping with a 107 degree landscape. But the feeling inside the stucco temple was too cozy and safe to resist. We pulled up some cushions and settled on the floor, and ended up staying for several hours as the sunlight slid across the flagstones.
In all my traveling, I’d never encountered a physical space dedicated exclusively to the feminine. Exclusively to the masculine, certainly—in many traditions. Spaces with room set aside for the feminine, even. But never something for goddesses alone. Perhaps I need to visit Greece. I certainly want to visit Egypt. But no part of me imagined that settling in Nevada would mean proximity to a site like this.
Sitting in the simple shaded temple among the world’s goddesses felt like Girls’ Night. As Katrina and I quietly chatted, enjoying the breeze drifting through the open arches, I enjoyed grasping that these mythological figures, these archetypes of the holy, these divine ladies related to human experiences in ways I deeply appreciated.
Gaea, for example, could surely empathize with the way some days of motherhood could bring my sister to exhaustion, with countless demands for resources and boons beyond sustainability. Others could relate to the lingering wounds of old betrayals. Still others knew the frustration of long-dormant talents going unappreciated.
When it comes to spirituality, I don’t believe in declaring what’s true and what’s not. I believe in participating in life as it comes. I believe in engaging the world. I believe in a pluralistic approach, in commonalities and subtle differences and shared grace.
It’s not often I find such kindred spaces as the Temple of Goddess Spirituality—certainly not within an hour of my front door. So many new questions to ask, and so little time.
Have you ever visited a remote spiritual site? What was your experience? Tell us about it in the comments!
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2 thoughts on “Temple of Goddess Spirituality – Cactus Springs, Nevada”
Two places come to mind, although there have been others. But the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery in Thailand. It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity. Rows and rows of identical headstones, surrounded by carefully cut, lush green grass, marking the graves of the mostly British, Australian,and Dutch POW’s who died building the Burma Railway. I was unprepared for the spirit that filled that place. As I walked the rows, reading the names of each man, I wept for the suffering they went through. I’ve never felt so overwhelmed by sorrow while visiting a cemetery, as I was there.
The second place was The Garden Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem. It was amazing. I definitely felt like I was walking on sacred ground. It’s not technically “remote,” since it’s in the city. But it is certainly remote from where I live.
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I didn’t know about the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, but it sounds really powerful. Amazing how those places can feel so strongly.
Thanks for commenting!