By Jackie Stone
The Cove Herald
On Saturday a tattoo artist will use black ink to fill in the crescent moon already outlined on Connie Nash's forehead.
For Nash, the prominently displayed tattoo is a symbol of her commitment to learning and helping others through the Temple of Ancient Wisdom in Copperas Cove.
"Anybody can look at me and ask me what it is and know I can help them if they want," she said. "It's like a beacon."
The tattoo on the foreheads of the temple's leader mar three years of study that include meditation for self-transformation and several religions.
But Saturday is not only a special day for Nash. It also marks the beginning of the temple's 10th year in Copperas Cove. The temple was incorporated under its name Dec. 19, 2000.
Rafaela Jorge-Smith, who started the temple out of her home, said the biggest change she has seen in almost a decade is what she can see now that she couldn't then, the people who 10 years later say she helped them in the beginning.
"It has brought me a lot of joy and self assurance that when I was doing it by myself, it did help people," she said.
"When I went through this personal change, I had fear and sadness and the reason I came to put this out to the public is so no one would feel lonely the way I was."
Nash, 24, was raised Christian and now focuses on Christian Mysticism in her studies at the temple.
When she first began coming to the temple several years ago, it was to casually take classes and learn.
And she didn't necessarily buy in to other religious traditions and realities, such as energy healing.
"Being Christian, I was like, 'uh that doesn't exist. Not meaning to offend you, but it doesn't exist,'" she said. "Opening my own mind at first was shocking. Now shocking will be where I go next."
Nash said the group has changed her life by helping her recognize patterns in her life, from not taking responsibility for herself to being in bad relationships.
Since becoming a student, Nash said she has gotten a job and is finishing her degree in social work major at Central Texas College.
Seeing the similarities
Students at the temple come together to pray with and learn from the values and traditions of many religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah and paganism, Greco-Roman, Native American, African and Egyptian beliefs.
The priestesses of the temple are ordained to perform marriages and study the prayers and traditions of many religions so they can pray with anyone who feels they need spiritual counseling, whether Christian, Buddhist or Wiccan.
"We don't switch our religion. All of us are different. This is not really about religion," Jorge-Smith said. "What we want to do is help this person with (their problems) and talk to them about God without anyone being offended."
Jorge-Smith was raised Catholic but now considers herself a tutor of different religions with a love for Kabbalah.
By studying many religions and traditions of spirituality and how they overlap, Jorge-Smith believes people can solve problems in their own lives, change, move forward and help each other.
"Here it's about seeing the similarities, not the differences," she said.
The Temple of Ancient Wisdom started in Jorge-Smith's home but has been in downtown Copperas Cove since 2005.
The temple is a member of the Copperas Cove Downtown Association, holds food and charity drives and participates in downtown events.
Jorge-Smith said she plans to hold an open house next month to celebrate the anniversary and invite the community in to learn about the temple.
"Everyone should come in and see what this is, what we offer, and not be afraid," she said.
Denise Caraballo, a 29-year-old priestess, said she has been confronted with problems at her job at a dental practice. During her second year of training, she said people at work had trouble understanding why she shaved her eyebrows off.
Now she has to cover up the crescent tattoo on her forehead for work, a difficult decision for her to make that she said she prays about every day.
Others have had families disapprove of their choice to go to the temple.
"We're not here to convert anybody into anything," Jorge-Smith said.
Those who are interested can go to the temple for Tarot readings, meditation, talk or to browse the temple's library of books. The temple holds classes Wednesday evenings and Sabbath prayer conducted in several religions on Friday.
Anyone can study. Only students who want to study to become a priestess wear the white, black and red robes, said Dorothy Hardy, who has been with the temple since 2003.
Jorge-Smith points to the books on different religions and the information the temple has about other places of worship and counseling.
"If you need a place to worship and this is not the place for you, we can say go here, go there.," she said. "Our mentality is, what can we do for you."
Contact Jackie Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7474.
The temple started in Jorge-Smith's home but it has been located downtown since 2005. The temple is a member of the Copperas Cove Downtown Association, holds food and charity drives and participates in the annual trick-or-treating.
The logo of the Whispering Star Clan is decorated on the outside of the building, along with words welcoming people inside for spiritual healing, marriages, readings and to talk and laugh.
Inside the classroom space at the Temple, a framed photo of the Dalai Lama sits on a book shelf not far from a long hanging portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe and just inches from books on everything from pagan mythology to quantum physics.
Hardy said the Temple is usually opens around 10 a.m. and stays open until after evening prayers, classes and meetings.
Students studying to become priests and priestesses wear long robes in white, black and red. Only those who want to follow that path wear the robes, and there are currently six priestesses and 10 students, Jorge-Smith said.
"The robes are very difficult for people to understand," said Dorothy Hardy, who joined the Temple in 2003.
Anyone who comes in is taught the Four Agreements, laid out in Toltec tradition and a book by Don Miguel Ruizcq titled "The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book."
Don't take anything personally.
Don't make assumptions.
Always do your best
Be impeccable with your word