animist and eclectic (mostly Hellenic/Norse) polytheist in northern New England

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barefootwisdom

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Let me just dive right in.  I was first attracted to monastic and eremetic ways of life even before I identified as an animist and a polytheist.  Both of those categories fit me quite well today, though I only started to consciously identify with them later in my spiritual development.

I first became interested in monasticism in a rich and conscious way in the mid 2000s, when I was taking my undergraduate degree at a small private college that was connected to a Benedictine monastery.  There was much that attracted me to the life of these monks: the clear and flowing structure of their lives, focused (at least in theory) on deep spiritual development; chanting psalms and hymns together to mark the hours of the day; the simple black habits; and above all, perhaps, the uniquely Benedictine vow of stability: the promise to stay put, quite literally, for the rest of their lives, remaining in that abbey, in that valley, looking onto that ridge, doing their own spiritual work right there, and making that very place a place of welcome, refreshment, and hospitality to whatever visitors and guests came seeking it.  While neither that particular monastic community nor their religion is for me, over the years I have felt certain pangs of loss and longing in this context, wondering if I could ever be a monastic in a way that is suited to me, if I would ever have that deep contemplative spiritual rootedness.  Though now, as an animist, I’m able to understand that rootedness, that stability for which I yearn, in a way that (for myself, at least) is far more rich and vibrant!

In subsequent years, in a scholarly/academic capacity, I’ve studied Indian philosophies and religious traditions, along with three classical languages and a few odd corners of the Greek and European philosophical canon, eventually earning my doctorate in philosophy.  (So if my writing style tends toward the academic, now you know why: many years of training and habituation!)  I’ve occasionally felt a certain envy for the Hindu and Buddhist communities’ well-established monastic and renunciant traditions, and these days I regularly smile with great joy when I see images of Hindu devotional practice.  Yet those gods and spirits were never “mine,” never really called to me personally.

From late 2012 through 2014, health crises and various other apparently “chance” circumstances set me on a wild and winding journey which culminated in a series of profound encounters with a certain spirit, with whom I retain important connections to this day.  From there, I found my way first to the generically “pagan” community, and finally to devotional practice with other individual goddesses and gods.  Sometime in early 2015, I made my first search for “pagan monasticism,” to see if such a thing was even possible, which led to me to Danica’s blog, and a few other things, but precious little.  I’ve been intermittently following Danica’s work since then, and it’s through that connection, and eventually reaching out to her directly, that led me to this forum. 

While I’m not ready to share all the details of my current (and evolving) devotional practice with the entire internet, I will say that I pray to a gradually expanding group of Hellenic deities, and also relate to a few Norse gods and goddesses, as well as certain plant and nature spirits.  While I value all these relationships, I have the sense (which I can’t quite explain) that some of the work I’m doing now is both necessary and transitional, leading me to someone(s), somewhere(s) else.  There’s a lot I don’t know, but I can see the next couple of steps before me, and I am confident that by taking those steps, the path will continue to open up.  For now, my focus is simply on sustaining a daily routine of devotion, prayer, meditation, and study; following the leads, hints, and invitations which arise therein; and continuing slowly and organically to assemble monthly and annual calendars which lay atop the foundations of that daily practice.

Perhaps also related to the transitional nature of the work I’m doing right now, my experience of land, plant, and other nature spirits has brought to the fore the issue of stability and commitment to place.  I believe that at least part of what I need to do involves connecting to the land and the spirits of the land—just not, in the long term, the particular land I’m living on now, and where I have never really been at home.  (I moved here for a job only a few years ago.)  There are spirits of/in certain places I’ve been, whom I’ve been invited (it seems) to get to know a good bit better, and I’m still working on this.  I’ll be moving away from my current location in the northeast US next month.  I’ll be in western Montana for a good portion of the summer, since an encounter late last year suggested that this is somehow important to my path, and an opportunity for paid work has opened up, which will make spending the time there feasible.  After that, I expect to be returning to friends and community in northern New England, where my heart has long been, in the fall, and (if nothing changes) staying there for a while.  Beyond that, who knows?  My sense is that there are some conversations with spirits that need to happen in each of these places, and that will make my path, and the choices available to me, more clear.  Thankfully, I’m still young (mid-30s), and hopefully have many decades ahead of me to pursue this work.

So, why am I drawn to polytheist monasticism?  Out of a burning desire to center everything on my spiritual practice, on my relationships with the gods and spirits; and to cultivate a life where everything else proceeds from that and flows back into it.  Or as I’ve put it elsewhere, to cultivate stillness, and to connect to the telluric.

So much by way of introduction.  Thank you to Danica and Roger, and to Lorna and Janet, for making this space possible.  I’m eager to explore and discern together in this virtual community.

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Danica Swanson

  • CEO (Creative Endarkenment Overseer) at Black Stone Abbey
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Welcome, barefootwisdom, and thank you for that lovely and thought-provoking intro. I read it slowly and mindfully. I love the fact that we're on a community forum that lends itself to that kind of reading, as opposed to the typical Facebook-style reading where there's pressure to respond quickly if you want to participate since most threads vanish into oblivion after a few hours.

...the promise to stay put, quite literally, for the rest of their lives, remaining in that abbey, in that valley, looking onto that ridge, doing their own spiritual work right there, and making that very place a place of welcome, refreshment, and hospitality to whatever visitors and guests came seeking it. While neither that particular monastic community nor their religion is for me, over the years I have felt certain pangs of loss and longing in this context, wondering if I could ever be a monastic in a way that is suited to me, if I would ever have that deep contemplative spiritual rootedness.
 

I can relate to the feelings of longing you mention. I've never in my life known that kind of stability, and it very much appeals to me. I've moved more times than I can count, for more reasons than I care to list, and I've mostly lived in rented places. I've been in the place I'm in now for 11 years (also as a renter), and that's the longest I've ever lived in any one home. Before I depart this mortal coil I yearn to live in a place I can actually settle happily, with the intention of staying put, living out my monastic calling, and spending regular time with conifers in the forest for the rest of my days. 

...eventually earning my doctorate in philosophy.  (So if my writing style tends toward the academic, now you know why: many years of training and habituation!)
 

You're in good company here. In my university days I graduated with two honors bachelor of science degrees ("twice the B.S.," as I often say, only half in jest) in philosophy and psychology. I also have a post-bac (which is in this case the equivalent of a baccalaureate degree) in accounting. Fortunately I managed to escape academia with my genuine love of learning intact, which I still consider a minor miracle. I'm still a philosophy nerd.

Sometime in early 2015, I made my first search for “pagan monasticism,” to see if such a thing was even possible, which led to me to Danica’s blog, and a few other things, but precious little.  I’ve been intermittently following Danica’s work since then, and it’s through that connection, and eventually reaching out to her directly, that led me to this forum.
   

I found the pagan monasticism FAQ by the Order of the Horae through a similar search in 2006, and for similar reasons. I wanted to find out if there might ever be a place for me as a would-be Norse polytheist monastic. This is one of the biggest struggles for those of us called to this way of life: there is so little guidance out there. We're largely left to our own devices. I want to try to leave something behind for the next generations, so they don't have to struggle as much as we have.

I've carried on many such correspondences with other aspiring polytheist monastics in the eight years since I started that blog, and I'm grateful for every one of them. I started it in 2011 as part of my "marching orders." I clearly "heard" from Those I serve that I needed to blog about my experimental monastic practice even if I felt I was not qualified to do so. There were people out there, I was told, who needed to read the things I wrote just as much as I needed to write them. So I put up the blog, messy and experimental as it was, and documented some of what I was doing. I wrote nothing prescriptive; I simply described my early experiments and my thoughts about them.

Most of my closest friendships - online and off - started through that blog. Roger and I met that way too, and eventually decided to work together.

I'm really glad I listened to those "marching orders."

I’ll be in western Montana for a good portion of the summer...

Hmm...I wonder if we might be able to swing some kind of regional area meet-up while you're in Montana? Janet was talking about that elsewhere; I know there are several people in the Pacific Northwest who have expressed interest in occasional get-togethers of aspiring polytheist monastics if the logistics can be worked out. Something to consider, anyway.

So, why am I drawn to polytheist monasticism?  Out of a burning desire to center everything on my spiritual practice, on my relationships with the gods and spirits; and to cultivate a life where everything else proceeds from that and flows back into it.

You're in good company here, for sure.

Or as I’ve put it elsewhere, to cultivate stillness, and to connect to the telluric.

"To cultivate stillness, and to connect to the telluric." I look forward to reading more about that, as those are central focus areas for my work as well. I'm particularly interested in reading more of what you write about the telluric, as there is so little out there.

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barefootwisdom

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Before I depart this mortal coil I yearn to live in a place I can actually settle happily, with the intention of staying put, living out my monastic calling, and spending regular time with conifers in the forest for the rest of my days. 

Ah, the conifers!!  Yes, and a thousand times yes!  The Pines are especially dear to me, and have been since childhood.  I don't think I could ever live in a place without them. 

Fortunately I managed to escape academia with my genuine love of learning intact, which I still consider a minor miracle. I'm still a philosophy nerd.

Give me just a few more months, and I'll have accomplished the same miracle. ;)   

Hmm...I wonder if we might be able to swing some kind of regional area meet-up while you're in Montana? Janet was talking about that elsewhere; I know there are several people in the Pacific Northwest who have expressed interest in occasional get-togethers of aspiring polytheist monastics if the logistics can be worked out. Something to consider, anyway.

Let's definitely do that!  I will give it some thought, and then maybe start a new thread or send PMs?  (Still not sure what the appropriate forum etiquette is; maybe that too is something for us to work out as a community, or maybe you have some guidance or suggestions?)

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Danica Swanson

  • CEO (Creative Endarkenment Overseer) at Black Stone Abbey
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Ah, the conifers!!  Yes, and a thousand times yes!  The Pines are especially dear to me, and have been since childhood.  I don't think I could ever live in a place without them.

Conifers are seriously underrated, if you ask me. I love them so much. I wrote elsewhere that long before I knew what was going on, I developed an affectionate response to conifers, despite my big-city upbringing and complete lack of horticultural, arborist, or wildcrafting background. The first clue I had to this conifer affinity was the fact that I could get a bit of a “high” through deeply inhaling the scent of cedar, in ways that others around me did not. I started putting cedar shavings in little sachets around my house, buying cedarwood incense and essential oils, and so on. That led to wanting to learn more about pines, firs, and spruces.

Now I make aromatic blends with conifer needles I gather from local trees, and use them for many purposes. One of my favorite ways to start off a day is to simmer the fresh needles in a mini crock pot and inhale the steam.
 
Let's definitely do that!  I will give it some thought, and then maybe start a new thread or send PMs?  (Still not sure what the appropriate forum etiquette is; maybe that too is something for us to work out as a community, or maybe you have some guidance or suggestions?)

I've just started a thread on the Monastic Networking board where we can discuss the possibilities. Let us know the dates you'll be in Montana and when you'd be available, and we'll see what we can work out. Might as well start discussing it publicly, so that others who aren't yet members of the board but might be interested can see our plans.

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Lorna Smithers

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Hello barefoot wisdom and welcome :)

I also found myself picking up on the passages that Danica has quoted. Like remaining in that abbey, that valley etc. For me, having a deep relationship with a particular landscape and its spirits is essential. I've lived in Penwortham, Lancashire, most of my life. Since I discovered polytheism I have been building a devotional practice to my personal and local deities and see this as a good foundation for animist-polytheist monasticism. As well as devotions, this involves organising litter picks in my local valley and fits with how monastics may care for their local land.

Ditto on the philosophy! I have a BA in English and Philosophy and an MA in European Philosophy with a focus in aesthetics. I had to give up my PhD, which was on William Blake's concept of Imagination, due to lack of funds. What was your doctorate on?

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So, why am I drawn to polytheist monasticism?  Out of a burning desire to center everything on my spiritual practice, on my relationships with the gods and spirits; and to cultivate a life where everything else proceeds from that and flows back into it.

Beautifully expressed! This is how I feel too.

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barefootwisdom

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Thanks, Lorna!

Those litter picks are dear to my own heart as well. While I've generally not been one for organizing large groups of others (for much of anything... I tend to work best with a very few people at a time), when I'm "out on the land," especially in the more wild places, I make a conscious point of returning home with some extra litter that was not my own, that I found during my walk. It seems the least I can do to care for these places that I love.

My Ph.D. was in the history of Indian philosophy, examining how classical models for inferential reasoning—the standard parts and organization of arguments, and the work they do in both generating and resolving doubt—were actually applied in some metaphysical debates between Buddhist and Hindu philosophers.  More generally, my training emphasized metaphysics and epistemology in historical traditions, which appealed to me for the way they seem to provide the backbone for an entire coherent, systematic way to living.

I'm sorry that you had to give up your own Ph.D. I've often wondered what role our future monastic communities (perhaps in our lifetimes, perhaps generations from now) will be able play in providing educational opportunities for the society at large, in ways that are life-affirming and don't involve cripping financial burdens.

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Danica Swanson

  • CEO (Creative Endarkenment Overseer) at Black Stone Abbey
  • *****
  • 117
  • Contemplative Norse polytheist
    • she/her
    • Black Stone Abbey
I'm sorry that you had to give up your own Ph.D. I've often wondered what role our future monastic communities (perhaps in our lifetimes, perhaps generations from now) will be able to play in providing educational opportunities for the society at large, in ways that are life-affirming and don't involve crippling financial burdens.

Ah, this is a topic close to my heart, as I too gave up my hope of going for a doctorate (or at least a master's) in philosophy, partly for financial reasons. I wanted to study systems philosophy and/or philosophy of work and leisure. This was long ago, and in hindsight I'm glad I didn't go that route. But I loved the discussions in my philosophy classes, and I miss that kind of collegial learning atmosphere. If we could somehow figure out how to replicate some of the best aspects of those atmospheres in our future monasteries without the accompanying price tag of crushing student debt...well, that's the dream, anyway. Or part of it, at least.

Black Stone Abbey has a library of about 500 books right now, and I occasionally make it available for community use by appointment. But few people have time to take me up on that offer.

I like to dream big. I think we should work toward not only monasteries (with extensive libraries), but theological seminaries, scholarships, foundations and stipends to support religious and animist educational endeavors, and more. Even if we don't see these things manifest in our lifetimes, I believe it's worth the effort to take steps in those directions.

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Lorna Smithers

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Barefootwisdom, thanks for sharing about your PhD topic. Is your job an academic one related to your studies on Indian philosophy?

Dancia, sorry to hear you didn't do your PhD due to similar financial reasons.

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I like to dream big. I think we should work toward not only monasteries (with extensive libraries), but theological seminaries, scholarships, foundations and stipends to support religious and animist educational endeavors, and more. Even if we don't see these things manifest in our lifetimes, I believe it's worth the effort to take steps in those directions.

As a big dream I would love to see this too!

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barefootwisdom

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Barefootwisdom, thanks for sharing about your PhD topic. Is your job an academic one related to your studies on Indian philosophy?

The one that I'm leaving very soon is; it was taking too much out of me, and demanding too much of the same (limited!) pool of energy that I need for my deeper work of study and creativity.
« Last Edit: May 19, 2019, 06:28:10 PM by barefootwisdom »