My Summary of Being Called to Monastic Life

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kkirner

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My Summary of Being Called to Monastic Life
« on: May 22, 2019, 04:01:09 PM »
I would imagine many of us struggle initially with what we're being called to do... to be.  People can be called to both a monastic life and a priesthood, or only one, or neither. For a long time, I thought I was being called to be a priest, because this is all I saw as an option. As a Christian, I considered the Episcopalian priesthood. Later, as a Druid, I didn't see options for priesthood or monastic life for a long time. In some ways, I was building a monastic life, slowly but surely -- building a room of altars, a daily practice, a deep devotion to the Spirits I Serve. But I didn't realize this could be considered monasticism, nor did I know anyone else who was Pagan or Polytheist and considered themselves monastic.

In this blog post, I explain what monasticism means to me and, from my perspective as a cultural anthropologist reflecting on my experience and what I observed in the Pagan and Polytheist Monastic Facebook Group, three core attributes of monasticism: devotion, discipline, and contemplation.  I hope it helps spark conversation on what polytheist monasticism might look like and where we are all at on our journeys!

http://paganbloggers.com/thewilddruid/2017/09/17/called-by-the-spirits-but-not-to-the-priesthood-the-mystery-of-monasticism/
"The three foundations of spirituality: Hearth as altar; Work as worship; and service as sacrament."
~ Irish Triad

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Danica Swanson

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Re: My Summary of Being Called to Monastic Life
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2019, 08:01:20 PM »
[Ed. note: I've duplicated my full comment on Kimberly's piece (from 18 September 2017) here, as I want to keep a copy of it on this forum for future reference.]

What a lovely piece – inspiring and beautifully written! If I’d read something like this when I was starting out, it might not have taken me as long to realize my own calling to a monastic service path.

You wrote about how there are few visible roles in most Pagan communities. It’s true – most of the ones we do see are priestesses & priests, ritualists, authors, magicians, workshop leaders, and diviners. But there are few monastics. In some Pagan circles there seems to be a general aversion to structure, organization, discipline, or anything that is associated with “high church” or being “too” religious, such as formalized daily prayer and worship, prostrations before shrines, etc. Especially in the early days when I first found Paganism in the 1990s, I often felt extremely self-conscious about being observed in prayer and worship, or kneeling before shrines, because these things just aren’t done in many Pagan groups, and I hadn’t met any other hard polytheists to compare notes with until about ten years ago. However, I’m seeing some encouraging signs that our religious communities are maturing, and the recent increased interest in monasticism is one of them.

I remember how excited I was when I first learned that there was a Pagan group – the Maetreum of Cybele – that practiced some kind of goddess-oriented monasticism. I remember thinking: “Wow! Are there really Pagan nuns? I’ve got to find out more!” Finding the Church of Asphodel’s Order of the Horae website in 2006, too, was a major turning point for me. I’ve never met any of the folks involved in that effort, but I’ll always be grateful to them for the work they did to forge a monastic path and provide helpful resources for other Pagan monastics. It made me feel that there could be a real, bona fide place for what I was doing someday, even if not with them.

As far as I know, these two groups were the first to lay the necessary groundwork for Pagan monasticism, and get the word out about it. So I suppose we are the “second wave,” or something like that!

Anyway…your whole piece is marvelous, but I want to comment on this in particular:

“…the monastic has a foundation that involves long periods of what appears to the outside world as doing nothing. It is in the not-doing that the monastic can enter a state of being, of union…”

I think this is of central importance, especially because we live in a culture that exerts enormous pressure upon us to be “productive.” To outsiders, the monastic life can appear to be little more than self-indulgence overlaid with a spiritual veneer. But monasticism can teach us to trust and respect the value of silence, deep listening, and empty space. It can teach us that when faced with overwhelming problems, sometimes the most powerful action is to refrain from “productivity” as we commonly conceptualize it – not as a general principle, necessarily, but as a form of surrender to a larger process. These are lessons our culture needs, as we confront the realities of various ecological issues that are being driven by the never-ending drive for productivity.

Learning how to listen better is one of my favorite things about the monastic journey as I experience it. It is teaching me how to listen much more deeply and attentively than I did before.

In any case, I think those of us who are called in this direction have a responsibility to do what we can to document our experiences as thoroughly as possible, so that future monastics will have records of early fledgling monastic efforts. So thank you for helping to make the monastic path more visible. It makes me happy to think that with enough writings like this one, future generations of Pagan & polytheist would-be monastics won’t have to flounder around for as long as I did to identify their calling to a monastic path. And hopefully one day there will be a variety of monasteries and convents to help them find their way as well.

[end of copied comment]

For a long time, I thought I was being called to be a priest, because this is all I saw as an option.

I think it's problematic that the standard models we typically see in Paganism are limited to "laity" and BNP of some sort (teacher, clergy, workshop leader, etc.) with no in-between. Monasticism can help broaden the options - not only for those called as votary, but also for the wider communities of oblates and other supporters that can affiliate themselves with monasteries. 

One of the reasons we started this new discussion forum is to make it more widely known that monasticism is an option for polytheists and animists, or at least it can become more of an option if we build the proper infrastructure to support it. We've certainly got a long way to go to accomplish that...but every monastery that now exists had to start somewhere, and people who started it had to meet somehow. So why not here?

Anyway, thank you for your contribution to that religious outreach effort!

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Danica Swanson

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Re: My Summary of Being Called to Monastic Life
« Reply #2 on: May 23, 2019, 08:32:18 PM »
I also note with interest that another commenter on your piece (Sister Crow) writes:

"I had felt the pull of religious service for years and took training in my previous tradition, but it soon became clear how badly suited I am to the usual roles of ritual leader, teacher, and community organizer. Unfortunately (or, in hindsight, perhaps fortunately!) they provided no real roles or resources for deepening one’s practice, and I drifted away, unsure what if any place I had in the tradition. After Brigid claimed me, She led me to the AODA, indicating that I should become not her ritual priestess in the usual mode but her shrine priestess in this contemplative mode."

I imagine this story is fairly common for Pagans and polytheists. I can relate well to this, as I too am not cut out for ritual leadership, teaching, public speaking, and community organizing in the standard modes. (Fortunately I figured this out when I was fairly young, so I didn't go through the training to pursue any of these paths.)

And I too have noted the general lack of resources and guidance for deepening one's practice, at least for those of us who are uninterested in taking on that kind of leadership role.

I remember how thrilled I was to find the Bishop in the Grove blog and the Solitary Druid Fellowship in the days when they were active. I never knew the author, and ultimately he left the Druid community, but for the time these projects were active, they were the closest thing to a documented, organized contemplative monastic "movement" that I knew about in Paganism. I was hoping this sort of "shared liturgy" approach would catch on elsewhere. I do know of a few contemplatives in our communities now, but only a few, and they're certainly not organized enough to count as any kind of movement.


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Janet Munin

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Re: My Summary of Being Called to Monastic Life
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2019, 11:02:20 AM »
"After Brigid claimed me, She led me to the AODA, indicating that I should become not her ritual priestess in the usual mode but her shrine priestess in this contemplative mode."

I appreciate this distinction.

My priestess teacher was a "shrine priestess." She was part of a Druid order, but the work she shared with me was her devotion to Underworld deities and ritual work with Them which wasn't intended for public participation. She would not have identified with being a monastic, but she also doesn't fit the definition of a priestess as someone focused on public work.
Janet Munin