Discernment and Legitimisation

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Lorna Smithers

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Discernment and Legitimisation
« on: May 26, 2019, 01:33:38 AM »
I have a question to raise around how one discerns whether one’s path is monastic and, in the absence of formal monastic structures for polytheists, how this might be legitimised.

As a bit of background I came to this forum thinking that because I have made lifelong vows to my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, and I put my service to him as an awenydd before having a professional career and a partner and my own family that I was a ‘nun of sorts’ and likely some kind of monastic.

Having engaged in conversation with others here and reflected on whether my life fits with the Polytheist Monastic definition of monasticism along with traditional concepts it is now my intuition this may not be the case.

I’ll cite the PM definition:

What is polytheist monasticism?

‘in brief; monasticism is generally described as structured daily religious practice focused on renunciation, prayer, worship, and asceticism. It's a form of religious life that integrates religious practice deeply into day-to-day rhythms and cycles. Monastics (aka 'votary') typically wear religious clothing in daily life, and maintain other demarcations distinguishing them from secular culture. Polytheist-animist monasticism centers these religious practices on multiple deities and spirits.’

So… I tick some of those boxes. I pray, I worship, I integrate these things along with creating works for my deity(s) into my daily life the best I can whilst working random shifts in my day. Yet I haven’t renounced much. The big thing was to give up my desire to be a professional fantasy writer and instead to dedicate my life to sharing awen from our ‘real’ Otherworld – Annwn along with the stories of my land and gods. My decision not to have a partner or my own family wasn’t much of a renunciation as I’m asexual and don’t desire those things. I’m not an ascetic (although I’ve tried fasting and see its value). Whilst I do most of my clothes shopping at charity shops and not big chains I don’t wear any religious clothing except a devotional necklace for Gwyn during my devotions.

The big thing that is traditionally associated with monasticism that I really don’t do is obedience and generally sticking to rules. Whilst most days I like to have structure based around worship and creativity, although I say my prayers every day, I like to have the occasional break. To go for a long walk. To go to the pub. To catch up with friends. As you can see, I like to do what I like to do and I follow my path because I love it rather than because I’ve been told or forced to do so by my gods. And I think it is this love and need for liberty, to follow the awen wherever it leads, that makes me an awenydd not a monastic. Also, the awen is a wild spirit and can’t be contained by rules.

Another thing is I took vows to serve Gwyn on a personal devotional level and as an awenydd, but not as a monastic or a nun. And that maybe is the crux. It may not be so much a case of ticking boxes as embracing a label that feels one hundred per cent right.

So this is how I’ve discerned and legitimated by path for the moment as a monastically-inspired awenydd rather than as a monastic. I would be interested to hear how you have discerned and legitimised your paths and whether you have any ideas about helping others as they go through these processes.

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Janet Munin

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2019, 11:22:13 AM »
Thank you for sharing this, Lorna. I relate to a lot of what you wrote.

In discussions like this, I keep coming back to the question of "What have my gods asked of me?" I have not been asked to wear distinctive clothing or cover my head. I have not been asked to engage in ascetic practices. While I would certainly snap to attention if my gods told me something which required obediance, that has not been asked of me. Instead, because of my past history, I have been explicitly encouraged to develop my personal sovereignty. I bow to my gods, but They (currently) do not give me orders to obey.

While I want to respect the tradition of monasticism in general, I also think it's important to point out that the Orders with which we are most familiar are part of strongly hierarchical systems -- and hierarchies demand obedience. Modern polytheism does not usually have those characteristics. We wouldn't vow to obey mortal superiors, we would vow to obey our gods. (Obviously some polytheistic orders might develop hierarchy.)

We also don't emerge out of traditions which see the body as an impediment to spiritual growth, which means that we have less reason to adopt ascetic practices. As WeepingCrow pointed out in one of the first posts on the forum, there is positive asceticism, and a lot to be gained from adopting such spiritual disciplines if you are called to them. In this area, my current monastic perspective means that I am trying to be more mindful of how I invest my time and money in light of my spiritual commitments and my sense of responsibility to the world. I'm trying to simplify my life so there is less drawing me away from my vocation.

What draws me toward the identification of monasticism is the commitment to structure my life around my religious practices and duties. I'm single now (my soulmate is in the Otherworld) and I have been reluctant to seek out romantic and sexual relationships because I am keenly aware of the potential to siphon off energy from my spiritual work. Inspired by Danica, I've been working on re-shaping and maintaining my living space to better nurture that work.

I have not taken any formal vows, but I know on a deep level that I am called to live with my spiritual work as my primary focus, and I am doing my best to be 'obediant' to that calling.
Janet Munin

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Danica Swanson

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2019, 03:39:38 PM »
These are critical topics for monastics and I'm glad you brought them up, Lorna. I imagine this is the first of many such discussions we'll have as the forum continues to grow and we continue to learn from one another.

I keep coming back to the question of "What have my gods asked of me?"


That question is a touchstone for me, too, and it opens up many more questions. For years now I've wrestled with countless variations on these two questions:

1) In a religious context with no established monastic tradition, how can you know you're called to become a monastic?
2) In a religious context with no central authority or hierarchy, by whose standards are you recognized as a monastic?


Discerning a divine call to votary life is important, certainly, but each Order or House (or other formalized affiliation) of would-be monastics will also need to develop clearly defined and human-mediated standards for recognizing one another as votary. Without those standards, Orders would risk falling prey to the ill-defined "anything goes" approach that has driven many of us away from Paganism as we know it.

For me the litmus test so far has been longevity. It's been 13 or 14 years since I first heard what I identified as a call to monastic life as a polytheist and animist. There were signs before that, but none were definitive. When I learned that there were other polytheists out there trying to build monastic ways of life, I knew immediately that this was what Those I serve had been preparing me for. I didn't tell anyone else about the call for years, though, because I felt wildly unprepared to handle the implications of what this recognition would mean for my future.

When I did start telling people about it, not everyone took me seriously, but I expected that.

Now that I'm a co-founder of a contemplative monastic Order, there's been a slight shift toward further acceptance. But that is very new. For many years all I had to go on was the call I felt, my experimental discernment process, and correspondence with other would-be monastics in various Heathen/Pagan/polytheist communities. I suspect there are others out there in similar positions: groping around in the dark for something they deeply need - but cannot find - in a religious context with no established contemplative traditions.

I have not been asked to wear distinctive clothing or cover my head.


I haven't been asked to cover my head, exactly, but I've received clear signs of approval when I do.

But I have definitely been asked to wear distinctive clothing. A few months ago, while I was out running errands and idly thinking about something unrelated, out of the blue I was seized with a strong sense that I should be wearing a full nun habit in public. I had already been experimenting with monastic-ish clothing in private for years, including a makeshift veil and wimple occasionally, but this was another whole level. The "ask" was more like a sudden booming voice insisting: WHY U NOT WEARING THE RIGHT CLOTHING IN PUBLIC??!?!?!? My everyday excursion-clothing (black jeans and a turtleneck) suddenly felt so fundamentally wrong that I was uncomfortable and wanted to hide. That was a novel experience for me.

The call felt so clear and unmistakable that as soon as I got home I got online and ordered something I hoped would serve as a transitional "habit" until I can figure out something more long-lasting.

WeepingCrow was with me the first time I wore the full "habit" in public a couple of months ago, and I don't know if I would have had the courage to venture out like that if I'd been alone. But it felt right on a personal level for me to wear it. No question about it. 

I have not been asked to engage in ascetic practices.


Ascetic practices play an important part for me, with the caveat that I'm not using this term in the popular sense of punishment, extreme fasting, etc. One day I'll write a lot more on what asceticism means to me. For now I'll just say I'm very grateful for WeepingCrow's essay on positive asceticism, as it helped me affirm something in my own practice that I had long been struggling to articulate.

We wouldn't vow to obey mortal superiors, we would vow to obey our gods.
 

Agreed. I perceive monastic obedience in a polytheist context as having little to do with "doing what authorities tell me to do." For me obedience is about deep listening. Monastic obedience means developing the skills to listen deeply enough to identify what I'm truly called to do (even if it conflicts with what I want, or what someone I love thinks I should do, or what my mind thinks is the most "rational" course of action, etc.), and then obeying, i.e. responding to that call appropriately.

What draws me toward the identification of monasticism is the commitment to structure my life around my religious practices and duties. I'm single now (my soulmate is in the Otherworld) and I have been reluctant to seek out romantic and sexual relationships because I am keenly aware of the potential to siphon off energy from my spiritual work. Inspired by Danica, I've been working on re-shaping and maintaining my living space to better nurture that work.

I share the commitment to "...structure my life around my religious practices and duties." Not the other way around. This is one reason I remain single too. In fact, I ended my last romantic relationship specifically because it came into conflict with what I knew I needed to do for my religious and creative life.

I look forward to hearing more about your re-shaping of your living space, Janet!

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kkirner

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2019, 09:42:54 PM »
Quote
In discussions like this, I keep coming back to the question of "What have my gods asked of me?"

I find this really helpful. While I've found a sense of community, resonance, and support in the online polytheist monasticism groups, I can't say I'm "monastic" in the conventional Catholic or Buddhist sense -- even for the monasteries in which the nuns work in some vocation, such as teaching or medicine. I can see how, if I wasn't in love with having pets and my wife, I might do well in a monastery setting, but my vocation as a professor is part of what my gods asked of me.

I think what might be most different for me, compared to many pagans or polytheists (though certainly not all -- I'm not that unusual), is that the Spirits I Serve asked to live in me. They view my life as an altar and offering. They are always welcome to share my body; I strive to be in constant communion with them. They are articulated through a sort of consort-type relationship with me. This took years of Them chasing me and me learning to be willing and able to be open to Them. It was terribly difficult at times, cost me a great deal in multiple ways, and was profoundly transformative. In essence, all else in my life arises from that devotion. The Spirits I Serve aren't terribly concerned with a lot of the aspects of the human life, such as what I wear or whether or not I'm celibate. But They're very concerned with my openness to Their perspectives, messages, and presence. 

As my wife often says, she is second-spouse to my Work. I am married first to the Spirits I Serve and Their work in the world, through my body, such as the offering is.
"The three foundations of spirituality: Hearth as altar; Work as worship; and service as sacrament."
~ Irish Triad

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barefootwisdom

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2019, 10:57:58 PM »
Thank you for sharing this, Lorna!  I'll offer a few thoughts here for now; more perhaps soon to follow.

I have a question to raise around how one discerns whether one’s path is monastic and, in the absence of formal monastic structures for polytheists, how this might be legitimised.
Here, I might simply add that it's not only a problem of "lack of formal structures." While this certainly is a challenge, I've also heard of enough cases even in other religions that have formal structures, when individuals are called to do something different than that.  In Christian churches that emphasize hierarchy, this becomes a matter of finding an open-minded bishop who will welcome some hermits into his territory.  Tibetan Buddhism is full of stories of eccentric misfits whom everything thought was "not a real monk," "not doing it right," or what have you, and who nearly (or actually) get kicked out of the established community for that, but who turn out to become fully enlightened precisely through that unique, eccentric, and intense devotional practice.


I haven’t renounced much. The big thing was to give up my desire to be a professional fantasy writer and instead to dedicate my life to sharing awen from our ‘real’ Otherworld – Annwn along with the stories of my land and gods. My decision not to have a partner or my own family wasn’t much of a renunciation as I’m asexual and don’t desire those things.
I've been working on a blog post/essay for the last couple of weeks, titled "Is it still ascetic if I don't notice the lack?"  Which is to say, I've been wrestling with exactly this issue myself.  Basically, while my situation may appear "ascetic" to outsiders, since it's missing things that they value quite highly, I either just genuinely am not interested in those things (e.g., having a television), or there's something else I value more (most especially, having time for my practice, study, etc.) and so I willingly make the trade-off of things that "sure, that could be nice" but are not nice enough to give what matters most.

In both those cases, though, I don't feel at all like I'm somehow punishing myself.  This is why I valued WeepingCrow's post about positive asceticism so much.  I could add a lot more on this issue, but I think that will be for a separate thread (and/or blog post) very soon.


I’m not an ascetic (although I’ve tried fasting and see its value). Whilst I do most of my clothes shopping at charity shops and not big chains I don’t wear any religious clothing except a devotional necklace for Gwyn during my devotions.
I'm not even that far along (at least yet), though I've also not professed any formal vows yet. 

As discussions of monastic garb have come up on this forum, I've had visions of myself wearing something distinct, but I'm still trying to discern to what extent that's simply the power of other humans' influence, the promptings of my own deepest heart, or a nudge from the Holy Powers.


Whilst most days I like to have structure based around worship and creativity, although I say my prayers every day, I like to have the occasional break. To go for a long walk. To go to the pub. To catch up with friends.
That sounds like quite a lot of monastics in more established traditions (both Catholic and Buddhist) I've known.  Heck, the Benedictine monks who ran my college not only operated a brewery for many years, but they even had a direct tap into the monastery!  (This even continued during Prohibition, until some put-out neighbor set fire to the operation.)  While they sold the brewery before I arrived there, pizza parties (with beer) inside the monastic grounds, various excursions out for fun/social reasons, watching movies, etc., were still very much a part of the monks' lives when I was living next door.


As you can see, I like to do what I like to do and I follow my path because I love it rather than because I’ve been told or forced to do so by my gods.
I have a tough time in general with the notion that's current in some corners of the modern polytheist community where the Gods are regularly "forcing" their devotees to do things—to the point that I pulled totally away from that community, both in-person and online, for a couple of years.  If I am going to enter into and pursue a relationship of devotion and service, I am going to do so out of love, and from a place of freedom. 


And I think it is this love and need for liberty, to follow the awen wherever it leads, that makes me an awenydd not a monastic. Also, the awen is a wild spirit and can’t be contained by rules.
Of course, it is ultimately up to you to decide what (if any) label fits your path.  But this remark in particular reminded me of the "Rule of Awen," which is the single rule for the Gnostic Celtic Church, the monastic arm of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA).  They explain:

"Thus the rule of life [for those ordained in the GCC]: find and follow your own Awen.  Taken as seriously as it should be—for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her own purpose in existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life—this is as demanding of a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows."

While my sense (which could be mistaken) is that they are coming at this from a different place than you are, this still strikes me as an interesting starting point for reconciling the two approaches.  But again, only if that's what you discern to be appropriate for you.


Another thing is I took vows to serve Gwyn on a personal devotional level and as an awenydd, but not as a monastic or a nun. And that maybe is the crux. It may not be so much a case of ticking boxes as embracing a label that feels one hundred per cent right.
I'd be very curious to here what others have to say here, but I wonder how specific vows need to be, in order to qualify as "monastic."  I could potentially see a wide range of vows that might well fit under a broadly "monastic" umbrella.  While there is definitely a kind of monastic vow that incorporates one into a monastic community (whether existing or new-formed), I don't think that's the only kind.  If we think of monasticism as a spectrum from the more cenobitic to the more eremitic, the standardized vow is likely to correlate more with the cenobitic end, while those on a more truly solitary/eremitic path (and also the founders of cenobitic communities!) would likely take a much more personalized vow to the Powers they serve.


I would be interested to hear how you have discerned and legitimised your paths and whether you have any ideas about helping others as they go through these processes.
I would say my own discernment process is still very much on-going and present-tense, more than something that I "have done." And your reflections here have been a helpful contribution to that, for which I thank you!

Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2019, 12:31:41 AM »
But I have definitely been asked to wear distinctive clothing. A few months ago, while I was out running errands and idly thinking about something unrelated, out of the blue I was seized with a strong sense that I should be wearing a full nun habit in public. I had already been experimenting with monastic-ish clothing in private for years, including a makeshift veil and wimple occasionally, but this was another whole level. The "ask" was more like a sudden booming voice insisting: WHY U NOT WEARING THE RIGHT CLOTHING IN PUBLIC??!?!?!? My everyday excursion-clothing (black jeans and a turtleneck) suddenly felt so fundamentally wrong that I was uncomfortable and wanted to hide. That was a novel experience for me.
 

That's fascinating. I hope you'll share a photograph of your habit sometime.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2019, 09:22:03 AM by Ann Williams »

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Sage Ambue

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2019, 08:58:57 AM »
In discussions like this, I keep coming back to the question of "What have my gods asked of me?" I have not been asked to wear distinctive clothing or cover my head. I have not been asked to engage in ascetic practices. While I would certainly snap to attention if my gods told me something which required obediance, that has not been asked of me. Instead, because of my past history, I have been explicitly encouraged to develop my personal sovereignty. I bow to my gods, but They (currently) do not give me orders to obey.

Janet, I appreciate that you've shared this because I see myself in it. Because of my own history, there are things I cannot accept from relationships, divine or otherwise. I expect past trauma is the reason my relationship with Brighid has developed the way it has. I would be unable to take up fasting. I would be unwilling to diminish the relationship I have with my spouse. There are even certain ritual practices or spaces I would be unable to engage with, such as a women's-only space, or initiatory rites of almost any kind. (That last personal caveat makes participating in religion very, very difficult.)

In addition to trauma, there are also certain practices I cannot cultivate due to neurodivergence (some mixture of autism, sensory processing issues, and perhaps ADHD?) and physical disability. Some of this bothers me because, for  example, I would very much like to be able to kneel for periods of prayer and contemplation, but doing so is very painful for me.

I have not been told by Brighid in so many words that I need to develop my personal sovereignty... but it certainly seems in keeping with the Lessons I need to learn from Her.

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WeepingCrow

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2019, 01:29:01 PM »

Here, I might simply add that it's not only a problem of "lack of formal structures." While this certainly is a challenge, I've also heard of enough cases even in other religions that have formal structures, when individuals are called to do something different than that.  In Christian churches that emphasize hierarchy, this becomes a matter of finding an open-minded bishop who will welcome some hermits into his territory.  Tibetan Buddhism is full of stories of eccentric misfits whom everything thought was "not a real monk," "not doing it right," or what have you, and who nearly (or actually) get kicked out of the established community for that, but who turn out to become fully enlightened precisely through that unique, eccentric, and intense devotional practice.
This is something I very much relate to. Arguably, monastic life seems to develop out of individual hermit-types, who eventually came together out of community need. This is kind of what I feel is happening now, and with projects like this forum: I'm hoping that enough of us will get together to see a "pattern" in the way we practice, and will be able to set down something formalized to be passed onto others. (Even if it's not, say, a monastery.) I'm hoping multiple, differing groups will be able to do that here.

I agree with the general assertion that a lot of it is boiling down to "What have the Gods told me to do?" I admit that I generally have no idea, but am trying to build something from where I seem pushed.

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Danica Swanson

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2019, 11:36:38 PM »
I've been working on a blog post/essay for the last couple of weeks, titled "Is it still ascetic if I don't notice the lack?"  Which is to say, I've been wrestling with exactly this issue myself.  Basically, while my situation may appear "ascetic" to outsiders, since it's missing things that they value quite highly, I either just genuinely am not interested in those things (e.g., having a television), or there's something else I value more (most especially, having time for my practice, study, etc.) and so I willingly make the trade-off of things that "sure, that could be nice" but are not nice enough to give what matters most.

In both those cases, though, I don't feel at all like I'm somehow punishing myself.  This is why I valued WeepingCrow's post about positive asceticism so much.  I could add a lot more on this issue, but I think that will be for a separate thread (and/or blog post) very soon.

I appreciate the clarity in your phrasing and writing style here, barefootwisdom. What you wrote applies to me as well - almost every word of it, from the "working on a blog post/essay on asceticism" to valuing WeepingCrow's post on positive asceticism. I didn't give my in-progress essay the title "Is it still ascetic if I don't notice the lack?", but I think that's a brilliant way to frame it, and I eagerly look forward to reading your post/essay when it's ready.

I know my own situation appears "ascetic" (or at least very, very puzzling) to most outsiders and many of my friends, because it's missing many of the things that are widely accepted as "normal," such as movie & TV entertainment. While there are other factors involved in my long-time avoidance of TV & movies, for most things I consider "ascetic" I either don't have any interest in structuring my life the "normal" way, or something else takes precedence.

However, with the movies and TV avoidance I have actually taken a vow, as an offering to Those I serve. Eventually I'll write more about this. But for now, in brief, I decided to take this vow specifically because I noticed a detrimental effect on my contemplative practice whenever I watched movies. I noticed that there was something about the medium itself that made it more difficult for me to enter deep meditative states, for example. So I vowed to avoid them for a set time, and then kept renewing that vow. I've made rare exceptions for certain documentaries that fit with my contemplative practice, though.

I have a tough time in general with the notion that's current in some corners of the modern polytheist community where the Gods are regularly "forcing" their devotees to do things—to the point that I pulled totally away from that community, both in-person and online, for a couple of years.  If I am going to enter into and pursue a relationship of devotion and service, I am going to do so out of love, and from a place of freedom.

I don't experience "force" in my relationships with deities and spirits either. In fact, one of the reasons my vows of service are meaningful is that I am free to refuse.

That said, however, I do sometimes use phrases such as "marching orders" to describe some of the guidance I receive when I pray and meditate. Technically I'm not receiving orders, because I can refuse. But in practice, it's far more complicated than that. At some point I realized that when I get the bits of guidance that have a certain kind of urgency or compelling feel to them, my choices are:

1) follow the "marching orders" whatever may come (within certain boundaries), or

2) my life gets increasingly unmanageable until I do follow the marching orders.

So I decided I'd stick with #1 because I've seen what happens when I don't.

Is that force? No, it isn't. But it doesn't feel like a totally free choice either. It's more like exertion of strong influence. Yes, I consented to that influence by entering into relationships with Them, but...well, I dunno. It's complicated.

...this remark in particular reminded me of the "Rule of Awen," which is the single rule for the Gnostic Celtic Church, the monastic arm of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA).  They explain:

"Thus the rule of life [for those ordained in the GCC]: find and follow your own Awen.  Taken as seriously as it should be—for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her own purpose in existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life—this is as demanding of a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows."

I appreciate the Rule of Awen (and that book!) greatly. It definitely influenced my own thinking on these matters. When I first discovered that Rule in the GCC Manual and Book of Liturgy, I had been working under my own monastic-ish rule that centered around the concept of "sacred endarkenment" for several years. I had written a lot about it on my blog and in my private journals, but I hadn't formalized it. When I read about the Rule of Awen, I realized there was a way to develop what I'd been working with into something more structured without choking the life out of it (if that makes sense).

So I wrote about it, and thought about it, and meditated on it, and prayed about it, and wrote about it some more...and one day I woke up and something clicked. I sat down immediately to write, and I barely even looked up for several hours because the words were just pouring out as fast as I could type. When I finished, I let everything sit and simmer for a few days. Then I came back to it and I knew immediately: there it is. That's it. There's the Rule for the Hermitage (now the Abbey.)

That Rule, as I received it, is:

"Follow the Ways of Non-Contrivance."

I still don't know what it means. But I know that it's right. And when I sit down to write, I can sense when I've received something that is linked to it. I can't explain how I know that, but I do. And the Rule of Awen played a part in the process that led me to this Rule (and helped me integrate it with the concept of "sacred endarkenment"), so I will be citing that book in my future writings for sure.

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Danica Swanson

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2019, 11:42:39 PM »
That's fascinating. I hope you'll share a photograph of your habit sometime.

It's more of a makeshift habit or something to tide me over than an actual habit. It's an abaya that I got from East Essence. But yes, I do eventually plan to get some photos of the religious garb experiments, although it may be awhile before I'm ready to share them. We've been planning to set up the Gallery section for this forum in a more user-friendly way, so perhaps whenever we get that done I'll start uploading more photos.

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barefootwisdom

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2019, 04:13:12 PM »
At some point I realized that when I get the bits of guidance that have a certain kind of urgency or compelling feel to them, my choices are:

1) follow the "marching orders" whatever may come (within certain boundaries), or

2) my life gets increasingly unmanageable until I do follow the marching orders.

So I decided I'd stick with #1 because I've seen what happens when I don't.

Is that force? No, it isn't. But it doesn't feel like a totally free choice either. It's more like exertion of strong influence. Yes, I consented to that influence by entering into relationships with Them, but...well, I dunno. It's complicated.
I wonder if at least some of these cases are simply a matter of having cultivated enough attentiveness to notice when we're getting guidance.  Whereas for many of my neighbors, life gets increasingly unmanageable, but they have absolutely no conceptual framework to explain what's going on or figure out how to deal with it... much less to head things off in advance by following (or even hearing) the marching orders.


When I read about the Rule of Awen, I realized there was a way to develop what I'd been working with into something more structured without choking the life out of it (if that makes sense).
Yes.  I had the same reaction.  (I discovered the GCC material and your blog around the same time, in very early 2015.)


...and one day I woke up and something clicked. ...
I still don't know what it means. But I know that it's right. And when I sit down to write, I can sense when I've received something that is linked to it. I can't explain how I know that, but I do.
I have experiences very much like this in my work as a diviner: both things that I know I have to say when I'm reading for someone, even if I can't explain why, as well as interpretations of a reading which make total sense to my intellectual self but which I'm prevented from saying since in this case they're wrong, even though I can't articulate why.


I appreciate the clarity in your phrasing and writing style here, barefootwisdom. What you wrote applies to me as well - almost every word of it, from the "working on a blog post/essay on asceticism" to valuing WeepingCrow's post on positive asceticism. I didn't give my in-progress essay the title "Is it still ascetic if I don't notice the lack?", but I think that's a brilliant way to frame it, and I eagerly look forward to reading your post/essay when it's ready.
Thanks for the encouragement!  It's coming soon, I hope...

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Lorna Smithers

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2019, 04:17:16 AM »
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings everyone.

A couple of things that stood out to me  - 

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because of my past history, I have been explicitly encouraged to develop my personal sovereignty. I bow to my gods, but They (currently) do not give me orders to obey.

Janet, that's slightly similar to me although oddly I feel like since I have become avowed to Gwyn it's not as much about personal sovereignty but serving him through my freedom to pursue the awen. Paradoxically I need to be free to serve him. He never gives me orders but there is an inner sense of obligation I must obey. It's very strange.

Similarly to Danica Swanson I find that if I'm off track, not serving as I should as an awenydd, my life gets uncomfortable. There are no orders, no rules, just an inner sense and through seeing things going wrong in my life that tells me I'm not so much wrong, but... yeah... off track.

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Of course, it is ultimately up to you to decide what (if any) label fits your path.  But this remark in particular reminded me of the "Rule of Awen," which is the single rule for the Gnostic Celtic Church, the monastic arm of the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA).  They explain:

"Thus the rule of life [for those ordained in the GCC]: find and follow your own Awen.  Taken as seriously as it should be—for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her own purpose in existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life—this is as demanding of a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows."

Barefootwisdom - how interesting!!! I had no idea there was a Gnostic Celtic Church and that finding and following one's awen was the rule. I feel like this has been a 'rule' for me since I was born. I'll have to take a look into that further.

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That Rule, as I received it, is:

"Follow the Ways of Non-Contrivance."

Danica Swanson I have seen this on your website but don't fully understand it. Could you explain it further?

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Danica Swanson

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #12 on: June 02, 2019, 10:22:21 PM »
I had no idea there was a Gnostic Celtic Church and that finding and following one's awen was the rule. I feel like this has been a 'rule' for me since I was born. I'll have to take a look into that further.

I'm kind of surprised to hear that it's new to you, Lorna! I highly recommend you get a copy of John Michael Greer's Manual and Book of Liturgy for the GCC, which discusses the Rule of Awen in the first 25 pages or so. I found it so inspiring that I couldn't help but wish he'd written a full book on this concept alone. On our General Resource List for this forum I've collected some quotes from the book summary and from reviews on Amazon. I'll reproduce them here:

“The GCC has chosen to establish what was once called a regular clergy, as distinct from a secular clergy-that is to say, something much closer to monks than to ministers. This was the core model for clergy in the old Celtic Church in Ireland, Wales, Brittany, and other Celtic nations, in the days before the Roman papacy imposed its rule on the lands of Europe’s far west. Members of the Celtic clergy were monks first and foremost, living lives focused on service to the Divine rather than the needs of a congregation, and those who functioned as priests for local communities did so as a small portion of a monastic lifestyle that embraced many other dimensions.”

“Each soul, according to the Druid Revival, has its own unique Awen. To put the same concept in terms that might be slightly more familiar to today’s readers, each soul has its own purpose in existence, which differs from that of every other soul, and it has the capacity — and ultimately the necessity — of coming to know, understand, and fulfill this unique purpose.”

“… the rule of life that the clergy of the Gnostic Celtic Church are asked to embrace may be defined simply by these words: find and follow your own Awen. Taken as seriously as it should be — for there is no greater challenge for any human being than that of seeking his or her purpose of existence, and then placing the fulfillment of that purpose above other concerns as a guide to action and life — this is as demanding a rule as the strictest of traditional monastic vows. Following it requires attention to the highest and deepest dimensions of the inner life, and a willingness to ignore all the pressures of the ego and the world when those come into conflict, as they will, with the ripening personal knowledge of the path that Awen reveals.”


Danica Swanson I have seen this on your website but don't fully understand it. Could you explain it further?

I'll try! Following the Ways of Non-Contrivance means cultivating space for "emergent" (uncontrived) contemplative practice. Broadly speaking, the intention behind it is to shape the monastic structures for Black Stone Abbey through guidance arrived at by "bottom up" spontaneous animist intuitions rather than imposing structures through "top down" centralized planning. Following the Ways of Non-Contrivance means creating conditions that invite a certain quality of attentive engagement with the world - an ease that flows from silence, solitude, "doing nothing," and deep listening. There's no way to codify the Ways of Non-Contrivance because they're different for each monastic, and as I understand it, that's entirely by design.

I don't know if that's helpful. There are multiple meanings for this Rule (again, by design), and I have a hunch that I'll be discovering them in layers or stages over a long period of time, so this is just a start.

And as I wrote above, the Rule of Awen influenced my thinking - it helped me realize there was a useful way to give structure to the concept of sacred endarkenment I've been working with since 2011 when I started the first Black Stone Hermitage blog.

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threadhawk

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #13 on: June 28, 2019, 10:30:18 AM »
Thank you for sharing this, Lorna!  I'll offer a few thoughts here for now; more perhaps soon to follow.
Here, I might simply add that it's not only a problem of "lack of formal structures." While this certainly is a challenge, I've also heard of enough cases even in other religions that have formal structures, when individuals are called to do something different than that.  In Christian churches that emphasize hierarchy, this becomes a matter of finding an open-minded bishop who will welcome some hermits into his territory.  Tibetan Buddhism is full of stories of eccentric misfits whom everything thought was "not a real monk," "not doing it right," or what have you, and who nearly (or actually) get kicked out of the established community for that, but who turn out to become fully enlightened precisely through that unique, eccentric, and intense devotional practice.
...

I'd be very curious to here what others have to say here, but I wonder how specific vows need to be, in order to qualify as "monastic."  I could potentially see a wide range of vows that might well fit under a broadly "monastic" umbrella.  While there is definitely a kind of monastic vow that incorporates one into a monastic community (whether existing or new-formed), I don't think that's the only kind.  If we think of monasticism as a spectrum from the more cenobitic to the more eremitic, the standardized vow is likely to correlate more with the cenobitic end, while those on a more truly solitary/eremitic path (and also the founders of cenobitic communities!) would likely take a much more personalized vow to the Powers they serve.

Here is where I'm reminded of the fact that Christianity has many diverse orders. While a large majority of them take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, those vows are interpreted differently by different orders. Further, there are monastic orders with entirely different vows and rules. There are dispersed orders that include married or partnered members, members who have children. They share vows and rules, often work regular jobs (though generally jobs that align with their ethics), share a common liturgy, and meet when they can for retreats or events. Some share weekly prayer time over Skype, etc!

I guess what I'm saying is that when Christians discern their call, part of that discernment includes looking into what kind of order is right for them, and there are tons to choose from. In forming pagan, polytheist, and/or animist monastic orders, I hope to see that kind of diversity of format as well.

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WeepingCrow

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Re: Discernment and Legitimisation
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2019, 01:48:43 PM »
Here is where I'm reminded of the fact that Christianity has many diverse orders. While a large majority of them take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, those vows are interpreted differently by different orders.
Comparatively, Buddhists do similar things with their vows. Chastity, for instance, is a vow sometimes interpreted as "right behavior" in regards to sex, rather than simply avoiding sex; the same goes for issues of food taboos, in regards to things like vegetarianism or daily meal timing or the origin of food.

I think for a lot of our "startup" monastics, we are going to have to have some of this flexibility, or at least agreed upon by a small group.