Mystic vs. Monastic vs. Contemplative

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Mystic vs. Monastic vs. Contemplative
« on: May 29, 2019, 07:27:26 PM »
What defines a Pagan monastic?  Merri-Todd Webster posted a heartfelt and challenging post about the difficulty of conceptualizing oneself as a monastic when one is a householder.  I'm a householder too, and I had to sit with the post for a day or so and let my thoughts simmer.  I'm reposting here (with a bit more) what I posted in the Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism Facebook Group.  I'd love thoughts about mysticism vs. contemplation vs. monasticism.  And how much of being a polytheist monastic, since we're making it up as we go, is about intention (which is so important in many pagan and polytheist groups) vs. action (which is often hampered significantly by our overcultural social structures, particularly our economy)?  How much are our ideas about monasticism informed by cultural assumptions mostly stemming from the more cloistered Catholic monasteries?

I doubt whether my practice is sufficiently monastic to be monastic (though I don't desire to be anything that what I am, because I'm doing what the Spirits I Serve called me to do). I think the challenge of defining monasticism is that it can look very different in various cultures, religions, and times and I suspect that our contemporary ideas of what priests vs. monastics are, are probably largely informed by Christianity (and recent, Roman Catholic-influenced Christianity at that -- Celtic Christianity was very different). 

I also think there are so many issues with defining monasticism as action vs. intention/motivation.  In the Christian literature, it's been pointed out before that monks and nuns may not enter a monastic life for the intention of pursuing spiritual service so much as personality (liking silence and solitude), a desire not to marry when social pressure says to marry, or even a means to maintain oneself (this wasn't that uncommon in the past).  Many Catholic families used to "give" their less marriageable daughters to the church, and many families believed you needed to give at least one child as a nun.  Because of this and human nature, monasteries can be just as rife with egos, relationship issues, and dysfunction as householder life.  Monasteries also vary wildly in what the monks and nuns spend time doing.  We often think in terms of the most extreme Catholic convents, where monks and nuns spend a lot of time in silence and religious services.  But I have met monks and nuns who travel all over the world doing peace marches.  I have met Buddhist monks who opened rural agricultural schools and spend all their time educating children for the community.  They have social media accounts and spend the bulk of their time grading papers and teaching, like I do. 

So is the sole difference that they live a celibate life in a community and I live in a monogamous relationship by ourselves?  Does it matter that we've wanted to and attempted to build a community, but can't afford it and can't seem to get others to go in on large enough property with us?  Do circumstances, choices, intentions, actions... determine what is monastic enough?  I don't know. 

What does monasticism even look like as a Pagan, since Paganism is generally not about renunciation of the world, but rather fully embracing it and re-enchanting it?  And how do ascetic practices that feel good factor in?  I think this is where the piece on positive asceticism (I'm forgetting who posted it at the moment) is really helpful, because I think our overculture falsely sets up asceticism as inherently undesirable.  To many people, I'm relatively ascetic and removed from the world.  But I don't feel my Spirits asked me to give up meaningful parts of my life.  I've never been asked to be celibate or fast.  I gave up television, pop culture, reading novels, lots of other things to have time to devote to my work and spiritual practice... but I also don't miss them, so is that asceticism and obedience or just doing what I like to do?  Is that any different from what Catholic nuns do if they don't actually want to marry and enjoy silence?  If prayer and meditation and physical labor are enjoyable (and to me they are), is it really giving up something if you do join a monastery and make that your life? 

I have no answers, just lots of questions.  What I can say is that I am definitely a mystic and my practices are, unlike many Pagans, definitely devotional to Spirits I experience as real, individual persons and my practices involve discipline and contemplation.  These things seem to be different from many (if not most) Pagans that I know, though I have mixed less with the explicitly polytheist crowd, so maybe they're common among polytheists.  I don't do much in the way of magic (in the common way of thinking about it), though I do some seership (though it's tied to my mysticism).  I suppose I could be considered a priest/ess in the sense of maintaining a shrine and sacred sanctuary at my home, but I definitely do not view myself as clergy.  My vocation is teaching, and this isn't so different from a lot of monks and nuns, in the past and in the current day.  I think of Gregor Mendel with his pea plant genetic experiments and all the nuns who teach high school and I think, yep, this suits me.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2019, 02:15:02 PM by kkirner »
"The three foundations of spirituality: Hearth as altar; Work as worship; and service as sacrament."
~ Irish Triad


Danica Swanson

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Re: Mystic vs. Monastic vs. Contemplative
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2019, 09:15:37 PM »
There's a lot to engage with here, Kimberly. Great post! Thank you for bringing it into this forum. I think any of the questions you pose here could produce a long and fruitful thread of its own.

I'm going to do as you did: sit with this post for awhile and let my thoughts simmer. I'll be back when I've sorted out my thoughts well enough to contribute something useful.