Like most who are drawn to monastic life, I appreciate structure and organization. I think polytheists need a great deal more of it in our modern religious movement if we want to grow sustainable religions rather than fractious spiritual subcultures. I’d like us to have not just monasteries, convents, abbeys, hermitages, hofs, chapels, and temples, but theological seminaries, professional clergy, midwives, hospital chaplains, death doulas, funeral directors, libraries, endowments, foundations, stipends, higher education scholarships, retreat centers, and retirement homes.
With that in mind, I gathered this list of resources to help other would-be monastics connect with one another. I put it together because there was nothing like this out there, and it is much needed. So many of us spent years thinking we were the only ones who were drawn to monasticism. Hopefully, if we do our work well, the next generations of aspiring monks and nuns will have an easier time of it than we have.
This list is for those interested in exploring monasticism from polytheist, Druid, Pagan, Heathen, and animist perspectives. This list is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, and is in no particular order. Please get in touch at shrine.of.skadi at gmail dot com if you know of resources that are not on this list, but ought to be!
Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism Discussion Group on Facebook – a respected, welcoming, and well-loved discussion group where many of us would-be nuns and monks hang out and chat online. From our group description:
“This group is for supportive, friendly discussion of monasticism as a form of pagan and polytheist life. We are here to celebrate our diversity, inspire and support one another, and to foster community through respectful sharing of resources and personal experiences. We are not interested in debate, arguments, or in telling others they are doing it wrong. There are plenty of other places you can go for that sort of discussion. There are no established monastic traditions within modern paganism and polytheism, but it’s clear that the need for them is growing, so some of us are working toward building traditions ourselves.”
LANMIPP – the Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically Inclined Polytheist Pagans, an entity formed by members of the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism discussion group to help connect would-be monastics with one another and to encourage the formation of monastic mutual aid networks.
Julie Bond of the Order of the Sacred Nemeton – a blog maintained by a long-time member of one of the few existing monastic orders in the modern polytheist religious movement. Julie writes:
“Although I am now with the Order of the Sacred Nemeton (OSN), a contemplative Druid monastic Order, I had been working on my own, developing a Druid monastic practice, for some years prior to that. I became a novice with the OSN in 2010 and took my full vows in 2012, but I had been studying monastic practice, mostly Christian monastic practice, since the 1990s.”
Julie has developed a guide for Druid Lectio Divina, and has graciously given her permission for the Hermitage to share it here.
Pagan Monastic and Frankincense and Wine – UK-based blogs by David Popely, a Hellenic devotional polytheist. David writes:
“As a Polytheist I believe in the autonomous, sentient agency of a diversity of Deities. This makes me uneasy when I’m expected to participate in Wiccan-style open ritual, often without being asked, and the assumption being made that because I am Pagan, I am either also Wiccan, or at least willing to ‘join in’. Polytheistic belief renders me unable to tacitly sit by while ‘the Goddess’ (which Goddess exactly?) is honoured, or while quarters are called. I have good theological reasons for believing that there are a multiplicity of Deities, and I can give an account for them if asked.”
Harvest Home Hermitage – Patricia Sue Christmas writes about her eremitic path “dedicated to the worship of the Goddess Habondia and the God Cernunnos. Like any hermitage, it is both a physical and a spiritual place…”
Clann Bhride, Children of Brighid – “a devotional group dedicated to Brighid in all Her guises.”
Her Eternal Flame – Erin Nighean Brìghde’s blog – “Exploring contemplative Brighidine mysticism as a spiritual path and practice for Brighidine flametenders and devotees.”
Nigheanan Brighde – Celtic polytheist order of Brighidine flametenders. “Nigheanan Brìghde’s Vision is of a revived sacred sisterhood in our goddess Brìde through shared devotion, contemplation, community, and study as we honor and celebrate Brìde’s wisdom and guidance in our daily lives. The Order is grounded in the Celtic worldview of polytheism and animism…”
Order of the Black Madonna – “A holy order devoted to the Great Dark Mothers of many names, who share a mission of social justice for all beings.” Here are a few photos from their elevation ceremony.
The Weeping Crow – polytheist Roger Finney’s blog. On the subject of asceticism in polytheist monasticism, Roger writes:
“I think ascetic practices can be applicable to us (speaking as a polytheist). Properly used (de-Christianized) asceticism is not self-punishment or self-denial. These acts are intended to increase spiritual awareness and strengthen one’s connection to the Powers. They can be a means of showing devotion and dedication. They can be methods of putting oneself into “headspace” or trance, to open oneself to Divine communication. They can be a way to disconnect from the toxic aspects of material culture, at least temporarily, so one can shift their viewpoint towards better spiritual understanding.”
Called by the Spirits, But Not to the Priesthood: The Mystery of Monasticism – a great article by Kimberly Kirner (published via the Pagan Bloggers portal). Kimberly writes:
“There are few visible roles in most neo-pagan communities. The primary role that we see is the priest: the ritualist, the organizer, the “Big Name Pagan” who authors books and blog posts, the workshop presenter. Priests are public figures. They facilitate spiritual and religious experiences for other people. Their responsibilities, training, and authority vary by religious tradition in the world, but what unites priests cross-religiously is their simultaneous service to spirits and to a human community.
“But what if we are called not to be priests, but monks or nuns? What if we are called by spirits, but not to public religious leadership? What if our spiritual work in the world is inward-facing, not outward-facing?”
Treasury of Apollon – “an organization of Apollon’s women from across the globe, each dedicated in love and honor to our Lord, Apollon…”
The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater in Palenville, NY – this is the only legally recognized Pagan convent in the USA (a status for which they had to fight a lengthy and expensive legal battle). “We re-introduced to the world a model for Pagan Monasticism….We do not require anyone to renounce anything to join us.” Rev. Catherine Platine’s book The Cybeline Revival is available at Lulu.
I remember how excited I was when I first learned that there was a Pagan group that practiced some kind of goddess-oriented monasticism. I remember thinking: “Wow! Are there really Pagan nuns? I’ve got to find out more!”
An ADF Monastic Order – page maintained by Kirk Thomas of White Mountain Druid Sanctuary. Kirk writes:
“It has been a dream of mine for some time now to found an ADF style monastery. Currently, my idea is to use the Pagan theological concept of the Three Worlds as my cultural complex, to include the entire Indo-European spectrum, but it’s still early days, and I haven’t settled on a name yet. […] The goals of the Order would include self-transformation through ritual and ecstatic trance practices, celebrating the Three Kindreds on a daily basis, with rites held at various shrines and temples as well as in members’ homes, and an all-around emphasis on piety. I’d also like to see us become a seminary, providing on-line and in-house classes for folks wishing to become ADF Priests, ADF Initiates, and Monks of the Order.”
Church of Asphodel and the Order of the Horae – a site with a wealth of resources for polytheist monastics, including The Pagan Book of Hours, a closer look at their official documents for becoming a legally recognized 501(c)3 church, and a series of excellent books published by their non-profit author cooperative Asphodel Press.
I (i.e., Danica, resident hermit) especially recommend their Pagan Monasticism FAQ. I’ve never met any of the folks involved in this group, but I will always be grateful to them for creating this document (and all the other resources they’ve made available to would-be Pagan monastics) and posting it at the time they did. I found it in 2006, and I felt a huge rush of recognition of my own fledgling path in the words they wrote. I remember feeling so bowled over to discover that there were other polytheists in Heathenry/Paganism that were interested in monasticism. I felt a stirring of interest when I discovered the Matreum of Cybele as well, but it was the writings of the Church of Asphodel that marked a turning point for me. I didn’t tell anyone else about this calling for many years, because I wasn’t ready to handle the implications. Still, I knew that someday I would have to figure out a way to live as a polytheist nun. Or die trying.
Eremitical Life for the Layperson – post from the Contemplative Wicca blog by Teresa Chupp. “This blog is meant to provide an exploration of a new pagan theology, a theology of contemplative Wicca.”
Occulta Femina group on Facebook – “A sisterhood of multicultural Pagan/Polytheistic women who choose to cover their hair as part of their spiritual practice. The group is open to all who identify as women and are Pagan/Polytheistic friendly.”
Pagan Monastics, A Few Thoughts – blog post on Veiled Witch’s Mirror. A quote:
“When we consider the works of Theresa of Avila, Dame Julian of Norwich, or Hadewijch, we discover they had luminous, intimate, and visceral experiences of their deity. We discover that there is a set of techniques that they employ in their devotional life that facilitates these experiences. And we discover that there is a very clear precedent for deity having a direct influence over a person’s life that is pervasive and can be seen in virtually all areas.
“These women are, in many ways, the foremothers of modern monasticism. Through their writings, we find a road map that leads us from the mundane, often profane, life to a place where we can directly interact with deity and be aware of deity’s response to us. It is at times difficult to express this path to others. In our highly secular society, people who have intimate relationships with the divine are viewed as suspect. Doubly so if their faith is not some flavor of Christianity. […]
“I contend that monasticism is flourishing and doing quite well within the pagan community. With organizations like the Maetreum of Cybele becoming more visible within the community, monastic paganism moves from a vague idea to a concrete reality. There are individuals who live as monastics within the secular, non-pagan community. Their practices are no different from those of the anchorites who lived within the medieval communities, not when you consider what their relationship to deity is.”
Where are we Going? A Response to “What I Expect From My Church” 20 Years Later – a great blog post by Stevie Miller about wishing for more structure and organization in Paganism and polytheism. Stevie writes:
“It seems that this was something of a golden age for alternative religious paths like ours. Many of you have similar stories from the 1990s, of discovering a new faith, one filled with Gods and Goddesses, with magic, with rituals, through books, perhaps festivals or college groups, and eventually, through the internet. Even though for a lot of us, it felt like coming home, there was so much to piece together! So much research to do! It was like an entire world of spiritual truth had been hidden from us. […]
“I bet you had to piece it all together for yourself. It would have been so nice to have one central place to go, somewhere with warm and welcoming people who would patiently explain what was going on…what you probably found were scattered, loosely gathered groups of well-meaning people with…lack of organization, poor planning, no central location, no funding, no infrastructure, and no well-trained or qualified leaders.
“If there’s anything I’ve learned from my journey to find my religious path, it’s that I don’t want to do it this way again. […]
“We need to start finding groups of people with whom we can agree enough to build something. We need to organize.”
Ask the Puritans for Your Money Back – another great post by Stevie Miller about the influence of Puritan views on money, work, and moral living, and how this can affect our religious pursuits. We need to work through this stuff and collectively get beyond the “adolescent” stage about money if we’re ever going to have the extensive religious infrastructure – such as, say, monasteries – that we say we want.
“I’m going to perform and talk about money magic. I’m going to talk about clergy, mystics, diviners, magicians, and spiritual counselors receiving pay for their services. I’m going to continue to patronize Pagan and Polytheist craftspeople, and contribute to spiritual organizations whose services matter to me. I’m going to talk about hospitality, gifting, and reciprocity, which are quite literally the spiritual foundations of all the Indo-European religious traditions. (That’s everything from Iceland to India, kids!) Let’s start acting like the pagans we are, and leave the Puritans in the dusty annals of history.”
Prayer in a Heathen Context – informative blog post by thelettuceman.
“Prayer” is one such practice which tends to find derision and criticism in contemporary Heathen groups. This is largely due to the associations with popular, particularly Christian, instances of prayer. The role and use of prayer within ritual are rarely, if ever, discussed within contemporary Heathenry, and individual practitioners often cannot articulate the purpose of prayer. This work will serve as an example for our discussion of prayer in the wider Indo-European context, in an effort to position the idea of “prayer” within a native Germanic tradition.”
The Gnostic Celtic Church: A Manual and Book of Liturgy – book by John Michael Greer for Druid monks that is perhaps the only one of its kind.
Quotes from the book summary and reviews on Amazon:
“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.”
Questions on Pagan Monasticism – article by Heather Freysdottir.
“…many Pagans are not aware that monasticism is a vocation in our faith, and certainly even fewer people outside Paganism…”
Pagan Abbeys: a Practical Heritage for Spiritual Lay and Professional Cloistered Communities – article by Treasach.
“I used to have repeated arguments with others in the pagan community on this topic, though in the past few years, curiosity and hope are beginning to replace the sneering. “Why should WE need an abbey?”, some said with a snort..For a religion to be more formalized, to grow and permeate more areas of a culture or a group, it needs full time members who are dedicated to practising, refining, writing, recording, studying and teaching. Though we do have quite a few of those, they usually have day jobs, rather than being a full time professional community.”
Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism (and me?) – blog post by Adrian Moran.
“I recently discovered that there is a network of people who identify themselves as Pagan and Polytheist Monastics. It has forced me to confront some things within myself. I have to admit that on one level, there is an appeal to an ascetic religious life, while at the same time, there would be certain sacrifices I couldn’t contemplate and many complications in my current life that would entirely prevent me from making some of these life changes.”
The Little Pagan Monastery Weekend – a retreat organized by Joanna van der Hoeven at Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury, UK, in 2014.
Ask a Historian: Was there an equivalent to monasticism in pagan religions? – reddit Q&A.
Stained glass windows featuring Norse deities – these windows can be seen at the Cardiff Castle in Wales. Frigg and Mani are my favorites. If Christians and Tibetan Buddhists can have beautiful stained glass windows in their monasteries, why not us? Even more beautiful, I think, are the Freyr and Odin windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris in 1883 for an estate which featured a suite of nine stained glass windows with Nordic themes.
Viking Women’s Headwear – a Pinterest board featuring head coverings that could be adapted for would-be Norse polytheist monastics. There are lots of Pagan veiling resources out there, but few that are specific to Norse culture, as far as I know.
Pagan monastic garb inspiration – a Pinterest board by yours truly.
Monastic inspiration for Pagans – a Pinterest board by Justin Shingara.
Norse Prayer Beads – “Prayer beads in various forms have been a part of nearly all religions, across many cultures, and throughout history. The Ancient Norse were no exception, and excavations have unearthed numerous examples of beaded strands, with a wide range of materials – glass, shell, rocks and gemstones, pearls, and precious metals. […] The use and meaning of these common grave goods have been lost, but with so many examples of prayer beads in other cultures, parallels can be drawn, and we can re-create their use in ways that are meaningful to modern Heathens.”
I’d also like to add a brief but heartfelt thank you to Elizabeth Vongvisith, an excellent writer, Lokean, and former nun whose blog Twilight and Fire was a huge inspiration to me (and many others!) in the early days during which I was discerning my own calling to monasticism. Unfortunately the blog is no longer online. I miss it greatly, and I wish her wonderful and thought-provoking writings could be collected in book form for the sake of future polytheist monastics. (For a sampling, there’s archive.org, through which I found this and this.)
Here are a few resources from other religions and paths that members of the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism discussion group have found useful in our own monastic endeavors, so that we don’t need to “reinvent the wheel,” as it were.
Our Lady of the Redwoods Monastery – a short and inspiring video documentary in which a Roman Catholic contemplative order of nuns in Whitethorn, CA provide a glimpse into their way of life. When this was posted to the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism discussion group, many of us thought that if it weren’t for the fact that they mention Christ a few times, they might as well be Pagan. Here are a few of my comments about this documentary:
Well done. I like the way it gives the viewer a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the nuns (laundry duties, ironing, chopping vegetables, etc.) juxtaposed with their religious services and prayers. That’s one of the reasons monastic life appeals to me: I consider my day-to-day life to be part of my religious practice. The manual labor I do, for example, feels like a form of monastic practice to me. On good days, it even feels meditative. I especially like these things the nuns said:
1) “There’s a vocational call which doesn’t leave you at rest if you don’t pay attention.”
That’s definitely been my experience – that I have long had a vocational call as a polytheist nun. But unlike these contemplative nuns in the Roman Catholic tradition, I have no monastery/convent/abbey to live in, so my only choice at the moment is to live out this call the best I can in the “mundane” world.
2) “The monastic journey is about learning how to listen.”
That’s one of my favorite things about the monastic journey as I experience it. It is teaching me how to listen much more deeply than I did before.
3) “How do we best become who we were created to be?”
A good question for contemplation…
I am floored by the beauty of this place, and the quiet, unassuming way they live and work, and the way they talk about the importance of nature. I love the way the monastery is nestled away among all those towering trees. I love the half-circle, interconnected spatial arrangement of the buildings on the land. I love the fact that there are several separate homes/meditation huts on the property. I love that in-house library they have with the study table (shown at 4:49), and the layout of the space in which they gather for worship. I paused the video many times, especially between 1:00-1:10, so I could take everything in and appreciate it more deeply.
“None of us alone can be what we are together,” says one of the nuns. Indeed!
The Beguines – a short documentary and “A Lost World Made By Women,” a NYT article about lay religious orders in semi-monastic communities.
“If feminism means a desire for independence from patriarchal authority, the beguines — a Roman Catholic laic order that began in the 13th century and branched across northwest Europe — represented, perhaps, the world’s oldest women’s movement.”
The Sisters of the Valley – a small community of activist ‘weed nuns’ in California who dress as nuns, pray, and make medicines ceremonially. Sister Kate writes:
“We take six vows:
- Devotion (Service) – through spreading the Word (of the intelligent plant) and Medicine-Making
- Activism – Dedication of Time to Local Politics, Local Causes
- Ecology – a commitment to reducing our foot-print
- Chastity – Privatizing sexuality / keeping ourselves covered out of respect for the work we do
- Obedience – to moon cycles
- Living simply – one bedroom, one car, one TV – wealth goes to creating more jobs, more housing security, more career paths for women.“
History of Ideas: Monasticism – a brief video overview of monasticism. My comments:
I like the emphasis on how monastic life grants freedom from the demands of romantic relationships. While I don’t think polytheist & Pagan monasteries would necessarily need to involve mandates against members being involved in romantic relationships, I do understand why monastics might choose celibacy.I also like the emphasis on the way cooperative life frees people from having to handle all domestic responsibilities on their own, and thereby frees up time and energy for religious practice.
“Being a nun means she’s supplied with meals, laundry, and heating without having to organize everything for herself…there are many benefits of monasteries which are not really tied to religion at all…the monastery removes the problem of finding work-life balance.”
The Monastery and The Convent – BBC documentaries (continuing through four hour-long episodes) about ordinary men and women who spend 40 days in British abbeys with monks and nuns. Lots of food for thought here.
Powerhouse of Prayer: Millenials are drawn to monastic life in Prairie du Sac – in-depth profile of Cistercian nuns. My comments:
While I have never been a Christian, I can’t help but feel envious that they have an established monastery and tradition that works for them. I feel the same kind of envy when I go to The Grotto Portland, near where I live, as there are monks and nuns who live on-site and work at the sanctuary.
I do believe we will have Pagan & polytheist monasteries and religious orders one day, and in fact it is part of my own mission to help make inroads in that direction. But we’ve certainly got a long way to go.
There are many things that appeal to me about the way these sisters live: spending the majority of their time in silence; running a monastery-based business (instead of having to find a wage labor job to earn a living); doing manual labor to maintain the monastery; the clothing they wear; and the way they serve the community by taking prayer requests. I like the photo showing the way they kneel in unified formation before the altar.
And I sure can relate to the sister who described her frustrations with dating as one of the factors involved in her decision to turn to monastic life! Heh.
But the lack of variety in their meals, and giving up a passion for music…those things would be deal-breakers for me. Aside from the fact that I don’t hang with Jesus, I mean.
The minimalist, austere decor of the monastery is not particularly appealing to me either. Tibetan Buddhist monasteries strike me as much closer to what Pagan/polytheist monasteries should be like – shrines with lavish, colorful artistic displays, sacred dance, and music.
A Tibetan Buddhist Nun Blazes a Trail for Other Women to Follow – “Sravasti Abbey is one of the only communities in the US where women can become fully ordained in the tradition.”
“Chodron said she was inspired to start the monastery because in the Tibetan tradition, there wasn’t a place for monastics in the West to prepare for and receive proper monastic training. “There are dharma centers,” she said, “but they are designed for lay practitioners, even though some monastics may live there.”
“In other words, for Buddhism to flourish in the West, there needed to be a stable sangha, or community of monks and nuns.”
Here’s a video introduction to Sravasti Abbey, and some fascinating reflections (starting around 2:30) about what life was like in the early days of the abbey when the founder lived there alone.