In my last post, I talked about the fact that I think Paganism needs a Monasticism. I talked about the New Monasticism movement that has inspired me with their dual commitment to a life of disciplined contemplative spiritual practice and radical service to the poor and needy in society. A vision I believe should be the foundation of any Pagan Monasticism. In this post I want to explore what some Pagans are currently doing, as well as outline some of my initial thoughts about how such a Monasticism could work.
Perhaps the most advanced work currently undertaken by Pagans in this area is the work of the Order of the Horae. They have produced a Book of Prayer so members can pray the daily office (set hours and prayers each day), a set of Prayer Beads, A Rule of Life based around 12 principles and more. This is the sort of thing any Pagan monastic group needs to have in place. Less advanced are groups like the Order of the Sacred Nemeton, Druid group AODA’s Gnostic Celtic Church and the outgoing ArchDruid of ADF who has been working towards developing a monasticism there too. There is also some interesting work going on by an OBOD member. All these attempts show there is a hunger and a drive to create a more monastic and contemplative space within Paganism. But there is one area these groups have not yet built into their vision – social justice and service to the poor and needy.
For me, Paganism has got to matter in the real world too. It can’t just be about our personal spiritual practices, it has got to have positive effects on the world around us. If we want to see Paganism grow, be accepted by society as a legitimate religious option and, importantly, be able to challenge those aspects of society which need changing, then a Pagan Monasticism can’t be about withdrawing from the world, it needs to be about engaging with it, showing the world a better way of life, and making it a better place. This means a Pagan Monasticism needs both elements of the vision – the disciplined contemplative spiritual practice and the radical service to the poor and needy. This is why Pagan monasteries should not be out in the countryside but should be deliberately placed in run down urban areas and communities. And if we want access to greenery, then maybe teaching local people guerilla gardening might be a way forward.
So let’s move on to considering some elements of how this Pagan Monasticism could work. For that I will look to the book by Greywind, The Voice within the Wind. In this book he sets out 9 strands of the Druidic identity and I believe these strands can help us to form a vision of what a Pagan Monasticism might look like.
The first aspect is history and culture. The ancient Bards were historians, the keepers of the lore and culture, of story, of genealogy. A Pagan Monasticism should offer access to and study in the lore and aspects of Pagan culture. Pagan monasticism should make study an important element of their practice. They should learn and share the stories of ancient times. Genealogy is also important, the Pagan monks should research their own ancestry and offer services for others who want to do the same. Related to this is the importance of honouring ancestors and Pagan monks should set an example by doing this..
Secondly is Art. Bards were not just historians, they were musicians, poets, storytellers, actors and more. A Pagan monastery is the perfect place for a Pagan culture of art to flourish, and for the artists within the Pagan community and community at large to find a place to fit in and grow in their talents and abilities. Pagan monasteries could have rooms dedicated to art and music, a place for local young people to hang out and learn new skills, a place for performances to the community. Perhaps this would evolve into a way to help make the monastery financially sustainable too.
Third is healing, the realm of the Ovate. Ancient Ovates would have been skilled in herbalism and healing, and perhaps modern Pagan monasteries could offer the same – healing for both physical and psychological issues through herbalism, counseling and so on (assuming the right skills and training were in place). Another important aspect of this healing would be healing with the “more-than-human” world – healing the abandoned and forgotten places, showing people how to regenerate the land and honour the spirits of the land.
Fourth is metaphysics – studying the spiritual aspects of the cosmos and the inner self. This includes learning about how the ancient Pagans viewed their universe e.g the three realms.
Fifth is Seership – studying and offering divination services.
Sixth we move on to the realm of the Druids. The were the Ritualists. A Pagan monasticism needs to celebrate rituals, whether the eight high days, the phases of the moon or rites of passage. Monks would follow a rhythm of life set by nature and the cycles of the year. The monks would become skilled in the art and practice of ritual and celebrate regularly. Rituals must be public and open to the community, although personal ones such as for weddings/ funerals e.t.c could be offered to select groups of people. Related to this is the importance of regular daily practice. A Pagan monasticism would be committed to regular disciplined and communal ritual, prayer and meditation at set points each day.
Seventh is the study of natural philosophy. Druids and other Pagans studied nature. They studied philosophy and they were committed to finding truth and wisdom. The same should be true of modern Pagan monks. They should study the external world – the nature around them (including a practice of spending a regular daily period of direct contact with nature so they develop a bio-regional outlook) and philosophical wisdom from a variety of sources.
Eighth is Teaching. The ancient Druids were teachers. They taught their societies moral, wisdom and more. They were often the school teachers. Modern Pagan monks can also teach others whether through conversations, writing or formal teaching. They can teach people old skills (re-skilling), they can teach people the wisdom and stories of the ancient world and they can teach people how to live sustainably on the earth.
Finally, we come to service. The ancient Druids served their communities, as lawyers, doctors, political advisors and more. They were known as peacemakers who could walk between armies and stop battles. They believed in service and making the world a better place. Like the ancients, modern Pagan monastics can serve their communities too, committed to nonviolence and working to effect peacemaking and conflict resolution in society. Or inspired by the ancient legal roles, offer advice and help to those who need to access services of debt relief, social benefits and so on. Or inspired by the ancients role as political advisors, they can speak truth to power and offer a prophetic voice against those in power.
I hope this gives some idea of the type of Monasticism I want to see Pagans develop – one in which people are committed to a disciplined lifestyle of daily regular contemplation, ritual, offerings and prayer to the gods and ancestors. A lifestyle committed to following a rhythm of the year based around times of celebration but also fasting. A lifestyle studying nature, wisdom, philosophy and lore, and then teaching that to others. A lifestyle of creativity in art and poetry. A lifestyle of living in bioregional harmony with the earth. And a lifestyle committed to service to the community, whether through offering ritual, divination, conflict resolution, advice, counseling and fighting for social justice. In our next post we will explore this issue of service, and particularly peacemaking in more detail.