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Questions on Pagan Monasticism

I'm writing today about Pagan monasticism, for a couple of reasons, one being that a colleague in my study group asked about how you can tell whether you’re called to clergy as a monastic, particularly as opposed to being a priest or priestess. The other reason I'm writing about it is because many Pagans are not aware that monasticism is a vocation in our faith, and certainly even fewer people outside Paganism.

“While in common usage the terms "nun" and "Sister" are often used interchangeably (the same title of "Sister" for the individual member of both forms), they are considered different ways of life, with a "nun" being a religious woman who lives a contemplative and cloistered life of meditation and prayer for the salvation of others, while a "Religious Sister", in religious institutes like Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, lives an active vocation of both prayer and service, often to the needy, sick, poor, and uneducated.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nun

I can’t find the same sort of reference for the difference between “priest” and “monk,” although I suspect it’s somewhat similar. It’s been a long time since I formally studied Catholic doctrine. However, I’d also say that in Paganism, the lines are a bit fuzzier in terms of monasticism. If we were using the strict Catholic definitions, I’m somewhere between a nun and a Sister – I have a large amount of most of my days dedicated to contemplative study, prayer, and meditation, but I also do a lot of community work online and in person. This is why I have “free-range nun” listed as my occupation. It’s sort of tongue-in-cheek, but it’s accurate.

In regards to partners, celibacy and monastic practice – celibacy can be a choice or it can be asked for by a deity. For the record, I don’t consider myself celibate, and Loki has said to me that if I desire a mortal partner or physical affection, all I have to do is ask and He’ll arrange someone appropriate for us. I think that if I were not demisexual and monogamous, He would be a-okay with me having a mortal partner, but this is not really of interest to me right now. All that said, Loki is not a God of many prohibitions. I know some people define or conflate monasticism with asceticism, but in my experience, it’s not about having things or not having things, but about removing what you don’t need to be attached to any longer, which is also a Lokean value in general.

I’ll give you an example – not long ago, I had car troubles, and I ranted and raved about it and how much it cost, and told Loki that I’d like to live somewhere that was more conducive to mass transit, for health and environmental reasons. Turns out I live a mile from a bus stop. “Why don’t you try giving up the car for a while and see how you like it?” He said. So I did, and thus far, it’s working for me. I walk more, I still do all the things I need to do, and I’m saving more money on gas, car maintenance, insurance, etc. So it’s not about having the car vs. not having it – or that having the vehicle somehow was messing with my relationship with Him, but it is about whether or not paying for the car and its related expenses is serving me well. I think what I’m rambling on about here is that Loki is not a particularly authoritarian Deity, and so my experience with Him as a monastic is that He doesn’t levy a lot of restrictions on me, but I’m sure if you served a different deity that your mileage there would vary.

My final thought on monastic practices in Paganism is that in many ways they’re like devotional relationships. When I decided to take nun vows, I’d read and studied that you should contemplate and consider whether or not this is the path for you, what your values are, why you want to do this, and I had planned on considering it for a good while. But instead of that happening, Loki arranged a scenario that negated a long period of contemplation and discernment, and instead yielded an ecstatic recognition of my path and my True Will. I contemplated ALL the things later, and I’ve come to the conclusion that He did this because my path is an ecstatic one in general with Him. There’s nothing wrong with taking the more contemplative route, and I think it’s actually more common than what I experienced, but my point in relating this experience is that following your Deity’s lead is the way to go, regardless of the direction you’re taking. In my own pathwork I’ve listened to the Shoulds of other well-meaning individuals, and had Him tell me, “You’re driving in the wrong direction on the one-way street, because this is not your route.” Sometimes it’s worth going down the wrong road just to know you don’t belong there, and one of Loki’s gifts is showing you the Wrong Way sign from time to time.

Some resources on Pagan monasticism:

Black Stone Hermitage: http://blackstonemonastery.wordpress.com/

Elizabeth Vongvisith’s posts on monasticism: http://twilightandfire.wordpress.com/category/monastic-values/

And if there are any other readers lurking who are pursuing monasticism, I’d love hear your perspective on your practice.

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Lokean nun, writer, swamp witch. Heather is a Pagan monastic, writer, editor, and mother. She has written and edited for a variety of publications and social media, including science journals, romance novels, and technology blogs. She also holds degrees in education and speech-language pathology, and has a passion for historical linguistics.

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