Polytheistic Monasticism: Voices from Pagan Cloisters
A Book Review
As you surely know, polytheist monasticism is a cause close to my heart. I consider myself both a polytheist and novitiate nun. I was excited and delighted to hear of the publication of this book. It contains eight essays by nine contemporary pagan monastics, and one interview with a pagan monastic, along with some introductory context by the editor, Janet Munin. The individual essays, for the most part, discuss the writer’s personal experience, and how and why they understand it to be pagan monasticism. These were all interesting (some more so that others, of course), but personally, I found that many of them lacked details about the author’s specific practices and monastic structures which I could use to help build my own monasticism, and instead seemed more like beautiful and heart-felt journal entries. Personally, I do not care for that sort of deeply intimate writing, but I know many people like it. If you do, you’ll find plenty here to make your heart sing!
The second essay, by Kimberly Kerner, “Called by the Spirits, but not to the Priesthood” was one exception; she provided many very specific and useful examples woven into a compelling narrative about how she understands the similarities and distinctions between priesthood and monasticism. Her essay is well-organized, discussion of Devotion, Discipline, Contemplation, and “The Still Center”. While her practice and mine are very different, I found this essay quite inspiring, and especially appreciated the way the topic headings gave me an outline to apply those ideas to my own practice.
Chapter seven, by Rebecca Corvo was also a favorite. It focused very tightly on one practice, “custody of the eyes.” In the essay, Corvo discusses beginning the practice focusing entirely on “seeing the hidden and the ignored” especially in Nature, but moved onto averting their eyes from the violent, the impious, and the miasmic. While they and I do not agree on all details, this was the only essay that moved me to make immediate and very practical changes to my daily life, and for that I am very grateful.
However, while I enjoyed and found value in many of essays, and think them well worth reading for any aspiring polytheist monastic, it was the fourth essay, by Syren Nagakyrie, that most spoke to me. Titled “Modern Polytheistic Monasticism: A Revolutionary Vision” it was the only essay in which I really recognized myself and my values (a testament to the variety of viewpoints in the book!). It focuses on monasticism as an inherently counter-cultural practice, and outlines four basic monastic values : “Resistance to the exploitation of time and labor”, “Resistance to the disenchantment of daily life”, “Resistance to oppression and the devaluation of all beings”, and “Resistance to resource extraction from the earth”. Found it both challenging and inspirational; just what I want from religious theory! In my opinion, this essay alone is worth the cost of the book ($12 paperback or $6 ebook).