Ever since I read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon about 20 years ago, I’ve always been in love with the idea of a group of priestesses or priests, living separate on an island, surrounded by the mists and completely dedicated to the goddesses and gods of their choice. From the moment they wake up, to the moment they sleep, and even in their dreams, they are 100% devoted to their religion.
This lovely tale can inspire us, even if it is unattainable, in modern day society. As well, with my previous blog post the question of segregation, of separation from the outside world comes up – would this be the right thing to do for a pagan monastery?
I’ve been thinking about this solidly for two days since I posted my short, and quite quickly written little blog on the dream. This had grown, solidified, and I am now looking into things like the logistics of it, the ethics and spiritual pathways. So, what would my Pagan Monastery be like?
First of all, I’d have to start playing the lottery in able to have a chance at winning it. I would then use whatever is left from the winnings, after distributing it between those that are in desperate need of it, to create the Pagan Monastery. This would entail buying land that either had a suitable building on it that could house several people at once, and also put up people who wanted to come on retreat, or at least have the option to build something that would suit our purposes. The land would be essential, for we would need enough to grow as much of our own food as possible. Ideally, it would incorporate areas of woodland, or if not, then these would be planted – not in neat little rows but sown in as wild and natural a way as possible, and lovingly maintained. Even buying land that has come under threat from developers, or perhaps held in trust, like the wonderful, magical Sinfield Trust in Suffolk – imagine a monastery on that site! (www.sinfieldtrust.org). If we had to build, or expand upon the buildings already there, imagine eco-friendly structures, solar and wind powered.
I pondered in the earlier blog post whether I would have to give up my relationship to my husband to commit myself to my goddesses – and I’ve discovered that the answer is no. The Pagan Monastery would include families, and provide a supporting atmosphere – a real sense of community. People can live and love as they choose, as long as the tenets of respect, devotion, honour, integrity, discipline and community are adhered to.
The Pagan Monastery would allow for many gods to be worshipped. There would be altars and shrines for differing deities, kept by those that love and follow the path of their deity. Communal prayers as well as solitary prayers would be given. The seasonal festivals and moon rites would be kept, sometimes honouring a particular deity, sometimes incorporating all, or offering a more generic version. Private rituals and rites could be undertaken at any point by those who wish to go deeper into the vision of their goddesses and gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place.
There would be a routine adhered to. Discipline is not a bad word in the Pagan Monastery. People would rise at dawn where possible (ie. new mothers, fathers and children need their sleep as and when they can get it) and meditate, followed by solitary prayer. Those that wish to would then gather for the communal meal – others who wish to continue in a solitary fashion can do so. Chores would then be undertaken – the cooking and cleaning, either communally or solitary. Work on the crops, on conservation, on letter writing to protest destruction of wild habitats, chopping wood, tending herb garden, tree planting, laundry, child caring, litter picking along the highways; all manner of work could fall under this banner. Those that wish to work in the community can do so, and leave the monastery to perform their “day job”, so long as it is not against the tenets of the monastery. Working within the community would, indeed, be an essential part of the monastery. A portion of the salary of those with day jobs would go to the monastery in lieu of physical work undertaken during the day. Those that wish to remain on site can also do so – each would perform in the best capacity that they could.
Noon day prayers would be given communally. Following that, a lunch, and then either more work for those that choose to do so or perhaps attending a lecture, talk, workshop. In the hours between that and supper, people would be encouraged to exercise, to get out and commune with nature, or partake in journal-writing, craftwork, etc. This would be free time. Those that leave the monastery to work in the community then return home, and have some time to “decompress” should they so desire. Then supper, again either communally or solitary, depending upon the person. Prayers before each meal are essential, to give thanks for the bounty.
Evening prayers would be communal for those that wish to, filled with beautiful song, chants, poems, dance, and other inspiration received during the day. The evening would be filled with stories, or discussions, or ritual dependent upon the time of year. Then, meditation for those that wish, and also bed – for those night owls, this routine would be different.
Retreats would be offered to those who seek to learn more – weekend retreats would be ideal. Newcomers would be introduced to the routines, and take their part in the community, to do their share and get to experience what monastic life would be like for the pagan. These retreats would be paid for by the retreatees, and funds going to the monastery for essentials – any excess then devoted to designated charities.
The Pagan Monastery would be a place of learning. It would welcome and organise guest speakers to come and teach the community new things. It would be a designated holy space for all pagans to come and spend some time, in prayer, in learning, in work and in devotion.
These are just some of the things that I envision for the Pagan Monastery. While it may only be a dream, things are falling into place for a Little Pagan Monastery – ie. weekend retreats in a monastic style, with the routine outlined above, workshops, lectures and ritual. Held perhaps quarterly, at either the cross-quarter days or the solar festivals, these retreats would bring together those who long for that monastic feel, a retreat to recharge the batteries and inspire the individual monastic style.
Watch this space.