For several years now, I’ve been talking with people in Southern Illinois and beyond about starting an intentional community. This discussion has taken many twists and turns, and the nature of the community in question has undergone several evolutions. Now, I’m pleased to announce that I will be working with other like-minded individuals to create a Pagan monastery here in Southern Illinois.
So, what is a Pagan monastery? Truth be told, that still remains to be seen. So far, I’ve come across few if any intentional communities that self-identify as both monastic and Pagan. This leaves us with little basis for direct comparison. There are, however, other Pagan communities that we can turn to for inspiration and advice in the process of creating a Pagan monastery.
In order to clarify what I have in mind, I’ve created an updated and expanded version of the vision statement that I passed around about a year ago. This new draft, along with a few other related documents, will serve as the organizing documents of this monastery while we work on building a membership base and finalizing documents through group process.
The vision statement portions of this rough draft are available online at:
So, why a Pagan monastery? During my earliest discussions with other potential members, I wavered back and forth between a secular community and a spiritual community. Initially, I was leaning towards a secular community, simply because it would then be open to people of many spiritual paths and faith traditions. In the end, though, after many discussions and much soul-searching, it became clear that I was looking for a Pagan community.
Paganism has become the greatest defining force in my life, more so than any other influence. When I look out into the world, and look into my heart, I see a place where great magic is afoot. The miraculous dance of life swirls all around me, a dizzying mix of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, growth and decay, birth and death and rebirth. The seasons change, and the pace of the dance slows or quickens to match the tempo set by the whirling and tilting of the Earth in her dance around the Sun. Sometimes, it seems joyous and brilliant beyond bearing, and other times, it seems cold and cruel beyond all comprehension. But in each moment, I can find the presence of the Divine somewhere, and the presence of the Lord and Lady in every turn of the Wheel of the Year.
This appreciation of the simultaneous immanence and transcendence of the Divine is a central part of my life. As much as I may admire and appreciate a more secular form of humanism embraced by my agnostic and atheist friends, I’ve decided long ago that I am thoroughly Pagan, and that my Paganism defines who I am and what I seek in life.
Therefore, it’s only natural that I would long to live in a thoroughly Pagan community. In addition to that, I feel that community life is most easily and durably held together by a shared sense of being a part of something larger than oneself. For those who seek a secular community, the same effect can be accomplished through shared philosophies and a shared struggle toward a common goal. But for me, and for many Pagans, the archetypes, narratives, and rituals of a spiritual practice grant a deeper sense of meaning and bring people together in ways which are otherwise impossible.
So, I’ve decided that a Pagan community is the way to go. There are many forms that such a community could take, though. Why am I calling this a monastic community?
To me, and to some of the others I’ve talked to about the topic, monasticism involves taking a step back from society at large in order to create a community that embodies values and practices not present or emphasized in our society. If we formed a group of Pagans who happened to live together, have weekly dinners, etc., that would be a small step in that direction. But in the end, we would still essentially be the same as the rest of society.
I’ve met many Pagans who adopt the attitude that they are exactly the same as people of any other religion or faith. The only difference is that they celebrate different holidays and have different rituals to mark life passages such as birth, marriage, death, etc. That seems to work well for them, and it does grant Paganism a measure of acceptance in society.
But for me, as well as for the mystics in just about any religious tradition, my faith is more than something I celebrate on the weekends, or on the eight high holidays of the year. It’s an initiatory path — a life-altering experience that has introduced me to new ways of thinking and feeling and living which are at times wholly alien to the path laid out for us in mainstream society.
My path is a profoundly ecstatic spiritual path, seeking to experience the Divine by embracing my passions and following the true Will of my heart and soul wherever it may take me. But our society has little room for people who want to run wild through fields and forest singing and dancing with the gods, or to lose themselves on the dance floor for hours at a time communing with the music and the movements of the masses, or to meet in the moonlight to praise the gods and ask for their aid in bringing us the joy and the sorrow we need to become who we truly are.
These things are precious to me, and I can pursue them as much as I like in the privacy of my solitary practice. But at a certain point, I would love to share these things with those around me, and to live in a community where these experiences are the norm rather than the exception.
So, how does all of this sound? If it sounds odd, or silly, or simply not your cup of tea, then feel free to leave me alone to run off into the wild and become the mad monk of Southern Illinois. But if any of this makes sense to you, and you like any part of the vision statement I’ve shared, then join me in this new adventure. Together, we will build a community unlike any other.
I’ve laid out the first rough sketch based on the ideas we’ve discussed over the years. So far, I’m the first and only one to commit myself fully to the project. But there are many others who are potentially interested, and anyone who gets involved now will have the opportunity to make it their own just as I have.
If you’re interested in becoming an active member, or just keeping informed about our community events and such, let me know. Or, if you’re not interested but have feedback anyway, let me know that too. I’ll be talking to people soon to organize the first potluck and/or meeting to talk about this Pagan monastery. In the meantime, I am eager to hear your responses, and I wish you the best in your life path.