Why Do Polytheists & Animists Need Monasteries?
Archived Q&A from the original Polytheist Monastic discussion forum (2019-2020)
This Q&A piece is taken from the FAQ which was originally published on the Polytheist Monastic discussion forum, for which I served as a co-founder. The forum was online from May 2019-Oct. 2020.
Unfortunately, not all of the discussion forum was preserved through the Internet Archive Wayback Machine in its original form. Many of the most important basic documents, such as the FAQ and About page, were lost when the site went offline.
So as I mentioned in the intro for the interview issue, I’m digging all the originals out of my files and re-publishing them here as a series for future reference. There’s more on the way.
Q: Why would polytheists and animists in a modern religious movement need monasteries?
A: Good question! Here are a few reasons to consider. These reasons need not apply to all monastics, of course; they’re provided as food for further thought and discussion.
1. Monasteries create dedicated, stable, intentionally designed space to concentrate on religious matters.
In "Why monasticism?" Rev. Haryo Young writes:
"If properly run, it [a monastery] is a setting that facilitates the intentions of those who have chosen to forgo a variety of normal human endeavors in order to concentrate on and fulfill certain religious aspirations."
These words are significant. I’ll break it down and comment on each section in turn.
First: chosen. Monastics make a choice to discern and follow a calling; they choose to accept the responsibilities of that commitment.
Second: Forgo a variety of normal human endeavors. Many monastics (but not all) forgo certain norms such as parenthood, marriage, consumption of intoxicants, and certain kinds of entertainment.
Third: In order to concentrate on…certain religious aspirations. Monastics are specialists. They center their lives around their religious practices.
Fourth: fulfill. Monastics are driven to deliver on their vows, even when they face daunting obstacles.
Fifth: if properly run…a setting that facilitates intentions. Good design is paramount. Well-designed monastic environments, including appropriate buildings and land, enable monastics to practice in such a way that daily prayer, devotion, service, etc., can become the default state rather than something largely confined to weekends, festivals, and days off.
In the right environment, daily structured practice becomes habitual and self-reinforcing, meaning that monastics don’t have to rely solely on their own (fallible) personal willpower to resist distractions and stay focused. The proper environment employs design elements such as spatial, architectural, tactile, and olfactory cues to shape behavior and reinforce the commitment to contemplative practice.
2. Most polytheists & animists recognize the limits of the DIY individualist approach to religion.
Many of us have become well aware of the pitfalls of a do-your-own-thing approach to religion, especially after years in unstructured or loosely organized Pagan and Heathen communities. Monasticism provides a framework to support more structured practices.
3. Monasteries can contribute to community cohesion and offer a basis for religious longevity.
Monasteries structured around distinct and clearly defined religious practices can offer a strong foundation for longevity. They can set responsible expectations, educate the public about polytheism and animism, and help lay the groundwork for future would-be monastics.
4. Monasteries can help facilitate a shift in consciousness.
Tasks such as sweeping the floor or caring for health needs, for example, can become a form of service to the divine. Devotional practices, too, can take on heightened significance when structured. A suitable structure can shift awareness in ways that might otherwise be inaccessible, or only sporadically accessible. Outer forms of asceticism, renunciation, and discipline can provide containers that facilitate meditation and corresponding inner shifts.
5. Monasteries can simplify life by reducing the burden of too many choices, distractions, and outside pressures.
Structured practices free monastics from the burden of having to handle all daily planning and decision-making as individuals. Reducing distractions, attention fatigue, and other pressures helps to create space for deepened contemplative practice.
6. Monasteries can provide a place of dedicated religious community service and a sense of belonging outside conventional career and family frameworks.
Every religion has mystics and contemplatives who are more drawn to religious community service than conventional career and family structures, but polytheist-animist mystics and contemplatives currently have next to no organized spaces to carry out these forms of service. Monastic orders in the modern polytheist revival can help to change that.
There are many more reasons! This short list is only a start. Most religions have some form of monasticism, and the time has come for animists and polytheists to develop our own.
Copyright (c) Danica Swanson & Black Stone Sanctuary, 2019-2021. All rights reserved.