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The Monk Life: Can you be a Pagan and a monk?

In a previous post, I mentioned that I lead a life I call ‘semi-monastic’. That is: I don’t live in a monastery but the way I live incorporates a lot of aspects of a traditional monastic life. Things like daily rituals and contemplation, simplicity and having few material possessions. I’ll get more in depth on the hows of my path but today, I’d like to adress a question many might have: Is there really such a thing as a Pagan monk (or nun)?

When I began feeling a pull towards a monastic life, I asked myself the same thing. I looked into it and found a handful of monasteries with very few members. In the Northern tradition, I only found one and quickly realised it wasn’t for me for a number of reasons; the main one being that it was located on a different continent and I didn’t want to leave my loved ones so far behind.

I started pondering the option of starting something myself but also this didn’t feel like a good possibility. I didn’t know anyone in the already small local Heathen community who felt the same calling. I also didn’t have much in terms of resources to buy property and other things needed for the founding of a monastery.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t as it gave me the possibility of weaving a unique path tailored to my personal wyrd. The semi-monastic life turned out to be an opportunity to blend the best of the contemplative and the everyday, as I will write more about in the future.

To get back to the main question: Yes, Pagan monasticism exists, both organised and solitary.

But perhaps you wonder whether it has a good historic precedent? Especially if you fall more in the reconstructionist side, you might be concerned with whether monasticism existed in your tradition in pre-Christian times. When it comes to the Northern path, I don’t know of any evidence that it did. Perhaps it did, but if that was the case then any proof of it has been lost in time. Could be archeologists will one day unearth an ancient Heathen monastery but until then we just don’t know.

Some wandering völur and vitkar might have lead a sort of ascetic lifestyle, but from the excavation of Viking Age graves we also know many were actually quite wealthy by the day’s standards.

When it comes to other Pagan traditions, there are a few examples. Such as the Hellenic Pythagoreans, who lived in ascetic communities and shared all their resources. The Roman Vestal Virgins –  who lived in a special building behind the Temple of Vesta and took a vow of chastity – could also be seen as a type of monastics.

So, we know that contemplative living and organised religious communities existed on the European continent before the arrival of Christianity. It is by no means a Christian invention.

It’s also worth noting that most religious traditions tend to develop a monastic path unless explicitly forbidden, such as in
Sikhism and Islam.

Pythagoreans celebrate the sunrise. Artwork by Fyodor Bronnikov.

To be quite honest, I don’t particularly care if Norse Pagan monasticism is a brand new, modern thing. That something hasn’t been done before has never been a good argument against anything.
The ancient Norse also lived in very different times. Perhaps they didn’t have monastic orders but they also didn’t have Heathen Facebook groups, blot meetings through Zoom, blogs or even a printing press. And that doesn’t stop modern Heathens from using these things.

In the end, the relationship between oneself and the Divine is… well, between oneself and the Divine. If you feel called to a monastic or semi-monastic life then go for it. Create your own unique thing if that’s what feels right. Some might think you’re too unorthodox or that you’re not really serious about your spiritual tradition; but in the end we answer to our God(s), not to mere humans.

I’m personally very happy with the path I’ve chosen and it has been quite fruitful in helping me weave my wyrd. In the next Monk Life post, I’ll tell you more about my semi-monastic life and practice.

3 reaktioner till “The Monk Life: Can you be a Pagan and a monk?

  1. This is so interesting to me. I’ve long admired Buddhist monks and Christian nuns. It never really occurred to me to take pagan monasticism as a serious path. Thank you for sharing.

    Would you ever share your personal monastic reading list? Or, that might be a lot to ask, so perhaps a few starter recommendations?

    Gillad av 1 person

    1. To be honest, I haven’t really read books on the topic apart from Rory McEntee and Adam Bucko’s The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Life. But I plan on reading more in the future and I’ll likely write about it.
      When it comes to the books I read in my daily spiritual practice then the Eddas, Dao De Ching and Bhagavad-Gita take center. The last two aren’t Heathen but have long been a source of spiritual guidance to me.


      1. That sounds like a great start though!

        Neat. Yeah, the Gita is a lovely text. I bought an Indian comic book that explains the background of the Gita. their interpretation of Krishna’s true form was really cool.

        Gillad av 1 person


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