Modern Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

Modern Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism: a revolutionary vision

There are a growing number of people interested in a polytheistic monastic lifestyle, or at least growing awareness of it as a possibility. Many of these modern-day monastics lead a life in which devotion is present in every daily activity, service to others is considered service to the divine, and hours are spent in study, devotion, and contemplation rather than excessive socializing or other external activities.

I consider myself among those interested in creating this way of life and working toward building awareness and acceptance of it within western polytheism and modern culture. This lifestyle is a powerful resistance to American society; indeed, it goes against almost everything this culture values. I see four main areas of resistance in which a monastic lifestyle serves:

Resistance to the exploitation of time and labor
Our time is one of the most precious gifts that we have. Why should we spend it in service to lining the pockets of the wealthy, when we could spend it in service to the divine and each other? Our time is not a commodity to be traded and our labor does not determine our worth as human beings. Our existence, our innate divinity and connection with the divine, is sacrosanct. The monastic is not interested in accumulating unnecessary wealth, in owning more than is needed for basic needs, or in engaging in activities that do not support devotion and service. The monastic’s productive time and labor is committed to meeting their own and other’s basic needs to allow space to open for contemplation and devotion – no more and no less.

Resistance to the disenchantment of daily life
Our modern lifestyles leave little time for appreciation and connection with each other, the world around us, and the divine. Our power as creative beings in relation with a great web of existence is reduced to a few shallow moments that we can wring from the constant pressure to produce and do and go-go-go. This disenchantment, this disconnection from who we are, is the core of the systems that harm us. The monastic who steps back from the external pressure, finds joy in the simplicity of daily life, and re-enchants their days with deep contemplation and connection with beings human and divine holds a key to remembering our true selves. Like The Hermit card, they hang a lamp showing us the way.

Monastics bring enchantment back to the community. As devotionalists and frequent mystics, they serve a bridge between the mundane and the sacred, bringing the sacred into the every day and making every day sacred. Through their creativity and service, they make connection with the divine more readily available, and in contemplation they access deep truths and awareness.

Resistance to oppression and the devaluation of human beings
As Silence Maestas wrote in a post on devotional justice it is much more difficult for people facing threats to their existence to surrender to devotion. I have experienced this myself – while in, and recovering from, my abusive marriage, and while faced with the financial and housing instability that resulted from my divorce, surrender has been incredibly difficult. If we want more people to be able to lead spiritual lives, we have to make sure their basic needs and safety are met.

If one truly believes that all humans contain some spark or aspect of the divine, then anything that harms and oppresses humanity should be revolutionized. Those of us who place ourselves in service to the divine are also placing ourselves in service to humanity. Not only out of compassion for other humans, but out of love for deity.

Resistance to resource extraction from the earth
Many pagan monastics regard all parts of nature, moving and unmoving, as having their own unique spirit or to be a part of the divine. Just as we consider humans to be divine, so are all of the other beings on this planet. So, the monastic also aligns themselves with the earth and the beings of the place in which they live. The pagan monastic is often inclined to spend time in contemplative appreciation of the wild and natural world which we are a part of, and to protect and learn from those places.

The concept of extraction and exploitation is in stark contrast to the values of service and devotion; thus, the monastic practices an anti-capitalist resistance, though often without naming it that way. As such, this lifestyle is not easily accomplished in this society. There are many systemic barriers, external and internal. But the call to create a contemplative life firmly rooted in devotion and service is strong.

For myself, the past two years of trauma and insecurity has been clarifying and informative alongside terrifying; the ongoing process of shedding my old life, my old expectations, my old attachments has been difficult and painful. During this time that I have spent in relative solitude, I have experienced joy, contentment, and loneliness. But I realized that the loneliness is not new – being dependent upon an abusive husband and abusive wage labor jobs for security, caring about other peoples’ perceptions of me and my work, forcing myself to be productive when my spirit was screaming for time to just be, was in fact incredibly lonely and isolating. Upon realizing this, and the harm I was causing myself, I embraced my situation as an opportunity for healing and transformation. Yet, embracing the situation would have been impossibly difficult if it were not for the generosity of friends and strangers who provided support in many ways.


As I allow this process to unfold, the call to live my most authentic life becomes stronger. A contemplative life of devotion and service is a life that feels right and good to me, a life that engages in as little harm as possible and is aligned with my values and connection with the earth. One of the things that I gained in coming out of an abusive relationship was an unwillingness to harbor abuse towards myself or abuse towards others. I cannot harbor blame against myself and I cannot willingly subject myself to something that I know will bring deep pain for minimal reward.

This too is not easy in our culture. The culture of the United States, so deeply rooted in capitalism and colonialism, is incredibly coercive and abusive. Wage labor is one of the most coercive aspects of capitalism: requiring us to be in service to capital or risk starvation. What do we lose, what potential does not get realized, while all of us are working ourselves to exhaustion in service to capital? That is not the practice of service I am here for. I am not here to bow to kings and capitalists.

Perhaps this is the result of being overly idealistic, mental health issues, or just my basic constitution (all of which have been “suggested” to me at some point). But I don’t think so. I think it is, as my friend Danica says much more eloquently, a revolt of the soul. Working a wage labor job feels like chaining my soul to everything that I don’t believe in. And while I recognize that I can bring my spiritual practice of devotion and service to everything that I do, including a wage labor job, experience has shown me again and again that the cost is too great. The cost to all of us is too great.

And yet, we still live in a capitalist society. There is no opting out, there is no freedom to choose; there is no true consent. So, what does this mean for someone like me, who wants to live a monastic lifestyle? How can I best move into this space of deepening into my truth and purpose and doing my true Work, while also meeting my basic needs within a society that puts a price tag on existence?

I’m most interested in creating a life in which wage labor is minimally necessary, if at all. The past year has certainly shown me that I can make do with far less than I thought I needed, that indeed I can be very happy by fulfilling my basic needs. Some food in my pack, water in my canteen, a warm dry place to come home to and a way to leave it when I’m ready, a source of communication with the rest of the world, my pen and notebook, my devotion, and my dog. That’s all.

So, what does the material foundation of a monastic life look like to me? It is pretty simple really:

  • Land that is my own/held in commons/conservation with other people
  • A small house or other structure
  • Labor focused on meeting needs, trade and service-oriented self-employment income to meet remaining needs, occasional supplementation with wage labor

I envision communities that are supportive of solitude and spiritual service, with access to a beautiful expanse of land, to be in a relationship of reciprocity with people and place.

In the interim, I am working on creating as much of this contemplative life of devotion and service as I can. I’m removing my own blocks and barriers to practice, feeling into where my service is most needed now, and opening to divine and ancestral guidance. I can only continue to flow where the current takes me, remaining hopeful that when it comes time to leap, Maa will open Her hand. I will continue to resist the conscription of my time, the chaining of my spirit to capitalism as much as I can.

I seek out support and community around these values. One such community is the Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism group (the Facebook group is currently set to “secret,” if you are interested in joining let me know). I also look to the work and friendship of Danica Swanson of the Black Stone Hermitage. I draw upon the Hindu tantric and bhakti traditions; as an initiate of Shakta Tantra, devotion to Kali Maa is the thread that weaves throughout my practice and draws me forward to awakening. There is a long history of monasticism, mysticism, and service to look to, even in the Western world. This desire is not new; indeed, there is evidence of people devoting themselves to spiritual service from the oldest of indigenous cultures. But as another wise hermit friend who practices Advaita Vedanta asked me, now that I have expressed this desire can I release it to the universe? That too is a part of the path.

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You Are Love

A valentine poem for you, for the earth. Perhaps especially for those who are in solitude this Valentine’s Day. Jai Maa ❤

Vision of the Olympics from the Hoh River

Here the earth curves in welcome
meeting my back with the sure comfort
of a wizened love.

I lean into the embrace,
inclined to believe
this is meant to be.

I rest against stones in their fullness, round
rising from the ground
warmth penetrating my cold, jagged edges
soothing, subduing
as I sink into the flow
that caressed their shape
into form.

Here so held solitude
becomes expansive.

My awareness slides
into the ever flowing river
surely as the salmon
in rushing depths.
This as simple and precious as breath

Here a truth:
You are not loved.
You are love.
You are not on this earth.
You are of this earth.
You can not be separate from who you are
and even the strongest of forms
will change with the flow of time.

Break open, wild one

Whenever I am be-ing outdoors, awe and gratitude often strike me to the core, like a ray of sun suddenly slicing through the dense canopy and illuminating the forest floor in a shocking glow.

I realized a couple of weeks ago that on many of my recent outings, I had been much more focused on getting somewhere or on the physical activity of hiking, my body wanting to move while it could and my mind wanting a distraction from itself. I hadn’t been sinking into the still receptiveness of winter.

Well, cue a flare-up of body pain and an injury. Unable to exert myself I was forced to slow down, to be still and pay closer attention, to notice what was going on in my body and in the world around me. To be present with the pain* and my reaction to it, to notice where grief was rising, bubbles from the cracks at the bottom of an emotional sea.

It was then that the light of awe and gratitude that had recently been only like the first light of sunrise, rose high. The cracks broke open and a great flood washed over me.

Quinault Rainforest, Photo by Syren

Driving south along 101, the Washington coast rising and falling in great curves that seemed to match the sound of the waves breaking upon her shore, I made a sudden left turn onto a dirt road with a sign that read “Big Cedar.” I had driven past this sign near Kalaloch many times on my way to other places, promising myself I would make a more leisurely trip and stop at this and all of the other heritage trees.

Just a few steps from the rough parking area ,this giant tree looms colossal. It is said the tree is over 1000 years old; part of it has fallen and there is only one living branch, and it is breathtaking. Standing in the presence of this ancient being I felt time spin and grow very still, each breath seeming to be an eternity. I found myself circumambulating this kin’s** great trunk like a temple. Stooping beneath a huge root that was well over human height and must have grown out of a great nurse log, I felt like I was entering the most sacred of places. Walking around the tree, seeing where new life was growing from the decay, I acutely felt the cycle of life and death and the gifts that the forest holds. Tears wet my cheeks at I slowly stepped forward to touch the exposed roots and the soft, decaying bark. I spoke a prayer of gratitude, and a promise to work to protect the tree’s kin so that they too would have the chance to live full lives of grace.

Big Cedar, Photo by Syren

Following several days of winter rain (finally), the weather cleared and the steely dome of the sky lifted into a high blue cathedral ceiling. Still feeling sore, I decided pain be damned and went to Rialto Beach, on Quileute tribal land, now the Olympic National Park.

It was impossibly beautiful. The horizon was completely clear so I watched the bright orb of the sun as the horizon rotated away, dipping the sun into the ocean to turn the water into surreal shades of orange and red and pink and purple.

Then just after sunset, as I’m watching the colors shift in the fading light, overcome by the beauty, an eagle flies by. And then another. And then a raven circles me. And then another raven. And then an eagle circles me. And then two more eagles fly by and land in the tree above me. One after another after another in wave after wave of awe, me turning in circles with my face lifted skyward: bird, pink sky, sunset, purple ocean, bird. Feeling the incredible throng of life.

Before I knew it I was sobbing. Like tears pouring down my face grateful the ocean covered the sound and all the people had already moved on sobbing. I stood there and just wept for a while, the waves of awe and gratitude crashing against waves of pain and grief in a beautiful spray of tears.

Yes, I was sobbing for my own pain and loss, which we all have. But I was also crying in gratitude, crying for the sheer impossibility that I, or any of us, could be here to witness such beauty, and how fleeting it is. Crying for the loss that the earth has experienced, me listening to her cries, even as she hears mine. I felt awe at the continued celebration of the cycle of life and death, against all odds. And I felt a fierce protectiveness for what, who, I love.

I went home as the gloaming deepened. Later that night I went out to walk my dog, and was surprised to see to see something I had not seen here yet: the sky was perfectly clear, the moon was old, and the stars were flickering brightly.

I live close enough to town that there is enough light pollution to obscure the full majesty of the starry sky. So, I hopped back in the car and drove to Rialto again. As I drove one, two shooting stars crossed my sight, seeming to call me forward. I stopped where the Quillayute river pours into the sea, the electric lights blocked by mountains, and again turned my face skyward.

Its a good thing I was leaning against the car.

Above me stretched a tapestry of light against the darkness and the Milky Way in near-full glory, the river mirroring the flowing. Another shooting star with a tail that trailed across half my field of vision flashed brightly; I felt as if I could reach out and grab the star like a firefly in a jar.

And there I was, one being held by the cosmos, the earth supporting my feet, the stars as gateways to the unknowable. Time again began to spiral, the flickering stars seemed to giggle and sing as the river hummed softly and the waves added their crescendos. What greater miracle than this?

Nature can break us open in the most beautiful of ways, reminding us of our own wildness, of the connection we have with the world and with other beings. This connection remains whether we acknowledge it or not, and demands our attention and reciprocation.

*Pain and disability sucks, make no mistake about that. But for me, I have to see it as a gateway. Not to make the pain go away, but to understand myself as a person with pain and how fleeting life is, and to empathize with the pain of the world.
**I strive to remove inappropriate pronouns from my vocabulary, and to always address a being with the pronoun they use, human or non-human. I do not feel comfortable referring to the earth and the many beings that exist here as “it”. Kin is one alternative that I use, as it is non-appropriative, gender neutral, and reflects the relationship we have with other beings. Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks more about this, and has inspired me to continue to reflect on language.


Free Writing Project

I am offering free writing services through my consulting business Awakened Solutions. There are so many things in our culture that are centered on writing, but not everyone has skills in writing. If you have a need that can only be fulfilled through a writing project, I want to help. Go to the Free Writing Project.



Carry Wood, Pour Water

Bow to the wood pile
Flesh of this great earth,
Home to many:
you have carried water in your cells,
your breath allowing me to breathe
now your body offers me warmth
Gratitude to you for this offering.

Bow to the wood pile
I carry your bones in my arms
One, two, a bundle cradled
hand supporting the edge against my breast.

Bow to the fire
wood, hollow against stone,
chiming this altar to life

Bone to flesh
flesh to spark
spark to flame
of this one brightness.

Water hisses, rising from flesh
as smoke, greets the space

Is it returning to its source?
I step beyond these walls
Smoke escapes, the night
pervading, still

Rising toward the stars
I pour,
water into the darkness.




A portion of this was originally published on my blog The Forks Poems.

Photo taken from Undi Bypass Road, Forks, WA

It’s true that the dark days can make us appreciate the bright ones more. When the clouds clear and the sun makes a sudden, stunning appearance painting the sky in an impossible play of colors, the gratitude I feel is overwhelmingly blissful.

Gratitude changes everything.

But I have gratitude, too for the dark days. The days when a different set of eyes allows me to see the play as the clouds pass over the sky, in as many shades of grey as there are colors in a bright sunset. Oh there is beauty and magic in that play too.

I read this excerpt from Wild Comfort: the Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (one of my favorite authors) the evening after I took this photo:

…[H]ere is the work of patience: to be ready for the world to slit us, the full length of us, opening our hearts with the pellucid attention that is the watchfulness of the heron in the cove at the end of the day, when wood smoke slides onto the rising tide and slanting rain pocks the water. This patience is the birth of gratitude. pg 109

I found this to resonate with such truth. The US has just celebrated Thanksgiving (which I abstain from, as I do not celebrate the colonialist and genocidal roots of the day) and expressions of gratitude have filled our tables and our media. But what is this gratitude that comes around once per year, expressed when so many people are sitting around incredible bounty that, for the most part, they are disconnected from?

Gratitude is relational; it’s opening is found through our connection with others, be they human, plant, animal, or spirit. In our willingness to open ourselves to the experience of being in relation with the world and all of its joy and sorrow, we open ourselves to the experience of deep gratitude. It requires steadfastness, attention, and patience as the world goes by, not to be swept away by its tidal pulls. Gratitude is not appreciation as someone spoons another helping onto our plate. Though it is a building block of gratitude, appreciation so often begins in entitlement and passes as quickly as the spoon to our mouths.

The day that I took this photo, I realized that I had gone over a week without talking to or seeing a (incarnate) human being, but I was very much ok with that. I had spent the week settling into my new home, getting to know the Place and patiently watching the storm clouds roll in and pass away. I was missing the Place that I had come from (by which I mean the plants and spirits) but feeling very joyful to get to know new ones. My heart was opening into deep gratitude.

In that space, I put my very excited dog into the car and went to check out the State Park down the road. I quickly realized it was primarily a campground and there didn’t appear to be much hiking but decided to wander around, noticing the trees and variety of mosses in a small area. As I wandered I ran into the campground host who was also out for a walk with her dog. The pups made quick friends and she warmly invited me to join her on their walk. She took me to a trail I never would have found on my own and we talked about mosses and how many ferns can grow on a tree and how creeks each have their own individual sound. Giving me more tips on hiking in the area, she invited me to her church and to come back to hike with her anytime. In accepting this offering of connection from her, I left full of gratitude.

From there I drove up the hill over a gravel road through logging land, and as I rounded a curve the trees sparkled as the sun dipped beneath the clouds and the sky started to clear. I gasped with surprise and delight and my heart burst open. The joy I felt in this moment, after days of patience and the offering of my attention to the world, was indescribable. Then it clicked: it was my gratitude, the gratitude that I have held on to through all of the trials I have endured, that was the key. It was the key to my grief and sorrow and my bliss and joy.

If we open to it gratitude has the power to slit us from stern to bow, to show us the power of connection and relation – even in our sorrow.



New Life on the Olympic Peninsula

It has been a little over a week since I moved out to the Olympic Peninsula, to the town of Forks. Yes – the Forks of Twilight fame, though I am doing my best to avoid vampires of all sorts at this point in my life. 🙂

This is a fresh start for me, a place to get settled and find some stability; even though it is temporary, it is safe and will allow space for any number of possibilities to open.

I love it here so far, and being 20 minutes from the coast and 20 minutes from the Olympic rainforest is a dream come true. But yes: it rains a lot. It is very rural. Winter will be a test of endurance for sure. It is also a quirky, friendly place. It will be the perfect place to focus on writing and doing my work.

So I’ve created a new blog just for the poems and stories of life on the Rainforest Coast (does anyone else call it that?). I’ll try to cross-post here, but please do follow The Forks Poems if you’re interested in reading about this place. It will be another way for me to fan the flames of the writing spirit, and I hope to have some fun with it.