I’ve written previously about aspiring to be a pagan monastic. Here are my thoughts on how Roasted Heart Fibre Arts Studio & Sanctuary’s theological principles and monastic rule might look. ‘We’ is meant to include all eventual members of the Sanctuary, who of course will be able to make changes to these early ideas of mine.
- We are followers of the Old Ways and devotees of the Pre-Christian deities of Northern Europe. We may call ourselves Norse Pagans, Heathens, or Nordic Animists, or our religion Heathenry, Asatru, Forn Sed, or another name for the mysteries of proto-Germanic/Scandinavian Bronze-Iron Age spiritualities. We are animists and polytheists who exalt nature and all its spirits, and so seek to live in harmony with nature. In an age of climate emergency, we therefore see working to mitigate the climate crisis’ effects (both directly and through art and advocacy) as sacred.
- We are somewhere between reconstructionist and revivalist in our stance, and both approaches are welcome. Our reconstruction is informed by cutting-edge scholarship and recent translations, and we recognize that older scholarship has blind spots, which have in turn allowed more politically-conservative branches of heathenry to continue ethnic-nationalist, racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes. We shall adjust our reconstructed beliefs, rituals, and theology consistent with historical, archaeological, and linguistic evidence for not only the Viking Age (which was already Christianized) but the eras before (Vendel, Migration, and Bronze). However, we are alive now, and we shall create new works and new ways. We are not restricted to literal interpretations of 13th-century skaldic fan-fic. We welcome new tools, as appropriate for followers of deities who are defined by their curiosity and thirst for knowledge.
- We are inclusive, intersectional, and anti-racist; we believe Odinn’s the ALL-father, and that the Bronze and Iron Age spirituality of northern Europe can support and encourage modern diversity, queerness, and equality (despite early-medieval patriarchy). We are fortunate to be treaty people and guests on the land of multiple Indigenous peoples, and we stand with our treaty partners in seeking harmony between peoples and pushing colonial capitalist governments to honour the treaties and begin decolonization, as we work to decolonize our own thinking. We use what privileges we have to lift up and centre the voices of those who are not being heard. Our location is in what-is-currently-Canada, a flawed colonial-extractive geopolitical entity, but one that has enshrined universal human rights, anti-hate measures, and liberal democracy in its laws and multiculturalism in its civil culture. We see it as patriotic to push our country/society to live up to its ideals.
- Our Oneness is sacred. That includes our oneness with the Divine (namaste, as the yogis say, although we don’t see all dieties as aspects of a single Divinity), oneness with nature, oneness with other-than-human persons, and oneness with other humans. Oneness dictates we are anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, and environmentalist. Oneness dictates the importance of universal human rights, of all types of social justice activism, community-building, public health, and (counter)protest, of advocacy for (and welcoming of) refugees and immigrant communities, of creating climate refugia to help animals and plants survive changing conditions, of renaturalizing land in need of healing, of planting new sacred groves. Oneness means we might re-examine the monastic/hermetic setting of oneself apart; can one contemplate/devote oneself wholly without withdrawal from society? Can a monastery be a community hub instead of a cloister?
- Frith is central to our philosophy. Frith is an early-medieval concept of peace, protection, safety, security, and the joys, responsibilities, interdependence, burdens, and benefits of social relationships conducive to peace. Frith is a moral obligation to consider the welfare of your community, friends, and family in your actions, and not to set out to harm them. Frith isn’t the absence of strife, it’s a commitment to community-building, hospitality, and mutual support, and a recognition that we are better together. Oneness means our community includes everyone, and frith means that we should as a society strive to provide for all, to mitigate suffering wherever we find it, to create abundance from as little as possible, because kindness and sharing are sacred acts. (This will have implications for our goals and material use.)
- This is not monastic asceticism, which renounces the mundane world as intrinsically evil. Paganism sees life and all its pleasures as sacred. We’re not denying ourselves pleasure in the name of our deities, for our deities experience pleasure through us, and we can offer our pleasure and joy in devotion to them. But we should aim for as many humans (and other-than-humans) to experience pleasure as possible, to be healthy and happy, whole and hale. We should use and re-use resources wisely, live simply, and enjoy in moderation, not as a vow of renunciation but as part of living sustainably and reducing the harm humans do to our human and other-than-human kin. (That living simply also gives pagan monastics more time and mental space to focus on contemplation is a bonus.)
- On deity relationships: Our surviving myths tell stories of deities who are fallible, prone to human traits like greed and anger and lust. Those who’ve interacted directly with Them characterise our deities as curious and loving, as capable of friendships with humans, as not always right but frequently givers of good advice, as ancient and wise and deep but also sometimes childlike and silly. The deities of the Norse pantheon(s) won’t stay on pedestals, they’re too interested in the affairs of humanity, and so they wander among us and walk alongside us, and inspire our work. Furthermore, there is textual evidence of friendships and romantic relationships between the Nordic deities and devotees. While there are discernment challenges, so long as the relationship is consensual, healthy, and happy, we do not view deity-partnered or deity-parented devotees, or devotees with other direct unmediated experiences of deity, as unsuited for devotional contemplation or training. It’s not unusual for monastics in any tradition to become mystics after ecstatic spiritual experiences of the divine, and describe clairaudience, clairsentience, visions, and feelings of divine love; thus, viewing such experiences as a barrier to monasticism seems counterproductive. (This position may differ from how other polytheists relate to their deities, or how other organisations treat devotees whose personal gnosis includes more-than-intellectual relationships with deities.)
- The cosmology of northern European myth and folklore suggests multiple realms (a multiverse, perhaps), multiple soul-parts, and a form of reincarnation, often within family groups, in addition to a choice among afterlives at multiple deities’ halls (and likely opportunities to travel between them). It also suggests a form of fate (wyrd), which is woven like a fabric. The future is not yet woven, and its shape can change depending on your own choices and those of others living in the now, but the warp is already in place, and so is the weft of the past. (We postulate that this metaphor might be extended into repair or embellishment of the whole fabric.) This has led to the you’re-not-the-boss-of-me culture of heathenry. It also supports our adoption of the ‘Hermitage of the Heart’ essay’s points (slash, the policy of the AODA and Gnostic Celtic Church, and an echo of the medieval Beguine movement) about each polytheist monastic finding their own path and writing their own Rule/Awen.
- Further to (2) and (7), we believe that all established lore began as someone’s unverified personal gnosis (UPG), so we encourage sharing and testing of emerging UPG and shared community gnosis (SPG). As pagan gnostics, one of our goals is to create methods of discernment and evaluation of new ideas, alongside rigorous citation methods, that help preclude echo-chamber and confirmation bias effects.
- Finally, as befits followers of deities known for insatiable curiosity and desire for knowledge, we aim to follow in the footsteps of Christian monks by preserving and disseminating knowledge. The digital age and climate chaos both hold challenges. This may take the form of hosting skill-sharing workshops, bringing in guest lecturers, organizing and documenting online symposia, ensuring online and digital materials are archived, maintaining libraries, or creating new scholarship.
Over-reliance on the 13th-century view in interpretations of pre-Christian Scandinavian deities — basically Migration-Age figures — is a problem in both heathenry and academia. We’ve got translators messing with verb tenses to fit their preconceived ideas of how the story should go (see above). We’ve got historians dismissing out-of-hand that a figure was considered worthy of worship regardless of the amount of evidence available, while insisting other figures with less evidence absolutely must have had a cult. It’s a mess.
James Parkhouse’s _Loki the Slandered God?_ chapter addresses much of this, then goes on to demonstrate that Snorri deliberately left out positive kennings of Loki, ones that he had to know of based on the sources he provided for other kennings. Sadly paywalled but a must-read. https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/9789048554065-014/pdf