INTRODUCTION: Why record Monastic Rules?
The words you are reading were written to create a permanent record of a very sincere attempt to create a Monastic Community at the turn into the 21st Century. This record is an intimate look not so much at the faith, although it’s all here (few will recognize it), but rather at the process of the thoughts and actions, by the monks, novices, visitors, and interns in a spiritual community: a monastery.
The spoken, not the written word is my media. Always, I have struggled with the written word…always until now. The words have finally flowed onto the pages without significant pauses. My only explanation is that I am finally able to feel correct about what I am writing, and correct about my life. I came to this place to commune with the One Divine in peace, to better know myself, and to heal our Sacred Earth (Gaia). The journey has begun, some work is behind us, but far more lies ahead.
In society I am a minister (not a preacher). I minister to all, of any faith, but not with lessons about faith. Instead I give what others ask of me or what it appears they need. I do this because of my belief that they are all Divine and to serve them is to serve my God.
In private I am an Abbess, the spiritual leader of a monastery. My job is to instruct those who might pass this way and to make certain this place is here for the unborn of our faith. I do far more of the later than the former. Very few people wish to read and obey the Old Laws of our faith. Many choose to ignore the death cries of the species that leave our Sacred Mother Earth, forever, each and every day. The majority of those our faith are like much of society, they are just doing their best to get by financially, emotionally, and physically. Their faith helps them to do this, but it is an adjunct to an already very busy and demanding schedule.
Few modern people see any need or have any desire to renounce all material goods, to live a life of obedience, and to make their faith the central focus of their lives. Only those who have suffered understand that material goods have no value except for honoring the Divine by helping others. If a person has opted to turn over their life to one, and only one purpose, everything else is insignificant.
My first steps onto this land were burdened with a lifetime of pain inside myself. I was certain writing about that pain would be a part of the healing process. I was wrong. The 200+/- pages of memories I wrote did very little to erase pain or heal my psyche. It was the experience of more pain, a lot more pain, that has brought some peace into my life and more trust in the Divine.
As I began to research to find what others, like myself, who were overseeing a monastic community said over the last 2,400+ years about human nature. Especially human nature in a spiritual community, I was awe struck to find that very little (about human nature) has changed. We are the same people now as we were in the year 400 B.C.E. We are as we have always been. We are selfish, egotistical, greedy, picky, ungrateful, forgetful, shortsighted, and imperfect no matter how hard we try. We make vows only to break them and then we blame others for our human weaknesses.
Our surroundings have changed. We live longer and with less physical discomfort, but our emotions are very much the same. We will never be harmonious, cooperative, tolerant, patient, kind, and loving, but we must continue to strive for that level of perfection. To do less is to dishonor our Faith, to dishonor the Divine.
As Neo-Pagans we have no one identifiable Holy Book, but we do have the Tenets (Rules, Ordains) that were written long ago to help us know how to live in balance. We also have many wise Elders who have recorded their thoughts. Study all that you can find and then live as your conscience dictates.
So Mote It Be.
Tenets of Faith: Qualities of the Abbess (or Abbot)
1. Just as Caesar’s wife should be above reproach, so should the Abbess. She must always make certain that she follows the Rules of the monastery and of civil law. Her word is that of the Goddess (the One Divine by any name we choose to call) and she must choose them carefully.
2. The Abbess must know all the lessons better than those she (or he) teaches, but never be afraid to look something up to make certain that she is giving the correct information to the monks. The minds of each monk must be filled with the Ordains and the other true lessons of the Faith.
3. To develop a well-rounded monk, the Abbess must also require that other spiritual texts be studied to compare and expand their spiritual insight.
4. Each monk should explore a wide range of other subjects too. As the ability and desire of the student develops psychology, gardening, eco-sustainable research, alternative energy, and animal husbandry texts must be made available to the monks.
5. The teachings of the Abbess must stimulate all the senses of the monks. She shall introduce them to sight, sound, touch, taste, and the smells of Gaia as the nature all around the monastery. They must learn to read the land, the weather, and the animals as easily as reading a book.
6. The Abbess must keep all of the contractual records with the monks and financial records for civil law in order. She will make certain that the monastery is protected to the highest degree by civil law. The Abbess must follow spiritual law with a watchful eye as to not allow deviation from standards critical to the faith, but not be afraid to record new insight in her writings.
7. It is assumed that the Abbess will write at a level of competency that publishing her work is likely; at the very least for the monks. No one without academic achievements, and most likely high honors, should be placed in such a position of power as Abbess or Abbot. An uneducated Abbess would likely falter in both civil and religious matters. An uneducated and inexperienced person could cause great harm to the monastery spiritually and civilly, as well as not command the respect of the monks.
8. The position of Abbess is not a popularity contest. The person must be strong against foes, firm with every monk, dedicated to the Faith, and have as her foremost goal the protection of the monastery for the Seventh Generation.
9. We know that each day the Abbess will fail at her job. She also recognizes this fact, but still she will strive for perfection. As the Gods are perfect, she does not wish to shame them by her inadequacies, so she will continue to reach to do as They dictate.
10. As the representative of the Divine, we must accept what the Abbess says as being the words of the Goddess (or Abbot the words of God, the One Divine known by many names). In human form, only faith will allow us to accept this fact, but we must make every effort to accept this as true. The Abbess has dedicated herself to Them and by faith alone she serves them by using the qualities that They have given to her to be best of her abilities while in her human form.
11. The Abbess must teach each monk how to best serve the Gods (a reference to the fact that “All paths lead to the Center” therefore any name used is appropriate) by making the Ordains, Doctrines, Rules, and Practices of our faith as easy to understand as possible. The monks must strive to live a holy life in unison with Gaia, as Mother Earth, through the exercise of what they have learned both from the Abbess and from Gaia Herself.
12. It is so easy for the Abbess to complain about each monk. And it is also easy for each monk to complain about the others, about the Abbess, and about all the weaknesses of the community. The goals are very difficult and cannot ever be reached to perfection, however when one gives themselves over to the monastery one must accept that this is a life of sacrifice and work. Do not complain, but rather reach for spiritual peace knowing that each movement, each kindness, and each positive thought brings a monk closer in balance with the Divine.
13. When the Abbess tells a monk that something will be in the future and the monk knows in his heart that it cannot be so, understand that the Abbess hears a Divine voice. That Voice may be referring to accomplishments that may not occur for many more lifetimes. Know that the events will occur, reach for those goals, even if logic seems missing today. Words have power, perhaps the Abbess will be correct in this lifetime after all.
14. What was stated 400 BCE is true, even now. If a monk does not praise the decrees, recommendations, and conduct of their Elders, but rather speaks against them in public among ordinary people this will cause more murmuring and scandal than profit. The people will become angry, both at civil officials and spiritual Elders. Speak badly only to those who would work to make a positive change for the better.
15. Brutal honesty is not always the best way to handle a situation. Find good in all people, in whatever they are doing and however they are conducting their lives. Be tolerant of those of other faiths, other skills, other experiences, and other cultures. It is not necessary to share your lives with them, but neither is there any good reason to throw stones at them.
16. A monk must be mature enough to accept both praise and criticism from the Abbess in stride. A monk is expected to not draw unnecessary attention to that which causes them grief. Like the businessman who cries about a gamble gone wrong and money lost, the monk has chosen a life of sacrifice, of their own free will, so why should others show them pity?
17. To hear the Abbess utter one wrong word and then discount all others is to focus on the weakness of others rather than to live in a good way spiritually. Are we not all human? If we are seeking to become one with the Divine then we know that a path of sacrifice and suffering is ahead of us, just as it would be as we approached any seemingly impossible task in life.
18. No Abbess or Abbot is perfect, but their superior must confirm that they are always striving for perfection in themselves and in the monks. Does the Abbess push herself? Is she pushing the monks both to do good works and to work for good? If not, then she may need to council with her superiors to let go of her lazy ways and focus more fully on the security and the betterment of the monastery.
19. It is imperative that the Abbess not have favorites among the monks. This will create resentment and could lead to internal strife and lead away from the business of the monastery: to create spiritual harmony in each monk.
20. The Abbess can threaten or coax, to change the behavior of the monks. Most prefer to be coaxed, but there are times when the behavior of a monk is such that only with a big shock can the ill behavior be changed. Sometimes only threats will make a person come to their senses. The ideal monk is so mature that coaxing is all that is ever needed, but that is not true with a novice monk no matter their age. Some novice monks will need to be threatened, but this behavior must not become a habit of the Abbess. It should only be used when other methods have failed and the energy of the Abbess is being unduly wasted.
21. The Abbess must strive to not gloss over ill behavior by a monk. The goal is for monks to be self-driven and self-correcting, but this is not automatic in some monks. After making certain that the ill behavior is not improving, or may in fact be worsening, the Abbess must present the firmest of arguments, or the worst of threats, to change the behavior. If the threat is ignored, the Abbess must follow through to the letter of the threat, putting all personal emotions aside, for the betterment of the community.
22. The Abbess must not publish or make public the faults of monks, but rather keep all concerns of ill behavior within the ears and eyes superiors of the monastery. Whatever discipline has been used without change is to be discussed by the superiors and a new course of action voted upon. The Abbess is responsible to all the others to have not allowed the situation to progress too far before asking for assistance from peers and superiors.
23. Although we would hope that all monks are good, docile, humble and obedient, that is not likely. These are real people in a real community. Monks can be evil, stubborn, arrogant, and disobedient. Present suggestions for change both verbally and written to make certain that the monk is unable to understand the requests, before assuming the worst.
24. Monastic life is a choice but adapting to it takes a great deal of time. It is not a garment to be just put on and worn, it is a way of living that must be learned over time. It may be very easy to fall in love with the Goddess or God, but to focus a lifetime of effort to serving Them, to the edge of human endurance and far outside social norms, is very difficult. Most who come will fail and will give up and leave.
25. Fooling the Abbess can occur when a monk does nothing but good from the beginning. They may have only “put on” and not “become” a monk. Do not be shocked if this occurs many times, but realize that the monk may not be aware of the “act” and even might be shocked when the Abbess points it out. Bad habits, followed for a lifetime, are hard to break. The Abbess must evaluate if the monk is still working to “become” one with the Divine, or if the “act” is the only goal.
26. Each monk must be willing and learn to be able to carry their share of the responsibility, as delegated by their superiors, for the monastery as a whole; physically, financially, and spiritually. That said, it is the responsibility of the Abbess not to carry the burdens alone, but to be willing and open to share the workload with others.
27. The Abbess is challenged by the Divine to look at their own faults as they look at the faults of others. Also to heal themselves as they work to help others to heal. The Abbess must be very aware of what is disliked in others for it is likely to exist at some level within them too. The goal is to give over this examination to the Divine and to heal with the Divine as the physician, not to get caught up in the modern psychology of it all and then medicate away the ability to commune with the voice of the God and Goddess.
28. When the imperfection of the human condition is better understood and acceptance of the failings that occur on a daily basis is not a surprise, then an Abbess can rule themselves and others with greater compassion. Even those who fail within the monastery, and leave, may still reach great heights of spiritual success outside the monastery, especially if they better understand the relationship that exists with the Divine within each of us. The challenge is to grasp that the failings of other monks and the failings of the Abbess must not disillusion the monks so much as to give up trying, but rather teach that all are human but to strive for perfection is still the best path to follow.