Modern neopaganism is less of a religion than it is a buffet of practices. Certainly some combinations are more appetizing than others, but the beauty is that a practitioner can sample anything at the table and put together a plate that satisfies their needs without concern for dogma. One of my reading pleasures in life, if you'll forgive me stretching the metaphor even further, is to peruse the buffet and find something completely new and different. So it is that I come upon Polytheistic Monasticism: Voices from Pagan Cloisters, a recent anthology edited by Janet Munin. If you've heard of such a thing before than consider yourself a connoisseur; I had not and found everything about this book fascinating.

You may be asking yourself "pagan monasteries?" Short answer: yes. Long answer: also yes, but that's only scratching the surface.  There are 9 contributions to this anthology, and by my reading no two of them could be said to share common practices to a substantial degree. Polytheistic monasticism, as described in this book, is more than just pagans LARPing "The Name of the Rose"; some of these writers are called to a hermit-like life of contemplation, while others are drawn to a profound need to serve their communities as a form of devotion. Kimberly Kirner, one of the contributors, says that "[t]he critical pieces of monasticism, at least in how I've come to define it, are devotion, discipline, and contemplation." These are people who center their faith within their lives moreso than "simply" incorporating it. Danica Swanson conducts an interview with "aspiring hermit" Patricia Christmas, and it was eye-opening to read how strongly called a person can be by their spirituality. As someone who currently self-identifies as a nontheistic pagan, reading these various accounts of being summoned to a more spiritually-focused life illuminated the NON-nontheistic world in a way I've never quite understood before.

There are 9 chapters to "Polytheistic Monasticism" and the greatest compliment I can pay this book is that none of them are duds. If your experience with anthologies is anything like mine, you're used to sifting the contributions to find the few that actually speak to you in any way, or that don't suffer from amateurish writing. Everyone involved in this project brought their "A" game, and the result is an outstanding exploration of a way of being in the world that you'll be glad to know, or know more, about.

~review by Wanderer

Authors: various
Edited by: Janet Munin
Moon Books, 2021
pp. 120, $12.95