{Crafting a Hermit Life} Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience? Vows for the modern non-religious spiritual hermit

If I were a Catholic Diocesan Hermit, I’d have to take the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and write what those mean to me in a rule of life.

On the surface, none of these seem very appealing, particularly for someone who has experienced poverty most of her life, and who really likes sex a lot, and who is quite unable to blindly obey anyone.

I’m crafting a a hermit life based on a deeply personal relationship with a Goddess, outside of any religious tradition. While there are some pagan religions that have popped up in the last century or so, including some pagan churches and training programs, none of them are really appealing to me. I’m a mystic, a contemplative, which means for me, the experience of the Divine is and must be deeply personal, and as a deep introvert and wannabe hermit, community isn’t really appealing to me.

But the idea of vows is very, very appealing to me. And because Catholicism contains the most well-developed Western system of eremetic monasticism and spiritual development, it’s useful to explore those vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, to sit with them, and to listen to my Goddess and what insights She can give me as to how they might be modified and adapted for my own.

The Vow of Poverty

To the modern mind, poverty = destitution, and so when we think of a vow of poverty, we think of someone committing to be destitute and starving their entire lives, but this isn’t necessarily true. The Vow of Poverty can instead be understood to be a vow of non-ownership, much more like the non-attachment taught in Eastern religions, than a vow of destitution. It’s as much a vow to trust the Divine to provide as it is a vow to give up ownership of anything.

I’ll admit, I find this particular vow both appealing and repulsive at the same time, but such is life as a devotee of my Goddess, Paradox. What I resist, I have to explore. When something repulses me, I have to find out why.

It’s repulsive because, well, who wants to live in poverty? I’ve done it most of my life. Even now, while I make what I need, I’m just barely above the poverty line, and there’s certainly more that I’d like to do that money would make easier for me to do. And yet, even as I write that, I hear a whisper, “Seek not wealth, but seek experience. Trust that you will find the way.” And so there we find a hint of what a vow of poverty is really about, for me at least, which is not to pursue money for the sake of money, but to pursue experience, and trust that the experiences will happen. I want to travel, so I have to trust that if I focus on that, I will find a way.

But I still don’t like the word poverty. I know that’s cultural, and psychological. I know that my revulsion at the word has more to do with my experiences of poverty as a child and as an adult. But if I’m really honest with myself, being poor wasn’t the problem. The problem was how other people saw poverty, and therefore how other people perceived and treated me. I never really felt like I was missing out on anything. I always managed to make it. Even on less than $10,000 a year income, I managed to have a good life as a single mother with a son. We never went without, although we sometimes had to be very resourceful to have what we needed.

For instance, when you make less than $1000 a month, the internet is one of the first bills to not get paid, which means months and months without. I worked for myself and I homeschooled my son, so for internet access, we’d go to the local University. We’d get up in the morning, pack ourselves a lunch, and we’d walk downtown to the University Pavillion. My son had his laptop and I had mine, always purchased with our yearly tax refund. It didn’t matter what the weather was like, we’d walk downtown every day, and he’d do his schoolwork and I’d do my work, which varied between freelance transcription and writing to various odd jobs online to doing psychic readings. I made enough money to pay the house payment and keep the lights on and the water running. We ate simply, so our food budget was never huge. Rice and beans were favorites, and even now, I prefer simple meals.

But growing up, I got picked on for being poor. Kids are cruel, and I experienced a lot of that cruelty. It’s tainted the word “poverty” for me, even though my experience of poverty hasn’t been really bad.

I like the idea of a Vow of Non-Attachment and Simplicity much more. Not being attached to any particular thing, knowing that anything I have can be lost at any time, but also that it can be replaced, and so not becoming emotional over stuff. Living a simple life, focused on meeting my needs and having experiences, not accumulating things and money just for the sake of accumulating things and money. Making what I need to make to have the experiences that I want to have means that I don’t have to spend endless hours hustling, leaving me time to actually have those experiences.

The Vow of Chastity

I’m not giving up sex; I really, really like sex. But perhaps I need to look at the sex I’m having, who I’m having it with, how it’s affecting me emotionally. Those are hard things for me to explore; I’m still entangled in an “it’s complicated” sort of thing with my ex where we mostly can’t stand each other, but we can’t stay away from each other, and while the sex is often mind-blowing, the aftermath is emotionally toxic.

I do know that I don’t want a relationship. It’s not conducive to solitude to be in committed relationships, and no matter how much I try, I have never been able to develop any real sense of connection and intimacy with another person. Which makes having been married twice utterly idiotic, because marrying someone you have no deep connection with is a recipe for total disaster, evidenced by the fact that both marriages failed miserably.

Even outside of marriage, I struggle to form connections with people, and not just in sexual relationships, but friendships as well. I’ve never been one to have many friends. I have lots of Facebook “friends” but only one person that I very regularly talk to, and I have no desire to cultivate any other deep connections. Besides, deeply connected relationships are a bit antithetical to the eremetic life.

For years, I thought this lack of desire for intimate connected relationships meant there was something wrong with me. I rushed into two marriages because I though that I was supposed to be married, and since at the time we got married, they were devoted to me, I thought that I’d eventually find that intimacy and connection with them. Of course, I didn’t. And my own lack of intimate connection with my first husband drove a wedge between us, and his inability to honor the vows of our marriage broke it wide open. My second marriage fell apart for similar reasons, compounded by him being an abusive narcissist with control issues.

Now, I realize that there isn’t anything wrong with me, I just don’t fit the expectations of the culture in which I live, and I need to stop trying to conform to them. Square pegs don’t fit in round holes, after all, not without having to cut away important parts of their being, and I’m tired of trying to do that to myself.

But I really, really like sex, so how do I reconcile this? How does this fit in my desire to be a hermit? How does this translate for me? It’s something I will continue to explore.

The Vow of Obedience

In Catholic religious tradition, the Vow of Obedience means to obey God, Church Canon, and any superiors in the religious order being joined. For a Catholic Diocesan Hermit, who lives outside of an order, this would mean obeying the Bishop of the Diocese, as well as a Spiritual Director, who is a mentor of sorts on their path.

Since I’m not Catholic, and I’m doing this whole thing very, very solo, I don’t have anyone to obey. I do, however, have a Goddess and Guides, as well as my own inner guidance, and I’m not very good at listening to them sometimes. Which, of course, gets me into trouble. The thing is, when I go deep within, when I do the deep meditations and listen closely for the advice of my Goddess and my Guides, and actually listen to that advice and follow through on it, things turn out spectacularly.

So as much as it irks me, I think the Vow of Obedience is going to be just that. A vow to go deep within, to seek the advice of the Goddess and Guides, and to actually listen to it, instead of impulsively and recklessly bouncing around like I often have. In November, I took a No Swear Vow, and I kept to it, and other than Trump winning, November was a month of incredible growth for me. In December, I was supposed to do a Digital Detox, and I didn’t do very well at that, and December sucked. When I “obey,” things go well. When I don’t, things go to crap.

But I think this vow is not just about listening to that advice, but obeying my own directives. Self-discipline is something I suck at, and so the Vow of Obedience is also a vow to improve on that. To push myself and not slack off so much. To go after the experiences wholeheartedly, and obey the pull of my heart, even if it’s scary.

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