Isn’t there a poem by T.S. Eliot that says, at the end of all our running around in circles, we will stop and look around where we started and realize that’s where we’ve always been? No? Well, there should be.
We shall not cease from exploration, but sometimes we would very much like to. Because we have found a place to dwell and would like to stay there. Where the fire and the rose do seem to be, at least occasionally, one. Definitely a place where prayer has been valid, and where the communication of the dead may be tongued with fire.
I have known for decades that I have a strong monastic inclination in my nature, an attraction to an orderly lifestyle, to prayer and contemplation, to liturgy and liturgical music, to intellectual and creative work as an act of devotion. I’ve known since I was a teenager that if I didn’t marry, I might well become a nun. I did marry; we were together for over twenty years, and then we divorced. My religion has changed since then, but my nature hasn’t. On the other side of wifehood, in a kind of widowhood–my ex-husband died last year–there is still the child who read a book about cloistered nuns and loved it, the teenaged girl who read Julian of Norwich and loved Julian and her words and her life.
I’m sitting in a small studio apartment in the middle of a city, looking out my window at a blossoming tree, in the aftermath of a spring storm that brought me a poem. Unlike Julian in her anchorhold, I can go in and out as I please; it’s possible, though, that Julian had a small space in which to go outside while still remaining cloistered. In the world but not of it; living a life dedicated to her god in the middle of the second-largest city in England, a major port, a center for the vital wool trade.
I’ve been a devotee of Antinous now for five years. Five years of fairly consistent devotional practice, making physical offerings (candles, incense, food and drink) and nonphysical (everything on this blog, and more), observing holy days, reading about related topics. When the Beautiful Boy came into my life and opened the door to polytheism, most of the Roman pantheon came in with him, along with some Hellenic and Kemetic deities. (And occasional visitors from the North. It’s hard to Loki-proof one’s cultus.) I found words and ways and means of ritual that weren’t strictly Roman, Hellenic, or Kemetic, but that worked for me and seemed to satisfy the gods and spirits.
In that same five years, I’ve also been madly interested in witchcraft, Wicca, Feri, Neoplatonic theurgy, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Western hermeticism, shamanism, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting, madly interested and briefly convinced that my religious practice needed that thing, that discipline, that magical practice, that extra requirement, that one more thing to do every single day on top of a full-time job and writing and bird care and feeding myself and oh yes, the devotional rites I mentioned….
I told my therapist recently that I was afraid that even if I could do everything I thought I should be doing, and do it perfectly, the critical voice in my head might not think it was Enough. We’re working on that.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and realize we were right all along. In spite of all my running around in circles, I’m right where I’ve always been. I’m not a witch, druid, priestess, priest, magician, yogini, fill it in if I’ve forgot something. I’m, well, an anchorite.
The word anchorite actually came from the Greek verb anachoreo, “I withdraw”, because the anchorite retreated from normal secular life to focus on devotion. The medieval Christian anchorite, like Julian of Norwich, lived as a solitary religious in one small cell, mostly praying and studying, occasionally counseling people who came to visit. But it’s hard as an English speaker not to make the pun that presents itself: An anchorite is someone who is anchored, anchored in one place, anchored to devotion and cultus, anchored to religious practice. An anchor for a community, the people who come and go around them, who go in and out of the church, or temple, or Naos, whether they worship the gods or not.
So as of today, I’m changing the name of my blog–although not the URL–to The Antinoan Anchorite. And to finish this entry as I began, let me quote old Tom Eliot properly:
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.