Author Archive

A Pelican in the Wilderness

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

“A man that studies Happiness must sit alone like a Sparrow upon the House Top, and like a Pelican in the Wilderness” – Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), “Centuries of Meditations”, The Fourth Century (13).
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“A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaries and Recluses”
Isabel Colegate
284pp, HarperCollins, 2002; 2nd edition 2010

From a review by Blake Morrison, “The Guardian”, Saturday 16 February 2002

“”Le grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul”: the great sickness, said La Bruyère, is the inability to be alone. Solitude was once counted a virtue. These days, recluses are regarded with suspicion. “Loner” is a word reserved for paedophiles and serial killers. Only a special few are allowed to retreat from society: those, like monks and nuns, wearing the proper uniform. The rest of us are expected to surround ourselves with company; only then can we keep the infinite spaces at bay. Even the solitary stroll, traditionally a cure for most things (solvitur ambulando: it is solved by walking), has been abolished, thanks to the personal stereo and mobile phone.

Yet hermits have been around since the first cave. In every culture they can be found heading into the wilderness and living off roots and berries…

Colegate’s interest in the subject stems from a 15-acre wood she used to trespass in and now owns. The wood was planted 200 years ago and originally included a hermit’s cell, that great fashion accessory of the Augustan age. Intrigued, she began to excavate the site, and gradually restored the hermitage to its pristinely ruined state. Had she been living in the 18th century, she’d have gone further and installed a hermit. Many a landowner did so: Charles Hamilton, for instance, advertised for a hermit who’d stick around for seven years, in return for which he’d provide food, water, a Bible and, at the end, 700 guineas. The successful applicant lasted only three weeks before being spotted sneaking off to the local pub.

This is the sillier end of the recluse business. Colegate is more interested in the solid majority of hermits, with their spiritual yearning, straggly beards and love of nature. Her subjects range from Thoreau, who claimed to have built his hut by Walden Pond for $28.12, to Krishnamurti and Swami Abhishiktananda. Her travels take her from Dumfriesshire, where there is a thriving Buddhist retreat, to the Syrian desert, home of St Simeon, the most famous of the stylites. Stylites are hermits who dwell on the tops of pillars, and aren’t to be confused with dendrites, who live in trees. Among the latter was Mrs Pobjoy, Beau Nash’s last mistress, who after his death in 1761 moved into a hollow trunk and stayed there.
Hermits come and go, like everyone else. They were common in the middle ages, and again in the early 19th century, when the myth of the noble savage gave them a new lease of life. After the first world war, many of Britain’s hermits were trench survivors suffering from shell shock; the late Richard Cobb reported that there were five living in the Tunbridge Wells of his childhood. The backwoods of the US filled up with hippies and outlaws after Vietnam. Mount Athos, in Macedonia, was a similar magnet after the collapse of communism. In the 1960s, the average age of monks there was 80; in 1991, it was 34.
It seems that hermits are far less solitary than legend suggests. St Anthony, prototype for Christian hermits, had hundreds of followers living near him in huts and cells, and crowds would flock to hear him. Hermits may withdraw from the world, but they’re also expected to give something back – whether herbal cures, honey from their hives or sermons on how to live. Nor are hermits always male: among the women Colegate talks to is Sister Maximilian, who rides a motorbike and supports herself by heraldic painting. She also cites cases of nuns living in celibate union with monks. There’s a word for this – syneisaktism – just as there is for the neurosis many recluses suffer from: scopophobia, the fear of being looked at.

Neurosis is a risk for those who live in isolation. Sensible hermits keep themselves busy communing with God and cultivating their gardens, but as well as the ecstatic self-transcendence achieved through meditation, there’s also the prison of solipsism. “Woe to him that is alone when he falleth,” says the Bible, “for he hath not another to help him up.” Colegate cites the cases of three poets – Cowper, Clare and Gurney – whose solitude led to the madhouse. Other hermits have simply been frauds.

Her book isn’t short on literary examples, and she cites the case of JD Salinger, who turned his back on the world at the peak of worldly success…

The best passages are those where Colegate describes places she has visited and people she has met. Elsewhere, she seems shy of self-exposure (this is her first work of non-fiction), and in her enthusiasm for the subject bombards us with bitty character sketches and historical anecdotes. The book is full of fascinating detail, but a sharper focus would have made it less fragmentary.

Today the city hermit has things easier than his country cousin. The weirdo in the woods will be removed by social services, whereas the crusty in cardboard city is tossed the odd coin and left alone. You don’t get to live alongside deer and finches, but there’s nowhere more isolated than a city street.”
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From a review by Richard North, “The Independent”, Monday 11 March 2002

“This is a delicious book, not least because it has a brisk, even secular, approach to a subject too often approached in a spirit of gushing awe. Not credulous, but not cynical either, Isabel Colegate begins with speculation about a ruined 18th-century hermitage in her own garden. She takes us deep into the Enlightenment, when cultured people – notably sociable, most of them – thrilled themselves with the idea of the craggy unsociability of the hermit….

Colegate has travelled the world looking for hermits, and brings back meetings with contemporary Christians, Hindus and Buddhists without crowing about her exploits. She is never the story, which is refreshing.

Partly because there are fewer of them than ever, but also because of the lives they lead, not many of us have ever met a hermit. Yet, oddly, it takes a book like this to remind us that the full-time, full-on hermit is merely a professional version of what any of us needs (and most of us manage, more or less) to be on an amateur and part-time basis. Isabel Colegate says that “elected silence” cleanses “the doors of perception”. Like most of us, she probably believes that there is a deficiency in individuals who can’t handle being alone, quiet and unentertained.

The idea of the wilderness is crucial. As Colegate notes, people tended to seek out the lonely wild when their civilisation adopted and corrupted their religion. Historians seem to agree that’s why Saints Paul (and a little later) Antony decamped into the bleak Egyptian hills. Then there is the recurring theme that hermits can do something to heal the fallen world and its rift with the natural state.
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Hermits were routinely succoured by wild animals and birds as they battled demons in the waste. No wonder the hermit and the wilderness have remained a potent combination: as Colegate notes, the 19th-century back-to-nature movement (and our own greens and mountaineers) saw that solitude in wildness had become therapeutic in an industrial age, in much the way it had been redemptive in a religious one.

Colegate only lightly touches on an idea which is common in monastic conversations. Maybe any of us should and can cultivate what has often been called “the desert within”. Indeed, the image of the hermit as a loner in the wild can obscure the way that the real work of the hermit can be done in public, or in the city. Most monks live a life which combines the solitary with a horrible absence of privacy: Mother Julian of Norwich was holed up in a church in Norwich. Any of us can construct a virtual hermitage in a personal wilderness. Indeed, this may be what the cult of minimalism is about.
There are all sorts of solitaries who are not hermits. Tramps and lone sailors are not sufficiently deliberate in their spirituality (if any) to qualify. Neither is the castaway’s solitariness. Robinson Crusoe rationalised that he had been shipwrecked to atone for the crime of abandoning his father, while a religious anchorite is on a deliberate pilgrimage away from family, and towards God.

Colegate never gives us psychobabble. She is adding to a select literature of spiritual tourism (most of which she usefully cites) among pilgrims engaged on “the solitary voyage of the practised mind into the void”. Of course, we are not much the wiser, though we are likely to be intrigued. As outsiders, we can’t know whether any particular hermit is actually spiritual. Not for nothing have established religions been wary of these loners. An appetite for loneliness is often a sign of mental illness, and it is hard to know (or check) what is being achieved by people doing their own thing.

Yet Isabel Colegate is surely right to be impressed by the toughness of mind and body of her hermits. Any weaker vessels – in the manner of one 18th-century hermit she cites – would have legged it down to the pub, and out of the annals.”–by-isabel-colegate-653523.html

From a review by Frank Kermode in “The New York Times”, April 21, 2002

“ISABEL COLEGATE’S 12 novels include ”The Shooting Party,” which was made into an interesting movie. Her first nonfiction book is a series of meditations on solitude in its more extreme forms. The title is borrowed from the 17th-century poet Thomas Traherne, a man said to have led a ”single and devout life,” and one who also achieved posthumous seclusion, for his writings evaded serious public notice until, in 1897, a browser at a London bookstall acquired for a few pennies a manuscript, previously unknown, of his beautiful meditations. One of them now provides Colegate with her title and a fanciful epigraph: ”A man that Studies Happiness must sit alone like a Sparrow upon the House Top, and like a Pelican in the Wilderness.”

This observation might suggest that the attainment of felicity requires one to be not merely alone but elevated, in which case the happiest of hermits were the stylites, so named because they perched on pillars in the wilderness (Greek: stylos, a pillar). The most celebrated of the stylites was Simeon, a fifth-century saint who lived for 36 years in a hut on top of a pillar 60 feet high, emerging from time to time to harangue the crowds and entertain them by performing up to a thousand consecutive genuflections, very likely still a record.
Colegate indeed does, in her own good time, deal pleasantly with St. Simeon and other stylites, incidentally pointing out that they were not true hermits, since hermits do not have crowds of fans. Still, they were in a real sense solitaries, and deserve to be counted along with solitaries of many other varieties, men and, occasionally, women who secluded themselves with more or less rigor all over the world….

Her pace is civilized and leisurely, but she covers much ground and has clearly done a good deal of research and travel, some of it arduous. But the style is always well tempered, and the transitions smooth….

Some spiritualities do not travel well. The asceticism of Russian hermits and the weird behavior of Russian ”fools for Christ” offer more examples of this failure, though Colegate treats them with her habitual consideration.

The life of the hermit is often undertaken by people who deplore the lack of spirituality in whatever culture they belong to, but this renunciation is far from guaranteeing exemption from the temptations of the flesh. The third-century St. Anthony of Egypt, ”prototype of all Christian hermits,” retreated from city to desert, and despite his celebrated supernatural torments was joined there by many other world-haters. There are always some around, though nowadays usually in communities that favor silence. It seems that a monk or nun wishing to be a hermit now has to seek permission from higher ecclesiastic authority.

A lot of information is quietly dispensed in this book. It touches on the English medieval mystics (Richard Rolle, Juliana of Norwich) and stretches to include ”mad” 18th-century poets like Cowper and eccentrics like William Beckford, who spent his enormous wealth on a fantastic Gothic abbey with a tower, five times as high as Simeon’s pillar, that fell down. He lived (sometimes) in seclusion, surrounded by curios and works of art. Not perhaps a true hermit, but one who holds the attention.
Another upper-class English eccentric was Lady Hester Stanhope, a forceful woman who was the niece of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger and had a career as a political hostess, but at the age of 38 retired to the Lebanon, where she lived, unveiled, in Oriental splendor, with some 30 personal attendants. Again it stretches a point to call her a solitary, but she certainly fled the city for the desert.

Like the world at large, the idea of the hermit was progressively secularized. Nothing could be less like the agonies of St. Anthony, or even the ostentatious retreats of Beckford and Stanhope, than the mild Romantic variety loved by Wordsworth, who communed with nature and conversed with stray solitaries but was rarely alone. America has its own version of this compromise: Thoreau was ”quite a sociable hermit.” However, it also invented the modern celebrity hermit, for instance J. D. Salinger; and of course there was Howard Hughes.

That name is a reminder that some seek solitude for reasons more pathological than religious. They may be suffering from what is here called scopophobia, a fear of being looked at…

Preferring holiness to pathology, Colegate enjoys her wanderings but returns in the end to the place where she started. On a visit to an Anglican convent she meets a nun whose need for solitude had taken her to an abandoned cabin on a cliff. Having repaired it, she lived there for 18 years, not quite alone because people brought their troubles to her. Unlike the Duke of Portland, Howard Hughes or Beckford, she believed that the responsibility of the solitary was ”to stand at the intersection between the love of God and suffering humanity.” Colegate finds this attitude admirable….

Unhappy and unwilling hermits serve as warnings of the dangers of solitariness. Its virtues are exemplified by the American monk Thomas Merton and by the donor of Colegate’s title, Thomas Traherne, who spoke of the way to felicity as solitary; but this felicity is not the solitude of the abandoned or the disgruntled. It is rather an ”elected silence” — the expression is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s — that gives us the possibility of cleansing the doors of our perception, so that we might even see the world as Traherne did, ”saluted and surrounded by innumerable joys.”

Here, then, is a collection of hermits, all shapes and sizes. Colegate’s tone, unobtrusively religious rather than pious, is pleasantly qualified by moments of straight-faced irony, and when you consider the extremes of conduct it describes, her book is remarkably peaceful and agreeable.”
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Isabel Diana Colegate (born 10 September 1931) is a British author and literary agent. Her novel “The Shooting Party” (1980) was adapted as an award-winning film of the same name, released in 1985 by Castle Hill Productions Inc
See also

Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer is a diocesan hermitage in Canada where both men and women are welcomed to live the eremitic life.
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The hermits make a simple vow to live the eremitic life which has been a tradition in the Christian Community since third century.

The eremitic life:
• is rooted in the experience of being captivated by the Mystery and is a response to this experience.
• is a gift in and for the world.
• is solitary and simple.
• is a journey of interiority.

In 1958, Margaret MacKinnon willed her family property to the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. George’s, (now known as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador) to establish a monastic presence. In July 1990, to honor her desire, St. Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer was established.
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Sheila O’Handley and Nick O’Keeffe have made public commitment in the Church to live the hermit life, supporting themselves through weaving, pottery, and gardening.
In the Fall of 2004, an Association of Friends of Saint Mary’s was established, consisting of individuals and couples who wished to support the contemplative ministry of the hermitage. In October 2005, the association became incorporated and is now legally known as Association of Friends of St. Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer Inc.

The vision of St Mary’s is:
To witness the primacy of the Sacred in all of life.
To create for guests an environment which is welcoming and nurturing.
To offer a limited ministry:
• Spiritual Direction
• Retreats
• Workshops for Spiritual Growth and Development

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St. Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer, in the Codroy Valley in southwestern Newfoundland, recently had extensive upgrading done on its residential buildings, thanks to the generosity of Catholic Missions In Canada. This work has made the buildings fully winterized.
The history of St. Mary’s goes back to 1958 when Margaret MacKinnon willed her family property to the Diocese of St. George’s (now the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador) to establish a monastic presence. In 1990, to honour her desire, St. Mary’s was established.
St. Mary’s recognizes the need for contemplative and spiritual reflection in the lives of all persons.
Two guest hermitages are available year-round for individuals, couples, and all who seek to listen to the heart in solitude and reflection in this peaceful and aesthetically beautiful setting. There are no community activities at St. Mary’s. If, however, a guest would wish to have some spiritual reflection, counseling, or a directed retreat with one of the hermits, this may be arranged. On the property, Sheila O’Handley and Nick O’Keeffe live the hermit life, supporting themselves through weaving, pottery and gardening.
Nick O’Keeffe was ordained a priest in 1965; he served in Nigeria (1966-1975) and in Newfoundland (1975-1987). Nick holds degrees in the arts, philosophy and theology, a diploma in community development, and a masters in pastoral counseling.
From 1987 to 1989 Nick apprenticed to the Canadian potter Jack Ouellette at his studio in Arichat, Nova Scotia. Nick experienced a call to the hermit life in 1983. In 1989 his diocese in Newfoundland decided to establish a hermitage called Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer and he has lived there ever since as a diocesan hermit supporting himself as a potter.
In 1958, Sheila O’Handley entered the Sisters of Saint Martha, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Having experienced a persistent call to the solitary life she came to Saint Mary’s Place of Solitude and Prayer, Doyles, Newfoundland, Canada, in 1993. She holds a Masters in Christian Community Development, a Masters of Divinity and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology. Sheila is a self taught weaver. she works with a variety of materials: cotton, silk, chenille, wool and linen; creating jackets, scarves, shawls , table and altar clothes, runners and so on.

The Hermit Juan Maria Agostiniani

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

“One of the most mysterious and at the same time pathetic figures that ever appeared upon the Santa Fe Trail was a gentle, saintly, self-sacrificing priest, familiarly known as “El Solitario”, who for several years lived in a cave in the Rincon range of mountains. N. M. [New Mexico] and in his honor the Mexicans have christened the highest peak “El Cumbre del Solitario” –the hermit’s mountain.
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He was always reticent about himself and seldom spoke of his past life, but allowed it to be known that his exile and self-denial were not involuntary, and that his sacrifices for his fellow men were to expiate some great crime. He was of Italian birth and his name was Father Matteo. Many romantic tales of his early life were in circulation. Most of them were inventions or speculations to account for his presence in the mountains. It was generally understood among the frontiersmen that he had fought with Garibaldi and had fled from Italy under the curse of the pope. He was also the hero of a romantic love story, and his tragic death was attributed to the brother of a girl in Naples. But whatever his former life may have been there was no doubt of his penitence and he lived like a saint, administering consolation and suffering hope to the unhappy, binding up wounds and healing the sick in body as well as in soul.
The fact that he maintained no relations with other priests and was never known to communicate with Bishop Lamy at Santa Fe, who was himself a conspicuous and picturesque character of long experience upon the frontier was accepted as evidence that Padre Matteo had been deposed and perhaps excommunicated. But that made no difference with his ministrations, and even increased his popularity. His profound sorrow, his unremitting zeal, his complete sincerity were enough to satisfy the rough hunters and herdsmen to whom he ministered and the suspicion that the church had refused him absolution aroused sympathy for a fellow sinner.
Father Matteo was highly educated. He spoke all languages. He had a knowledge of all literature. No foreigner ever came into the Rincon country but the priest could talk to him of his home in his own language. Besides his prayer book and his rosary, the only article that seemed to be associated with his past life was a much battered mandolin, upon which he played both secular and religious airs, to the great enjoyment of his parishioners. He was a master of the instrument, and it was the only diversion this gentle man of sorrow ever indulged in.
His familiar and beloved form had been missed from its usual haunts for a week or ten days when a party of miners found his lifeless body lying on the rugged trail that led to his cave. A poisoned dagger of unusual design and evidently of Italian manufacture had been driven between his shoulders into his heart. The assassin had attacked him from behind, and apparently had escaped without meeting his eyes. His rosary, that always hung about his neck, was firmly clasped in his fingers, and the expression upon his face was one of holy resignation. No trace of the assassin was ever found, but it was the general impression that the murder was committed by one of a large gang of Italian railroad hands, and was the result of a vendetta.
On the walls of his cave, the miners carved an inscription which read: Matteo Boccalina. Jesu Maria.
The humble Mexican herders, who idolized the priest, erected a semi-cycle of crosses before the entrance, twelve in number, typical of the twelve apostles whom he so faithfully served. On the anniversary of St Matthew, who was his patron saint, the natives always visit the cave, and for the lack of any other methods of expressing their regret and remembrance build a big fire. The Indians and the miners also reverence his memory. He was well known along the Santa Fe trail from the Missouri river to the Rio Grande.” —Wm. E. Curtis in the Chicago Record
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An account of the Hermit is found in “Legends of a Hermit” by Elba Cabeza de Baca y Gallegos (1918-2010) (for whom see ), Los Vegas NM, author, n.d. The book is a collection of local legends of the Italian hermit Giovanni Maria Agostiniani who inhabited Hermit’s Peak (El Cerro) near Las Vegas, New Mexico from 1863 to 1868.

Simple Gifts

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

Few songs reflect the spirit of the Hermit with such plain simplicity as the Shaker song, “Simple Gifts”. Although the Shakers did not live as Hermits, and placed great importance on the concept of community, their principles of simplicity, plain living and self-sufficiency resonate with the eremitical tradition.
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‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right
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“The tune was written by Joseph Brackett (1797–1882) in 1848. Brackett, a lifelong resident of Maine, first joined the Shakers at Gorham, Maine, when his father’s farm helped to form the nucleus of a new Shaker settlement. It was first published in “The Gift to be Simple: Shaker Rituals and Songs”. “Simple Gifts” was a work song sung by the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (more commonly called the Shakers).
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The song was largely unknown outside Shaker communities until Aaron Copland used its melody for the score of Martha Graham’s ballet “Appalachian Spring”, first performed in 1944. Copland used “Simple Gifts” a second time in 1950 in his first set of “Old American Songs” for voice and piano, which was later orchestrated. Many people thought that the tune of “Simple Gifts” was a traditional Celtic one but both the music and original lyrics are actually the compositions of Brackett. “Simple Gifts” has been adapted or arranged many times since by folksingers and composers.

The Carter lyrics were adapted, in ignorance of the actual origins, without authorization or acknowledgments by Ronan Hardiman for Michael Flatley’s dance musical “Lord of the Dance”, which opened in 1996. The melody is used at various points throughout the show, including the piece titled “Lord of the Dance.” “

Various additional verses, not part of the original or written by Shakers, can be found and are often added in modern versions of the song.
Simple Gifts
See Roger L. Hall “The Story of ‘Simple Gifts’ – Joseph Brackett’s Shaker Dance Song”, PineTree Press, (2006/revised edition, 2010).

See for a fascinating and detailed study of the song and its history, and links to other relevant sites.
For the Shakers, see

For the song sung by members and friends of United Society of Shakers at Sabbath Lake, see
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For the Sabbath Lake community, see
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Living Alone

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

“Living Alone. The Inward Journey to Fellowship” by Martin Israel (New Library of Pastoral Care) SPCK/Sheldon Press1982
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“Living alone is a very individual experience. Each one treads it according to his own gifts, insights and temperament. But one fact stands out: until one has come to terms with one’s own personality and has attained an inner rest in the silence of aloneness amid the outer turmoil of the world all one’s gifts are inadequate to assuage the loneliness, indeed the meaninglessness, of one’s present existence. This book explores the inner life of a person with special reference to living on one’s own. It outlines the path to awareness that finds its end in the direct encounter with God. It is to this end that man was fashioned. It is first glimpsed in the silence of aloneness, but it is finally consummated in a truly communal life that is the fruit of a period of living alone well spent and fully used.”

“…it must be emphasized that, although the experience of living alone is crucial for the development of a authentic personality, by which I mean a personality that can communicate in depth with the world and all its creatures, it is nevertheless equally true that man was not meant to be alone, as we have already seen in the Genesis myth. There is a great difference between living alone and being alone. The first is, as I have already stated, a necessary experience for coming to true maturity. The second is a tragedy which, if unrelieved, will end in death. Indeed it would not be inappropriate to define hell as an atmosphere of complete aloneness where there is an absence of communication with any other being. In such a state the comfort of God is not available; although he is most certainly present everywhere, his presence cannot be appreciated by those unfortunate persons immersed in the negative field of hell. But perhaps even the experience of hell on earth is a necessary precursor for the ultimate knowledge of God.”

“To summarize the situation: living alone is a certain way towards integrity, for in the silence no secret can remain hidden from our gaze. When we are cleansed of all that separates us from God and man by the winnowing fire of self-revelation, we can be filled with the Holy Spirit who binds us into a new community. The source and end of this community is God, and as we work within it, so we are raised to the stature of sons of God following the path of the Son of God who is Christ. He is the supreme person.”

The full text of the book is available at
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Martin Israel (30 April 1927 – 23 October 2007) was an English pathologist, Anglican priest, spiritual director, and author of numerous books on Christian life and teaching.

“The Reverend Dr Martin Israel, a distinguished pathologist, former lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons, and a priest in the Church of England, has been described as “one of the most sought after spiritual guides in this country”. He is deeply involved in healing, counselling and spiritual direction.
Dr Israel has long been concerned about the spiritual component of human nature, as is witnessed in the lives of the world’s great mystics and religious geniuses. In the current trend towards scientific materialism, with a growing danger that the inner life may be disregarded and brushed aside, he has been active in propagating a view of humanity that pays due regard to the spirit without denigrating man’s animal inheritance. He has lectured widely on this theme, and is an active member of a number of societies that are attempting to bridge the gulf between scientific objectivity and religious faith. He believes that a full life cannot disregard the spiritual quest after reality, and that an enlightened return to the great principles that have illuminated the world’s higher religions can alone bring peace to a distracted humanity.”

For his obituary, see

Outsiders in New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2013 by citydesert

Among the living subjects of Gerard Hindmarsh’s new book “Outsiders”, the word “hermit” is almost universally rejected. While the book is subtitled “Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society”, these people who have chosen to live isolated from the rest of society have various motivations.
Hindmarsh says the common thread connecting them is a desire for independence.
“These people really feel they have the right to live beyond the square,” he says. “They’re never necessarily hermits, and they all hate that term.”
The Golden Bay author became interested in the subject during the early 1990s when he began writing a series of articles for New Zealand Geographic magazine focusing on “extreme subjects”.
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Among the people he visited in their bush homes were: Ross Webber, who lived on his own island in the Marlborough Sounds for 46 years; long-time West Coast eeler Bruce Reay; and the now well-known Gorge River Family.

“I did very full interviews when I went out to see these people,” Hindmarsh says.
“That kind of sparked my interest in it. And I realised that there actually weren’t many actual outsiders in New Zealand who warranted the term, the real hard case ones.”
For Outsiders, which is published by Nelson company Craig Potton Publishing, the author has broadened his focus, tracing a tradition that runs through post-colonial New Zealand history.

There are chapters covering earlier examples of people who fled society and lived happily in the wildness. There’s prospector Arawata Bill, amateur South Westland surveyor Charlie “Explorer” Douglas, Fiordland legend Davey Gunn, and self-imposed Cook Islands castaway Tom Neale.

“In the end, I’ve got it roughly historical, but it’s not quite like that because I skip back with some people,” Hindmarsh observes of Outsiders. “It’s more a wave of feeling that runs through the book. Some of them were mass admired and others hardly anyone knew about them.”

That was the case for years for the Gorge River Family – Robert Long, Catherine Stewart, and their children Robin and Christan. But in the last few years both Long and Stewart have published their respective autobiographies, making their story the most well- known of contemporary New Zealand outsiders.
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When Hindmarsh first visited their incredibly isolated West Coast home, his letter from months before hadn’t been delivered, but writing was often the best way of communicating with the people he hoped to interview. The first occasion he met Bruce Reay, the fisherman handed over letters he’d been carrying in a plastic bag for over a month in the hope he’d meet someone who could post them.

Perhaps due to such practicalities, several of the people covered in Outsiders are no longer living in the bush. “The time comes when they want a change,” he says. “But I don’t believe that they struggle. The day-to-day thing takes up a lot of mental energy I reckon. It becomes kind of comfortable, and territorial in a way. You just know your place so well. They’re some amazing people.”

“Under the heading “The Isolationists”, Gerard Hindmarsh writes that even though few people actually got to meet him, ”Charles Douglas was a Scottish immigrant who became one of the most admired and loved characters in all of Westland”.
charles douglas
Douglas ”was an ardent isolationist who came to loathe the rat race with all its repetitive routines and incessant striving for security and possessions, not to mention its malaise of false sophistication”. Born in Edinburgh in 1840 to a noted family of bankers and painters, Douglas bought a one-way passage to New Zealand, arriving at Port Chalmers in 1862.
Arriving in south Westland in 1867, Douglas devoted the following four decades to exploring and surveying all its unexplored gorges and forest tracts. ”He lived a basic life, living almost entirely off the land and avoiding human company, preferring instead the company of his dog,” Hindmarsh writes.

Douglas is typical of the many New Zealand ”man alone” – and a few women – stoic characters living at the fringes of society, whose lives the author has painstakingly researched. ”Being geographically isolated by choice and living a solitary existence, often without the trappings of so-called civilisation and urban living, these characters have become etched in the national psyche of the country,” he notes.

I was particularly interested in Hindmarsh’s accounts of long-gone swaggers, for many of whom the reality was that they died along the roads, ”maybe curled up to expire in the shelter of some scrub or tall tussock”.

The author has cast his net widely and researched well to provide fascinating portraits of the lives of some of New Zealand’s most famous outsiders, many of whom died a long time ago, and some of whom are still alive today.
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“Outsiders: Stories from the fringe of New Zealand society” by Gerard Hindmarsh profiles 21 individuals and 4 families who in different ways came to live independently of mainstream society, often living miles into the wilderness, far from civilisation and all its comforts.
The book begins with the legendary nineteenth century prospector William O’Leary for whom two South Island mountain passes are named and whose life inspired Denis Glover’s sequence of 20 poems “Arawata Bill”. The final story in the book is of the similarly wandering lifestyle of Bruce Reay who decided he wanted to live in the bush after graduating with a degree in forestry from the University of Canterbury in the late 1970s. Bruce lives along the full length of the West Coast from Kahurangi to Fiordland, trapping and trading live eels and possum pelts for income and revisiting fishing grounds only once in every 10 years.

Others profiled include Tom Neale who lived alone on a tiny Pacific atoll for many years like a real life Robinson Crusoe, and Tim and Ngaire Te Aika who raised a family on Stewart Island at a time when it could take 9 hours to travel from their farm to reach the Mainland.

“Much of the time I found that the people I was interviewing simply wanted to stay out of the rat race,” says Gerard. “They wanted the satisfaction of fending for themselves, proving to themselves – if no one else – that they could do it.” “They’re inspiring stories, and a little bit cautionary too. It has lead me to reflect on my own life. I think a lot of people today are looking for ways to provide for ourselves, looking for ways to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. ”

“A Life On Gorge River: New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
by Robert Long (Random House New Zealand, 2010)
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Robert Long and his family – wife Catherine, and children Christan (17) and Robyn (14) – live in complete isolation, in a hut two days’ walk south of Haast in South Westland. Robert has lived there for nearly 30 years; Catherine for 20 and the kids all their lives. Their only contact with the outside world is a helicopter or plane once a month, and two trips a year to the ‘outside world. This is the story of how and why Robert – known locally as ‘Beansprout’ – came to live at Gorge River, and the family’s experiences there over the years, living self-sufficiently and forging close bonds with the natural environment. It is an inspiring tale of one man’s decision to ‘drop out’ of capitalist society and successfully establish a lifestyle most New Zealanders can’t even imagine, harking back to the days of the earliest pioneers.

“A Wife on Gorge River. Raising New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
By Catherine Stewart (Random House New Zealand, 2012)
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Life with New Zealand’s remotest family in a follow-on from the bestselling A Life on Gorge River by Robert Long. In 2010, New Zealand met its remotest family, through the writing of Robert Long aka Bean sprout and we were intrigued. Now Beansprout’s wife, Catherine Stewart, tells her story, and answers many of our questions. Why did she decide to join him on the wild West Coast, two days’ walk from the nearest road? Why and how did they raise their family there? Was it terrifying to be so far from medical help? How did she home-school the children? How have they all fared now the kids are young adults, forging their own way in the world? And what lessons are there for the rest of us from her experiences raising her family in such splendid isolation? In this entertaining bestseller, and with dry humour and fascinating insights, Catherine paints a vivid picture of her life at Gorge River and beyond.

For Charles Douglas, see and and

For William O’Leary, see and

An Australian Hermit in 1940

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2013 by citydesert

An interesting, albeit frustratingly lacking in detail, article in the “Sydney Morning Herald” for 21 December 1940 gives an account of a Hermit living in the Australian alps.
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The Carefree Life of an Australian Hermit by James Valentine

The Hermit lives in a little house, which he has built for himself, of clay-stamped walls. On the top of it sits a red roof, and creepers cluster up the walls and stretch out their long green slender fingers across the top of the roof. The wind soughs in the she-oak grove which surrounds his home and the sea sounds on the feet of the cliffs beneath.

A man of Kent, the Hermit has played many parts, but now that he is beginning to look back on middle age he has put away childish things (which are the affairs of men, and, therefore, of the devil), and tends his garden (which is green and fruitful) and feeds his fowls (presided over by Peter, a sheeny black rooster, with the dignity of a Roman Senator). Once a week he walks into the nearest township for the modest supplies he does not himself produce.

After tea we sit before his great open fireplace he in his enormous home-made armchair, and watch the she-oak smoke curl blue into the chimney. If we should, as on rare occasions we do, discuss the affairs of the world, the Hermit will take a suck at his pipe, light it with a barrage of matches and pronounce judgment “Yes,” he will say, “and what’s the good of getting any older if you don’t get more sense?” Could there be more damnation in a single sentence?…

The Hermit’s acres (about one and a half) comprise, in almost all respects, a self-contained, self-supporting totalitarian State. There are Ash in the sea; his hens are conscientious; he makes mead from what must be a recipe two thousand years old; much of his furniture is home-made; and his rat-traps, complicated affairs, with cord, pulleys, a trip device, and a great block of wood, suggest the inventive genius of Heath Robinson.

His life is a round of easy tasks to keep going his vegetables, his fowls, his bees, and the corn which shoots up 14ft in the rich soil. Occasionally, should a feeling of loneliness come over him or a certain restlessness, “Well,” he says, “I just go out and do a bit of diggin’. ”

Often during evening visits to this happy demesne we play the good, old English games of darts or shoveha’penny. Never shall I forget the cry of acclamation which went up when the Hermit, representing the local talent against the “city coves.” scored a miraculous bull’s eye. It was, and ever shall be remembered as, an occasion.
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Although the Hermit is not identified, he may have been Charlie Carter.

“The Tin Mines are just off the Tin Mine fire trail, about 20 kilometres west of Dead Horse Gap near Thredbo. The area has been mined since 1873 for tin, and between 1935 and 1936, the Mount Pilot Tin Mining Syndicate built several huts on the site which were later abandoned by 1938.

There are currently two huts at the Tin Mines, several piles of stones and the remains of chimneys and log posts indicating the position of further structures….

One of the remaining buildings is known as the Barn, Big Hut or Workshed and it functioned as a workshed for the Mount Pilot Tin Mining Syndicate in 1935-36……

Charlie Carter spent the majority of his life in the Alps, until his death in 1953. He lived at the Tin Mines for the last 20 years of his life – as a hermit and philosopher, writing, selling horse hides and mining. He would ride by horseback into Jindabyne to sell horse hides, deliver philosophical articles to the local newspaper and buy food supplies. The cause of his death in 1953 remains a mystery. He could have starved, been struck down by an illness
or died as a result of the strange healing techniques that he self-administered.”

Click to access mining.pdf

“Charlie was a true hermit if there ever was one. He lived a lonely life as far back in the bush as he could get. There in the Mt. Pilot area, far from any permanent neighbour. Charlie Carter became something of a legend among the Cattlemen who had grazing leases in the area of the Cobbaras Mountains and to the east on the lovely plains and alpine meadows of the Ingeegoodbee.

Eccentric as most hermits become from years of solitude, Charlie was no exception. He insisted that he had cured himself of cancer with a concoction that contained hydrochloric acid (spirits of salts), Solomon’s Solution, Blue-stone and some other more mysterious ingredient. So sure was he about this medication that he wrote to King George VI about his discovery and what’s more, received an answer!

The few human contacts for Charlie Carter occurred when walking tourists called and left. Cattlemen who all knew Charlie; kept a kindly eye on this old hermit when they came to check on their grazing runs. Or to bring the salt without which mustering or checking on cattle would be difficult to say the least. It was one of those cattlemen who found Charlie dead in his hut.

Bringing the body of those poor old hermits was one of the least pleasant duties of the volunteers and relatives who packed the body out for interment. Though there are not hermits now, I know many old men who would like to end like that.”
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Charlie Carter’s hut has been preserved:
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Hermits – When Knights Were Bold

Posted in Uncategorized on October 26, 2013 by citydesert

From “When Knights Were Bold” by Eva March Tappan (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1911)
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“ [175] WHEN a hermit appears in a romance, he is generally described as an old man with picturesque gray beard and hair, and either a long gray cloak or a scanty robe of sackcloth. He has had wild adventures in his youth, has perhaps done some deeds of violence to which he occasionally refers darkly; but now he keeps lonely vigils, he flogs himself with briers and wears a hair shirt by way of atoning for his sins. He omits most of his meals, and when he does deign to eat, his food consists of a dry crust, a handful of cress, and a cup of water. Much of his time he spends in counting his beads. He cares nothing for money and despises comforts. His bed is the damp stone of his cave. His clothes he wears until they are ready to drop from him in pieces. His cell is always conveniently near the spot where some one has just been attacked by thieves and left on the ground as dead. He lifts the insensible sufferer to his shoulder, bears him to the cave, bathes his forehead with cool water from the spring, and then ap- [176] plies a wonder-working ointment, given him perhaps in his youth by some heathen Saracen; and, presto, in a day or two the man who had fallen among thieves is completely cured and either goes his way or else himself becomes a dweller in a cave of stone with a menu of cresses and water.
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Such is the hermit of the romances; but the hermit of the Middle Ages was quite a different person. Sometimes, it is true, he made for himself a tiny abode deep in the forest or in the midst of some lonely desert, and sometimes he dug for himself a den in the side of a hill [177] or hewed out a rough cave in a cliff. Sometimes his abode was merely a hut of wattle-work or a sort of booth covered with branches; but often he dwelt in a comfortable little cottage of wood or stone on a highway. Occasionally several hermits grouped themselves together, each having his own cell, or rather cottage, and using one chapel. The hermit dressed much like the monks, usually in a robe of black or gray; though there is at least one old picture of a hermit wearing a cheery little red cap. He was generally drawn with a book, a bell to ring for mass and to drive away evil spirits, and a staff.

As to what the hermits did with themselves all day long, one must remember that there were almost as many kinds of hermits as there are of people. There are stories of hermits who became so absorbed in prayer that the hours passed like minutes; of one who was able to wear the same cloak for many years, because while he was praying, his friends quietly slipped it off, mended it, and laid it upon his shoulders again, without his discovering its absence. There were hermits who made themselves useful by taking up their abode near some dangerous fording place and carrying pilgrims on their shoulders across the stream. Such is the hero of the [178] legend of Saint Christopher, to whom a little child one day appealed to be borne over the river. The strong man took the child upon his shoulders and waded into the stream. But the burden grew heavier and heavier, [179] and he could hardly make his way across and stagger up the opposite bank. “Child,” he said, “thou hast put me in great peril. I could bear no heavier burden.” The child answered, “Marvel not, for to-day thou hast borne on thy shoulders the whole world and the weight of its sins.”
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A hermit of a sociable turn of mind sometimes built himself a hut beside a bridge. Bridges were troublesome comforts in those days. They were supposed to be cared for by the landowners within whose boundaries they stood; and the lords often collected toll for their use; but the one that was left entirely to their care would have been rather dangerous. No one could deny that bridges were useful, but to build a needed bridge or keep one in repair was everybody’s business, and therefore it was nobody’s business. So it came to pass that building a bridge or caring for one was looked upon as being as much of a religious act as going to church. People sometimes built a bridge by way of doing penance for their sins; or in their wills they left money for one for the same reason. Some of the gilds took certain roads and bridges under their charge as a religious duty. On the larger bridges chapels were sometimes built. It did not seem at all out of place, then, [180] for a hermit to establish himself beside a bridge and claim farthing gifts from travelers on the ground that he was caring for it. If they got safely over, it mattered little to them whether he spent all the money in repairs or not. They rode away with the comfortable feeling that they had done their duty and it had not cost much; and the hermit was reasonably sure of farthings enough for his needs.

But begging at bridges was not the hermit’s only means of gaining a livelihood. The mere fact that a man lived in a certain place and depended upon charity for his food was sufficient to induce people to make him gifts, and to leave him money in their wills. Occasionally a wealthy man built a hermitage and endowed it just as one to-day might endow a hospital or a library.
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One might, then, put on a hermit’s garb with a sincere wish to withdraw from the temptations of the world and pass the time in prayer and meditation; or he might adopt the name of hermit as an easy, comfortable way of making a living without working for it. There were so many of these pretenders that in the laws they were often classed with beggars and vagabonds. They make themselves hermits “their ease to have,” says the old poem of Piers Plowman. In England in the fourteenth [181] century it was forbidden for a man to call himself a hermit unless he had been formally pronounced one by his bishop; and there was a regular service for blessing a man and setting him apart to the solitary life. Some bishops went so far as to refuse to give a man the title of hermit unless provision had already been made for his maintenance.”
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Full text of the book available at and
“Eva March Tappan (December 26, 1854 – January 29, 1930) was a teacher and American author born in Blackstone, Massachusetts, the only child of Reverend Edmund March Tappan and Lucretia Logée. Eva graduated from Vassar College in 1875. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and an editor of the Vassar Miscellany. After leaving Vassar she began teaching at Wheaton College where she taught Latin and German from 1875 until 1880. From 1884–94 she was the Associate Principal at the Raymond Academy in Camden, New Jersey. She received graduate degrees in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. Tappan was the head of the English department at the English High School at Worcester, Massachusetts. She began her literary career writing about famous characters in history and developed an interest in writing children books. Tappan never married.”

“Eva March Tappan was born at Blackstone, Massachusetts in 1854 and died in 1930. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vassar College in 1875, she taught at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, and at several private schools. After earning both Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Tappan became head of the English department at the English High School at Worcester, Massachusetts. During the Great War, she was asked to become an assistant editor for the United States Food Administration. Miss Tappan dedicated the last half of her life to writing over 50 books for younger readers, then deeded her estate to form a Vassar College scholarship fund for young women. An extensive knowledge of literature had given her a talent for making simple and absorbing stories that filled the imagination with fascinating facts. Her well-written, interesting, and thorough work was recognized by schools, where her books were often used as textbooks.”
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“The Medieval Hermit – Withdrawal From the World

Hermits sought to live completely alone, away from the influence of society, in order to live a life of poverty and devotion to prayer and fasting. But they, like everyone else, needed food and drink, clothes and a place to live. This placed them in the position of having to depend, however reluctantly, on the goodwill of others to carry out their way of life.
Hermits were often well known in their local area, and no doubt provided with gifts and help from local people, but their fame could travel surprisingly far in medieval times.
They were often accused of stirring up trouble, harbouring vagabonds and criminals and could be viewed with hostility by local people. On the other hand, they were often trusted to heal, carry out miracles and dispense wise words. Either way, life as a solitary was often impossible even for the most zealous hermit.”
See “Eremitism versus Monasticism in Medieval Europe“ at

Hermits and Hair

Posted in Uncategorized on October 23, 2013 by citydesert

hair hermit
The monastic tradition has long included rules regarding beards and hair. In the West, most Monks have been clean shaven in modern times and insofar as there were rules regarding hair, they tended to prescribe some form of tonsure – that is, a specific form of hair-cutting rather than uncut hair. In the East, Monks traditional kept both their beards and the hair uncut and in many Orthodox churches this was a strict prescription.
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Hermits who were not monks have tended to keep both beards and hair uncut, although there have been and are exceptions. This has been based less on any specific prescription relating to hair rather than

• following the tradition and practice of the earliest Hermits;
• as a sign of lack of interest in or concern about physical appearance;
• to minimise the need to pay attention to personal adornment through regular shaving and/or hair cutting;
• as a reaction against worldly fashion (although this has raised some concerns at times when beards and/or long hair were the height of popular fashion!).

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There have, however, been strong arguments that not cutting the hair or shaving the beard have a specific religious importance:

“Orthodox Christian piety begins in the Holy Tradition of the Old Testament. Our relationship to the Lord God, holiness, worship, and morality was formed in the ancient times of the Bible. At the time of the foundation of the priesthood the Lord gave the following commandments to the priests during periods of mourning, And ye shall not shave your head for the dead [a pagan practice] with a baldness on the top; and they shall not shave their beard… (Lev. 21:5), and to all men in general, Ye shall not make a round cutting of the hair of your head, nor disfigure your beard (Lev. 19:27). The significance of these commandments is to illustrate that the clergy are to devote themselves completely to serving the Lord. Laymen as well are called to a similar service though without the priestly functions. This out ward appearance as a commandment was repeated in the law given to the Nazarene, a razor shall not come upon his head, until the days be fulfilled which he vowed to the Lord: he shall be holy, cherishing the long hair of the head all the days of his vow to the Lord… (Numbers 6:5-6).

The significance of the Nazarene vow was a sign of God’s power resting on the person who made it. To cut off the hair meant to cut off God’s power as in the example of Samson (see Judges 16:17-19)….

The Apostle Paul himself wore his hair long as we can conclude from the following passage where it is mentioned that “head bands,” [Webmaster note: he then cites the Slavonic word using a special font. Consult the original article if needed.], and “towels” touched to his body were placed on the sick to heal them. The “head bands” indicate the length of his hair (in accordance with pious custom) which had to be tied back in order to keep it in place (cf. Acts 19:12). The historian Egezit writes that the Apostle James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, never cut his hair (Christian Reading, Feb. 1898, p.142, [in Russian]).

If the pious practice among clergy and laity in the Christian community was to follow the example of the Old Testament, how then are we to understand the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians cited earlier (I Cor. 11:14)? Saint Paul in the cited passage is addressing men and woman who are praying (cf. I Cor. 11:3-4). His words in the above passages, as well as in other passages concerning head coverings (cf. I Cor. 11: 4-7), are directed to laymen, not clergy. In other passages Saint Paul makes an obvious distinction between the clerical and lay rank (cf. I Cor. 4:1, I Tim. 4:6, Col. 1:7, and others). He did not oppose the Old Testament ordinance in regard to hair and beards since, as we have noted above, he himself observed it, as did Our Lord Himself, Who is depicted on all occasions with long hair and beard as the Great High Priest of the new Christian priest hood.

In our passage noted previously, Both not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Cor. 11:14) Saint Paul uses the Greek word for “hair.” This particular word for hair designates hair as an a ornament (the notion of length being only secondary and suggested), differing from [Gr.] thrix (the anatomical or physical term for hair). [1] Saint Paul’s selection of words emphasizes his criticism of laymen wearing their hair in a stylized fashion, which was contrary to pious Jewish and Christian love of modesty. We note the same approach to hair as that of Saint Paul in the 96th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council where it states: “Those therefore who adorn and arrange their hair to the detriment of those who see them, that is by cunningly devised intertwinings, and by this means put a bait in the way of unstable souls.””
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Coptic Priests and Monks are required to maintain a beard, but generally visible long hair is no considered appropriate. Because a Monk’s hair cannot be seen, being covered by the monastic cowl (kalanzoa), it is usually kept uncut, but a non-monastic Priest, while having a beard, will usually have his hair normally cut. A famous exception is Pope Kyrilos VI (1902 –1971) who served as Patriarch of Alexandria from 1959 to 1971 and who was seen with his head uncovered, and both his hair and his beard of great length.
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“Tonsure refers to the practice of cutting or shaving some or all of the hair on the scalp, as a sign of religious devotion or humility. The term originates from the Latin word tonsūra (to clip, or cut) and referred to a specific practice in medieval Catholicism, abandoned by papal order in 1972.
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There were three forms of tonsure known in the 7th and 8th centuries:

• The Oriental, which claimed the authority of Saint Paul the Apostle (Acts 18:18) and consisted of shaving the whole head. This was observed in the Eastern churches, including the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches. Hence Theodore of Tarsus, who had acquired his learning in Byzantine Asia Minor and bore this tonsure, had to allow his hair to grow for four months before he could be tonsured after the Roman fashion, and then ordained Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Vitalian in 668.
• The Celtic, the exact shape of which is unclear from the sources, but in some way involved shaving the head from ear to ear. The shape may have been semicircular, arcing forward from a line between the ears, but another popular suggestion, less borne out in the sources, proposes that the entire forehead was shaved back to the ears. More recently a triangular shape, with one point at the front of the head going back to a line between the ears, has been suggested. The Celtic tonsure was worn in Ireland and Great Britain and was connected to the distinct set of practices known as Celtic Christianity. It was despised by those affiliated with the later Roman custom, who considered it unorthodox and associated it with Simon Magus. However, there is no evidence to connect Simon Magus and this tradition. All that can be said is that the very earliest Christians in the British Isles followed this more ancient tradition, which the later Roman tradition opposed. Many adherents to the Celtic tradition continued to maintain the old way well into the 8th and 9th centuries. Some sources have also suggested links between this tonsure and that worn by druids in the Pre-Roman Iron Age.
• The Roman: this consisted of shaving only the top of the head, so as to allow the hair to grow in the form of a crown. This is claimed to have originated with Saint Peter, and is the practice of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.”
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For the history of the beard in Christianity, see
For various religious traditions requiring the beard, see and for an interesting article with the fascinating title, “The Theology of the Beard”:

The Leather Belt

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2013 by citydesert

The use by Hermits, Monks and Nuns of a belt made of leather is very ancient.
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In the earliest Coptic tradition:

“To the ideal hermit were attributed the melote (mantle of animal skin), symbol of mortification; the skhema (a garment like a scapular marked with a cross, which recalled the cross of Christ); the Koukle (a hood, cowl, or cap), symbol of the grace of God and a witness to the childlike spirit of the follower of Jesus, His simplicity and His innocence; the girdle
(leather belt worn by soldiers), which kept the Christian from impurity and was an attribute of the soldier of Christ; the sleeveless tunic, symbol of renunciation of the world; and sandals, which rather than shoes gave nimbleness for running the spiritual course.
This costume, however, was not worn in any rigorous fashion in the different ascetic centers. Anchorites and cenobites exhibited various and sometimes whimsical forms of dress, at least in early times. They drew upon local forms of dress, adapting them as closely as possible to the basic ideal scheme. Considerations of the level of asceticism, the material resources, and personal preferences were also taken into account.”
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Although in most Orthodox monastic traditions, the belt is worn over the monastic garments, amongst the Copts it is most common for the belt to be worn underneath the outer garments, and therefore not to be visible.
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In the Eastern Orthodox tradition at the blessing of a Monk or Nun, a leather belt, made of the skin of a dead animal signifying deadness to the world is fastened about the loins. This girding of the loins also signifies bodily mortification and readiness for the service of Christ and His return (Luke 12:35-37). The buckle of the belt has the symbols of the Crucifixion on it to remind the new monk of his daily Crucifixion. The follow words are spoken by the Abbot: “Our brother is gird about his loins with the power of truth, for mortification of body and renewal of spirit, and for courage and caution.”
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A Stavrophor Nun in the Orthodox Church in America receives the Belt