Questions and Answers about the Hermitage and Harmonists -
Theory and Practice
1. What is the Hermitage?
The Hermitage is a sacred site and the foundation settlement for Harmonist spirituality. It was established in 1988 by Johannes and Christian Zinzendorf. Our goal was to create a garden where earth and spirit would unite in beauty and harmony. Initially planned for a brotherhood, we eventually realized we are actually hermits, with the 63-acre property as our family. Our holy work is to create, sustain, and nurture this spiritual garden.
We moved a variety of log and timber-frame buildings to the site and adapted them into work and craft shops, dwellings, a school house, the 1759 Gemeinehaus (community house), a print shop, a library, and also turned the barn into an exhibit area for local history and crafts called the Mahantongo Heritage Center.
The Hermitage is legally owned and operated by a non-profit corporation overseen by a board of directors.
2. Who are the Harmonists?
Our spirituality is based on understanding that there is a basic, underlying unity to existence, a creating spirit and energy that incarnates as matter, so that the planet and all living things are its avatars. It lives through, and in, us. Everything we believe and do is based on that primary framework and structural basis.
We are one in the spirit, which speaks through each one equally. We are like facets of a jewel, with everything being part of everything else.
That initial unity expresses itself in a multitude of forms and paths. For example, one of us finds significance in Celtic spirituality, while the other is drawn to certain ancient Egyptian and Hindu gods and goddesses. The spirit can assume multiple forms even within a single human lifetime.
We look at the world as a giant flower, a single organism of incarnated spirit and energy. Our job, our holy work and dharma as Harmonists, is to nurture, sustain and care for it so that the planet, and its multitudes of life, can reach its fullest potential. Each of us is a petal of the flower, a leaf, a stalk, a root, while we also enable it to grow. By caring for any part of it, we care for the whole.
Our core values are expressed as the desire to unite, to enlighten, to harmonize, and to heal. We implement those values through treating ourselves and others with kindness, patience, humility, and respect.
For those moments when we fail, as we all do at times, through letting the ego overwhelm us in emotional surges of anger, violence, and other emotions and acts that temporarily separate us from the whole, we need the healing acts of compassion and forgiveness so we can move on, as well as return to wholeness in the spirit.
3. What are the Hermitage origins?
From an early and shared interest in communal spirituality, we moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1979, where we were inspired to reestablish an eighteenth-century century community of Moravian Single Brothers that existed in the Lehigh Valley. Those brothers themselves came from a Moravian community in Germany called Herrnhaag, God's Grove, built as the Moravian's version of New Jerusalem.
Its leader in the 1740s was a young man named Christian Renatus von Zinzendorf and, as his name implies, it was believed that Christ lived again in him. We know that Christel, as he was affectionately called, was same-sex attracted, and that he and his brothers developed rituals in which he, as the Divine Bridegroom, physically joined with his brothers as his brides.
As word spread of Christel's teachings and practices, many were drawn to Herrnhaag. However, many others, even within the church, found what was happening to be scandalous and heretical, so the community faced an increasing firestorm of criticism that so threatened the church's work and reputation that, eventually, Christel's father, and church leader, Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf closed the Single Brothers house and commanded Christel to live with him, in penitence, in London. Broken psychologically by rebuke, and physically by London's damp climate, Christel died at the age of 24.
His brothers had already been sent to Pennsylvania, where many of them settled at a community named for him, Christiansbrunn, the Spring of Christian. Initially they thought he would join them but, after his death, they believed his spirit lived on in the sacred spring and that, by drinking its water, one would bring Christel inside.
This was the union of body, earth, and spirit for which we'd been searching for many years, and Christel became, and remains, our role model for unity. We believe his spirit inhabits our springs as well.
We also recognize the achievements of Christel's mother, Countess Erdemuthe, who encouraged her son in his spiritual growth, and who died not long after him.
4. What are your goals?
We express our spirituality through a variety of methods, including personal behavior, meditation, hymns, rituals, and holy work, or dharma.
As Harmonists, we consciously dedicate our lives to the goal of nurturing the world as flower. We do that both at the Hermitage and out in the broader world. Each of us decides how to do that while making a living, as the Hermitage provides only a modest measure of support.
Members decide what is practical and appropriate to do, while listening to the spirit, and in consultation with other members. Dharma is work of many life- times as the spirit constantly unfolds itself as a growing, vibrant organism through time and space.
We emphasize communalism – working cooperatively together to benefit the planet and its components – as opposed to competitive consumerism, taking from the planet without giving back. That path is ultimately destructive of both self and planet. It keeps one trapped in a state of mindless and needless acquisition and power that feeds the illusion of the ego, and hinders our connection with earth and spirit.
5. How is the Hermitage funded?
The Hermitage is partly self-sustaining through a modest endowment that is supplemented by donations of money and labor by members and others. The endowment provides a small monthly income that covers basic expenses such as taxes and utility bills. However, major projects have always required the shared financial assistance of members as well. These are generally considered non-refundable donations of both labor and money, though there have been exceptions as mutually agreed upon and as funding is available.
6. How do members make a living?
At times, members have worked off site for a personal income, while the community's workshops are also available to make crafts for sale. Agricultural production is another potential income source. Teaching, craft demonstrations, on-line businesses, school and group tours, residencies, and gatherings have all been options for both Hermitage and individual income.
16. How are communal expenses handled?
The cost of food is shared. Clothing is generally paid for by members. The maintenance of private vehicles is at the expense of the owners who can, nonetheless, be reimbursed for Hermitage-related expenses. Dwellings are owned by the Hermitage and maintained by residents.
Harmonists who live in the world in family households – however that is defined – are responsible for their own expenses.
8. How does one become a member of the Hermitage?
Initial contact, on-site visits, followed by stays of increasing duration until a consensus is reached for a probationary trial of a year. The trial period can be extended or ended by existing members. Applicants have no voting privileges, though their input can be sought and considered. Membership is by consensus of the members and accepted applicants are eligible for election to the board of directors.
Those who want to be Harmonists off-site in private households are encouraged to present their own plan to the board of directors for consideration.
9. Are there esoteric teachings or levels of spiritual attainment?
No. As we are equal in the spirit, our teachings are open to all, and all at once, though their application is life-long work. They are simple to understand, but require discipline and application to achieve, and this holds true for all members at all times. Daily meditation on unity can be helpful in centering oneself in the spirit, as can physical labor, and even solitary walks.
10. How is the Hermitage governed?
Consensus; not always easily attained, but a satisfying goal when achieved and can require time, patience and communication.
11. How about living arrangements and children?
Children are welcome to visit when accompanied by a parent or guardian.
As a sacred site, the Hermitage is managed by hermit members dedicated to the task, including overseeing high holy days and other rituals, just as priests or monks do at sacred sites of other spiritualities.
The raising of and caring for children is its own sacred mission that requires a similar dedication and sense of responsibility from parents and teachers. This can take place best in other communal and family settings, in households off-site that, nonetheless, can be located nearby or, as conditions warrant, some distance away.
Children are not expected to become Harmonists, which requires adult commitment, but should be raised to see its spirituality as one life-choice among many options based on the discovery and unfolding of their own paths. Still, whatever path they choose, they should still understand that they are responsible for how their actions and choices affect the planet, recognizing that each has a duty and responsibility to tend to and to care for the planet in his or her own way since it is our home.
12. What do Harmonists wear?
We have gone from wearing a specific type of monastic garb or habit on a daily basis, to wearing regular clothes except for ritual ceremonies. It comes down to personal choice and what one decides is appropriate.
, 13. What do Harmonists eat?
Again, this is a matter of personal preference and what one decides is appropriate, while recognizing that, in most cases, it is necessary to kill either plant or animal life to live. As Harmonists, we strive to reduce the amount of killing that must take place, so we do recommend diets with as little meat as possible, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, though we certainly acknowledge inconsistencies in our own practice. Eating should be an act made conscious in all its ramifications, and each meal begins with recognizing the lives taken to sustain our own, and a grateful blessing for their sacrifice.
14. What is a typical day at the Hermitage?
We do what is needed to be done to maintain the site and to care for its creatures, as well as the maintenance of the land and community structures. There is also time for individual projects because, while we share a path, there are also trails that are unique to our own spiritual and creative needs and goals. It is a process of proportioning our days accordingly between the needs of the Hermitage and the needs of its members. Our guide is the idea of dharma, our holy work, and all work and tasks at the Hermitage are considered holy and all can be shared as needed.
For some, the day begins with private meditation, concentrating in a stable physical position on specific, meaningful words or phrases that consciously connect us with the spirit. It is important to remain as fully connected to the spirit during the day as possible so that we have a context for our lives that keeps us grounded and centered.
The singing of Harmonist hymns, jointly or individually, is another method of centering, and the composing of hymns is encouraged. We don't call ourselves Harmonists for nothing!
Being able to deal judiciously with anger (through anger management) and other ego-based emotions that take us away from the spirit, is a goal that can be difficult to achieve. There are situations where we fail to stay centered in the spirit and are overwhelmed by an emotional contagion that destroys harmony within us and between us. Sometimes it seems that resistance is futile so, if we are swept away in a tsunami of emotion, it may simply be best to pick up the pieces on the other side, as sometimes that is the most that we can do. It's not always easy being human.
At various times we have practiced daily rituals that tie us to the spirit and to each other, but there have also been long periods without such communal practices. Consensus, and not coercion, is important to maintain. While participation can be encouraged, it must also be voluntary and come from an individual decision that such acts are personally important.
15. Do you celebrate or recognize specific high holy days or have special ceremonies?
Our high holy days are indicated primarily by the planet itself in its journey around the sun, and also by the phases of the moon. These include the solstices and equinoxes, as well as the halfway points between each. Such periods of celebration are held both in the Saal (chapel) of the Gemeinehaus, and at the sacred spring. We also recognize the births and deaths of Christel and Erdmuthe.
We choose to recognize events and days that enhance our connection to the spirit. Specific rituals and practices for these are planned by the members.