Tea Rituals with Móðguðr, or The Path of Endarkenment   Leave a comment

Witches' tea partySometimes I wonder if the plants and the rocks, the minerals themselves aren’t somehow pointing the way back to our pre-Judeo-Christian roots.”

~ Frank Hadley Murphy, Tea Fried Brain: Notes From St. Camellia’s Church of the First Infusion

It wasn’t until middle age, after grieving a devastating loss, that I finally claimed the title temple keeper as mine and embraced my spiritual path as one of monastic service along what I have come to call the Path of Endarkenment.

When I look back, though, I realise that I have been taking tentative steps toward this particular path for many years, even if I was unaware of this at the time. My spiritual life is often like that: I can’t see around the corner at all, and I feel as if I’m groping around in the dark for something I know – or at least strongly suspect – must be there, yet I can only grasp at it instinctively and hope I somehow manage to get it right in the midst of my fumbling attempts. Sometimes, in hindsight, it becomes clear why something happened the way it did, and on occasion I realise I had a far better handle on things than I had thought I did at the time. But most of the time I feel like I’m just winging it and making it up as I go along, and it’s only much later that the pieces of the puzzle start to come together in a way that gives me a glimpse of the bigger picture.

Nonetheless, more and more I have the sense that this Path of Endarkenment I now walk is being carved out behind the scenes by beings far, far greater and wiser than me – one of which is the Black Stone, after which the Hermitage is named. Inspired by guidance I receive through the Black Stone (and Others I serve), I find exactly the books and websites I need, overhear meaningful snippets of conversations, meet key people, get intuitive inner nudges, and so on…at precisely the right times. The more I learn about the esoteric meanings of black stones – and in particular, black obsidian, which has quickly become my favourite – the more I find myself astonished that all of this is happening to me. When the vision of the Black Stone Hermitage first appeared in my life, I thought: “Why Black Stone Monastery? Why Black Stone Arts? Where do those names come from and what do they mean?” At first I just thought these names sounded vaguely cool and gothy, so I went with it…but I still felt kind of silly and self-conscious about it all. Even after years of calling myself an animist, it still took quite some time before I was able to embrace the idea of a stone as one of my greatest teachers.

Since then, it’s become clear to me that the names are quite significant and profound, and carry a whole host of meanings – most of which I have barely even begun to understand. This temple keeper is still very much in training.

As I’ve written elsewhere, my roles along this Path of Endarkenment involve using my writing about dark ambient music, ritual dance project, tea alliance, decorating, grief work, and other kinds of work to promote respect for the sacredness and wisdom to be found in darkness, both literal and figurative. Our culture doesn’t really “get” darkness as something that can be empowering – we tend to associate it with evil in a knee-jerk way, so we often sweep it under the rug or look the other way, rather than listen mindfully and embrace what it has to teach us.

Móðguðr, in Her tower of black stone, is another of my wise teachers along this Path of Endarkenment, and She seems to work in tandem with the Black Stone. She visits me as She sees fit, most often in October. Along with the cooler autumn weather and the darkening of the days, “active season” at the Hermitage begins in earnest this month, and things don’t start winding down until spring. Today’s tea ritual, attended (or perhaps more accurately, “commandeered”) by Móðguðr, marks the official start of active season.

When I started making tea this evening as I usually do, my conscious intention was simply to brew a cup of bold, earthy pu-erh and enjoy a tea break. Then, as She has done before, Móðguðr stepped in, and made it known that this simple tea ritual would now become Hers. I found myself lighting a candle and some cedarwood incense, cloaking myself in black velvet, setting a place for Móðguðr at the table, and cueing up the devotional dark ambient playlist I compiled for Her.

I folded my hands and sat in contemplation, then sipped my tea and drank in Her guidance…and this short prayer took shape.

Dark Lady of the Black Stone tower,
may I be a worthy vessel for Your wisdom.
Guardian of Helheim’s gate,
Keeper of underworld secrets…
…in my monastic rites of cultivation and withdrawal,
dark earthy teas and chthonic ritual ambient music open portals for You.
May my work along the Path of Endarkenment serve You with highest honours.
Hail Móðguðr!

Retrospective: Shrines for Skaði   Leave a comment

Skadi shrine 2013Thanks to the recent visitors to the Hermitage who have been expressing such heartfelt appreciation for the shrines I maintain here for Those I serve.  My current shrine for Skaði seems particularly well loved by guests, and I appreciate that greatly; I think She does too.

While I won’t be posting a photo of my current shrine for Skaði here (the photo you see attached to this post is from 2013), I did want to point out that you can visit my devotional dance project site to see a retrospective arrangement of the shrines I have built for Skaði over the years I have worked in Her service.

Each photo is accompanied by a full description of the items on the shrine.  Just click on the link above for a photo tour.

Enjoy!

Chthonic Cathedral: Deep Earth & Dark Ritual Ambient compilations   2 comments

New project in the works!  After many requests for my themed dark ambient compilations, and lots of encouraging feedback on the playlists I’ve posted, I’ve decided to take this dark ambient ‘mixtape’ thing a bit more seriously.  I take great joy in helping others discover and appreciate the best of the dark ambient genre, and this will give me a much more organised way to do that.  It will complement my in-progress book project and my dark fusion ritual dance project quite nicely as well.

Coming this winter on Mixcloud, from the heart of the Black Stone Hermitage: Chthonic Cathedral – a series of deep earth and dark ritual ambient compilations curated with love, care, and a bit of help from my DJ friends.

For a preview of what’s to come – including in-depth personal commentary on the selection of each track, and YouTube/Bandcamp links to the tracks – check out Music for Skaði: A Ritual Dark Ambient Playlist.  If you like what you read and hear, my earlier entries under the dark ambient music tag may also be of interest.

It’s going to be a busy winter for this dark ambient devotee!

 

Chthonic Cathedral

 

Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient (brief review comments)   2 comments

Skull art - modernAs someone who is currently working on a full-length book manuscript about the dark ambient genre, I’d like to thank writer John Norby for his recent article “Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient” in issue 58 (April-May 2014) of Zero Tolerance, a magazine focused on metal genres.  Perfect timing for my research purposes!

This well-written and carefully researched article filled in some of the gaps in my own knowledge of the genre quite nicely, especially with respect to the 1960s and 1970s precursors of the genre from early krautrock pioneers such as Cluster, Popol Vuh, and Ash Ra Tempel. It provided me with a lot of helpful information for the introductory chapter I’m writing which includes a brief history and cultural overview of the genre.

The author’s selections for “required listening” – including Lustmord “Heresy” (“the benchmark release for any fan of dark ambient”), Lull “Dreamt About Dreaming,” and Lamia Vox “Sigillum Diaboli” – are on target (though incomplete), and the article features brief but fascinating comments from prominent musicians and label owners including Klaus Schultze, Brian Williams of Lustmord, Michael J.V. Hensley of Yen Pox and Blood Box, Robert C. Kozletsky of Psychomanteum, Shock Frontier and Apócrýphos, Alina Antonova of Lamia Vox, Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber, Frédéric Arbour of Cyclic Law, Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring, and Jason Mantis of Malignant Records.

Norby calls Klaus Schulze’s “Irrlicht” album “the first album ever that fully embraced the sounds that we now call dark ambient.” He acknowledges that Tangerine Dream’s “Zeit” is also a contender for first dark ambient album, though he writes that it is “not quite as menacing as Irrlicht” – an assessment with which I agree.

The intention of dark ambient, writes Norby, “…is to take people who embrace it on a deep listening journey.”

The article certainly fuels my appetite for more in-depth insight and extensive coverage of the genre. Since my book is being written in a personal narrative style that focuses on the spiritual, emotional, and cultural impact of this music rather than the history of the genre, I’m pleased that someone else took on the task of writing and publishing “the definitive history” of dark ambient. As far as I know, this is the first print source in English to publish something like this. It’s not an exhaustive history of the genre, of course; Norby wisely acknowledges that such a treatment would be impossible within the confines of a magazine. While the article could have been improved by the inclusion of more artists, labels, festival info, etc., I think he did a great job in the space of just nine pages.

I recommend picking up a copy of issue 58 of the magazine if you are interested in the history of the dark ambient genre. I’ve also been told that the magazine will be covering dark ambient more extensively in the future; I look forward to seeing what’s in store!

Review of Visions: A Night of Dark & Theatrical Belly Dance (DVD)   Leave a comment

Visions DVDIntrigue, mystery, and intensity: this is the essence of dark fusion dance, and Lumen Obscura Productions’ Visions DVD delivers eleven riveting dark fusion performances packed with theatrical drama, ritual elements, ethereal atmospheres, and compelling artistry.

In addition to the range of belly dance styles featured in this DVD – tribal fusion, American Tribal Style, American cabaret – the other dance styles and influences fused seamlessly together in these dark fusion dance performances include ballet, modern, jazz, butoh, and hip hop.

The lighting is excellent all the way through, setting the mood appropriately and highlighting the dancers’ movements in all the right ways. Fellow dancers will appreciate the camera work and editing as well: belly rolls are shown clearly, and facial expressions highlighted at just the right angle. Thankfully, there are none of those annoying moments where the camera cuts away abruptly while the viewer is left thinking: “Hey, I wanted to SEE that move the dancer did there! Why did you suddenly zoom in on her face and obscure her hips?”

And if you’ve ever felt disappointed when watching a dancer who seemed to be more interested in showing off their advanced technique than they were in using their dance as an art form (“hey, look, I can do a killer Turkish drop!”) you’ll be glad to know that you’ll find none of that ego-centric focus here.   You’ll see impressive technique, of course, as these are all advanced-level dancers, but the stellar technique never overshadows the expressive artistry or their obvious love for the music.

You’ll also see here that the love-your-body vibe in the belly dance community is not just lip service: dancers of a variety of beautiful shapes and sizes are featured in this DVD, much to my delight.

The performance that stood out for me was Kristie Lauren’s “The Fabled Statue.” I simply could not take my eyes off of her. The stellar atmospheric music she chose – “Sister Scythe” by Nezzy Idy – captivated me so much that I listened to the track over and over again, and tracked down the musician’s website so I could buy it.

Kristie is top-notch in musicality as well as technique: her movement accents are perfectly timed and executed, and she knows how to build anticipation in her audience. I watched this memorable performance multiple times in a row, in an attempt to absorb every possible nuance of the lighting, music, costuming, choreography, and atmosphere.

Paige Lawrence is sensational in “The Darrien Gap” – he’s been one of my favourite dancers for years. One of his many strengths as a dancer is his ability to dig deep and convey darker emotional states in a raw and honest way. There’s as much drama and intensity in his music as there is in his movement, and his facial expressions highlight this even more.

Katy Swenson gets high marks for her stellar costuming, perfect turns, and fluid-as-water undulations in her amazing sword performance to “Axarai” by Raquy and the Cavemen. I particularly love the ritualistic uncloaking in the veiled intro section, as well as the dramatic ending.

Ida Mahin’s first piece, “Unchained,” conveys strength and intrigue with its sharp staccato moves and skirt accents. “Kleid aus Rosen” (Dress of Roses) – her second and more ethereal piece – uses elegant ballet fusion to deliver an evocative lament.  There is a luminous mystery that takes over in both of Ida’s performances, transporting the viewer to another time and place through the magic of the dance.

Megz & Marjhani are gorgeous and brimming over with infectious attitude, and they seem ideally matched for their duet. Great musicality, costuming, and coordination. Tribal style belly dance and industrial music (“Hate” and “My Eyes Are Red” by HexRx) are a winning combination here – they pull it off perfectly.

Arcane Dimension’s ethereal “Shapeshifter” performance features two live musicians playing right alongside the dancers. I’d love to see more of this kind of collaborative effort between musicians and dancers happening in dark fusion dance performances. The beautiful fluttery veil work imparts a heightened sense of mystery and intrigue, and the choreography uses the space in ways that are complementary to both the musicians and the dancers.

Sabaku Fusion’s “Sandstorm” is a nicely creepy fusion piece which opens with beautiful and grotesque butoh-influenced movements to the haunting tones of “Eternal Imaging Patterns of Blossoming From Beneath” by An Exquisite Corpse.   Sabaku adds a touch of industrial scene insider humour and high-energy choreography to the mix with the second half of their performance, to Komor Kommando’s “Das Oontz.”

Deidre Anaid, creative director of Sabaku Fusion, delivers a unique short solo piece, “Otherworldly Wasteland,” with hip-hop flair, evocative music (“Relentless Drag” by Shigeto), and a combination of lovely costume elements that work together perfectly.  The light-hearted elements of this piece combine well with her nuanced facial expressions and choreography to impart a delightful sense of the unexpected.

Maureen’s haunting “Shadowed Red” piece to the Android Lust track “Stained” draws me in with graceful hand movements and innovative, unusual costuming, delivering an equally unsettling and captivating performance with a touch of the macabre.  There is a sense of reserve and control here that heightens curiosity and feeds the imagination.

Aepril Schaile’s “Landing Strip” brings to the stage a strong sense of depth and mystery. With her usual engaging, theatrical style, she takes us on a journey through heavily emotionally laden and unearthly terrain, each nuance of her dark tale shining with precision and beauty.

Bottom line: If you’re a fan of dark fusion dance – a style that was once more well known as “gothic bellydance” – you won’t go wrong with this DVD. It’s professionally made by insiders in the gothic-industrial music and dark fusion dance communities. The dancers are all excellent, the lighting and camera work are flawless, and the artistry is paramount.

In my mind, Visions even surpasses the gothic bellydance DVDs released through World Dance New York, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and also recommend. I hope we’ll see future releases in a similar vein from Lumen Obscura Productions!

New site: Shrine of Skaði – Dark Fusion Ritual Dance   Leave a comment

Shrine of Skadi Header 2

I am pleased to announce the new website for Shrine of Skaði, my dark fusion ritual dance project.

The site – like the project itself – is a personal devotional work in honour of the goddess of Northern mythology Who is closest to my heart, and it is being made public in Her service, as an offering.

It features:

* a bio page with background info, including details about the contemplative-monastic focus of this project, and the way my dance deals with Earth grief and is “rooted” in the surroundings and atmosphere;

* a ritual dark ambient music playlist compiled specifically for Skaði, with comments on the thought process associated with each track selection;

* photos and detailed descriptions of all the shrines I’ve built for Skaði since 2007; and

* an in-depth personal story (on the main page) of how this project took root alchemically in the wake of grief, loss, and a painful divorce.

This website is the first public stage of a project that has been in development since I first discovered gothic bellydance, now generally known as dark fusion dance, back in 2006.  I have ambitious (albeit very small-scale) plans for this endeavour, and for future additions to the website…including themed photo shoots in costume, writings of gratitude and appreciation for the many artists and musicians who have inspired me, a recommended reading list on sacred dance, and much more.

All in good time, of course, since my in-progress book manuscript (Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture) will continue to be my first priority for the foreseeable future.

There are no performance videos available yet, but they’re in the works for the next stage of the project.  For now, there are links to my improv practice videos from 2012 (Inget Ljus av Hopp and Lost), and a performance video from my youth.  The dance videos may look familiar, since I’ve posted links to them before.  All the writings on the site are new, however.

Comments, error corrections, suggestions, and constructive criticism are all welcome.  Thank you, and enjoy!

House Cleaning IS a Better Job: An Open Letter   3 comments

[Friends encouraged me to turn this into a blog post after I originally posted it to Facebook, so here it is.]

vacuum_cleaner

Dear guy I chatted with on the bus,

There’s no reason to feel sorry for me because I work as a house cleaner.

Yes, I have three college degrees, and was groomed for a professional “white collar” career. None of that education is being “wasted” just because I clean houses for money. (Although if I had it to do over again, I think I’d skip the post-bac in accounting. These days, a college education is more likely to be a ticket INTO the poorhouse than a ticket out of it. But that’s another story.)

I’ll admit that for the first few months after I started my housekeeping business in 2012, I too felt sorry for myself more often than not. I had spent the previous several years grieving the loss of a marriage and hunting for jobs; no one would hire me, my self-esteem was in the gutter, years of savings had vanished forever into the black hole of the divorce aftermath, I had to go on food stamps, and I was on the verge of having to move back in with my folks to survive (something none of us wanted, least of all me. I love Portland; my folks live in Honolulu; I hate sun and heat. ‘Nuff said.) All I had ever really wanted to do with my life was to write non-fiction books. I didn’t even want a job. But I needed one. So, since no one would hire me, I started my own business. It’s fair to say I kind of stumbled into this.

But then, somewhere along the line, it dawned on me that I am exactly where I want to be. It may make little sense to you, but I’m not just biding time as a house cleaner until I can find a better job. This IS a better job.

It’s all about perspective. So let me show you what this job looks like through MY eyes.

I got started in this business because someone in my community saw my website and decided to give me a chance, based on the recommendation of someone in her social network. I didn’t have to fill out online job application forms, take a humiliating drug test, or jump through any other bureaucratic hoops. So right from the outset, this venture was based in relationships of genuine trust.

From there, my business expanded entirely by word-of-mouth. So far, I haven’t even needed to advertise to find new clients, because my satisfied clients have recommended me to their friends and colleagues after being impressed with my work. As word gets out, they seek me out. Sure beats groveling for a stressful minimum wage receptionist job, let me tell you. And because I’m independent, I can charge what I’m worth, instead of just what a franchise will pay me to work for them.

Since I don’t drive, I haul all my cleaning supplies back and forth to each job in a wheeled backpack on public transit. While this isn’t always easy, I find it a lot less difficult than owning a car and commuting in rush-hour traffic. I can sit back and read a book or just daydream, and let someone else handle the driving. I feel fortunate to live in a city with a public transit system that makes it possible to run a business like this without a car.

Because I’m the boss and the only employee, I can run this business on my own terms. I choose my own schedule and my days off. I can – and do! – take a lunch break or a short breather whenever I feel like it.

I enjoy the privilege of being able to work independently in people’s homes. In the course of my work, I’ve learned a great deal about the pros and cons of various kinds of flooring, furniture, kitchen surfaces, etc. This knowledge is handy now, of course, and it will also come in handy later on when I start looking for a house for my Hermitage.

My work is honest, unpretentious, and brightens people’s moods. Sure beats spending 8+ hours a day under fluorescent lights in an office cubicle, enduring office politics and selling people more crap they don’t need.

I can listen to industrial music on headphones while I work; I don’t have to deal with blaring TVs or elevator muzak. I don’t have to wear makeup to work – I can save that effort for my bellydance costuming, which makes me appreciate it more. I don’t have to bother with the expense or upkeep of a professional wardrobe. I don’t have to share airspace with people wearing perfumes that make me ill.

And the stress is almost non-existent. When I was an advanced accounting student, I was so stressed out that I was grinding my teeth at night, and frequently woke up with an aching jaw. Now? Even the most stressful day I’ve had on the job produced maybe a tenth of the stress I’ve experienced in office jobs, if that.

Because the work is so physical, my muscles are tired at the end of the day, yet happy to be well used. This translates into me sleeping like a baby at night, and waking up fully refreshed. It also translates into being stronger for my daily bellydance drills, and it means I don’t need to bother with the time and cost of a gym membership. That’s good, because I hate gyms.

And the work is earthy. It’s compatible with my ecologically-centered Pagan values – minimising fossil fuel use as much as possible, avoiding work that contributes to ecological destruction as much as possible, serving my community, etc. I use only non-toxic cleaning supplies – mostly baking soda and distilled white vinegar.

All my clients so far have been found through arts-related and esoteric communities. This is awesome for both me and my clients. They completely understand when I explain that in addition to being a house cleaner, I’m also a writer and a dancer, and they appreciate the fact that I won’t be uncomfortable with their Aleister Crowley books or their creepy bone collection.

I come home from work, and (after a short nap) not only do I still have energy left over to write, but on good days I’m actually overflowing with words. Like right now. I’m writing this after a full day of work, in fact – a day in which my Muse decided to fill me with the breath of inspiration mid-scrub. Good thing I was able to jot down notes so I could remember what I wanted to write about when I got home.

Yes, my hands are starting to develop calluses from pushing brooms and mops so often, and the skin on my fingertips gets dry and cracked sometimes. I can’t say I’m happy about the way self-employed people are taxed. And once in a while, I do get a bit lonely for the rhythm of shared labour. But I am healthier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been in my entire life.

So don’t feel sorry for me, dude. Because I fucking love my life.

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