Contributions to Skaði’s Shrine Room Prayer Box at Many Gods West 2015   1 comment

MGW Skadi shrine 7RAs promised, here are the written prayers and petitions that were left in the prayer box (pictured) by visitors to Skaði’s Shrine Room at Many Gods West.

I copied these over as carefully as I could – I did my best to preserve the original titles, formatting, and spelling. There was one contribution with a signature in runic script that I was unable to reproduce as written, but the rest of the piece is included here.

Be sure not to miss “Snow in Summer” – a write-up by Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan, who was my roommate at MGW, about her personal experience meeting Skaði in the shrine room.

I received one other wonderful contribution about the relationship between Huntress and prey, a meditation which was communicated to me verbally at the conference. The person has not yet had a chance to put it into written form. When I receive it I will edit this post to add it here, or perhaps make a separate post.

These are so beautiful. It’s such a blessing for me to receive and share these. Thank you kindly to everyone who contributed!

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Dark cave

Torch light

Wind whistling

Narrow passage

Cold earth

Leading up

Into starlight

Upon snow

Hail Skadi

~ Rose Gwiniolen

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Please, Holy Huntress,

help me learn how to hunt.

Help me learn how to survive and thrive well,

with good teachers.

Help me learn, that I may fulfill my

obligations to You.

Ves ðú hál!

S.

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Hail Skadi!

Endless gratitude for loving my sister & guiding her path.

And for joining us last September.

Hail!

+ love

KellyO

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Dear Skaði,

Thank you for what you’ve done.

Best,

Silence Maestas

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Scathe!

Slash your way through

cold’s cares

Drive your prey

give it no rest

Unbending thews

let arrow fly

Strike unerring

heart pierced through breast

————————-

Autumn Haiku

(Contributed by Rose Gwiniolen)

People have gone

lanterns have died…

one leaf remains

~Issa

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X I

it is a gift for me

this ice

this stasis

this stability

self-reliance

is the key.

Thank you Skaði!

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The Black Tent Temple Project Update   7 comments

Alberto Martini, Illustration for the works of Edgar Allan PoeAwhile back, I wrote about some correspondence I had received in May from a fellow Pagan, Gerrie Ordaz, who loved the original post I made in 2012 about my Black Tent Temple project, and the page I maintain here about it. She asked me if she could “steal” the idea and build one of her own.

I encouraged her to take the idea and run with it. And she did! She announced it on her blog, and then got approval from the organiser of the Earth Traditions Oasis summer retreat in northern Illinois to host a Black Tent Temple at the event. Here’s her description of it, taken from the event program guide (PDF):

The Black Tent Temple

“You may have heard of the Red Tent Movement, inspired by the book The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The Red Tent movement is a homegrown movement where women come together and create a sacred area where they can gather to share and celebrate – a portable Temple. The Black Tent Temple is a sacred place set aside, for all genders, to “go dark.” A place of blacks and purples, of quiet, depth, candles and incense, with a black scrying mirror to contact departed ancestors and seek guidance. A place of contemplation, grieving and/or devotion where “dark” deities may be honored. Join your Temple Guide, Gerrie Ordaz, under the waning moon for an experience in sacred space. It will begin at 6pm and run until sunrise the next morning. Bring whatever statuary, material, beads, mirrors, music, etc. you are called to share.”

This is the first Black Tent Temple space I know about that has been built outside of my hermitage in Portland. And I am thrilled to hear about it! Gerrie reports that it was very well received, that one attendee has asked to spread it further, and that she will probably offer it again next year.  She is also writing up a blog post in which she will offer some tips for improvement based on her experience.

For a bit of inspiration, I’ve adapted the header image for this blog slightly for the Black Tent Temple Project.  Anyone who builds one is welcome to use the tagline “The Black Tent Temple Project: Honouring Incubation and Endarkenment” and modify this image to meet your needs.  (If you do decide to use it, I would appreciate a credit to me, Danica Swanson, and a link back to this page.)

Black Tent Temple Project

It’s beautiful to see this vision reach beyond my humble hermitage and find a more dedicated place in the world. I won’t quite say the floodgates have opened, but it certainly seems like some kind of gate has opened, because over the past few months I’ve received several more enthusiastic letters and seen several comments from people who find the idea appealing and want to build their own Black Tent Temples.

Here are some quotes taken from a beautiful post written by one of these people:

“…I wait for my mind to stop the chatter and for there to be a single thought: This. This thing.

“That’s what happened when I was browsing the Many Gods West program and came across Danica’s shrine to Skadi, and thus her monastic practice.

“God, I’m still freezing cold just thinking about it.

“My mind is a flood of images now. I’m understanding that La Abuela, whoever She is, or if She is a collective of divinities, whoever They are that make her up, wants me to be a temple for her. I am to embody my service to her in a very real way. […]

“I first learned of the practice of incubation in reading Apocalyptic Witchcraft, and it struck me as being something that I had a propensity for already. Several years of doing nightly yoga classes in low light, my habit of preferring quiet contemplation over most anything else, my intense affinity for closed, intimate spaces over sweeping views. A hike to a cave or pond is much more interesting to me than a hike to a vista.

It’s all coming back to me…

“I was a goth once. No, really. Heavy black eyeliner, inverted cross necklaces, corsets, skulls. Then I became pagan and worshiped death gods. Then I stopped being pagan and still was obsessed with the dark. Then I went to college in New York City and got sick because there was no darkness there, no quiet, no place to incubate and listen to the soil. Then I turned my bedroom into an incubation chamber: heavy curtains, candles, a shoddy attempt at soundproofing my door. I spent time in dark, quiet, solitude on a nightly basis and began to get my sanity back. Then I moved in with a relative who had the TV on 24/7 and started to get sick again. Then I went to a few pagan solstice services and experienced my first “tent temple”, with god-impersonators, and realized that this shit is powerful.”

Lo is right. It’s powerful indeed. (Go read the rest of the post at rotwork – it’s excellent!)

As I wrote in a comment to Lo, there are only a handful of us doing this right now, but judging by the level of enthusiasm I’m seeing in the correspondence I’ve received and the closely spaced timing of these correspondences, I’m increasingly getting the sense that the seeds of an underground movement (both literal and figurative!) have somehow been sown. The few who’ve taken up this work so far have told me that they’ve found that it addresses a long-unmet need in a way that piques great interest whenever they share the vision with others.

One day I hope to collect enough material to put together a website featuring images and descriptions of Black Tent Temples all over the world where people can “go dark” for spiritual incubation work, Earth grief work, solitary contemplation, dark ritual dance, and so on.

If you’re inspired to build one yourself, please do! You can consult my previous post about it for some suggestions, including a recommendation for Peter Kingsley’s book In The Dark Places of Wisdom (you can also read an excerpt from the book and a review of it), which was one of my original inspirations to do this.  I would love to see photos, videos, written descriptions of the space and the process of building it, interviews with participants about their experience…whatever you’d like to share.

I’m considering the possibility of building a Black Tent Temple at Many Gods West in 2016, perhaps as a collaborative effort.  I will post updates periodically.  Suggestions are welcome, especially if you plan to attend MGW next year and/or pay a visit to my hermitage in Portland someday.  What would you like to see in a space like this?  What would make it useful and worthwhile for you?  Please post your ideas (and inspirational photos) in the comments!

Reflections on the Many Gods West conference   9 comments

MGW Skadi shrine 1RThe Many Gods West conference, and the shrine room I built in my hotel room there for Skaði, were both successful far beyond anything I had imagined. And I’m so grateful that I hardly even know where to begin.

Although I arrived home after the event exhausted from the summer heat and two nights of fitful sleep, as well as socially overloaded (this introvert isn’t used to cramming that much great conversation into three days!), it was a blissful kind of exhaustion filled with gratitude and appreciation. I started hatching plans for next year before I had even finished unpacking.

Never before have I been to an event where I, as a devotional Pagan polytheist and animist, felt so free to be who I actually am in a religious sense as well as a social, cultural, and political one. How refreshing to be in a such an accepting, respectful, affirming space with other polytheists of various gender identities, ages, class backgrounds, sex/relationship orientations, and abilities. It gave rise to an exuberance I’ve never experienced before in any kind of community space anywhere. Not in Heathen groups, magical orders, UU churches, goddess spirituality circles, deep ecology groups, or any other pagan or ‘alternative’ spirituality gatherings.

I once described myself to a friend as “basically, a radical left Pagan polytheist feminist mystic who feels trapped in a right-wing Christian corporate capitalist racist patriarchy.” To find that there is a place to gather where I don’t feel even the slightest smidgen of pressure to hide any of my religious beliefs and practice, my intersectional feminism, my opposition to coercive wage labour and support of unconditional basic income, or ANY of the work I do for that matter, is heady stuff indeed.

I once kept a fairly strict separation between my work with Rethinking the Job Culture and my Pagan polytheist/dance-related/artistic work. In retrospect I’m not entirely sure why. But for whatever reason, I went to a fair bit of trouble to maintain this separation – including using different variations on my name for each project (D. JoAnne Swanson for RJC, Danica Swanson for the dark Pagan polytheist and arts stuff.) A few years back, when I started my own business and became much less worried about what potential employers might learn about me, I finally decided I was done with all that, and began using the same author bio for each of my blogs, cross-linking all my online work, etc. Because all of these things ARE linked, for me.

So to learn that there are so many other gods-and-radicals folks out there is deeply affirming.

It was also a nice surprise to learn that there were several people I respect at the conference who had been following my blogs closely for quite awhile. I am not particularly well-known in the Pagan community and have no interest in becoming a Big Name Pagan – what introvert would want that?   But it’s great that as a blogger I can work completely in solitude, yet still easily reach folks who appreciate the work I have to offer.

And not a single person asked me what I do for a living! Not one. (This may have been because some folks already knew me as the founder of Rethinking the Job Culture and the no-longer-updated whywork.org site, but still.)

The location of the conference was convenient – just two hours from Portland by car or train. And as a non-driver who enjoys walking, I appreciated the walkability of the area around the Governor Hotel.

My only frustration was related to the summer heat, and the woefully insufficient air conditioning. The A/C in the rooms was underwhelming at best even though I kept it on its highest setting around the clock, and it was non-existent in the meeting rooms. I did request a room on the east side of the hotel in the hopes of avoiding the late afternoon sun in the west, but in the end I got assigned to a west-facing room. I am easily overwhelmed by heat, so I was uncomfortable for pretty much the whole weekend. On the second day of the shrine room I was too hot to even wear my draped layers of shrine keeper garb during the open hours – I opted for a t-shirt instead. (At least the t-shirt had Skaði’s name on it, though. And that t-shirt drew several compliments and started some great conversations, so it certainly counts for something.)

Skadi fish t-shirt

If the conference will be held at the same hotel next year (there WILL be a next year, right?), I’d love to see it scheduled at a cooler time of year, where the lack of sufficient A/C won’t be so problematic. October, maybe? Just an idea.

The other glitch I encountered was that the rooms weren’t ready at the promised time on Friday (1:00). I had arrived early in the hopes of having a leisurely lunch and getting assigned to a room well before the official opening of the conference at 1:30. My plan was to get everything unpacked and set up early for Skaði’s shrine room so that I might be free to attend either the opening ritual or Tony Rella’s 3:30 presentation on psychological support for polytheists (something I had very much wanted to attend.) As it turned out, I was unable to attend either one. I didn’t get the key to my room until 2:00, and it took me until 5:30 to get everything unpacked and set up properly for the shrine room which opened at 6:00. I barely even had enough time to eat dinner. Fortunately I had friends who were kind enough to bring me some food so I didn’t have to go out in my shrine keeper garb to get it.

And then on Sunday, I had to start packing up the shrine room right after breakfast in order to finish by the 11 AM check-out time, so I missed the morning presentation on the state of Heathenry, too.

Of course, the whole reason I was at MGW was to serve Skaði by building Her a shrine room. Everything else, I reminded myself, was icing on the cake. And there was, indeed, a lot of tasty icing on this cake: I got to see a talk on Heathen Cosmology by Heimlich A. Laguz, an ancestor workshop by Sarenth Odinsson, a talk on devotional polytheist practice by Silence Maestas, and part of Anomalous Thracian‘s talk on Religions of Relation.

So even though I missed several of the presentations I would have liked to attend (I’m especially sad that I missed John Beckett), I’m still very happy about the event in general, because I accomplished what I came there to do: host Skaði’s shrine room. And Morpheus Ravenna’s brilliant keynote address was made available in writing after the conference, which I very much appreciated since I missed out on that one too due to my shrine room service hours.

Somehow – and I’m not sure how – it managed to escape my attention that, even if I couldn’t make it to the opening ritual, I could have left an image of Skaði on the communal shrine at any point during the weekend. I regret that I was unaware of that.

I had planned to record a video tour of the shrine room, and I brought my video camera for that purpose. Unfortunately, just before I was about to pack up the shrine materials and prepare to check out of the hotel, I noticed that I had forgotten to charge the battery. And there was no time to wait for it to recharge. Wish I had thought of that earlier. Oh well. At least I managed to get some photos!  (My apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos; I chose the best one I managed to get for each angle, and some just didn’t turn out so well.  I felt it was worth including them anyway, since this was a temporary shrine and this is the only record that it even existed.)

MGW Skadi shrine 2R

MGW Skadi shrine 3R

MGW Skadi shrine 5R

MGW Skadi shrine 11R

MGW Skadi shrine 7R

MGW Skadi shrine 4R

MGW Skadi shrine 10R

A few comments about the shrine room from conference attendees:

“This is so, so beautiful…”

~ Niki Whiting

“The shrine was incredible…I was there for about 45 minutes, and really only left so I could make the keynote. It was simply a beautiful thing to have at this event.”

~ L. Phaedrus

“The shrine room was amazing to be in. It was beautiful, and I found it very restful…I think it would be fantastic if the next MGW has more such spaces! I would totally visit them. […] I did end up meeting Skadi…”

~ Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

“I was very impressed at how you managed to create the exact same atmosphere of The Black Stone Hermitage in this hotel room. I recognized the intense yet simultaneously peaceful feeling immediately. You are a powerful conductor! The shrine was beautiful, you did an amazing job.”

~ Valerie Herron

When I do the devotional work of putting together a shrine space, it’s all about atmosphere. My intent is to create an emotionally evocative atmosphere to honour the deity or spirit by combining visual and auditory elements, and sometimes olfactory elements, too, although that didn’t apply in this case. So all of the feedback is very much appreciated. (I’m open to suggestions for improvement, too!)

There were a number of plans I had for the shrine room that I was unable to implement due to the physical limitations of the hotel room space (e.g., I couldn’t move the beds to make more room in front of the shrines for people to meditate, nor could I hang curtains to hide the beds). Fortunately I managed to disguise a few of the generic-looking hotel room things where appropriate, and thus conscript them into shrine service. I draped a long blue bellydance veil and white hip scarf over the flat-screen TV, for example, which transformed it into a lovely backdrop for the main shrine.

I’m so pleased that I had the opportunity to do this shrine room. It was an honour and a privilege.  Building shrines is one of the most satisfying forms of service for me.

In addition to the organisers Niki, Rhyd, and PSVL, whose dedication and hard work made this conference possible, I would especially like to thank:

  • Arrowyn and Henry Lauer, two of my dearest friends, for hauling me and my two huge suitcases full of shrine supplies to and from the conference (and hoisting them into the car and up the stairs), for kindly bringing me dinner when it became apparent that I wouldn’t have enough time to go get it myself before the shrine room opened, and for all kinds of other logistical and emotional support throughout the conference. Not to mention consistently excellent company and conversation.  Arrowyn also told me she received some communications from Skaði during her meditation in the shrine room; with her permission, I’ll be sharing them in a separate post.
  • Heimlich A. Laguz, for a most brilliant, inspiring, and well-paced presentation of sketches toward a Heathen cosmology. The man is truly gifted. I can’t wait to read his upcoming book! In the meantime, you can read some of his Heathen mystic writings at the recently revived Elhaz Ablaze website.
  • Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan, for being such a great roommate, for accommodating the shrine-space takeover of our shared hotel room so gracefully, for respectfully maintaining such a comfortable introvert-friendly silence in the mornings, for friendly and fascinating conversation throughout the rest of the conference, and for writing up such a wonderful blog post about her experience. She has many excellent writings on Gods & Radicals and her blog – be sure to check out her work, including “Snow in Summer,” her beautiful write-up about her experience of meeting Skadi through the shrine room!
  • Sarenth Odinsson (who happened to be the first person to enter Skaði’s shrine room after it opened), for bringing several thoughtful offerings for Skaði, including a small piece of deer hide sent by Nicholas Haney as an offering from the hunt. Though Nicholas had told me in advance that he’d be sending this, somehow I got distracted and forgot about it right up until the moment Sarenth showed up in the shrine room and gave it to me. When I realised what it was, I was so happy that I jumped up and gave Sarenth a big hug before I put it on Her shrine.  What a great way to start off the shrine room!
  • Nicholas Haney, not only for the aforementioned deer hide offering, but for the lovely devotional poem he wrote for Skaði, which was included in the binder of devotional art and writing placed in the alcove in Her shrine room.
  • Carl Bonebright, for another beautiful offering of devotional writing that was included in the binder for guests to read – an evocative short story called “Encounter in the Snow.”
  • Silence Maestas, for the lovely handmade necklace she gifted me (with black stones!) which now graces Her statue on my home shrine, for the excellent presentation she gave on devotional practice, and for lots of friendly conversation and camaraderie. Her book Walking the Heartroad came into my life at just the right time.Skadi statue with necklace
  • Krei Obscura, for enthusiastically lending me her Skaði idol from Norway for display in Her shrine room. I loved it so much – it was just perfect!
  • Alley Valkyrie, for her many brilliant and inspiring writings (and for complimenting my Skadhi t-shirt). I’m glad we live in the same city, as I look forward to getting to know her.
  • L. Phaedrus, for joining Fjothr and I for breakfast both mornings for friendly and relaxed conversation.  I’m happy to hear that the class Phaedrus presented on working with Anonymous Beings will be turned into a blog post, as I had to miss it since it took place at the same time as Silence’s presentation on devotional practice.
  • Valerie Herron, for her encouraging words, all-around bad-ass-ness, and friendship, not to mention her helpful impromptu bindrune. The witchcraft worked!
  • Tempest and Anaar, who were so friendly and gracious when I approached them to introduce myself and thank them for their influential work in gothic bellydance, a.k.a. dark fusion dance.  I was so sad that I missed their sacred dance performance at Obsidian!  I think MGW needs a ritual dance workshop taught by these two talented dancers.  I’d be the first to sign up!
  • Alexander Leßwing, of the German dark ambient musical project named after Skadi, whose brilliant and evocative albums set the mood for the shrine room perfectly.
  • Abby Helasdottir of Gydja, whose generous donation of an exclusive track, “The Iron Pine Tree’s Daughter,” graced the shrine room so beautifully (and whom I interviewed for Heathen Harvest back in April.)
  • David Galli of the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, for the gift that made it possible for me to attend MGW, for bringing me a double-walled glass travel mug that was just what I needed to deliver my morning dose of lapsang souchong at the conference, and for our enduring friendship which is such a blessing and a mutual joy. David is one of my favourite people on the planet.
  • The wonderful person – I didn’t get her name, but in looking at the prayer box offerings I deduced that it may have been Rose – who spent more than an hour enjoying the shrine room, moving in that time through quiet sitting meditation to standing prayer, and then slowly morphing into beautiful improvisational dance. It was an honour to witness this process. It moved me so deeply that there were tears in my eyes, and even as I write this remembrance I am getting choked up.

And lastly, thank you to everyone who chatted with me about Skaði, visited the shrine room so respectfully, left offerings, sat in meditation and contemplation, and wrote prayers and petitions for Her. I was very moved by the whole experience, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to witness so many people paying their respects to the goddess Who stole my heart ten years ago and brought me into Heathenry.

The written offerings will be shared in a separate post.

This is long already, yet I wish I could write even more. In general I have so much writing I yearn to do, but so little time to do it, due to the many demands on my time. I’m happier when my schedule is less jam-packed, but for now it can’t be helped. At the moment I am in the midst of preparing for an upcoming tech hiring event that will mark a major career change for me, as I’ve recently finished my training coursework series in web development. Then in September I will have family visiting me at the Hermitage for the entire month. So this blog will probably be rather quiet until October.

And once I have a full-time day job – which I hope will be soon – it’s likely that progress on all of my creative projects, including the Endarkenment book manuscript, will slow down substantially. That’s fine for now, as it will permit me to focus on expanding my skills in web development, which I’m excited about…but I’m also hoping that one day, later on down the road, I will be able to do monastic community service work at the Hermitage full time, including writing, shrine keeping, geomantic divination, Earth grief work through ritual dance, psychomanteum sessions, tea meditations, and hosting spiritual incubation work via the Black Tent Temple project. I would like my religion and path of monastic service to be integrated into my daily life in a more fundamental and community-based way.

Right now the only legally recognised Pagan monastery I know about in the US is The Matreum of Cybele. There are many things about what they’ve done that inspire me. They are religious Pagans living in a convent, serving their community, and sharing the responsibilities of daily life and caring for one another in a way that (presumably) reduces the need for their members to have full-time jobs elsewhere to support the nunnery. While the plans I have for the future of the Hermitage are more focused on solitary and one-to-one service work, I do hope to integrate what I do into the community more deeply, and thereby come up with some kind of variation on the “traditional” models of monastic life that will provide a suitable shared context for the religious work I do over the long term. Community land trust? Some kind of permaculture co-op? This remains to be seen.

In any case, I may one day start a Patreon account to support this work. I love Patreon, both as a fan/supporter and as a creator. A number of my blog readers have already encouraged me to launch a Patreon account (thank you for the vote of confidence!), so it may be that by the time my life circumstances permit me to do so, the transition will proceed smoothly for the Hermitage. We will see.

One last thing I want to comment on before I close this. I met someone at the conference with whom I’d very much like to make contact again, as I really enjoyed our all-too-brief chat. She approached me outside room B in the Olympia Center after the talk by Heimlich A. Laguz on Sketches for a Heathen Cosmology, and asked if she could take a photo of the back of my t-shirt. I was wearing my Cyclic Law t-shirt – on the back it reads “obscure ambient & industrial soundscapes.” She identified herself as a goth/industrial music fan who likes to explore new music, and she wanted the URL of the Cyclic Law website handy so she could check it out later on.

Cyclic Law t-shirt

She appeared to be around my age, and she was dressed all in black with brightly dyed long-ish red hair. I complimented her on the unique serpent pendant she was wearing, and we briefly discussed dance, jewelry, the goth/industrial scene, and music.

A fellow polytheist, around my age, at a talk on Heathen philosophy, who has a history in the goth/industrial scene and likes to dance? Definitely sounds like someone I’d like to get to know.

Unfortunately I only got her first name, and none of her contact info. She may have mentioned where she was from, but my middle-aged memory is not what it used to be, so I don’t recall. And I’m not even sure about her name – I think it may have been Amanda? I did give her my card for the Black Stone Hermitage, so perhaps she will find me that way…but if you’re reading this and you happen to know who it is I’m talking about, would you point her to this post?

Thank you!  Oh, and if there is anyone else who had an experience with Skaði in the shrine room that they would like to share, I would be delighted to hear it – please comment here or e-mail me at shrine.of.skadi at gmail.

P.S. If I misspelled anyone’s name, applied any inappropriate pronouns, or botched the linking in any way, please correct me.  As I’ve mentioned, my memory is not as good as it once was.  Thanks!

P.P.S. I will be hosting a “MGW-outpost” meeting at the Hermitage in downtown Portland in the autumn, and possibly also a geomancy (divination) study group.  Feel free to contact me if interested!

Call for Donations: Skaði’s Shrine Room at Many Gods West   4 comments

“Skade” by Carl Fredrik von Saltza (1893)

In July I will be building and hosting a shrine room for Skaði at Many Gods West, and I would like to invite donations of devotional writing, art, and other materials. Here are a few guidelines.

Skaði’s Shrine Room will be assembled in my hotel room as a meditative space designed to facilitate quiet prayer and contemplation of Her mysteries.  It will feature shrines (of course), art displays, devotional writings, decorations associated with Her myths (snowflakes, bow & arrows, mountains, wolves, etc.), and a beautiful devotional playlist of dark ambient music continuously playing in the background.

Small offerings for Her (e.g., coins, stones, mementos, beaded jewelry, etc.) will be welcomed.  There will also be a “Dear Skaði…” box to hold written prayers and words of praise.

I will be putting together a small binder with drawings, poetry, and devotional prose for Her, and will make this available for guests to look through. I will accept electronic submissions for the binder, as I can print them out in black and white on a home printer.

If you have statues, figurines, craft items, miniature skis or snowshoes, etc. to offer, please bring them to my hotel room at the conference.  (Preferably on Friday, before official open hours for the shrine room start – it will open at 6 PM on Friday, July 31.)

The devotional playlist of dark ambient music that will be heard in the shrine room has been carefully curated to facilitate praise for Her, and includes several tracks I often use for my ritual dance project.

For a preview of the music, check out the following sublime tracks…

…all from the (criminally underrated!) German musical project named after Her.

And speaking of exciting musical news: I have confirmed that the devotional playlist will feature an exclusive new Gydja track, “The Iron Pine Tree’s Daughter.” It was generously crafted for the shrine room by the brilliant Abby Helasdottir, whose work has inspired my own, and whom I recently interviewed for Heathen Harvest.

No liturgy, libations, ritual, or performance will take place. My intention is for the shrine room to be an intimate retreat for contemplation and prayer, set apart from the hustle-and-bustle social environment of the rest of the conference. As an introvert, I have often wished for hermit-friendly spaces like this when I’ve attended events – a place to retreat and recharge my batteries where I’m not expected to speak or be “on” in any kind of public way, and can focus my attention inwardly. I am pleased to have the opportunity to create and hold a space like this for Skaði and for the polytheist community.

Here’s a list of things I can accept, providing you can bring them to the conference or they can be electronically submitted:

  • Devotional poetry and prose (e.g., “Dear Skaði…” letters and prayers)
  • Statues & figurines
  • Crafted items for Her (e.g., miniature snowshoes, skis, bow & arrows)
  • Devotional art and photography featuring winter scenery, mountains, etc.
  • Scarves and “wintry-looking” fabric remnants in white, silver, black, and dark blue (for draping over tables)

Scented items could be problematic, as I have fragrance allergies and other sensitivities, so please check with me in advance if you would like to make any kind of scented offering.  If you’d like to contribute something that isn’t on this list, please contact me and let me know what you have in mind.

Official open hours for Skaði’s Shrine Room are 6 PM to 9 PM on Friday Jul. 31 and Saturday Aug. 1 only.

For ideas, check out some imagery on Pinterest or Tumblr, explore Skadi’s shrine at the Northern Paganism site, or take a look at the previous shrines I’ve built for Her over the years I’ve worked in Her service.

And here’s my short bio:
Danica Swanson is a freelance writer, devotional polytheist, animist, and dark Pagan monastic.  She is best known for her influential writings on alternatives to conventional employment, and her expertise on dark ambient music for ritual and meditation.  Her solo devotional dance project, Shrine of Skadi, is inspired by ten years of service to Skaði accompanied by “music you can’t dance to” – dark ambient.  As resident hermit and anchoress-in-training at The Black Stone Hermitage, a private Portland-based sanctuary, she lives in a haven of solitude made possible only by a web of thriving community relationships.

Contact: shrine.of.skadi AT gmail.

Chthonic Cathedral Playlist: Dark Ambient for Grief and Mourning   Leave a comment

Figures of Mystery - Grief and MourningToday I had the pleasure of serving as a host for a guest at the Hermitage who scheduled a session in the psychomanteum, and asked me for a dark ambient music playlist with a grief and mourning theme.

My guest was very happy with the playlist, and I let her know I would make it available here.  She told me she was already a fan of Kammarheit, so I complimented her on her excellent taste, and started off with one of his tracks.

I feel so fortunate to be able to do this kind of service work. It is a joy for me to create sacred space – even on a very small scale – and to have the privilege of witnessing its effects on people when they experience it.

To also be able to share the music that is nearest and dearest to my heart in a context of such appreciation is a pleasure beyond compare.

I read somewhere about volunteer service work that “it isn’t service unless both people are being served.” I am glad I’ve found one of the ways I can best be of service as a Pagan monastic – to the gods and spirits as well as my extended community (including the many musicians whose work inspires me and keeps me company in my sanctuary of solitude).

In the process of conducting this service, I too am served.

Here are the tracks I selected.

For prep/orientation time:

  1. Kammarheit – Hypnagoga
  2. Psychomanteum – Inward Eyes

For the 1-hour psychomanteum session:

  1. raison d’être – Mourning
  2. Claustrum – Penitential
  3. Cisfinitum – District Delta
  4. Phelios – The Funeral of the Wizard
  5. Maldur Atai – Endless Labyrinth of Chanting
  6. FoetusDreams – Revealed Behind the Gates
  7. Desiderii Marginis – Come Ruin and Rapture
  8. New Risen Throne – Lands Filled With Silence and Grief
  9. Skadi – Sadness of Love
  10. Arcana – Closure
  11. Sophia – Miserere

The Black Tent Temple: A Space for Incubation and Endarkenment   10 comments

Black Tent Temple divination table

Black Tent Temple divination table

Recently I received a lovely e-mail from a fellow Pagan who found my blog via a Google search for Pagan monasteries. She expressed great enthusiasm for the ideas I put forth in my 2012 post “A Black Tent Temple,” and asked for my permission to adopt the idea and build a Black Tent Temple of her own. I don’t claim ownership of the idea, as it was given to me in a vision. I’m happy that others find it useful – I strongly suspect that’s what the Powers I serve had intended, anyway – so I put together this post to offer some suggestions for would-be Black Tent Temple builders.

In my original post, I wrote a bit about how the Red Tent Temple movement inspired me to come up with something darker and more suitable for the kind of inwardly focused incubation work I do at the Hermitage. “Not everyone who is attracted to the darker side of religious experience in a contemplative, monastic, or artistic sense is interested in joining an occult lodge, magical group, coven of witches, Heathen kindred, or esoteric society,” I wrote in that entry.  “The Black Tent Temple is a nice alternative.”

So what is the Black Tent Temple?

A Black Tent Temple is an enclosed physical space – usually a tent-like or cave-like space – that is consciously designed to facilitate spiritual incubation work and honour endarkenment. There are many ways to define endarkenment (see my endarkenment reading list for more ideas, and read the inspiring writings of Lauren Raine and Molly Remer on the subject), but the one I use most often is “a clearing and strengthening of inner vision, and grounding it in the Earth through an alchemical reckoning with the sacred dark.”

The Black Tent Temple is inspired, in part, by my passionate love for dark ambient music as a facilitator of mysticism and inner journeys, and by Peter Kinglsey’s book In the Dark Places of Wisdom. “We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves,” Kingsley writes in this extraordinary and unique book.  It is also born of the intense grief and loss I suffered when my 14-year marriage ended in 2007.

Incubation work, for me, includes not just the quiet, motionless lying down for long periods of time that Kingsley describes so brilliantly in his book, but also tea meditations, grief work, ritual dance work (especially veiled lamentation dances for Earth grief), and devotional offerings to the dark divine and the dead – all accompanied by dark ambient music.

For the Black Tent Temple space I maintain at the Hermitage, which of necessity must be kept within the confines of my very small studio live/work space, I installed two sets of black curtains to introduce a sense of separation between the temple space and the spaces I use for sleeping, grooming, etc. When I do incubation work (including sessions in the psychomanteum or mirror gazing room), I draw the curtains closed to mark the boundaries of the space. For everyday activities, I simply leave the curtains open.

When I do this work for others, I sometimes set up a divination and scrying table (see photo) featuring tools with darker themes:

  • Geomancy tools, including a dry-erase shield chart, stones for casting (the ones I use are beautiful black and grey-mottled larvikite from Scandinavia), and reference books
  • A set of runes made of black stone (elder futhark)
  • A set of black-and-white rune cards (Anglo-Saxon futhark)
  • A black obsidian scrying mirror (not pictured)
  • A Bohemian Gothic tarot deck

The music I use for the Black Tent Temple always focuses on themes of descent, alchemy, grief, subterranean spaces, underworld deities, and so on. Here are a few sample playlist titles from my Chthonic Cathedral project:

  • At the Shadow of the Gates: A Devotional Dark Ambient Mix for Mordgud
  • Blood of the Earth: A Dark Ambient Mix for Facing Ecological Grief
  • Chthonic Ritual: A Dark Ambient Mix for Cave-Dwellers
  • From the Blackness: A Dark Ambient Mix for Tea Alchemy
  • In Sorrow: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Bereaved

It’s perfectly appropriate – and in fact required, if you follow Kingsley’s model – to do absolutely nothing in the Black Tent Temple – to just sit or lie down inside the space, secure and unseen, without an agenda of any kind…and simply make room for whatever might come up. The temple space, hidden away from the insanity of the world, is there to provide opportunities to experience the power of such surrender and receptivity. But with my work I have found that there are times when “dark” emotions overflow as we allow ourselves to slow down and immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of the incubation space. Ritual dance, tea meditations, and offerings to the dark divine are a few of the tools I use to ritually receive and witness these processes when they arise in the moment.

The Black Tent Temple can be used many ways, however; there’s lots of room for creativity. One of the commenters on my original 2012 post says:

“I really love this idea. As an introvert, I need to have those moments of inner silence to function well, but they are difficult to come by in my hectic life…sometimes my taste for darkness, silence and contemplation is not understood very well by my fellow Pagans, however much I appreciate them. So I try to make moments where I don’t speak, when I dress all in grey and black, when I light a dark candle and meditate on the gifts of sadness, mourning, and endings…but I would love to be able to go to a Black Tent Temple.”

I wrote in response:

“There are very few places in our culture where it is acceptable to allow ourselves to mourn our losses…I wish I’d had a Black Tent Temple available to me when I was grieving the loss of my marriage. I would have made frequent use of it, and I think it would have helped me heal.”

Here are a few things I’ve used in creating Black Tent Temple spaces over the past few years, and some ideas from my notes. Feel free to adapt these for your needs.

  • A canvas labyrinth that can be unrolled and laid into the temple space
  • Textured fabrics and overstuffed pillows in dark colours
  • Subdued red, blue, or purple lighting
  • Floor-to-ceiling thick black velvet curtains to keep out distraction and soften the acoustics
  • Essential oils and incenses of chthonic spaces and the deep woods (cedarwood, spruce, fir, moss, etc.)
  • Ensure that all smartphones are turned off in advance, and kept off for the entire duration of the incubation work
  • Dark masks and diaphanous black veils to be worn for ritual work
  • Chthonic shrines – burying offerings in the ground
  • Framed wall art featuring abandoned spaces, serpents, ossuaries, crypts, caves, etc.

My studio Black Tent Temple space only permits room for one or two people, but the concept could be adapted for a slightly larger group. (Probably not too much larger, though, as this could detract from the meditative context that supports the incubation process.)

I’ve found that the Black Tent Temple seems to work best in the darkening days: the deepening time of autumn and winter that so readily lends itself to inner focus and underworld spiritual work.

One of the beauties of the Black Tent Temple concept is that with the appropriate supplies, it can be pulled together in any suitable space. A basement, a garage, a tent at a festival, whatever suits your needs. There’s no need to wait until a permanent Pagan temple is built.

Ultimately, the endarkenment and incubation work I do in the Black Tent Temple is about strengthening and trusting our inner sources of power through walking the path of the dark. It’s also about resisting the countless cultural forces (such as unchecked, rapacious consumer capitalism) that dull our awareness of this power, or otherwise discourage us from following our inner guidance. Sometimes it seems like everything in our toxic culture is designed to lead us away from our inner wisdom. Its voice can be dulled with alcohol, work, sex, shopping, relationship melodrama, spiritual escapism…just about anything, in other words. The Black Tent Temple can provide a space where incubation work can proceed unimpeded, through an unflinching reckoning with the sacred dark.

If you are inspired to start a Black Tent Temple in your area, feel free to take the idea, get creative, and run with it! This is just a starter guide to the concept as I have envisioned it so far. I’d love to hear what you come up with, and I invite you to share photos and descriptions with me. If enthusiasm for this idea continues as it has been lately, perhaps the Black Tent Temple effort will eventually become a movement of its own…lurking in the shadows of the underground.

Dark Ambient Obscurities: Magna – Nordic Chants (Ritual Music)   2 comments

Magna - Nordic ChantsSince I am in the process of writing a book about the esoteric in dark ambient music and culture, I spend quite a bit of time tracking down details about obscure releases and musical projects. In the course of my research, a tip from my friend Pär Boström, who is also my illustrator for the book, led me to an album called Nordic Chants by a little-known project called Magna. It’s a hidden gem from 1997 that deserves to be more widely appreciated. The full album was recently uploaded to YouTube, which delights me, as it is long out of print and near-impossible to find. Go give it a listen while it’s available!

If you enjoy projects such as Andréa Nebel‘s Hagalaz’ Runedance & Nebelhexë, Wardruna, and Forndom (formerly Heathen Harnow) you may also appreciate this album.  Technically speaking I would not classify it strictly as dark ambient, but it has many of the same atmospheric elements, and it’s definitely ritual music in any case.

With the help of archive.org, I dug up this text from Magna’s old website (from 2004; edited slightly for readability):

“Magna’s music is inspired by the shamanic world. In the shamanic tradition song and music are medicine for both body and soul. The shaman uses song and music to fall into trance and travel to other worlds and realities. Magna have chosen to describe their music as “ethno-electronic soundscapes” as they use both ancient acoustic instruments and modern electronic music technology. Their inspiration is drawn from the very origins of music itself and their vision is to create music which gives healing, power and relaxation. Magna’s meditative music reflects ancient musical traditions while representing a contemporary approach to sound.”

“The members of Magna are highly creative artists whose contemporary world music concept incorporates influences from tribal music-traditions in the Scandinavian countries and beyond.”

Since I’ve been studying the Swedish language for almost a year now, I decided to translate the lyrics from Swedish into English as a learning aid. Such a great way to learn! I retain the Swedish words better when I learn them as song lyrics too. Pär, who is a native Swede, gave me helpful feedback on my translation and also corrected my errors. Here’s the final result of that collaborative effort for your enjoyment.  The titles and subtitles are copied from the entry on discogs.

Áss – “the rune for air and inspiration” (0:00 – 5:52)

Vilda väsen jag kallar er nu
Från ljusalvheim, från svartalvheim
Här i midgard vi sejdar nu

Wild beings I call you now
From the home of the light-elves, from the home of the dark-elves
Wild beings I call you now
Here in Midgard we (sejdar)* now

Ur – “the rune for creative power” (12:44 – 19:08)

Känn hur den kallar, hör hur den kallar
Kraften den kallar dig
Kallar dig i den egen kropp
Kallar dig i den egen själ
Kraften den kallar dig

Feel how it´s calling, hear how it’s calling
The force, it calls you
Calling you in your own body
Calling you in your own soul
The force, it calls you

Ken – “the rune for fire and life energy” (19:10 – 27:21)

Jord och eld och ande är jag
Bär min glöd, natt och dag

I am Earth and Fire and Spirit
Carry my glow, night and day

Sol – “the rune for sun and love” (27:30 – 33:25)

Såsom solen sig stiga i öst
Så ska vi vandra som gryningens barn
Såsom solen sig sänka i väst
Så ska vi drömma som skymningens barn
Hela denna jord, hela denna jord
Låt den leva

As the sun rises in the east
We will walk as children of the dawn
As the sun sinks low in the west
So we shall dream as twilight children
Mend this earth, mend this earth
Let it live

Naud – “the rune for magic and destiny” (33:30 – 40:23)

Där månen möter dimman, där faller du i trans
Där dimman möter månen, där faller du i trans
Väver din dröm, väver din dröm
Drömmer din väv
Väver din dröm, väver din dröm
Drömmer din väv

Where the moon meets the fog, there you fall into trance
Where the fog meets the moon, there you fall into trance
Weaving your dream, weaving your dream
Dreaming your web
Weaving your dream, weaving your dream
Dreaming your web

Algiz – “the rune for guardian animal” (40:31 – 46:41)

I fullmånenatten jag ser din dans
I fullmånesken jag går i dans
Jag går i dans med min fylga här
Jag faller i trans bland dimmor och jär**

On the full moon night I see your dance
As the full moon shines I go to/into dance
I go to dance with my guardian angel here
I fall into trance among the mists and (spiritual signs)

Dagaz – “the rune for light and insight” (46:50 – 53:00)

Under himlavalv
En väv av ljus
Dagaz människans dröm

Under the canopy
A web of light
Dagaz, humans’ dream

Translation notes:

* According to Pär, “sejd” is untranslatable into English. But he adds that “when people in ancient Nordic tradition were sejding they looked into the future and could harm or influence other people.”

** Jär or järtecken are signs that are considered to herald strange or spiritual events.

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