Recently I wrote about the need for me to find ways to stay job-free so I can do my Work. Since I am now functioning under what is essentially a divine mandate to write books and lay the groundwork for the future home of the Hermitage, and since job-hunting and my house cleaning business have been consuming most of my writing time for years now, something’s got to change in my life if I am going to carry out Their wishes.
Toward that end, I’m excited to announce that I’ve just launched a Patreon account under D. JoAnne Swanson – the pen name I use for my other main project, Rethinking the Job Culture. I’ve set it up entirely on a gift model. Great news, too: I am in communication with a publisher who is interested in On The Leisure Track, my half-finished book manuscript for that project. It’s a personal narrative about decolonizing time, the process of unlearning the internalized capitalist work ethic, and learning to embrace gift culture. With your support, I will be able to finish writing it, and then continue on with my work on Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture after I’ve delivered the first finished manuscript to the publisher.
The revised and improved version of my essay “Is Nothing Sacred? On ‘Doing Nothing’ and Leisure as Resistance,” which is a condensed version of one of the chapters from On The Leisure Track, is also in the works. And that’s just a start! Patrons will have access to all writings I release before they are available to the public.
If you’re interested in my writing, I encourage you to give the page a read whether or not you follow my other project, and whether or not you’re interested in becoming a patron. It features some musings about the role of play and leisure in my work, plus links to many of my recent published writings, and a video of me speaking in my typical nerdy style about the work I do.
I’ve also included links to a few of the people whose work has inspired mine, such as Francis Weller (author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief), Charles Eisenstein (author of Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible), Matt Cardin (author of A Course in Demonic Creativity), and Alley Valkyrie, whose brilliant piece “Poverty, Worth, and the Hovering Ghost of Calvin” is a must-read.
Signal boosts for this post would be greatly appreciated, as there isn’t a good mechanism for discovering creators directly through the Patreon platform yet. The only way folks will find out about my Patreon page is through my own efforts, and the efforts of those who follow my work. Thank you so much!
Wilhelm List, “The Offering”
For three years now, I’ve been working as a self-employed house cleaner to support the financial needs of the Hermitage. There are many things I enjoy about the work: I can set my own hours, listen to music on headphones while I work, and get some exercise while working, for starters. And since I run my solo business without a car (I travel back and forth to clients’ homes on public transit, hauling my supplies in a wheeled backpack) and use only eco-friendly cleaning supplies such as white vinegar and baking soda, it’s also well aligned with my simple-living values. I never have to sit in rush-hour traffic, and I can read or enjoy music while someone else handles the driving, which I greatly appreciate. I don’t perceive being car-free as a sacrifice; for me it is a pleasure. Good thing, too, because after my divorce, what was once voluntary simplicity has become INvoluntary simplicity, as I couldn’t afford to drive now even if I wanted to. I’m very fortunate to live in a city where it’s possible to run a house cleaning business without a car.
I’ve certainly enjoyed house cleaning a lot more than any office job I’ve ever had, particularly because it greatly reduces the amount of uncompensated emotional labor I’m expected to perform, and because I have great clients who appreciate what I do and are all connected to the arts and esoteric communities. This work has also allowed me to avoid the synthetic fragrances and animal dander that are allergy and asthma triggers for me. This, too, is a boon, since fragrances are difficult to avoid in office jobs, and I am increasingly noticing that employees are allowed to bring dogs to their offices.
In many ways house cleaning seems to be an appropriate job for an anchoress-in-training on a monastic path of service. I have never had any doubt that I am serving the gods and spirits just as much through scrubbing toilets as I am by building shrines for Them. It’s very hard work physically and I always come home exhausted, and running a business consumes a great deal of my time…but it still suits me better than a full-time office job, and on good days it even becomes a sort of meditative practice through which writing ideas come to me unbidden, mid-scrub. (I love those days!)
However, over the past few years I’ve come to realize that I need to figure out another, more sustainable way to pay the bills, because I am physically unable to clean houses for the number of hours I’d need to work to make ends meet for the Hermitage over the long term. In 2014 I started studying web development through a respected online code school, with the intention of finding an entry-level job in the field in Portland. I worked my butt off and completed the course of study in 2015, and for many months I’ve attended hiring fairs, networking events, and done all kinds of job-hunting the conventional way, as well as through my own social network. But I have not been hired…and furthermore, this month it’s finally become clear to me that I may, in fact, never again be hired for a conventional job. Being female and over 40, along with having something that amounts to an invisible disability (allergies to animal dander and perfumes) and a work history dominated by freelance writing and house cleaning, is certainly not working in my favor.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve spent the bulk of the past eight years – the entire time since my divorce – either studying for or applying for paid jobs that never materialized, while doing various kinds of unpaid volunteer work that I hoped might lead to paid work (none ever did), and also running my house cleaning business. All of that “hope labor” consumed a great deal of my time – time that I would have much rather spent on writing, and on expanding and deepening my community service offerings at the Hermitage. I have a lengthy list of projects assigned to me by Those I serve, and I have an ever-growing list of people in my local community who appreciate what I do and want me to do more of it. The work I do at the Hermitage was even called “Portland’s best kept secret” after a recent ritual for which I provided a customized dark ambient playlist; I’ll be providing another one for a ritual in January.
Over the course of the next few years I would like to:
* Finish writing two non-fiction books – one on leisure as resistance and unlearning the internalized capitalist work ethic (the first chapter can be read in full), and another on the esoteric in dark ambient music and culture
* Write, edit, and proofread many articles, including the next in my series on underrated dark ambient albums for I Die: You Die
* Continue with the Black Tent Temple Project, providing spaces of incubation, withdrawal, and endarkenment to grieving people and others in need
* Continue and expand my Chthonic Cathedral project, providing customized dark ambient music playlists for rituals, yoga classes, meditation groups, social gatherings, and events
* Expand Drinking the Tears of the Earth, my grief ritual dance project
* Continue with Shrine of Skaði, my devotional dance project
* Continue serving the polytheist community and the gods and spirits through building shrines and other work at Many Gods West
* Continue learning and practicing geomancy, in preparation for offering readings for the community
* Continue studying Swedish, in preparation for a future pilgrimage to Sweden
* Maintain the Hermitage as an “official” Crone Island outpost: a space where beleaguered crones can go for tea service and a respite from uncompensated emotional labor (for more info, see this MetaFilter thread to which I contributed; I recommend reading the whole thing, but if you’re short on time, there’s a great summary available too!)
* Continue the search for an appropriate place – with a basement or other subterranean space, of course – to relocate the Hermitage for the long term. (Community land trust? Some kind of co-op? Religious non-profit? Time will tell…)
* Work with a great tea consultant (yes, the Hermitage has an official tea consultant – David Galli, who is otherwise known as Head Cheerleader of the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance) to improve the tea offerings and service at the Hermitage
* Go through my archives of over 30 years of finished but unpublished writing – journals, correspondence, essays, short fiction – and edit the best of these pieces, so they can be published
* Design and build new websites for the Hermitage and Rethinking the Job Culture
…and that’s on top of my regular schedule of prayer, meditation, and offerings.
A few weeks ago, just after the most recent job fair I attended failed to result in a job offer for me, AND I was simultaneously served with a notice from the DHS that as a self-employed ABAWD (able-bodied adult without dependents) under 50, my SNAP benefits would be cut off if I failed to comply with new, cumbersome requirements that will consume even more of my time, AND I was given notice that I would lose the Hermitage and be forced to leave Portland if I couldn’t pay more rent in March…
…I woke up with the strongest and most unmistakable message I’ve ever received from Those I serve.
It felt so urgent that I scrambled out of bed to get it written down before I had even had my tea. The minute I finished writing it, I got chills.
Here it is, just as I transcribed it:
You must resist the conscription of your time into the service of capital.
You must resist the colonization of your time.
You must resist getting a full-time job so you can do your WORK.
You have books to write. You are the only person that can deliver them. You must trust that the world needs to read these books just as much as you need to write them.
The books will open your route to a more permanent home for The Black Stone Hermitage.
The books are Beings. They had a long gestation period. Now they are almost ready to be birthed.
You will soon be in labor.
Wow. Loud and clear, wouldn’t you say?
…and now, all of a sudden, many good things are in the works, after years of struggling and barely scraping by. I suspect that Someone flipped the switch the moment I gave up job hunting the “normal” way and accepted that, despite my skills and advanced education, my age, sex, and health needs are strikes against me in the job market, and I may be forever unemployable…so I am therefore going to have to figure out some other way to manage my financial life and open the way for the Hermitage to expand its offerings. And besides, apparently They want me to be writing books, among other things. But writers earn very little money. So I’ve got to figure out how to support myself and the Hermitage without a conventional full-time job, so that I can do my Work.
Enter the multiple streams of income plan.
I’ve now got a promising lead for a short-term paid web gig, I will soon be launching a Patreon account to support my writing, I’ve got a respected publisher interested in my half-finished book manuscript for my Rethinking the Job Culture project, I’m planning to offer my proofreading services to paying clients, and – after I petitioned Skaði to find me a way to stay in Portland if She wanted me to continue serving Her through the work I do here – it’s looking like I will be sharing the Hermitage with a roommate in February, someone who is a fellow writer and polytheist (!!) whose living style sounds very compatible with mine.
So if all continues to go well, and things work out with the roommate situation (I have a pretty good feeling about it), I may be able to stay in Portland and continue to live in the Hermitage after all. I still have some big financial challenges to confront in 2016: punitive self-employment taxes due in April, dental and orthodontic work I need but can’t yet afford, and the possibility that Many Gods West will be out of reach for me this year financially unless Those I serve intervene to make it possible. (Skaði did so last year when I built a shrine room for Her at MGW; this year I’ve been planning to build a Black Tent Temple space at MGW, and I even have two other polytheists interested in co-facilitating the project, but I haven’t yet received any clear guidance from Those I serve about it. We will see what happens in the coming months, however. I trust that if They want me at MGW, They will make it possible somehow.) And once I have a more steady income, I plan to start an IDA to help me save for a down payment on a house for the Hermitage.
Funny how much better my life seems to flow when I stop resisting the tide. As a friend has said, when the gods don’t want you to be doing something, They WILL win eventually, no matter what They have to put you through to get Their point across. It’s a lesson I keep learning, again and again, in different ways.
Then, yesterday, through a series of beautiful synchronicities associated with taking up active work on my Rethinking the Job Culture project again, I found a podcast featuring an interview with Ethan Hughes, a man who lives on an experimental homestead in Missouri that is operated completely according to permaculture and gift principles.
It’s very rare for me to listen to podcasts, as I much prefer to take in information via the written word, but somehow I knew I had to listen to this one. The hour was well spent, and the wealth of inspiration I’ve taken from it will fuel my writing for years to come.
Back in the days when I was married and my ex and I bought rural land in BC, Canada (and later near Eugene, OR) to start an intentional community, we were aiming for something similar to what these folks are doing, albeit in a more technologically connected way. This podcast helped me understand, at a much deeper level, why we failed in our attempt. (I don’t talk about those years of my life much, because it’s difficult for me…but in my files I have some writings about them; perhaps someday I will edit and release those writings.)
This is truly a beautiful interview – one of the best I’ve ever heard – and it brought me to tears several times.
If I ever marry again – and I should add that I’ve turned my romantic life completely over to the gods and spirits I serve, for better or for worse – I want it to be to someone who thinks very much like Ethan Hughes.
So, with a giant leap of faith and a deepened level of trust in the gods to provide for my needs, I am now taking my first big steps toward making Community Supported Hermitage a reality.
Coming soon: my Patreon account launch, a new essay on my Rethinking the Job Culture blog, an expansion of my Pinterest boards to reflect more of my artistic vision for the Hermitage, and – if all goes well, and I find sufficient patronage for my writing – more frequent updates on both of my blogs, and regular progress on my book manuscripts.
Art by William Leighton Fisher, used with permission. Text by Danica Swanson.
This Friday, October 30, in Portland, Ingrid Kincaid will be hosting “Delving Into the Dark”, a ritual for Móðguðr and Hela. Ingrid and I met in person a few weeks ago, and I agreed to put together a customised dark ambient music playlist for her to use at this ritual.
My Chthonic Cathedral Project has been expanding quite a bit over the course of the past year into a dark ambient music consultancy. I now consult with yoga teachers, ritual planners, organisers of meditation retreats, etc., to provide custom themed playlists of dark ambient music for events, gatherings, or classes. If you are interested in this service, feel free to contact me via e-mail. I can design a playlist for you centered around a theme (e.g., magickal yoga, grief and mourning – see my list of playlist titles for more examples), a specific emotional state, a devotional practice for a deity or spirit, or a contemplative monastic practice. I can even design an image to accompany the playlist.
About the service I provided for her, Ingrid writes:
“This will be a sobering yet gentle ritual, and I particularly love the ending of the Skadi “Hel” piece, as it truly sounds and feels the way I experience Hela and Her hall. Welcoming, soothing, dim, and at rest and peace. No judgment, just acceptance.
“I want to say again to you how much I appreciate your gifts and talents. What a great service it is to have someone provide the music for an event. This is a first for me.”
Fortunately, I already had a devotional playlist for Mordgud that I’ve been using ever since I first built a shrine for Her at the Hermitage, so all that was necessary in this case was to add some tracks for Hela.
If you’re in Portland and would like to join us for the ritual, there’s still room! Please register in advance via Ingrid’s website.
Here are the final selections. If you like them, please support the artists and buy their albums, so they can continue to make more of this wonderful music!
Tracks selected by the organiser for introduction and prep time, and after the ritual:
- Lamia Vox – Descend
- Lisa Gerrard – The Rite
- New Risen Throne – At the Shadow of the Gates
- Council of Nine – Blood Lit Skies
- Herbst9 – Bloodmoon Ritual
- Herbst9 – Blood Whisper
- Ignis Divine – Entrance to the Gate Down Below
- raison d’être – The Eternal Return
- Allseits – Hel
- Profane Grace – From Shadowlands… Dying…
- Hyios – Aquila
- Inade – Through the Gates of Death
Tracks selected by the organiser for the actual ritual:
- Wardruna – Helvegen
- Allseits – Gjöll
- Allseits – Modgudr
- Skadi – Hel
Other tracks I selected:
- Svartsinn – As a Black Stone Monument (New Risen Throne Mix)
- Hagalaz’ Runedance – Hel – Goddess of the Underworld
- Innfallen – Epilogue (Scattered Remains)
- Herbst9 – Bloodwhisper 2 Pass the Gate
- Desiderii Marginis – Deadbeat I
- raison d’être – Metamorphyses Phase I
- Blood Box – Lower Realm
- Mulm – Mørke
I’m delighted to announce that volume 2 of my series on underrated dark ambient albums has been published at the venerable I Die: You Die. Lots of love and care went into this piece. I hope you enjoy it!
I have an ongoing list of albums to recommend for volume 3 in this series. There are a LOT of underrated dark ambient albums out there – enough to fill many articles! Suggestions? I’d love to hear them!
Comments from readers:
“…best Dark Ambient list I’ve ever seen…bravo! It’s sure nice to see a really well curated list that was obviously created by someone with a passion for the genre.”
~ Jay Gambit
“Wonderful list! I felt on this one, you really dug deep and brought some lost gems to the surface.”
~ Robert C.Kozletsky
“Nice work, Danica. Made me drag out my dusty, and indeed overlooked, copy of Veil of Secrecy.”
~ Abby Helasdottir
As 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 Lokakvan, who was my roommate at MGW, about her personal experience meeting Skaði in the shrine room.
These are so beautiful. It’s such a blessing for me to receive and share these. Thank you kindly to everyone who contributed!
~ Rose Gwiniolen
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!
Endless gratitude for loving my sister & guiding her path.
And for joining us last September.
Thank you for what you’ve done.
Slash your way through
Drive your prey
give it no rest
let arrow fly
heart pierced through breast
(Contributed by Rose Gwiniolen)
People have gone
lanterns have died…
one leaf remains
it is a gift for me
is the key.
Thank you Skaði!
I received one other wonderful contribution which was communicated to me verbally at the conference from someone who had lengthy meditation time in Her shrine room. I took notes and reproduced it as best I can. Here is a close approximation of it:
“I asked Her to warm me up, and then thought that She was the wrong One to ask. But She corrected me, and said that just because She lives in the cold North doesn’t mean that She Herself is cold. If you remain true to yourself regardless of external circumstances, then you remain flexible and whole, not brittle.”
“Then I asked Her about how to be a good warrior – how to stop fighting myself, and direct my aggression outward to my enemies instead. She said:
“There are no enemies. I am a huntress, and the relationship I have with my prey is one of love.”
A relationship of love between huntress and prey. I sense in my bones the truth of this, but I don’t understand it. I suspect I will be pondering it for many years.
Awhile 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.)
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!
The 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.)
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.)
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.
- 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.
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!