Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism Discussion Group and LANMIPP   2 comments

lanmipp-imageIf you’re on Facebook and interested in Pagan and Polytheist monasticism, there’s a brand new discussion group that I can highly recommend, for which I am a co-admin.

The group is turning out to be so fantastic – so full of brilliant and prolific writers, and so supportive and community-driven – that it has consumed nearly all of my available online time for the past week, and I don’t regret it for a minute.  Our guidelines were inspired by the My Polytheism project founded by Jolene Dawe, which is a space of sacred hospitality focused on celebrating diversity in polytheism.  The project was recently featured in The Wild Hunt in a piece by Crystal Blanton – I was interviewed alongside Alley Valkyrie, Celestine, and Yvonne Aburrow for this piece.

About the new discussion group, founder and co-admin Merri-Todd Webster writes: “It’s like people have just been dying to talk about this stuff.  Starting the group was definitely the best idea I’ve had in years. I think my gods must have been nudging me.

I’ve certainly wished for such a group for many years. I often thought of starting one myself, but kept hesitating for all kinds of reasons.  I’m so glad Merri-Todd took the initiative!

Almost as soon as the virtual doors of the place were opened a week ago, the outpouring started.  We were expecting there to be a just a handful of us, so we’ve been floored by the level of interest and enthusiasm.  We had over 50 members within the first 48 hours, and as of this writing we have 70. Apparently there’s a need out there that we hadn’t known about.

A discussion among MGW attendees that followed the founding of this monastic discussion group also led to the creation of LANMIPP, a Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically Inclined Polytheist Pagans.  (Thanks to Silence Maestas of the Virtual Temple Project for the name and acronym!)  Since there are no established monastic traditions within modern paganism and polytheism, and it’s clear that the need for such traditions is growing, this will be a way for us to gather together fellowship groups (online and in person) to further the discussions.

There is talk of a “Tea With LANMIPP” roundtable being planned for Many Gods West 2017.  In the meantime, if you are interested in Pagan and Polytheist monasticism, feel free to join the Facebook discussion group.



A Black Tent Temple by Gerrie Ordaz   Leave a comment

Over the past couple of years, interest has been growing in the Black Tent Temple concept I put forth on the Hermitage blog back in 2012. I’ve received quite a few inquiries about it. I encouraged anyone who was interested to take the idea and run with it, and invited them to share their results with me in words, photos, video, or whatever medium best suited them. In August of 2015, Priestess Gerrie Ordaz put together the first Black Tent Temple space outside the one at my Hermitage.

Last month, Gerrie built a Black Tent Temple space for the second year in a row at the Oasis event by Earth Traditions, a Pagan church in Chicago. I’m delighted to share her new post about it, complete with photos and the lines from the opening rite she performed. These lines were influenced by the rites of the Order of the Black Madonna:

“To the Vastness of the Holy Dark we bow down.
To the Fierce and Compassionate Darkness we bow again.”

I am also intrigued that Gerrie writes “There was a small black cauldron in which was placed black stones for people to take back home with them the blessings of the Black Tent,” as this is exactly what I have done with my own Black Tent Temple space at the Hermitage, but it’s something Gerrie and I had not discussed in advance. And I noted with similar intrigue that the Healing Shrine of Asclepios at Many Gods West last month also had a bowl of small, magically charged stones for visitors to take with them.

Check out Gerrie’s wonderful work, and if it inspires you, why not get creative and build one yourself? A basement, backyard, or even a walk-in closet (like the one I’ve used at the Hermitage for the psychomanteum/darkroom meditation space) could be a great place to start!

I am gathering material for a future website featuring Black Tent Temple spaces, so if you decide to build one and would like to share the results with me, please do!

(Photos shared here with Gerrie’s permission.)

My Polytheism: Contemplative Solitary Monastic Practice   2 comments


My meditation and lectio divina corner at the Hermitage. Photo by Ilana Hamilton.

My new post on Medium is now published!  It started out as a list of my contemplative practices, but then it expanded into a contribution to the My Polytheism project, which was recently launched by Jolene Dawe to celebrate diversity in polytheism.  Yay!  If you haven’t seen the blog yet, I recommend you go check it out!  I love this whole project, but especially this:

Sacred Hospitality. This is the common ground our communities need to be built around. Not same-ness. Not dogma. Not gate-keeping. Hospitality. What good is the hospitality we extend to our Spirits, Gods, and assorted Powers, if we are utter shit to our fellow humans? We have to build up. We have to be approachable. At least, I want us to be approachable. And, if you’re here, I’m assuming you do, as well.”


Reflections on the Many Gods West 2016 Conference   Leave a comment

MGW Program 1Well, I had stated that I’d be cross-posting here and on Medium for awhile, but now that I’ve written and published a full new blog post over there, I realize that I simply can’t justify spending the time and effort necessary to duplicate a post so that folks in both places will see it.  Medium is SO much easier for me.  It’s mobile-friendly too, whereas this WordPress blog would need to be redesigned to be more readable on mobile devices, and I simply have too much on my plate to tackle a project like that right now.  So, dear readers, Medium is where all of my posts will appear from here on.  Please follow the Hermitage there!

My new Reflections on the Many Gods West 2016 conference post can be found HERE.



Posted 2016/08/10 by The Black Stone Hermitage in Writing

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The Hermitage is Now on Medium!   Leave a comment

BSH blog announcement image 2

I’m happy to announce that the Hermitage can now be found over on Medium.  I’m pleased with the new layout.  Please go give it a look!  Feedback is welcome.

It was Medium’s recent announcement of some simple but powerful custom design options for publications that finally convinced me to migrate both of my blogs over there.  Well, that and the fact that traffic to this blog has dropped like a rock this year, while Medium is attracting lots of readers for good reason.

Recently I was lamenting the fact that both of my WordPress blogs look so dated and are not really readable on mobile devices, and was wondering when I’d manage to scare up the time to sit down and redesign them according to responsive design principles.  Medium to the rescue!

Most of my blog entries have now been migrated over to Medium, including the writings on my Shrine of Skaði dance project site.  I made some minor edits to adapt them to the new format.

This blog – which is just over five years old now – will remain online indefinitely.  For now, I expect I will be posting both here and on Medium.  When my new Patreon campaign for the Hermitage launches in October, I will start focusing more of my effort on Patreon and Medium.

If you’re on Medium, please follow The Black Stone Hermitage there so you will receive all my new posts. If you like the entries I’ve already posted, would you kindly take time to click the little heart at the bottom to recommend them to others?  It helps them get seen by new readers, and lets me know that people are reading and enjoying them.  Thank you so much!

Posted 2016/07/23 by The Black Stone Hermitage in The Hermitage, Writing

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My Vision for the Future of the Hermitage   Leave a comment

Skadi print from Bifrost & Beyond

Skaði devotional art print by Chris of Bifrost & Beyond (UK)

Five years have now passed since I received the original vision of the Hermitage in 2011 and started this blog to chronicle the development of the vision.  Now, the time has come to take the leap of faith.   I’ve committed myself to a full-time path of creative self-employment, contemplative solitude, and service work as a polytheist anchoress – a.k.a. Pagan monastic – in service of Skaði.

Sources of support and affirmation that this is the right path for me seem to be arising just as they’re needed.  In recent weeks, the Hermitage received its first book donation to kick-start the in-house library project (thank you to Priestess Gerrie Ordaz!), and its first donation-supported shrine room art (see photo.)

The beautiful Skaði art is by Chris of Bifrost And Beyond.  The acquisition of this devotional art marks the start of a new stage in bringing the Hermitage vision to full fruition.  It’s now framed and integrated into Her ever-expanding shrine space.  Later this year, the Hermitage will be commissioning a custom devotional woodcarving of Skaði – through Chris’s Gungnir Godposts project – to grace Her shrine space.

In October I will be launching a Patreon campaign for the Hermitage.  Any support I receive beyond what’s needed to support the current space will go toward saving for a down payment on a home with a subterranean space, where I will be able to expand the services I offer.

This means that, as of October, I will have two Patreon campaigns.  On the blog for my other main project, Rethinking the Job Culture, I recently posted a personal essay, “Why I Love Patreon,” which was made possible by the support of my patrons for that project.  It’s received wonderful and encouraging feedback.  My in-person visitors have been expressing interest in supporting the development of the Hermitage in an ongoing way, and Patreon is the best platform for me to do that.  (Most of my readers follow either RJC or the Hermitage, but not both.  I write and publish under two different variations of my name, so most of my RJC readers only know me as D. JoAnne Swanson, while most who follow my dark ambient writings and the Hermitage only know me as Danica Swanson.)

As part of my preparation for the upcoming launch of my Patreon campaign for the Hermitage, I’ve put together a detailed list of all the elements of the Hermitage vision.  I’ve also done a recent interview – if you haven’t read that yet, and are interested in visiting the Hermitage sometime, please start there.  It’s the best introduction to my work that has been published thus far.

And for a visual glimpse into some of the elements of the Hermitage vision, my Pinterest boards are a good place to start.

Service Projects

1.  Non-Fiction Writing – books and essays

My primary form of sacred service is writing.  Words are magical; many doors have opened in my life solely due to my ability to arrange words in ways that move people.  As Alley Valkyrie has written:  “Words are magic.  They can hex, they can heal, they can change lives for the better and also destroy them.  They are never ‘just words.'”

Three non-fiction book manuscripts, plus many essays and blog posts on the themes of leisure and sacred endarkenment, have been assigned to me to write.

These books are Beings, and I have been told in no uncertain terms that whatever else may happen in my life, it is my responsibility to work with Those I serve to ensure that these books get written and published before my time on this Earth comes to an end.  They are:

* On The Leisure Track: Rethinking the Job Culture
* Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture
* Sacred Endarkenment

Because most of my free time since my divorce has been consumed with my business, job-hunting, and job-readiness prep work, I haven’t made anywhere near as much progress on these books as I’d like.  Now that I’ve given up job-hunting entirely, though, and am focusing all my energies on Black Stone Home Service, Rethinking the Job Culture, and the Black Stone Hermitage, I am happy that I will finally be able to make more steady progress on writing these books.

2.  Chthonic Cathedral Music Consultancy Project

Over the past few years, as word has gotten around about my passion for dark ambient music, I’ve become known as the “village dark ambient nerd.”  I provide custom themed dark ambient music playlists for events, classes, and rituals.  I can tailor these playlists around a theme, an emotional state, and/or as a devotional for a deity or spirit.  I can also suggest single tracks to help facilitate a mindset conducive to specific projects.  One attendee at a ritual for which I provided the musical playlist found out about this service I provide, and called me “Portland’s best kept secret.”

There are few things I love more than introducing people to great dark ambient music, and it seems to please Those I serve as well as my community, so this project will continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.

3.  Black Tent Temple Project

I design and create what I call endarkened meditative spaces at the Hermitage, and for others in the community by arrangement.  These spaces are designed to facilitate leisure, contemplation, and retreat…within the context of a dramatic, emotionally evocative gothic style.  The intent is to construct the space in aesthetically pleasing, inviting ways, in order to facilitate engaged religious experiences.

One element of this space at the Hermitage is the working altar upon which The Black Stone (a 50 mm black obsidian sphere) rests.  I use this altar daily for veiled meditations.  The Black Stone is the namesake of the Hermitage, and I often make offerings and prayers to it, or use it for scrying.

The first Black Tent Temple outside the Hermitage was created at a Pagan event in 2015.  In the autumn, I will be designing a custom endarkened space for a grief ritual.  This project, too, is one that I expect to continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.

4.  In-house Library

Over 900 well-loved books – many of which are long out of print and hard to find – live at the Hermitage, and thanks to the encouragement of my guests who have expressed enthusiastic interest in this service after perusing my bookshelves, I will be opening my library for community use.  Beginning in the darkening days of October, I’ll be hosting special open house reading-and-contemplation days by appointment, so that visitors can come and browse the library at leisure, relax with books and tea, and enjoy the dark ambient music, the Black Tent Temple space, and the contemplative atmosphere.  I also have a post in the works about the contemplative practice of lectio divina for polytheists, and I will be making more Sunday Shelfie and “book of the week” posts (with quoted excerpts!) to provide a glimpse of what’s available for those who can visit the Hermitage in person.

(Potential visitors should note that the space is small – it’s a 550-square-foot live/work studio.  Because of space arrangements, I will only be able to host a maximum of three people at a time; most often I have one or two.  I will not be offering lending at this time; in-house reading only.)

5. A shrine room for Skaði, and a monthly worship service

Over the 12 years I’ve worked in Skaði’s service, my shrine space for Her has grown to the point where it now occupies a large four-shelf bookcase, is spilling over, and would certainly grow to fill a full room if I had sufficient space.  I also have a box full of shrine supplies for Her that I am keeping in storage but cannot currently use due to lack of proper space.  (I did use them to build a shrine room for Her at Many Gods West in 2015, however, and plan to use them to build a shrine room for Her once again at MGW in 2017.)

I have vowed to Her that when a permanent home for the Hermitage is found – hopefully through some kind of community land trust – that allows me to build in a subterranean space, I will construct a shrine room for Her there.  The shrine space will be as magnificent and awe-inspiring as I can possibly make it.  (A friend once called me “Skaði’s PR department.”  Not far off the mark.)

As I envision it, this future shrine room will involve:

* A large statue of Her as the shrine’s centerpiece – I will be commissioning an artist for this.
* Several devotional playlists of dark ambient music (including a track called “The Hermit” by the brilliant German musician whose project is named after Her; this track was composed in 2012, exclusively for the Hermitage).
* A subterranean cave-like shrine space that can easily be kept cool, so the wintry feel can be enjoyed year-round.
* Little wall alcoves featuring miniatures arranged to depict Skaði’s myths and stories, complete with recessed LED lighting to create targeted pools of light over the scenes. (Christians do this sort of thing with nativity scenes; my idea is to do a Heathen version!  And yes, this includes the tale in which Loki makes Her laugh by tying His testicles to a goat.  Hey, it’s been illustrated before – why not?)
* Shrine supplies with themes sacred to Her – winter, snow, ice, mountains, bow-hunting, wolves, deer hide, snowshoes, etc.
* Silver thuribles (incense burners) in which conifer-based resins and incenses are burned – especially spruce resin, as spruce trees are sacred to Her.
* A mini-‘stage’ alongside or around the shrine – a slightly elevated section of flooring which can be used for devotional dance practice.
* Sheer black curtains, and  some kind of narrow hall or enclosed entryway – a transitional space through which visitors must pass before entering the shrine room.
* Comfortable spaces for washing hands, leaving coats and shoes at the door, and kneeling before the shrine.
* Regularly scheduled open house  times for visitors to make in-person offerings and prayers in Her shrine room.
* Regularly scheduled worship and offering services for Her.  For these services, which I will conduct privately (or with one or two in-person guests), I will accept petition requests from the community in advance.  I will perform candle blessings with specially anointed and dressed candles and/or make offerings to Skaði for each petitioner.

As I do in all of my work creating atmospheres of scared endarkenment, I combine visual, architectural, auditory, spatial, and olfactory elements – and sometimes kinesthetic ones, too, when devotional or ritual dance is involved – to construct inspiring and emotionally engaging religious spaces.  Skaði’s shrine room will involve all of these elements, and more.  (Maybe even tactile and gustatory elements, if it pleases Her!)

6.  Shrine spaces for Móðguðr and Santa Muerte

Though Skaði is the main deity in my devotional practice, I also have a relationship with Móðguðr, and a newer but very inspiring relationship with La Santisima, a.k.a. Santa Muerte.  Móðguðr’s shrine has been in place since 2011, and is lovingly tended year-round, though She only visits occasionally – October seems to be Her favorite month for visits.

I met Santa Muerte in early 2015, and like many devotees I was stunned by how quickly and effectively she responded to my petition.  Later that year I expanded her shrine space, and began asking her to help me attract the right sources of support for the work I do.  When the Hermitage finds its subterranean home, I have promised her that she will have a larger and even more beautiful space.

All guests at the Hermitage may make offerings to Skaði, Móðguðr, and Santa Muerte, and/or arrange for meditation time in front of Their shrines.

7. Geomancy – divination study and practice group

I’ve been studying and practicing geomancy since late 2014, and still consider myself a beginner.  If and when the time comes that I become ready to read for others, I will offer geomantic divination readings as a community service.  For now, I will be hosting a geomancy study and practice group, starting in the autumn along with my new Patreon launch.

For the future subterranean Hermitage space, I envision a cozy covered booth seating area with a table for this purpose – some kind of draped cozy alcove with padded booth seats, or perhaps a breakfast nook that will seat two or three people comfortably.  This divination space would be used not just for casting geomantic charts, of course, but also for things like contemplative practices with books, scrying, or tea meditations.

I also study and practice the other kind of geomancy – dowsing with rods and pendulums, and working to harmonize earth energies.  Inspired by the work of Alanna Moore and the book Earth Alchemy by Anne Parker and Dominique Susani, I intend to use the geomantic skills I am studying to select a geoprosperous location for the Hermitage, and for any stones that may be placed in and around it.

8. Conifer-based forest scented items – sacred smoke and aromatherapy

My long-standing adoration of conifers and their intoxicating scents is well known.  I already drink Douglas Fir and spruce tip tea, and make “deep forest aromatherapy” spritzers at the Hermitage for daily use in my home and my house cleaning business.  (My all-time favorite is a mix of cedarwood from Uncle Harry’s, and black pine from Liberty Naturals.)  I can’t stand synthetic perfumes, and in fact am allergic to many of the petrochemical ingredients.  But put me in range of a forest filled with cedar or spruce trees, and I perk up immediately.

I’d love to expand this conifer-based work.  In the right space, and with the approval of the spirits of these magnificent trees that inspire me, I envision making small batches of wildcrafted conifer goods for use at the Hermitage.  Cedar smudge sticks, spruce resin incense, pine tar salve, grand fir bath salts, sachets made with Western Redcedar shavings…I have lots and lots of ideas.  I would definitely like to make conifer-based incense myself to fill the thuribles I use for worship services, using wildcrafted and locally sourced ingredients.

I also envision the future home of the Hermitage having a conifer of some sort as Vårdträd – the  Swedish word for “guardian tree.”  I’ve been very inspired by the Swedish tradition in which a home’s sacred Vårdträd is honored, cared for, protected, and given offerings.

9. Tea meditations

The Hermitage is fortunate to have an official tea consultant who is not only knowledgeable, but is also one of the nicest, most kind-hearted people on Earth!  My dear friend David Galli, who is Head Cheerleader at the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance and Director of Tea Education at The Jasmine Pearl, has been advising me about sourcing affordable pu-erh teas for future tea meditations at the Hermitage.  I am also discussing the possibility of digitally recording some guided meditations in David’s beautiful and mesmerizing voice, to accompany future tea sessions at the Hermitage.

This project is in the early planning stages – it’s a “stretch goal” of sorts.  Currently, I have equipment for tea service Western-style, but do not yet have proper equipment to serve tea gongfu style.  One day I hope to expand the tea offerings at the Hermitage.

10. Videos and photo shoots – shrines, tours of the Hermitage, ritual dance

Another future project that is part of the Hermitage vision involves making videos of the spaces I design.  I’ve been inspired by Silence Maestas’ Virtual Temple Project; he built a lovely shrine space for Loki, and recorded it on video for worshipers to enjoy.  If Skaði approves, I would like to make recordings of Her shrine space, complete with incense, candles, dark ambient music, and perhaps recited prayers or poetry for Her as well.

I’m also planning some devotional and themed photo shoots – a ritual for Skaði in a snowy forest, donning a cloak and lantern and embodying The Hermit from the tarot, or simply wearing modest Pagan monastic garb – robes, prayer beads, head coverings, and all.

For  quite some time I’ve been planning to make ritual dance videos for my Shrine of Skaði (devotional) and Drinking the Tears of the Earth (grief ritual) dance projects, but I haven’t been able to get far with this due to lack of time, assistance, and suitable equipment.  (I did manage to get a couple of practice videos made, but that was in 2012!)

Then, in March of this year, I was diagnosed with tarsal tunnel syndrome – a musculoskeletal injury that forced me to give up dancing for several months.  After some rehabilitative work I’m doing much better now, and have recently been given the go-ahead by my doctor to start dancing again, as long as I take it slow and ease my way back in.  My first task is to find some flexible black shoes appropriate for belly dance that will support insoles.  I’m looking at sturdy ballet flats or ghillies of the sort that are used in Irish dance.  Once I have those, I will get back on track to regular dancing.  However, it will probably be awhile before I’m able to make videos.  So I’m holding this out as another “stretch goal” project.

I am also retreating from offering any services directly related to grief work.  Recent experiences have taught me that I have a great deal of learning to do before I will be properly prepared to take on this type of work.  As always, I will take my cues from Those I serve and the feedback of my community, and it’s clear that this is not my specialty.  My specialty is in designing atmospheres and physical spaces – safe containers that can support and facilitate the grief work.  So that is where I will direct my focus.

11. Pilgrimage to Sweden – possible artist residency?

Though I was born and raised in the USA, my maternal ancestral line originally hails from rural Småland and Östergötland in Sweden.  I am planning a spiritual pilgrimage to Sweden to do genealogical research, explore the lands of my indigenous ancestors, and make offerings to the land spirits. I have musician friends to visit in Umeå and Linköping – one with whom I have a magical friendship.  I’d like to visit runestones, labyrinths, and sacred sites linked to Pagan gods, especially Skaði.  I’m looking into the possibility of doing some kind of artist residency in Sweden – perhaps linked to a Swedish Heathen group that has members interested in monastic life and contemplative practice.  And I have promised Skaði that I will model Her shrines at the Hermitage based on what I learn about Her sacred spaces in Sweden.

And that, dear ones, is my vision for the future of the Hermitage.

I also want to note that I hold this vision, and put it forth in words, with full awareness that it is the gods and the spirits of the home and the land Who direct the work I do at the Hermitage.  These visions I’ve been given are gifts – things that “want” to happen – and while I as Creative Endarkenment Overseer can help steer the process of helping them to manifest, I can’t ever be in complete control of this process, and that is as it should be.  So I approach all the work I do at the Hermitage with an attitude of trust and sacred service.  That means I accept that, while I’ve done the best I can to put the vision into words, the results may deviate from what I’ve described here.  It also means I trust that eventually the means for the Hermitage to come to full fruition will be found, even though I have been very poor ever since my divorce.

I am serving an “end” – laying the groundwork for the Hermitage to find its subterranean home for the long term – but I can’t know how that end will be attained.  It’s always possible that there will be an even better outcome than the one I’ve outlined here, and I remain open to that, even as I delve into the details of my vision.

Ultimately, the Hermitage should be a place of leisure, meditation, and sacred endarkenment – a place where visitors can truly relax, deepen their contemplative practice, and feel embraced by the divine.

Ancestral Grief and My Future Pilgrimage to Sweden   1 comment


Ormhäxan (Snake-witch stone) – found in Smiss, När parish, Gotland, Sweden

A notable not-coincidence took place at the Hermitage today: I stumbled upon a video of Jonna Jinton practicing kulning – an ancient Swedish herding call – in the forests of Sweden.

This beautiful video moved me so deeply that it reduced me to shivers and full-body sobs within the first 30 seconds.  It stirred something  I can only call ancestral grief.  Something that lives in my bones and flesh.  Something that makes me yearn – stronger than ever before – to set foot on the lands of my maternal Swedish ancestors before I leave this Earth, and learn to practice witchcraft amidst those northern forests and mountains.  Something that has ancient spiritual and cultural roots that I managed to inherit somehow, despite the fact that I was raised in Hawai’i and was not consciously aware of any such presence until I moved to Oregon, discovered Heathenry, and began to take an interest in learning about the land-based practices of my pre-Christian indigenous ancestors.  (Wardruna’s “Helvegen” and the clip “Ragnarök” also stir these deep visceral yearnings in me, as does the Nordic Chants album by Magna.)

The magnitude of what’s been lost to me – culturally, linguistically, spiritually – as a polytheist and animist of Swedish and German ancestry who was born in Illinois, raised in Hawai’i, now lives in Oregon, and has never traveled to her ancestors’ native lands…I can’t even begin to comprehend it.

It certainly doesn’t surprise me that a not-coincidence like this would happen on a day when the mercury here in Portland reached a stifling, oppressive 100 F (38 C).  I am well known for my love of cold, overcast weather, and my seething hatred of summer heat and sun.  Summer is always a time of deep Earth grief for me, and a depressing reminder that climate change is already past the tipping point.  I’ve often said that, if I could get away with it, I’d hide out in a cool, dark cave all summer long.  But…it’s not even summer yet!  We used to have “June-uary” here in Portland, and I loved it.  It seems to be gone now.  I miss it greatly.

My allergies, too, always flare up in spring and summer, which makes things even worse.  This is partly because of the pollens in the air (a.k.a. “tree sex”), and partly because I encounter more allergy triggers in the form of animal dander.  Yesterday, just as I was stepping out of a car and about to meet some new people, their unleashed dog headed straight for me, and I retreated back into the car, knowing that dog dander always causes the worst allergy flare-ups for me.  I explained that I’m severely allergic to animal dander, and need to avoid dogs as much as possible.  Though they tried to accommodate my needs, I think they were annoyed.  Not a good first impression.

That got me thinking about how much my health is negatively affected by the fact that I am stuck in the US – land of insane work culture, a terrifying and exorbitantly expensive health “care” system that keeps many people poor, non-nourishing food for poor people, etc.  I have a US-based friend who is on a pilgrimage in France right now, and she reports impressive improvements in her health and joie de vivre.  She mused that one aspect of this improved health has to do with “being on the land of our ancestors instead of a land haunted by the angry spirits of those that our ancestors committed genocide against.”

When I read that, I got chills. I know that this is part of what my future pilgrimage to Sweden will be about – experiencing the land of my ancestors.  I’ve never been to Europe at all.  All my life I have lived on lands haunted by the angry spirits of indigenous peoples, and the genocide continues to this day.  But I have never had a chance to get to know the lands where my own ancestors lived.  My ancestry is half Swedish and half German.  I have long felt that if I could “return” to Europe, I would do so in a heartbeat.  I’ve spent years researching and trying to hatch a plan to carry this out.  Unfortunately, there are many barriers to Americans moving to Sweden – barriers that may well be insurmountable for someone of my age and financial circumstances.  I even spent 1.5 years studying web development, in the hopes that I might take up an in-demand career that would provide a potential inroad to Sweden one day.  That plan?  Completely failed.  Eventually I came to the depressing conclusion that the only way I’d ever be able to move there legally is to marry a Swede.  Not bloody likely, to say the least.

Another factor that plays into the grief triggered by the kulning video, I know, is envy.  My mother and stepfather, who are financially comfortable and enjoying their retirement, are traveling to Stockholm as tourists this month.  They’re going to see Swedish history museums, Gamla Stan (Old Town), and Drottningholm Palace, among other things.  I can’t go with them, because I don’t have any money to travel, plain and simple – and it’s been the same story ever since my divorce, with no end in sight.  For at least seven years now, my mother and I have been discussing the possibility of traveling to Sweden together, to visit some of the places our ancestors lived.  I’ve studied and practiced enough Swedish to get me to an advanced beginner level with the language.  I’ve done years of research about Sweden.  Now, though, they’re going to Sweden without me.  They can’t wait for me.

Perhaps it’ll be for the best in the long run that they go without me, as my intended Swedish travel itinerary differs vastly from theirs.  My main reasons for going are for pilgrimage to the lands of my Swedish ancestors, to investigate Swedish Heathenry, and to visit some of my musician friends in Umeå and Linköping.

“I’m so glad he and I are doing this before we get any older,” wrote my mother in e-mail today.  That made my envy dissipate.  They are definitely getting on in years.  My mother is 76 now; my stepfather is 80.  None of us know how long we’ve got left on the Earth.  Of course they want to travel before they can no longer do so.

My ancestral grief, though, continues unabated, and my desire to leave the US and live in Sweden someday only grows stronger with every passing day.  About a year ago I put together a Pinterest board called Sweden: A Pagan Pilgrimage, and back in 2012 I wrote on my Shrines for Skadi page about the ways that some of the things I keep on my shrines help me feel connected to my Swedish heritage.  I plan to do more in-depth research into place-names of labyrinths, groves, and cairns in Sweden that are linked to Skaði (She is also mentioned as “Skädja” in the labyrinth article I linked, and examples of place-names include Skadevi, Skädharg, and Skärike [Skädja‘s cairn]).  I hope to model my future shrines for Her in ways that take into consideration the ways She was probably honored in pagan Sweden.   In Hednagudar och hövdingadömen det gamla Skandinavien (Heathen Gods and Chiefdoms in Ancient Scandinavia), John Kraft writes that “The oldest place names are probably those containing a possible goddess Skädja (Skadevi, Skädharg, etc).”  That sentence excites me so much.

It’s hard to describe the constellation of complex and fascinating emotions that overtake me when I see photos of Swedish runestones, cairns, and labyrinths in Småland, or the ruins of an abbey in Östergötland, knowing that some of these places may have connections to Skaði, and that my own maternal ancestors have been traced to rural Småland (in Backaby and Skepperstad) and Östergötland (possibly Hycklinge).  When Skaði first came to me in 2004, I knew nothing about Sweden, Norse mythology, or Heathenry.

Norse roots educator Kari Tauring has some interesting things to say about inherited cultural grief.  She writes:

“Earth is a planet in trauma, humans are a species in post-traumatic stress disorder. Core cultural values…are lost in the trauma of human grief and replaced with the rhetoric and marketing schemes of an over culture that makes money off of the unhealed human psyche.”

She also writes that she has developed “Northern European culturally specific healing modalities that rely on re-connecting to the pre-Christian mythos, such as alignment with the cosmic world tree, rune chant, and rhythmic breath.”

I’ve been doing my own version of something similar – on a very unstructured, occasional basis – for many years now.  While the results are encouraging thus far, I also have the sense that there’s only so far I can go with this process as long as my feet continue to remain on lands so distant from those of my indigenous ancestors.  Indigenous peoples’ relationships with land are based on a kind of deep reciprocity that is incompatible with the extractive economy of capitalism.  And the US is the land of extreme capitalism.

Given that I’ve not yet set foot in Sweden in this lifetime, it’s difficult to explain how strongly I feel connected to the dwelling lands of my maternal Swedish ancestors.  I do love the Cascadia bioregion, and Portland is my favorite city in the US.

Yet somehow, I still miss my “home” in Sweden.

Dear Skaði: If it be Your will, please help me find a way to go to Sweden in Your service when the time is right.