This blog has moved permanently   Leave a comment

The new, permanent home for the Hermitage is at blackstonehermitage.net; it’s a self-hosted WordPress installation on a domain I now own. The new site is much better organized and easier to read. Completely ad-free, too thanks to patron support! All subscribers have been migrated from this blog to the new one.

This outdated blog, blackstonemonastery.wordpress.com, will soon be deleted. Thank you for reading.

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Posted 2017/10/15 by The Black Stone Hermitage in Uncategorized

Revamping and reviving this blog   Leave a comment

Header for upcoming blog move

Good news: This blog is finally in the process of being re-designed and prepared for re-launch on a self-hosted WordPress installation with a new domain name that I own. Last year I had announced that I was moving my blogging “home” to Medium, but the results of that were decidedly mixed. Medium is a good platform for essays, articles, and journalism; it’s a good forum for interacting with other writers and people who love to read. But for a blog like this one, it hasn’t served the purposes I was hoping it would. And the current version of this blog is still stuck with the clunky, outdated design it had when I originally launched it in 2011 – back in the days when responsive design was in its infancy. It badly needs a facelift! So that’s what I’m working on now.

If all goes well with this self-hosting move to new domains for both of my blogs (this one and Rethinking the Job Culture, which is also hopelessly outdated), perhaps somewhere down the road I will have the opportunity to start and host a web discussion forum for polytheist/Heathen/Pagan monasticism. Time will tell.

If you’re a subscriber, you won’t even miss anything when the transition happens, as I’ll be using the JetPack plugin to migrate all my subscribers over to the new location seamlessly. I’m also planning to integrate all my previous public Patreon posts into the new blog as well, so that everything I publish can be found through either my main landing page or on my blogs. (My Patreon supporters will still get to see newly released work first, though, and will continue to receive other rewards such as priority scheduling for booking visits to the Hermitage.)

I look forward to sharing more writing with you soon. In the meantime, you can keep up with my latest work and news on my Patreon page for the Hermitage. The most exciting news is that I am going on a two-week pilgrimage to Sweden in November, to attend a legendary 30th anniversary Cold Meat Industry dark ambient concert and to set foot on the lands of my Swedish ancestors for the first time. I’ll also be attending Alvablot with the Swedish Heathen group Samfundet Forn Sed Sverige. Soooo excited!

Posted 2017/09/03 by The Black Stone Hermitage in Writing

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Meme: I stand with #HavamalWitches   Leave a comment

#HavamalWitches meme

Feel free to share!

“I am one of the witches the Hávamál warns you about.”

This is the rallying cry of an international movement to address sexism in Heathen communities that is spreading like wildfire. It was started last week by Jade Pichette, a respected gythia in Canada, who writes:

“So a hashtag #HavamalWitches has started to critique sexism in the Heathen community. Overall the women and femmes in the Heathen community have put up with a lot of sexism and this is basically us letting off steam and making transparent what we experience. It references the fact in the  Hávamál there are some really sexist stanzas so we are the Witches the  Hávamál warns you about. If you have posts to make please do, and if you are comfortable feel free to do so publicly.”

Continued on my latest Patreon post here.

Dearest #HavamalWitches supporters: Thank you. What you are doing gives me hope for the future of our religion. I would be honored to host you at the Hermitage. Solidarity!

Uneasy Listening: Dark Ambient Music Appreciation for Pagans   Leave a comment

“Encoded in the earth, encrypted in our bodies, and built into temples is a knowledge that wants to live again as music.”

 ~ Susan Elizabeth Hale,
Sacred Space, Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Mysteries of Holy Places

“Dark ambient is definitely a big part of my spiritual life…It almost functions as a gate to another reality, where different rules apply. It’s like reading a great book or looking at a painting, but much more intense, faster, and more direct.”

~ Matej Gyarfas of Phragments


When I began my journey into the world of dark ambient music in 1992, I hadn’t a clue that this obscure musical style — originally called “industrial ambient” — would alter my life so completely that I would one day consider it indispensable to my spiritual practice.

Over the years I discovered that dark ambient music could be a remarkably effective facilitator of meditation, contemplative practice, and paths of sacred endarkenment — a theta-wave-inducing enabler of hypnagogic states, lucid dreams, and inner journeys. Since I was raised in a New Age family, I’d already had more than my fill of spirituality with a heavy emphasis on white light and transcendence; dark ambient became my perfect down-to-earth antidote.

With its discordant tones, introspective moods, extended ominous drones, and typical lack of vocals or rhythm, the genre occupies territory far removed from conventional musical norms, and has acquired a notorious reputation for inaccessibility. Reactions from newcomers upon their first exposure to dark ambient music include:

 “What is this evil shit?”
“Reminds me of a Satanic Enya.”
“Now there’s some music you can’t dance to.”
“Nothing but churchbell-tolling overblown solemnity.”
“This isn’t music!”

Dark Ambient Humor - by Matej Gyarfas

So true that it gets funnier every time I look at this meme. (Thanks to Matej Gyarfas for the image.)

Many people — even fans of industrial, the genre that spawned dark ambient in the 1980s — consider dark ambient music unremarkable or boring at best, if not repulsive. And if you’re not among those who are instinctively drawn to dreary sounds and imagery of crumbling ossuaries, subterranean black pits, church ruins, and barren winter lands when you’re seeking out new music to enjoy, you’re unlikely to stumble across music of this sort in any context other than, say, a computer game or a film soundtrack.

As a dark ambient music specialist, author of an in-progress book featuring interview quotes from insiders, and fan of the genre for 25 years — with a passion for this music that has been described as “so intense it’s almost religious” — it is a privilege and a joy to have this opportunity to help guide your way into the shadowy realms of this obscure genre.

Dark ambient music can facilitate contemplative practice, deepen meditation, foster emotional authenticity, enliven rituals, and even boost creativity. It’s also a powerful tool for facilitating experiences of deep listening, religious worship and reverence, inner journeys, and connection to the earth. As part of my hospitality work on a path of monastic service, I design and create physical spaces for these purposes through my Black Tent Temple Project. I’ve found that careful attention to the acoustic qualities of sacred space, combined with a careful selection of atmospheric dark ambient music, can open the way for direct experience of the numinous.

I also offer a music advisory service, known as the Chthonic Cathedral Project, through which I compile custom themed playlists of dark ambient music and recommend tracks suitable for rituals, devotional work, sacred dance projects, meditation groups, and yoga classes. Enthusiastic feedback from the folks I’ve worked with (“This music is amazing! Where can I hear more? Why haven’t I ever heard of it before?”) has convinced me that there’s a need for this music in Pagan and polytheist communities that remains largely unmet because the genre is still so obscure. So I do my best to get the word out about this music, as a service to our communities, and as a way of expressing my appreciation to the musicians whose work has inspired me to write this.

Why might dark ambient music be of interest to Pagans?

It’s a tool for deep listening as contemplative practice.

I find inspiration in the late composer Pauline Oliveros’ concept of deep listening. She defines it as “going below the surface of what is heard and also expanding to the whole field of sound whatever one’s usual focus might be.” Judith Becker, author of Deep Listeners: Music, Emotion, and Trancing, defines it as “a descriptive term for persons who are profoundly moved, perhaps even to tears, by simply listening to a piece of music.”

To me, deep listening means learning how to hear not just with the ears, but with the whole body, and in connection with the deities, spirits, and the ground of being. Dark ambient music both facilitates and richly rewards this deep listening.

For Pagans, deep listening to dark ambient music can become a self-directed contemplative practice every bit as valuable as prayer, lectio divina (sacred reading), or ritual. True contemplative practice is a powerful transformative force, capable of deepening focus, discipline, clarity of purpose, compassion, and ability to tolerate frustration. The mindful capacity of attention we develop through active listening can be expanded and applied in many other realms. The skills involved in stretching your musical perception and capacity for deep listening can be learned, and dark ambient music is an excellent aid for this purpose, albeit an unconventional one.

It enhances ritual and mysticism.

It’s no accident that dark ambient music has been called “audio LSD for the activation of the divine parts of the spine,” as it can serve purposes far deeper than entertainment. For me it has facilitated journeys to realms I could not reach through any other method I tried, and helped me connect with deities and spirits more reliably than I’d previously thought possible.

One of the most exquisite pleasures of dark ambient music is the way it can relax the drive to understand the world through the intellect. Sometimes the joy of this music — and its effectiveness in ritual space — comes from not knowing, not understanding — simply allowing oneself to revel in the mystery, leave questions unanswered, and rest in the presence of the unknown.

It’s the sound of nature.

Sounds emitted by the deep earth and in space — e.g., the NASA space recordings made by Jeffrey Thompson and Richard Stamper, a.k.a. “Song of Earth” — can be readily recognized as dark ambient, both literally and metaphorically. As the venerable Drone Records puts it:

“The Drone is a metaphor for everything that vibrates, that releases energy — from atoms and elementary particles to the hum of the earth and the universe. The Drone is an entity that connects everything that exists within our own “mind-space,” perception, and self.”

It facilitates inner journeys and access to embodied sources of wisdom.

Good dark ambient music contains subtle but perceptually expansive qualities that provide just enough structure and atmosphere to keep the conscious mind occupied, but not so much structure that it becomes a distraction. In this way, it can serve as a conduit into liminal spaces, and can open doors for visions. It can even serve as an epistemological tool, as it helps open pathways for listeners to access sources of embodied wisdom that are much more deeply rooted in instinct and the land than they are in the conscious mind or waking awareness. I call these paths of sacred endarkenment.

It stimulates creative flow.

Many of us who paint, draw, design, dance, and write find that dark ambient music liberates our creativity in unprecedented ways, leading us into states of flow and light trance where time seems to expand and our awareness becomes completely absorbed in our work. Since dark ambient is deliberately devoid of the conventional elements we usually follow in a musical composition, it creates just enough space for the listener to drift off into a creative reverie of their own — inspired, but not constrained, by the work of the composer.

It creates valuable space for downward-moving or unsettling emotions.

Melancholy, loneliness, regret, foreboding, dread, sorrow…these are emotional states that can lead us on a descent into our own inner depths. In a culture that so often expects us to mask our suffering, paste on a smile, and get right back to our jobs, dark ambient can be sweet relief — a source that reminds us of the value of introspection and authentic emotional experience. “Dark” emotions are not only acceptable in dark ambient music, but artistically respected.

It provides an outlet for ecological grief.

If you truly love the earth — as most Pagans do — no doubt you are intimately familiar with the emotional landscape of grief and despair, as ecological destruction continues on unabated, and we hear and feel the sounds of the earth crying in our own bones and flesh. We carry so much of this primal grief in our bodies, much of it unconscious, and few of us have access to effective community-based practices or social support for dealing with this kind of ongoing grief as it presents itself in intermittent episodes. In order to carry on our lives in the face of repeated ecological disasters, many of us shut down some of the more primal aspects of our sensory and perceptual capacities to avoid constant overwhelm.

If you’re one of the people who keenly perceives the sounds of the earth in pain, as I do, you may find that dark ambient music can become a source of strength, reassurance, and comfort — especially if you spend a lot of time in the company of people who don’t perceive these sounds, and would look askance at you if you admitted that you do. Music like this is entirely appropriate when there’s so much to grieve! With its themes of dark barren lands, endless winters, and abandoned places, dark ambient can help give voice and recognition to the grief and despair that lurk beneath our collective facade. With time, it may even help you come to recognize and gradually reawaken capacities of ecological awareness that have been dulled or denied in order to function. But don’t take my word for it — try it out for yourself.

Dark ambient music appreciation tips for neophytes

If you can, attend a live dark ambient performance.

Dark ambient has a reputation as a genre that lends itself to solitary, isolationist listening, and with good reason. As a result, live performances of dark ambient music are infrequent. Not all musicians in the genre perform live, but if you do have an opportunity to attend a performance — especially one in a space appropriate for deep listening and bedazzling visual enhancements, such as a Maschinenfest stage, planetarium, or church — I recommend it highly. If you’re skeptical about the notion of live dark ambient music performance, imagining a bunch of sedate people quietly standing around listening to boring monotone music and watching a musician hovering over a laptop, I encourage you to give it a chance — especially if you have a chance to see a veteran of the genre such as raison d’être, Northaunt, Herbst9, Inade, Atrium Carceri, Kammarheit, Svartsinn, Lustmord, or Desiderii Marginis. There is great power in live dark ambient performance done right.

Develop a musical memory.

Identify familiar layers or patterns in the piece you’re listening to, if you can, and link them to other compositions you’ve heard. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the genre, at first you won’t have much to go on, but the more you listen, the more this capacity will expand.

Seek out audiophile space to enhance deep listening.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an audiophile friend who has access to top-notch stereo equipment and a space with great acoustics, ask them if you can listen to, say, one of Thomas Köner’s albums — I’d recommend Daikan or Permafrost — in their space. Good headphones help, too, but there’s nothing like experiencing the reverb, low-frequency bass, and deep repetitive drones of good dark ambient music in a space designed for audiophiles.

Keep learning.

Read as much as you can about dark ambient music: album reviews, artist bios, promo text, liner notes, and interviews with musicians. Broaden and deepen your awareness of historical and cultural contexts that have shaped the development of the genre. Zero Tolerance (a metal magazine) published “Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient,” in issue 58 (April-May 2014). It’s an article I recommend for those interested in a broad overview of the genre. As far as I know, it’s the first print source to publish something like this. Online sources include Santa Sangre, Heathen Harvest, Wounds of the Earth blogzine, This Is Darkness, and the archived material at For The Innermost.

Minimize distractions and potential for interruptions in your listening space.

For most people, an ideal listening environment for dark ambient music is one that permits sustained, focused attention. Many artists experience a drop in cognitive capacity if they’re interrupted while working in a state of creative flow, as it takes time for the deep mind to recover. Sometimes even a slight interruption can bring the flow state to an unceremonious halt. This applies to deep listening as well. Do what you can to ensure that you won’t be interrupted, and you’re likely to find your listening deepening, especially with time and repetition as you continue to reinforce your capacity for sustained attention.

Slow down, and set the stage.

This musical style isn’t one that can be expected to reveal its secrets quickly. You’ll have a tough time learning to appreciate it if you are in the habit of speeding through tracks, clicking from one to the next if it doesn’t grab you right away. Better to deliberately cultivate a patient attitude of openness, engagement, and active waiting to see what will be revealed in the music. Give it time. Enjoy the process. With practice, most people can expand their perceptual capacities and learn to shape their attention into a supple instrument capable of perceiving ever-more-subtle layers of a composition.

Sit. Relax. Rest. Enjoy a cup of tea. Close your eyes, if you are so inclined. Learn to listen with your deep mind. Dark ambient music — like so many of life’s greatest pleasures — is far more sublime when you give it room to reveal itself gradually, at leisure. As you dwell with it and allow it in, magic happens.

A friend of mine who is a fellow long-time dark ambient fan once observed that listening to dark ambient music requires “work.” At first I thought he was referring to a certain quality of attention required for a full appreciation of this music, so his comment intrigued me. Later I learned that it was not a reference to perception, but to the early days of the genre, when fans had to put in a great deal of effort to track down dark ambient releases, since they were extremely difficult to find.

As someone who remembers those early days of the scene vividly, I’m delighted that music discovery doesn’t require that kind of work anymore. In the modern landscape of music distribution, great dark ambient music is now just a click or two away…and the genre seems to be growing, slowly but surely, so its days of obscurity may be numbered. It has a crossover appeal that I haven’t seen with industrial music in general. In recent years dark ambient music has made inroads into yoga studios, meditation retreats, and other unexpected realms far outside the shadowy industrial music scene of its origins — a sign that its potential as a facilitator of spiritual practice is becoming more widely known.

Sustained active engagement from the listener is still required for full appreciation, however, and that is one of the greatest joys of dark ambient music, as well as art in general. The meaning, emotional content, and symbolism are shaped by the listener as much as they are by the artist.

Enjoy the journey!

“…this is precisely where the beauty of dark ambient lies. It’s devoid of everything superficial…It’s so subtle that you can be listening to it in your room, for example, and the random, common passer-by won’t even notice that any music is playing at all, as if the sounds were hidden from perception, revealing themselves only to those who are searching for them. Indeed, dark ambient is not a rollercoaster ride; you can’t expect this music to take you over, you have to learn how to let it consume you. The journey is never directed forwards, only inwards. It’s not there to tell you its story, it’s there to reflect your own. If I had to find a simple phrase to sum up everything that dark ambient is, I’d most likely say — mirror of the soul.”

~ Vladimir Gojkovic, For The Innermost



An introductory dark ambient music sampler

These tracks and albums — most with Pagan themes — were selected for this list because they elicited multiple positive responses from people unfamiliar with the genre. If you enjoy them, and they are available on Bandcamp, please buy them there, as your money supports the artists directly.

Introductory tracks:
Council of Nine — Chimes of the Unfortunate
raison d’être — The Slow Ascent
Mulm — Night Water Reflection
Sephiroth — Now Night Her Course Began
Herbst9 — Blood Whisper
Arktau Eos — Oracle of Frozen Sands
Asmorod — La Vallee Fleurie
Ulf Söderberg — Nordvinterögon

Introductory albums:
Cities Last Broadcast — The Cancelled Earth
Lamia Vox — Sigillum Diaboli
Herbst9 — Consolamentum
Mulm — The End of Greatness
Sinke Dûs — Akrasia
Kammarheit — Asleep and Well Hidden

Heathen themes:
Allseits — Hel
Draugurinn — Móðuharðindin
Skadi — Eliwagar
Gydja — Umbilicus Maris
Apoptose — Nordland
Thurseitr — Brenna Alheiminn

For meditation:
Daina Dieva — Ice Cold
Havan — Yajna
THO-SO-AA — Epoch Pt. 1
Troum — Tjukurrpa Part II: Drones
Lustmord — The Dark Places of the Earth

For ritual:
Lamia Vox — Lapis Occultus
raison d’être- The Eternal Return
Draugurinn — Urðarmáni
Penjaga Insaf — Sama Sadja
Herbst9 — The Tide
Paleowolf — Call of Fire
Asmorod & Esylt — Therianthrope

Want more recommendations? My playlists can be found at Playmoss, and volumes one and two of my series of underrated dark ambient album recommendations can be found at the venerable I Die: You Die. The third article in this series is finished and will be published in June. I also have a fan profile on Bandcamp that features review comments.

[Ed. note: This piece has been widely shared, and has received a more enthusiastic response than anything else I’ve ever published. Thank you for all the lovely feedback! I appreciate it so much!]

[This piece was originally published at PaganBloggers.com. If you enjoyed this piece and you’re on Patreon and/or Medium, please follow the Hermitage there (and on Medium, click the little heart to recommend it to others!)  My newly released work is always announced on Patreon first.  If you have a Patreon account, you can use the follow button to receive all of my public posts in your feed, and you can comment on them even if you are NOT a patron.]

What Is Sacred Endarkenment?   5 comments

“I think the sacred is more readily available to us in the dark.”

~ Martin Lowenthal, Getting Enlightened in the Dark

“…some people say we should never, ever leave the light.  We should endeavor to be “light workers” who fill every shadow with light and eliminate all darkness.  […]  If the light’s on all the time, how do we get any sleep?  Do we ever get to close our eyes?  […]

“Pagans understand that as much as we crave enlightenment…just that much do we also require endarkenment.  The New Age just doesn’t seem to have caught on yet.  We pagans can help others see that without the darkness we cannot recognize the light.  We need literal shadows – and psychological and metaphysical ones – to tell us what’s out there.”

~ Barbara Ardinger, Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives


Crypt of Sacred Endarkenment

I was raised in a middle-class white family, on a steady diet of New Age books filled with lofty prose about enlightenment, spiritual growth, doing-what-you-love, positive thinking, and my least favorites of all, “love and light” and “driving out the darkness.”

As I got older and developed my critical thinking faculties, I often thought: Something’s missing in all this white-light transcend-and-rise-above talk.  Why is spirituality so often associated with upward movement, and driving out the darkness?  Is there something wrong with descent?  Would it be so wrong to welcome darkness, or even invite it in?

In many spiritual writings, and in the cultural milieu of my upbringing, darkness is most often associated with evil, suffering, violence, negativity, and death.  Rarely is it portrayed as something positive or nourishing, let alone holy and appropriate for religious worship.

So what was I to do, then, when I found the goth-industrial music scene and discovered that I felt much more spiritual while dressed in black, dancing to dark electronic music, than I ever had in any church or New Age gathering?

What was I to do when I realized I had been initiated by ingestion of magic mushroom, to a soundtrack of Lustmord and Skinny Puppy, while staring into the endless black depths of the void?

What was I to do when I had an embodied mystical experience of a dark deity that was every bit as terrifying and unsettling as it was fulfilling?

And what was I to do when I started reading books about native peoples’ sovereignty struggles in the Americas, and realized that I was born and raised on stolen land, in a country founded on settler colonialism and genocide that continues to this day?

It was in an essay by Michael Ventura, many years later, that I first encountered the word endarkenment.  He used this neologism in an unflattering way, as so many other writers have, but I loved it immediately nonetheless.  To my mind, it suggested something beautiful, positive, sacred, and quintessentially earthy and grounded.  A few obsessive web searches later, I found and voraciously devoured feminist writings about it – the most memorable of which was by Molly Remer, who writes evocatively about her conviction that the idea of the dark is “in need of re-visioning” – and it became clear to me that I’d been on a mystic’s path of sacred endarkenment as far back as I could remember.  Finally I’d found a broadly applicable word that conveyed something of the deeper essence of my callings to creative and religious practice, as well as my aesthetic, musical tastes, and emotional experience.

So what is sacred endarkenment?

One of my earliest attempts to define it was esoteric: “a clearing and strengthening of inner vision, and grounding it in the earth through an alchemical reckoning with the sacred dark.”  This, however, is only a start.  There are many other equally appropriate definitions, and dimensions that only become apparent with time and relevant experience.

Eventually I started keeping a list of concepts and practices I associate with sacred endarkenment.  Here are a few:

deep listening
incubation
lamentation and funereal dance
grief rituals
stillness and silence
darkroom retreats
regenerative, healthy solitude
ecologically responsible ways of handling death and decay
handling “dark” emotions with integrity
refusing to center whiteness, and resisting white supremacy
supporting indigenous peoples’ sovereignty
decolonizing time (and spiritual practice in general)
honoring chthonic and wrathful deities, and powers of the underworlds
valuing restfulness, hibernation, and “doing nothing”
trusting inner guidance
receptivity and surrender
“slow culture”

I’d love to hear from others on similar paths.  Do you perceive any of your practices as forms of sacred endarkenment?  If so, what does that mean to you?

For me, as a contemplative polytheist, mystic, and nun-in-training who has been in service to Skaði (and other Beings often considered “dark”) for many years, sacred endarkenment is the theme that underlies my mission and practice at The Black Stone Hermitage, where I live and work.  The Hermitage is my personal living space; it’s also a concept that I am developing and extending to others through hospitality service offerings. When the right permanent space is found, I hope the Hermitage will become a subterranean retreat and house of worship that will outlive me, and continue on to serve future polytheists – especially those interested in building a monastic practice around pre-Christian Norse and Germanic religious and folk traditions – through creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.

This monastic mission of service is literal as well as metaphorical.  Through my Black Tent Temple project, I design and create customized endarkened tent-like meditative spaces by combining black and purple textiles, themed playlists of dark ambient music, and subdued lighting.  They can be adapted to serve many needs; previous uses have included shrine rooms for dark goddesses, and an ecological grief circle for animists.  At the Many Gods West conference this year, I will be creating a Black Tent Temple space for polytheists.  Priestess Gerrie Ordaz has also built a Black Tent Temple at the Oasis event held by Earth Traditions, a Pagan church in Chicago.

Other kinds of dark physical spaces designed for purposes of rest, restoration, healing, and contemplation include those built by the darkroom retreat movement and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, many of which have rooms built specifically for the purpose of dark retreats – lengthy solitary retreats designed for advanced practitioners, in a space completely absent of all light.

Retreating into the dark can also provide space for incubation.  In his remarkable book In The Dark Places of Wisdom, Peter Kinglsey writes beautifully about receptive practices of incubation in ancient Greece: lying down to rest in a special enclosed place – often a den, or a dark cave – and either falling asleep and dreaming, or entering a state described as neither sleep nor waking.  In this way, people received prophecies, messages from the gods, healing, and visions.  The key was to do absolutely nothing – to exert no effort, no struggle, no interference with the process.  That was how the healing would come: through surrender.

One day, I believe, we will have polytheist and Pagan monasteries with similar incubation spaces.

If polytheists are to create appropriate spaces for this kind of incubation in our religious practices, we must make room for doing nothing.  We need true leisure – an abundance of unhurried, unstructured, and uninterrupted time.

This points to a structural constraint facing the modern polytheist revival: as things now stand, few of us have sufficient leisure time to cultivate such a practice.  Time management skills, while useful in some cases, can only take us so far in a world where most of us must spend the bulk of our time earning a living.  Even our best attempts to slow down – worthwhile though they may be – won’t be sufficient to develop a religious culture that honors leisure in a world that economically and socially penalizes those who don’t keep up, and in which women and marginalized folks are saddled with a disproportionate and never-ending burden of unpaid, unreciprocated emotional labor.

Sacred endarkenment practice, then, may bring us into social justice activism – recognizing and properly valuing emotional labor, supporting the movement for unconditional basic income, and resisting the ways our time is colonized and conscripted into the service of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Trusting embodied emotional intelligence is another way we can practice sacred endarkenment.  Cultural, economic, and social pressures often leave us few options but to layer a false veneer of pleasantries and “positivity” over our authentic emotional experience, so as not to drag others down.  Many of us habitually hold ourselves at a certain distance from what we call dark emotional states — pain, suffering, conflict, grief, despair, sorrow, anger.  Yet sometimes there is bittersweet, hidden medicine to be found in dark emotional processes when they are faced and addressed skillfully and with kind hearts.  This is the medicine of sacred endarkenment.  Those who create and hold space for it are doing valuable emotional labor, and opening paths to genuine joy.

We practice sacred endarkenment when we look deeply into darkness and acknowledge its worth, instead of turning away.  Annihilating forces, after all, are just as essential to life as generative ones, as alchemists know.

There is nothing inherently negative about darkness.  Darkness has been discredited – and associated with evil and doom – by oppressive forces that benefit when noses are kept to the grindstone and “dark” emotions are suppressed.  Why?

Because within the sacred dark lies deep wisdom, regenerative power, and liberation.

Negativity is not inherent in darkness itself.  It is in suppressing or avoiding it that we run into trouble.  Excessive focus on “the light” or “positivity” is a form of spiritual bypassing that can lead us away from inner power.  Sacred endarkenment practice can lead us toward it.

Crucially, inner power is the only power that can’t be taken away, because it relies on nothing external.

Sometimes, what wants to speak or manifest through us seems frightening or overwhelming.  When we find the courage to give it room to speak and listen for the deeper wisdom and true voice within it, we learn that beautiful parts of ourselves – and beautiful Beings of many kinds – often wear dark masks.

There is powerful medicine to be found in dark places that emerges only under conditions of receptivity, unhurried time, and sustained attention…and it shows itself only on its own terms.  We will only find this medicine if we can move beyond our collective avoidance of the dark.  When we create and hold space for restorative, restful, and regenerative darkness, we will be in a position to receive its wisdom.

From darkness we are born, and to darkness we shall return – and this is a blessing.

This is the practice of sacred endarkenment.

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[This piece was originally published at PaganBloggers.com.  If you enjoyed this piece and you’re on Patreon and/or Medium, please follow the Hermitage there.  My newly released work is always announced on Patreon first.  If you have a Patreon account, you can use the follow button to receive all of my public posts in your feed, and you can comment on them even if you are NOT a patron.]

The Hermitage will soon be on the new Pagan Bloggers portal   Leave a comment

The Hermitage at Pagan Bloggers dot com

I’m pleased to announce that I’m one of the authors who will be writing on the new Pagan-owned-and-operated paganbloggers.com portal.  I’ll be releasing at least one new article every month.  My writings will focus on sacred endarkenment, polytheist monasticism, sacred dance, and dark ambient music.  (No surprise there, eh?)

The site launches on March 21 – just a couple of weeks away!

So you’ll soon be able to follow my writings for the Hermitage at paganbloggers.com, on my Patreon, and on Medium.  Patrons – even at the $1/month level – will always be notified first whenever I release new work, or when I have announcements to make about the Hermitage.

There’s also a possibility that the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism discussion group, which has been on Facebook since its inception in September 2016, will be moving its headquarters over to a web forum that will be hosted on the new Pagan Bloggers site.  The prospect of that appeals to me for several reasons:

1. The forum would be Pagan-owned and operated, not owned by Facebook.

2. Non-participants could read it, and thereby discover that Pagan & Polytheist monasticism is A Thing.  (That’s how I discovered it, after all!  I found the Order of the Horae Pagan Monasticism FAQ back in 2006-ish, and the Maetreum of Cybele site around that time as well, and that got me wondering if there might be a place in a Pagan monastery for me one day.)

3. Even older discussion threads would be easily readable for newcomers. On Facebook, new folks have to scroll back a long way to read the early discussions, and few people bother to do this, so a lot of valuable material is being overlooked.

4. It would permit the group to organize photos and files in ways that suit us, rather than remain constrained by Facebook’s methods of organization and file storage.

(I’m particularly frustrated about the way photos are handled on Facebook. We have so many beautiful shrine photos in the group, but they’re rarely seen because they’re hidden away behind a nondescript tab in the sidebar, and when someone adds a new photo to an album, it does not even show up in members’ feeds unless someone comments on it.  But if they don’t even see it, they don’t know it’s there to comment on!)

I won’t have details for awhile, as I need to discuss it with the other admins after the Pagan Bloggers launch.  But if you’re one of the folks who has been interested in joining or following the monasticism discussion group outside of Facebook, keep an eye out, for you may soon get your wish.

Announcing: NEW website and Patreon for the Hermitage!   Leave a comment

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I’m delighted to announce that I have a brand new website and Patreon campaign for the Hermitage!  Please give them a look, and if you enjoy my writings on dark ambient music, playlists, shrine photos, Black Tent Temple design, devotional dance, etc., please consider becoming a patron!  I have many exciting plans in store for the future of the Hermitage, and I’d love to devote more time to writing and community service work.

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The resident hermit.  Photo by J. Buffington.


Queries I’ve answered in depth on the new site include:

* What is sacred endarkenment?
* What do I need to know if I want to visit the Hermitage in Portland?
* Could you put together a dark ambient playlist for my yoga class/ritual/event?
* You do lamentation dance for ecological and ancestral grief?
* You’re writing a boook about dark ambient music?
* You interviewed a bunch of dark ambient musicians? Where can I read more?
* When will your new (book, essay, article on underrated dark ambient albums) be published?
* Where’s your bio/photo/background information?

…and of course there are devotional pages for Skaði, Móðguðr (Mordgud), and the conifers I love so much.


 

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Tea table and shrine space at the Hermitage. Photo by Ilana Hamilton of Blackthorn Photography.

If you are interested in visiting the Hermitage in person, I am making new offerings available to you: Paths of Sacred Endarkenment retreats, a monthly geomancy study group, and access to the in-house library of over 900 books by appointment.

I offer several pay-what-you-want and gift services (custom themed dark ambient music playlists, Black Tent Temple design, and hospitality) as well as hourly rate services (house cleaning and proofreading.)


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And if you are a polytheist/animist who is also on Patreon, take a look at the BIG (basic income guarantee) Polytheist Patreon Creator Pledge Network.  If you’d like to take the pledge to limit your own final patronage goal in support of basic income for everyone, contact me and I will add your name to the list.  Here’s to building strong and resilient mutual aid networks for polytheists, and increased visibility for the basic income movement!

My new site is not a blog, but a landing page with info on all of my current projects.  You can find links to almost everything I’ve published online in the past 20 years, including my book manuscript for Rethinking the Job Culture.  It was put together by divine mandate…and working on it consumed nearly all my free time for the last four months of 2016, so I’m pleased that it is finally finished and I can get back to focusing on writing again.


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I have ambitious writing plans for 2017, and will be posting updates on published work here, as well as on Patreon and on social media.  Patrons will always hear the latest news first!


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From my new Patreon page:

“I have a religious mission of service: to help make inroads toward organized monastic life for would-be polytheist nuns and monks through creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.

“The Black Stone Hermitage is my home, where I live, work, and serve. It’s also a concept that I am developing and extending to others through artistic and devotional use of my living space as a host. With time, I hope the Hermitage will become a retreat space and house of worship that will outlive me, and continue on to serve future polytheists who feel called to monastic life and seek solitude and endarkenment for contemplative reasons.

“After 20+ years as a Pagan, and 13 years of dedicated solitary service to Skaði, it’s time for me to reach out and expand my community service offerings – and to do that, I need your help!  The need for polytheist monastic hospitality and fellowship is growing.  2016 saw the founding of Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism, a new discussion group on Facebook which has attracted more than 125 people, and a new entity called LANMIPP (Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically Inclined Polytheist Pagans).  I am closely involved with both, in administrative roles.

“As things currently stand, there are few options for polytheist Heathens and Pagans called to monastic life. The need for them is there, but it remains unmet. With your support, I hope to use my creative work, centered around the concept of sacred endarkenment, to help build a foundation for future contemplative monastic endeavors in our communities – and eventually, when the right space is found, to relocate the Hermitage to a permaculture co-housing community or ecovillage with a religious mission.”

This blog you are now reading (at blackstonemonastery) will remain online indefinitely as an archive – a chronicle of the development of the first five years of the Hermitage vision.  It is now mostly retired, however.  All of my future blog posts will appear at my blog home on Medium.

I would greatly appreciate your help in publicizing the new website and Patreon.  If you appreciate my work, please share these links widely.

Thank you so much, and I wish you many blessings in 2017!