Chthonic Cathedral Playlist: Dark Ambient for Magickal Yoga   Leave a comment

Chthonic Cathedral set list: Dark Ambient for Magickal YogaNot long ago I announced that I’d be posting a series of themed dark ambient playlists for my Chthonic Cathedral project, and posted a preview of all 31 of the set list titles.

Inspired by a recent request for music recommendations from a friend and fellow dark fusion dancer who is teaching a yoga workshop this weekend, I’ve added a new set to my growing collection: Dark Ambient for Magickal Yoga.

As a dark ambient nerd, there are few things I love more than getting requests for customised dark ambient music recommendations. So, with permission of the querent, I’m sharing her request here, along with the tracks I recommended to her. (It was very difficult to keep it to just 16 tracks.)

Most of my themed set lists have long intros and personal reflections about each track – what it means to my spiritual life, the role that it plays in my ritual dance choreography, etc.  This one is a bit more sparse than is my custom, in the interest of getting the playlist up ASAP so that my friend can easily refer her students to it when they ask for more info about the music…as I trust they will, because all of these tracks are outstanding!

I’m teaching a 3-hour Magickal Yoga workshop and am looking for inspiration. I’m going to be blending classical asanas with imagery from Thelema and other more general cosmologies from the Western Mystery Tradition. I’m looking for some dark ambient music as a soundtrack…What would you recommend I listen to?

My reply:

Here’s a sampler for you, cherry-picked from Bandcamp and YouTube with your themes in mind. These are tracks that I often use for yoga. If you let me know which ones you like and don’t like, or give me specific style and mood guidelines (e.g., more ritualistic, more percussion, a somewhat lighter feel, etc.) I’d be happy to give you more recommendations, so don’t hesitate to ask.  I hope this isn’t overkill…you did say three hours!

  1. TeHÔM – Abyss (If you like this track, do give the rest of the album a listen! There are some samples from Liber AL vel Legis.)
  2. Coph Nia – That Which Remains
  3. Lustmord – Congregants Requests 1
  4. Sephiroth – Now Night Her Course Began (In my opinion this is one of the most sublime pieces of dark ambient music ever recorded.)
  5. Mesektet – Aken (Ancient Egypt inspired.)
  6. Vestigial – The Coming
  7. Herbst9 – Lord of the Shining Crown (Babylonian inspired.)
  8. Herbst9 – Blood Whisper (One of their best tracks.)
  9. Desiderii Marginis – Deadbeat I
  10. Council of Nine – Blood Lit Skies
  11. FoetusDreams – Revealed Behind the Gates
  12. Gydja – Snakestone
  13. raison d’être – Metamorphyses Phase V
  14. Mulm – Night Water Reflection
  15. Hadit – Sh T-N
  16. Ordo Vermis – The Eye-Diamond of the Dragon

*****************************

Feedback from the querent, who decided to use ALL of these tracks: “I’m a total convert.”

As I’ve said many times, I think there is a much larger potential fan base for dark ambient music out there than many people think. And I will keep doing my part to build it.  Dark ambient is more than just music to me; it’s an essential component of my spiritual path.

Pagans aren’t known for proselytising…but I trust that a bit of dark ambient evangelism will be forgiven. *wink wink*

Announcement: Skaði’s Shrine Room at Many Gods West   4 comments

Shrine for Skaði

A peek at my expanded shrine for Skaði

I am delighted to announce that my proposal was accepted and I will be a shrine room keeper at Many Gods West, a new polytheist gathering, in Olympia, WA this July.

I will be building and decorating a custom shrine room for Skaði in a hotel room at the conference, and I will serve as its keeper for the full weekend (pending confirmation of suitable travel arrangements).

Of course this shrine room will feature a carefully curated selection of dark ambient music, including many sublime tracks from the German project Skadi!  It will be a space for quiet meditation and prayer, set apart from the hustle-and-bustle of the conference.  My intention is for this to be a small, “homey” and intimate space completely focused on Her – as if it were a room set aside for Her in a private home, yet open to receiving visitors.  The only difference is that it will be temporary.

Aside from a few Heathen rituals in which I’ve participated, this will be the first time I’ve done the Pagan In Public thing.  I’m glad I have a few months to prepare.  I see it as part of my service role as a monastic-in-training.  This will be a high profile role for an introvert, so I expect it to be quite a challenge…but I’m excited and very happy!

Here’s the description of the shrine room I have planned:

Skaði’s Shrine Room will be a sacred meditation space designed to facilitate prayer and deeper contemplation of Her mysteries. It will be set up in a hotel room at the conference, and will be open for posted hours. It will feature shrines for Her, art displays, devotional writings, and decorations associated with Her myths – snow, hunting, mountains, wolves, etc. Devotional playlists of dark ambient music selected for Skaði will play in the background.

Shoes can be left at the entryway, and a bowl of water will be placed at the door for cleansing before entering the space. Curtains will be drawn shut; the space will have a “sacred enclosure” atmosphere.

No liturgy, ritual, or performance will take place, though offerings for Her will be welcomed. To preserve the contemplative atmosphere, distractions such as conversation and consumption of food or drink will be discouraged.

I am compiling a collection of art and short devotional writings to feature in Her shrine room, so feel free to contact me if you have something you would like me to consider for inclusion.  I am especially interested in statues and figurines.

I’m also interested in hearing about what other devotees of Skaði would appreciate in a shrine room like this, so feel free to comment or e-mail me if you have suggestions to make.

Hope to see many of you there!

Chthonic Cathedral: Dark Ritual Ambient Mix Project Update   Leave a comment

Nordic Winter - A Dark Ambient Mix for the Frozen LandsA few months back, I announced that I was putting together a series of themed ritual dark ambient mixes for a new project called Chthonic Cathedral. I had every intention of getting these mixes completed and uploaded this winter. However, as a complete amateur in digital audio, I grossly underestimated the amount of work and time that would be involved in bringing this to fruition. I also have a schedule of upcoming public, conference, and media appearances this year – mostly in connection with my other blog, Rethinking the Job Culture – that will keep me even busier than I had anticipated.

My project plate is simply too full, so something has to give.  But I’m not giving up!

I’ve done a great deal of work on the Chthonic Cathedral project already and have no intention of dropping it, so I’ve decided on a compromise. The track lists are all completed, and the text and images that will accompany each mix are almost complete as well. It’s the audio part of creating these mixes that will take the most time and effort, and it’s a steep learning curve for me – I will need to learn the technical side of this step-by-step, completely from scratch, on my own.

So, for the time being, I am just going to upload each track list to this blog along with the text and image, and I will link to the individual tracks on YouTube, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, etc. if I can find them. At least that way the artists and track names will be available, and those who are motivated enough and have the time can put in the effort to track down the music sources themselves.

Later on, whenever I’m able to get my skills up to speed (or whenever I’m able to get some help with the project from someone more knowledgeable than me), I will get the audio portion of this project together, and then I’ll make some mixes. Once I’ve done that, all you’ll have to do is press “play.”

For now, here’s a sneak peek at the titles of all 31 of my current set lists. (The image is a preview from set list # 20).

Stay tuned for more, fellow dark ambient devotees!

  1. At the Shadow of the Gates: A Devotional Dark Ambient Mix for Mordgud
  2. Autumnal: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Darkening Days
  3. Beauty in Ruins: A Dark Ambient Mix in Honour of Abandoned Places
  4. Black Sun Shining: An Esoteric Dark Ambient Mix
  5. Blood of the Earth: A Dark Ambient Mix for Facing Ecological Grief
  6. Cacophony: A Noisy Dark Ambient Mix
  7. Chthonic Ritual: A Dark Ambient Mix for Cave-Dwellers
  8. Endarkening: A Dark Ambient Mix to Honour the Dead
  9. Epitome: A ‘Pure’ Dark Ambient Mix
  10. Eros: A Dark Ambient Mix for Carnal Pleasures
  11. From the Blackness: A Dark Ambient Mix for Tea Alchemy
  12. Hail Skadi: A Devotional Dark Ambient Mix for the Huntress
  13. Haunted From the Depths: A Ghostly Dark Ambient Mix
  14. Hermitage: A Monastic Dark Ambient Mix
  15. History of Dark Ambient I: Precursors of the Genre, 1960s-1970s
  16. History of Dark Ambient II: The Early Years, 1980s-early 1990s
  17. In Sorrow: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Bereaved
  18. Mirror of the Soul: A Dark Ambient Mix for Spiritual Incubation
  19. Moss Witch: A Dark Ambient Mix for Forest Mystics
  20. Nordic Winter: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Frozen Lands
  21. Ominous Portents, A Reckoning: A Ritual Doom Ambient Mix
  22. Somnium: A Dark Ambient Mix for Dreamtime
  23. Sonic Gnosis: A Mind-Altering Dark Ambient Mix
  24. Telluric Currents: A Geomantic Dark Ambient Mix
  25. Tempestuous: A Stormy Dark Ambient Mix
  26. The Black Serpent: An Occult Dark Ambient Mix
  27. The Black Veil: A Dark Ambient Mix for Ritual Dance
  28. The Dark Ambient Alchemist
  29. The Inward Eye: A Dark Ambient Mix for Solitude and Retreat
  30. The Lighter Side of Dark Ambient
  31. The Void: A Dark Ambient Mix for Deep Meditation

Skaði’s Shrine Room: A Proposal   1 comment

Shrine for Skaði, 2011

As soon as I heard about Many Gods West, a new polytheist conference that will take place this coming summer in Olympia, WA, I knew I wanted to go. Immediately I started feeling nudges toward attending this gathering in service of Skaði, and building a shrine room there for Her. Since She has been the primary deity in my devotional practice for almost ten years now, and I have maintained a shrine “room” (well, really a section, but if I had sufficient space it would definitely be a full room) for Her that whole time, it would hardly be surprising that She might think it’s time for me to step things up a bit.

My vision of this shrine room is as a quiet sacred space carefully designed to facilitate meditation, prayer, and contemplation of Her mysteries. It features shrines for Her (of course), art displays, devotional writings, and decorations associated with Her myths – snow, hunting, mountains, wolves, etc. Devotional playlists of dark ambient music selected for Her play softly in the background.

So I asked Skaði: if She wanted me to do this, would She step in and facilitate my attendance somehow – help me write a proposal first, and if accepted, then find me a source of funding, a way to transport all the materials for putting together the shrine room, and a way to provide for my other needs as Her shrine room keeper?

I did think it possible that She might have some hesitations, especially given that the conference will take place at the height of summer. Summer is the slow season here at the Hermitage; She is usually less active in my life then, and as I’ve written elsewhere, I have often thought that one of the reasons I did not connect with Her when I was younger is that I grew up in Hawai’i. The year-round tropical weather and beaches are anathema for Skaði, Who prefers cold mountainous Northern lands. Hmmm, I thought…so maybe if I got a room with strong air conditioning for Her shrine room?  And used a lot of cool colours, like blue and white?  Might that pass muster with Her?

Apparently I needn’t have worried, though, because so far there’s been nothing but enthusiasm from Her about having an official shrine room. The ideas are coming fast and furious, and I’m already struggling to keep up: expanding my devotional dark ambient music playlists for Her, talking to artists about commissioning works related to Skaði for the event, frantically jotting down notes, and so on.

She has facilitated several new acquisitions for Her shrine at the Hermitage this winter, so I’m off to a good start in my preparations. She even inspired me to venture out to the day-after-Xmas sales to acquire specific winter-themed shrine items, something that is VERY difficult to do given my enormous hatred of shopping. (These acquisitions even included a nail polish for me to wear for the event; amusingly enough, it’s called “ice queen.” I couldn’t help but chuckle a little when I saw that. Perhaps I’m projecting a bit, but it seems to me that She has quite a sense of humour sometimes, even about the most trivial details.)

If this comes to pass, it will be a reach out into the big scary unknown for me. I am a hermit for good, sound, spiritually and artistically driven reasons. I hate to travel. (Seriously. I’m a homebody through and through.) I’m a monastic, not a priestess. I’m not a Big Name Pagan. I’ve never done Pagan In Public before. What introvert would want to take on something like that? And while we’re at it, aren’t I supposed to be concentrating on my book manuscript and ritual dance project?

Yet it’s clear that my role as a temple keeper is one of service, and despite my nervousness it makes perfect sense that She might want me to prove myself in this way before She allows me to take on the responsibility of a more permanent home for the Hermitage. So it’s not as if I can argue. Well, OK, I could argue, but I suspect that it would not be wise to do so.

So after a couple of months of intense activity, I’ve now put together a full proposal for Skaði’s Shrine Room, and I’ll be submitting it to the conference organisers soon. We will see how it goes.

Here’s a toast I wrote for Skaði. I delivered it during the Yule faining I attended in December – my first experience with small group ritual, aside from a short processional with fellow devotional polytheists a few years ago – and it was well received all around.

“Mighty huntress, snowshoe goddess, giver of cold counsel, dweller among the rocks and snowy mountains, we honour You at this darkest and holiest time of year. Guide us as we own our shadows and brave the depths of winter.”

Hail Skaði!

New Assignment: Learning Geomancy   4 comments

Dark cave

I have been given a new Official Assignment: learn geomancy.

As if I didn’t already have my plate full enough with my book manuscript in progress, my ritual-devotional dance project, my dark ambient mix project, learning yoga, learning Swedish, genealogical research and prep for a planned trip to Sweden in 2016, preparing for a new career in the tech industry, and continuing to run my eco-friendly house cleaning business. And on top of all that, I recently learned of a new polytheist conference in Olympia, WA called Many Gods West, and have been feeling nudges to start preparing to build a shrine or host a mini-temple for Skaði there, should She decide to facilitate my attendance at this conference next summer.

I mean, I know winter is always active season at the Hermitage, so I was expecting to be plenty busy…but still.

Never let it be said that the life of a Pagan monastic is boring.

No wonder I don’t ever have time for things like watching movies. Or dating. Or any semblance of a normal social life, for that matter. (Though I did manage to attend my first Yule faining and feast with a group of fellow Heathens this past week. After doing all my rites solo for almost 20 years, this was quite a nice change.)

Good thing I am a self-motivated autodidact who has always loved learning, because I’m only a few weeks into learning geomancy, and I can tell that getting a handle on this new pursuit is going to take me quite some time. None of this wading in shallow waters for me, it seems; I’ve jumped right off into the deep end.  How typical.

I am strongly interested in both divinatory geomancy and the kind of geomancy that involves what is sometimes called “earth alchemy” – sacred architecture, megaliths, dowsing, and other methods of aligning the built environment with earth energies. I will be learning more about all of these things in the coming years, as I continue to take steps toward the day when the Hermitage will find its permanent home. This knowledge will be essential in finding the right location for the Hermitage. But for now, it seems, my focus will be on learning geomantic divination.

I like the grounded, earthy feel of geomancy as a divination method. It counteracts some of the more flighty, airy-fairy influences of my New Age upbringing. It also fits in well with the chthonic focus of the rest of my work along what I have come to call the Path of Endarkenment: notably, planning a subterranean incubation space, choreographing ritual dances for performance in caves and acoustically-enhanced underground spaces, and compiling a book and mix project on dark ambient music. Even the Scaravelli-inspired yoga I am learning is earthy. As Vanda Scaravelli puts it in her book Awakening the Spine (a book I highly recommend, by the way), “The function of the body is to collect energy from the ground.” That is how I approach my spiritual and artistic work, and my life in general for that matter. The source of the energy that infuses it is the deep earth. So it seems rather fitting that I would be given a new Assignment that pertains to earth elementals.

While I use runes and tarot for divination occasionally, I have a sense that it is geomancy which will eventually become my specialty. I feel a strong pull to learn it in depth, and not just as a dabbler. I have never learned any divination method well enough to feel confident in offering readings to others, but if things keep going the way they have been in recent weeks, it’s entirely possible that one day I will be able to offer geomantic readings as a service. We will see.

Whenever I get a new Official Assignment from Those I serve these days, it’s invariably accompanied by a surfeit of meaningful signs and omens. In the months leading up to this new assignment, I found my attention being increasingly drawn toward things of the deep earth. (Even more than usual, I mean.) For example: I found myself endlessly fascinated with figurines and statuary with their arms held in telluric pose, and suddenly started to encounter these everywhere (e.g., cover art of dark ambient albums.  Seems everything I do ties into dark ambient music somehow). I walked into a specialty tea shop, and felt irresistibly drawn to earthy, slightly musky sheng pu-erh teas from old-growth, wild-grown tea plants. I put my iPod on shuffle, and tracks like Inade’s “The Telllurian Vortex” or False Mirror’s “The Subterranean Border” would come up at significant moments. I walked into Powell’s Books and stumbled across books like Terrapsychology: Reengaging the Soul of Place (Craig Chalquist) and Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever? (Clinton Ober et al.)

In the same way, I acquired a copy of John Michael Greer’s The Art and Practice of Geomancy. That book was the real clincher – I was hooked from the first page. After that, I tracked down all the information I could possibly find on geomancy online, and within just a few days I had set up a place to practice and printed out some reference charts to help me learn.

I considered making a geomancy box, and may still decide to do so at some point, but perhaps unsurprisingly, I felt much more drawn to use stones to cast my charts. I now have a set of stones (larvikite, a lovely black-and-grey mottled stone from Scandinavian lands) acquired solely for this purpose, and I’ve drawn up a reusable geomantic chart with a sheet protector and some dry-erase markers. So I am on my way.

Of course, work continues on my other projects as well. (Yes, of course I’m working on my projects on New Year’s Eve, rather than going out. Because of an allergy, I don’t drink alcohol at all – no, not even a single sip of mead from a horn at sumbel – so this is one of my least favourite days to venture out anyway. I’d much rather stay at the Hermitage and work.)

Looking forward to a fruitful 2015!

Tea Rituals with Móðguðr, or The Path of Endarkenment   1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retrospective: Shrines for Skaði   Leave a comment

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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