Since I am in the process of writing a book about the esoteric in dark ambient music and culture, I spend quite a bit of time tracking down details about obscure releases and musical projects. In the course of my research, a tip from my friend Pär Boström, who is also my illustrator for the book, led me to an album called Nordic Chants by a little-known project called Magna. It’s a hidden gem from 1997 that deserves to be more widely appreciated. The full album was recently uploaded to YouTube, which delights me, as it is long out of print and near-impossible to find. Go give it a listen while it’s available!
If you enjoy projects such as Andréa Nebel‘s Hagalaz’ Runedance & Nebelhexë, Wardruna, and Forndom (formerly Heathen Harnow) you may also appreciate this album. Technically speaking I would not classify it strictly as dark ambient, but it has many of the same atmospheric elements, and it’s definitely ritual music in any case.
With the help of archive.org, I dug up this text from Magna’s old website (from 2004; edited slightly for readability):
“Magna’s music is inspired by the shamanic world. In the shamanic tradition song and music are medicine for both body and soul. The shaman uses song and music to fall into trance and travel to other worlds and realities. Magna have chosen to describe their music as “ethno-electronic soundscapes” as they use both ancient acoustic instruments and modern electronic music technology. Their inspiration is drawn from the very origins of music itself and their vision is to create music which gives healing, power and relaxation. Magna’s meditative music reflects ancient musical traditions while representing a contemporary approach to sound.”
“The members of Magna are highly creative artists whose contemporary world music concept incorporates influences from tribal music-traditions in the Scandinavian countries and beyond.”
Since I’ve been studying the Swedish language for almost a year now, I decided to translate the lyrics from Swedish into English as a learning aid. Such a great way to learn! I retain the Swedish words better when I learn them as song lyrics too. Pär, who is a native Swede, gave me helpful feedback on my translation and also corrected my errors. Here’s the final result of that collaborative effort for your enjoyment. The titles and subtitles are copied from the entry on discogs.
Áss – “the rune for air and inspiration” (0:00 – 5:52)
Vilda väsen jag kallar er nu
Från ljusalvheim, från svartalvheim
Här i midgard vi sejdar nu
Wild beings I call you now
From the home of the light-elves, from the home of the dark-elves
Wild beings I call you now
Here in Midgard we (sejdar)* now
Ur – “the rune for creative power” (12:44 – 19:08)
Känn hur den kallar, hör hur den kallar
Kraften den kallar dig
Kallar dig i den egen kropp
Kallar dig i den egen själ
Kraften den kallar dig
Feel how it´s calling, hear how it’s calling
The force, it calls you
Calling you in your own body
Calling you in your own soul
The force, it calls you
Ken – “the rune for fire and life energy” (19:10 – 27:21)
Jord och eld och ande är jag
Bär min glöd, natt och dag
I am Earth and Fire and Spirit
Carry my glow, night and day
Sol – “the rune for sun and love” (27:30 – 33:25)
Såsom solen sig stiga i öst
Så ska vi vandra som gryningens barn
Såsom solen sig sänka i väst
Så ska vi drömma som skymningens barn
Hela denna jord, hela denna jord
Låt den leva
As the sun rises in the east
We will walk as children of the dawn
As the sun sinks low in the west
So we shall dream as twilight children
Mend this earth, mend this earth
Let it live
Naud – “the rune for magic and destiny” (33:30 – 40:23)
Där månen möter dimman, där faller du i trans
Där dimman möter månen, där faller du i trans
Väver din dröm, väver din dröm
Drömmer din väv
Väver din dröm, väver din dröm
Drömmer din väv
Where the moon meets the fog, there you fall into trance
Where the fog meets the moon, there you fall into trance
Weaving your dream, weaving your dream
Dreaming your web
Weaving your dream, weaving your dream
Dreaming your web
Algiz – “the rune for guardian animal” (40:31 – 46:41)
I fullmånenatten jag ser din dans
I fullmånesken jag går i dans
Jag går i dans med min fylga här
Jag faller i trans bland dimmor och jär**
On the full moon night I see your dance
As the full moon shines I go to/into dance
I go to dance with my guardian angel here
I fall into trance among the mists and (spiritual signs)
Dagaz – “the rune for light and insight” (46:50 – 53:00)
En väv av ljus
Dagaz människans dröm
Under the canopy
A web of light
Dagaz, humans’ dream
* According to Pär, “sejd” is untranslatable into English. But he adds that “when people in ancient Nordic tradition were sejding they looked into the future and could harm or influence other people.”
** Jär or järtecken are signs that are considered to herald strange or spiritual events.
I’m delighted to announce that the interview I conducted for the venerable Heathen Harvest Periodical with accomplished musician, artist, writer, and esotericist Abby Helasdottir of Gydja has now been published. Her Shadowlight website was pivotal for me at a time when I very much needed it, and I am a longtime fan of her music, so I was pleased to have this opportunity to interview her. She has fascinating things to say about artistic work as devotional and spiritual practice, post-industrial music as a boys’ club, her upcoming album with Edgar Kerval of Emme Ya, the Rökkr or shadow-dwellers of Germanic and Norse cosmology and the history of the term Rökkatru…and much more!
“Using the name gydja,” she says, “is not intended to be a boast about having a religious title (which is ultimately meaningless) but rather about the way in which occupying a spiritual office can be a devotional act, with music being the manifestation that this devotion takes.”
And I agree wholeheartedly with her enthusiastic take on Bandcamp:
“I’m a huge fan of Bandcamp…I love the way they appeal to so many of those little things that lock into what it means to be a passionate music fan: the nerdy building of collections, the little but not overwhelming social media elements, and the fact that you get to pay the artist directly. I love the way it allows you to show artists directly how much you appreciate their work, and there’s nothing better than getting that same vibe in return.”
This past week, my meager savings account was reduced to zilch, thanks to the unforgiving way the self-employed are taxed.
Every last bit of money I had managed to set aside from my solo house cleaning business – intended not just for taxes, but also for my planned trips to Many Gods West in July and to Sweden in 2016 – vanished, unceremoniously, into the grasp of the tax authorities.
It hurt. A lot. And it triggered a rant.
I have long been outraged about the way the heaviest financial burdens in this country fall disproportionately on those who are least able to pay. I think one of the most depressing things about living in the US is that, contrary to all the rhetoric, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how responsible you are with your money. If you are poor – and wealth is measured only in dollars, mind you – then you are pretty much fucked sooner or later, no matter which way you turn. One misstep or misfortune and you risk falling into a bottomless pit with no safety net. This is one of the many reasons I support a universal basic income.
Ultimately, though, I’m not upset about the tax bill in and of itself. I don’t begrudge paying taxes to support the larger community. If we had a real social safety net in this country, and I could afford it, I’d gladly pay even more without complaint.
In spite of my frustration, I did my best to pay my tax bill with as much gratitude as I could muster. This gratitude is part of my spiritual practice: even in the face of struggle, I am learning to keep my focus on appreciating what I already have.
The real reason this hurt so much, though, and the reason I’m writing about it here, is much deeper.
The real reason is that I am driven by a vision. A vision of The Black Stone Hermitage as a subterranean monastic retreat for contemplatives of a darker persuasion. A place where my passions for tea, writing, dark ambient music, and dark fusion dance can work synergistically within the context of the devotional services I perform for the gods, the spirits, and my community. A place where I can live out the rest of my life as a full-time monastic, serving the divine through writing, ritual dance, shrine building, and other artistic and devotional projects. A place where other cave-dwelling introverts like me can retreat for sessions in the psychomanteum (incubation space), geomantic divinations, tea meditations, and rituals for Earth grief and mourning.
That is what I am here on this planet to bring forth. It is a vision I cherish. It is why this website exists. However, while I do the best I can to live like this right now, I still don’t have sufficient funds to support even a modest version of this vision, even after many years of struggling.
One of my biggest fears is that I will die or fall ill before I have a chance to fulfill this sacred vision of monastic service with which I have been entrusted. My savings account – however meager – is one of the things that has helped me keep alive the hope that I will get there someday. With every financial setback, and every additional year that passes in which I’m working diligently but still barely making ends meet, that dream recedes further and further into the future. Yet I must keep hope alive somehow. If I don’t, I know that I will sink back into the gaping maw of depression.
Of course this tax bill is only a setback. I’ve certainly survived much worse. But I feel like I’ve spent the past seven years of my life trying to bootstrap myself up off the floor, in the face of one obstacle after another. I’m ready for an uninterrupted streak of good fortune. Under conditions like this, every bit of hope I can cling to is precious, and it hurts a lot to have a source of hope taken from me.
In the midst of that hurt, I cried aloud: “Throw me a bone, please, gods…?”
Humbled, saddened, and demoralised, I decided to pray to Skaði for assistance. I asked Her if She would please find a way for me to go to Many Gods West, so that I could build Her the meditative shrine room I had already planned, and for which I had already been given the go-ahead by the Many Gods West staff.
A few days later, my friend David told me, out of the blue, that he had “a surprise” for me, and would give it to me the next time we went grocery shopping together.
Now, David and I have been dear friends for more than four years. We go grocery shopping together every two weeks, chatting animatedly much of the time. Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate shopping. I never imagined a day would come where I look forward to grocery shopping. But that’s exactly what happened. When you’re in wonderful company, even the most dreaded chores can become truly enjoyable.
I originally met David – who, endearingly, describes himself as “kind of a sentimental nerd” – through the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, where he serves as Head Cheerleader. ‘Tis quite an appropriate title for him, I might add. His enthusiasm for tea is infectious indeed. Our friendship was forged and took root, in fact, within the context of our shared love of tea. So the first thing that occurred to me is that he might have a special sheng pu-erh tea that he picked up for a song, or a lapsang souchong he knew I hadn’t tried, and wanted to surprise me with a sample.
Instead, as soon as we finished our shopping, he handed me a small envelope. I looked at him quizzically, then opened it, wide-eyed.
Inside the envelope was a cheque made out to me. In an amount large enough to cover my entire tax bill, and thereby replenish my drained savings account completely.
“I would like to put you on retainer,” he said, with a warm smile. He’d be needing me to do some work for him in a few months, he explained, but wanted to pay me in advance for this work. He’d read my rant about my tax bill on Facebook, it turned out, and he wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t miss my opportunity to go to Many Gods West just because I had to pay taxes.
I was stunned into silence. Quickly followed, of course, by a flood of grateful, joyful tears.
(What else would I do? After all, there’s no way to stop the legendary Swanson Family Waterworks. Everyone on my mother’s side of the family cries at emotionally loaded moments – joyful, sorrowful, and everything in between.)
Deeply moved by David’s kind-heartedness, I didn’t stop crying for most of the day. As I told David, I knew immediately that Skaði had answered my prayer. I would now be able to go to the conference. The moment I returned home, I knelt in front of Skaði’s shrine and thanked Her over and over, tears of appreciation and awe flowing profusely.
Turns out I do have a safety net. It is woven through my thriving relationships – relationships with my community, the land, the gods and spirits, and of course my beloved friends.
Heartfelt thanks and much love to David. And Hail Skaði!
Not 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?”
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!
- 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.)
- Coph Nia – That Which Remains
- Lustmord – Congregants Requests 1
- Sephiroth – Now Night Her Course Began (In my opinion this is one of the most sublime pieces of dark ambient music ever recorded.)
- Mesektet – Aken (Ancient Egypt inspired.)
- Vestigial – The Coming
- Herbst9 – Lord of the Shining Crown (Babylonian inspired.)
- Herbst9 – Blood Whisper (One of their best tracks.)
- Desiderii Marginis – Deadbeat I
- Council of Nine – Blood Lit Skies
- FoetusDreams – Revealed Behind the Gates
- Gydja – Snakestone
- raison d’être – Metamorphyses Phase V
- Mulm – Night Water Reflection
- Hadit – Sh T-N
- 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*
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!
A 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!
- At the Shadow of the Gates: A Devotional Dark Ambient Mix for Mordgud
- Autumnal: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Darkening Days
- Beauty in Ruins: A Dark Ambient Mix in Honour of Abandoned Places
- Black Sun Shining: An Esoteric Dark Ambient Mix
- Blood of the Earth: A Dark Ambient Mix for Facing Ecological Grief
- Cacophony: A Noisy Dark Ambient Mix
- Chthonic Ritual: A Dark Ambient Mix for Cave-Dwellers
- Endarkening: A Dark Ambient Mix to Honour the Dead
- Epitome: A ‘Pure’ Dark Ambient Mix
- Eros: A Dark Ambient Mix for Carnal Pleasures
- From the Blackness: A Dark Ambient Mix for Tea Alchemy
- Hail Skadi: A Devotional Dark Ambient Mix for the Huntress
- Haunted From the Depths: A Ghostly Dark Ambient Mix
- Hermitage: A Monastic Dark Ambient Mix
- History of Dark Ambient I: Precursors of the Genre, 1960s-1970s
- History of Dark Ambient II: The Early Years, 1980s-early 1990s
- In Sorrow: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Bereaved
- Mirror of the Soul: A Dark Ambient Mix for Spiritual Incubation
- Moss Witch: A Dark Ambient Mix for Forest Mystics
- Nordic Winter: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Frozen Lands
- Ominous Portents, A Reckoning: A Ritual Doom Ambient Mix
- Somnium: A Dark Ambient Mix for Dreamtime
- Sonic Gnosis: A Mind-Altering Dark Ambient Mix
- Telluric Currents: A Geomantic Dark Ambient Mix
- Tempestuous: A Stormy Dark Ambient Mix
- The Black Serpent: An Occult Dark Ambient Mix
- The Black Veil: A Dark Ambient Mix for Ritual Dance
- The Dark Ambient Alchemist
- The Inward Eye: A Dark Ambient Mix for Solitude and Retreat
- The Lighter Side of Dark Ambient
- The Void: A Dark Ambient Mix for Deep Meditation
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.”