The Black Tent Temple: A Space for Incubation and Endarkenment   11 comments

Black Tent Temple divination table

Black Tent Temple divination table

Recently I received a lovely e-mail from a fellow Pagan who found my blog via a Google search for Pagan monasteries. She expressed great enthusiasm for the ideas I put forth in my 2012 post “A Black Tent Temple,” and asked for my permission to adopt the idea and build a Black Tent Temple of her own. I don’t claim ownership of the idea, as it was given to me in a vision. I’m happy that others find it useful – I strongly suspect that’s what the Powers I serve had intended, anyway – so I put together this post to offer some suggestions for would-be Black Tent Temple builders.

In my original post, I wrote a bit about how the Red Tent Temple movement inspired me to come up with something darker and more suitable for the kind of inwardly focused incubation work I do at the Hermitage. “Not everyone who is attracted to the darker side of religious experience in a contemplative, monastic, or artistic sense is interested in joining an occult lodge, magical group, coven of witches, Heathen kindred, or esoteric society,” I wrote in that entry.  “The Black Tent Temple is a nice alternative.”

So what is the Black Tent Temple?

A Black Tent Temple is an enclosed physical space – usually a tent-like or cave-like space – that is consciously designed to facilitate spiritual incubation work and honour endarkenment. There are many ways to define endarkenment (see my endarkenment reading list for more ideas, and read the inspiring writings of Lauren Raine and Molly Remer on the subject), but the one I use most often is “a clearing and strengthening of inner vision, and grounding it in the Earth through an alchemical reckoning with the sacred dark.”

The Black Tent Temple is inspired, in part, by my passionate love for dark ambient music as a facilitator of mysticism and inner journeys, and by Peter Kinglsey’s book In the Dark Places of Wisdom. “We already have everything we need to know, in the darkness inside ourselves,” Kingsley writes in this extraordinary and unique book.  It is also born of the intense grief and loss I suffered when my 14-year marriage ended in 2007.

Incubation work, for me, includes not just the quiet, motionless lying down for long periods of time that Kingsley describes so brilliantly in his book, but also tea meditations, grief work, ritual dance work (especially veiled lamentation dances for Earth grief), and devotional offerings to the dark divine and the dead – all accompanied by dark ambient music.

For the Black Tent Temple space I maintain at the Hermitage, which of necessity must be kept within the confines of my very small studio live/work space, I installed two sets of black curtains to introduce a sense of separation between the temple space and the spaces I use for sleeping, grooming, etc. When I do incubation work (including sessions in the psychomanteum or mirror gazing room), I draw the curtains closed to mark the boundaries of the space. For everyday activities, I simply leave the curtains open.

When I do this work for others, I sometimes set up a divination and scrying table (see photo) featuring tools with darker themes:

  • Geomancy tools, including a dry-erase shield chart, stones for casting (the ones I use are beautiful black and grey-mottled larvikite from Scandinavia), and reference books
  • A set of runes made of black stone (elder futhark)
  • A set of black-and-white rune cards (Anglo-Saxon futhark)
  • A black obsidian scrying mirror (not pictured)
  • A Bohemian Gothic tarot deck

The music I use for the Black Tent Temple always focuses on themes of descent, alchemy, grief, subterranean spaces, underworld deities, and so on. Here are a few sample playlist titles from my Chthonic Cathedral project:

  • At the Shadow of the Gates: A Devotional Dark Ambient Mix for Mordgud
  • Blood of the Earth: A Dark Ambient Mix for Facing Ecological Grief
  • Chthonic Ritual: A Dark Ambient Mix for Cave-Dwellers
  • From the Blackness: A Dark Ambient Mix for Tea Alchemy
  • In Sorrow: A Dark Ambient Mix for the Bereaved

It’s perfectly appropriate – and in fact required, if you follow Kingsley’s model – to do absolutely nothing in the Black Tent Temple – to just sit or lie down inside the space, secure and unseen, without an agenda of any kind…and simply make room for whatever might come up. The temple space, hidden away from the insanity of the world, is there to provide opportunities to experience the power of such surrender and receptivity. But with my work I have found that there are times when “dark” emotions overflow as we allow ourselves to slow down and immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of the incubation space. Ritual dance, tea meditations, and offerings to the dark divine are a few of the tools I use to ritually receive and witness these processes when they arise in the moment.

The Black Tent Temple can be used many ways, however; there’s lots of room for creativity. One of the commenters on my original 2012 post says:

“I really love this idea. As an introvert, I need to have those moments of inner silence to function well, but they are difficult to come by in my hectic life…sometimes my taste for darkness, silence and contemplation is not understood very well by my fellow Pagans, however much I appreciate them. So I try to make moments where I don’t speak, when I dress all in grey and black, when I light a dark candle and meditate on the gifts of sadness, mourning, and endings…but I would love to be able to go to a Black Tent Temple.”

I wrote in response:

“There are very few places in our culture where it is acceptable to allow ourselves to mourn our losses…I wish I’d had a Black Tent Temple available to me when I was grieving the loss of my marriage. I would have made frequent use of it, and I think it would have helped me heal.”

Here are a few things I’ve used in creating Black Tent Temple spaces over the past few years, and some ideas from my notes. Feel free to adapt these for your needs.

  • A canvas labyrinth that can be unrolled and laid into the temple space
  • Textured fabrics and overstuffed pillows in dark colours
  • Subdued red, blue, or purple lighting
  • Floor-to-ceiling thick black velvet curtains to keep out distraction and soften the acoustics
  • Essential oils and incenses of chthonic spaces and the deep woods (cedarwood, spruce, fir, moss, etc.)
  • Ensure that all smartphones are turned off in advance, and kept off for the entire duration of the incubation work
  • Dark masks and diaphanous black veils to be worn for ritual work
  • Chthonic shrines – burying offerings in the ground
  • Framed wall art featuring abandoned spaces, serpents, ossuaries, crypts, caves, etc.

My studio Black Tent Temple space only permits room for one or two people, but the concept could be adapted for a slightly larger group. (Probably not too much larger, though, as this could detract from the meditative context that supports the incubation process.)

I’ve found that the Black Tent Temple seems to work best in the darkening days: the deepening time of autumn and winter that so readily lends itself to inner focus and underworld spiritual work.

One of the beauties of the Black Tent Temple concept is that with the appropriate supplies, it can be pulled together in any suitable space. A basement, a garage, a tent at a festival, whatever suits your needs. There’s no need to wait until a permanent Pagan temple is built.

Ultimately, the endarkenment and incubation work I do in the Black Tent Temple is about strengthening and trusting our inner sources of power through walking the path of the dark. It’s also about resisting the countless cultural forces (such as unchecked, rapacious consumer capitalism) that dull our awareness of this power, or otherwise discourage us from following our inner guidance. Sometimes it seems like everything in our toxic culture is designed to lead us away from our inner wisdom. Its voice can be dulled with alcohol, work, sex, shopping, relationship melodrama, spiritual escapism…just about anything, in other words. The Black Tent Temple can provide a space where incubation work can proceed unimpeded, through an unflinching reckoning with the sacred dark.

If you are inspired to start a Black Tent Temple in your area, feel free to take the idea, get creative, and run with it! This is just a starter guide to the concept as I have envisioned it so far. I’d love to hear what you come up with, and I invite you to share photos and descriptions with me. If enthusiasm for this idea continues as it has been lately, perhaps the Black Tent Temple effort will eventually become a movement of its own…lurking in the shadows of the underground.

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11 responses to “The Black Tent Temple: A Space for Incubation and Endarkenment

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  1. Thank you for championing this badly needed concept! I too wish I’d known of it back in 2007; like you, my marriage ended that year as well. One of the practices I’d cultivated since in the Darkness, while lying in a fetal position with my ear touching the ground outside or the floor of my temple space, is a practice of what I call Chthonic Listening, of making myself receptive to the murmurs of the Underworld. When I do this outdoors, I’m in the local cemetery, near the roots of the giant tree with the split trunk that I’ve since come to know as the Hel-Tree. When I do this indoors, well, my condo building was built atop a mass paupers’ grave, so the gibbering dead are never far away and have much to say, as does one of my Patronesses, Hekate Khthonia. It’s a practice that has brought me comfort and restoration in a world filled with so much useless noise/information overload.

    • Thank you for your encouragement! While I was grieving the loss of my marriage, especially in the early days when I could barely even make myself lunch without crying, I did a series of things that I look back on now as a sort of unconscious attempt to build myself a Black Tent Temple where my grief could be ritually witnessed and received by the gods and spirits. Cocooning up in a “blanket fort,” rocking back and forth, curling up in a fetal position on the floor, filling the offering bowl at my shrine with floods of tears and then pouring the bowl into the ground as an offering, shredding fabric into pieces in anger in front of a “poppet” or photo of my ex…I even did a ritual in which I buried my wedding ring in the ground.

      Most of the grieving I did was done entirely alone, which was one of the most difficult things about that loss. If I’d had even one other person around me who understood my bone-deep need to have my pain ritually received at this time – especially if I’d been able to go to a place that was consciously designed for that explicit purpose – I think I would have found great comfort and solace. For most of my life I’ve been pretty thoroughly steeped in a psychotherapeutic model of healing that involves a lot of talking things out to process them, but applying that model (or my limited version of it, anyway) to my grief process sometimes left me feeling even worse. Grief was moving through my body; it needed to be witnessed and released. Words were so inadequate! (And this is coming from someone who loves words.) I desperately needed a place to take my grief that wasn’t a therapist’s office…but I did not have one, which prolonged my suffering.

      I like your Chthonic Listening idea. I do something kind of similar, though it’s more tailored toward my ancestors. And I too find it to be a restorative practice in an overwhelmingly noisy world.

  2. A place for cave time. I love this.

    • Thank you for commenting, Molly. I’m glad you love it – I do, too! And thank you so much for writing your wonderful Endarkenment piece on Feminism and Religion. I found great inspiration in it, and I am sharing it widely. I agree with what you wrote – in particular, that the dark is too readily associated with evil, hardship, destruction, negativity, ordeals, etc., and is in need of re-evaluation and re-visioning.

      I also love the quote you included from Pam England – that the place “where you were the most wounded—the place where the meat was chewed off your bones, becomes the seat of your most powerful medicine and the place where you can reach someone where no one else can.”

  3. Oh wow. Wow, wow, wow.

    The work you do with Skadi, and this manifestation in particular, is exactly the sort of thing that my practice in demanding right now. I’ve contemplated doing work with Skadi, but I feel awkward approaching Norse/Saxon deities. I’m working with a goddess who I feel this would be very relevant to though; I’ve come to call her La Abuela, a goddess of the anthropocene and extinction, of filth, of mourning, of animals, and more broadly of death and acceptance. She’s been nudging me toward -being- a temple for her in a number of ways, but I’d always felt that was only one half of the equation. This black tent temple, though, instantly struck me as being the other half.

    I’d done incubation work for other gods, and was, shall we say… punished severely for going about it the wrong way and doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s made me a little hesitant to try it again, but this just seems so right.

    Wow. A small revelation. Thank you for writing down and sharing this idea!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment here and share my post. I’m thrilled to hear that my Black Tent Temple vision served as a catalyst to help you clarify something so important to your own practice. You made my day with this comment! I receive it as a form of affirmation that the Black Tent Temple vision is ready to carry forth and find its place in the wider world far beyond my hermitage. I’m delighted that you found out about my work through the Many Gods West program also. Are you planning to attend? If so, I’d love to meet you. Your blog is fascinating – you have a new follower! – and so far I haven’t met anyone else who designs and builds dark spaces (whether temporary or permanent) for spiritual incubation work. It’s so much more than gothic decorating, although that certainly plays a part.

      I can understand why Skadi can be difficult to approach. In many ways She is a dark deity and Her beauty can be harsh and confrontational at times. Yet I also experience Her as a goddess of deep and near-boundless compassion, especially in relation to death and relationship losses. She helped me through a devastating divorce that very nearly obliterated my will to live, and She accepted my intense desire to seek vengeance upon my ex.

      In any case, I hope you will keep in touch and keep me updated about how this manifests in your practice. I would love to see Black Tent Temple spaces take shape all over the world. Eventually I hope to gather enough material to build a website with photos and descriptions of the Black Tent Temple spaces others put together!

  4. Reblogged this on rotwork. and commented:
    For my future reference. I can’t begin to explain how important this concept is to me and my practice at current. All I know is that I feel an incredible, undeniable pull toward actualizing a space like this.

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