Archive for the ‘Dark Ambient Music’ Category

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 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.]


Interview with Danica Swanson, resident hermit and CEO (Creative Endarkenment Overseer)   4 comments

The Black Stone Hermitage - The Anchoress 2Recently I was interviewed by Sarah Sadie, a former Madison, WI Poet Laureate and a student of Cherry Hill Seminary, for a class on Pagan leadership.  With her permission, I am publishing the full-length interview here.  (The photos were taken by my partner.)

Q: Coming across your work and the ideas you present online has helped move me further down my own path in the past few months. There are many points of intersection between us: polytheism (northern flavored), feminism, endarkenment, dance and music, writing, and the push-pull of needing to find streams of income while resisting the predominant job culture we are immersed in.

As a fellow traveler, I’m curious what your life path has been that has brought you to this point? Who were the people who inspired you along the way and helped you find your path?

A: The turning point for my path into Northern-centered polytheism, in particular, came when I discovered Heathenry in 2004.  I had identified as a Pagan for about ten years at that point, and had been doing a lot of reading and learning about radical-left and anti-capitalist politics, queer feminism, deep ecology, permaculture, and indigenous peoples’ sovereignty and decolonizing movements.  As part of that autodidactic process of re-evaluation, I started asking questions about my own ancestral spiritual heritage.  My ancestry is half Swedish and half German.  I thought: “Although I was born and raised in the USA, my ancestors must have once been indigenous somewhere, and there must have been some kind of land-based spiritual practice that arose from those places…”

Through that process of inquiry, I began reading Norse mythology, started researching my ancestry, started learning about the runes, and found myself embracing a devotional relationship with Skaði, the Jötunn and huntress of the Northern lands, Whom I have served faithfully for over ten years now.

I am especially grateful to Andréa Nebel of Hagalaz’ Runedance (also known as Nebelhexë) for her album Volven.  The album – which is clearly a devotional work, and which I also found in 2004 – was the first I found that catalyzed a genuine connection to the Northern deities for me.  Her song “Wake Skadi,” in particular, inspired me to take up devotional dance from the first listen.  I had found a lot of what I’ll call a “macho Viking” vibe in Heathenry, and I found Andréa’s work to be quite a refreshing contrast.

The other two albums that helped shape my early forays into Heathenry were also from German musicians: Nordland by Apoptose (a.k.a. Rüdiger), and Eliwagar by Skadi (a.k.a. Alexander Leßwing).  The latter is my favorite dark ambient album of all time, and still sounds fresh to me ten years after its release.  (Ed. note: A redux version can now be heard in full on Bandcamp!)

I bought a copy of the original 2000 release of Nordland on CD, and found myself completely entranced by the sublime, mystical music and the album art featuring megaliths and a focus on the spiritual ways of the Northern lands.

To this day, both CDs are prominently displayed in my Hermitage, and richly appreciated.

I must also mention the industrial, gothic, and dark ambient music subcultures, in which I’ve been happily ensconced since the early 1990s.  Though the main draw for me was always the music, goth-industrial culture was where I found social acceptance as a reclusive, bookish, artistic, pensive, feminist, spiritually inclined nerd.  And when I found gothic bellydance (now called dark fusion dance) in 2006, I became completely obsessed!

Other major inspirations along my path have been:

* Abby Helasdottir’s Shadowlight website
* The Jötunbok: Working With the Giants of the Northern Tradition by Raven Kaldera
* Swedish musicians Ulf Söderberg and Pär Boström
* Dark fusion dancer Ma’isah of Elysium
* A Course in Demonic Creativity by Matt Cardin – a brilliant (and free!) e-book
* Charles Eisenstein’s writings, especially Sacred Economics
* Francis Weller’s wisdom on grief (see The Geography of Sorrow for one example)
* Un-Jobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook by Michael Fogler
* The posts and comments on MetaFilter – a great online community that I’ve followed for more than ten years.  I’m especially grateful for the emotional labor thread of July 2015, which is my favorite thing ever on the Internet, no exaggeration – and I’ve been online since 1993. (Ed. note: There is also an annotated, and nicely organized, condensed version of the thread.)

I could go on and on with this list, but I’ll stop there in the interest of space.

Q: I’m interested (since this interview is for a class in leadership, after all) in your thoughts around community and leadership. Does the pagan community (as if that is a singular entity!) need leaders? What does leadership look like? Do you consider yourself a leader? How do you define community for yourself, how do you find it, and where do you find leaders?

A: To my mind, leadership in Paganism is most fundamentally about influence and reach, so leaders can be found in many unexpected places.  One certainly needn’t be a High Priestess, Archdruid, published author, workshop instructor, or elder to exercise influence.  Having a sizable blog audience or social media following is one form of leadership, for example, and this is true whether or not it involves any formal organizational responsibilities, and whether or not such influence is actively desired, sought out, and/or cultivated.

By this definition, I’d say I serve as a leader – “serve as” being the operative phrase there.  I describe myself as resident hermit and CEO – Creative Endarkenment Overseer – of The Black Stone Hermitage, which is a leadership and service role, though a rather unexpected, unsung, and tongue-in-cheek one.  Others have described me as a kind of Pagan anchoress.  It’s not a role that puts me in the spotlight, which suits me just fine, as I’m a cave-dweller at heart who savors the silence and the shadows. I’m deeply introverted, yet I feel a strong – even irresistible – call to a monastic path of service.  I host visitors regularly at my Hermitage, which is one way of honoring my calling to contemplative life and spiritual reclusion while serving the gods and my community.  I do venture out once in awhile to serve, though.  I built a shrine room for Skaði and held space for others to honor Her at the first Many Gods West conference in 2015.

It’s not through Paganism that I’m best known for my influence, however, but through the work I’ve done as founder of Creating Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery (CLAWS) and original designer of the website at  I founded CLAWS in 1998, and over the years I’ve received many appreciative letters about that project and its successor, Rethinking the Job Culture, which I founded in 2010.

I appreciate, respect, and crave good leadership and explicit structure in Paganism – especially after having experienced the limitations of radically inclusive groups that operate by what feminist Jo Freeman rightly calls “the tyranny of structurelessness.”  Freeman argues convincingly that there is no such thing as a truly structureless group, and that even groups that disavow explicit structures nonetheless structure themselves, albeit informally and covertly.

I’d rather have structures clearly spelled out, for a whole host of reasons – one of which is to give recognition for excellence where it’s been earned, especially with respect to uncompensated emotional labor.  Good leaders aren’t flawless, of course, but they do vast amounts of work – usually unpaid – and catch most of the grief and criticism, too, sometimes just by happenstance of being the most visible or well-known voice of their traditions.  And most leaders take on countless behind-the-scenes tasks such as cleaning up after the big event is over, attending sensitively and diplomatically to the needs of people under stress, or keeping track of all the details necessary to organize meetups, to take just a few examples.  As a feminist, I would like to see those people – and those forms of emotional labor – honored and appreciated, appropriately and visibly!

I think Paganism – and our culture in general – stands to benefit from feminist efforts to raise awareness about the value of emotional labor.  One of the reasons I’ve appreciated the hermit life is that I’ve experienced it as a way of reducing the burden of uncompensated, unreciprocated emotional labor – disproportionately borne by women – in our culture.  The Black Stone Hermitage is a vessel I use to help me extend this benefit to others, by providing a space that is consciously designed to dial down this burden.

At the Hermitage, I’ve got built-in limits to growth, not only because of the size of the physical space I occupy or my desire for solitude, but also stemming from the nature of the work I do.  I almost always work with one person at a time, which permits me to keep my focus person-centered and contemplative.  Should the deities I serve make it known that it would best serve Them, it’s possible that the Hermitage will eventually be shaped into more of a collective effort, which might then call for greater structure and additional leadership roles.  But as far as I can tell, the responsibility for shaping the future of the Hermitage is, and will remain, mine and mine alone.

Nonetheless, the life I live would be untenable without extensive community support.  I find that the heart of community is in relationship – and it is relationship that sustains me, in all kinds of ways.  As I have often said, my haven of sacred solitude is made possible only by a web of thriving community relationships:  family, friends, readers, visitors, Patreon supporters, deities, spirits, farmers who feed me, and so on.

Q: Going on my gut, I was interested in endarkenment before I knew there was such a word. How did you discover this concept and what does it mean to you? I have seen some very unflattering definitions which equate endarkenment with religious fundamentalism—this seems fear-based and misguided to me. What is your take, and do you feel you have to win converts to the idea, or help steer the conversation?

A: Sacred endarkenment, to me, is a concept and a way of being that provides a necessary counterbalance to our culture’s over-emphasis on enlightenment, transcendence, “rising above,” and so on.  I’ve often been reminded daily in my practice that the gods and spirits dwell in the soil, mosses, and rot beneath our feet just as much as they dwell in the clouds and stars above us, and we forget this to our peril.  Despite popular belief, darkness doesn’t necessarily mean evil or negativity – in fact, dark places can be sources of great richness, alchemy, and incubation.  I now describe the Hermitage as “a contemplative polytheist sanctuary creating atmospheres of sacred endarkenment” in honor of this truth.

I first encountered the term endarkenment in an essay by Michael Ventura, and although he used it in an unflattering way, I latched on to the word itself – I loved it immediately, and felt a strong instinctive urge to claim it as a source of empowerment and wisdom.  I was raised in a New Age family, and had experienced first-hand the failures of empathy and errors in perception that could result from a heavy emphasis on “positive thinking” and other forms of saccharine sweetness in spiritual work.  In a way, you could say my New Age upbringing primed me for a darker, more chthonic path.  Dogma can be just as oppressive when it’s presented as “love and light” as it can be when it shows up in less culturally sanctioned ways.

As a culture, most of us have learned to hold ourselves at a certain distance from what we call the “negative” – pain, struggle, suffering, conflict, grief, mourning, despair, anger, and rage, for starters.   Yet there is bittersweet medicine to be found in the “negative” when it is courageously faced and honestly addressed, especially when witnessed by one’s community.  This is the medicine of sacred endarkenment, and the skills needed to find and integrate whatever must be faced, accepted, and released are a form of emotional labor.

Later on, I discovered several feminist writings on endarkenment by Gloria Orenstein (Reweaving the World), Molly Remer (Endarkenment), Camille Maurine (Meditation Secrets for Women), and Lauren Raine (Endarkenment: The Dark Goddess in Art and Myth), all of which helped me claim and affirm my own path.

Alchemically speaking, there’s no doubt in my mind that the gate that revealed the path of sacred endarkenment to me was opened through my experience with grief.  In 2007, my marriage ended in an excruciatingly painful way.  I lost not only a 14-year relationship I cherished and relied upon, but my home, my health insurance, my savings, and an entire circle of friends.  The grief process that followed this uprooting just wrecked me.  It was like nothing else I’d ever experienced, or even imagined I could feel, and the worst part was that, due to my circumstances at the time, I was forced to wade through it largely alone.  For the better part of a year, a “good” day was one in which I could get through an entire hour without thinking about suicide.  And for several years after that, I felt like a mere shadow of my real self, as I painstakingly rebuilt my life, bit by bit, from the ground up.  Catherine MacCoun, in her book On Becoming An Alchemist: A Guide For the Modern Magician, describes this as calcination (“the substance is burned until nothing remains but ashes”), and it happens at the initiative of the spirit.

Throughout that grief process, what I needed most deeply, but never found, was a safe place to take my grief – a place where it could be ritually received, accepted, and witnessed on its own terms.

We have so few places in our culture where it is acceptable to grieve this way.  This is especially true if we’re not grieving a death, but something like a divorce, or something more ongoing and intermittent such as Earth grief.  There is enormous need for grief ritual lurking under the surface of our daily lives, and sadly, this need usually goes unmet.  When people do not have space to grieve, it is not only they who suffer, but their communities.

One of the reasons I started the Black Stone Hermitage was to provide this kind of space for others who are grieving, in the hopes that they might somehow be spared the worst of what I went through.  I wanted to provide a place of respite – a leisurely place, where visitors aren’t expected to be “on,” paste on a happy face in the name of “staying positive,” or otherwise hold it together.

Paths of sacred endarkenment teach us that genuine positivity emerges as a felt bodily experience, and that the way for this experience opens through allowing grief and other “negative” emotions  the opportunity to move through the body unimpeded.  This movement can happen through yoga, dance, or shedding tears, among many other ways.  Our bodies register and remember pain and grief we’ve experienced, and if we give them the chance and trust our embodied wisdom, we can process and release this pain and grief, and thus move toward deeper integration of our losses.

I create atmospheres of sacred endarkenment and write about the concept not to win converts, but because it moves me, and because this is one of the most effective ways for me to be of service.  I’m confident that others who are drawn to darker paths will discern the truth and appropriateness of the concept for themselves.  Far from religious fundamentalism, my role is not to convince anyone, but to walk my creative path of service with discernment and integrity.  In order to do that – in order to fully embody the role of Creative Endarkenment Overseer, with which I have been entrusted – I am asked to relinquish control of the process, and trust the gods and spirits to guide me.  Camille Maurine and Lauren Roche have written that:

“Creating is not about control, but about sensing what wants to happen and participating with that movement…Your creativity is a flow that cannot be forced – but it can be tended.  When you are in the creative streaming of your own life, you sense that “yes, this feels right,” even or especially when it is challenging.”
(Meditation Secrets For Women, p. 254)

Tending to that creative flow is one of the best ways for me to connect with the divine and receive guidance along my path.

That said, I am happy whenever my work reaches people who find value in it, and I would certainly like to see more respect given to those on darker paths.  I hope that the work I do, however small-scale it may be, will make a contribution to that effort.

Q: If I understand rightly, you named your home the Hermitage, and within that space you have both a Temple and a Psychomanteum. The idea of making space, and making place, appeals to me. One form of leadership is holding space, after all. Is there a difference between those two ideas for you, space versus place? What do these different spaces or places that you have created mean to you, and what are your hopes for them for the larger community?

A: Yes, my 550-square-foot live/work studio serves double duty as both my personal living space and the space for the Black Stone Hermitage.  I mentioned above that I am sometimes called a Pagan anchoress, since the spiritual service work I do – creating atmospheres of sacred endarkenment – is so deeply driven by the space in which I conduct this work.  Places come to hold emotional and spiritual resonance through visual, auditory, spatial, architectural, and olfactory cues.  At the Hermitage, I combine these elements creatively to create atmospheres that alter awareness in ways that facilitate incubation, meditation, leisure, devotional dance, grief processes, inner silence, and other needs that too often go unfulfilled in a culture that is obsessed with productivity, control, and achievement.  Without regular opportunities to slow down and spend time in spaces of silence, reflection, and meditation, it’s hard to maintain a deep contemplative and devotional practice.

Inside the small place I call the Hermitage, I maintain an even smaller space that I’ve named the Black Tent Temple.  Of necessity this is a very tiny and confined space, but it serves its purposes quite well.  Contained within the boundaries of this space – which are marked with sheer black curtains that I draw shut whenever  the space is occupied – is a psychomanteum.  A psychomanteum is a darkened, enclosed chamber, with a chair and a mirror placed opposite the chair, that is designed to facilitate contact with spiritual forces.  It is inspired by the work of Raymond Moody, and it’s sometimes called a portal, lair, spirit room, spiritual incubation chamber, or oracle of the dead.

There has been quite a bit of interest from the larger community in the Black Tent Temple as a concept that can be adapted to work in many different places.  The first Black Tent Temple I know about, outside my Hermitage, was built with my awareness and blessing by Priestess Gerrie Ordaz at a Pagan event in August 2015.  I encouraged her to take the idea and run with it.  Several others have contacted me or commented on my blog posts to express their enthusiasm as well.  As I mentioned earlier, women have so few spaces in our culture to find sacred endarkenment and relief from the demand for unreciprocated, unpaid, unappreciated emotional labor, so I’m unsurprised that most of the interest I’ve seen so far has been from women.  I do take pains to make it clear, however, that the Black Tent Temple welcomes people of all gender identities, and from anywhere on the gender continuum.

I’d love to have a place for the Hermitage that provides a subterranean place to build the Black Tent Temple (as that was my original vision), and offers a way to maintain a clearer separation between my living areas and the spaces I make available for the use of visitors.  But for now, all of the spaces must coexist and overlap.  When I originally received this vision in 2011, and asked for guidance on how to implement it from Those I serve, the reply I received went something like this:

“Build it right here, and start right now.  To the best of your ability, embrace the limitations of this space, and design the Hermitage where you already live.  Document the process, too – write about it, and get those writings out there however you can.  Don’t wait for the ideal subterranean location; just do the work you’ve been assigned.  Trust that when the time is right, a more appropriate place will be found for you to do this work.”

So that’s exactly what I did.

Q: The arts are clearly very important to your life and to your work, particularly music and dance. Can you talk a little bit about what role(s) music and dance play for you both in your spiritual practice and more broadly?

A: I mentioned above the broad influence of gothic/industrial culture on my life.  Dark ambient music, in particular, is central to my life and work, as anyone who knows me will tell you.  I’ve been a die-hard fan of the genre (which is a subgenre of industrial) since the early 1990s.  I write about dark ambient regularly through recommendations I make on social media and my Bandcamp profile, on Pinterest, and through articles I’ve contributed for music zines.  I also have a book manuscript in the works, for which I am interviewing musicians, label owners, and longtime fans.  Dark ambient music – which has been called “music you can’t dance to,” which I find quite amusing – inspires my dance projects, facilitates my meditations, accompanies my rituals and offerings to the gods and spirits, and deepens my creative flow as a writer.  As you might imagine, my specialty is using dark ambient music to create spaces of sacred endarkenment.  In recent years I’ve developed a music consultancy project called Chthonic Cathedral, through which I offer my services to ritual planners, meditation groups, yoga teachers, and others to provide customized playlists of dark ambient music to suit their needs.  (Images I designed for this project, with mix titles, can be found on Pinterest.)

I also find inspiration in musician Pauline Oliveros’ concept of “deep listening.”  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 one’s being.  For me, dark ambient music both facilitates and richly rewards this deep listening.

I’ve been a dancer since my adolescent years.  Dance – and especially dark fusion dance, which Tina Frühauf has described as “decolonizing bellydance” – is a form of prayer and service for me, and an embodied way of knowing.  Currently I have two ongoing dance projects: Shrine of Skaði, which is focused on devotional and ritual dances inspired by the Jötunn who is closest to my heart, and Drinking the Tears of the Earth, which is focused on lamentation dances – performed to dark ambient music, of course – as embodied expressions of Earth grief.

Shrine of Skaði is only active in the darkening days of fall and winter, when the tides of energy lend themselves best to shadow work and themes of descent.  Drinking the Tears of the Earth is a year-round project.

Q: Reading your blog, and the comments of others who have interacted with you, I’m struck by the seamlessness of your life and spirituality. You really live your faith. It seems that you thoughtfully curate your own life in order to serve both the gods and the community of people around you. Can you talk a little bit about how you go about this, and what appeals to you about such a dedicated life? Who are your models?

A: Originally I had interpreted my vision of the Hermitage as a kind of nunnery, albeit one that didn’t resemble any monastic order I’d ever heard about.  I’ve learned a lot from Pagans and Heathens who write online about monastic life.  I knew I wanted to find a sustainable way to live that deeply integrated my daily activities (including dance and dark ambient music) and my contemplative polytheism, but the only examples of this sort of integration I had found were in monastic communities run by Christians and Buddhists.

Yet I also knew, right from the outset, that an approach to religion based in sacred endarkenment would be a fundamentally different kind of venture from any monastic path I had encountered.  I sometimes describe myself as “a contemplative polytheist anti-capitalist queer feminist witch on a path of monastic service.”  When people think of what kind of work a monk or nun might do at a monastery, though, they don’t typically imagine anti-capitalism, feminism, witchcraft, or anything associated with the dark.  Yet these are inseparable for me.  So where did that leave me and my callings, I wondered?

And although Paganism doesn’t have any kind of organized contemplative monastic tradition yet, it’s a fast-growing religious movement, and I believe that one day we will.  There are a handful of folks doing what they can to create the infrastructure to support such a tradition – in the US, the Maetreum of Cybele in New York and the First Kingdom Church of Asphodel in Massachusetts come to mind, and I recently met the founder of the Nigheanan Brighde, an order of Brighidine flametenders in Washington – but we still have a long way to go.

I started The Black Stone Hermitage after searching and failing to find anyone else who was doing anything similar.  At the moment there aren’t many polytheist contemplatives out there at all, let alone ones who center their practice on paths of sacred endarkenment or use dark ambient music as a facilitator.  Yet I was meditating, dancing, and doing yoga and ritual almost exclusively to dark ambient music, and consistently finding that this music served purposes far deeper than entertainment: it facilitated mind-altering inner journeys to realms I could not reach through any other method I’d tried, and helped me connect with deities and spirits more reliably than I’d previously thought possible.

I’m convinced that dark ambient music has a lot of untapped potential to serve spiritual purposes.  I’ve also seen quite a bit of evidence that it has a crossover appeal that I haven’t seen with industrial music in general.  I think this is particularly true for people who are into meditation, yoga, and various other contemplative pursuits, whether or not they describe themselves as Pagan.  But most of those folks don’t even know the dark ambient genre exists, so I hope the work I do at the Hermitage will help make them more aware of it.  Judging by the reactions I’ve seen in response to this music during rituals and yoga classes, I think it’s accurate to consider this a form of service to the gods and the human community alike!

Q: Maybe because of or emerging out of this seamless meeting of faith and life, you are well-known for encouraging resistance to and questioning of job culture and the idea of “earning a living.” Money is a topic that divides the pagan community.  Some people see money as the root of evil (almost literally in some cases) and others see money as another form of energy to be worked with. I’d like to hear more about where your ideas are at this point around this topic, and what your experience has been.

A:  For me, money is primarily a means to an end.  It is certainly capable of serving sacred purposes, but the usurious money system we have now, based in interest-bearing debt, makes that extremely difficult for most of us.  For the vast majority of people, the money system we have creates an experience of scarcity, and requires wage labor for subsistence.

As Charles Eisenstein writes:

“Why do we want to create more jobs?  It is so people have money to live.  For that purpose, they might as well dig holes in the ground and fill them up again, as Keynes famously quipped…Wouldn’t it be better to pay people to do nothing at all, and free up their creative energy to meet the urgent needs of the world?”
(Sacred Economics, pp. 273-274)

Indeed!  And as a quote of mine (prominently featured on my Patreon page) reads:

“I am a conscientious objector to enforced wage labor.  I firmly believe that requiring people to ‘earn a living’ through wage labor is a violation of the spirit and a form of structural violence, no matter how widely condoned and culturally sanctioned it may be.”

I am fortunate to have already acquired most of the skills and supplies I need to bring my full vision of the Hermitage to fruition.  What I don’t have, but need most, is extended time away from the need to do wage labor for subsistence.  In a culture that requires every able-bodied adult to “earn a living” (I always put that phrase in quotes to emphasize its absurdity), very few of us ever find enough freedom from wage labor to make a full-time monastic or artistic life possible.  Over the long term, I hope to decolonize my time and provide for my needs without wage labor as much as possible, and to help make this possible for others as well.  One question I use to guide this process is taken from the writings of Ethan Miller: How can we progressively create the conditions in which we no longer need jobs for subsistence?

Right now, as I write this, I earn my living as a house cleaner.  I’ve started a Patreon page to support my Rethinking the Job Culture project, and have been encouraged by visitors to start one for The Black Stone Hermitage also.  I am working on it!  It takes time to build a support base through Patreon, however, so for the time being, my creative and service work remains relegated to the margins of my life.

For now, I am in search of a day job that will permit me more free time and energy to write and carry out my service work.  It has always saddened me that the vast majority of artists, and others called to lives of community service, have few other options but to seek wage labor for subsistence.  I can’t help but think about all the art, music, dance, and spiritual service we are collectively missing out on. This is one of the reasons I’ve been a staunch supporter of a Universal Basic Income for 20 years.  It’s exciting to see UBI gaining ground these days – it can’t possibly come soon enough for me!

Q: Finally, what is next for you?

A: For starters, I have two book manuscripts in the works that I hope to finish writing within the next few years.  The first is called On The Leisure Track: Rethinking the Job Culture.  The first chapter can be read on my Rethinking the Job Culture blog, and I’m planning to submit the final manuscript to Gods & Radicals, as they have already expressed strong interest.  The second is Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture.  I work on the manuscripts whenever I can, but they’re proceeding at a glacial pace because of the aforementioned need to “earn a living,” which leaves me with precious little time and energy for writing.

I also have plans in the works to make a series of photos and videos featuring the work I do at the Hermitage, centered on the theme of sacred endarkenment, in order to reach folks who can’t visit in person.

For the longer term, I am seeking a more appropriate space for the Hermitage, so that I can expand my service offerings in ways that honor my deeper callings.  When I say “deeper callings,” I mean it literally, as well as figuratively!  Currently, since the Hermitage “lives” in a studio unit on the seventh floor of a building, I am unable to take advantage of the unique acoustic and geomantic properties of subterranean structures to facilitate my work.  The Hermitage has been arranged as evocatively as possible within the constraints of my situation, but if I am to embrace the deepest of these callings to service, I will need to find a subterranean space – probably a basement – for the Hermitage.

Other “stretch goals” for the future of the Hermitage include working with my official tea consultant David Galli, in consultation with a guided meditation specialist, to improve the tea meditation offerings…and if I am really fortunate, to one day build a full shrine room or sanctuary garden for Skaði, featuring a statue of Her.  (I’ve been so inspired by the statuary and cave shrines at The Grotto!)

And finally, thank you for the thought-provoking, inspiring questions!  Best wishes with your own work.

Ritual for Skaði by Ingrid Kincaid   2 comments

Recently I attended a lovely and moving public ritual for Skaði by Ingrid Kincaid, The Rune Woman, held in Portland, OR. About twenty of us were there to pay Her tribute.  The beautiful altar featured two enormous raw femur bones, along with evergreen bows, firewood, a bow and arrows, fresh blood, vodka, and more. Attendees all wore head coverings in winter white, blood red, and evergreen colors.  I wore the white burnout velvet shawl I got in 2006 when I started my Shrine of Skaði ritual dance project.  It was the first piece of bellydance costume gear I ever owned, and to this day I use it only for devotional dances for Her.

I also brought along a wooden plaque for the altar made by Deb’s Den (shown in this photo of my previous shrine for Her), and a small bit of deer hide which had been donated by hunter and fellow devotee Nicholas Haney for Skaði’s shrine room at Many Gods West which I built last summer.

Through my Chthonic Cathedral project, I consulted with Ingrid to provide a dark ambient musical playlist for this ritual.  Her selections were some of my all-time favorites:

Wake Skadi by Hagalaz’ Runedance
Nordvinterögon by Ulf Söderberg
Morgonmåne by Ulf Söderberg
Vargskymning by Ulf Söderberg

Some bits that spoke deeply to me from the text of the ritual:

“In winter it is truly evident that life can only exist because of death.”

“Skaði, the taste and smell of blood are your sacraments, bright red against the white of snow. You truly understand what it means to take life in order to live.”

“I call upon you, Skaði, to remind me that I must find focus in order to take aim and hit the target.”

What a blessing it was to be able to attend my first public ritual for Her, and to have the unprecedented opportunity to consult with the organizer to provide the music for it.  What a powerful form of service it was for me, especially after ten years of serving Her through my home-based practice.  I am so grateful for this collaboration and for the magic we made.  Thank you to Ingrid, to my friends Ilana and Fjothr who attended at my invitation, and to all who honor Her as She so richly deserves.

Hail, beloved mighty Huntress of the North!

Delving Into the Dark: A Dark Ambient Playlist for Móðguðr and Hela   4 comments

Art by William Leighton Fisher, used with permission. Text by Danica Swanson.

Art by William Leighton Fisher, used with permission. Text by Danica Swanson.

This Friday, October 30, in Portland, Ingrid Kincaid will be hosting “Delving Into the Dark”, a ritual for Móðguðr and Hela. Ingrid and I met in person a few weeks ago, and I agreed to put together a customised dark ambient music playlist for her to use at this ritual.

My Chthonic Cathedral Project has been expanding quite a bit over the course of the past year into a dark ambient music consultancy. I now consult with yoga teachers, ritual planners, organisers of meditation retreats, etc., to provide custom themed playlists of dark ambient music for events, gatherings, or classes. If you are interested in this service, feel free to contact me via e-mail. I can design a playlist for you centered around a theme (e.g., magickal yoga, grief and mourning – see my list of playlist titles for more examples), a specific emotional state, a devotional practice for a deity or spirit, or a contemplative monastic practice.  I can even design an image to accompany the playlist.

About the service I provided for her, Ingrid writes:

“This will be a sobering yet gentle ritual, and I particularly love the ending of the Skadi “Hel” piece, as it truly sounds and feels the way I experience Hela and Her hall. Welcoming, soothing, dim, and at rest and peace. No judgment, just acceptance.

“I want to say again to you how much I appreciate your gifts and talents. What a great service it is to have someone provide the music for an event. This is a first for me.”

Fortunately, I already had a devotional playlist for Mordgud that I’ve been using ever since I first built a shrine for Her at the Hermitage, so all that was necessary in this case was to add some tracks for Hela.

If you’re in Portland and would like to join us for the ritual, there’s still room! Please register in advance via Ingrid’s website.

Here are the final selections. If you like them, please support the artists and buy their albums, so they can continue to make more of this wonderful music!

Tracks selected by the organiser for introduction and prep time, and after the ritual:

  1. Lamia Vox – Descend
  2. Lisa Gerrard – The Rite
  3. New Risen Throne – At the Shadow of the Gates
  4. Council of Nine – Blood Lit Skies
  5. Herbst9 – Bloodmoon Ritual
  6. Herbst9 – Blood Whisper
  7. Ignis Divine – Entrance to the Gate Down Below
  8. raison d’être – The Eternal Return
  9. Allseits – Hel
  10. Profane Grace – From Shadowlands… Dying…
  11. Hyios – Aquila
  12. Inade – Through the Gates of Death

Tracks selected by the organiser for the actual ritual:

  1. Wardruna – Helvegen
  2. Allseits – Gjöll
  3. Allseits – Modgudr
  4. Skadi – Hel

Other tracks I selected:

  1. Svartsinn – As a Black Stone Monument (New Risen Throne Mix)
  2. Hagalaz’ Runedance – Hel – Goddess of the Underworld
  3. Innfallen – Epilogue (Scattered Remains)
  4. Herbst9 – Bloodwhisper 2 Pass the Gate
  5. Desiderii Marginis – Deadbeat I
  6. raison d’être – Metamorphyses Phase I
  7. Blood Box – Lower Realm
  8. Mulm – Mørke

Underrated Dark Ambient Albums, Volume 2   Leave a comment

An Open Door - Frederick H. EvansI’m delighted to announce that volume 2 of my series on underrated dark ambient albums has been published at the venerable I Die: You Die.  Lots of love and care went into this piece.  I hope you enjoy it!

I have an ongoing list of albums to recommend for volume 3 in this series.  There are a LOT of underrated dark ambient albums out there – enough to fill many articles!  Suggestions?  I’d love to hear them!

Comments from readers:

“…best Dark Ambient list I’ve ever seen…bravo!  It’s sure nice to see a really well curated list that was obviously created by someone with a passion for the genre.”
~ Jay Gambit

Wonderful list! I felt on this one, you really dug deep and brought some lost gems to the surface.”
~ Robert C.Kozletsky

“Nice work, Danica. Made me drag out my dusty, and indeed overlooked, copy of Veil of Secrecy.”
~ Abby Helasdottir

Call for Donations: Skaði’s Shrine Room at Many Gods West   4 comments

“Skade” by Carl Fredrik von Saltza (1893)

In July I will be building and hosting a shrine room for Skaði at Many Gods West, and I would like to invite donations of devotional writing, art, and other materials. Here are a few guidelines.

Skaði’s Shrine Room will be assembled in my hotel room as a meditative space designed to facilitate quiet prayer and contemplation of Her mysteries.  It will feature shrines (of course), art displays, devotional writings, decorations associated with Her myths (snowflakes, bow & arrows, mountains, wolves, etc.), and a beautiful devotional playlist of dark ambient music continuously playing in the background.

Small offerings for Her (e.g., coins, stones, mementos, beaded jewelry, etc.) will be welcomed.  There will also be a “Dear Skaði…” box to hold written prayers and words of praise.

I will be putting together a small binder with drawings, poetry, and devotional prose for Her, and will make this available for guests to look through. I will accept electronic submissions for the binder, as I can print them out in black and white on a home printer.

If you have statues, figurines, craft items, miniature skis or snowshoes, etc. to offer, please bring them to my hotel room at the conference.  (Preferably on Friday, before official open hours for the shrine room start – it will open at 6 PM on Friday, July 31.)

The devotional playlist of dark ambient music that will be heard in the shrine room has been carefully curated to facilitate praise for Her, and includes several tracks I often use for my ritual dance project.

For a preview of the music, check out the following sublime tracks…

…all from the (criminally underrated!) German musical project named after Her.

And speaking of exciting musical news: I have confirmed that the devotional playlist will feature an exclusive new Gydja track, “The Iron Pine Tree’s Daughter.” It was generously crafted for the shrine room by the brilliant Abby Helasdottir, whose work has inspired my own, and whom I recently interviewed for Heathen Harvest.

No liturgy, libations, ritual, or performance will take place. My intention is for the shrine room to be an intimate retreat for contemplation and prayer, set apart from the hustle-and-bustle social environment of the rest of the conference. As an introvert, I have often wished for hermit-friendly spaces like this when I’ve attended events – a place to retreat and recharge my batteries where I’m not expected to speak or be “on” in any kind of public way, and can focus my attention inwardly. I am pleased to have the opportunity to create and hold a space like this for Skaði and for the polytheist community.

Here’s a list of things I can accept, providing you can bring them to the conference or they can be electronically submitted:

  • Devotional poetry and prose (e.g., “Dear Skaði…” letters and prayers)
  • Statues & figurines
  • Crafted items for Her (e.g., miniature snowshoes, skis, bow & arrows)
  • Devotional art and photography featuring winter scenery, mountains, etc.
  • Scarves and “wintry-looking” fabric remnants in white, silver, black, and dark blue (for draping over tables)

Scented items could be problematic, as I have fragrance allergies and other sensitivities, so please check with me in advance if you would like to make any kind of scented offering.  If you’d like to contribute something that isn’t on this list, please contact me and let me know what you have in mind.

Official open hours for Skaði’s Shrine Room are 6 PM to 9 PM on Friday Jul. 31 and Saturday Aug. 1 only.

For ideas, check out some imagery on Pinterest or Tumblr, explore Skadi’s shrine at the Northern Paganism site, or take a look at the previous shrines I’ve built for Her over the years I’ve worked in Her service.

And here’s my short bio:
Danica Swanson is a freelance writer, devotional polytheist, animist, and dark Pagan monastic.  She is best known for her influential writings on alternatives to conventional employment, and her expertise on dark ambient music for ritual and meditation.  Her solo devotional dance project, Shrine of Skadi, is inspired by ten years of service to Skaði accompanied by “music you can’t dance to” – dark ambient.  As resident hermit and anchoress-in-training at The Black Stone Hermitage, a private Portland-based sanctuary, she lives in a haven of solitude made possible only by a web of thriving community relationships.

Contact: shrine.of.skadi AT gmail.

Chthonic Cathedral Playlist: Dark Ambient for Grief and Mourning   1 comment

Figures of Mystery - Grief and MourningToday I had the pleasure of serving as a host for a guest at the Hermitage who scheduled a session in the psychomanteum, and asked me for a dark ambient music playlist with a grief and mourning theme.

My guest was very happy with the playlist, and I let her know I would make it available here.  She told me she was already a fan of Kammarheit, so I complimented her on her excellent taste, and started off with one of his tracks.

I feel so fortunate to be able to do this kind of service work. It is a joy for me to create sacred space – even on a very small scale – and to have the privilege of witnessing its effects on people when they experience it.

To also be able to share the music that is nearest and dearest to my heart in a context of such appreciation is a pleasure beyond compare.

I read somewhere about volunteer service work that “it isn’t service unless both people are being served.” I am glad I’ve found one of the ways I can best be of service as a Pagan monastic – to the gods and spirits as well as my extended community (including the many musicians whose work inspires me and keeps me company in my sanctuary of solitude).

In the process of conducting this service, I too am served.

Here are the tracks I selected.

For prep/orientation time:

  1. Kammarheit – Hypnagoga
  2. Psychomanteum – Inward Eyes

For the 1-hour psychomanteum session:

  1. raison d’être – Mourning
  2. Claustrum – Penitential
  3. Cisfinitum – District Delta
  4. Phelios – The Funeral of the Wizard
  5. Maldur Atai – Endless Labyrinth of Chanting
  6. FoetusDreams – Revealed Behind the Gates
  7. Desiderii Marginis – Come Ruin and Rapture
  8. New Risen Throne – Lands Filled With Silence and Grief
  9. Skadi – Sadness of Love
  10. Arcana – Closure
  11. Sophia – Miserere