Archive for the ‘Gratitude’ Category

Meme: I stand with #HavamalWitches   Leave a comment

#HavamalWitches meme

Feel free to share!

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

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

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

Continued on my latest Patreon post here.

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

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Creating Space for Leisure and Sacred Endarkenment (Or, How I Quit Job-Hunting, Revamped My House Cleaning Business, and Realized My Life Purpose)   5 comments

A few weeks ago, I received a lovely postcard with an appreciative personal note from one of my house cleaning clients.  She wrote that “a single mom’s most precious resource is rest,” and thanked me for the work I’ve been doing in cleaning her home every two weeks for the past several years, as it has given her some much-needed rest and leisure time.

I thought: By cleaning houses, I am creating space for others to enjoy leisure.  I love that.  I mean, that seems obvious enough, right?  Yet I have somehow failed to appreciate the full significance of this until now.

As I pondered this, it dawned on me anew that running a solo house cleaning business as my “day job” while I write and lay the groundwork for the future Hermitage is perfectly aligned with my path of monastic service.  I’ve written before about house cleaning as an appropriate job for a Pagan nun; monastics in many religions do manual labor.  Yet there are some deeper forces in play here, too.

My client’s kind words catalyzed a flash of insight.  I think I now finally understand one of the deepest metaphysical reasons why doors have effortlessly been opening for me to keep on doing house cleaning work, while all of the doors I’ve been knocking on in my search for an office job have remained closed to me despite many years of diligent study, effort, networking, and struggling to get a ‘foot in the door’ with employers.  It’s my version of the kind of life purpose James Hillman describes in his book The Soul’s Code:

I create space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.

This is what I am here to bring forth in the world.  There’s a sense of destiny in it – a sense that “This is what I must do.”  This is my service work.  I do it for the gods and spirits, for my community, and for myself.  House cleaning work provides regular opportunities to do this – which is, I think, why Those I serve approve.  In fact, making space for leisure and sacred endarkenment are the two intertwined themes that are threaded throughout all of my endeavors – work and play, paid and unpaid, religious and mundane.  By physically getting down to the earth on my hands and knees to clear out dust and clutter, I am embracing the dark – i.e., practicing one among many forms of what I call sacred endarkenment.  (I’ll have a lot more to say about sacred endarkenment in future writings.)  In terms of devotion, I consider my house cleaning work to be an offering to Níðhöggr, a being Who eats and removes rot from the roots of the World Tree.  And at the end of the work day, I have made a tangible difference: my clients have more space and time for leisure.

I serve this way through my house cleaning business, through my contemplative and devotional religious practice, through my writing, and through my Rethinking the Job Culture project.  I do this even when I’m not thinking about it consciously.  I live this.  I embody these themes, literally and metaphorically.  Accordingly, I am drawn away from things that interfere with leisure and sacred endarkenment, and toward things that further them.

No wonder I’ve had so gods-damned much trouble finding a conventional job for the past six or seven years (in addition to systemic factors, which surely play a part as well).  I feel like I’ve been walking around with some kind of metaphysical “stamp” on my forehead that subconsciously broadcasts a message to employers: “No.  Sorry.  This one, she’s not for you.  She’s marked.  Her skills are needed elsewhere, to serve different purposes.”  I mean, how many employers do you know whose mission involves creating space for leisure?  And how many do you know that would know or even care what “sacred endarkenment” might be, for that matter?

I’ve sensed intuitively for quite some time that something like this was going on underneath the surface of my life, although I couldn’t explain it to myself or anyone else in ways that made sense.   I was often accused of just being lazy and not wanting to work.  I knew I wanted to work; I knew I was a writer…but I also knew that the work I needed to do most wouldn’t be done through a wage labor job.

I think my difficulties in finding an office job are just the most recent manifestation of this enduring undercurrent in my life.

A few months back, I wrote that for years, everything I’ve tried to improve my financial situation and earn more money has backfired somehow.  I’ve had trouble even meeting my own financial needs, let alone laying the groundwork for the future home of the Hermitage.  And in March, I saw a doctor after experiencing debilitating foot pain and numbness.  I was diagnosed with tarsal tunnel syndrome.  I feared I might have to give up any kind of work that required me to be on my feet.

So I kept on looking for office jobs, even in the face of my long-standing awareness that getting an office job wasn’t the right path for me, and would never be the right path for me.  Since we don’t yet have unconditional basic income, and I have no savings or spouse or trust fund to fall back on, I figured I didn’t really have any viable choice but to job-hunt.  I certainly don’t believe financial struggles are what the gods “want” for me.  Yet here I am, with no end in sight to the financial struggles – despite years of prayers, petitions, job-hunting efforts, networking, study, responsible spending and saving habits, cutting my expenses as much as possible, and money-conjuring magic.

Ah, but wait a minute.  There’s more to the story than that.  Strictly speaking, it isn’t true that EVERYTHING I’ve done to improve my financial situation has backfired. I do, after all, have some wonderful supporters on Patreon right this very minute, and several other people who have told me they would pledge their support if their own situations permitted it.  And my frugality and lack of debt has certainly prevented my financial situation from worsening.

Still, I’ve often wondered: might Someone be interfering with me getting a job? After all, it was only six months ago that I was told, in the clearest communication I’ve ever received from Those I serve:

“You must resist the conscription of your time into the service of capital. You must resist getting a full-time job so you can do your WORK.”

And there have been all kinds of uncanny things interfering whenever I try to get jobs – web application forms crashing three times in a row just as I clicked send, job requisitions being pulled immediately after I sent in my application, and so on.  So I started to get suspicious that there was more going on than bad luck, a terrible economy, or a competitive job market.  And what about the timing of my tarsal tunnel syndrome diagnosis?  It arrived just as I was intensifying another round of job searching, after all.  Was that also a not-coincidence – an effort from Those I serve to steer me in another direction?  Or was it simply a medical diagnosis, with no further significance beyond that?

Finally, confused and not knowing where to turn next, I asked a fellow polytheist: “If you were me, and you suspected that your gods and spirits might be interfering with your ability to get a job, but you really needed to bring in more money, what would you do?”

Her suggestion: “Ask Them if They’re interfering.  And if the answer is yes, ask Them why.”

Good advice, I thought.  So I did.  (Seems obvious enough, right?  So why didn’t it occur to me to try that?  I have no idea!)

The answer I received, as best as I can translate it, is something like this:

“You are an anchoress-in-training – a nun on a path of service to the divine and the land. The way you support yourself must be aligned with this service.”

I interpreted this answer as vagueness – in other words, “maybe We are interfering, maybe not.”  But now that I better understand my life purpose as one of  creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment, that answer makes more sense.  Why?  Because there are few, if any, wage labor jobs in which I can do that.  So  perhaps They aren’t directly interfering with me getting a job, but not-getting-jobs is happening indirectly because They are guiding me toward things that further those goals, and away from things that interfere with them.

But They haven’t guided me away from house cleaning, and in fact They seem to be opening paths for me to do more of it.  (More on this below.)  And my foot pain from tarsal tunnel syndrome is now gone!  It has improved greatly through my unfailing use of corrective shoe insoles, special foot exercises, application of Datura ointment, and Earthing – regular contact of the soles of my bare feet with the Earth.

I conclude that the financial lack I’m experiencing is not the gods’ intent.  It’s a side effect of the interaction between these two things:

1) living in a culture where wage labor is pretty much the only viable way to survive for most of us, and
2) having a life purpose that is in active opposition to compulsory wage labor for survival.

This is a huge realization for me.  Huge!

I mean, I always had a kernel of awareness, deep down inside, that this was a driving force in my life…and yet I’ve still struggled with the implications of this truth, in one form or another, for all of my adult life.  I knew when I was very young that I was a writer, and that the seeds of what I needed to write were already living inside me, and that what I needed and wanted most was time and space to read, think, and develop my craft.  There was a rebellious spirit living inside me that didn’t want me to ever take a 9-to-5 job that interfered with my writing.  I have called this spirit my inner two-year-old, or my “Feral Imp.”  I figured out quickly that the game in our culture was rigged, and not in favor of people like me who were called to do creative and spiritual work on their own terms.  But not until now did this enormous piece of the larger puzzle finally fall into place.

I’ve now given up job-hunting so I can do my work.  I’ve surrendered to the tides.

When I think of all the energy I’ve expended on job-hunting in recent years – energy that will now be freed up to serve other purposes than “the conscription of my time into the service of capital” – I can’t help but be excited.  I spent 1.5 years studying web development, for example, and then failed to get a job in the field, despite my best efforts.  That was a huge blow at the time.  But now all that freed-up energy can be applied toward ramping up my business, writing, and working on projects for the Hermitage.

The very same day I surrendered and gave up my job hunt, I received a good omen.

While cleaning my client’s home that day – an artfully arranged and spiritually peaceful home that I feel privileged to spend time in – I stepped outside briefly to take out the recycling, and “just happened” to run into the neighbor, who saw what I was doing, and said excitedly: “You do house cleaning for my neighbor?  Great!  My cleaner is on the way out, and I’ll be needing a new one soon.  Are you available?”

I’ve never before crossed paths with this neighbor in three years of working in that client’s home.  And she happened to be right there at the same moment I was, and happened to be looking for a new house cleaner, the very same day I surrendered.  This was not a coincidence.  To an outsider, it might look like mere happenstance; and from that perspective, it would be.  But for me, this experience had an additional dimension of meaning.  I “heard” it as an affirmation that there would be more house cleaning clients for me if I committed to expanding my business, whether or not this particular client panned out.

That’s a door opening if I’ve ever seen one.  And here’s the key: it required no effort.

Well, let me clarify that.  It required me to show up in the right place at the right time, make a good impression when addressed, and follow through on the lead.  But it didn’t require effort in the sense of struggle.  I didn’t have the sense that I was swimming upstream against the tide, the way I always had with job hunting.  This client came to me; I didn’t even have to advertise!

That day, I decided to re-vamp and expand my business.  I recognized that it was time for me to stop knocking on doors that were closed to me (applying for office jobs), and start walking through the ones that were opening for me (accepting new house cleaning clients).  Best of all, I am now expanding my business with full recognition that house cleaning is one of few ways of earning income that are perfectly aligned with the mission of my monastic path of service: creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.  That makes the work more meaningful to me than it was before.

I’ll admit there were times – especially in the early days of my business – where I wallowed in self-pity often, because I started my house cleaning business largely due to financial desperation, and because people treated me differently than they did when I worked in an office.  Our culture doesn’t give much respect to people who do manual labor.  In any case, I had been delivered a one-two punch by 1) the aftermath of a devastating divorce, and 2) my inability to get hired elsewhere in the wake of the Great Recession of 2008.  So I sometimes thought to myself: “Oh, come on now, cut it out with all this metaphysical talk.  You’re some kind of meaning-junkie, making a virtue out of necessity.”

But I have found meaning in the house cleaning work I do.  For the sake of finding meaning, I’ve learned, it doesn’t really matter whether the doors to conventional wage labor remain closed by my own choice, or by forces outside of my control.  House cleaning is honest and unpretentious work, for one thing, which is more than I can say for many office jobs.  And since my clients have all been found through the arts and esoteric communities, I have often thought of cleaning their homes as an indirect way of supporting the arts.  Which it is!  But I’ve now found another layer of meaning: it’s actually an integral part of my monastic path.

I believe my experience is an example of the way the world can work when we learn to get out of our own way and fully surrender to our callings.  There is support available, through mysterious means of not-coincidences and omens, for those who can find the courage to let go of the reins of control and allow the gods and spirits to guide their paths.  But you cannot dictate in advance how, or from what sources, this support will arrive.  You must find the courage to do what you are called to do in the world, listen for inner guidance, and follow the promptings you receive, even when they sound crazy.  Which they almost certainly will, to people who are not you.  And sometimes they’ll sound crazy even to you!  But you must follow them anyway, if this kind of path is yours to walk.

I am reminded of a quote I love from yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli:

“You have to allow things to happen and to learn how to stop preventing things from happening. For example, you don’t do anything special to feel gravity: you let gravity affect you.  And if you don’t have a clue what that means, then you become curious about what it might mean and look forward to a time when the words might resonate with you.”

You have to learn to allow things to happen.  And stop preventing things from happening.  That is what I mean by “surrendering to the tides.”  It doesn’t mean just passively accepting whatever comes my way; it means actively using my powers of discernment to detect what “wants” to happen,  getting myself aligned with that, and allowing it.  I will simply find ways to do the work I’m called to, and allow that to lead me where it will.  And I will stop job-hunting.  That fruitless effort has wasted a great deal of my time.

“There is a way of doing the yoga poses that we call ‘asanas’ without the slightest effort,” says Vanda.  Yes.  And I know there is a way that I can do my work without engaging in effortful struggle, too – but that seemingly paradoxical path of “not-doing” or “un-doing” can only be found through being true to the callings that live in my heart and bones and flesh, and by trusting my intuition and Those I serve to lead me in the right direction for this co-creative process to unfold.

Scaravelli’s yoga-based wisdom has helped me to remember that one of the ways this path is given, or revealed to me, is in response to a deepening of my connection with the Earth.  It is found through cultivating conditions – including leisure and sacred endarkenment – that allow the intelligence that lives in my body to fully awaken, through grounding in the Earth.  This path can’t be found through imposing a formal, culturally approved plan to “earn a living” on top of pre-existing patterns of holding tension in my body.  My path toward working with a sense of ease, rather than a sense of struggle, involves abandoning the effort to “earn a living” through wage labor, doing the work I am called to do instead, and allowing support to come to me in response.  I must listen attentively for what lies underneath the surface and “wants” to come forth and be made manifest through me.  Then I must do it.

That’s very difficult in a culture that makes no provisions for this way of living and working, and in fact leads us away from it.  It involves learning to receive without shame when support comes to me, even if I’m not meeting cultural standards for “productivity.”  It also means learning to say “no” a lot, because every day I face pressures to abandon my callings, the most pressing of which is being poor.  (Not to mention the unrelenting shame our cruel culture heaps on people who don’t have paid jobs, or who don’t get paid enough to meet their survival needs, and therefore need financial support from others.  This shame is one of the ways people are coerced in directions that lead away from following their inner callings.  But that’s a topic I’ll delve into in much greater depth elsewhere.)

So there’s a paradoxical truth here too: namely, that there are things that must be actively resisted – such as shame about receiving, and cultural pressures to “get a job, any job” – in order to walk the path of working through trusting the wisdom of “not-doing.”  I also find that resisting unpaid and unreciprocated emotional labor as much as possible is very useful in keeping me focused on the right path.  (Thank you once again, dear feminist foremothers, for introducing me to this concept…and thank you to the folks at MetaFilter for the monster thread that catalyzed even deeper realization of the importance of this for me.)

In surrendering to the tides instead of fighting them, I must trust that I am also laying the groundwork for the future home of the Hermitage, even if I can’t see how yet.

I have many things to be grateful for in my current situation, and these feelings of gratitude live right alongside the money fears in a kind of ongoing creative tension.  I’m grateful that I’ve even managed to come to the realizations I’m writing about here – all my life I have “known” the truth of this, in a sense, but not until now have I had sufficient skill, insight, experience, and time to put it into words this clearly.

And in that spirit of gratitude: there are many things I appreciate about being a self-employed, solo house cleaner with an established business, rather than an employee in an office job.  I’ve written about this before, but here are a few things I didn’t cover in earlier posts:

* I can choose the clients I work for.
Since I’m asthmatic and allergic to fragrances and animal dander, this ability to choose clients is very important.  In office jobs, my health limitations are often a liability.  Through my business, though, I have been able to turn the knowledge I’ve gained about how to clean homes for allergic people into an asset that attracts the right clientele for the type of services I provide.

* I have an established reputation in my community for good service.
Never underestimate the power of a good reputation.  My clients know that I am reliable, trustworthy, and do quality work.  They tell others about it, and this is how I have grown my business.  After I found my first client, I have never had to advertise.  Word of mouth and a good reputation have done it all.  I love this so much!  It’s the best way to build a loyal clientele.

* I can dress as I please when I’m at work.
In this line of work, there’s no need to spend money on uniforms or a business wardrobe.  I wear a t-shirt with jeans and Doc Martens.  I love having that freedom.

* I don’t need to own a car.
I am fortunate to live in a location (downtown Portland) that permits me to run a house cleaning business without driving.  I travel to all my clients on public transit, and haul my supplies in a wheeled backpack.  Since I hate driving, and don’t want the expense and responsibility of owning a car, I see this as a boon, not a burden.  It also ensures that physical exercise is built into my work day.

* House cleaning is a great job for someone who savors solitude.
I usually clean when my clients aren’t home, which is wonderful for this introverted soul.  I can listen to dark ambient music or Swedish language learning recordings on my headphones while I work, and even slip into a light meditative state.  This pays off handsomely later, when I get home and sit down to write.  On really good days, house cleaning helps me cultivate patience, and even becomes a part of my contemplative practice!  What office job can offer that?

* My business is literally founded on trust.
“My business is founded on trust” isn’t just a slogan for me.  I got my start in this business because someone in my community liked what I wrote on my website, met me in person, and trusted me enough to give me a chance.  She then recommended me to others, and they recommended me to others, and eventually I had a clientele…all of whom have entrusted me with keys to their homes.  Quite a far cry from job applications that require applicants to jump through hoops such as drug testing.

* I am doing ecologically responsible work.
This is true not just because I use only biodegradable cleaning supplies, or because I travel to clients’ homes on public transit instead of driving, though that’s part of it.  It’s also true because being self-employed keeps me out of jobs that are ecologically irresponsible but must be done anyway for the sake of economic survival.  (Even doing nothing at all would be far more ecologically responsible than many of the jobs on offer, which is a point I am also writing about in my book On The Leisure Track.)

I could go on, but I’ll stop there for now.

Charles Eisenstein, one of my favorite writers, speaks beautifully about the power that you can step into when you enter into service to something that wants to happen, and allow yourself to be guided by your inner compass.  In a recent interview, he said:

“…if it’s something that wants to happen…and you enter into service to that thing…then miracles start happening.  Things fall into place.  The right person shows up at the right time with the right resource; synchronicities converge; and you find yourself at the center of a creative process that is far beyond you.  The money comes in when it’s needed; you don’t have to worry about that part.  All you have to do is devote yourself.  That is the secret to expanded creativity.”

This is what I believe, too.  Wholeheartedly so.  And I believe I am now being given more opportunities for things to fall into place, and for the money to come in when it’s needed to support me and the future Hermitage.  Why wasn’t enough money coming in before, despite the fact that my original vision of the Hermitage occurred in 2011?  Well, some of it was…but a major portion of my focus was also being diverted toward looking for a job (a.k.a. “conscription of my time into the service of capital”), and I think that was interfering with the path that is right for me.  (And of course there are really important systemic and political reasons why money is scarce for people in the USA, too – I haven’t lost sight of that!  I am writing about those reasons elsewhere, most notably through my Rethinking the Job Culture project.  Here, though, I am keeping my focus on the metaphysical reasons that apply to my situation specifically).

In order for this right path to open to me fully, I had to first find the courage to leave behind the hunt for a job.  That’s a particularly difficult task when I’m under such intense pressure to find one from so many corners, and many people think I’m “crazy” for abandoning the job hunt.  Our entire culture seems to believe that the proper way to money is through jobs.  And for many people, it is!  But for whatever reason, I am not one of those people.  I must find my support in other ways, and through other sources…such as self-employment, for starters.  And while I need money to survive, it’s also true that support comes in many other forms, and I have a lot of those other forms of support right now.  I have a strong sense that I am headed in the right direction one way or another.  So I’m going to trust that.  That self-trust is my only guide to navigating the uncharted path in front of me.

I am now walking through doors that are opening along my path, even as I type this.  I am re-vamping my eco-friendly house cleaning business, and putting more of who I am into my promotional materials by emphasizing the earthy hearth-witch magic I do.  My existing clients are all involved in the arts or esoteric communities anyway, and they all know I am Pagan.  And why shouldn’t they?  I live in Portland!  “Have broom, will travel…to banish dust and clutter!” is my new tag line.

Black Stone Home Service - digital business card

I think one of the reasons my clients like me is that, consciously or not, they sense the difference I make in their homes in subtle ways as well as in obvious ones.  I clean with intent to improve the flow of subtle energies.  I might do a mini spot cleanse using herbs or salt, for example, or a cedar smudge, or use a homemade aromatherapy spritzer (made with purified water and conifer-based essential oils such as pine and fir) to freshen stale air.  And I make all my cleaning mixes in small batches by hand, using only biodegradable ingredients – baking soda, distilled white vinegar, tea tree oil, pure essential oils, and botanicals.

I also bring prayer and devotion into my house cleaning work.  Whenever I clean a client’s home, I always pause to say a short prayer of thanks and blessing at the end of my service day, just before I leave and lock the door behind me.  Usually it’s something like “May this home be blessed with peace, love, good health, and prosperity.”

At the end of the day, when I return to my beloved Hermitage with pay that I’ve earned, one of the first things I do is kneel before the altar on which The Black Stone sits, place my pay on the altar, and thank the gods and spirits for today’s opportunity to earn money for the Hermitage and serve my community.

Then, after I rest and replenish, I write, meditate, pray, make offerings, and work on other creative projects for the Hermitage.

I think this life I live is about as close to a Pagan nun life as it’s possible to get without more formalized religious support.

I don’t yet know where my next client or source of support is going to come from, but I trust that it will happen, as long as I continue to do my part and listen for guidance.  And I am grateful to everyone whose support and belief in me has made this humble and meaningful way of life possible for me so far.  Thank you.

My other freelance business venture – which will also be included under the Black Stone Home Service moniker – will involve accepting new clients for the proofreading and copy editing work I’ve been doing.  I’m very excited about this, and will be making a more formal announcement about it in the not-too-distant future.  My very first semi-official job – even before I worked in restaurants – was given to me at the tender age of 13, when my seventh-grade English teacher hired me for a few hours a week to help him correct other students’ spelling exams.  And then I got my first proofreading job at a news office at age 19!  How I wish I had been able to fully appreciate, at that time, how incredibly fortunate I was to have paid jobs like that when I was so young.

So it looks like I’ve come full circle.  As an adolescent, I was hired to clean out neighbors’ garages and organize their closets.  I was also hired to find and correct errors in people’s writing.  And now, as I’ve been cut adrift from wage labor jobs in middle age, I am building a solo business in which I do both of those things once again!

I’m sure it will surprise no one who knows me that I specialize in editing and proofreading promotional copy for dark ambient musicians.  My hope is that I will be able to grow the copy editing and proofreading side of Black Stone Home Service in the coming years, such that I will be able to transition into it as I age and become less physically capable of doing house cleaning for a living.

I am thrilled to be giving up job-hunting and committing myself to full-time self-employment now.  Conventional employment arrangements are insecure at best (and are structured in ways that strongly favor employers),  and our social safety net in the USA is woefully inadequate.  With self-employment, and diversification of income streams, I have more stability.  If I should lose a client or two, or if some of my Patreon supporters decide to opt out, I won’t be left completely out in the cold.

Finally, in closing, a bit of inspiration:

“Grounding is the operative word.  When we clean, we connect with the ground, we take ourselves literally down to its level.  The same process happens when we are gardening, when we plunge our hands into the soil of the earth.  We are getting in touch with our base, our origin, our ultimate home.  We are saved from the flights of fancy of the ego; we are put back in touch with the base chakra, the grounding earth beneath our feet.”

~ Jane Alexander, Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary

“Life is composed of primarily mundane moments…If we don’t learn to love these moments, we live a life of frustration and avoidance, always seeking ways to escape the mundane. Washing the dishes with patience and attention is a perfect opportunity to develop a love affair with simply existing. You might say it is the perfect mindfulness practice.”

~ David Cain, “Mindfulness Lives In The Sink

A Solitude That Is Not Loneliness: Exploring Polytheist Contemplative Hermitage   9 comments

Danica Swanson, polytheist contemplativeAs things stand today, there is no organized monastic tradition in Paganism or Heathenry, and polytheists interested in monastic life seem to be few and far between.  There is only one legally recognized Pagan polytheist convent in the USA (The Maetreum of Cybele), although there are a handful of folks making inroads in similar directions.  Nonetheless, I often describe myself as a Pagan nun, even though I currently have no viable options for formal organizational support along this religious path.

I identify as a polytheist, animist, and witch who is called toward religious hermitage and a life of extended contemplative solitude, creativity, worship, and service.  When I am in private, I often wear something resembling a nun’s habit – including head coverings – for religious reasons.  I think of myself as a Sister, a “woman religious,” and an anchoress-in-training, even if I don’t yet present myself that way in public.

Even if Pagan and Heathen polytheist monasteries become a reality one day, though – and I do believe they will – it may be that I will visit, but never actually live in one.  Why?  Because I have learned that I thrive in solitude.

For me, healthy solitude – “a solitude that is not loneliness” – is more than just a lifestyle preference or a tendency toward introversion, although both of those apply to me.  Solitude is what enables me to give the gifts I have to the world.  It’s what permits me to reach deep inside myself, clarify my religious visions, and offer the best of what I can do to the gods, spirits, and communities I serve.  Without regular, uninterrupted, contemplative solitude, I wither and wilt.  I shrink and contort into a mere shadow of the person I am meant to be.

I find great richness and fulfillment in the gifts of solitude.  Hidden reserves of energy and attention are freed up.  In solitude, I take silent, profound joy in the simplest of pleasures – arranging the table for tea, for example, or polishing the mirrors.  I become more deeply respectful of the immense power of self-restraint in speech and action.  I can better perceive the sacred in the “mundane,” and better understand that these are not separate.  I can dig into my inner wellsprings, better perceive the promptings of the gods and spirits, and find reservoirs of strength and self-acceptance that don’t depend on what I look like, how much money I have, or my relationship status.  And Virginia Woolf certainly knew what she was talking about when she recommended a room of one’s own for women who wanted to write on their own terms.

It would be an understatement to say that healthy solitude is undervalued in American culture.  Those who seek solitude tend to be viewed with thinly veiled suspicion.  Are they just selfish navel-gazers?  How can they just go off into their caves or mountaintop retreats and meditate when there is so much urgent ecological and social justice work to be done?  And of course most of us – especially women, who do a disproportionate share of emotional labor – can’t just slow down our lives to make space and time for solitude because we decide to.  We are expected to make ourselves available to tend to the needs of our partners, families, and loved ones first and foremost.  American culture simply does not make room for women who crave solitude.

As a feminist, recluse, and creative writer raised in a culture that makes few provisions for people like me – and seems hell-bent on stealing my time for purposes that force me to contort myself into molds that don’t fit – I’ve spent a great deal of effort defending my solitude against intrusions.  Finally, in my late forties, I’ve come to realize that the only way I will be able to fulfill my religious calling of monastic service, and write what is in me to write, is to preserve my solitude as much as possible.

I am well-positioned to live a solitary contemplative life for a variety of reasons, one of which is that I am not a parent.  I was raised in a time and place in which reliable birth control was readily available to me when I was younger.  (Thank you, feminist foremothers!)  Remaining child-free by choice is one of the ways I’ve been able to preserve enough time, energy, and solitude to develop my craft as a writer.

I’ve also come to realize, after a great deal of introspection, prayer, and soul-searching, that it’s unlikely that I will ever be truly happy or operate at my best in a “normal” romantic relationship.  This past week, in fact, I broke up with my partner of three months, because this truth about who I am has become clearer than ever before.  I simply do not have it in me any longer to give what a committed romantic relationship requires without sacrificing something deeply important to my religious and creative work.  So I have now become celibate by choice.

Though I’m sad that this decision hurt someone I care about, I also can’t help but feel excited about this new development in a way that I never imagined I could.  It feels like an affirmation of who I am rather than a sacrifice.  It will enable me to give more of what I have to give in religious and community service.

I hesitate to say that I’m celibate for religious reasons, though, as this could be misleading.  Celibacy isn’t necessarily required for Pagan monastics, and in fact a case can be made that romantic and sexual relationships may be an important component of a Pagan monastic path.  I have no doubt that it can work that way for some.  But I also know that having a mortal lover and romantic partner is not the right path for me at this time.

(For what it’s worth, I have sometimes said that, while I am not a godspouse, I am so passionately in love with my vision of The Black Stone Hermitage that it’s as if I have a lover on another plane.  I would go to the ends of the Earth to bring this vision to fruition, if it were necessary and in my power to do so.  And for someone who is a dyed-in-the-wool homebody and hates to travel, that’s saying a lot.)

Accusations of “selfishness” have followed me throughout my life in various ways, as they often do for women who resist conventionally approved life scripts and insist on carving out space to live on their own terms.  However, I seek solitude not as selfishness, but in affirmation of the need for self-care.  There is little room in this culture for women to care for their own needs generously.  When I make room for true self-care, free of guilt and shame, I often find that a genuine caring for the welfare of others wells up in me, unbidden.  A recognition arises that, in having been so blessed with time and space for self-care, I have also been entrusted with a responsibility to use my gifts and talents to serve the world that has made this self-care possible for me.  After all, hermits are sustained and supported by their networks, human and non-human.  And my solitude certainly does not reduce my interest in friendship and community.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Some of my friendships have deepened and strengthened – in part because, having cared for my own needs, I am in turn able to give more to my friendships.

In order to perceive this deeply reciprocal gift relationship and the way it drives my work, though, I had to first untangle and sort through a lot of cultural baggage.  Writing, for example, is often dismissed as a frivolous and self-indulgent pursuit, rather than a form of religious service and social justice work.  But for me, writing is a calling, and is one of the ways I serve the gods and spirits.  It’s a form of activism.  I want my writing – and all my work, for that matter – to help build a world in which ‘earning a living’ is a thing of the past, ecologically responsible ways of life are practiced, and emotional labor is recognized, appreciated, and properly valued.

I think of the studio unit where the Hermitage currently lives as my anchorhold – a small enclosure inhabited by a person dedicated to a life of religious solitude and prayer.  I cherish this space, and decorate it lovingly.  My anchorhold provides opportunities for me to engage in many forms of monastic service beyond my writing: I host visitors for tea, worship and offerings, meditation, incubation sessions, music consultancy services, brainstorming sessions, and contemplative practices.

One day I hope to find a long-term home for the Hermitage and establish it through a permaculture community land trust or similar legal vehicle so that when I die, I can bequeath the space to others for religious and ecologically responsible purposes.  My hope is to create a space that will help provide for future generations of polytheists who feel called to solitary monastic paths of service, devotion, and contemplation.  I do this work as much for those who will come after me as for Those I serve right now.

Sometimes, when I crawl under the covers of my comfy bed alone on cool nights, I become acutely aware of how much joy lives in my heart and bones and flesh.  I don’t mean that I never feel sorrow or loss or feminist rage or whatever.  I feel all those things, and very deeply, I might add.  Yet nonetheless, I’ve somehow managed to build a life that I find spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally fulfilling in ways I never expected I would.  Joy bubbles up from deep in my cells, as if my life has been blessed with a giant, endless breath of fresh, oxygen-rich forest air.  I inhale this breath of fresh life-giving air deeply, at leisure, and find myself filled with gratitude and appreciation so profound that it erupts into irrepressible laughter.

‘Tis a far cry indeed from the days when I was severely depressed, thinking about suicide often, and grieving the loss of my 14-year marriage and my former life.  In those days, I remember that I clung to some ill-advised friendships, just to feel a sense of belonging and attempt to assuage the emptiness I felt.

If present-day me had tried to tell me-who-was-grieving-her-marriage that I would feel this joyful one day, she would never have believed it.  Never.  Not even for a millisecond.

And yet, here I am, living a more joyful and contented life than I’ve ever before known.

It’s difficult even for me to believe I’ve found this level of contentment in solitude, and I’m the one who’s experiencing it!

There’s also a feminist component to this joy.  In taking such unapologetic pleasure in solitude as a woman, I’m shamelessly defying the patriarchal (and near-ubiquitous) cultural expectation that women should make themselves readily available for others in ways that disregard their own needs.

My rebellious inner fifteen-year-old is quite pleased.

Staying Job-Free, So I Can Work: Toward Community Supported Hermitage   9 comments

Wilhelm List, "The Offering"

Wilhelm List, “The Offering”

For three years now, I’ve been working as a self-employed house cleaner to support the financial needs of the Hermitage. There are many things I enjoy about the work: I can set my own hours, listen to music on headphones while I work, and get some exercise while working, for starters. And since I run my solo business without a car (I travel back and forth to clients’ homes on public transit, hauling my supplies in a wheeled backpack) and use only eco-friendly cleaning supplies such as white vinegar and baking soda, it’s also well aligned with my simple-living values. I never have to sit in rush-hour traffic, and I can read or enjoy music while someone else handles the driving, which I greatly appreciate. I don’t perceive being car-free as a sacrifice; for me it is a pleasure. Good thing, too, because after my divorce, what was once voluntary simplicity has become INvoluntary simplicity, as I couldn’t afford to drive now even if I wanted to. I’m very fortunate to live in a city where it’s possible to run a house cleaning business without a car.

I’ve certainly enjoyed house cleaning a lot more than any office job I’ve ever had, particularly because it greatly reduces the amount of uncompensated emotional labor I’m expected to perform, and because I have great clients who appreciate what I do and are all connected to the arts and esoteric communities. This work has also allowed me to avoid the synthetic fragrances and animal dander that are allergy and asthma triggers for me. This, too, is a boon, since fragrances are difficult to avoid in office jobs, and I am increasingly noticing that employees are allowed to bring dogs to their offices.

In many ways house cleaning seems to be an appropriate job for an anchoress-in-training on a monastic path of service. I have never had any doubt that I am serving the gods and spirits just as much through scrubbing toilets as I am by building shrines for Them. It’s very hard work physically and I always come home exhausted, and running a business consumes a great deal of my time…but it still suits me better than a full-time office job, and on good days it even becomes a sort of meditative practice through which writing ideas come to me unbidden, mid-scrub. (I love those days!)

However, over the past few years I’ve come to realize that I need to figure out another, more sustainable way to pay the bills, because I am physically unable to clean houses for the number of hours I’d need to work to make ends meet for the Hermitage over the long term. In 2014 I started studying web development through a respected online code school, with the intention of finding an entry-level job in the field in Portland. I worked my butt off and completed the course of study in 2015, and for many months I’ve attended hiring fairs, networking events, and done all kinds of job-hunting the conventional way, as well as through my own social network. But I have not been hired…and furthermore, this month it’s finally become clear to me that I may, in fact, never again be hired for a conventional job. Being female and over 40, along with having something that amounts to an invisible disability (allergies to animal dander and perfumes) and a work history dominated by freelance writing and house cleaning, is certainly not working in my favor.

Looking back, I realize that I’ve spent the bulk of the past eight years – the entire time since my divorce – either studying for or applying for paid jobs that never materialized, while doing various kinds of unpaid volunteer work that I hoped might lead to paid work (none ever did), and also running my house cleaning business. All of that “hope labor” consumed a great deal of my time – time that I would have much rather spent on writing, and on expanding and deepening my community service offerings at the Hermitage. I have a lengthy list of projects assigned to me by Those I serve, and I have an ever-growing list of people in my local community who appreciate what I do and want me to do more of it. The work I do at the Hermitage was even called “Portland’s best kept secret” after a recent ritual for which I provided a customized dark ambient playlist; I’ll be providing another one for a ritual in January.

Over the course of the next few years I would like to:

* Finish writing two non-fiction books – one on leisure as resistance and unlearning the internalized capitalist work ethic (the first chapter can be read in full), and another on the esoteric in dark ambient music and culture

* Write, edit, and proofread many articles, including the next in my series on underrated dark ambient albums for I Die: You Die

* Continue with the Black Tent Temple Project, providing spaces of incubation, withdrawal, and endarkenment to grieving people and others in need

* Continue and expand my Chthonic Cathedral project, providing customized dark ambient music playlists for rituals, yoga classes, meditation groups, social gatherings, and events

* Expand Drinking the Tears of the Earth, my grief ritual dance project

* Continue with Shrine of Skaði, my devotional dance project

* Continue serving the polytheist community and the gods and spirits through building shrines and other work at Many Gods West

* Continue learning and practicing geomancy, in preparation for offering readings for the community

* Continue studying Swedish, in preparation for a future pilgrimage to Sweden

* Maintain the Hermitage as an “official” Crone Island outpost: a space where beleaguered crones can go for tea service and a respite from uncompensated emotional labor (for more info, see this MetaFilter thread to which I contributed; I recommend reading the whole thing, but if you’re short on time, there’s a great summary available too!)

* Continue the search for an appropriate place – with a basement or other subterranean space, of course – to relocate the Hermitage for the long term. (Community land trust? Some kind of co-op? Religious non-profit? Time will tell…)

* Work with a great tea consultant (yes, the Hermitage has an official tea consultant – David Galli, who is otherwise known as Head Cheerleader of the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance) to improve the tea offerings and service at the Hermitage

* Go through my archives of over 30 years of finished but unpublished writing – journals, correspondence, essays, short fiction – and edit the best of these pieces, so they can be published

* Design and build new websites for the Hermitage and Rethinking the Job Culture

…and that’s on top of my regular schedule of prayer, meditation, and offerings.

A few weeks ago, just after the most recent job fair I attended failed to result in a job offer for me, AND I was simultaneously served with a notice from the DHS that as a self-employed ABAWD (able-bodied adult without dependents) under 50, my SNAP benefits would be cut off  if I failed to comply with new, cumbersome requirements that will consume even more of my time, AND I was given notice that I would lose the Hermitage and be forced to leave Portland if I couldn’t pay more rent in March…

…I woke up with the strongest and most unmistakable message I’ve ever received from Those I serve.

It felt so urgent that I scrambled out of bed to get it written down before I had even had my tea. The minute I finished writing it, I got chills.

Here it is, just as I transcribed it:

You must resist the conscription of your time into the service of capital.

You must resist the colonization of your time.

You must resist getting a full-time job so you can do your WORK.

You have books to write. You are the only person that can deliver them. You must trust that the world needs to read these books just as much as you need to write them.

The books will open your route to a more permanent home for The Black Stone Hermitage.

The books are Beings. They had a long gestation period. Now they are almost ready to be birthed.

You will soon be in labor.

Prepare yourself.

Wow. Loud and clear, wouldn’t you say?

…and now, all of a sudden, many good things are in the works, after years of struggling and barely scraping by. I suspect that Someone flipped the switch the moment I gave up job hunting the “normal” way and accepted that, despite my skills and advanced education, my age, sex, and health needs are strikes against me in the job market, and I may be forever unemployable…so I am therefore going to have to figure out some other way to manage my financial life and open the way for the Hermitage to expand its offerings. And besides, apparently They want me to be writing books, among other things. But writers earn very little money. So I’ve got to figure out how to support myself and the Hermitage without a conventional full-time job, so that I can do my Work.

Enter the multiple streams of income plan.

I’ve now got a promising lead for a short-term paid web gig, I will soon be launching a Patreon account to support my writing, I’ve got a respected publisher interested in my half-finished book manuscript for my Rethinking the Job Culture project, I’m planning to offer my proofreading services to paying clients, and – after I petitioned Skaði to find me a way to stay in Portland if She wanted me to continue serving Her through the work I do here – it’s looking like I will be sharing the Hermitage with a roommate in February, someone who is a fellow writer and polytheist (!!) whose living style sounds very compatible with mine.

So if all continues to go well, and things work out with the roommate situation (I have a pretty good feeling about it), I may be able to stay in Portland and continue to live in the Hermitage after all. I still have some big financial challenges to confront in 2016: punitive self-employment taxes due in April, dental and orthodontic work I need but can’t yet afford, and the possibility that Many Gods West will be out of reach for me this year financially unless Those I serve intervene to make it possible. (Skaði did so last year when I built a shrine room for Her at MGW; this year I’ve been planning to build a Black Tent Temple space at MGW, and I even have two other polytheists interested in co-facilitating the project, but I haven’t yet received any clear guidance from Those I serve about it. We will see what happens in the coming months, however. I trust that if They want me at MGW, They will make it possible somehow.) And once I have a more steady income, I plan to start an IDA to help me save for a down payment on a house for the Hermitage.

Funny how much better my life seems to flow when I stop resisting the tide. As a friend has said, when the gods don’t want you to be doing something, They WILL win eventually, no matter what They have to put you through to get Their point across. It’s a lesson I keep learning, again and again, in different ways.

Then, yesterday, through a series of beautiful synchronicities associated with taking up active work on my Rethinking the Job Culture project again, I found a podcast featuring an interview with Ethan Hughes, a man who lives on an experimental homestead in Missouri that is operated completely according to permaculture and gift principles.

It’s very rare for me to listen to podcasts, as I much prefer to take in information via the written word, but somehow I knew I had to listen to this one. The hour was well spent, and the wealth of inspiration I’ve taken from it will fuel my writing for years to come.

Back in the days when I was married and my ex and I bought rural land in BC, Canada (and later near Eugene, OR) to start an intentional community, we were aiming for something similar to what these folks are doing, albeit in a more technologically connected way. This podcast helped me understand, at a much deeper level, why we failed in our attempt. (I don’t talk about those years of my life much, because it’s difficult for me…but in my files I have some writings about them; perhaps someday I will edit and release those writings.)

This is truly a beautiful interview – one of the best I’ve ever heard – and it brought me to tears several times.

If I ever marry again – and I should add that I’ve turned my romantic life completely over to the gods and spirits I serve, for better or for worse – I want it to be to someone who thinks very much like Ethan Hughes.

So, with a giant leap of faith and a deepened level of trust in the gods to provide for my needs, I am now taking my first big steps toward making Community Supported Hermitage a reality.

Coming soon: my Patreon account launch, a new essay on my Rethinking the Job Culture blog, an expansion of my Pinterest boards to reflect more of my artistic vision for the Hermitage, and – if all goes well, and I find sufficient patronage for my writing – more frequent updates on both of my blogs, and regular progress on my book manuscripts.

Reflections on the Many Gods West conference   12 comments

MGW Skadi shrine 1RThe Many Gods West conference, and the shrine room I built in my hotel room there for Skaði, were both successful far beyond anything I had imagined. And I’m so grateful that I hardly even know where to begin.

Although I arrived home after the event exhausted from the summer heat and two nights of fitful sleep, as well as socially overloaded (this introvert isn’t used to cramming that much great conversation into three days!), it was a blissful kind of exhaustion filled with gratitude and appreciation. I started hatching plans for next year before I had even finished unpacking.

Never before have I been to an event where I, as a devotional Pagan polytheist and animist, felt so free to be who I actually am in a religious sense as well as a social, cultural, and political one. How refreshing to be in a such an accepting, respectful, affirming space with other polytheists of various gender identities, ages, class backgrounds, sex/relationship orientations, and abilities. It gave rise to an exuberance I’ve never experienced before in any kind of community space anywhere. Not in Heathen groups, magical orders, UU churches, goddess spirituality circles, deep ecology groups, or any other pagan or ‘alternative’ spirituality gatherings.

I once described myself to a friend as “basically, a radical left Pagan polytheist feminist mystic who feels trapped in a right-wing Christian corporate capitalist racist patriarchy.” To find that there is a place to gather where I don’t feel even the slightest smidgen of pressure to hide any of my religious beliefs and practice, my intersectional feminism, my opposition to coercive wage labour and support of unconditional basic income, or ANY of the work I do for that matter, is heady stuff indeed.

I once kept a fairly strict separation between my work with Rethinking the Job Culture and my Pagan polytheist/dance-related/artistic work. In retrospect I’m not entirely sure why. But for whatever reason, I went to a fair bit of trouble to maintain this separation – including using different variations on my name for each project (D. JoAnne Swanson for RJC, Danica Swanson for the dark Pagan polytheist and arts stuff.) A few years back, when I started my own business and became much less worried about what potential employers might learn about me, I finally decided I was done with all that, and began using the same author bio for each of my blogs, cross-linking all my online work, etc. Because all of these things ARE linked, for me.

So to learn that there are so many other gods-and-radicals folks out there is deeply affirming.

It was also a nice surprise to learn that there were several people I respect at the conference who had been following my blogs closely for quite awhile. I am not particularly well-known in the Pagan community and have no interest in becoming a Big Name Pagan – what introvert would want that?   But it’s great that as a blogger I can work completely in solitude, yet still easily reach folks who appreciate the work I have to offer.

And not a single person asked me what I do for a living! Not one. (This may have been because some folks already knew me as the founder of Rethinking the Job Culture and the no-longer-updated whywork.org site, but still.)

The location of the conference was convenient – just two hours from Portland by car or train. And as a non-driver who enjoys walking, I appreciated the walkability of the area around the Governor Hotel.

My only frustration was related to the summer heat, and the woefully insufficient air conditioning. The A/C in the rooms was underwhelming at best even though I kept it on its highest setting around the clock, and it was non-existent in the meeting rooms. I did request a room on the east side of the hotel in the hopes of avoiding the late afternoon sun in the west, but in the end I got assigned to a west-facing room. I am easily overwhelmed by heat, so I was uncomfortable for pretty much the whole weekend. On the second day of the shrine room I was too hot to even wear my draped layers of shrine keeper garb during the open hours – I opted for a t-shirt instead. (At least the t-shirt had Skaði’s name on it, though. And that t-shirt drew several compliments and started some great conversations, so it certainly counts for something.)

Skadi fish t-shirt

If the conference will be held at the same hotel next year (there WILL be a next year, right?), I’d love to see it scheduled at a cooler time of year, where the lack of sufficient A/C won’t be so problematic. October, maybe? Just an idea.

The other glitch I encountered was that the rooms weren’t ready at the promised time on Friday (1:00). I had arrived early in the hopes of having a leisurely lunch and getting assigned to a room well before the official opening of the conference at 1:30. My plan was to get everything unpacked and set up early for Skaði’s shrine room so that I might be free to attend either the opening ritual or Tony Rella’s 3:30 presentation on psychological support for polytheists (something I had very much wanted to attend.) As it turned out, I was unable to attend either one. I didn’t get the key to my room until 2:00, and it took me until 5:30 to get everything unpacked and set up properly for the shrine room which opened at 6:00. I barely even had enough time to eat dinner. Fortunately I had friends who were kind enough to bring me some food so I didn’t have to go out in my shrine keeper garb to get it.

And then on Sunday, I had to start packing up the shrine room right after breakfast in order to finish by the 11 AM check-out time, so I missed the morning presentation on the state of Heathenry, too.

Of course, the whole reason I was at MGW was to serve Skaði by building Her a shrine room. Everything else, I reminded myself, was icing on the cake. And there was, indeed, a lot of tasty icing on this cake: I got to see a talk on Heathen Cosmology by Heimlich A. Laguz, an ancestor workshop by Sarenth Odinsson, a talk on devotional polytheist practice by Silence Maestas, and part of Anomalous Thracian‘s talk on Religions of Relation.

So even though I missed several of the presentations I would have liked to attend (I’m especially sad that I missed John Beckett), I’m still very happy about the event in general, because I accomplished what I came there to do: host Skaði’s shrine room. And Morpheus Ravenna’s brilliant keynote address was made available in writing after the conference, which I very much appreciated since I missed out on that one too due to my shrine room service hours.

Somehow – and I’m not sure how – it managed to escape my attention that, even if I couldn’t make it to the opening ritual, I could have left an image of Skaði on the communal shrine at any point during the weekend. I regret that I was unaware of that.

I had planned to record a video tour of the shrine room, and I brought my video camera for that purpose. Unfortunately, just before I was about to pack up the shrine materials and prepare to check out of the hotel, I noticed that I had forgotten to charge the battery. And there was no time to wait for it to recharge. Wish I had thought of that earlier. Oh well. At least I managed to get some photos!  (My apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos; I chose the best one I managed to get for each angle, and some just didn’t turn out so well.  I felt it was worth including them anyway, since this was a temporary shrine and this is the only record that it even existed.)

MGW Skadi shrine 2R

MGW Skadi shrine 3R

MGW Skadi shrine 5R

MGW Skadi shrine 11R

MGW Skadi shrine 7R

MGW Skadi shrine 4R

MGW Skadi shrine 10R

A few comments about the shrine room from conference attendees:

“This is so, so beautiful…”

~ Niki Whiting

“The shrine was incredible…I was there for about 45 minutes, and really only left so I could make the keynote. It was simply a beautiful thing to have at this event.”

~ L. Phaedrus

“The shrine room was amazing to be in. It was beautiful, and I found it very restful…I think it would be fantastic if the next MGW has more such spaces! I would totally visit them. […] I did end up meeting Skadi…”

~ Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

“I was very impressed at how you managed to create the exact same atmosphere of The Black Stone Hermitage in this hotel room. I recognized the intense yet simultaneously peaceful feeling immediately. You are a powerful conductor! The shrine was beautiful, you did an amazing job.”

~ Valerie Herron

When I do the devotional work of putting together a shrine space, it’s all about atmosphere. My intent is to create an emotionally evocative atmosphere to honour the deity or spirit by combining visual and auditory elements, and sometimes olfactory elements, too, although that didn’t apply in this case. So all of the feedback is very much appreciated. (I’m open to suggestions for improvement, too!)

There were a number of plans I had for the shrine room that I was unable to implement due to the physical limitations of the hotel room space (e.g., I couldn’t move the beds to make more room in front of the shrines for people to meditate, nor could I hang curtains to hide the beds). Fortunately I managed to disguise a few of the generic-looking hotel room things where appropriate, and thus conscript them into shrine service. I draped a long blue bellydance veil and white hip scarf over the flat-screen TV, for example, which transformed it into a lovely backdrop for the main shrine.

I’m so pleased that I had the opportunity to do this shrine room. It was an honour and a privilege.  Building shrines is one of the most satisfying forms of service for me.

In addition to the organisers Niki, Rhyd, and PSVL, whose dedication and hard work made this conference possible, I would especially like to thank:

  • Arrowyn and Henry Lauer, two of my dearest friends, for hauling me and my two huge suitcases full of shrine supplies to and from the conference (and hoisting them into the car and up the stairs), for kindly bringing me dinner when it became apparent that I wouldn’t have enough time to go get it myself before the shrine room opened, and for all kinds of other logistical and emotional support throughout the conference. Not to mention consistently excellent company and conversation.  Arrowyn also told me she received some communications from Skaði during her meditation in the shrine room; with her permission, I’ll be sharing them in a separate post.
  • Heimlich A. Laguz, for a most brilliant, inspiring, and well-paced presentation of sketches toward a Heathen cosmology. The man is truly gifted. I can’t wait to read his upcoming book! In the meantime, you can read some of his Heathen mystic writings at the recently revived Elhaz Ablaze website.
  • Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan, for being such a great roommate, for accommodating the shrine-space takeover of our shared hotel room so gracefully, for respectfully maintaining such a comfortable introvert-friendly silence in the mornings, for friendly and fascinating conversation throughout the rest of the conference, and for writing up such a wonderful blog post about her experience. She has many excellent writings on Gods & Radicals and her blog – be sure to check out her work, including “Snow in Summer,” her beautiful write-up about her experience of meeting Skadi through the shrine room!
  • Sarenth Odinsson (who happened to be the first person to enter Skaði’s shrine room after it opened), for bringing several thoughtful offerings for Skaði, including a small piece of deer hide sent by Nicholas Haney as an offering from the hunt. Though Nicholas had told me in advance that he’d be sending this, somehow I got distracted and forgot about it right up until the moment Sarenth showed up in the shrine room and gave it to me. When I realised what it was, I was so happy that I jumped up and gave Sarenth a big hug before I put it on Her shrine.  What a great way to start off the shrine room!
  • Nicholas Haney, not only for the aforementioned deer hide offering, but for the lovely devotional poem he wrote for Skaði, which was included in the binder of devotional art and writing placed in the alcove in Her shrine room.
  • Carl Bonebright, for another beautiful offering of devotional writing that was included in the binder for guests to read – an evocative short story called “Encounter in the Snow.”
  • Silence Maestas, for the lovely handmade necklace he gifted me (with black stones!) which now graces Her statue on my home shrine, for the excellent presentation he gave on devotional practice, and for lots of friendly conversation and camaraderie. His book Walking the Heartroad came into my life at just the right time.Skadi statue with necklace
  • Krei Obscura, for enthusiastically lending me her Skaði idol from Norway for display in Her shrine room. I loved it so much – it was just perfect!
  • Alley Valkyrie, for her many brilliant and inspiring writings (and for complimenting my Skadhi t-shirt). I’m glad we live in the same city, as I look forward to getting to know her.
  • L. Phaedrus, for joining Fjothr and I for breakfast both mornings for friendly and relaxed conversation.  I’m happy to hear that the class Phaedrus presented on working with Anonymous Beings will be turned into a blog post, as I had to miss it since it took place at the same time as Silence’s presentation on devotional practice.
  • Valerie Herron, for her encouraging words, all-around bad-ass-ness, and friendship, not to mention her helpful impromptu bindrune. The witchcraft worked!
  • Tempest and Anaar, who were so friendly and gracious when I approached them to introduce myself and thank them for their influential work in gothic bellydance, a.k.a. dark fusion dance.  I was so sad that I missed their sacred dance performance at Obsidian!  I think MGW needs a ritual dance workshop taught by these two talented dancers.  I’d be the first to sign up!
  • Alexander Leßwing, of the German dark ambient musical project named after Skadi, whose brilliant and evocative albums set the mood for the shrine room perfectly.
  • Abby Helasdottir of Gydja, whose generous donation of an exclusive track, “The Iron Pine Tree’s Daughter,” graced the shrine room so beautifully (and whom I interviewed for Heathen Harvest back in April.)
  • David Galli of the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance, for the gift that made it possible for me to attend MGW, for bringing me a double-walled glass travel mug that was just what I needed to deliver my morning dose of lapsang souchong at the conference, and for our enduring friendship which is such a blessing and a mutual joy. David is one of my favourite people on the planet.
  • The wonderful person – I didn’t get her name, but in looking at the prayer box offerings I deduced that it may have been Rose – who spent more than an hour enjoying the shrine room, moving in that time through quiet sitting meditation to standing prayer, and then slowly morphing into beautiful improvisational dance. It was an honour to witness this process. It moved me so deeply that there were tears in my eyes, and even as I write this remembrance I am getting choked up.

And lastly, thank you to everyone who chatted with me about Skaði, visited the shrine room so respectfully, left offerings, sat in meditation and contemplation, and wrote prayers and petitions for Her. I was very moved by the whole experience, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to witness so many people paying their respects to the goddess Who stole my heart ten years ago and brought me into Heathenry.

The written offerings will be shared in a separate post.

This is long already, yet I wish I could write even more. In general I have so much writing I yearn to do, but so little time to do it, due to the many demands on my time. I’m happier when my schedule is less jam-packed, but for now it can’t be helped. At the moment I am in the midst of preparing for an upcoming tech hiring event that will mark a major career change for me, as I’ve recently finished my training coursework series in web development. Then in September I will have family visiting me at the Hermitage for the entire month. So this blog will probably be rather quiet until October.

And once I have a full-time day job – which I hope will be soon – it’s likely that progress on all of my creative projects, including the Endarkenment book manuscript, will slow down substantially. That’s fine for now, as it will permit me to focus on expanding my skills in web development, which I’m excited about…but I’m also hoping that one day, later on down the road, I will be able to do monastic community service work at the Hermitage full time, including writing, shrine keeping, geomantic divination, Earth grief work through ritual dance, psychomanteum sessions, tea meditations, and hosting spiritual incubation work via the Black Tent Temple project. I would like my religion and path of monastic service to be integrated into my daily life in a more fundamental and community-based way.

Right now the only legally recognised Pagan monastery I know about in the US is The Matreum of Cybele. There are many things about what they’ve done that inspire me. They are religious Pagans living in a convent, serving their community, and sharing the responsibilities of daily life and caring for one another in a way that (presumably) reduces the need for their members to have full-time jobs elsewhere to support the nunnery. While the plans I have for the future of the Hermitage are more focused on solitary and one-to-one service work, I do hope to integrate what I do into the community more deeply, and thereby come up with some kind of variation on the “traditional” models of monastic life that will provide a suitable shared context for the religious work I do over the long term. Community land trust? Some kind of permaculture co-op? This remains to be seen.

In any case, I may one day start a Patreon account to support this work. I love Patreon, both as a fan/supporter and as a creator. A number of my blog readers have already encouraged me to launch a Patreon account (thank you for the vote of confidence!), so it may be that by the time my life circumstances permit me to do so, the transition will proceed smoothly for the Hermitage. We will see.

One last thing I want to comment on before I close this. I met someone at the conference with whom I’d very much like to make contact again, as I really enjoyed our all-too-brief chat. She approached me outside room B in the Olympia Center after the talk by Heimlich A. Laguz on Sketches for a Heathen Cosmology, and asked if she could take a photo of the back of my t-shirt. I was wearing my Cyclic Law t-shirt – on the back it reads “obscure ambient & industrial soundscapes.” She identified herself as a goth/industrial music fan who likes to explore new music, and she wanted the URL of the Cyclic Law website handy so she could check it out later on.

Cyclic Law t-shirt

She appeared to be around my age, and she was dressed all in black with brightly dyed long-ish red hair. I complimented her on the unique serpent pendant she was wearing, and we briefly discussed dance, jewelry, the goth/industrial scene, and music.

A fellow polytheist, around my age, at a talk on Heathen philosophy, who has a history in the goth/industrial scene and likes to dance? Definitely sounds like someone I’d like to get to know.

Unfortunately I only got her first name, and none of her contact info. She may have mentioned where she was from, but my middle-aged memory is not what it used to be, so I don’t recall. And I’m not even sure about her name – I think it may have been Amanda? I did give her my card for the Black Stone Hermitage, so perhaps she will find me that way…but if you’re reading this and you happen to know who it is I’m talking about, would you point her to this post?

Thank you!  Oh, and if there is anyone else who had an experience with Skaði in the shrine room that they would like to share, I would be delighted to hear it – please comment here or e-mail me at shrine.of.skadi at gmail.

P.S. If I misspelled anyone’s name, applied any inappropriate pronouns, or botched the linking in any way, please correct me.  As I’ve mentioned, my memory is not as good as it once was.  Thanks!

P.P.S. I will be hosting a “MGW-outpost” meeting at the Hermitage in downtown Portland in the autumn, and possibly also a geomancy (divination) study group.  Feel free to contact me if interested!

An Outpouring of Gratitude (Or, Skaði Throws Me a Bone)   8 comments

Blue WinterThis 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!

Onward!