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(Note, March 2017: I no longer maintain this page, but am leaving it online for archival purposes.  More info on the services I provide can be found here.  Want to help support the Hermitage?  Become a patron!)

This FAQ is a work in progress.  It can – and will – change and be extended over time.

1. What is The Black Stone Hermitage?

Dark cave

Subterranean inspiration

The Black Stone Hermitage is a subterranean-themed dark Pagan incubation space and private monastic retreat hosted by writer, polytheist, and resident anchoress-in-training Danica Swanson. Devotional arts and services provided for the community include customised dark ambient music playlists, Shrine of Skadi ritual dance, shrine-building, Earth grief work, geomancy (Earth divination), and tea meditations. The Hermitage is the original home of the Black Tent Temple Project.

Each page on this site portrays an element of the complete vision: the Dark Pagan Tea Alliance, dark fusion temple dance, industrial and dark ambient music & culture, serpent wisdom, a sanctuary of moss & rock, an in-house library focused on the concept of Endarkenment, and the Black Tent Temple and Psychomanteum.

Cascadian forest inspiration

Cascadian forest inspiration

2.  Where is it located?

Downtown Portland, OR, a.k.a. the Cascadia bioregion.

There have been some “nudges” from spirits toward locating it in Sweden one day, but as of 2015 there are still no active plans in place to do that.

3. What do you mean when you say you are a “dark” Pagan?

“Dark,” as I use it to describe my work at the Hermitage, refers primarily to three spheres:

1) The shadow self in the Jungian sense – an inwardly directed, occult spiritual path that involves learning to know oneself and embracing darkness from within.  This includes facing one’s own inner demons and finding the sacred in darker emotional states such as anger, horror, suspense, dread, sorrow, grief, fear, loneliness, or mourning.

2) An appreciation of – and ability to perceive beauty in – the darker and more earthy side of the human experience.  This can apply to art, music, dance, photography, architecture, fashion, home décor, gardening, wildcrafting, permaculture, and many other endeavours.

3) A connection, attraction to, and/or worship of the dark and Earthly divine in myriad forms.

Here are some other elements and forms that a dark spiritual path may include:

  • SolitudeWinter scene
  • Introspection
  • Contemplation
  • Intensity
  • Depth
  • The Underworld
  • Mystery, secrets and hidden wisdom
  • Primordial forms of life
  • The unknown
  • Serpent symbolism
  • Solemnity
  • The depth and chill of winter
  • Caves, crypts, and cavernous subterranean spaces
  • Forlorn landscapes
  • Fog and mist
  • Urban decay, destruction and desolation
  • Dense forests
  • Abandoned places
  • Perception of deep wounds inflicted upon and suffered by the Earth
  • The links between destruction and creation, death and rebirth, chaos and creativity
  • Inner strength, power, and self-respect born of surviving great pain and struggles
  • Chthonic gods and spirits
  • Left Hand Path work (e.g., Vamachara Tantra, Qliphotic Qabalah)
  • Entheogens and altered states of consciousness

(I even like my tea dark, strong, earthy, and robust – as it happens, smoky Lapsang Souchong is my all-time favourite tea.)

“Dark” in the sense I am using it does not refer to vampires, BDSM, fetish, porn, shock, gore, cruelty, rape, extreme pain and terror, carnage, titillation, drug abuse, or degradation.

4.  How are you going to build this dark Pagan sanctuary and temple space?  And where will it be located?

That will be determined as I go along, one step at a time.  I live from the hands of the gods and spirits in all that I do.  Sometimes that means simply trusting the divinely inspired vision and stepping out into the realms of the unknown, with no idea what may be around the corner.  As always, I acknowledge that there is a risk of misinterpretation, as the information I receive in visions is always being filtered through the dense thicket of all my current beliefs, biases, cognitive limitations, and so on.

There does seem to be a void to fill.  Currently, as far as I am aware, there are very few Pagan temples, especially for dark Pagans who need regular solitude for their work.  We should have a full range of religious and community support structures of our own.  We need sanctuaries, temples, altars, shrines, stone circles, caves (or even cavelike basements), labyrinths, forests, gardens, monasteries, and safe places for meditation and religious retreat.  Apparently I have been tasked with making inroads in this direction, to the extent of my ability…albeit on a very small scale.

It is my hope that by putting the vision of The Black Stone Hermitage into writing and pictures to the best of my ability, the people with whom it resonates will be drawn to it.  In this, I am relying on what Don Webb (a/k/a Uncle Setnakt) calls “the part of ourselves that acts upon the Cosmos, and is acted upon by entities in the Cosmos on a magical level. It has access to data that is not bound in chronological time, it can cause effects at a distance, it can lead you to items and persons that are desirable even if you do not recognize their qualities due to their surface manifestations…”

That is as much as I know right now; it may, in fact, be all that I need to know at this point.

And while I’m on the topic of what I don’t know…I would like to emphasise that I do not, and will not, represent myself as an expert on any of the things I write about here.  I’m a lifelong student; I learn as I go along.  I am a writer, a dark fusion dancer, and a humble temple keeper.  I’m not a priestess, a shaman, or a big-name Pagan elder, and I don’t have any desire to be any of these things.  In fact, I often struggle with what I’ll call ‘spiritual imposter syndrome’.  I’m a solitary, reclusive, introverted Pagan mystic who avoids the spotlight and practices in a private setting.  Although I study and read a lot, there are vast swaths of Paganism, Heathenism, magic and the occult that I know next to nothing about.  While I have been known to compare notes on occasion, I have no interest in telling anyone else how they should practice.  I try not to participate in online arguments of any kind in the Pagan blogosphere; they drain me of emotional energy that is much-needed for my spiritual work.

5. What does your name mean?  What is the significance of the ‘black stone’?

Black obsidian

Black obsidian – a favourite stone at the Hermitage

The Black Stone Hermitage name was revealed in a vision I had in early 2011.  The name “Black Stone Arts” came to me a few months later, and I immediately knew it was right, and would encompass all of my artistic and spiritual practices.  I like the fact that I was given a name with multiple layers of significance that would be flexible enough to suit any form this path may take in the future.

As for the meaning and significance…well, I’m figuring that out bit by bit as I go along, much as I do with everything related to this vision.  Here are a few thoughts.

One of the namesakes of The Black Stone Hermitage is, of course, a black stone: Black Obsidian.  It is my favourite stone of all, and truly one of my best teachers. I knew virtually nothing about this stone when the name of the Hermitage originally came to me. When I later learned more about Black Obsidian and its reputation as a stone of protection for gentle-hearted people, I got chills.  One source says: “Obsidian helps to protect the very sensitive against depression. It is the stone of the soft hearted and gentle people of the world.”  In other words, it’s exactly what I need.  I am well known for what I call the “Swanson family waterworks” – I am easily moved to tears, by both joy and suffering.  I have been like this all my life, and it makes things very difficult at times.  So this stone is powerful medicine for me.

Here’s a relevant bit from Robert Simmons and Naisha Ahsian’s The Book of Stones: “Black Obsidian is useful for all types of scrying, including spirit communication…[it] is a powerful emotional teacher. It leads one to an understanding and acceptance of the darker side of one’s nature.”

As for connections to the gods and spirits I serve, there is an assertion in Ynglinga Saga (Hollander translation) that “bones of the sea” is a kenning for “rocks”, so Skaði may be considered “a dweller among rocks.”  This is an interesting and seemingly appropriate connection to me, since Skaði is the primary deity in my devotional practice, and I associate Her with the colour black and with stone in general.

After making a small donation to the Maetreum of Cybele to help with their legal battles, I realised I knew very little about Cybele and did a bit of research to find out more about Her.  During the course of that research I discovered that Cybele is associated with ecstatic dance and with a black stone from Pessinus – something I did not know when the name “Black Stone Hermitage” was revealed to me.  I don’t think this connection is coincidental, though I don’t yet understand what it means.

Interesting note from Wikipedia page on temples of Cybele in Rome: “Annually, on 27 March, the sacred black stone of the Magna Mater was brought from her temple on the Palatine to where the Almo brook…crossed the via Appia south of the Porta Capena, for the ceremony of “lavatio” (washing). Although there are numerous references to this ceremony, it seems to have constituted a “locus sacratus” or sacred place rather than a permanent building, as supported by the lack of archaeological evidence for it.”

Here is a hodgepodge collection of other black stone associations that I’ll be exploring and pondering:

* Alchemical Kubrick by Jay Weidner – a fascinating article on the significance of the monolith (a black stone) in Kubrick’s film 2001: it mentions transformation, gnosis, and the Philosopher’s Stone.  “In alchemy all things that exist come from the black stone, or the ‘prima materia’.”

* Lapis Niger – excellent and evocative dark ritual ambient music from Tommy Eriksson of the Swedish magical order Dragon Rouge.  Has an album called At the Throne of Melek Taus, and a track entitled Black Serpent Dance.

* Esoteric/occult/LHP significance – black stone with sixty names of demons; black diamond of draconian alchemy; Qliphotic Qabalah; Typhonian current; Ixaxaar, the stone of transformation

* The Lapis Niger and the grave of Romulus (the Lapis Niger is an ancient shrine in the Roman forum)

* Mami deities in feminine form worshiped as black stones

* Link to worship of the divine feminine…other goddesses associated with black stones: Aphrodite (Black Stone of Paphos); Artemis/Diana (Temple at Ephesis); and Astarte.

* Rune #32 in the Anglo-Frisian Futhorc – refers to stone (ritual stone altar, according to pp. 27-28 of Edred’s book Rune Might); also see #28, ior rune (serpent)

* Black Stone at Kaaba (object of religious worship in Islam)

* Rosetta Stone – made of black basalt

* Black stone as “Earth’s omphalos” (navel) or as one type of axis mundi (center of the world, or bridge between Earthly and heavenly energies)

* Elawar, May, M.A. “The Black Stone.” Essay in Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum, She is Everywhere!  An Anthology of Writing in Womanist/Feminist Spirituality.

* Mordgud’s Tower on the road to Helheim: made of  “black shiny stone

* “The Black Stone,” A 1931 short Lovecraftian horror story by Robert E. Howard – considered part of the Cthulhu mythos

* Brian Dillon writes:
“The belief that spirits could be summoned in a dark glass or smooth stone goes back at least as far as Euclid, who writes of images appearing in the space between the viewer and the magic surface into which he peers. By the 14th century, scrying with a black stone or a convex glass mirror was widely held to be a common practice among witches.”

* The Finnish ritual dark ambient band Arktau Eos, on the liner notes for their album Mirrorion, has the following intriguing note:

“…of secrets only a stone shining black can show: Testimony of the Veiled”

6.  What gods and spirits do you worship or work with?

Skaði is the goddess I am closest to, but I have a prominent shrine for Mordgud and the ancestors as well.  Since 2004 I have been primarily devoted to the gods of the Norse pantheon, so I called myself a Heathen for some time…but then Ganesha came into my life, and after that, Others followed, so now I just call myself a dark Pagan.  Over the years I have had connections of varying strength to Skaði, Óðinn, Þórr, Freyja, Freyr, Loki, Mani, Ganesha, Shiva Nataraja, Sarasvati, Isis, White Tara, Hekate, Mordgud, and Set/Sutekh.

As of 2015, my devotional work is focused almost entirely on Skaði, Mordgud, and The Black Stone…and I have erected new shrines for Nidhogg and Santa Muerte.  Though I no longer serve any of the Others listed above, I will gladly honour and pay my respects to any of Them in ritual space.

I am also in devotional service to land wights, huldufolk, stone spirits, and plant spirits: mosses, lichens, bamboo, and the tea spirit.  The Moss Rock Sanctuary is the home I will one day build for these spirits.

7.  What’s with the industrial/goth subculture emphasis?

The goth/industrial scene is my “home,” just as it’s been for the past 20 years.  It’s definitely not  just a phase.   The intense music has always been the main attraction for me, but I also thoroughly appreciate the dark artistic aesthetic, the acceptance and encouragement of eccentricity, queerness and general nerdiness, and the fact that there are lots of other Pagans and occultists in the scene.

The goth scene is where I found acceptance as an introverted, intellectual, bookish, pensive, gentle, empathic nerd girl who, in her youth, almost always preferred to stay indoors and play cards or read books while the other kids were out playing sports.  Goth culture gave me hope that I could live my life on my own terms.  With my goth/rivethead friends, I could be passionate and emotionally intense without scaring people off.  I was never expected to paste on a smile or act perky if I didn’t feel like it.

From my fellow goths, I have learned that true beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and that I don’t have to conform to conventional beauty standards to find love or friendship.  It gives me an outlet for my feminist outrage; in my circle of friends at least, strong and smart women are generally respected and appreciated, and people regularly get called out or shunned for misogynist behaviour.  And no one sits on the sidelines waiting to be asked to dance, because dancing alone is always perfectly acceptable in goth clubs.

The music is really the main draw in my case, though.  It is very much a spiritual thing for me – simply put, it’s about learning to embrace the darkness within.  No other kind of music takes me so deeply or beautifully into the kind of dark places I need to go to do my spiritual work.

8.  Why do you use both American and British spellings?

Ever since I lived in BC, Canada for two years and then returned to the USA, I acquired a bad habit of switching back and forth between the USA and Canadian/British English spellings when I write (favorite/favourite, organized/organised, etc.)  Even though I live in the USA right now, I have every intention of going back and standardising all my writings to the Canadian/British spellings eventually, since I prefer those.

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Posted 2011/08/18 by The Black Stone Hermitage

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