Archive for the ‘black tent temple’ Tag

Announcing: NEW website and Patreon for the Hermitage!   Leave a comment

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I’m delighted to announce that I have a brand new website and Patreon campaign for the Hermitage!  Please give them a look, and if you enjoy my writings on dark ambient music, playlists, shrine photos, Black Tent Temple design, devotional dance, etc., please consider becoming a patron!  I have many exciting plans in store for the future of the Hermitage, and I’d love to devote more time to writing and community service work.

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The resident hermit.  Photo by J. Buffington.


Queries I’ve answered in depth on the new site include:

* What is sacred endarkenment?
* What do I need to know if I want to visit the Hermitage in Portland?
* Could you put together a dark ambient playlist for my yoga class/ritual/event?
* You do lamentation dance for ecological and ancestral grief?
* You’re writing a boook about dark ambient music?
* You interviewed a bunch of dark ambient musicians? Where can I read more?
* When will your new (book, essay, article on underrated dark ambient albums) be published?
* Where’s your bio/photo/background information?

…and of course there are devotional pages for Skaði, Móðguðr (Mordgud), and the conifers I love so much.


 

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Tea table and shrine space at the Hermitage. Photo by Ilana Hamilton of Blackthorn Photography.

If you are interested in visiting the Hermitage in person, I am making new offerings available to you: Paths of Sacred Endarkenment retreats, a monthly geomancy study group, and access to the in-house library of over 900 books by appointment.

I offer several pay-what-you-want and gift services (custom themed dark ambient music playlists, Black Tent Temple design, and hospitality) as well as hourly rate services (house cleaning and proofreading.)


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And if you are a polytheist/animist who is also on Patreon, take a look at the BIG (basic income guarantee) Polytheist Patreon Creator Pledge Network.  If you’d like to take the pledge to limit your own final patronage goal in support of basic income for everyone, contact me and I will add your name to the list.  Here’s to building strong and resilient mutual aid networks for polytheists, and increased visibility for the basic income movement!

My new site is not a blog, but a landing page with info on all of my current projects.  You can find links to almost everything I’ve published online in the past 20 years, including my book manuscript for Rethinking the Job Culture.  It was put together by divine mandate…and working on it consumed nearly all my free time for the last four months of 2016, so I’m pleased that it is finally finished and I can get back to focusing on writing again.


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I have ambitious writing plans for 2017, and will be posting updates on published work here, as well as on Patreon and on social media.  Patrons will always hear the latest news first!


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From my new Patreon page:

“I have a religious mission of service: to help make inroads toward organized monastic life for would-be polytheist nuns and monks through creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.

“The Black Stone Hermitage is my home, where I live, work, and serve. It’s also a concept that I am developing and extending to others through artistic and devotional use of my living space as a host. With time, I hope the Hermitage will become a retreat space and house of worship that will outlive me, and continue on to serve future polytheists who feel called to monastic life and seek solitude and endarkenment for contemplative reasons.

“After 20+ years as a Pagan, and 13 years of dedicated solitary service to Skaði, it’s time for me to reach out and expand my community service offerings – and to do that, I need your help!  The need for polytheist monastic hospitality and fellowship is growing.  2016 saw the founding of Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism, a new discussion group on Facebook which has attracted more than 125 people, and a new entity called LANMIPP (Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically Inclined Polytheist Pagans).  I am closely involved with both, in administrative roles.

“As things currently stand, there are few options for polytheist Heathens and Pagans called to monastic life. The need for them is there, but it remains unmet. With your support, I hope to use my creative work, centered around the concept of sacred endarkenment, to help build a foundation for future contemplative monastic endeavors in our communities – and eventually, when the right space is found, to relocate the Hermitage to a permaculture co-housing community or ecovillage with a religious mission.”

This blog you are now reading (at blackstonemonastery) will remain online indefinitely as an archive – a chronicle of the development of the first five years of the Hermitage vision.  It is now mostly retired, however.  All of my future blog posts will appear at my blog home on Medium.

I would greatly appreciate your help in publicizing the new website and Patreon.  If you appreciate my work, please share these links widely.

Thank you so much, and I wish you many blessings in 2017!

A Black Tent Temple by Gerrie Ordaz   Leave a comment

Over the past couple of years, interest has been growing in the Black Tent Temple concept I put forth on the Hermitage blog back in 2012. I’ve received quite a few inquiries about it. I encouraged anyone who was interested to take the idea and run with it, and invited them to share their results with me in words, photos, video, or whatever medium best suited them. In August of 2015, Priestess Gerrie Ordaz put together the first Black Tent Temple space outside the one at my Hermitage.

Last month, Gerrie built a Black Tent Temple space for the second year in a row at the Oasis event by Earth Traditions, a Pagan church in Chicago. I’m delighted to share her new post about it, complete with photos and the lines from the opening rite she performed. These lines were influenced by the rites of the Order of the Black Madonna:

“To the Vastness of the Holy Dark we bow down.
To the Fierce and Compassionate Darkness we bow again.”

I am also intrigued that Gerrie writes “There was a small black cauldron in which was placed black stones for people to take back home with them the blessings of the Black Tent,” as this is exactly what I have done with my own Black Tent Temple space at the Hermitage, but it’s something Gerrie and I had not discussed in advance. And I noted with similar intrigue that the Healing Shrine of Asclepios at Many Gods West last month also had a bowl of small, magically charged stones for visitors to take with them.

Check out Gerrie’s wonderful work, and if it inspires you, why not get creative and build one yourself? A basement, backyard, or even a walk-in closet (like the one I’ve used at the Hermitage for the psychomanteum/darkroom meditation space) could be a great place to start!

I am gathering material for a future website featuring Black Tent Temple spaces, so if you decide to build one and would like to share the results with me, please do!

(Photos shared here with Gerrie’s permission.)

My Vision for the Future of the Hermitage   Leave a comment

Skadi print from Bifrost & Beyond

Skaði devotional art print by Chris of Bifrost & Beyond (UK)

Five years have now passed since I received the original vision of the Hermitage in 2011 and started this blog to chronicle the development of the vision.  Now, the time has come to take the leap of faith.   I’ve committed myself to a full-time path of creative self-employment, contemplative solitude, and service work as a polytheist anchoress – a.k.a. Pagan monastic – in service of Skaði.

Sources of support and affirmation that this is the right path for me seem to be arising just as they’re needed.  In recent weeks, the Hermitage received its first book donation to kick-start the in-house library project (thank you to Priestess Gerrie Ordaz!), and its first donation-supported shrine room art (see photo.)

The beautiful Skaði art is by Chris of Bifrost And Beyond.  The acquisition of this devotional art marks the start of a new stage in bringing the Hermitage vision to full fruition.  It’s now framed and integrated into Her ever-expanding shrine space.  Later this year, the Hermitage will be commissioning a custom devotional woodcarving of Skaði – through Chris’s Gungnir Godposts project – to grace Her shrine space.

In October I will be launching a Patreon campaign for the Hermitage.  Any support I receive beyond what’s needed to support the current space will go toward saving for a down payment on a home with a subterranean space, where I will be able to expand the services I offer.

This means that, as of October, I will have two Patreon campaigns.  On the blog for my other main project, Rethinking the Job Culture, I recently posted a personal essay, “Why I Love Patreon,” which was made possible by the support of my patrons for that project.  It’s received wonderful and encouraging feedback.  My in-person visitors have been expressing interest in supporting the development of the Hermitage in an ongoing way, and Patreon is the best platform for me to do that.  (Most of my readers follow either RJC or the Hermitage, but not both.  I write and publish under two different variations of my name, so most of my RJC readers only know me as D. JoAnne Swanson, while most who follow my dark ambient writings and the Hermitage only know me as Danica Swanson.)

As part of my preparation for the upcoming launch of my Patreon campaign for the Hermitage, I’ve put together a detailed list of all the elements of the Hermitage vision.  I’ve also done a recent interview – if you haven’t read that yet, and are interested in visiting the Hermitage sometime, please start there.  It’s the best introduction to my work that has been published thus far.

And for a visual glimpse into some of the elements of the Hermitage vision, my Pinterest boards are a good place to start.

Service Projects

1.  Non-Fiction Writing – books and essays

My primary form of sacred service is writing.  Words are magical; many doors have opened in my life solely due to my ability to arrange words in ways that move people.  As Alley Valkyrie has written:  “Words are magic.  They can hex, they can heal, they can change lives for the better and also destroy them.  They are never ‘just words.'”

Three non-fiction book manuscripts, plus many essays and blog posts on the themes of leisure and sacred endarkenment, have been assigned to me to write.

These books are Beings, and I have been told in no uncertain terms that whatever else may happen in my life, it is my responsibility to work with Those I serve to ensure that these books get written and published before my time on this Earth comes to an end.  They are:

* On The Leisure Track: Rethinking the Job Culture
* Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture
* Sacred Endarkenment

Because most of my free time since my divorce has been consumed with my business, job-hunting, and job-readiness prep work, I haven’t made anywhere near as much progress on these books as I’d like.  Now that I’ve given up job-hunting entirely, though, and am focusing all my energies on Black Stone Home Service, Rethinking the Job Culture, and the Black Stone Hermitage, I am happy that I will finally be able to make more steady progress on writing these books.

2.  Chthonic Cathedral Music Consultancy Project

Over the past few years, as word has gotten around about my passion for dark ambient music, I’ve become known as the “village dark ambient nerd.”  I provide custom themed dark ambient music playlists for events, classes, and rituals.  I can tailor these playlists around a theme, an emotional state, and/or as a devotional for a deity or spirit.  I can also suggest single tracks to help facilitate a mindset conducive to specific projects.  One attendee at a ritual for which I provided the musical playlist found out about this service I provide, and called me “Portland’s best kept secret.”

There are few things I love more than introducing people to great dark ambient music, and it seems to please Those I serve as well as my community, so this project will continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.

3.  Black Tent Temple Project

I design and create what I call endarkened meditative spaces at the Hermitage, and for others in the community by arrangement.  These spaces are designed to facilitate leisure, contemplation, and retreat…within the context of a dramatic, emotionally evocative gothic style.  The intent is to construct the space in aesthetically pleasing, inviting ways, in order to facilitate engaged religious experiences.

One element of this space at the Hermitage is the working altar upon which The Black Stone (a 50 mm black obsidian sphere) rests.  I use this altar daily for veiled meditations.  The Black Stone is the namesake of the Hermitage, and I often make offerings and prayers to it, or use it for scrying.

The first Black Tent Temple outside the Hermitage was created at a Pagan event in 2015.  In the autumn, I will be designing a custom endarkened space for a grief ritual.  This project, too, is one that I expect to continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.

4.  In-house Library

Over 900 well-loved books – many of which are long out of print and hard to find – live at the Hermitage, and thanks to the encouragement of my guests who have expressed enthusiastic interest in this service after perusing my bookshelves, I will be opening my library for community use.  Beginning in the darkening days of October, I’ll be hosting special open house reading-and-contemplation days by appointment, so that visitors can come and browse the library at leisure, relax with books and tea, and enjoy the dark ambient music, the Black Tent Temple space, and the contemplative atmosphere.  I also have a post in the works about the contemplative practice of lectio divina for polytheists, and I will be making more Sunday Shelfie and “book of the week” posts (with quoted excerpts!) to provide a glimpse of what’s available for those who can visit the Hermitage in person.

(Potential visitors should note that the space is small – it’s a 550-square-foot live/work studio.  Because of space arrangements, I will only be able to host a maximum of three people at a time; most often I have one or two.  I will not be offering lending at this time; in-house reading only.)

5. A shrine room for Skaði, and a monthly worship service

Over the 12 years I’ve worked in Skaði’s service, my shrine space for Her has grown to the point where it now occupies a large four-shelf bookcase, is spilling over, and would certainly grow to fill a full room if I had sufficient space.  I also have a box full of shrine supplies for Her that I am keeping in storage but cannot currently use due to lack of proper space.  (I did use them to build a shrine room for Her at Many Gods West in 2015, however, and plan to use them to build a shrine room for Her once again at MGW in 2017.)

I have vowed to Her that when a permanent home for the Hermitage is found – hopefully through some kind of community land trust – that allows me to build in a subterranean space, I will construct a shrine room for Her there.  The shrine space will be as magnificent and awe-inspiring as I can possibly make it.  (A friend once called me “Skaði’s PR department.”  Not far off the mark.)

As I envision it, this future shrine room will involve:

* A large statue of Her as the shrine’s centerpiece – I will be commissioning an artist for this.
* Several devotional playlists of dark ambient music (including a track called “The Hermit” by the brilliant German musician whose project is named after Her; this track was composed in 2012, exclusively for the Hermitage).
* A subterranean cave-like shrine space that can easily be kept cool, so the wintry feel can be enjoyed year-round.
* Little wall alcoves featuring miniatures arranged to depict Skaði’s myths and stories, complete with recessed LED lighting to create targeted pools of light over the scenes. (Christians do this sort of thing with nativity scenes; my idea is to do a Heathen version!  And yes, this includes the tale in which Loki makes Her laugh by tying His testicles to a goat.  Hey, it’s been illustrated before – why not?)
* Shrine supplies with themes sacred to Her – winter, snow, ice, mountains, bow-hunting, wolves, deer hide, snowshoes, etc.
* Silver thuribles (incense burners) in which conifer-based resins and incenses are burned – especially spruce resin, as spruce trees are sacred to Her.
* A mini-‘stage’ alongside or around the shrine – a slightly elevated section of flooring which can be used for devotional dance practice.
* Sheer black curtains, and  some kind of narrow hall or enclosed entryway – a transitional space through which visitors must pass before entering the shrine room.
* Comfortable spaces for washing hands, leaving coats and shoes at the door, and kneeling before the shrine.
* Regularly scheduled open house  times for visitors to make in-person offerings and prayers in Her shrine room.
* Regularly scheduled worship and offering services for Her.  For these services, which I will conduct privately (or with one or two in-person guests), I will accept petition requests from the community in advance.  I will perform candle blessings with specially anointed and dressed candles and/or make offerings to Skaði for each petitioner.

As I do in all of my work creating atmospheres of scared endarkenment, I combine visual, architectural, auditory, spatial, and olfactory elements – and sometimes kinesthetic ones, too, when devotional or ritual dance is involved – to construct inspiring and emotionally engaging religious spaces.  Skaði’s shrine room will involve all of these elements, and more.  (Maybe even tactile and gustatory elements, if it pleases Her!)

6.  Shrine spaces for Móðguðr and Santa Muerte

Though Skaði is the main deity in my devotional practice, I also have a relationship with Móðguðr, and a newer but very inspiring relationship with La Santisima, a.k.a. Santa Muerte.  Móðguðr’s shrine has been in place since 2011, and is lovingly tended year-round, though She only visits occasionally – October seems to be Her favorite month for visits.

I met Santa Muerte in early 2015, and like many devotees I was stunned by how quickly and effectively she responded to my petition.  Later that year I expanded her shrine space, and began asking her to help me attract the right sources of support for the work I do.  When the Hermitage finds its subterranean home, I have promised her that she will have a larger and even more beautiful space.

All guests at the Hermitage may make offerings to Skaði, Móðguðr, and Santa Muerte, and/or arrange for meditation time in front of Their shrines.

7. Geomancy – divination study and practice group

I’ve been studying and practicing geomancy since late 2014, and still consider myself a beginner.  If and when the time comes that I become ready to read for others, I will offer geomantic divination readings as a community service.  For now, I will be hosting a geomancy study and practice group, starting in the autumn along with my new Patreon launch.

For the future subterranean Hermitage space, I envision a cozy covered booth seating area with a table for this purpose – some kind of draped cozy alcove with padded booth seats, or perhaps a breakfast nook that will seat two or three people comfortably.  This divination space would be used not just for casting geomantic charts, of course, but also for things like contemplative practices with books, scrying, or tea meditations.

I also study and practice the other kind of geomancy – dowsing with rods and pendulums, and working to harmonize earth energies.  Inspired by the work of Alanna Moore and the book Earth Alchemy by Anne Parker and Dominique Susani, I intend to use the geomantic skills I am studying to select a geoprosperous location for the Hermitage, and for any stones that may be placed in and around it.

8. Conifer-based forest scented items – sacred smoke and aromatherapy

My long-standing adoration of conifers and their intoxicating scents is well known.  I already drink Douglas Fir and spruce tip tea, and make “deep forest aromatherapy” spritzers at the Hermitage for daily use in my home and my house cleaning business.  (My all-time favorite is a mix of cedarwood from Uncle Harry’s, and black pine from Liberty Naturals.)  I can’t stand synthetic perfumes, and in fact am allergic to many of the petrochemical ingredients.  But put me in range of a forest filled with cedar or spruce trees, and I perk up immediately.

I’d love to expand this conifer-based work.  In the right space, and with the approval of the spirits of these magnificent trees that inspire me, I envision making small batches of wildcrafted conifer goods for use at the Hermitage.  Cedar smudge sticks, spruce resin incense, pine tar salve, grand fir bath salts, sachets made with Western Redcedar shavings…I have lots and lots of ideas.  I would definitely like to make conifer-based incense myself to fill the thuribles I use for worship services, using wildcrafted and locally sourced ingredients.

I also envision the future home of the Hermitage having a conifer of some sort as Vårdträd – the  Swedish word for “guardian tree.”  I’ve been very inspired by the Swedish tradition in which a home’s sacred Vårdträd is honored, cared for, protected, and given offerings.

9. Tea meditations

The Hermitage is fortunate to have an official tea consultant who is not only knowledgeable, but is also one of the nicest, most kind-hearted people on Earth!  My dear friend David Galli, who is Head Cheerleader at the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance and Director of Tea Education at The Jasmine Pearl, has been advising me about sourcing affordable pu-erh teas for future tea meditations at the Hermitage.  I am also discussing the possibility of digitally recording some guided meditations in David’s beautiful and mesmerizing voice, to accompany future tea sessions at the Hermitage.

This project is in the early planning stages – it’s a “stretch goal” of sorts.  Currently, I have equipment for tea service Western-style, but do not yet have proper equipment to serve tea gongfu style.  One day I hope to expand the tea offerings at the Hermitage.

10. Videos and photo shoots – shrines, tours of the Hermitage, ritual dance

Another future project that is part of the Hermitage vision involves making videos of the spaces I design.  I’ve been inspired by Silence Maestas’ Virtual Temple Project; he built a lovely shrine space for Loki, and recorded it on video for worshipers to enjoy.  If Skaði approves, I would like to make recordings of Her shrine space, complete with incense, candles, dark ambient music, and perhaps recited prayers or poetry for Her as well.

I’m also planning some devotional and themed photo shoots – a ritual for Skaði in a snowy forest, donning a cloak and lantern and embodying The Hermit from the tarot, or simply wearing modest Pagan monastic garb – robes, prayer beads, head coverings, and all.

For  quite some time I’ve been planning to make ritual dance videos for my Shrine of Skaði (devotional) and Drinking the Tears of the Earth (grief ritual) dance projects, but I haven’t been able to get far with this due to lack of time, assistance, and suitable equipment.  (I did manage to get a couple of practice videos made, but that was in 2012!)

Then, in March of this year, I was diagnosed with tarsal tunnel syndrome – a musculoskeletal injury that forced me to give up dancing for several months.  After some rehabilitative work I’m doing much better now, and have recently been given the go-ahead by my doctor to start dancing again, as long as I take it slow and ease my way back in.  My first task is to find some flexible black shoes appropriate for belly dance that will support insoles.  I’m looking at sturdy ballet flats or ghillies of the sort that are used in Irish dance.  Once I have those, I will get back on track to regular dancing.  However, it will probably be awhile before I’m able to make videos.  So I’m holding this out as another “stretch goal” project.

I am also retreating from offering any services directly related to grief work.  Recent experiences have taught me that I have a great deal of learning to do before I will be properly prepared to take on this type of work.  As always, I will take my cues from Those I serve and the feedback of my community, and it’s clear that this is not my specialty.  My specialty is in designing atmospheres and physical spaces – safe containers that can support and facilitate the grief work.  So that is where I will direct my focus.

11. Pilgrimage to Sweden – possible artist residency?

Though I was born and raised in the USA, my maternal ancestral line originally hails from rural Småland and Östergötland in Sweden.  I am planning a spiritual pilgrimage to Sweden to do genealogical research, explore the lands of my indigenous ancestors, and make offerings to the land spirits. I have musician friends to visit in Umeå and Linköping – one with whom I have a magical friendship.  I’d like to visit runestones, labyrinths, and sacred sites linked to Pagan gods, especially Skaði.  I’m looking into the possibility of doing some kind of artist residency in Sweden – perhaps linked to a Swedish Heathen group that has members interested in monastic life and contemplative practice.  And I have promised Skaði that I will model Her shrines at the Hermitage based on what I learn about Her sacred spaces in Sweden.

And that, dear ones, is my vision for the future of the Hermitage.

I also want to note that I hold this vision, and put it forth in words, with full awareness that it is the gods and the spirits of the home and the land Who direct the work I do at the Hermitage.  These visions I’ve been given are gifts – things that “want” to happen – and while I as Creative Endarkenment Overseer can help steer the process of helping them to manifest, I can’t ever be in complete control of this process, and that is as it should be.  So I approach all the work I do at the Hermitage with an attitude of trust and sacred service.  That means I accept that, while I’ve done the best I can to put the vision into words, the results may deviate from what I’ve described here.  It also means I trust that eventually the means for the Hermitage to come to full fruition will be found, even though I have been very poor ever since my divorce.

I am serving an “end” – laying the groundwork for the Hermitage to find its subterranean home for the long term – but I can’t know how that end will be attained.  It’s always possible that there will be an even better outcome than the one I’ve outlined here, and I remain open to that, even as I delve into the details of my vision.

Ultimately, the Hermitage should be a place of leisure, meditation, and sacred endarkenment – a place where visitors can truly relax, deepen their contemplative practice, and feel embraced by the divine.

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.

The Black Tent Temple Project Update   12 comments

Alberto Martini, Illustration for the works of Edgar Allan PoeAwhile back, I wrote about some correspondence I had received in May from a fellow Pagan, Gerrie Ordaz, who loved the original post I made in 2012 about my Black Tent Temple project, and the page I maintain here about it. She asked me if she could “steal” the idea and build one of her own.

I encouraged her to take the idea and run with it. And she did! She announced it on her blog, and then got approval from the organiser of the Earth Traditions Oasis summer retreat in northern Illinois to host a Black Tent Temple at the event. Here’s her description of it, taken from the event program guide (PDF):

The Black Tent Temple

“You may have heard of the Red Tent Movement, inspired by the book The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The Red Tent movement is a homegrown movement where women come together and create a sacred area where they can gather to share and celebrate – a portable Temple. The Black Tent Temple is a sacred place set aside, for all genders, to “go dark.” A place of blacks and purples, of quiet, depth, candles and incense, with a black scrying mirror to contact departed ancestors and seek guidance. A place of contemplation, grieving and/or devotion where “dark” deities may be honored. Join your Temple Guide, Gerrie Ordaz, under the waning moon for an experience in sacred space. It will begin at 6pm and run until sunrise the next morning. Bring whatever statuary, material, beads, mirrors, music, etc. you are called to share.”

This is the first Black Tent Temple space I know about that has been built outside of my hermitage in Portland. And I am thrilled to hear about it! Gerrie reports that it was very well received, that one attendee has asked to spread it further, and that she will probably offer it again next year.  She is also writing up a blog post in which she will offer some tips for improvement based on her experience.

For a bit of inspiration, I’ve adapted the header image for this blog slightly for the Black Tent Temple Project.  Anyone who builds one is welcome to use the tagline “The Black Tent Temple Project: Honouring Incubation and Endarkenment” and modify this image to meet your needs.  (If you do decide to use it, I would appreciate a credit to me, Danica Swanson, and a link back to this page.)

Black Tent Temple Project

It’s beautiful to see this vision reach beyond my humble hermitage and find a more dedicated place in the world. I won’t quite say the floodgates have opened, but it certainly seems like some kind of gate has opened, because over the past few months I’ve received several more enthusiastic letters and seen several comments from people who find the idea appealing and want to build their own Black Tent Temples.

Here are some quotes taken from a beautiful post written by one of these people:

“…I wait for my mind to stop the chatter and for there to be a single thought: This. This thing.

“That’s what happened when I was browsing the Many Gods West program and came across Danica’s shrine to Skadi, and thus her monastic practice.

“God, I’m still freezing cold just thinking about it.

“My mind is a flood of images now. I’m understanding that La Abuela, whoever She is, or if She is a collective of divinities, whoever They are that make her up, wants me to be a temple for her. I am to embody my service to her in a very real way. […]

“I first learned of the practice of incubation in reading Apocalyptic Witchcraft, and it struck me as being something that I had a propensity for already. Several years of doing nightly yoga classes in low light, my habit of preferring quiet contemplation over most anything else, my intense affinity for closed, intimate spaces over sweeping views. A hike to a cave or pond is much more interesting to me than a hike to a vista.

It’s all coming back to me…

“I was a goth once. No, really. Heavy black eyeliner, inverted cross necklaces, corsets, skulls. Then I became pagan and worshiped death gods. Then I stopped being pagan and still was obsessed with the dark. Then I went to college in New York City and got sick because there was no darkness there, no quiet, no place to incubate and listen to the soil. Then I turned my bedroom into an incubation chamber: heavy curtains, candles, a shoddy attempt at soundproofing my door. I spent time in dark, quiet, solitude on a nightly basis and began to get my sanity back. Then I moved in with a relative who had the TV on 24/7 and started to get sick again. Then I went to a few pagan solstice services and experienced my first “tent temple”, with god-impersonators, and realized that this shit is powerful.”

Lo is right. It’s powerful indeed. (Go read the rest of the post at rotwork – it’s excellent!)

As I wrote in a comment to Lo, there are only a handful of us doing this right now, but judging by the level of enthusiasm I’m seeing in the correspondence I’ve received and the closely spaced timing of these correspondences, I’m increasingly getting the sense that the seeds of an underground movement (both literal and figurative!) have somehow been sown. The few who’ve taken up this work so far have told me that they’ve found that it addresses a long-unmet need in a way that piques great interest whenever they share the vision with others.

One day I hope to collect enough material to put together a website featuring images and descriptions of Black Tent Temples all over the world where people can “go dark” for spiritual incubation work, Earth grief work, solitary contemplation, dark ritual dance, and so on.

If you’re inspired to build one yourself, please do! You can consult my previous post about it for some suggestions, including a recommendation for Peter Kingsley’s book In The Dark Places of Wisdom (you can also read an excerpt from the book and a review of it), which was one of my original inspirations to do this.  I would love to see photos, videos, written descriptions of the space and the process of building it, interviews with participants about their experience…whatever you’d like to share.

I’m considering the possibility of building a Black Tent Temple at Many Gods West in 2016, perhaps as a collaborative effort.  I will post updates periodically.  Suggestions are welcome, especially if you plan to attend MGW next year and/or pay a visit to my hermitage in Portland someday.  What would you like to see in a space like this?  What would make it useful and worthwhile for you?  Please post your ideas (and inspirational photos) in the comments!

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

Black Tent Temple divination table

Black Tent Temple divination table

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

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

So what is the Black Tent Temple?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote in response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endarkenment Redecoration Project   4 comments

In the Winter Solstice spirit of embracing the darkness and the longest night of the year…

Inspired by dark ritual ambient music, dark fusion dance, and the deepening of autumn and the coming of winter, here are some photos from the Oct. 2013 Endarkenment Redecoration Project at the Hermitage in downtown Portland, OR, USA.  This is my newly redecorated studio and mini temple space, where I live, work, and serve as temple keeper.  The Black Tent Temple and Psychomanteum (mirror gazing room) is now completed, and over the next few weeks I will be booking the first exploratory psychomanteum sessions for friends of the Hermitage.

This is as close as I have ever come to my dream place to live and work, and all the more satisfying because I accomplished this almost entirely with thrift store finds on a shoestring budget.

I feel so blessed to be able to live here and do this work creating sacred space for dark temple arts in service of the divine.

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The Black Stone, namesake of the Hermitage

The Black Stone, namesake of the Hermitage: a 50mm black obsidian sphere, with two smaller black obsidian stones alongside it. The stone is my teacher; every day I bow into deeper service to it.

One side of the meditation and ritual dance space. In the background, behind the dark ambient shrine, is the kitchen.

One side of the meditation and ritual dance space. In the background, behind the dark ambient shrine, is the kitchen.

A framed mirror and Hermit-themed tarot art in the entryway to the Hermitage.

A framed mirror and Hermit-themed tarot art in the entryway to the Hermitage.

The sanctuary area behind the entryway, featuring shelves with shrines. Beside the shrines is the new psychomanteum (incubation space/mirror gazing room.)

The sanctuary area behind the entryway, featuring shelves with shrines. Beside the shrines is the new psychomanteum (incubation space/mirror gazing room.)

A close-up of the dark ambient music & dark art shrine, looking into the kitchen.

A close-up of the dark ambient music & dark art shrine, looking into the kitchen.

The meditation and ritual dance spot. On the right is a bookshelf with belly dance instructional DVDs and tea books; on top of the bookshelf is my ancestor shrine.

The meditation and ritual dance spot. On the right is a bookshelf with belly dance instructional DVDs and tea books; on top of the bookshelf is my ancestor shrine.

A gothic-style mirror draped with black fringe framing an end table.

A gothic-style mirror draped with black fringe framing an end table.

Looking into the entryway from the dance area. Great view of the Hermitage library. The black curtains can be drawn shut on all sides to provide a sense of enclosure in the sanctuary area where the shrines and the psychomanteum are located.

Looking into the entryway from the dance area. Great view of the Hermitage library. The black curtains can be drawn shut on all sides to provide a sense of enclosure in the sanctuary area where the shrines and the psychomanteum are located.

The door to the new psychomanteum – a portal or spiritual incubation space, a.k.a. mirror gazing room. I will be scheduling the first exploratory sessions very soon!

The door to the new psychomanteum – a portal or spiritual incubation space, a.k.a. mirror gazing room. I will be scheduling the first exploratory sessions very soon!

Framed art at the Hermitage – H.R. Giger #312, “Biomechanoid Landscape,” and Todd Lockwood, “Hell Friezes 1: Cerberus.”

Framed art at the Hermitage – H.R. Giger #312, “Biomechanoid Landscape,” and Todd Lockwood, “Hell Friezes 1: Cerberus.”

Framed art at the Hermitage – a beatific bellydancer (artist unknown), and a promotional poster from the very first Raqs Oubliettes event (2011) at the Lovecraft Bar.

Framed art at the Hermitage – a beatific bellydancer (artist unknown), and a promotional poster from the very first Raqs Oubliettes event (2011) at the Lovecraft Bar.

The Hermit shrine in the sanctuary area, directly in front of the psychomanteum.

The Hermit shrine in the sanctuary area, directly in front of the psychomanteum.

The futon loveseat at the Hermitage. It can be pulled out into a full-size bed.

The futon loveseat at the Hermitage. It can be pulled out into a full-size bed.

The tea ritual area at the Hermitage, featuring a new table with adjustable drop-leaf sides. Very nice when I want to free up more room for dance practice!

The tea ritual area at the Hermitage, featuring a new table with adjustable drop-leaf sides. Very nice when I want to free up more room for dance practice!

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