Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

What Is Sacred Endarkenment?   5 comments

“I think the sacred is more readily available to us in the dark.”

~ Martin Lowenthal, Getting Enlightened in the Dark

“…some people say we should never, ever leave the light.  We should endeavor to be “light workers” who fill every shadow with light and eliminate all darkness.  […]  If the light’s on all the time, how do we get any sleep?  Do we ever get to close our eyes?  […]

“Pagans understand that as much as we crave enlightenment…just that much do we also require endarkenment.  The New Age just doesn’t seem to have caught on yet.  We pagans can help others see that without the darkness we cannot recognize the light.  We need literal shadows – and psychological and metaphysical ones – to tell us what’s out there.”

~ Barbara Ardinger, Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives

Crypt of Sacred Endarkenment

I was raised in a middle-class white family, on a steady diet of New Age books filled with lofty prose about enlightenment, spiritual growth, doing-what-you-love, positive thinking, and my least favorites of all, “love and light” and “driving out the darkness.”

As I got older and developed my critical thinking faculties, I often thought: Something’s missing in all this white-light transcend-and-rise-above talk.  Why is spirituality so often associated with upward movement, and driving out the darkness?  Is there something wrong with descent?  Would it be so wrong to welcome darkness, or even invite it in?

In many spiritual writings, and in the cultural milieu of my upbringing, darkness is most often associated with evil, suffering, violence, negativity, and death.  Rarely is it portrayed as something positive or nourishing, let alone holy and appropriate for religious worship.

So what was I to do, then, when I found the goth-industrial music scene and discovered that I felt much more spiritual while dressed in black, dancing to dark electronic music, than I ever had in any church or New Age gathering?

What was I to do when I realized I had been initiated by ingestion of magic mushroom, to a soundtrack of Lustmord and Skinny Puppy, while staring into the endless black depths of the void?

What was I to do when I had an embodied mystical experience of a dark deity that was every bit as terrifying and unsettling as it was fulfilling?

And what was I to do when I started reading books about native peoples’ sovereignty struggles in the Americas, and realized that I was born and raised on stolen land, in a country founded on settler colonialism and genocide that continues to this day?

It was in an essay by Michael Ventura, many years later, that I first encountered the word endarkenment.  He used this neologism in an unflattering way, as so many other writers have, but I loved it immediately nonetheless.  To my mind, it suggested something beautiful, positive, sacred, and quintessentially earthy and grounded.  A few obsessive web searches later, I found and voraciously devoured feminist writings about it – the most memorable of which was by Molly Remer, who writes evocatively about her conviction that the idea of the dark is “in need of re-visioning” – and it became clear to me that I’d been on a mystic’s path of sacred endarkenment as far back as I could remember.  Finally I’d found a broadly applicable word that conveyed something of the deeper essence of my callings to creative and religious practice, as well as my aesthetic, musical tastes, and emotional experience.

So what is sacred endarkenment?

One of my earliest attempts to define it was esoteric: “a clearing and strengthening of inner vision, and grounding it in the earth through an alchemical reckoning with the sacred dark.”  This, however, is only a start.  There are many other equally appropriate definitions, and dimensions that only become apparent with time and relevant experience.

Eventually I started keeping a list of concepts and practices I associate with sacred endarkenment.  Here are a few:

deep listening
lamentation and funereal dance
grief rituals
stillness and silence
darkroom retreats
regenerative, healthy solitude
ecologically responsible ways of handling death and decay
handling “dark” emotions with integrity
refusing to center whiteness, and resisting white supremacy
supporting indigenous peoples’ sovereignty
decolonizing time (and spiritual practice in general)
honoring chthonic and wrathful deities, and powers of the underworlds
valuing restfulness, hibernation, and “doing nothing”
trusting inner guidance
receptivity and surrender
“slow culture”

I’d love to hear from others on similar paths.  Do you perceive any of your practices as forms of sacred endarkenment?  If so, what does that mean to you?

For me, as a contemplative polytheist, mystic, and nun-in-training who has been in service to Skaði (and other Beings often considered “dark”) for many years, sacred endarkenment is the theme that underlies my mission and practice at The Black Stone Hermitage, where I live and work.  The Hermitage is my personal living space; it’s also a concept that I am developing and extending to others through hospitality service offerings. When the right permanent space is found, I hope the Hermitage will become a subterranean retreat and house of worship that will outlive me, and continue on to serve future polytheists – especially those interested in building a monastic practice around pre-Christian Norse and Germanic religious and folk traditions – through creating space for leisure and sacred endarkenment.

This monastic mission of service is literal as well as metaphorical.  Through my Black Tent Temple project, I design and create customized endarkened tent-like meditative spaces by combining black and purple textiles, themed playlists of dark ambient music, and subdued lighting.  They can be adapted to serve many needs; previous uses have included shrine rooms for dark goddesses, and an ecological grief circle for animists.  At the Many Gods West conference this year, I will be creating a Black Tent Temple space for polytheists.  Priestess Gerrie Ordaz has also built a Black Tent Temple at the Oasis event held by Earth Traditions, a Pagan church in Chicago.

Other kinds of dark physical spaces designed for purposes of rest, restoration, healing, and contemplation include those built by the darkroom retreat movement and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, many of which have rooms built specifically for the purpose of dark retreats – lengthy solitary retreats designed for advanced practitioners, in a space completely absent of all light.

Retreating into the dark can also provide space for incubation.  In his remarkable book In The Dark Places of Wisdom, Peter Kinglsey writes beautifully about receptive practices of incubation in ancient Greece: lying down to rest in a special enclosed place – often a den, or a dark cave – and either falling asleep and dreaming, or entering a state described as neither sleep nor waking.  In this way, people received prophecies, messages from the gods, healing, and visions.  The key was to do absolutely nothing – to exert no effort, no struggle, no interference with the process.  That was how the healing would come: through surrender.

One day, I believe, we will have polytheist and Pagan monasteries with similar incubation spaces.

If polytheists are to create appropriate spaces for this kind of incubation in our religious practices, we must make room for doing nothing.  We need true leisure – an abundance of unhurried, unstructured, and uninterrupted time.

This points to a structural constraint facing the modern polytheist revival: as things now stand, few of us have sufficient leisure time to cultivate such a practice.  Time management skills, while useful in some cases, can only take us so far in a world where most of us must spend the bulk of our time earning a living.  Even our best attempts to slow down – worthwhile though they may be – won’t be sufficient to develop a religious culture that honors leisure in a world that economically and socially penalizes those who don’t keep up, and in which women and marginalized folks are saddled with a disproportionate and never-ending burden of unpaid, unreciprocated emotional labor.

Sacred endarkenment practice, then, may bring us into social justice activism – recognizing and properly valuing emotional labor, supporting the movement for unconditional basic income, and resisting the ways our time is colonized and conscripted into the service of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

Trusting embodied emotional intelligence is another way we can practice sacred endarkenment.  Cultural, economic, and social pressures often leave us few options but to layer a false veneer of pleasantries and “positivity” over our authentic emotional experience, so as not to drag others down.  Many of us habitually hold ourselves at a certain distance from what we call dark emotional states — pain, suffering, conflict, grief, despair, sorrow, anger.  Yet sometimes there is bittersweet, hidden medicine to be found in dark emotional processes when they are faced and addressed skillfully and with kind hearts.  This is the medicine of sacred endarkenment.  Those who create and hold space for it are doing valuable emotional labor, and opening paths to genuine joy.

We practice sacred endarkenment when we look deeply into darkness and acknowledge its worth, instead of turning away.  Annihilating forces, after all, are just as essential to life as generative ones, as alchemists know.

There is nothing inherently negative about darkness.  Darkness has been discredited – and associated with evil and doom – by oppressive forces that benefit when noses are kept to the grindstone and “dark” emotions are suppressed.  Why?

Because within the sacred dark lies deep wisdom, regenerative power, and liberation.

Negativity is not inherent in darkness itself.  It is in suppressing or avoiding it that we run into trouble.  Excessive focus on “the light” or “positivity” is a form of spiritual bypassing that can lead us away from inner power.  Sacred endarkenment practice can lead us toward it.

Crucially, inner power is the only power that can’t be taken away, because it relies on nothing external.

Sometimes, what wants to speak or manifest through us seems frightening or overwhelming.  When we find the courage to give it room to speak and listen for the deeper wisdom and true voice within it, we learn that beautiful parts of ourselves – and beautiful Beings of many kinds – often wear dark masks.

There is powerful medicine to be found in dark places that emerges only under conditions of receptivity, unhurried time, and sustained attention…and it shows itself only on its own terms.  We will only find this medicine if we can move beyond our collective avoidance of the dark.  When we create and hold space for restorative, restful, and regenerative darkness, we will be in a position to receive its wisdom.

From darkness we are born, and to darkness we shall return – and this is a blessing.

This is the practice of sacred endarkenment.



[This piece was originally published at  If you enjoyed this piece and you’re on Patreon and/or Medium, please follow the Hermitage there.  My newly released work is always announced on Patreon first.  If you have a Patreon account, you can use the follow button to receive all of my public posts in your feed, and you can comment on them even if you are NOT a patron.]


The Hermitage will soon be on the new Pagan Bloggers portal   Leave a comment

The Hermitage at Pagan Bloggers dot com

I’m pleased to announce that I’m one of the authors who will be writing on the new Pagan-owned-and-operated portal.  I’ll be releasing at least one new article every month.  My writings will focus on sacred endarkenment, polytheist monasticism, sacred dance, and dark ambient music.  (No surprise there, eh?)

The site launches on March 21 – just a couple of weeks away!

So you’ll soon be able to follow my writings for the Hermitage at, on my Patreon, and on Medium.  Patrons – even at the $1/month level – will always be notified first whenever I release new work, or when I have announcements to make about the Hermitage.

There’s also a possibility that the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism discussion group, which has been on Facebook since its inception in September 2016, will be moving its headquarters over to a web forum that will be hosted on the new Pagan Bloggers site.  The prospect of that appeals to me for several reasons:

1. The forum would be Pagan-owned and operated, not owned by Facebook.

2. Non-participants could read it, and thereby discover that Pagan & Polytheist monasticism is A Thing.  (That’s how I discovered it, after all!  I found the Order of the Horae Pagan Monasticism FAQ back in 2006-ish, and the Maetreum of Cybele site around that time as well, and that got me wondering if there might be a place in a Pagan monastery for me one day.)

3. Even older discussion threads would be easily readable for newcomers. On Facebook, new folks have to scroll back a long way to read the early discussions, and few people bother to do this, so a lot of valuable material is being overlooked.

4. It would permit the group to organize photos and files in ways that suit us, rather than remain constrained by Facebook’s methods of organization and file storage.

(I’m particularly frustrated about the way photos are handled on Facebook. We have so many beautiful shrine photos in the group, but they’re rarely seen because they’re hidden away behind a nondescript tab in the sidebar, and when someone adds a new photo to an album, it does not even show up in members’ feeds unless someone comments on it.  But if they don’t even see it, they don’t know it’s there to comment on!)

I won’t have details for awhile, as I need to discuss it with the other admins after the Pagan Bloggers launch.  But if you’re one of the folks who has been interested in joining or following the monasticism discussion group outside of Facebook, keep an eye out, for you may soon get your wish.

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


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.


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.



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.)


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.


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!


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!

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.

Underrated Dark Ambient Albums, Volume 2   Leave a comment

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

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

Comments from readers:

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

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

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

Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient (brief review comments)   2 comments

Skull art - modernAs someone who is currently working on a full-length book manuscript about the dark ambient genre, I’d like to thank writer John Norby for his recent article “Sworn to the Dark: The Definitive History of Dark Ambient” in issue 58 (April-May 2014) of Zero Tolerance, a magazine focused on metal genres.  Perfect timing for my research purposes!

This well-written and carefully researched article filled in some of the gaps in my own knowledge of the genre quite nicely, especially with respect to the 1960s and 1970s precursors of the genre from early krautrock pioneers such as Cluster, Popol Vuh, and Ash Ra Tempel. It provided me with a lot of helpful information for the introductory chapter I’m writing which includes a brief history and cultural overview of the genre.

The author’s selections for “required listening” – including Lustmord “Heresy” (“the benchmark release for any fan of dark ambient”), Lull “Dreamt About Dreaming,” and Lamia Vox “Sigillum Diaboli” – are on target (though incomplete), and the article features brief but fascinating comments from prominent musicians and label owners including Klaus Schultze, Brian Williams of Lustmord, Michael J.V. Hensley of Yen Pox and Blood Box, Robert C. Kozletsky of Psychomanteum, Shock Frontier and Apócrýphos, Alina Antonova of Lamia Vox, Simon Heath of Cryo Chamber, Frédéric Arbour of Cyclic Law, Justin Mitchell of Cold Spring, and Jason Mantis of Malignant Records.

Norby calls Klaus Schulze’s “Irrlicht” album “the first album ever that fully embraced the sounds that we now call dark ambient.” He acknowledges that Tangerine Dream’s “Zeit” is also a contender for first dark ambient album, though he writes that it is “not quite as menacing as Irrlicht” – an assessment with which I agree.

The intention of dark ambient, writes Norby, “…is to take people who embrace it on a deep listening journey.”

The article certainly fuels my appetite for more in-depth insight and extensive coverage of the genre. Since my book is being written in a personal narrative style that focuses on the spiritual, emotional, and cultural impact of this music rather than the history of the genre, I’m pleased that someone else took on the task of writing and publishing “the definitive history” of dark ambient. As far as I know, this is the first print source in English to publish something like this. It’s not an exhaustive history of the genre, of course; Norby wisely acknowledges that such a treatment would be impossible within the confines of a magazine. While the article could have been improved by the inclusion of more artists, labels, festival info, etc., I think he did a great job in the space of just nine pages.

I recommend picking up a copy of issue 58 of the magazine if you are interested in the history of the dark ambient genre. I’ve also been told that the magazine will be covering dark ambient more extensively in the future; I look forward to seeing what’s in store!

Writing is a Performance Art: On the ‘Fan Mystique’   2 comments

Victorian bookshelfRecently I read that “writing is a performance art.”  I hadn’t considered it in quite that light before, but yes, it most definitely is.  Every time I put my written work out there, on this blog or anywhere else where it can be read by others, I am stepping out onto the stage, just as surely as I would in a dance performance.

Like any performer, I have inadvertently become a target for all kinds of projections, many of which have nothing to do with who I am.  Since I often write about my personal life, it complicates things even more.  Awhile back I received a long fan letter from a 21 year old reader who had just found one of my older published essays and was practically bursting at the seams with effusive praise.  He poured his heart out to me, in extremely over-the-top, flowery language, asking if I would “kindly welcome” him aboard my “stupendously honorary team.”  (Heh.)  He wanted to correspond personally with me and told me he hoped I would “share my thoughts with him”.  Eep!  I appreciated the compliments, of course, and I always appreciate knowing that people are reading and enjoying my work, but it wasn’t easy to write him a let-down letter.

Being on this end of the “fan mystique” is a new experience for me.  But I remember vividly the intense exhilaration I experienced at his age when I discovered a writer whose work really spoke to me, so I tried to be gentle in my reply to him.  Brings to mind a quote I love from Stephen Harrod Buhner’s amazing book Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life:

“…the exchange of meaning between a writer and a reader can be exceptionally intimate. It is one of the joys of reading; people expect it (though many times they do not get it if the writing is poor).  It is crucial to remember that there is always a reaching toward intimacy whenever a reader picks up a book and begins to read.”

As I read through his letter, I smiled and remembered my own youthful literary enthusiasms and cringe-worthy over-eager fan letters to other writers.  He came across as such a sweet kid, clueless though he is about the harsher realities of being a writer, and he seemed to have a certain facility with the English language.  I wrote a reply to him in which I encouraged him to keep writing, keep honing his craft, and keep following the callings of his heart.  It was kind of bittersweet.  I told him I thought he’d do pretty well with a good editor to help him trim down all that florid prose.  (I did talk briefly about the unglamorous realities of writing, but I did it gently.  I left out the part about how I’ve survived on food stamps for three years now, and have sometimes turned down social opportunities because spending $5 on bus fare stretches my shoestring budget past the breaking point.  I mean, what starry-eyed young writer really wants to hear that struggling artist stuff?)

Later on, I posted about this on Facebook, and a musician friend, Henry Lauer, commented:

“I’ve had similar experiences in the past as a musician.  If you do a good performance, then you enable your audience to connect with something vulnerable in themselves.

“However sometimes they confuse that inner connection with a connection with you the performer, and approach you to tell you all about their deep-and-meaningfuls.  A sure recipe for awkward and confusing post-performance conversations.

“Of course, I’ve been the awkward audience member, too…”

It can be so difficult to resist putting people on pedestals when we greatly admire their art – and this is even true for those of us who’ve been on both sides of the dynamic and are able to see its limitations very clearly.

“If you do a good performance, then you enable your audience to connect with something vulnerable in themselves.”  Yes!  That is one of the reasons I write, and it can be applied to all the arts.  If I’ve done my work well – if I’ve been faithful to my artistic vision and written what is actually in me to write, rather than what an empty pocketbook or social approval dictates – then my readers have the opportunity to see parts of themselves through the lens of my written work.  I will endeavour to be as patient and understanding as possible whenever readers confuse that inner connection with a connection to me, the writer and performer, and I will be mindful to keep my own fan mystique in check when I notice that I am making the same error with the artists whose work I admire.