Hi. I’m D. JoAnne Swanson, known to my friends as Danica.
I identify as a Pagan polytheist, bioregional animist, and mystic who works within the Northern Tradition. I do not identify as Heathen or Ásatrú, although I have occasionally used those terms (very loosely speaking, I might add) in the past, mainly for the sake of convenience.
I live in downtown Portland, OR, in a small studio condo (I call it my Hermitage), where I work contentedly as a freelance writer and drink a lot of home-brewed tea. I’m a non-parent and a non-driver by choice, and I have no pets. I’m neat, tidy and organised (I have to be, since I’m allergic to house dust, mold and mildew spores, and animal dander). I love industrial, rhythmic noise, powernoise, dark ambient, neofolk and gothic music and culture. I dress in black most of the time. I have advanced-level formal education, but I’m primarily an autodidact and have no further interest in academia aside from the fact that I’m a bookish nerd grrl who spends a lot of time in university libraries for purposes of self-driven research.
My interests include philosophy, psychology, systems theory, mythology, ancient mystery cults all over the world (but especially in Pagan Germanic and Scandinavian lands), suppressed histories, indigenous peoples’ sovereignty, labyrinths, caves, snakes and serpent wisdom traditions, stone circles, tea culture and ritual, domestic arts and hearth rites, dark fusion & gothic bellydance, sacred and devotional dance, altered states of consciousness, folk magic, divination, runes, and sacred plant medicine.
I’m also interested in simple living, herb gardening, naturopathic medicine, DIY crafts and home decorating, cooking and eating based on locavore and paleo principles and the Weston A. Price foundation, urban permaculture and homesteading, gift culture, barter and community currencies, yurts and tiny houses, community conservation land trusts, moss gardens, bamboo, low fossil fuel urban living, and hiking in temperate mossy rainforests.
I have been a solitary Pagan for over 15 years, and I mean really solitary. Though I do enjoy religious community and communal rites, I am mostly a hermit by nature who requires long periods of solitude and works mostly in private quarters. My path is that of a temple keeper, and this blog was created as a way of exploring this direction more deeply and as a way to facilitate connections with other introverts, loners and contemplatives who are interested in Pagan monastic life and hermitage.
In the past I have maintained memberships in Heathen organizations (mostly through online interaction), and I sometimes attend UU churches and Pagan rituals on occasion, but I am not formally affiliated with any groups, covens, kindreds, groves, temples, churches, or other religious organizations. I am often attracted to the more feminist-friendly elements of Hindu temples, Taoist wisdom, and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, but at heart I am a Pagan with a strong spiritual attraction to the darker side of the Northern Tradition, and so far that has kept me from feeling fully at home in any of the religious groups I’ve explored.
My ancestry is half Swedish and half German. I identify strongly with my Swedish maternal female ancestral line. However, I also feel strongly that the gods call whomsoever They will, regardless of bloodlines, and this should be respected. I value the scholarship of Pagan reconstructionists, though I myself am not a reconstructionist. I respect scholarly knowledge as well as the paths of felt experience, personal gnosis, mysticism, bodily wisdom, and artistic creativity. Though I was raised in a New Age family with connections to A Course in Miracles (and even some influences from Scientology), I don’t identify with most of what is called New Age thought. I acknowledge the influences of my own “touchy-feely” upbringing with its focus on the self and personal growth, but I’m much more interested in a contemplative approach to learning from the land and building relationships with plant spirits than I am in navel-gazing.
The primary deity in my devotional practice is Skaði, a Jötunn. (I hesitate to call Her my “patroness,” as She seems rather cold and indifferent to the label I attach to the relationship.) My devotional dance project, started in 2006, is called Shrine of Skaði in honour of Her. Dance has been an important part of my spiritual life since I was a child, although I was not able to articulate it this way until much later.
I also maintain shrines for Óðinn, Þórr, Freyja, and Freyr, as well as a serpent shrine (World Serpent, Earth Serpent).
For many years I didn’t look outside the Northern Tradition in my devotional activities at all, but these days I also work with and worship goddesses, gods and spirits from other traditions that find Their way to me. (Unsurprisingly, They usually seem to do this through dance, writing or my many other creative pursuits). Ganesha, Shiva, Sarasvati, White Tara, Isis, and Hekate have all found Their way into my life in some form or another. As far as I can tell, They don’t seem to care what I call myself or what religious allegiances I maintain, as long as I carry out Their work sincerely, respectfully, effectively, and with proper intent. They seem much more concerned with what I do than with what I believe.
Since I believe that learning as much as I can about the cultures and mythologies of the gods and spirits I serve is very important, I spend a LOT of time reading and studying, and yet I still feel like I’m only beginning to make a dent in the vast sea of learning I have on my plate. Although I’ve always had a rich spiritual life, I had no interest at all in mythology and religious history until I was in my thirties…so I have a lot of catching up to do!
And now for a confession: I feel like most of the time I don’t really know what I’m doing. In some cases I know enough to know what I am and what I am not, but a significant amount of the time I feel as if I’m forging ahead with no clue whatsoever. All I have to go on is inchoate yearnings, sudden inexplicable affinities toward certain books or things that had previously escaped my notice, or perhaps faint whispers that appear to me unbidden and call to me like tiny, tantalizing snippets of a poem for which I can’t seem to find the author, title, or the full text.
I sometimes ask myself: Is this what I’m supposed to use flesh out this vision of a Pagan hermitage or monastery? How am I going to manage that? Yet the more steps I take in the direction of bringing this vision to fruition, the more affirmative signs I seem to receive that it is in fact the right path, so…
…so be it. I have no idea where this is going to take me; I’m groping around in the dark and I can’t even see around the corner at this point. All I know is that I must keep taking definitive steps in this direction.
Since there is no existing Pagan monastic tradition for us to join, we who aspire to the monastic life, but who don’t want to join a monastery in another religious tradition, are left with no choice but to build it ourselves – a very challenging path indeed. Perhaps one day The Black Stone Hermitage will involve others besides myself; perhaps a group of would-be Pagan monastics (and others of compatible, Pagan-friendly religions) will come together to build a hermitage together. For now, I am arranging my living space – and my entire life, really – such that I may live the life of a lay monastic as much as possible. In April 2011 I converted one of my closets into a tiny, cavelike meditation studio. I also maintain space in my home for tea rituals, sacred and devotional dance (including costuming, adornment and ornamentation), research and study (including an extensive home library with many out-of-print books), and various arts and crafts such as making prayer beads and religious jewelry.
Solitary Paganism can be a tough path. I value solitude deeply and I don’t mind walking the path alone most of the time, but I also yearn for more structure in Paganism as a whole – more organisation; more regular religious rites; clean, attractive and well-maintained temple spaces; the unified look and feel of black robes or other monastic forms of dress; the opportunity to share meals and tea rituals as well as take them alone; and a steady schedule of worship, meditation and service integrated into the rhythms of daily life. I want to be part of a Pagan tradition that feels more like a religion, integrated into a culture, than a belief system or a set of magical practices. I especially yearn for a monastic space where those of a darker persuasion – especially women and queer-identified people – are just as welcome as everyone else. And I have been instructed that there is a need for this in the world.
So here I am, putting this Pagan hermitage vision out there in blog form, in the hopes that it will be found by those who need it.