“Our homes can be forbidding fortresses that keep out people, or inviting, hospitable places where guests feel welcomed. A space can stifle us from reaching our true potential, or replenish our energies and encourage us to do our best. It can harbor discontent and smother our spirits or spark ingenuity and allow our spirits to soar.”
~ Robin Lennon, Home Design from the Inside Out
****************** “Good architecture and interior design influence us by inspiring an immediate emotional connection, an evocation more than a linear thought process. As much as we tell stories about ourselves through language and articulation, so too do we create narratives and belief systems through floorboards and kitchen layouts.”
~ Eva Hagberg, Dark Nostalgia
****************** “We love…dark materials for their ability to evoke emotions and moods, for their warmth and acceptance of the somber sides of life. We are re-creating our own history and embracing the darkness that comes with it.”
~ Eva Hagberg, Dark Nostalgia
I love to decorate the Hermitage. I consider it a form of sacred service. It is a delight when visitors tell me that the space I’ve created makes them feel relaxed and comfortable, and imparts a sense of respite and retreat – even in the heart of the city.
I take great joy and pleasure in making the Hermitage into a dark, sumptuous feast of texture and colour – a dwelling of the soul. It is a place of sanctuary that inspires me to dance, pray, do ritual, and write. The look and feel I aim for is cave-like, opulent, and emotionally evocative – definitely not the sort of minimalist feel that is often associated with traditional monasteries. I favour dramatic crushed velvet drapes in rich jewel tones, lots of plush overstuffed pillows, textured saris from India, Moroccan lamps and tea sets, fringed tassels, paisley prints, Persian rugs, beaded lampshades, gothic arches, mosaic tiles, canopy beds, semi-private enclosed spaces…and of course well-maintained shrines for the gods and spirits I serve.
I have always had a DIY thrift store sort of style and ethic. Decorating lavishly with an eye toward the kind of beauty that enriches the spirit needn’t mean spending a lot of money; in fact, I take pride in my ability to pull this off on as little money as possible. One of my favourite decorating books is a 1981 gem entitled Affordable Splendor: An Ingenious Guide to Decorating Elegantly, Inexpensively, and Doing Most of it Yourself by Diana Phipps. Another is Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living by Matt Maranian. If, like me, you have ever wanted to transform your living space into a combination of opulent tea lounge, temple dance tent, and shrine room, with a dark, gothic, or bohemian-inspired vibe…but with very little funds, then I recommend these books to help you get started.
Another source of decorating inspiration for me is The Grotto, a well-maintained garden space in Portland with alcoves featuring Catholic statuary, and a meditation space with big comfy chairs and a window with a panoramic view of the city. I have long yearned for something similar for Pagans. While all faiths are welcome at The Grotto, and I am happy to go there, I think that there is a need for a similar place with statues of Pagan gods and goddesses. Although I don’t have a garden space at the Hermitage – nor even a balcony – I love to imagine what I would do if I did have one!
Often, home decorating is trivialised and denigrated as a stereotypically feminine, frivolous, luxury-oriented pursuit driven by little more than a selfish desire to improve social status or conspicuously display wealth. But in our haste to condemn the shallow, consumerist version of this approach – a critique that is perfectly appropriate, stemming as it usually does from a sense of ecological awareness – we risk throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.
Reclaiming the sacramental dimension of the arts of home and hearth is important and timely work, and it can be undertaken on many levels. Aesthetically pleasing, clean, non-toxic, organised, and consciously decorated surroundings can serve a deeper purpose: honouring the gods and spirits, creating sacred space, and inviting inhabitants and guests alike to turn their attention toward the divine.
As a society and culture, we are chronically overextended, overworked, and undernourished. When I turn my attention to the arts of home décor, mindful tea service, shrine-building, and home organising, I do so with the intent that my work serve as a conduit for much-needed nourishment: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. I want the Hermitage to be conducive to solitude and replenishment, as well as a welcoming place for visitors to rest and allow awareness to deepen.
Human beings have a deep, often unacknowledged need for places of delight. We need sacred living spaces that fill us with joy, allow ample room for play and leisure, and promote comfort and inner ease. This need is especially acute in the USA, where our modernised, sterile built environment, strip-mall consumer culture, and Puritan work ethic can become especially toxic and draining. Our spirits have become weary from too many hours spent in built environments that do not nourish us.
A space designed, arranged and decorated skillfully and artfully – with proper attention to textures, colours, arrangement, and compatibility of materials – can become a place that refines the senses and softens the soul. We can create in our surroundings the conditions that facilitate joy and mindfulness, and empower us to experience the deeper subtleties that are all too easy to miss in our moments of haste.
Danica Swanson is a freelance writer, dark ambient music nerd, dark fusion dancer, and amateur polytheist nun. She is CEO (Creative Endarkenment Overseer) of The Black Stone Hermitage and co-founder of the Polytheist Monasticism discussion forum. Her first forays into paganism began in 1995; she has been a devotee of Skaði and other Holy Powers of Yggdrasil since 2004. Her life of contemplative solitude is made possible only by a web of thriving community relationships, human and non-human. She lives by the hands of the deities and spirits in all of her endeavors.