Dark ambient music: Mirror of the soul

There are very few things that move me as deeply and exquisitely as really good dark ambient music.  To say I’m a “fan” of the genre seems inadequate somehow.  My passion for it is so intense that it could almost be called religious.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that there are Pagan, runic, and mythological themes in the music of so many of my favourite dark ambient artists – including Skadi, Apoptose, Allseits, New Risen Throne, and Herbst9.

Dark ambient music reaches into me and dredges up emotions that lurk in hidden places, and I am able to perceive the guidance of my Serpent Muse more easily when I’m immersed in such deep musical waters.  It calls forth chthonic visions and images of rituals in cold dark caves, subterranean stone temples, and labyrinthine grottoes.  It inspires my serpentine dance choreography, my writing, and other creative and esoteric endeavours.  It envelops me in otherwordly beauty on wintry afternoons as I hail Skaði and curl up under a blanket sipping a piping hot mug of smoky lapsang souchong tea steeped in solitude.  On hot summer days, when I am almost invariably hiding inside the Hermitage with the dark velvet curtains drawn to keep out the intrusive sun, it helps me cool down by feeding my already fertile imagination with vivid imagery of dark forests under misty overcast skies.

My favourite dark ambient music blog is entitled “For The Innermost.”  The title suggests that this kind of music is a perfect accompaniment for times of nourishing solitude and introspection, and that is definitely true for me.

“…this is precisely where the beauty of dark ambient lies. It’s devoid of everything superficial…It’s so subtle that you can be listening to it in your room, for example, and the random, common passer-by won’t even notice that any music is playing at all, as if the sounds were hidden from perception, revealing themselves only to those who are searching for them. Indeed, dark ambient is not a rollercoaster ride; you can’t expect this music to take you over, you have to learn how to let it consume you. The journey is never directed forwards, only inwards. It’s not there to tell you its story, it’s there to reflect your own. If I had to find a simple phrase to sum up everything that dark ambient is, I’d most likely say – mirror of the soul.”
(Vladimir Gojkovic, For The Innermost)

Dark ambient music also inspires me to find, create, and lovingly maintain a kind of earthy, cavelike dwelling space and temple environment that will facilitate a mirror-of-the-soul innermost life like this – in other words, a living space and lifestyle that

  • nurtures inner life and deepens self-awareness
  • allows ample room for leisure and mystical contemplation
  • supports solitude and privacy
  • provides the kind of meditative silence that feeds creative efforts
  • heightens awareness of the sacred dimensions of one’s living space
  • deepens and enriches interdependent relationships with gods, spirits, bioregion, and local community
  • inspires its inhabitants and visitors to express the fruits of those relationships in their work
  • provides a setting within which the darker aspects of experience can be confronted, dealt with, and integrated

Holiness and the mystical are often associated with transcendence or “rising above” the mundane world of the material into the realms of light and pure spirit.  (I am reminded of Charles Eisenstein’s article The Way Up Is Down.)

But for me, the value of retreat into a dark sanctuary where the world of the innermost is given full attention is not about denial of the material at all.  It’s not about rising above or transcending anything.  Quite the contrary, in fact: it’s about more fully embracing the down-to-earth world of the corporeal, the subterranean, and the underworld.  In a Jungian sense, it’s about creating space to learn how to better handle the ebb-and-flow rhythms of darker emotional states such as grief, fear, melancholy, sorrow, lust, jealousy, vengefulness, or rage.  Our bodies hold incredible wellsprings of wisdom and visceral emotional truths – truths that are all too easily glossed over or denied in a culture of rationalism where we’re so often expected to paste on a superficial happy face to cover up our less acceptable emotions.

One of my tasks as a temple keeper is to consciously design and cultivate physical, spiritual, and psychological space for the purpose of exploring the darker aspects of the inward journey by literally making room for them – right smack in the middle of a culture that would rather sweep them under the rug.  Honouring and dancing with the shadow side of life is an essential part of my work, and dark ambient music – a mirror of the soul – accompanies me and inspires me as I walk this path.

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