Perhaps you’ve heard of the Red Tent Temple movement, which started in 2007 and grew out of the popularity of Anita Diamant’s book The Red Tent.
Although I have no personal experience with it – nor have I read the book – the Red Tent Temple movement, as I understand it, is focused on creating a sacred space for women, initiation of young girls into womanhood, and building community. There are shrines, tents decorated lavishly with gorgeous red textiles, and comfortable intimate lounging spaces where women get together and share personal stories about their lives.
I support and honour the spirit of what this movement is doing (and I love the cozy, inviting décor of the tents!) We desperately need spaces like this in a misogynist culture, and anything that supports women’s healing, allows room for emotional catharsis, and counters shame about our bodies and female-ness in general is all right by me. Still, it’s all a bit too colourful, New-Age, and parenting-focused for introverted cave-dweller types and committed non-parents like me.
Nonetheless, I am thoroughly inspired by what they’ve done, and it only adds fuel to my own desires. For more than ten years I’ve had dreams and visions in which I construct and maintain something that might very well be called a Black Tent Temple. This temple is a space of deep silence, creative incubation, emotional catharsis, restorative ritual, and contemplation for the darkly inclined (whatever their gender identity may be.) The carefully chosen décor of the Black Tent Temple issues an invitation: Come in. Enter into the cave-like sanctuary and envelop yourself in darkness. Drink some tea. Immerse yourself in the world of evocative dark ambient music, or take refuge in the depths of inner silence. Honour your ancestors and the spirits of the dead. Walk the labyrinth. Take space to meditate, to grieve or to mourn. Take solace in solitude. Take part in devotional dark fusion temple dances. Wear a mask, a veil, or a black ritual robe. Gaze into the black obsidian scrying mirror, let the spirits speak, and see what you find there. Make an offering at the shrine of the Earth Serpent, or pay your respects to the chthonic gods, spirits, and guardians of the underworld.
I doubt the Black Tent Temple will ever be as popular as the Red Tent Temple, and perhaps that is as it should be. But I am convinced that we need well-designed and appropriate spaces for this in our culture, and as a temple keeper it is an important part of my Work to build and maintain such a space. Pagans have very few spaces set aside for their dedicated religious use anyway, and dark Pagans have even fewer. 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. The Black Tent Temple is a nice alternative.
One of the best things about a Black Tent Temple is that it’s something I can pull together in almost any appropriate space, given the right tools and enough lead time. I don’t need to wait until I find the perfect location to build a dark Pagan sanctuary for the long-term. I can give the space a cavelike, tentlike, mysterious feel with dark textured fabrics, overstuffed black and purple pillows, subdued red lighting, furniture draped with canopies, thick velvet curtains, and so on. I can create the right mood with an enclosed meditation corner, shrines for the dark divine, and appropriate spaces for dark fusion temple dance. I love to feel secure and unseen, hidden away from the insanity of the world; this is the feeling I’ve tried to capture with the current incarnation of the Black Stone Hermitage, since it’s located in a small one-room flat that is also used as my living space.
And, of course, I can choose music for the Black Tent Temple that facilitates trance and invites contemplation.
Recently I saw a YouTube comment on a raison d’être video describing the track (“Ascension de Profundis“) as “monastic ambient.” I thought that was quite an apt phrase – it captures the introspective, contemplative feel of most of the dark ambient music I love so much. In a previous entry I wrote that my passion for dark ambient music is so intense that it could “almost be called religious.” Perhaps I should drop the “almost.” Listening to really good dark ambient transports me, helps me slip into trance…and makes me feel more spiritually connected than I’ve ever felt in any church or religious service. That is why I dance to it. And it also helps lead me into the silence.
“…you listen to the silence, and everything is open…”
– Huldufólk 102
Ultimately, I want the Black Tent Temple to facilitate the experience of deep inner silence. There are very few places to experience this kind of silence in the culture of my upbringing, and I feel the weight of this lack every day, as I am easily over-stimulated. I am reminded of a passage I like from a book that helped me get acquainted with my Serpent Muse:
“The “key” of inner silence is useless as long as it remains a concept. But when this concept becomes more of an experience, it will open doors within you that have been shut all the while, doors that would allow you to experience the essential timeless, ageless, boundless, infinite nature of life. This silence exists at the core of all existence. It is the void, the womb, and the “ground zero” that continually gives birth to the new and swallows the old. Indeed, it underscores what it means to be a human being. The word human comes from the root word humus meaning earth. So you come from the dirt of the earth and shall return to it.”
– Shri Yannan, Serpent’s Dance: Secrets of Self-Mastery
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. She also writes under the name D. JoAnne Swanson for her other main project, The Anticareerist (formerly known as Rethinking the Job Culture; originally known as whywork.org). 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.