“…we all…should do our regular share of housework. Not just waving a duster in the air but rolling up our sleeves and putting in some elbow grease – scrubbing floors, clearing drains, scouring lavatory bowls. Not necessarily every day, but regularly. This activity is important because it’s the perfect balance to the work so many of us do nowadays. More and more of us earn our livelihood via our heads. We sit slumped all day in chairs, staring at computer screens or battling with machinery.
“There is also a profound psychological advantage. In Jungian terms, the slog of cleaning can be a powerful way of dealing with the “shadow”; the “dark” side of the psyche. […] …we cannot live in the light without acknowledging the dark. This may all sound very metaphysical and a long way from the kitchen floor, but there is a practical connection. For by physically cleaning, by getting down to the earth on our hands and knees, by clearing our muck and mess and dirt, we can keep the shadow balanced. We are embracing the dark.”
~ Jane Alexander, Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary
Not long ago, I read some notes about the Jungian analyst June Singer’s “practice of sweeping the temple” as a way of contacting inner forces. Chills ran up my spine as I was flooded with a sudden sense of awareness that has become distinctive for me: a knowing, deep in my bones, that this is a thread that will lead me to part of my Work. It was as if a chorus of ancestral voices and spirits had just answered my prayers and confirmed the next steps of the path being laid out before me, and while I did not know where the path would ultimately lead, I knew it would be wise to take steps in the direction that had opened.
Ever since I took those steps, I have been earning money to support the Hermitage by working part-time as a self-employed eco-friendly housecleaner and home organiser in downtown Portland, OR. I announced to my various circles of contacts that I had started a housekeeping business, and clients started coming to me as if on cue, much to my amazement and delight. As word gets around and my clients recommend me to others, my schedule is gradually filling up. I love my clients, and they can sense this; likewise, they tell me that they love me. One has even told me I’m the best housekeeper she’s ever had, and she’s been hiring home assistants her whole life! My only regret is that I didn’t start doing this sooner. (As long-time readers of this blog are aware, I once entertained the idea of starting a Bohemian tea room as a business. In hindsight, I am ever so glad I didn’t do this. I sincerely love serving tea and creating a welcoming environment for my guests, but if I did it as a for-profit business, I don’t think I would love it anymore, and I think it would consume so much time that I wouldn’t have any time left for the unpaid but important work I do at the Hermitage.)
Working as an eco-friendly housecleaner suits me for many reasons. As an allergy and asthma sufferer, I specialise in non-toxic cleaning methods. Since I am a non-driver, I only accept gigs that I can reach on foot or via public transit, which also reduces my ecological footprint. The work requires very little public contact, which suits this introvert just fine, thank you. I can set my own schedule. I can work in a comfortable sweatshirt, jeans, and an apron; I don’t have the expense of a professional business wardrobe, which frees up more funds for things that facilitate my work at the Hermitage. I don’t have to deal with office politics, attend company Xmas parties, or sit through endless meetings. The work keeps my muscles happy, and provides a nice balance to the more intellectually focused work I do in my off-hours. I can see clear progress as I go along, and there is a visceral sense of satisfaction when I look at a sparkling clean floor or a freshly uncluttered hallway that, thanks to my work, now allows for more freedom of movement. I find it quite meditative – clearing away physical debris helps to clear my mind of mental clutter. It is emotionally centering, too: it calms me and distracts me from dwelling too much on depressive thoughts. And it brightens my clients’ moods! Everyone loves a clean home.
As a child-free, academically accomplished feminist (I have three – count ‘em, three – baccalaureate degrees) who was groomed for a career-oriented life of working full-time outside the home in an office or classroom, I have for most of my life felt some degree of shame about the fact that one of the things I want most in life is to be a homemaker. I don’t want a “normal” full-time office job, and I never really have. Only in recent years have I come to accept this truth about myself to the extent that I can post about it at length, publicly, without shame. Finally I’ve learned to just shrug off the comments from people who think I’m “wasting” my education by doing housecleaning work for money. First of all, my formal education has not been a waste no matter what I end up doing for income. Second, I happen to be using my brain, my education, and my writing skills every single day for the things I do that do not (so far, at least) earn me any money – writing my book manuscript, choreographing dance pieces, etc. And third, housekeeping doesn’t have to be as mindless as some people think. Creative and artistic elements can be found within it when it is done right.
I feel fortunate in that I have always enjoyed all the little tasks involved in caring for and keeping house. I revel in homemaking, in the fullest and most artistic sense of the word. I am learning to take pride in what I do at the Hermitage, even though it is invisible to the outside world. It is monastic routine and order, which brings me comfort and solace. No matter how humble my own living and working space may be, I am grateful for the fact that I have it and that I am healthy enough to enjoy it. And I am grateful for the clients whom I serve, for their support provides for the upkeep of the Hermitage, and the trust they put in me gives me a respected role in serving my community. By serving them through cleaning their homes, I am also serving the Hermitage and learning the arts of home and hearth.
I have often been praised for my work ethic, but as someone who has spent many years criticising the Puritan work ethic and talking about how leisure too often gets an unfair bad rap, I don’t think this phrasing is appropriate to describe the way I work. What I do have is a service ethic. Providing good service is satisfying to me for its own sake. In my role as a temple keeper, I serve my guests. In my role as a housekeeper, I serve my clients. I serve the Earth, and the divine, in both roles. All of my work, esoteric or mundane, is about service.
Keeping house well can be meaningful, fulfilling, and rewarding. It is most definitely a creative outlet for me, whether I’m doing it for myself or for others. I view it as a way of using my aesthetic sense, organising abilities, and homemaking skills to help create a more beautiful and ordered environment that nurtures the physical and emotional comfort of those whom I serve. This includes not just the paying clients of my business, of course, but also the goddesses, gods, and spirits, as well as my family, friends, and guests who visit the Hermitage.
Housekeeping is considered humble work, and because it is rarely respected (and often maligned), it can be all too easy to slip into subtle mental habits of denigrating what I do, and perceiving it as cumbersome repetitive drudgery rather than a welcome meditative and grounding activity. I try to counter these thoughts by reminding myself that the role of a housekeeper is one of sacred service as well as necessary “mundane” work. The housekeeping work I do at the Hermitage is not “just” housecleaning: it is quite literally what I do to physically clear an appropriate and usable space for worship, prayer, art, sacred dance, and ritual. The housecleaning I do for my clients gives me opportunities to take greater pleasure in the small moments of domestic life, brings subtle magic into their homes, and teaches me to bring an abiding quality of patience, care, and attention to all of my work. I appreciate the fact that my clients trust me to care for and beautify the intimate spaces of their homes, and I express this appreciation through the work I do for them (and sometimes verbally, as well.)
When I enter the home of a client – and also when I get up in the morning to do my daily work at the Hermitage – I bow into service. Whether or not I receive pay for my work, my commitment is to work in service of the divine, and this is what gives the work the deepest meaning for me. Whenever I leave the Hermitage and go out in public, I think of myself as a human conduit for the various forms of support, including financial, that the Hermitage requires to bring its fullest manifestation into the world of physical form. I carry a small black obsidian stone in my pocket to help me stay grounded in this commitment. When I return to the Hermitage at the end of a gig, I place a portion of my housecleaning income into the offering bowl, and I thank the gods and spirits for leading me to this work so that I am able to support the financial needs of the Hermitage as well as the spiritual ones.
It is my hope that one day the Hermitage will support itself entirely through a gift model, bringing in income to meet its needs via donations. The future vision of the Hermitage is of a subterranean temple space providing services for solitary dark Pagan cave-dwellers: midnight tea rituals, dark fusion temple dance performances, an in-house library focused on themes of Endarkenment, a Pagan-centered peer grief and loss counseling service, a small moss and rock sanctuary, and the Black Tent Temple – a space for incubation rituals and devotional rites for the gods and spirits of the Underworld.
And, of course, there will always be the magical practice of sweeping the temple, wherein I bow into service.