Five years have now passed since I received the original vision of the Hermitage in 2011 and started this blog to chronicle the development of the vision. Now, the time has come to take the leap of faith. I’ve committed myself to a full-time path of creative self-employment, contemplative solitude, and service work as a polytheist anchoress – a.k.a. Pagan monastic – in service of Skaði.
Sources of support and affirmation that this is the right path for me seem to be arising just as they’re needed. In recent weeks, the Hermitage received its first book donation to kick-start the in-house library project (thank you to Priestess Gerrie Ordaz!), and its first donation-supported shrine room art (see photo.)
The beautiful Skaði art is by Chris of Bifrost And Beyond. The acquisition of this devotional art marks the start of a new stage in bringing the Hermitage vision to full fruition. It’s now framed and integrated into Her ever-expanding shrine space. Later this year, the Hermitage will be commissioning a custom devotional woodcarving of Skaði – through Chris’s Gungnir Godposts project – to grace Her shrine space.
In October I will be launching a Patreon campaign for the Hermitage. Any support I receive beyond what’s needed to support the current space will go toward saving for a down payment on a home with a subterranean space, where I will be able to expand the services I offer.
This means that, as of October, I will have two Patreon campaigns. On the blog for my other main project, Rethinking the Job Culture, I recently posted a personal essay, “Why I Love Patreon,” which was made possible by the support of my patrons for that project. It’s received wonderful and encouraging feedback. My in-person visitors have been expressing interest in supporting the development of the Hermitage in an ongoing way, and Patreon is the best platform for me to do that. (Most of my readers follow either RJC or the Hermitage, but not both. I write and publish under two different variations of my name, so most of my RJC readers only know me as D. JoAnne Swanson, while most who follow my dark ambient writings and the Hermitage only know me as Danica Swanson.)
As part of my preparation for the upcoming launch of my Patreon campaign for the Hermitage, I’ve put together a detailed list of all the elements of the Hermitage vision. I’ve also done a recent interview – if you haven’t read that yet, and are interested in visiting the Hermitage sometime, please start there. It’s the best introduction to my work that has been published thus far.
And for a visual glimpse into some of the elements of the Hermitage vision, my Pinterest boards are a good place to start.
1. Non-Fiction Writing – books and essays
My primary form of sacred service is writing. Words are magical; many doors have opened in my life solely due to my ability to arrange words in ways that move people. As Alley Valkyrie has written: “Words are magic. They can hex, they can heal, they can change lives for the better and also destroy them. They are never ‘just words.'”
Three non-fiction book manuscripts, plus many essays and blog posts on the themes of leisure and sacred endarkenment, have been assigned to me to write.
These books are Beings, and I have been told in no uncertain terms that whatever else may happen in my life, it is my responsibility to work with Those I serve to ensure that these books get written and published before my time on this Earth comes to an end. They are:
Because most of my free time since my divorce has been consumed with my business, job-hunting, and job-readiness prep work, I haven’t made anywhere near as much progress on these books as I’d like. Now that I’ve given up job-hunting entirely, though, and am focusing all my energies on Black Stone Home Service, Rethinking the Job Culture, and the Black Stone Hermitage, I am happy that I will finally be able to make more steady progress on writing these books.
2. Chthonic Cathedral Music Consultancy Project
Over the past few years, as word has gotten around about my passion for dark ambient music, I’ve become known as the “village dark ambient nerd.” I provide custom themed dark ambient music playlists for events, classes, and rituals. I can tailor these playlists around a theme, an emotional state, and/or as a devotional for a deity or spirit. I can also suggest single tracks to help facilitate a mindset conducive to specific projects. One attendee at a ritual for which I provided the musical playlist found out about this service I provide, and called me “Portland’s best kept secret.”
There are few things I love more than introducing people to great dark ambient music, and it seems to please Those I serve as well as my community, so this project will continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.
3. Black Tent Temple Project
I design and create what I call endarkened meditative spaces at the Hermitage, and for others in the community by arrangement. These spaces are designed to facilitate leisure, contemplation, and retreat…within the context of a dramatic, emotionally evocative gothic style. The intent is to construct the space in aesthetically pleasing, inviting ways, in order to facilitate engaged religious experiences.
One element of this space at the Hermitage is the working altar upon which The Black Stone (a 50 mm black obsidian sphere) rests. I use this altar daily for veiled meditations. The Black Stone is the namesake of the Hermitage, and I often make offerings and prayers to it, or use it for scrying.
The first Black Tent Temple outside the Hermitage was created at a Pagan event in 2015. In the autumn, I will be designing a custom endarkened space for a grief ritual. This project, too, is one that I expect to continue at the Hermitage indefinitely.
4. In-house Library
Over 900 well-loved books – many of which are long out of print and hard to find – live at the Hermitage, and thanks to the encouragement of my guests who have expressed enthusiastic interest in this service after perusing my bookshelves, I will be opening my library for community use. Beginning in the darkening days of October, I’ll be hosting special open house reading-and-contemplation days by appointment, so that visitors can come and browse the library at leisure, relax with books and tea, and enjoy the dark ambient music, the Black Tent Temple space, and the contemplative atmosphere. I also have a post in the works about the contemplative practice of lectio divina for polytheists, and I will be making more Sunday Shelfie and “book of the week” posts (with quoted excerpts!) to provide a glimpse of what’s available for those who can visit the Hermitage in person.
(Potential visitors should note that the space is small – it’s a 550-square-foot live/work studio. Because of space arrangements, I will only be able to host a maximum of three people at a time; most often I have one or two. I will not be offering lending at this time; in-house reading only.)
5. A shrine room for Skaði, and a monthly worship service
Over the 12 years I’ve worked in Skaði’s service, my shrine space for Her has grown to the point where it now occupies a large four-shelf bookcase, is spilling over, and would certainly grow to fill a full room if I had sufficient space. I also have a box full of shrine supplies for Her that I am keeping in storage but cannot currently use due to lack of proper space. (I did use them to build a shrine room for Her at Many Gods West in 2015, however, and plan to use them to build a shrine room for Her once again at MGW in 2017.)
I have vowed to Her that when a permanent home for the Hermitage is found – hopefully through some kind of community land trust – that allows me to build in a subterranean space, I will construct a shrine room for Her there. The shrine space will be as magnificent and awe-inspiring as I can possibly make it. (A friend once called me “Skaði’s PR department.” Not far off the mark.)
As I envision it, this future shrine room will involve:
* A large statue of Her as the shrine’s centerpiece – I will be commissioning an artist for this.
* Several devotional playlists of dark ambient music (including a track called “The Hermit” by the brilliant German musician whose project is named after Her; this track was composed in 2012, exclusively for the Hermitage).
* A subterranean cave-like shrine space that can easily be kept cool, so the wintry feel can be enjoyed year-round.
* Little wall alcoves featuring miniatures arranged to depict Skaði’s myths and stories, complete with recessed LED lighting to create targeted pools of light over the scenes. (Christians do this sort of thing with nativity scenes; my idea is to do a Heathen version! And yes, this includes the tale in which Loki makes Her laugh by tying His testicles to a goat. Hey, it’s been illustrated before – why not?)
* Shrine supplies with themes sacred to Her – winter, snow, ice, mountains, bow-hunting, wolves, deer hide, snowshoes, etc.
* Silver thuribles (incense burners) in which conifer-based resins and incenses are burned – especially spruce resin, as spruce trees are sacred to Her.
* A mini-‘stage’ alongside or around the shrine – a slightly elevated section of flooring which can be used for devotional dance practice.
* Sheer black curtains, and some kind of narrow hall or enclosed entryway – a transitional space through which visitors must pass before entering the shrine room.
* Comfortable spaces for washing hands, leaving coats and shoes at the door, and kneeling before the shrine.
* Regularly scheduled open house times for visitors to make in-person offerings and prayers in Her shrine room.
* Regularly scheduled worship and offering services for Her. For these services, which I will conduct privately (or with one or two in-person guests), I will accept petition requests from the community in advance. I will perform candle blessings with specially anointed and dressed candles and/or make offerings to Skaði for each petitioner.
As I do in all of my work creating atmospheres of scared endarkenment, I combine visual, architectural, auditory, spatial, and olfactory elements – and sometimes kinesthetic ones, too, when devotional or ritual dance is involved – to construct inspiring and emotionally engaging religious spaces. Skaði’s shrine room will involve all of these elements, and more. (Maybe even tactile and gustatory elements, if it pleases Her!)
6. Shrine spaces for Móðguðr and Santa Muerte
Though Skaði is the main deity in my devotional practice, I also have a relationship with Móðguðr, and a newer but very inspiring relationship with La Santisima, a.k.a. Santa Muerte. Móðguðr’s shrine has been in place since 2011, and is lovingly tended year-round, though She only visits occasionally – October seems to be Her favorite month for visits.
I met Santa Muerte in early 2015, and like many devotees I was stunned by how quickly and effectively she responded to my petition. Later that year I expanded her shrine space, and began asking her to help me attract the right sources of support for the work I do. When the Hermitage finds its subterranean home, I have promised her that she will have a larger and even more beautiful space.
All guests at the Hermitage may make offerings to Skaði, Móðguðr, and Santa Muerte, and/or arrange for meditation time in front of Their shrines.
7. Geomancy – divination study and practice group
I’ve been studying and practicing geomancy since late 2014, and still consider myself a beginner. If and when the time comes that I become ready to read for others, I will offer geomantic divination readings as a community service. For now, I will be hosting a geomancy study and practice group, starting in the autumn along with my new Patreon launch.
For the future subterranean Hermitage space, I envision a cozy covered booth seating area with a table for this purpose – some kind of draped cozy alcove with padded booth seats, or perhaps a breakfast nook that will seat two or three people comfortably. This divination space would be used not just for casting geomantic charts, of course, but also for things like contemplative practices with books, scrying, or tea meditations.
I also study and practice the other kind of geomancy – dowsing with rods and pendulums, and working to harmonize earth energies. Inspired by the work of Alanna Moore and the book Earth Alchemy by Anne Parker and Dominique Susani, I intend to use the geomantic skills I am studying to select a geoprosperous location for the Hermitage, and for any stones that may be placed in and around it.
8. Conifer-based forest scented items – sacred smoke and aromatherapy
My long-standing adoration of conifers and their intoxicating scents is well known. I already drink Douglas Fir and spruce tip tea, and make “deep forest aromatherapy” spritzers at the Hermitage for daily use in my home and my house cleaning business. (My all-time favorite is a mix of cedarwood from Uncle Harry’s, and black pine from Liberty Naturals.) I can’t stand synthetic perfumes, and in fact am allergic to many of the petrochemical ingredients. But put me in range of a forest filled with cedar or spruce trees, and I perk up immediately.
I’d love to expand this conifer-based work. In the right space, and with the approval of the spirits of these magnificent trees that inspire me, I envision making small batches of wildcrafted conifer goods for use at the Hermitage. Cedar smudge sticks, spruce resin incense, pine tar salve, grand fir bath salts, sachets made with Western Redcedar shavings…I have lots and lots of ideas. I would definitely like to make conifer-based incense myself to fill the thuribles I use for worship services, using wildcrafted and locally sourced ingredients.
I also envision the future home of the Hermitage having a conifer of some sort as Vårdträd – the Swedish word for “guardian tree.” I’ve been very inspired by the Swedish tradition in which a home’s sacred Vårdträd is honored, cared for, protected, and given offerings.
9. Tea meditations
The Hermitage is fortunate to have an official tea consultant who is not only knowledgeable, but is also one of the nicest, most kind-hearted people on Earth! My dear friend David Galli, who is Head Cheerleader at the Portland Tea Enthusiasts’ Alliance and Director of Tea Education at The Jasmine Pearl, has been advising me about sourcing affordable pu-erh teas for future tea meditations at the Hermitage. I am also discussing the possibility of digitally recording some guided meditations in David’s beautiful and mesmerizing voice, to accompany future tea sessions at the Hermitage.
This project is in the early planning stages – it’s a “stretch goal” of sorts. Currently, I have equipment for tea service Western-style, but do not yet have proper equipment to serve tea gongfu style. One day I hope to expand the tea offerings at the Hermitage.
10. Videos and photo shoots – shrines, tours of the Hermitage, ritual dance
Another future project that is part of the Hermitage vision involves making videos of the spaces I design. I’ve been inspired by Silence Maestas’ Virtual Temple Project; he built a lovely shrine space for Loki, and recorded it on video for worshipers to enjoy. If Skaði approves, I would like to make recordings of Her shrine space, complete with incense, candles, dark ambient music, and perhaps recited prayers or poetry for Her as well.
I’m also planning some devotional and themed photo shoots – a ritual for Skaði in a snowy forest, donning a cloak and lantern and embodying The Hermit from the tarot, or simply wearing modest Pagan monastic garb – robes, prayer beads, head coverings, and all.
For quite some time I’ve been planning to make ritual dance videos for my Shrine of Skaði (devotional) and Drinking the Tears of the Earth (grief ritual) dance projects, but I haven’t been able to get far with this due to lack of time, assistance, and suitable equipment. (I did manage to get a couple of practice videos made, but that was in 2012!)
Then, in March of this year, I was diagnosed with tarsal tunnel syndrome – a musculoskeletal injury that forced me to give up dancing for several months. After some rehabilitative work I’m doing much better now, and have recently been given the go-ahead by my doctor to start dancing again, as long as I take it slow and ease my way back in. My first task is to find some flexible black shoes appropriate for belly dance that will support insoles. I’m looking at sturdy ballet flats or ghillies of the sort that are used in Irish dance. Once I have those, I will get back on track to regular dancing. However, it will probably be awhile before I’m able to make videos. So I’m holding this out as another “stretch goal” project.
I am also retreating from offering any services directly related to grief work. Recent experiences have taught me that I have a great deal of learning to do before I will be properly prepared to take on this type of work. As always, I will take my cues from Those I serve and the feedback of my community, and it’s clear that this is not my specialty. My specialty is in designing atmospheres and physical spaces – safe containers that can support and facilitate the grief work. So that is where I will direct my focus.
11. Pilgrimage to Sweden – possible artist residency?
Though I was born and raised in the USA, my maternal ancestral line originally hails from rural Småland and Östergötland in Sweden. I am planning a spiritual pilgrimage to Sweden to do genealogical research, explore the lands of my indigenous ancestors, and make offerings to the land spirits. I have musician friends to visit in Umeå and Linköping – one with whom I have a magical friendship. I’d like to visit runestones, labyrinths, and sacred sites linked to Pagan gods, especially Skaði. I’m looking into the possibility of doing some kind of artist residency in Sweden – perhaps linked to a Swedish Heathen group that has members interested in monastic life and contemplative practice. And I have promised Skaði that I will model Her shrines at the Hermitage based on what I learn about Her sacred spaces in Sweden.
And that, dear ones, is my vision for the future of the Hermitage.
I also want to note that I hold this vision, and put it forth in words, with full awareness that it is the gods and the spirits of the home and the land Who direct the work I do at the Hermitage. These visions I’ve been given are gifts – things that “want” to happen – and while I as Creative Endarkenment Overseer can help steer the process of helping them to manifest, I can’t ever be in complete control of this process, and that is as it should be. So I approach all the work I do at the Hermitage with an attitude of trust and sacred service. That means I accept that, while I’ve done the best I can to put the vision into words, the results may deviate from what I’ve described here. It also means I trust that eventually the means for the Hermitage to come to full fruition will be found, even though I have been very poor ever since my divorce.
I am serving an “end” – laying the groundwork for the Hermitage to find its subterranean home for the long term – but I can’t know how that end will be attained. It’s always possible that there will be an even better outcome than the one I’ve outlined here, and I remain open to that, even as I delve into the details of my vision.
Ultimately, the Hermitage should be a place of leisure, meditation, and sacred endarkenment – a place where visitors can truly relax, deepen their contemplative practice, and feel embraced by the divine.
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.