Not long after I first received the vision of The Black Stone Hermitage in 2011, I began a Scrivener project that I call the “master playsheet” for the Hermitage. In this playsheet – which is also a worksheet – I record elements of the Hermitage vision using text, imagery, and dark ambient music playlists. Then I experiment with these elements, tossing out what doesn’t work and keeping what fits until each piece fits more clearly into the larger puzzle. In the intervening years, I’ve gradually shaped all these elements into something with more coherent structure, and the master playsheet has grown and expanded into…a fully organized book.
It’s nowhere near finished, and it probably won’t be for quite some time, but…turns out it’s further along than I expected, because I didn’t even know that I was writing this book, if that makes sense.
I’m still working diligently on the other book projects assigned to me, including Endarkenment: The Esoteric in Dark Ambient Music and Culture. But apparently I’ve been writing this book in parallel with the others, without even knowing it. Until this year it was just “the master playsheet,” but at some point it took on the shape of a full book manuscript.
I’ve got clear instructions to share this mock-up book cover image publicly. Even if it changes form into something different as I proceed and I end up having to backpedal later, I’m told that there are folks out there who need to see this, so here it is. That’s how I started this blog in the first place: I received instructions to document certain aspects of my experimental contemplative monastic practice publicly along the way, whether I’m comfortable with it or not.
As I often say: “don’t ask me, I just work here.” Ha!
Anyway…at some point, early in that process of defining the Black Stone Hermitage vision around 2012, I remember entering the word endarkenment into a search engine, as I knew it would become the central concept of my work thereafter. As I’ve written elsewhere, I first encountered this word through the writings of Michael Ventura, and I was curious about the origin of this neologism. I found nothing definitive about who coined the word, but I did find many fascinating writings that led me on trails that eventually revealed another element of the full vision. Now the word is included in the titles for two of my book projects.
This year I’ve entered a new and deepened stage of a personalized alchemical project of endarkenment. Slowly but surely, it seems I’m being transmuted into a being who is an appropriate match for the responsibilities that await me when I move to Sweden to pursue a permanent home for the Hermitage. This includes developing a set of ascetic practices appropriate for a contemplative Norse polytheist monastic. Seems this project has already been going on for years, too, even before I described these practices I was taking on as forms of sacred endarkenment. Funny how these things work.
To help me further experiment with ascetic practices involving sensory deprivation, I’ve expanded my walk-in closet space into a fully equipped (albeit still very small) Black Tent Temple. It’s lined with floor-to-ceiling black velvet curtains and a ceiling drape, so the meditation space can be pitch-black inside. I often meditate in that space for many hours. For now it’s the closest I can get to the kind of complete-blackout darkroom retreat I eventually hope to build at the future home of the Black Stone Hermitage.
I’ve also noted with interest that the darkroom retreatmovement is growing. It’s still marginalized, for sure, but there’s a great deal more information about it online than there was when I first launched my experimental Black Tent Temple and psychomanteum space in 2012. Eventually I plan to contact some of the darkroom retreat folks and find out if there’s anyone in Sweden with whom I might work to build such a retreat one day. All in good time.
It’s been a remarkable year, and as I end it I’m acutely aware of how much has changed. To wit:
I launched two direct subscription newsletters on Substack (Endarkenment and The Anticareerist), and my subscriber base for both newsletters is growing slowly but steadily. I love this work.
I finally managed to snag a rare opportunity for a deep-dive interview with the reclusive and respected composer Ulf Söderberg, my all-time favorite musician. I’ve loved his music for 20 years, and I frequently use it in my spiritual practice. In October, to mark the launch of my Endarkenment newsletter, I published the first interview with him in over a decade. I count the co-creative process we went through for that interview among the most fulfilling and joyful creative experiences of my life, and the final result is among my proudest accomplishments as a music writer.
I’m growing out my white hair with grey streaks. No more haircolor! I love the results so far.
I’ve finally gone low-carb (not keto, but close), and I feel much better health-wise.
My restorative yoga practice has expanded and deepened. I often do 2-3 hours of restorative yoga (aka “sloth yoga”) to dark ambient and drone music in complete darkness or very dim light.
I had the pleasure of attending the first Ambient Church event in Portland, including a marvelous performance by Loscil. It kindled a desire to learn projection mapping for eventual use in the shrine room I plan to build. I’ll be writing more about this experience in a future issue of my Endarkenment newsletter.
I cleaned out my closets, sorted through my books, and held a tag sale. Believe it or not, I reduced the Hermitage library in half – from 1000 to 500 books! This is round one of reducing my belongings and boosting my funds in preparation for the eventual move. Soon I will begin round two. All funds from the sale go into my move-to-Sweden fund. (I’ll be keeping about 200-300 books as the “core” library.)
My dear friends Birka and Räv Skogsberg are moving in two weeks! That means the Swedish Hermitage will eventually be located somewhere other than where I had originally thought.
And as part of my continued effort to A) move my online presence away from Facebook as much as possible, and B) not spread myself too thin, I stepped down as admin of the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism Facebook discussion group after more than two years of service. The group will carry on under the supervision of the other admins.
My intention is to free up more time for a new admin role in a long-awaited project I’m co-founding with a fellow polytheist: a public web discussion forum for polytheist monastics. The forum will be focused on supporting long-term development of organized monastic infrastructure and customs appropriate for polytheists and animists. This includes ascetic practices, liturgy, scholarship, religious garb, social structure, legal & administrative work, funding, etc.
We don’t have a date set for the launch yet as we still have lots of testing to do, but with any luck it won’t be too much longer.
I’m also conducting interviews with polytheist monastics for the book.
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.