The Black Stone Hermitage is a contemplative Norse polytheist monastic retreat and worship space in service of Norse deities and other Holy Powers of Yggdrasil.*
The Hermitage is part of an experimental effort to develop organized, anti-racist, non-patriarchal monasteries and monastic traditions appropriate for polytheists in the modern religious movement modeled on the pre-Christian religious and folk traditions of Northern Europe (also known as Heathenry, Ásatrú, Forn Sed, Norse Paganism, and many other names).
Founded in 2011, the Hermitage is located in a private home in the Pacific Northwest of the USA (Portland, OR), and is in search of a new home to build an abbey devoted to mysteries of the Ásynjur. Bigotry of all forms is not tolerated. The Hermitage aims to be a welcoming space for marginalized folks including LGBTQIA+ folks, people from anywhere on the gender spectrum, and people of all ethnicities.
Shrines are maintained year-round for Norse deities Skaði (Skadi) and Móðguðr (Mordgud) by me, Danica Swanson, the resident hermit and amateur nun.
The Hermitage is both a personal home and a concept in development that I am extending to others through hospitality. The vision is for the Hermitage to expand into an abbey, retreat space, and house of worship that will outlive me, and continue on to serve future polytheists who feel called to contemplative monastic life.
After 20+ years as a Pagan, and 13 years of dedicated solitary service to Skaði, the time has come for me to expand my community service offerings, as the need for polytheist monastic hospitality and fellowship is growing. 2016 saw the founding of Pagan and Polytheist Monasticism, a respected and much-loved discussion group on Facebook which has attracted almost 200 people, and an entity called LANMIPP (Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically Inclined Polytheist Pagans). I am closely involved with both, in administrative roles.
As things currently stand, there are few options for polytheist Heathens and Pagans called to monastic life. The need for them is there, but it remains unmet. When the right space is found, I plan to relocate the Hermitage to Sweden. At the Hermitage as it now exists, I try to live and practice much as I would if I had taken a vow to serve the deities and spirits as a Sister affiliated with a recognized polytheist monastery or church.
This is very much an experimental effort. Since monastic traditions for polytheist Heathens do not yet exist anywhere in the world, would-be Heathen nuns and monks have a great deal of room for experimentation, with all the pros and cons that implies. In order to avoid reinventing the wheel, as it were, I learn from monastic traditions in other religions as I develop a more structured Norse polytheist contemplative practice.
At this early stage of the modern polytheist revival, I believe outreach and extensive documentation are important even for reclusive types like me. We live in a culture where people who are considered “too religious” are seen as aberrations – sometimes even among Pagan and Heathen communities! So part of my work is simply to speak out, stand in solidarity and fellowship with other polytheists interested in monasticism, and write publicly about my devotional and contemplative practices.
Projects and services:
- Chthonic Cathedral Project: custom themed playlists of dark ambient music designed for rituals, events, yoga, and meditation, to foster music-based contemplative and deep listening practices. Available as a pay-what-you-want service.
- Black Tent Temple Project: custom designed dark incubation and meditation spaces. Available as a pay-what-you-want service.
- Paths of Sacred Endarkenment retreats: short contemplative retreats (day visits, overnighters, or weekends) in which I hold space for deep listening, prayer, meditation, and incubation. Available as a pay-what-you-want service. (On indefinite hiatus, but I hope to offer these again when my circumstances permit it.)
- Devotional dance: I perform short dark fusion veil dances (improv or choreography) as part of my ‘chapel’ services for Skaði. On rare occasions I perform improv or choreography outside the Hermitage in private ritual contexts as a gift service, if it is approved by the Beings in question. When I have videographer assistance and a suitable location, I can also make devotional dance videos.
- Conifer aromatics: aromatic mists custom-blended at the Hermitage using essential oils from Cascadian conifer forests: Douglas Fir, Black Pine, Western Redcedar, and Spruce. (I’ve had a number of requests to make these available for sale, and perhaps with luck I’ll be able to expand this into an arm of my small business at a later date. Due to time constraints, however, they are only available as gifts or pay-what-you-want items to in-person visitors for now.)
- The Hermitage Library: in-house library with 900+ books, many out of print and hard to find; leisurely reading & study days are hosted by appointment. Available as a pay-what-you-want service.
- (Upcoming) Offertory ‘chapel’ services and shrine videos: I perform occasional devotional worship services for Skaði and Móðguðr at Their shrines (accompanied by dark ambient music), and have plans in the works to make shrine videos and participate in Silence Maestas’ Virtual Temple Project. Petitions, prayers, and offerings will be accepted for Skaði and Móðguðr from the community. When this service is ready to be offered, it will be announced here and through social media outlets.
Interested in scheduling a visit? Start by reading the visitor info page.
Can’t visit the Hermitage in person, but want to connect with other would-be and fledgling polytheist monastics online? If you’re on Facebook you can send a membership request to the Pagan & Polytheist Monasticism discussion group on Facebook. You’ll be asked to answer two short questions: how you heard about the group, and how you became interested in Pagan and Polytheist monasticism. We want to make sure you’re in the right place, so we only approve membership requests from people who answer these questions.
Want to connect with potential collaborators in your area? Send an inquiry to LANMIPP, the Loosely Affiliated Network of Monastically Inclined Polytheist Pagans. We keep a list of folks who are interested in developing some kind of collaborative monastic practice, mutual aid network, or study group (online or offline), and we may be able to recommend groups or other resources to you.
There have been several requests for a public web discussion forum on polytheist monasticism. It’s now in the planning stages – we have an admin and several content moderators lined up – and with luck we’ll be able to get things up and running in 2018.
The Hermitage also maintains an ever-expanding list of resources for polytheists, Druids, Pagans, Heathens, and animists interested in monasticism.
*Thank you to Laine Mardollsdottir for inspiring the phrasing referencing the Powers of Yggdrasil.