The Black Tent Temple Project Update

In praise of endarkenment

Awhile back, I wrote about some correspondence I had received in May from a fellow Pagan, Gerrie Ordaz, who loved the original post I made in 2012 about my Black Tent Temple project, and the page I maintain about it. She asked me if she could “steal” the idea and build one of her own.

I encouraged her to take the idea and run with it. And she did! She announced it on her blog, and then got approval from the organizer of the Earth Traditions Oasis summer retreat in northern Illinois to host a Black Tent Temple at the event. Here’s her description of it, taken from the event program guide (PDF):

The Black Tent Temple

“You may have heard of the Red Tent Movement, inspired by the book The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. The Red Tent movement is a homegrown movement where women come together and create a sacred area where they can gather to share and celebrate — a portable Temple. The Black Tent Temple is a sacred place set aside, for all genders, to “go dark.” A place of blacks and purples, of quiet, depth, candles and incense, with a black scrying mirror to contact departed ancestors and seek guidance. A place of contemplation, grieving and/or devotion where “dark” deities may be honored. Join your Temple Guide, Gerrie Ordaz, under the waning moon for an experience in sacred space. It will begin at 6pm and run until sunrise the next morning. Bring whatever statuary, material, beads, mirrors, music, etc. you are called to share.”

This is the first Black Tent Temple space I know about that has been built outside of my hermitage in Portland. And I am thrilled to hear about it! Gerrie reports that it was very well received, that one attendee has asked to spread it further, and that she will probably offer it again next year. She is also writing up a blog post in which she will offer some tips for improvement based on her experience.

For a bit of inspiration, I’ve adapted a header image for the Black Tent Temple Project. Anyone who builds one is welcome to use the tagline “The Black Tent Temple Project: Honoring Incubation and Endarkenment” and modify this image to meet your needs. (If you do decide to use it, I would appreciate a credit to me, Danica Swanson, and a link back to this page.)

Black Tent Temple Project

It’s beautiful to see this vision reach beyond my humble hermitage and find a more dedicated place in the world. I won’t quite say the floodgates have opened, but it certainly seems like some kind of gate has opened, because over the past few months I’ve received several more enthusiastic letters and seen several comments from people who find the idea appealing and want to build their own Black Tent Temples.

Here are some quotes taken from a beautiful post written by one of these people:

“…I wait for my mind to stop the chatter and for there to be a single thought: This. This thing.
“That’s what happened when I was browsing the Many Gods West program and came across Danica’s shrine to Skadi, and thus her monastic practice.
“God, I’m still freezing cold just thinking about it.
“My mind is a flood of images now. I’m understanding that La Abuela, whoever She is, or if She is a collective of divinities, whoever They are that make her up, wants me to be a temple for her. I am to embody my service to her in a very real way. […]
“I first learned of the practice of incubation in reading Apocalyptic Witchcraft, and it struck me as being something that I had a propensity for already. Several years of doing nightly yoga classes in low light, my habit of preferring quiet contemplation over most anything else, my intense affinity for closed, intimate spaces over sweeping views. A hike to a cave or pond is much more interesting to me than a hike to a vista.
“It’s all coming back to me…
“I was a goth once. No, really. Heavy black eyeliner, inverted cross necklaces, corsets, skulls. Then I became pagan and worshiped death gods. Then I stopped being pagan and still was obsessed with the dark. Then I went to college in New York City and got sick because there was no darkness there, no quiet, no place to incubate and listen to the soil. Then I turned my bedroom into an incubation chamber: heavy curtains, candles, a shoddy attempt at soundproofing my door. I spent time in dark, quiet, solitude on a nightly basis and began to get my sanity back. Then I moved in with a relative who had the TV on 24/7 and started to get sick again. Then I went to a few pagan solstice services and experienced my first “tent temple”, with god-impersonators, and realized that this shit is powerful.”

Lo is right. It’s powerful indeed. (Go read the rest of the post at rotwork — it’s excellent!)

As I wrote in a comment to Lo, there are only a handful of us doing this right now, but judging by the level of enthusiasm I’m seeing in the correspondence I’ve received and the closely spaced timing of these correspondences, I’m increasingly getting the sense that the seeds of an underground movement (both literal and figurative!) have somehow been sown. The few who’ve taken up this work so far have told me that they’ve found that it addresses a long-unmet need in a way that piques great interest whenever they share the vision with others.

One day I hope to collect enough material to put together a website featuring images and descriptions of Black Tent Temples all over the world where people can “go dark” for spiritual incubation work, Earth grief work, solitary contemplation, dark ritual dance, and so on.

If you’re inspired to build one yourself, please do! You can consult my previous post about it for some suggestions, including a recommendation for Peter Kingsley’s book In The Dark Places of Wisdom (you can also read an excerpt from the book and a review of it), which was one of my original inspirations to do this. I would love to see photos, videos, written descriptions of the space and the process of building it, interviews with participants about their experience…whatever you’d like to share.

I’m considering the possibility of building a Black Tent Temple at Many Gods West in the future, perhaps as a collaborative effort. I will post updates periodically. Suggestions are welcome, especially if you plan to attend MGW and/or pay a visit to my hermitage in Portland someday. What would you like to see in a space like this? What would make it useful and worthwhile for you? Please post your ideas (and inspirational photos) in the comments!

(Note: This entry was posted at The Black Stone Hermitage blog in 2015; it’s been lightly edited for re-publishing on Medium.)


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