Music for Skaði: A Ritual Dark Ambient Playlist
[Ed. note, Jan. 2017: This site is no longer being maintained. I’ve left it online for archival purposes. My current online devotional page for Skaði is here, and the page for my Shrine of Skaði dance project is here. My updated dark ambient playlist for Her is here.]
Over the years, in the process of choreographing devotional dance pieces for Skaði (the Jötunn/frost giantess of Northern mythology Who is closest to my heart), I put together this custom ritual dark ambient playlist. It features many tracks from Skadi (the German musical project). Not all the tracks are used in my current ritual dance choreography, but they’re all tracks that hold an important place in my devotional practice.
I’ve added short explanations of the thought processes associated with these musical choices, and have linked to videos on YouTube or tracks on Bandcamp where available. I’ve also collected most of the tracks from this playlist on Pinterest as well. Enjoy!
Hagalaz’ Runedance – Wake Skadi
As soon as I heard this track from Andréa Nebel in 2004, I knew that one day I would choreograph a special devotional dance piece to it, in honour of Skaði. I mean, really…how could I not? Not only is it an amazing and inspired piece of music, it’s obviously a devotional work for Her as well.
“Dress me in your white shawl…” was the line from this track that inspired me to purchase my very first belly dance costume piece – a fringed white burnout velvet hip scarf. I use this shawl only for the purpose of dancing for Skaði.
Sephiroth – Wolftribes
This primal and mesmerising piece from dark ambient virtuoso Ulf Söderberg was one of the first tracks that ever inspired me to dance to dark ambient music, and to dance for Skaði specifically. It has excellent “crossover” appeal for introducing neophytes to dark ambient, especially with its tribal percussive elements. It speaks to me of Her connection to wolves, of course, and also serves as a musical reminder that even the most domesticated among us still harbour the seeds of our indigenous tribal origins deep within.
Apoptose – Nordlicht
The Apoptose album Nordland is truly a masterpiece – it’s one of my all-time favourites in any musical genre. I bought the original 2000 edition, and have been listening to this album tirelessly for close to 15 years now. I’m intimately familiar with its quirks and intricacies; it has been by my side in times of hardship and celebration, and I love it without reservation.
“Nordlicht” takes me on a musical journey into the heart of the cold Northern lands that Skaði inhabits. The dance I do to this track is an offering to the spirits of Her mountainous, forested dwelling places…and also a tribute to my Swedish ancestors, who emigrated to the USA from rural Småland and Östergötland in Sweden.
Coil – Her Friends the Wolves
One of the perils of choreographing a dance piece to a Coil track is my fear that I’ll never be able to do justice to such legendary music. That fear will never stop me from dancing improvisationally to it just for the sheer joy of it, of course. Whether choreo or improv, this is one of the only tracks I dance to in my entire devotional dance repertoire for Skaði that could accurately be called “playful.” Much as Skaði is a dark goddess, I feel strongly that this track captures another equally compelling aspect of Her wild nature.
Ulf Söderberg – Vargskymning (“Wolf Twilight” or “Twilight of the Wolves”)
Another classic from the brilliant Swedish musician responsible for Sephiroth. I’ve been listening to Söderberg’s music for 15-20 years, and it still sounds as sharp and spiritually profound as it did the day I first heard it. There is a wildness and a mystical quality in Söderberg’s music that eludes lesser artists. Dancing to his music is one of the most reliable ways for me to get closer to Skaði.
Tribal percussive elements make the dance I do to this track much more energetic than is usual for me, given that most of my ritual dance choreography is of a more sombre character. This one provides a bit of a pick-me-up when the emotional heaviness of some of my other work becomes too burdensome for me to continue.
Skadi – Awakening of Skadi
This track is certainly aptly named: when I dance to it, I feel more awakened to Skaði’s presence. The bells and choral elements impart a rapturous feel to this track that perfectly captures the magnificence of praising Her.
(Another Skadi track I love is The Awakening, a track from the “Eliwagar” album, which is only available on CD. The video features the incredible artwork of my favourite artist: Zdzisław Bekśiński from Poland. Combining the work of my favourite dark ambient musician with the work of my favourite artist? Doesn’t get much better than that!)
Herbst9 – Bloodmoon Ritual
The Hunter’s Moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox is often called a Blood Moon in astronomical lore, and the ritual dance I do to this piece – one of my favourite tracks by one of my favourite dark ritual ambient bands – is performed in honour of Skaði’s primal huntress nature.
Skadi – The Huntress is another amazing track I often use for this purpose.
raison d’être – The Shadow of the Soul
Skaði is a goddess of a darker persuasion; Her name has been translated as shadow, scathe, shade, damage, harm, accident, hurt, or death. For me, this track facilitates a sonic gnosis of the shadow self, and it serves as a reminder that an essential part of working with Skaði involves cultivating a healthy respect for the darker side of one’s own nature. I’m particularly fond of the way the music continues with a deep sudden shift into mournful choral voices after the long pause at 4:30 that almost feels like the end of the track.
Vestigial – Anthropic Uncreation
Like all of Vestigial’s music, this primordial piece breathes dark Earth magic through every cell of my body, reaching into the deep mind and the void, and stirring visions of the abyss. When I dance to it for Skaði, it seems to reverberate in the marrow of my bones, feeding processes of emotional alchemy and dredging up waves of Earth grief. If I can find it within myself to embrace these processes, and stare unflinchingly into the dark heart of modern post-industrial culture, then dancing to this track catalyzes a shift of perspective that reveals ever-deeper sources of visceral wisdom – even long after the dance is finished.
Aghast – Enter the Hall of Ice
Creepy, haunting…and icy, freezing, bitter cold. In my mind, this track is the sonic equivalent of a winter night spent inside a hall of ice in a very literal sense: the ice hotel in the village of Jukkasjärvi in northern Sweden. Such an inspiring place! Small wonder then, perhaps, that it seems to please Skaði when I dance to this track.
Skadi – Reincarnation of Nature
This piece speaks to me of the need to listen to the land, to do what we can – even in the face of despair – to heal the damage that industrial civilisation has wrought upon the Earth, and to reconnect with the roots of our indigenous ancestry.
Speaking of ancestry…I have learned through my studies that there are many place names, particularly in eastern Sweden, with names like Skađalundr (Skaði’s grove) or Skađavé (Skaði’s Temple.) I was born and raised in the USA and have never been to Sweden, but my maternal ancestral line originally hails from Småland and Östergötland in southeastern Sweden. My mother and stepfather are planning a visit to Sweden in August 2016, and I hope to join them. My maternal grandparents spoke fluent Swedish; my mother’s was the first generation of Swedish immigrants in my family who were raised speaking only English. It has long been a dream of mine to go to Sweden and visit some of the rune stones, do some genealogical research, and explore some of the lands that bear Skaði’s name. I took an introductory course in the Swedish language back in 2007, and in 2014 I began studying the language again in preparation for my trip. Part of reconnecting with nature, it seems to me, is understanding our roots. This track inspires me as I plan.
Ulf Söderberg – Nordvinterögon (“North Winter Eye”)
This is without a doubt one of the most sublime pieces of dark ambient music ever recorded. The man is a master of the sublime, the sacral, and the primal. One of the YouTube comments for this track reads: “Some day – in order to get closer to God – churches will play this Music.”
In a sense, this commenter has the right idea, because this is certainly spiritual music of the highest order, as far as I’m concerned. For me, it inspires visions of Skaði’s Northern homelands. However, since my “church” is the living Earth, and the gods and spirits I serve are multiple, and I’ve been playing this track (not to mention all of Söderberg’s other amazing music) at the Black Stone Hermitage (my ‘monastery’) for years, my version of the thought expressed in the YouTube comment would be: “Pagan temples and sanctuaries play this music to get closer to the deities and spirits.”
Skadi – Skadi & Njörd
The story of the marriage of Skaði and Njörðr has long been an inspiration to me. Skaði’s determination to be true to Her will and Her own wild nature – even if it must come at the cost of Her marriage – helped me learn to tap into hidden wellsprings of strength as I grieved the loss of my own marriage over the course of several years following an unwanted divorce in 2007. This mystical track, with its militaristic percussion, helps me translate this fierce sense of inner determination – the survivor spirit and strength of will that carried me through difficult times – into the language of ritual dance.
Lamia Vox – Follow the Fallen Stars
In the Northern myths, Skaði’s father Þjazi’s eyes became stars when they were thrown up into the sky by Óðinn, after Þjazi was killed. The dance I perform to this track is dedicated to my dearly departed father, who died unexpectedly of heart failure in 1991, at the age of 62. Skaði certainly understands the magnitude of this loss. Many years after this loss, I came to feel that my father’s eyes were watching over me…and as a result, a dance piece took shape, for which this track eventually became the perfect accompaniment.
This beautiful music speaks to me of the urgent need to find our way ‘back’ to the Earth-respecting, death-honouring spiritual ways of our ancestral roots. It serves as a timely reminder that we can follow the fallen stars as we do this: we can learn the Old Ways directly from the Earth. After all, we are quite literally made of star substances, as is the Earth. The gods and spirits reside in the soils beneath our feet, just as as They do in the skies above, and we forget this to our own peril.