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Music and Magic

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Music and Magic
By Anne Hill

We all have our favorite definition of magic. Dion Fortune once said it was the art of changing consciousness at will, but I think it's more than that. Magical practice changes our entire vibration, letting Spirit resonate through all levels of our being-if we let it, if we train ourselves for it. A lot of people get stuck in the idea of changing consciousness as the ultimate end of magical practice, and then the practice eventually becomes boring and they think it's because Paganism is boring, or their tradition is boring. Well, if your goal is simply to change consciousness, no wonder it's boring! Once you can visualize well, recite poetry, take trance journeys, and handle some power running through your system, where else is there to go? Music gives us the key.

In Pagan and Goddess traditions, music serves another critical role. Unlike so many spiritual paths, we have no holy book, no scripture to turn to for authority or inspiration. For Pagans, music is our liturgy, our "sacred writings," the actual vehicle through which we encounter the Goddess and feel our connection to Spirit in all things. It carries our history, teaches our outlook on life, our principles of action and belief. For those of us who are perfectly happy with our spiritual practice, music helps us feel connected to the Goddess as we go about our day. We hum a chant as we work or play, our favorite song or chant pops into our head when we see something that moves us, and it reminds us of who we are.

Music is like water: it can go anywhere, can be soothing or thundering, sweet or sour, bitter or healing, and over time it can dissolve even the toughest obstacles. And like water, it is something we are made of; the resonance of sound and vibration in all the deep spaces of our being is what makes us who we are, and keeps all the particles of our body working together harmoniously. Like water, we can choose to work with it in a glass, a nice warm bathtub, a still lake, a wild river, or the surging ocean. On whatever level we invoke music in our lives, it will change us and help us become more fully alive. I hope to inspire you to bring music into your magical life in new ways, or make you see old ways in a new light.

1. Background music. Many people enjoy doing ritual with music playing in the background. to get them in the mood, keep them "in tune" with their purpose. Part of the magic of this approach is actually picking the music you want to use. The music becomes a participant in the ritual, so it is important to match the energy of the music to your magical intent. Most people listen to their selection all the way through beforehand to make sure it will work, but there's always the intuitive approach of picking music. Some people like a certain artist's music so much, they just put on any album by that person and are use that musician's energy to help with the ritual. There are whole threads of conversation on the Pagan newsgroups centered around sharing ideas for music to work with as background for magical practice.

If you want something spare and resonant behind you, consider a nice set of wind chimes set up nearby. Their sound can be both relaxing and centering, and has the added bonus of working with the wind, which brings an elemental awareness more fully into your work. Choose carefully, and find a set that has a sound you really like-you'll be listening to it for a long time!

2. Chant in solo ritual and spellwork. For spellwork, I always find it helps to "have a little hum," as Pooh would say, to focus my mind while I gather the herbs, talismans, cloth, and what have you for the spell working. When the work of your hands is the main focus, you want a simple, repetitive chant that you can sustain for the whole time. I often find myself singing a chant with words at first, but then as time goes on, the words start to get jumbled or disappear, and it is the tune itself I work with. When this happens, I know I am getting to the core of my magical intention. The words of a chant create the container in our minds and bodies for the energy of the music to come through, but once that container is established, all it takes is that "little hum" in some kind of rhythm to keep the energy flowing. Pay attention to your use of melody and rhythm here, and try not to judge your efforts by normal singing standards.

3. Adding music to scripted rituals. If you already have a ritual script and just want to add a little music to get people participating a bit more, consider substituting song for a grounding exercise, circle casting, or invocation. Examples abound here, and if someone you know can't give you any suggestions about music to use, there are some great songbooks that will help you, and many excellent albums of ritual music that may have just the song you need. This may be a frustrating search at first, especially if you are rushed for time, but if you keep at it, and do a bit of research or collecting, it will get much easier later on to put your finger on the song you're looking for. You'll also start to build up a repertoire of chants that work well for you, which is a great magical tool.

4. Pre-ritual music. Sometimes, all you want is some light music to greet people as they enter the circle. You can do this yourself with bells, windchimes, an autoharp or kalimba (mbira)-all instruments that sound good without any training. I use my love of yard sales and flea markets to expand my collection of slightly battered but great-sounding instruments that anyone can play. The mbira has a particularly magical sound.

If you will have drumming before the ritual and want others to join in, take some care with the rhythm instruments you set out for others. Make sure none of the instruments are really loud or jangly sounding, this can really disrupt the harmony you want to create. Soft-sounding shakers and chimes, sticks with a round, not sharp, tone, and small wooden drums (avoid metal drums-they are very loud and piercing) all contribute to a sense of harmony, without dominating the sound so much that it throws the beat off or hurts people's ears.

Albums of vocal or instrumental music may also fit the bill for pre-ritual use, as well. If you choose recorded music, take a listen to the whole thing first and make sure that all the tracks you will be playing have the same mood.

5. Blessing the feast. For any gathering where food is involved, consider a song of blessing or prayer over the food before it is shared. An excellent example is "The Giving Song," which is simple enough that people can join in right away, but the lyrics get right to the heart of a food blessing. "Harvest Chant," is also a possibility, and if your group likes to sing rounds, the "Lammas Bread Blessing," is a very beautiful way to bless cakes and wine.

6. After the ritual. Sometimes the perfect place for a song is as a closing to the ritual. A song such as "Through All the Worlds Below," "When We Are Gone," or "We Are a Circle Within a Circle" can create a harmonious ending and open-hearted feeling amongst participants. "May the Circle be Open" is a big favorite, and it's also handy that it's simply music set to words many of us already know. A closing drum circle can also work really well, especially if you have one or two people in the group who play well together and can get a nice groove going.

7. Drumming. You may want to play a simple frame drum during the ritual, to help people enter trance. If so, remember these two simple rules: Keep the beat steady and don't stop till you're finished. Slowing down or speeding up the beat can be jarring to those who are hourneying. Likewise for skipping beats once you have begun. Establish a rhythm in the beginning and stick to it. The drum will do the rest.

I like to think of ritual drumming as doing two things at once: it sets a rhythm at which things unfold, and it also describes, or merely joins up with, the rhythm that is already there. If you think about the group energy that exists in your circle, and think of it as a guiding spirit that sets the tone for your work together, then you can actually use the drum to get in tune with that spirit. This takes the pressure off you as the drummer! Just tune into the spirit, find the beat, and stick to it all the way through.

8. Rounds and chorales. Rounds, where the melody gets split up between people singing different parts of the song at the same time, are a powerful, even mesmerizing way to use music in magical practice. And it does take practice to do well, but it is really worth it-as are songs with harmonies. Again, this is one of those uses of music that takes time to develop well. If there is someone in your group who can teach the song to the others, that is a big help. You might also consider asking someone more skilled to meet with your group once a month for a while, until you get the hang of singing together this way.

Group singing, especially in rounds, has an almost alchemical effect on group energy: it deepens trust, makes for better communication (because it requires such good listening) and energizes the group mind, or group spirit, which brings a whole lot more power to whatever else you do as a group. For these reasons, it is something I always suggest to groups who want to deepen their practice together. As in solo work with chant, once the chant or round is established, the words can fade out and fade back in again as desired, leaving more space for the pure vowel tones of the music to resonate together. If you've never experienced group trance using a wordless chant in harmonies, you are in for a real treat. In fact, you may never want to return to recorded music!

9. Model what you want from others. This is especially important if you are working with a group of newcomers, or people who don't know each other very well. If you are leading the ritual, clarify beforehand what your expectations for the chanting are. Do you want the group to raise energy in a particular way during the song, or do you want utter concentration on each syllable for magical intent? It is important, especially in new groups, to tell everyone beforehand what to sing when, and how to sing it. But then, while you're singing in ritual space, the most important thing you can do is to get into the song the way you want others to get into it. Put some energy into your singing: make eye contact and smile in the group (or close your eyes, if that's what you want), move your body, anything you can do to demonstrate with body language the energy the song is bringing into your circle.

This is also one of my basic mantras when I'm at a public ritual, and I find myself criticizing how uninvolved other people seem, or how lifeless the ritual is. Chances are that I'm seeing a reflection of my own disengaged, critical mindset. If I take that opportunity to loosen up and contribute more to the ritual energy, the ritual will seem a lot more powerful to me, and more than likely my example will encourage others to do the same.

10. Letting the Song Free. Whatever type of song you have chosen for your ritual, don't make the common mistake common of thinking you have to control where the chant goes. By choosing the right chant in the first place, and starting it off right, you have done your work. The rest is up to the group's energy, and the power of the song you're singing. Don't be afraid to let the chant go for longer than you feel comfortable with. In fact, it is an excellent practice, when working with music as a magical tool, to purposefully avoid trying to end the chant.

Our conscious minds (which we're trying to change at will, remember) have a funny way of resisting change. Often in ritual singing, I will suddenly get completely bored with the song, and fed-up at how long the singing is taking. This is a clue that there is some way in which the energy of the song is working on me, and my mind is resisting going with it. Because I trust in the healing power of music, I can choose to to ignore my mind, and instead focus my awareness on what the sound is doing internally. How is it resonating in my body? What is my energetic response to the motion and stress of the syllables in the song? What colors does the melody remind me of, and which harmonies am I drawn to?

Suddenly, the song has become a fascinating landscape that I've just landed in, and I want to spend some time exploring this strange and beautiful new place. Then the song really opens up for me, the blending of voices touches me in a deeper place, and my spirit is free to come out and play. This for me is where I get the most benefit from my magical practice. Afterwards, I have the satisfying feeling of having engaged my imagination, my body, and my voice, with others, in something that was transforming. Music can help us all get to this place, and over time, can transform our world. Music teachers are fond of telling their students to "practice, practice, practice!" Practice is important, but so is play. One of the great things about music is that it is not always serious, or dangerous, like some magical tools. With practice, and with lots of play, you will get better at letting the magic of song work for you.

 

-Mourning Dove (Salish) 1888-1936

 

"We know our lands have now become more valuable. The white people think we do not know their value; but we know that the land is everlasting, and the few goods we receive for it are soon worn out and gone."