A Brief Overview of Pagan Music

Song and dance have been a part of the human experience since the first protohumans banged two rocks together to make noise in the dark.  Music is a central part of worship for almost every faith on earth today, and Paganism is no exception.

There are as many different styles of Pagan music as there are Pagans themselves. There are Scandinavian thrash metal bands with Asatrú roots. There are Pagan groups who not only live their lives by the old rules but who also recreate the music of the ancestors, using traditional instruments and singing lyrics derived from ancient sources. There’s folk, neo-folk, folk rock, goth rock, hard rock, dark wave, New Age, trance, neo-classical, heavy metal, Celtic, folk rock… good Lady, but humans like to categorize!

The point is that no matter what kind of music you like to play or listen to, you’ll be able to find a Pagan group performing it. I have an extensive music collection, and several Pagan groups and Pagan singers hold a special place in my heart. Listening to their music helps to restore my faith when it flags, and it gives me a feeling of fellowship when being a solitary witch gets a little lonely.

There are proud songs, sad songs, dancing songs, mourning songs, party songs and songs for meditation. If you want it, Pagan music has it. (Germany even has a special name for some of this pagan music: Mittelalter, which features medieval folk music merged with heavy metal. It doesn’t sound like a combination that could work, but it totally does.)

Music and rhythm are ancient ways of attuning the soul’s vibrations with those of the higher powers. That’s why spells are usually in rhyme, and why every human society that ever existed has created unique musical forms.

The most elemental form of music, and one that is a feature of Paganism worldwide, is drumming. Drumming circles are a powerful way to raise energy, and many shamans use drumming as a tool in their work. The repetitive beating of a drum echoes the human pulse, and it calls us back to the time we each spent in our mothers’ wombs, listening to her heart. Now, as Pagans, we listen to the heart beat of the Great Mother in the earth around us. Drumming helps us make contact with that beat.

Shamans make particular use of drumming in their work. I am privileged to know a pair of talented shamans who play bodhrans, traditional Irish drums, as part of their work. The drums help to lower stress, quiet the constant chatter in our heads, balance our energies and enhance creativity.

It’s also believed that drumming can help alleviate chronic pain.  The rhythm certainly helps augment meditation, and in my experience, it’s far easier to enter a trance state while drumming. There are many recordings of drumming rhythms that are commercially available, and they make a wonderful backdrop to ritual work.

There is a magickal component to music, as well. The types of instruments correspond with the cardinal elements. Drums are earth, flutes are air, stringed instruments are fire, and bells and cymbals are water.

Each different kind of sound attunes the mind and soul with the properties of those elements. Drums are excellent for grounding, for stabilizing energies, and for healing. Flutes can inspire greater psychic sensitivity, attune the mind to the spirit, and spark creativity. Stringed instruments like guitars and lutes inspire passion, raise energy and enhance courage. The bells and cymbals shimmer and flow like water, and they augment spells and magickal work revolving around relationships and matters of the heart.

Many different gods are associated with musical instruments. Apollo plays the lute, and music is one of his domains. Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love and beauty, is closely associated with the sistrum, a sort of rattle that was used in Her temples during worship services. Aengus, the Celtic god of love, plays the harp. Bards are sacred in most Celtic paths. Pan is famously tied to his eponymous Pan pipes, and flutes and woodwinds are tied to the God in many of His guises.

It’s good to remember that music is vibration, as is energy. An important part of meditation and ritual work is attuning the vibrations of the witch or caster with the vibrations of the Universe, which empowers spell work. Higher vibrations connect with higher levels of energy, and the higher the vibration, the closer to the divine.

The counter culture movement in the 1960s went a long way toward bringing Pagan song out of the shadows and into the light where it thrives today. Occult studies became widespread, and people expanded their world views while they expanded their minds.

Paganism really flourished when its seed was planted in the fertile soil of pop music and rock and roll, with a number of mainstream bands openly writing Pagan-based lyrics and performing with occult overtones to their messages and music. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Paige comes to mind, as do the Beatles, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, the Rolling Stones…. All of these musicians dabbled a bit (or a lot) in the occult, in the teachings of Aleister Crowley, and in Paganism. They opened the door, and our music spilled out in all directions.

There are dozens of acts who play Pagan music, either directly Pagan in intent or Pagan-inspired.  You can find their music on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify and probably every other music streaming service you could name. Our musicians are officially out of the broom closet.

These are some of my favorite Pagan or Wiccan groups, in no particular order. Do yourself a favor and look them up – you might find something you like.

Arcana: Formed in Sweden, this neoclassical group uses medieval instruments and history as their inspiration. Their music is predominantly instrumental, although there are occasional vocals. They formed in 1994 under the leadership of Peter Bjärgö and disbanded in 2014. Their first album for Cold Meat Records in 1996, Dark Age of Reason, is a dramatic and almost cinematic piece that hints at secrets and dark meetings.

Ataraxia: Italians Francesca Nicoli and Michele Urbano formed the band Ataraxia in 1985. The band’s name comes from the Greek philosophical term describing a state of absolute calm and spiritual balance. They are a neoclassical band using modern and electric instruments, and they are still recording and performing today. They have a website with links to their official YouTube page where you can listen to their performances. For more information, please go to http://www.ataraxia.net/. Their most recent CD, Deep Blue Firmament, was issued by Sleaszy Rider Records in 2016.

Corvus Corax: Hailing from Germany, Corvus Corax (whose name is the Latin name for the common raven) play neo-medieval music with songs about mythology and legendary subjects. Their most current album, Der Fluch de Drachen (The Curse of the Dragon) was released on the band’s own label, Pica Records, in 2017. They are currently touring in support of the disc. The Curse of the Dragon was the result of a collaboration between Corvus Corax and fantasy novelist Markus Heitz. They have a website in German and English at www.corvuscorax.de.

Damh the Bard: Born Dave Smith in Redruth, Cornwall, Damh the Bard is the Pendragon of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), one of the oldest Druid groves in the UK. He is also a talented singer, songwriter and musician, and one of my go-to favorites. His latest album, Or Mabinogi: The First Branch is based on Welsh myth and fable, and it’s on the top of my list of music that I really need to buy in the very near future. You can find Damh at https://www.paganmusic.co.uk/, and like pretty much everybody else on this list, he’s on YouTube, iTunes and Spotify.

Dead Can Dance: I need to take a moment here and say that Dead Can Dance produce hands down some of the best atmospheric Pagan music in the world. (My personal opinion, of course; your mileage may vary.) DCD is really a duo that was formed in Australia in 1981 by Lisa Gerrard (she of the Gladiator film soundtrack) and Brandon Perry.

Their music is a fusion of African, Gaelic, pop, art rock, medieval motets, Gregorian chant, and probably several other elements that I’m not able to name, bundling all of these components together to create something that is distinctive and unique.

They disbanded for a while but reunited in 2011, and they’re now touring and performing around the world. They have a huge following, and I proudly number myself among their fans.  My favorite of their albums is Aion, specifically the song “Fortune Presents Gifts Not According to the Book.” Their website is http://www.deadcandance.com.

Eluveitie: They’re from Switzerland, and their sound has been called, amusingly, “melodic death metal,” whatever that is. Their music combines traditional folksongs with heavy metal stylings, and that’s not as scary as it sounds. What I love about them is that they frequently perform in Gaulish, which is the language that the ancient Celts spoke in Europe during the time of Julius Caesar. One of their songs, “Epona,” is an ode to my Mother Goddess, and they’ve earned a special place on this list as a result. They took their name from Estruscan graffiti that was found on a pot in Mantua. How’s that for in touch with your roots? They’re on the usual streaming sites, and they can also be found on the web at http://eluveitie.ch/.

Faun: This band, formed in Germany in 1998, play medieval-inspired dark wave and pagan folk. They use traditional instruments and sing in a variety of languages, including the Scandinavian tongues, German, Latin and Greek. Their songs are about Norse and Germanic myths and retellings of Old German stories, and their lyrics are steeped in folklore.

They have a very busy touring schedule and put on a lot of shows in Europe, and their fans are really dedicated. They’ve played as guest artists with the group Medaeival Baebes, who are not pagan but who utilize some of the same medieval sources.

Faun just recently released a greatest hits album, and their last studio album, Midgard, was released in 2016. One of their best-known songs (and one of the catchiest) is “Unda” from the album Luna. Their web presence is in the usual streaming locations and at www.faun.de.

Inkubus Sukkubus is a British pagan goth rock band who’ve been galled the zombie Fleetwood Mac. They were formed in 1989, and as a trio they have played all around the world. Their sound is considered gothic rock, and they’re still busily touring and recording, currently in support of their most recent album, Belas Knap. They were initially called Incubus Succubus, but they changed the spelling to take advantage of positive energies in numerology. Their website is http://www.inkubussukkubus.com/.

Spiral Dance is from Australia. The band was formed in 1992, and their music is really inspiring to me. Vocalist Adrienne Piggott is also one of their songwriters, and their lyrics are deeply rooted in the Wiccan tradition. Spiral Dance has toured Australia, the US and the UK, and they’ve performed at Glastonbury, which is a famously sacred site. Their most recent CD is called Land and Legend, and their website is http://www.spiraldance.com.au/.

Gwydion Pendderwen was one of the first Pagan recording artists. His 1975 album Songs for the Old Religion is a seminal piece of Pagan music, and I highly recommend it. His songs are inspirational, especially the song “We Won’t Wait Any Longer,” which is a sort of anthem of pride and unity for Paganism. He died in a tragic car accident, but the three albums he was able to record are priceless.

In addition to these acts and the more obvious entries into the Pagan music category, there are other forms of music that can heighten the experience of a circle or ritual. Music of all kinds can help enhance the Pagan experience.

The category called “New Age”, which is predominantly ambient instrumentals, is a rich source of musical accompaniment to rituals, study, spell work and meditation. Classical music and traditional folk music from many different traditions can also be valuable tools. The kind of music that works best for each Pagan is as individual as Paganism itself, and there’s no single “right way” or “right kind”. If thrash metal helps put you in touch with your gods, then thrash away!

There are many truly Pagan New Age acts, but the music doesn’t have to be intentionally Pagan to be effective. In fact, any music at all that speaks to you can be helpful in augmenting your Pagan worship experience, or your Pagan way of life.

If you haven’t already used music as part of your ritual or Pagan practice, you might want to look into it. You might be surprised at the benefits you’ll receive!

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