Thursday, August 9, 2012

Magic and Music

We Pagans are a creative bunch in so many ways, and that extends to music as well as other forms of art.  We create music to celebrate life, to celebrate our faith, and sometimes to help us through difficult times.  We can do so much more with it that we don't generally explore because Life itself is distracting.  

Centuries of human beings (and probably longer) have used rhythm and sound as part of our celebration and part of our magic and I think it would be a fun subject to explore.  Whether you play an instrument, compose, sing, or can't carry a tune in a bucket you are still a note in the grand Song of Life.

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” – William Congreve

Music certainly does have charms, doesn’t it?  We fall in love, express our emotions, and vent our frustrations as well as soothe our hearts with music.

My earliest memory of music was driving home from the library with my Mom and my sister, singing along as the radio played “On Top of the World” by the Carpenters.  I still listen to the Carpenters when my heart needs healing, because it takes me back to that purely innocent time in my life.

My mother’s side of the family had a tradition dating back before 1900 of gathering on Christmas Eve as many of the family as possible for a potluck, and to sing Christmas carols together after dinner.  It was years before I understood just how unusual my family was.  We never got drunk, had fights, or had feuds in our family.  Christmas Eve caroling was more magical for me than Santa Claus, because when we were all together singing, there was a light that connected all of us together.  My family was creating music magic, weaving us together with love, I think.

In later years, comic books caught my attention and sound became a potential weapon in the character Banshee from the X-men (whom you may have seen reinvented in the movie X-men First Class).  Prior to that, it was just my sister’s tin ear that made me realize how punishing sound could be.

Later in my life I learned that sound was being used in medicine to shatter kidney stones, and ultrasonic waves were giving some people relief from various other ailments that caused them pain, or to diagnose conditions.  We even have sonic toothbrushes to help us keep our teeth clean now.

So we know about our emotional connection to music, and the actual physical power of sound has progressed from fiction to reality.  The monks who released a CD of Gregorian chants did a powerful thing for the magical community, they helped us remember that music can be both beautiful and sacred.  It’s no different for us pagans.

Not everyone can sing.  I can carry a tune most of the time, but I’m no Elton John, that’s for sure.  My first experience with pagan music was a copy of a copy of some chants from the Reclaiming community, and it wasn’t long before I began writing chants of my own to share with my friends in the local pagan community under the name “Alpha Starsinger”.  Half the joy of chanting with other pagan folks is the unity, not the melodic quality though.  We don’t have to be rockstar quality to create beautiful moments together.

As I grew older and had more time to incorporate some of these lovely chants into my spiritual practice, I began to notice that while some chants were great at raising energy in a group setting, the energy wasn’t directed.  The imagery of the words in the chant didn’t *do* anything with it, so it was like this big energy pancake spinning overhead waiting to flop down on top of us.  Other chants directed energy beautifully and left us feeling completely refreshed.  For example, the chant “Where There’s Fear There’s Power” ( has a definite magical use – to help us banish fear’s control over us, and transform it into useful energy, and help us remember that we can use the emotional power of our own fear to transform our lives if we channel it properly. “Hecate, Cerridwen” ( is perfect for a dark moon ritual to help the chanters prepare themselves to meet the darker aspects of the goddess and prepare themselves for rebirth prior to a guided meditation, for example.

Those are some pretty good examples of the psychological benefits of music as part of our spirituality, but what about the actual magic?  Think on this for a minute – if sound waves can destroy stones in our body, see through us to look at a fetus in the womb, or help relieve pain, then what happens to every cell in our body when we sing and produce the sound ourselves?  Sound creates vibration in air, water, and matter.  When you stand in front of a speaker at a concert, you feel the sound in your bones and in every cell of your body.  Why can’t we harness that knowledge and put it to good use? 

The words we chant create images in our mind for us to focus on.  That’s how we shape the energy when we’re chanting.  The regular breathing, and weaving our voices together as one raises the energy to work with, granting us more spiritual power available for our magics than the sum of our number.  In the book “Chanting” by Robert Gass (excellent read!) he describes chanting as one way of numbing our conscious mind into submission through repetition to help us achieve a trance state (not a direct quote), and I agree with him.  Chanting is one of the paths to achieving a trance state, and for me personally it works better when the words are in a language I understand so I know the symbology and meaning behind what I’m saying before slipping into trance.

I think if we’re ever to progress farther than our “Paganism 101” levels that all of our published books are stuck at (because apparently that’s most of what sells), we need to explore how we can make our paths more rich and fulfilling, and I think music will be one way we get there.  I’ve read a tiny little bit into Solfeggio frequency theory, but it’s “channeled” information which I have a hard time taking seriously and unfortunately total pseudoscience from everything I can find on the subject.  One of my favorite books “The Subtle Body: An Encyclopedia of Your Energetic Anatomy” by Cyndi Dale covers the subject of sounds and chakra healing, attributing a note on the scale to each chakra (pages 401-406), and while interesting in theory I haven’t had the chance to work with it much yet.

But for practical applications, I propose that we start thinking about music, our use of it in ritual and how it affects us.  We can begin the dialogue on magic and sound theory, share the work we put into it together, and explore new horizons.  There are much better musicians out there, I’m barely up at amateur level to be honest.  If enough people are interested, perhaps it’s time we find an online space to share and discuss our ideas.

For now, I wish you harmony and may joy fill your days until we meet again.


PS, this post and the next few on the same subject are part of 
my contribution  to Kallan Kennedy's  blog-The Secret Life of the American Witch! Please check it out and all of the other contributors as well. 


  1. Terrific BLOG Alan.
    Yes, sound, be it music, drums or chanting can IMExp. greatly enhance the energy of ritual, meditation, and spell workings.

    I did my own testing on whether or not doing the singing or chanting quietly vs vocalized had any effect. For me it does. Yes, doing it only in my mind, lent some energy to what I was doing - it was not nearly as intensified as vocalizing it seems to be.

  2. Thanks July ;-) I did forget to add that a large portion of the pagan chants we sing wind up being in minor keys, for some reason. I think we need our pagan musicians to help us bust out of that model and explore the major keys for our magical music options and see how that works for energy raising and focus.

  3. I love this. :-) Great job Alan!! I have a method I use, more so in a larger circle. I begin the chant and allow others to hook into it (its usually one, maybe two quatrains). I explain beforehand that I will begin, they are to follow. Then, I wind them up by increasing the tempo, and the volume. I walk the circle deosil as they are chanting (because by this time I'm usually out of breath LOL)getting them to go faster, louder. Once I feel the energy has raised the level needed, I do a countdown. 5-4-3-2... etc. When I hit 1, I shout out for them to PUSH that energy into the cauldron/magick/etc. It seems to work well.

  4. Nice blog Alan. I feel that words are very powerful especially when put to music. My music has often been a vehicle for my lyrics. Even my Pagan songs. However, the music is just as important and it took me a while to realize this. When I am happy with some of my recordings I shall be sure to let you hear them. It's quite possible for many of us musical Pagans to collaborate via mp3s and email. I look forward to it. I will need to hear some of your music too.

  5. I've given you the Very Inspiring Blogger Award! You can find the information here:

  6. The awards are making their rounds Alan. If you'd like to participate I added your blog here. If you'd rather not, feel free to delete the comment. I won't be offended...


  7. When I was transferred to the School of Infantry, some of the other combat instructors were surprised by the fact that I refused to sing cadences about blood dripping, bombs going off and pretty much people dying. One of my friends approached me afterwards and said that he didn't understand, "You love blood and guts stuff."

    My explanation as of how I thought that sound, particularly when rhythmic, and repetition affected the the psyche and the mind was not nearly as eloquent as yours, but I pretty much tried to relate the same.

    It sounds like a very interesting idea to explore further...