Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Magic and Music, part 3 - Chant Jam

The magical energy that can be raised through group work is pretty phenomenal sometimes.  My Wiccan teacher had a formula for it that unfortunately I didn’t write down, but essentially the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts when you do it right.  Music is one of the most fun ways to raise energy that I’ve experienced.  When you have a group upwards of 20, it’s just something you have to experience because it’s too hard to explain.

I was chatting with a friend in the 80s about magic and chanting, and we discovered there were chants that she knew and I didn’t, and vice versa.  Then in further conversation she brought up other local people who knew yet more chants that neither of us did, so I proposed getting us together and sharing/teaching so we’d all have access to more chants for use in ritual.

The first meeting was in my very small apartment and I think there may have been a dozen of us cramped in there, and we had no idea how to start.  Someone suggested an atonal Ohm chant to warm us up, and it turned into something different.  I had envisioned something like the Mystics from the movie "Dark Crystal", when they were singing a chord, but that wasn’t what happened.  We wound up singing the same tone as a group, then gradually raising the pitch (and volume as we warmed up) and eventually hit a crescendo and let it go.  It was like a burst of warm light washing through all of us, and kind of exhilarating.  At that point, we started going through note paper with chants written down and sharing, singing together.  It wasn’t long before we noticed the energy levels in the room building and our own energy levels escalating further.  We also agreed that we needed to write the chants down, and have copies for everyone to have access to in order to capture all the different versions of lyrics.

A couple of us took that task on, and lots of phone numbers were traded for follow-up calls.  We were joking about it being our pagan hymnal, so naturally we named it the Hermnal (to honor the Goddess) in the spirit of silliness we were enjoying with the whole project.

The next meeting was the following month and I think we had around 30 people present at someone else’s house (they had a huge living room with great acoustics), and we passed out copies of the Hermnal and started with the Ohm (which became traditional).  People brought drums and rattles, fresh fruit and veggies, and it was a party.  I forget what we were chanting, we were sort of on a roll going through different chants with the same (or compatible) melodies, and we all sort of went “Wow” because it sounded so good and was so full of energy.  I can’t remember who said it first, but once someone came up with the idea that we were “like jamming, only with chants” then Chant Jam was officially named. 

Here’s some feedback from a few people who were there:
K’s recollection:

We would meet fairly often - once a month? - and warm up with an OM chant, holding hands, moving the energy around the circle.  It would intensify and move through us faster and faster, then crescendo and release.  So simple, yet so fulfilling, so satisfying, so balancing.

We would sing the old familiar songs and chants, and as I looked around at the faces of my loving friends I would be filled with joy and smile with my whole being...and they smiled the same smile back at me and each other.

I liked the chant that included movement: air my breath and fire my spirit, earth my body, water my blood.  And don't forget the Pagan Pokey!  I also really liked the chant that integrated several different chants as a sort of round: we would be together in the same rhythm and flow, choosing different words as inspiration struck:

Goddess/God Chant
Old People/New People
Diana of the Hunt
We All Come From the Goddess (sped up a little!)
Kore Chant - chorus
We are a Circle - chorus

It sounds kind of crazy and chaotic, each person choosing what to sing/chant, changing it up as desired; but actually it worked very well every time.  It was sort of like a vocal drumming circle: everyone doing their own thing, but following the same beat made our efforts merge and blend into a unified verbal dance.  Wonderful!

The energy was clean and delicious and all around us.  I would be suffused with it and washed clean of any icky, sticky energy and filled with spirit and light and pure happiness.

I don't know why it worked so well; the company, the time of our life, the time of the world, who can say?  It was truly magical.

J’s recollection:

I was asked by Alan to write something about chant jam and what it meant to me. I did not know how to explain, the way the act of group singing has influenced my path in life. I was a student of Alan’s when chant jam started. In my opinion, it was a way of getting people together to run energy without running into the politics that can get in the way when people of various beliefs come together. It was fun, and for me, very enlightening. I began to realize that the vibrations that were created affected people in ways that could not be simply explained. I wanted to understand how singing could make me feel so good. Not just uplifted but physically better. Sleep better, more focused and general aches lessened. So this question lead me to, in my first year of my masters program in acupuncture, write a research paper on the subject. What I found was that there are many correlations between the rhythms and sound patterns that are used in chants and the functions of our brains. That vital body functions are aided and maintained by rhythm and vibration. There are some great books out on the subject if you wish to research this further.

I don’t think when I was singing and laughing and having a great time all those years ago I understood where it would lead me. I am almost sure Alan still does not cognize the impact those gatherings had on everyone. Thank you friend.

Thank you both for your contributions!  Chant Jam was really magical for my community, both for social networking (pre-Internet) and sharing energy.  It was a place and time for people from various pagan traditions to meet, relax, and have fun singing.  People who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket were happy clapping, stomping, drumming, and shaking rattles and we loved that contribution because it just added to the joyous energy we were all sharing.  Like K said, you walked away from Chant Jam cleansed and uplifted.  And I agree with J’s assessment that after Chant Jam I was sleeping better and my body was happier.  At one point, we had people bringing their kids, or driving 2 hours from the San Francisco area up to Sacramento to join us.

I would love to bring it back to life because it was so positive and uplifting for everyone.  It’s a great place to share new stuff we write, too.  When you have a big group of people singing with open hearts together, it becomes “safe space” to try new things.  I knew folks who were too shy to sing in small groups who were completely comfortable singing loudly at Chant Jam.  So, I’ve included a link to the PDF of our Hermnal for your use as an example to either use as a template for creating your own, or use for your own Chant Jam sessions.  A couple of words of advice if you want to start your own:
  1. Make sure you’ve got folks bringing fluids because you’re going to get parched quickly.  Stay away from sugary drinks, they’ll promote mucus production and make singing harder.  Something as simple as a big pitcher of ice water with lemon/orange/lime slices in it, or fresh sprigs of mint work very well.
  2. Fresh fruits and veggies are great to have on hand, but stay away from dairy-based dips because they promote mucus production and make singing more challenging for lots of folks.
  3. Start small – get a group of 10 or so together to start the thing off, and figure out where you’ll be having it as it grows (because it probably will).  Neighbors and noise are issues to take into account.  Most people don’t feel comfortable in a public setting like a park, it sort of kills the mood and doesn’t generally work well acoustically.
  4. Keep the politics out!  Seriously, if everyone agrees to Chant Jam as being ego-free space, it will work better and last longer.  Ours died because someone tried to “own” it, and you can’t do that with things that are truly a Community event.  Establishing some rules for it is good, but too many rules will be restrictive and turn folks off.  If you have more than 3 rules for Chant Jam then you’ve probably got too many.
  5. Scheduling – bring calendars and don’t overdo.  If it’s going well, there will be people who want to do it all the time.  That creates burnout and interferes with regular things going on for other people.  Don’t schedule it on full/dark moons because you’ll automatically be excluding folks, come up with a regular schedule (first Friday after dark moon, for example) and stick to it as much as humanly possible.  And definitely make sure you have an announced start AND end time for the event. Enthusiasm is great but the folks hosting will want to eventually have their space emptied and go to sleep.  :)
  6. Phone/email tree – it’s important for the core group hosting/organizing your Chant Jam to communicate with folks who want to attend.  These days with so many people online a single Facebook group makes that easy, if everyone is on Facebook.  But phone trees still work best in case something comes up at the last minute and the person hosting it has an emergency.
  7. Hermnal – where authors were known, they were written in.  A lot of this was typed from lyrics that came with cassettes and CDs and many of the tunes can be found on YouTube if you don’t know them.  For all of the ones where the author includes “Alan Heartsong” – that’s me.  I’ll work on a follow-up post to this one that has links to sound files of me singing the ones I’m responsible for.  If you don’t know a tune and can’t find it online, then send me an email and I’ll do what I can to help you with it.

Chant Jam is not ritual, it is not one person’s way, it is a gift and blessing from and to your Community.  If you have a magical community that works well together, and can agree on goals, then you may find the opportunity to use the energy you raise as a group for a purpose.  You just have to have consensus first.  Imagine what changes you can create with 20-50+ people singing, chanting, drumming, dancing, etc. to raise energy towards a common goal!


  1. If you ever start one again in our neck of the woods, please include me! :-)

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