The Power of Chants, by Christopher Penczak
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
Sound, tone, voice, and music are powerful forms of magick and celebration. Before I became a witch, the part of traditional religious services I loved the most was the music; using song as celebration. When I got involved in Wicca, the traditions I first learned were very stoic and formal. There was no real song or chant involved in our Moon and Sun celebrations. I missed it a lot, but felt there was no place for music in my new practice. At the time I was a professional musician, completing my degree in music, but our training in music history only delved into the sacred music of the Christian era. Not much time was devoted to ancient civilizations or tribal lore. I knew music was a part of the pagan world, but was not exposed to it.
When I explored other traditions of witchcraft—as well as mystical traditions in yoga and Eastern religions—I found mystics using sound, chant, and rhythm to do magick and create ritual. The more shamanic, primal traditions would use chant and simple dance to raise energy and connect with the spirit of the ritual. Simple repeated rhythms and melodies could induce altered states and focus the will. I was so excited to find a religious outlet for my musical expression.
Later in my practice, I found myself the celebrant (or officiating high priest) for a public pagan group that celebrated at Unicorn Books in Arlington, Massachusetts. I had originally replaced a priestess who was no longer able to commit to the group, and due to this shift, the group only included around five participants at any time. Soon we formed an identity and theme together, and the group began to grow. The rituals went from intimate groups of five to ten people to larger and larger gatherings. Soon we filled the room’s forty person capacity. Everyone was great, but coming from different backgrounds they lacked a cohesive sense of tradition or ceremony. We loved being eclectic, but needed to have some focus to bring our group together. I needed to find a way to let everyone contribute to the ritual and create a sacred space. After many fumbled attempts with a variety of ritual techniques and tools, I relied on music as a common denominator. Chant became the key!
As part of each of the eight Wheel of the Year celebrations in our little loft space, I wrote a short chant with a simple melody, which we used to raise energy. Those chants became the basis of the chants recorded on The Outer Temple of Witchcraft CD Companion. We sang about the gods and goddesses relating to each of the holidays. The chants focused our attention, raised energy, and helped get us into the moment as we passed the chalice or anointing oil. The songs also helped teach newcomers the basic meaning of the holiday, quickly relaying powerful themes and key words with the melody.
The use of music in our rituals totally transformed them, and is one of the most popular parts of our celebrations. Because of my experience, I started to encourage the use of more and more music in my smaller celebrations and private coven rituals. I even use chants when I am doing rituals and spells all alone. I highly suggest adding some music to your own rituals, no matter the size.
Here are some tips in using music in your own circles:
- Find traditional chants and more recently composed ones that you can use. Metaphysical stores often have a section of pagan music, song, and chants.
- If you visit larger pagan festivals, you may be taught some of the traditional chants if you don’t know them and can’t find a recording. Many are passed along through the oral tradition of pagan gatherings. Take notes and write down lyrics so you won’t forget.
- Use simple melodies with a limited vocal range so everybody can sing them without straining their voices.
- Try setting pagan poetry to familiar melodies, such as well-known holiday songs. Sometimes they sound silly, but they can be a great way to focus everybody on a melody they already know sung with different words.
- Use simple beats and rhythms to keep the group focused—or use a drum to help induce an altered state. Beats that fall on even numbers (based on groups of two or four beats) are more direct and dynamic. Some consider them more masculine. Beats based in 3, like the familiar waltz pattern, are considered more feminine and have a connection to the triple goddess.
- Feel the music as you perform it. Let the vibration fill your body, heart, and mind. Let it move you. When you are open to sound, you can make the experience very healing or energizing.
- Don’t be afraid to be loud or to make a mistake. Sing with feeling and worry about the technicalities later. If everyone is into the chant, that’s more important than sounding perfect. Don’t make anyone feel bad if they don’t have a perfect voice. Remember the circle is about Perfect Love, Perfect Trust, and celebration. Keep the spirit alive when you chant and when you pass the cakes. Each is an opportunity for love, compassion, and transformation.
Many blessings on your magical path and I hope music lightens your step and opens your heart.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2004. All rights reserved.