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Author Topic: Music in Rituals and Magic  (Read 5333 times)
Mithril
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« Topic Start: August 24, 2008, 07:08:54 pm »

My practice focuses around music (or at least does at the moment), so I was wondering: How important is the origin of the music one uses in rituals? Does a piece of music carry the composer's intent with it even if the musician associates it with something completely different? For example, could a piece originally written in honor of someone (like a monarch or family member) be used as a love song, as long as it sounds like a love song to you? And of course, there's the question of whether it's appropriate to use Christian music (or music from any other religion) in a Pagan ritual.

I guess if you say music is just a tool for the witch or whoever is doing the ritual to go into trance, meditate, or to carry the spell, then it doesn't matter what it was originally intended to be. But, on the other hand, if you consider magic to be part of the music itself, then it would matter. If that is the case, what would you do with music whose origins aren't known?

So, is magic a property of music, or is music whatever you make of it?
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« Reply #1: August 24, 2008, 07:27:47 pm »

Does a piece of music carry the composer's intent with it even if the musician associates it with something completely different? For example, could a piece originally written in honor of someone (like a monarch or family member) be used as a love song, as long as it sounds like a love song to you? And of course, there's the question of whether it's appropriate to use Christian music (or music from any other religion) in a Pagan ritual.

That's a tricky question, and I seem to remember another thread centered around it, but I think that the composer's intent is vitally important to the music you use.  I'm a musician myself (in case the guitar in my avatar didn't give it away Wink), and while I appreciate hearing another person's interpretation of my music (and would actually welcome anyone using my music in a ritual if they so desired), the intent behind what I have thus far written is more to spread a little energy (generally either positive energy or anticipatory energy) than anything.

There are personal interpretations that you can give a song (like your example of a piece written in honor of someone becoming a love song), but it is somewhat dangerous, I think, to bring an "interpreted" song into a ritual, because the original intent is still bound up within the song.

I really do believe that there is magic held within music.  Creativity is a tool - the child of creativity is much more.

Using music from another religion is a squishy grey area that has a few different considerations:
1.  How offended would the composer(s) be to discover how their music was being used?  (for a Christian, the answer is probably extremely.  For a Buddhist, the answer might be not at all)
2.  How offended would that religions practitioners be to hear potentially sacred music being used within the context of your ritual/magic workings?
3.  (For those with a firm pantheon) How offended would your own god(esse)(s) be at your repurposing of music already offered to another god/goddess or set thereof?
4.  How offended would YOU be to hear your own music used in the context of the religion from which you are borrowing your ritual music?

In general, I'd say it's bad form to repurpose sacred music from another religion, but the ultimate choice is yours alone, of course.

As far as music whose origins you don't know, my best advice is to listen with an open heart...the composer's intent usually isn't too hard to discern.
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« Reply #2: August 24, 2008, 07:51:28 pm »


I agree -- there's a pretty big difference between listening to music that moves you -- regardless of its origin -- as a private devotional tool, and using that music in public ritual.

If someone's using, oh, Amazing Grace because they find it particularly moving as part of their devotions to Kali, maybe a touch weird, but, hey, more power to them. If someone's using it at a public Kali ritual, I'm a little bit offended. (And honestly, I'm somewhat offended on Kali's behalf too, since, what, she doesn't deserve her own songs?)

The other thing that's a little tricky, with Christian songs specifically, is that a lot of the traditional hymns use melodies that were just circulating as folk melodies. I think it's stupid to complain about those melodies being repurposed to Pagan songs, since tons of them also have harvest songs, drinking songs, etc., as alternate words. OTOH, if that melody has become firmly tied to the Christian hymn, you're probably best off avoiding it, because those are the associations it will call up in people's minds.
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« Reply #3: August 24, 2008, 10:06:49 pm »

If someone's using, oh, Amazing Grace because they find it particularly moving as part of their devotions to Kali, maybe a touch weird, but, hey, more power to them. If someone's using it at a public Kali ritual, I'm a little bit offended. (And honestly, I'm somewhat offended on Kali's behalf too, since, what, she doesn't deserve her own songs?)

Which is why we need some pagan musicians to create our own music Cheesy

Now if I were a god, and someone played a song about/associated with another god in a ritual that was suppose to be for me, I think I would be pretty pissed myself.  And they shouldn't be surprised when that plague of locusts visits them.

Now if there is a piece of non-religious music that I think one of my gods may find enjoyable, I would play it for them in private ritual.  However, I wouldn't do it for a public one.
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« Reply #4: August 24, 2008, 10:24:15 pm »

I agree -- there's a pretty big difference between listening to music that moves you -- regardless of its origin -- as a private devotional tool, and using that music in public ritual.

I was mostly talking about my own, private, solitary rituals.

Also, what about the Christmas songs that use the word 'yule' only? Maybe the author thought 'yule' works better in the lyrics than Christmas, or maybe he was being generic on purpose. Should the piece be used then, even if you think that he would be offended had he *really* meant Christmas?

And how much effort should we put into deciding before it becomes a bit ridiculous?

There are personal interpretations that you can give a song (like your example of a piece written in honor of someone becoming a love song), but it is somewhat dangerous, I think, to bring an "interpreted" song into a ritual, because the original intent is still bound up within the song.

Aren't you interpreting every time you play something? Or do you mean that you should use music that you've written yourself so that you're sure your interpretation's accurate?
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« Reply #5: August 24, 2008, 10:25:02 pm »

Which is why we need some pagan musicians to create our own music Cheesy

This is as good a time as any to mention that my music is free to use in any way you find fitting (I seem to recall mentioning this in the last thread about music).  For a ritual dedicated to a specific god(dess), my music might not be so fitting, since I do not currently have any deities to whom I dedicate my music (but, then again, that might make it all the more fitting, since the music is free to offer to any deity you like), but for general ritual work, if it sits well with you for any purpose, I would be honored to have it used.  I only ask that you send me a PM letting me know how a particular song was used (what can I say - I'm an artist. I like to know if and/or how my work is appreciated).

The music is available at http://www.myspace.com/thainmusic, and it SHOULD all be freely downloadable (if not, just send me a PM and I can email you an MP3).

[/Shameless whoring]
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« Reply #6: August 24, 2008, 10:32:02 pm »

Also, what about the Christmas songs that use the word 'yule' only? Maybe the author thought 'yule' works better in the lyrics than Christmas, or maybe he was being generic on purpose. Should the piece be used then, even if you think that he would be offended had he *really* meant Christmas?

And how much effort should we put into deciding before it becomes a bit ridiculous?

Honestly, if it's not immediately obvious, it can become ridiculous pretty quickly. 

I hadn't thought of using a "yuletide" carol for ritual work, but you may want to consider the time period from which a particular carol comes.  Depending on the era, "Yule" could simply be a commonly-accepted lyrical substitution for Christmas (kind of like saying "X-mas" indicates a respect for the name of Christ), or it could be a genuine attempt at being generic.  I could be wrong here, but if the carol was written before Gardner founded Wicca, but after Christianity had taken root throughout Europe, it's a pretty safe bet that "Yule" is being used as an understood replacement for "Christmas."

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Aren't you interpreting every time you play something? Or do you mean that you should use music that you've written yourself so that you're sure your interpretation's accurate?

I was actually referring to YOUR interpretation of another work.  As in your example, if you hear a song written in honor of royalty, but it works as a love song for your purposes, you are "interpreting" the song in a way that is clearly different from its author's intent.  It's not always dangerous, but if the lyrics or the music betray one clear intent, but it fits into your secondary intent, it could muddle the message, if that makes any sense.

I think using your own music gives a personal ritual more power, but then, I would Grin.
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« Reply #7: August 25, 2008, 12:11:52 am »




The music is available at http://www.myspace.com/thainmusic, and it SHOULD all be freely downloadable (if not, just send me a PM and I can email you an MP3).

[/Shameless whoring]

dude your stuff is beautiful. Yes, please, email me an MP3. Did you ever go over to Pandora and check out my John Fahey or Cyril Pahinui station? If you don't know about some of the musicians on there, I think you might like them.
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« Reply #8: August 25, 2008, 01:15:29 am »

I seem to remember another thread centered around it

Found it!

http://www.ecauldron.net/forum/index.php?topic=6072.0
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« Reply #9: August 25, 2008, 08:07:27 am »

And how much effort should we put into deciding before it becomes a bit ridiculous?

It's like any other choice: they build up over time. How much do you care about this one? How much do you care about whatever consequences may come from that choice? How do those fit into your own commitments?

In my case, I care a whole lot, because it's tied into my feelings about my own devotional pieces (and I've not only written Pagan-focused music, but two major works of Catholic-centered stuff, a mass setting and a Passion setting.) So, honestly, no amount of research is 'too much' for me - if I can't figure out the origin appropriately, and I'm pressed for time, I'll use something else. (That said, I've also got enough training - both with music and with research, that I can usually find an answer relatively quickly.)

Fundamentally, though, I feel slimy when I mess this one up. There's nothing that makes up for that, or makes it better, except not doing it. (And I even feel slimy about the situation I think I talked about in the linked thread, where it happened and I didn't know about it, which is why I care so deeply now.) 

Quote
Aren't you interpreting every time you play something? Or do you mean that you should use music that you've written yourself so that you're sure your interpretation's accurate?

Again, I think there's layers. For quite a large number of pieces, it's possible to find out something about the original usage, if you do a little digging, or pick up resources over time. (For Pagan stuff, this is part of why I keep _Songs for Earthlings_ handy, because the compiler, Jess Middleton, did a really great job tracking down the original creator of the piece, and including that info. (She does include a couple of standard chants that she wasn't able to find info on, but they're carefully marked.)) At that point, it's just a question of "How far is my intention from their's"

As with others, I do also draw a line in terms of some things. I have playlists, for example, for each element - any piece in there is based on *my* personal reaction to it. Some line, some focus, some instrumentation that makes me put it in a particular list. There, my interpretation is the deciding factor. But if I'm doing a playlist for a particular deity, I pay more attention. And if I'm doing it for ritual, I pay way more attention. There's a lot of stuff in my head about awareness of which artists I listen to fall religiously themselves.
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« Reply #10: August 25, 2008, 08:22:15 pm »

Which is why we need some pagan musicians to create our own music Cheesy
Possibly I'm just nitpicking on a casual phrasing, but "need some" implies that we don't have any yet, which is definitely not the case (I bet Cauldronites could, collectively, come up with an extensive list - if we don't already have such a thing somewhere on the site).

If you just meant that we need more, I agree completely - that's the sort of thing that ya can't have too many of!

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« Reply #11: August 25, 2008, 08:32:27 pm »

(I bet Cauldronites could, collectively, come up with an extensive list - if we don't already have such a thing somewhere on the site).
There are a few here, but it's not even close to "extensive".  There's a potential project in that, but I'm in no position to volunteer, at any rate not until I get my articles written for the "Teens and Paganism" project (and I'm not sure I'm the right person, either by time-availability or by sufficiency of knowledge/interest, even then).

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« Reply #12: August 25, 2008, 10:38:17 pm »

Possibly I'm just nitpicking on a casual phrasing, but "need some" implies that we don't have any yet, which is definitely not the case (I bet Cauldronites could, collectively, come up with an extensive list - if we don't already have such a thing somewhere on the site).

I know there's a thread in here somewhere where I listed just the stuff that's in my iTunes (which is a reasonable representative side of the 'chant and ritual music' genre, but do not have time to go searching tonight (tomorrow is the annual return of the students to school for me and I should have been asleep 10 minutes ago...)

Let me also just plug Serpentine Music (run by Anne Hill, who's written a number of chants herself), which features Pagan music, including a lot of good ritual music. http://www.serpentinemusic.com/
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« Reply #13: August 25, 2008, 10:41:49 pm »

There are a few here, but it's not even close to "extensive".

I'm willing to add more if someone will provide a nice list with links and descriptions.
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« Reply #14: August 25, 2008, 11:19:09 pm »

Possibly I'm just nitpicking on a casual phrasing, but "need some" implies that we don't have any yet, which is definitely not the case (I bet Cauldronites could, collectively, come up with an extensive list - if we don't already have such a thing somewhere on the site).

If you just meant that we need more, I agree completely - that's the sort of thing that ya can't have too many of!

I did mean "more" Smiley

We have plenty of pagan musicians, but more is better.
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