When it comes to religious expression and the religious experience it’s easy for us to think of rituals and prayers… but there’s so much more available to us as well. Many philosophers will speak of the power of words… but even beyond mere words there is an inherent power in music that can move our souls to joy or to tears. Music can be shared as an outward reflection of our religious choices. Sometimes we enjoy the music because it’s merely entertaining and fun, and in other circumstances that music can become a conduit of profoundly spiritual experiences. The songs can embody our prayers, be a portion of our devotional habits, or by some magic and spirit-workers can be used as gateways. Therefore music should be an integral part of our individual journeys. But finding the music isn’t always easy.
I must admit to being envious about the fact that the Christians have created a large music industry based on their religiously-themed music, which is available in a wide range of musical styles and sells upwards of 35 million albums each and every year. Compare that to the pagan music available… and it’s a staggering difference. Sure, Christians make up the majority of the American population (coming in at around 78% or 230 million), and the U.S. pagan population is significantly smaller (ranging somewhere between half a million to 10 million persons). It’s hard to get an exact number when ‘paganism’ isn’t an option on the census nor have there been any significant religious studies conducted to my knowledge in the last few decades to determine the pagan population.
While the pagan music industry is obviously not going to be as big as the Christian music industry, we also lack the sort of vehicles to launch and market artists out there to the level of effectiveness that we see in Christian music. This makes it far more difficult to find music. Most of us don’t have access to a pagan music radio broadcast to introduce new songs to us as we drive home from work. We tend to rely heavily on word-of-mouth, modest selections at pagan and occult themed retail stores, and a little bit of exposure from the few pagan themed magazines and websites out there that may do reviews or interviews.
We also have far more religious difference which reduces options further still. Just because one song or group is a great fit for some pagans it may not fit other groups well. As a reconstructionist practicing in the Northern Tradition while I may appreciate the ‘prettiness’ of certain songs, having lyrics about the maiden, warrior, mother and crone isn’t going to really fit my particular religious and cosmological worldview. Nor will songs that mix and match deities from across pantheons appeal to me either.
Finding music that syncs with the Northern Tradition is difficult although it does exist. Some of these pieces originate with believers and followers of the Northern Tradition, and other pieces are simply people who have for whatever reason pulled inspiration from the Viking culture and mythos. The very popular genre of Viking metal is an example of the later (for the most part). Many Heathens find themselves fans of Viking metal groups like Amon Amarth and Tyr. Even respected scholar Rudolf Simek’s latest book Mythos Odin does a lot of analysis about this trend. And the popular U.S. forensics crime drama, Bones featured an episode that took place in part in the Viking metal world.
Of course, if you’re not happy with the music out there you can always try to rectify that yourself by contributing your own songs for the community at large, even if you’re not a trained musician. I made available a little diddy I’d put together about the Norns and their work, and a real musician (Jenn Mayes) has since turned that rough beginning into a truly lovely song (Twist and Weave) .
Of course one of the best places to start your musical exploration is probably the Odins-Gift website. While by no means does it include everything, it is none-the-less a fairly comprehensive online resource, and an excellent touchstone to start you on your musical journey. The site provides information about albums from Heathens, online resources for Heathen music including links to artist hosted mp3’s and websites with articles and other sorts of information resources, and by various styles like Viking Metal, NeoPagan/Folk and Rock music. It also has a very special section of the website called The Heathen Songbook, which features a variety of songs including original works by average Heathens sharing it with others, or adapted works from other pieces of music, many of them are provided with full mp3, and sometimes sheet music and guitar tabs as well. Songs are sorted by themed so there are songs for deities, holytide and ritual celebrations, funerals, children, and so much more. One of my personal favorites is Karl Donaldsson’s Song for Heimdall, then again he chose a piece of music that I’ve always loved.
What are some of your favorite Heathen/Asatru artists and songs?