“Music is the strongest form of magic.” – Marilyn Manson
Throughout all of the pagan traditions I have been involved in, there is one practice that has been a constant for me. I have always believed strongly in the importance of devotional offerings, both in the vein of reciprocity and to show respect. For many years, the vast majority of my offerings were of the tangible sort–herbs, flowers, libations and the occasional shiny coin (usually left in my birdbath for the corvids to play with). It wasn’t until a few years ago that I truly discovered the power and beauty that comes from using sacred sound as an offering.
In 2017, I went on a pilgrimage to England with the Sisterhood of Avalon. Much of our time was spent in Glastonbury at sacred sites such as the Chalice Well, the Tor, and the White Spring. Within the stone walls of the White Spring exists altars to various deities and the spring water is contained in a large pool which is the focal point of the site. The room is lit mostly by candlelight and, as you can imagine, the acoustics are amazing. We were fortunate enough to be given private access to the White Spring for a period of time. Black cloaked and hooded, we stood in a circle surrounding the main pool and began chanting the names of the five Welsh goddesses we work with.
At first, everyone started chanting at pretty much the same tone but after a few rounds of this something incredible happened. We all began chanting in harmony, with rich layers of individual tones evident in our song. The warm mezzo soprano tones of some of the women merged beautifully with the high, clear voices of the sopranos. As we continued to chant, our voices effortlessly weaved together to create an otherworldly mosaic of sound which, as it resonated off of the water, grew in power and became more than the sum of its parts.
A similar experience occurred when a group of us began chanting the name of Sulis Minerva while bathing in her waters across from the Roman Baths. Both times, we were caught up in the sacred act, oblivious to everything around us. Both times we received feedback from those outside the area where we were chanting that groups of bystanders were drawn to the site. Some wanted to come in to see if a concert was happening whereas others just stood there and listened, basking in the sound.
The beauty of these sacred offerings of sound did not occur because we were all experienced singers. In fact, most of us were not. The synergy occurred because we were each willing to set aside our self consciousness and fears about how we sounded in order to honor the deities and spirits of place that we held dear. This gift of vulnerability combined with a willingness to create music as an act of service was what made these experiences particularly powerful and transformative.
The unique benefits of offerings of sacred sound are many. They include but are not limited to the following:
- Simplicity and practicality. You can usually easily leave an offering of sound any time and anywhere you would normally leave a tangible offering. You don’t have to worry about bringing anything along with you. Bonus: Offerings of sacred sound are environmentally friendly!
- Deeper connection with deity and/or spirits of land. Chanting brings me closer to those I am honoring. I liken it to the difference between giving someone you care about a greeting card and writing them a letter. I often give greeting cards for special occasions, but if I really feel a desire to deepen the connection I have with someone I find that writing a letter from the heart is likely to be far more personal and effective.
- Opportunity for creative expression. I find as I get older that my need to express myself creatively grows stronger. Offering music to the gods not only gives me a chance to do this, it also forces me to stretch outside of my comfort zone which leads to greater growth.
- Effective method for raising energy. Chanting is not only effective as a sacred offering, it’s also a very impactful way to raise energy.
- Connection to ancestors and/or cultures. Learning the chants and songs of our ancestors or the culture in which the deities we work with were worshiped helps us to feel a stronger connection to these ancestors and deities and to deepen our knowledge.
- Recharges your battery. This is true for situations where I have done this as part of a group and when I have made my offerings alone. One of my simplest and yet most potent daily spiritual practices is to go out each morning and feed the ravens that like to hang out on my property. After I feed them, I go to my outdoor sacred space and chant or sing. Each time, no matter how tired or out of sorts I am, I always walk away feeling energized, connected, and centered.
Interested in trying this but not sure where to start? If you are self conscious, identify some chants that resonate with you and find a quiet place and sing. This is particularly effective if you are able to find an isolated spot somewhere in nature, but your shower or car will also work just fine. Approach sacred sound from a standpoint of providing a personal gift to the deity or spirit you are honoring as an act of love and a willingness to be vulnerable. You are much more likely to be successful in your efforts if you use this approach as opposed to operating from a place of fear about how you might sound or what others might think. In my experience, it is our willingness to try that matters more to those we honor than the sounds themselves.
If you are feeling creative or simply want a more personal approach, try writing a chant of your own. Don’t worry if doesn’t rhyme perfectly (or at all), simply get your thoughts down on paper and then arrange them in a way that feels right to you. I once had a musician friend suggest that if I was stuck in my efforts to compose a chant, I could simply use the music from a song I liked and add heartfelt words. (I’m not sure why, but “Sweet Child Of Mine” always seems to work for me.) Don’t overthink it, don’t expect perfection, and by all means if that inner critic whispers in your ear that it’s not good enough-don’t listen.
If you play an instrument, by all means play for those you venerate! The spirit of sacredness, honor, and love exists whether your offering of sacred sound is vocal or instrumental. Some of the most incredible moments of connection I have had have been when I have gifted the spirits of land by going to my sacred space and playing a song or two on my violin. (After all, what fairy can resist a rousing fiddle tune or a haunting, otherworldly song of sorrow?) Finally, if you truly can’t find your footing with any of these techniques, simply try chanting the name of the deity or spirit(s) you are honoring. It’s amazing how much you can intuit about a deity just by chanting their name.
Sound good? Try it sometime. I guarantee that those you are honoring will be nothing less than enchanted.