Pagan music: examples

In February 2018, I did a workshop on music and art in Pagan ritual, and wanted to share examples of chants and other music that shows up in ritual use. This article shares a list of musicians I’ve particularly enjoyed or found useful for ritual and magical use myself, and then shares the playlist and a brief description of the chants.

In keeping with the rest of this site, this focuses on the kinds of rituals I do, which come from Wiccan-derived traditions and common practice for general rituals in the larger Pagan community. Lots of other specific practices have their own musical traditions. Consider it very much a starting point, not a comprehensive guide to the topic!

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You may also find the articles on music in rituals and what makes music Pagan, elsewhere on the site.

Chant resources

It’s common for many groups to use simple chants in ritual to focus and direct energy, as an offering to the deities, or as a way to induce trance. Singing lets us join intention (through the words of the chant) and breath, which shifts our entire body.

Two books with music for chants are Jess Middleton’s Songs for Earthlings and Kate Marks’ Circle of Song. I tend to prefer the first for most of my uses, but they both have good stuff. (Both are available used at this point.)

Online sources:
There are a number of online sources for learning chants: many include sound files. A few of our favorites:

Recordings:
There are many recordings out there with chants. A number of these are available from iTunes or other online music stores, but I’ve linked here to the creator’s pages about them for additional information and resources.

  • The Reclaiming tradition has put together a number of chant CDs with great sound quality and singing.
  • Kiva has some lovely chants in luscious arrangements.
  • Libana is a women-centered group that records music from many faith traditions: many of their recordings include multiple Pagan chants.

Books about music in general: 

I had a couple of questions about how music works, and why it affects us. If you’d like to read more about this, check out Robert Jourdain’s Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy and David Byrne’s How Music Works, or David Levitin’s This is Your Brain On Music and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature.

Music Jenett likes:

Some of these are Pagan musicians, writing music for other Pagans. Others are musicians who draw on the rich heritage of folktale, myth, and legend, but who may not be Pagan themselves. These are not all I listen to, but I’ve picked out those artists who are commonly mentioned by other Pagans.

I’m also fond of musicians in various folk traditions – these include Great Big Sea and Steeleye Span, as well as several Scandinavian groups. The harmonies are very different from British folk influenced music, but entrancing.

Music and resources other people have suggested:

Looking for other options besides what I like? I started a thread on The Cauldron where people have chimed in with some options, and when I did the workshop (February 11, 2018), we ended by people going around and sharing music they’ve found particularly evocative or useful. Some of it’s Pagan, some of it’s from other sources. Here’s a list in the order mentioned.

  • Teyr
  • Kate Bush
  • Be More Chill
  • Tori Amos
  • Tool
  • A Perfect Circle
  • Environmental sounds with pipes or wind chimes
  • Enigma
  • Sky Cries Mary
  • Moody Blues
  • Michael Harner’s drum music (for trance work)
  • Narada (music production company)
  • Lanz and Spears
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Florence And The Machine
  • Blind Guardian
  • Oysterband
  • Maddy Prior (on my list above!)
  • Simon and Garfunkle
  • Adieumus
  • Cirque du Soleil

Common chants

I’ve created a playlist with a number of common chants that are used in rituals in different places I’ve lived (all in the United States) along with some comments about them. You can listen to it for free on Spotify, or track down the tracks through other sources if you prefer.

I set up the list so that it runs roughly through the structure of a common ritual in Wiccan-derived practice, and then covers some seasonal or specific purpose chants and songs. They’re also selected to include a number of widely available musicians, groups, and recordings, so you can explore other music they’ve done easily.

Let the Way Be Open : Abbi Spinner McBride : Enter the Center
This song comes from the tradition of sacred fire circles in a modern context – McBride has written a number of pieces intended for use in creating sacred space, encouraging meditative trance, and particular kinds of focus. This one is one of my favourites, and also a great example of her general style of music and the potential for layering different harmonies and counterpoints on a simple melody to create a much richer sound.

A great option for bringing people together at the beginning of a ritual.

Salt and Water : Assembly of the Sacred Wheel : Dreams Sung True
The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel are a collection of smaller groups working in the same tradition, and they include music regularly as part of their ritual structures. This one is used for consecrating salt and water to prepare the ritual space. They’ve put out multiple albums of chants, and Ivo Dominguez Jr., mentioned above, also maintains an extensive chant archive site.

A Circle is Cast : Libana : A Circle is Cast
Libana is a women’s music group that has done many records from folk and sacred traditions. This one is a bit mesmerising (though the intentional dissonance in the second half can be a bit disconcerting.) A good example of using harmonies and very simple melodies to build and focus energy over the course of several minutes.

This chant can work as an effective method of casting circle in some ritual settings.

Born of the Elements : Crow Woman : Crow Goddess
This begins with a commonly used chant, and then immediately breaks into a descant, showing a good example of variation and harmony in chant. You can hear the different chants entering and leaving, and how you could pick two or three of these at a time.

A good example (along with the next three) of elemental chants.

Earth My Body: Michelle Mays: Fire Leap
A late addition, thanks to a question in the workshop from someone who’d heard this chant a while ago and didn’t know where it came from. I haven’t been able to find a named source, but here’s a recording. (Spotify has a number of other recordings of it too.) It’s another widely used elemental chant.

Air I Am : Reclaiming : Chants: Ritual Music
Reclaiming has put out several CDs of ritual chants. This is a commonly used one to call the elements. It’s also a good use of drumming and percussion supporting the chant.

We Are the Flow : Reclaiming : Chants: Ritual Music
Another chant from Reclaiming, this time a chant written by Shekinah Mountainwater. I like this one for the examples of harmony and descant. Some people use a full set of lyrics, such as those here.

One Spirit : Spiral Rhythm : I Am
This one has a structure that can work well in different settings.  The “One spirit in the dark, like a candle wavers. Many spirits joined as one burn with the power of the blazing sun” part can be sung by everyone, while a soloist or small group could sing the verses, or you can do it as a call and response.

I like this one for ritual work that is focusing on either community or spirit.

Panpipe’s Quarter Calls : Assembly of the Sacred Wheel : Dreams Sung True
An example of sung quarter calls (again, from the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel) that is more explicitly doing the ritual work in the song.

We Are The Old Ones : Flight of the Hawk : Shamanic Songs and Ritual Chants
A lovely example of a song for invoking or inviting ancestors. Musically, also a good example of starting simply and then introducing a different, complementary, musical line.

From here, we move into several deity-focused chants.

Isis, Astarte : Jana Runnals : I Sing Her Praises
This is a very widely used goddess chant, using the names of widely worshipped goddesses. (I’ve said that it’s always interesting to listen to this one, because you can usually tell whether someone is a polytheist, considering each of these as individuals, or whether the singer views all the names as facets of one divine being.) Also a good example of interweaving a melodic line without words to vary the chant.

There are several different variants with God names, too. (These tend to be more regional.)

Ancient Mother : Robert Gass : Ancient Mother
I love this chant for the peacefulness and grounding sensations it brings. On the musical theory side, that opening interval is something that encourages us to respond by opening up, then settling in. The goddess name chant alongside provides an interesting counterpoint.

Horned One : The Buffalo : Welcome to Annwfn
An interesting arrangement of one of the most common God-focused chants, demonstrating a number of ways to vary it or build a chant over time.

We All Come From The Goddess / Hoof and Horn : Reclaiming : Chants: Ritual Music
These are two other widely used chants (and incidentally, they weave in with the Isis, Astarte chant, and the Horned One chant, and can be combined in various was.)

The Earth, The Air, The Fire, the Water, Return : Lisa Dancing-Light : Sophia Songs
This chant is a great option for dismissing the quarters, or preparing to do so. (I’ve also heard it sung a bit faster, so it has more of a moving swing to it.)

The Circle Is Open : Robert Gass / On Wings of Song : Ancient Mother
This is one of the classic chants for opening a circle, using a widely used text for the purpose. This is a fuller choral sound.

Full Moonlight Dance : Libana : A Circle is Cast
A great chant for raising energy for a full moon. Also an excellent example of chants that can be used as rounds, with different voices coming in at intervals.

Weave and Spin : Reclaiming : Campfire Chants: Songs for the Earth
One of my favourite chants for healing or magical work, because of how it focuses on building and creating and shaping. A good example of layering chants.

The rest of the songs here highlight some seasonal songs and chants.

Bring Back the Light : Gypsy : Enchantress
This is an older song, from a longstanding priestess in Salem (Massachusetts). It’s a wonderful centerpiece for a winter solstice ritual, and a good example of a longer piece that has parts that a larger group could join in with, while having roles for stronger singers or musicians.

(And on a personal note, playing flute and singing for this were the first ritual roles I took on early in my Pagan ritual experience.)

The Lady’s Bransle : Lucidian : For the Lady and Lord
This is a traditional folk tune, with words that show the change of seasons of the God and Goddess, and I’ve most commonly heard it used in spring or fall, as part of turning the wheel.

Hal an Tow : Damh the Bard : The Hills They Are Hollow
In many places, there is a tradition of Morris dancers, singers, and the community gathering just before dawn on May 1st to dance and sing the sun up. While this is a more recent tradition than some people like to claim (it’s probably a couple of hundred years old), this song is a common song for the day

Not a chant, but a song that many people in the community do know (and it’s possible to sing with the chorus and have a smaller group sing the verses.)

Summer Is A Comin’ In : Jaiya : Beltane : Songs for the Green Time
Now, this song is very old – it’s a medieval song to welcome the summer. (It’s in Middle English, like Chaucer) It also works as a round.

John Barleycorn : Damh the Bard : The Hills They Are Hollow
Another very traditional British song, sung around Lammas or Lughnassadh (August 2nd, in the northern hemisphere).

Fly, Fly, Fly : Libana : A Circle is Cast
One of my favourite songs for autumn, with a shift into the quiet of the year.

Lyke-Wake Dirge : Starhawk & Reclaiming : Let it Begin Now: Music from the Spiral Dance
This is not a Pagan song in origin, but it’s widely used at Samhain, in large part because of the use in Reclaiming’s massive Spiral Dance rituals over the past decades with very minimal changes in wording. (And a lot of the symbology used is pre-Christian.)

I include it as well for an easy link to the album, which is a great example of using music throughout a ritual to build and direct focus and energy for a variety of ritual activities.

[last edited February 11, 2018]

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