blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sacred Soundsharing

Have you ever wondered how certain combinations of sounds, in a voice, a song, even a written phrase can bring such deep pleasure that all of life seems somehow so much better, more alive, and more harmonious?  
In Celtic shamanic studies women and men learn the power inherent in words, in the ancient poetry and songs, in the repetitive beat of the drum, the spangle of the rattles and the call of the spirit animals. Some have been surprised to hear of the high degree of influence held in Ireland during ancient times by the migrant poet/bards for they could sway public opinion to or from the ruling monarch/ leaders of the scattered clans. Daily life circled through simple prayers of greeting the morning light, for lighting the hearth fires, for safe passage through to evening return. In the Celtic world view all of life was intertwined and sacred sounds wove through from beginning to end and then to start again, like a refrain sweet high and low.
Chanting, singing and the resonance of musical instruments can be found in spiritual ceremonies throughout human history, continuing to our present time. Cultural traditions and paraphernalia continue to migrate along with traveling people. In North America we enjoy open and easy access to Tibetan singing bowls, Irish bodhran drums, and a seemingly endless variety of music-making tools. Certain sounds open and expand our most inner core, alter our perceptions, and sometimes enable us to walk a lighter path.

The following is a variant of The Kalevala, a compilation of folklore poetry/ songs collected by Elias Lonnrot in the 19th century. Previous to the effort of Lonnrot and many other history gatherers Finnish poetry was primarily an oral tradition. The poems were often performed by two people, singing alternatively, chanting and replying in a form of verbal dancing.
Kalevala Day is celebrated in Finland on February 28 to honour Elias Lonnrot's first version of The Kalevala in 1835.

I am thinking           I am wanting
To arise and go forth singing
Sing my songs and say my sayings        hymns ancestral harmonizing
Magic verses we have gathered                        kindled by wild inspirations
There are other words of magic                        variations I have learned
Claimed in passing from the wayside   when the frost was singing verses
Many a rhyme the rain recited           with the drumming in the leaves
Other poems the wind delivered        through the saplings songs came drifting
Magic charms the birds have added     and the treetops incantations

There are still other songs           magic words learned in silence
Plucked from the wayside           broken off from the bracken
Torn from thickets             dragged from saplings
Rubbed off the top of hay           ripped from verges
The cold recited me verses          the rain kept bringing me songs
The winds brought me many whispers            lake waves drove some to me
The birds added harmonies        the trees magic sayings
These I wound up in a ball           arranged in a circle
I put it up in the granary loft       safe in a round metal tin
For a long time my songs have been in the cold       housed in darkness
Shall I pull my songs out of the cold?   Draw the verses out of the frost?
Bring my box into the quiet house?      At the end of the long bench?
Shall I open my chest of words?                        Unlock my song box?
Clip the frayed end of the tangled ball?           Undo the knot in the string?
I will sing from a leaner mouth              intone over water
To gladden this twilight                to honour this memorable day
Or to delight the morrow                        to begin a new day

In honour of all the individuals who find magical power in sounds and do the sacred work of gathering and translating the old words and music, making them available for others


  1. Hi--

    Is there more information abailable about the source for this segment?


    Barbara McGraw

    1. The sources came initially from my personal experience in shamanic studies when I learned first hand the use of power songs. Then I read a reference to the Kalevala in the intriquing and informative book by Ted Andrews entitled "Sacred Sounds". Fortunately our local library has a copy of "The Kalevala" by Elias Konnrot (published by Harvard University Press in 1963)and I was also able to find some information on the internet. As a young mother back in the sixties I had the incredible good fortune to be included in a somewhat similar cultural experience in Northern Ontario. At family gatherings french dialect folk songs would be sung in echoing refrains with individuals apparently improvising in response.

  2. Beautiful, NJ. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge of those ancient singers, who inspired us today, as we strive to weave music from the strands of language.