Creating a Pagan Bookshelf
Part III: Pagan
(and Pagan-Friendly) Music
Pagan music may well be the best-kept secret of our spiritual tradition. While books by well-known Pagans like Starhawk can sell in the hundreds of thousands, virtually all Pagan music is released by independent record labels (often owned by the artists themselves) and receives little if any support from the main-stream music industry. Music-lovers tend to admire artists or genres that they regard as "underground" or "independent." Well, you can't get any more independent than music written by and for practitioners of Earth-based spirituality.
Not that Pagan music is inferior. Far from it: artists like Emerald Rose, Three Weird Sisters, or Nuit feature a mature, distinctive sound. Pagan music sometimes suffers from poor production quality, which especially mars recordings made before digital studio equipment became widely available. Thankfully, due to recent advances in recording technology, even the most independently-released Pagan CDs now can feature shimmering sound quality.
Sooner or later, a Pagan artist will score a hit song with an unmistakable Pagan theme. When that happens, watch out world: Pagan musicians will suddenly have the financial and marketing muscle of the big record labels at their disposal. Until then, however, it is up to us to support Pagan musicians. Thankfully, most Pagan bands these days have their own Website from which you can buy their recordings, or their music can be purchased through Pagan-friendly distributors like Serpentine Music or Azure Green.
Whether your taste runs to folk (Gwydion Pendderwen or Three Weird Sisters), Celtic (Emerald Rose), dance (Nuit), choral (Libana), or soft rock (Todd Alan or Gypsy), you'll find worthy music here. Remember: the more we support these musicians, the more music they'll be writing and recording in the years to come.
#1 The Music of Gwydion (Contains Songs for the Old Religion and Faerie Shaman), by Gwydion Pendderwen, Church of All Worlds, 1975, 1982.
Gwydion (who died in an automobile accident in 1982) was nothing less than a bard; his lyrics ring with poetic truth and strength that years cannot dim. His "We Won't Wait Any Longer" is a classic that eery Pagan should know. Unfortunately, the recording quality is poor; however, no pop or hiss can obscure Gwydion's lyrical spirit. These recordings belong in every Pagan's collection. Barbara Fisher.
#2 Rite the First Time, by the Three Weird Sisters
Bedlam House Ltd., 2001.
This eclectic CD features lovely women's harmonies. Standout tracks include "Dumb Dumb Dorothy," a whimsical reevaluation of OZ; ""The Song of Fey Cross," a ballad about a harper bewitched by the songs of the fey, and "Six Days," a tale of a Pagan trapped in a school where prayer is mandatory. Kerri Connor.
#3 Carry Me Home, by Todd Alan and Friends
Fireseed Publishing, 1992. www.todd-alan.net
Todd Alan's "Spirit of the Wind" has haunted me for years. On this recording, he breathes life into older Pagan tunes, including Charlie Murphy's "The Burning Times" and Gwydion's "Spring Strathspey," as well as traditional favorites such as "Gently Johnny" and "Jack in the Green." Barbara Fisher.
#4 Bending Tradition, by Emerald Rose
Starbridge Studios, 2000. www.emeraldrose.com
This Georgia-based Celtic folk-rock band has a knack for lyrics and great musicianship, whether in traditional tunes like "Johnnie Cope" or "Red-Haired Mary," or original songs like "Fire in the Head" or "Merry May Folk." Joann Keesey.
#5 Sacred Earth Drums, by David and Steve Gordon
Sequoia Records, 1994. www.sequoiarecords.com
The intention of the artists was to create a ceremonial tool. That's just what this does. The recording takes listeners on a shamanic journey using drums, flutes, pipes and nature sounds, creating a deeply meditative experience. Laura LaVoie.
#6 A Circle is Cast, by Libana
Spinning, 1986, 1994. www.libana.com
Libana, a women's a capaella group, focuses on world culture. Offerings on this beautiful album include many chants and rounds appropriate for ritual including "A Circle is Cast," "Kore Chant," and "Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water." S. Tifulcrum.
#7 Circle Round and Sing! Songs for Family Celebrations in the Goddess Traditions,
by Anne Hill, Serpentine Music, 2000. www.serpentinemusic.com
Released as a companion to the book Circle Round. The lyrics are beautiful and memorable, and I often found myself singing bits and pieces as I went through my day. Lisa Mc Sherry.
#8 Pick the Apple from the Tree, by Francesca DeGrandis,
Francesca DeGrandis, 1997.
Accompanied by guitar virtuoso Bruce Smith, DeGrandis sounds more like a chanteuse at a smoky jazz bar than a "Pagan" singer, in a collection of songs that owe as much to blues, rock, and even samba as to Celtic folk. The musical arrangements are spare, highlighting DeGrandis' expressive and playful voice. Carl McColman.
#9 Enchantress, by Gypsy
White Light Pentacles, 1990; 2001.
Haunting and varied music make this a recording I've loved since I bought it over a decade ago. Themes include a mother's lullaby, a folk-story, a Winter Solstice piece suitable for ritual, and a gorgeous goddess invocation. Recommended for all who include Goddess in his/her path. (Remastered and re-released as a CD in 2001.) S. Tifulcrum.
#10 Gateway to Faerie, by Elvendrums
Elvendrums, 2001. www.elvendrums.com
The name of the band tells you a great deal about the material, but not much about how great the musicians are. The voices are clear and distinct; the themes intriguing, and the music snappy and crisp--it won't take long until you find yourself singing along. Kerri Connor.
#11 Emerald Rose Live: Fire in the Head, by Emerald Rose
Starbridge Studios, 2002. www.emeraldrose.com
Highlights of this live set include Leslie Fish's "Pict Song," "Never Underestimate a Woman with the Goddess in her Eyes," and "Call Me Home." Don't miss the amazing "Chicken Raid of Cymru," which turns Celtic lore on its head. Carl McColman.
#12 Mother Night, by Nuit
Elf Hill Music & Mayhem UnLtd., 2000.
A breathtaking album of textured music, Nuit weaves live instruments in and around crisp drum loops and gloriously buzzing technosythesizers, touching upon deep and esoteric subjects, providing fertile ground for trance dancing and much more. Lisa McSherry.
#13 Chants: Ritual Music from Reclaiming and Friends, by The Reclaiming Collective
Serpentine Music Productions, 1987. www.reclaiming.org or www.serpentinemusic.com
Released as a means to teach chants to the Pagan community, this recording has become a classic. Many of the chants were written by notable leaders in the early feminist Pagan movement such as Starhawk, Shekhinah Mountainwater and Z. Budapest. The sound quality of the recording is less than perfect, but the chants are infectious and easy to learn (and several have become Pagan "standards"). Laura LaVoie.
--Carl McColman is a spiritual author and teacher based in Atlanta; his titles include: The Well-Read Witch and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom. He is the editor of the "Pagan Bookshelf" series in PanGaia. Barbara Fisher has been a Witch for twenty-two years and a writer her entire life. Kerri Connor dances under the moon in northern Illinois and loves reading, writing, gardening and her family. She is the author of The Pocket Spell Creator. Laura LaVoie has been practicing Paganism for ten years and is a professional recruiter living in Atlanta, Georgia. Joann Keesey is the host of "Between the Worlds," a lively Pagan radio show on WMFO 91.5 FM in Medford, MA. Lisa McSherry is the author of The Virtual Pagan and owner of CyberCoven.Org. S. Tifulcrum is a multi-faceted spirit whose various sparkles are described in more detail on her website at www.angelfire.lycos/folk/rebeccamccoy.