Contemporary Heathen Music
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Contemporary Heathen Music: A Review
I’ll be reviewing a small but varied selection of Heathen music from my personal library. This Heathen music, I must confess, is of the relatively tamer sort, the sort that a 40-something bookish introvert enjoys. Some fine Heathen music has also been done in wilder and woollier genres, including heavy metal, but I will leave its collection and review to younger folks more qualified to do so! I would also add that the albums I will be discussing are all produced in the English-speaking countries.
Here is what little I know about what has been produced outside the English-speaking world. There are a number of Heathen metal bands in Scandinavia, plus others which are not Heathen but make extensive use of the old myths in their work. My understanding is that some of these latter bands are racist, while others are not... I believe that a young Russian Heathen, Slovisha, has also recorded at least one tape; search “Slovisha Heathen” on www.google.com for more information. The late Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, first modern Alsherjargoði of Iceland (may Odin feast him well), recorded some readings from the Poetic Edda; I do not have details and do not know if music was involved, although these poems may well have originally been sung. I’ve heard a beautiful sung rendition of “Beowulf” accompanied on a recreation of the Sutton Hoo harp on a program on the history of the English language. Sequentia has recorded “Edda: Myths from medieval Iceland.” The accompanying booklet is multilingual and the Eddaic poems are set to a variety of music.
Many modern Heathens have stepped forward to bring into our own day the proud heritage of song and poem-making exemplified by the old Heathen skalds, each in their own way and influenced by both ancient traditions and contemporary styles. The results have been varied but in my opinion at least highly enjoyable.
One of the most recent efforts is the CD “Trú Spirit,” produced in 2000 by Raven Kindred North, a fine group of Heathens with which I have been in intermittent contact for the better part of a decade. The first track “Go As Your Fathers Go,” puts me in mind of Jethro Tull. The second, “Blood on the Ground,” is more reminiscent of the Beatles and is a song to Nerthus. Some of the songs in “Trú Spirit” call to mind some contemporary rock bands about which I am in my dotage not well-informed enough to identify. The theme of “Blood on the Ground” is dark…human sacrifice. Some of the Old Ways are best left in the past! The third song is “Unmovable One,” a song, rich in the ways of Wyrd and dedicated to Hella.
“Brightshield” is as much a chant as a song and is dedicated to Odin. It has some nice Spanish-sounding guitar music. Is this the warrior’s day to die? Track five, “Fryja” (sic) has some nice harmonica work. This more upbeat song to the Lady of the Vanir nevertheless does not ignore her darker side. It is as much a love song as a hymn. “Heathen Lullaby” is a Frigga song, calling on her to “bless this home.”
I love “Trú Spirit.” I wish there were more than just six tracks on the CD; it leaves you thirsty for more. Hopefully, a sequel will be produced. My only real criticism of this work besides its brevity is that the lyrics insert is in places almost illegible. “Trú Spirit” is available in the USA for $15 postpaid from Raven Kindred North, PO Box 66, Ashland MA 01721. Potential overseas purchasers please write to them for overseas shipping charges or look them up online.
Back when her health was better, Winifred Hodge Rose recorded two tapes, “Godsong I” and “Yulesong I.” The lyrics for both are still available on the Anglo-Saxon Eldright’s web pages; the quickest way to get to them is to go to www.google.com and search “Winifred Hodge” and “Yulesong” or “Godsong.” The e-mail address listed for Winifred is long out of service and I do not know if copies of the tapes are commercially available. My understanding at the time of their release was that she did not copyright them and hoped they would be diffused as widely as possible in the Heathen community, so if your friend has a copy, dub away!
On the first side of “Godsong” appear such songs as “Ostara’s Dance,” “In Idunna’s Garden,” “Fire-Dance Song,” and more. They can be used with good effect in public worship. The overall effect is a bit medieval. While listening to these tapes during the preparation of this article, I greatly enjoyed hearing again Winifred’s unique voice. Listening to these albums was like hearing from an old friend. I’ll write to her soon.
The second side includes “WiÞ Ymbe: song for a swarm of Bees.” This is an old Anglo-Saxon charm adapted, set to music (played on a replica of the Sutton Hoo harp), and sung in Anglo-Saxon. Following this song are a Frey-Boast and a Frigga-Boast, both of modern composition but in the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) language. These songs show that composition in Anglo-Saxon is alive and well today. The album ends with a Birthday Song in Modern German.
“Yulesong I” includes such treats as a re-Heathenization of “The Holly and the Ivy” for Mothernight, a Sunwheel Song for Yule and Litha, “Gods Bless You, Merry Heathen Folk” (bet you can guess the tune), a “Yule Feasting Song” to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas, and an adaptation of the “Boar’s Head Carol.”
Thank you Winifred for these fine and generous gifts to Heathen folks. May your health improve and may these be but the first of many fine albums!
“Songs of Yggdrasil” by Freya Aswynn and Wayne Owens used to be published as a separate audio tape, but is now a CD included with Northern Mysteries and Magick, her slightly revised new edition of the classic Leaves of Yggdrasil. Northern Mysteries and Magick is available from www.llewellyn.com. These are a variety of readings and chants by Freya Aswynn, including selections from the “Hávamál,” and “Voluspá,” a chilling “Nithing,” a runic galdering, and an invocation to Wotan which will make the little hairs on your neck stand up. While her heavy Dutch accent is occasionally distracting (think of the Vulcan priestess T’Pao from the old Star Trek series), Freya’s voice is well suited overall for magickal workings. She is truly a worthy namesake of the Northern Mistress of Magic. The music in the background is very enjoyable and contributes greatly to the overall effect. Both the book and CD have earned a place in every Heathen library.
One of my personal favorites is the unpoetically named “Indiana Seiðh (sic) Seminar October 1995” audio cassette tape. This is the tape produced at the Hrafnar Seiðr seminar where, after a year and a half’s long-distance preparation, I first took the High Seat. Side A contains most of the songs used in Hrafnar Oracular Seiðr, including the beautiful and lengthy “Journey Song,” which in itself is practically a quick tour of Norse Mythology! A guided meditation is also included. Side B is labeled “Asatru Songs,” and includes Hrafnar’s “Raven Song,” songs for a number of our Gods and Goddesses including Odin, Heimdallr, Freyr, Freya and Sif. “The Fox Runs Over the Ice,” a traditional Swedish song, and “The Vision of Ragnar,” a poem passionately read by its author, Raudhildr, round out the collection. My partner recently put the whole tape as originally released in late 1995 onto a CD and cleaned it up a bit to ensure its preservation. It is available as an audio tape with the Hrafnar Seiðr study materials that I copy and distribute as a service to the Heathen Community’s Seiðfolk. The packet, including the tape, is currently available to US residents for $10 and to folks living elsewhere for $15. If you have it please feel free to copy as needed. Otherwise, the address is:
P. “Jordsvin” Buck
PO Box 21955
Lexington KY 40522-1955 USA.
Please, serious students only; my free time is very limited and cashing checks, duplicating materials and mailing them out is very time-consuming.
Finally, two “oldies but goodies” and certainly two of the pioneering musical efforts are “Hammersong: Songs and Poems for Norse Heathens” (1986) and “Hammersong Two” (1988) by Kirby D. Wise. These are identified as a “Heathen Brothers Production.” They were long for sale by World Tree Publications (I ordered mine before the line in the “Great Ásatrú Schism” was as strongly drawn as it is today) but when I checked World Tree Publication’s online catalogue while researching this article, I could not find them there! I believe that Kirby hails from the Western USA, like many of the Ásatrú Alliance folks and the “Western” influence is very evident in his music! Kirby himself is alive and well and has a website dedicated to the sale of his swords and other metalwork. An e-mail there brought me a response from a friend of his to the effect that Kirby is working to have his first two albums put on a CD, which I am presuming he himself will sell. He is also working on a third album, which World Tree will carry.
“Hammersong” contains songs and poems like “Ravens Song,” “Ode to Mead,” “Freya’s Song,” “ Ode to Sigmund,” and “Prayer to Odin.” Kirby’s voice is perfect for me: good enough to be enjoyable but not so good that you feel self-conscious singing along. Rollicking good fun!
“Hammersong Two” follows in much the same vein as its predecessor. The first song is in honor of Alsherjargoði Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson of Iceland. It was published several years before his death and I hope he got to hear it!
My greatest critique of these two tapes is their physical presentation. The cassettes themselves have no label whatever. The insert for “Hammersong” at least has the song titles on the back but the one for “Hammersong Two” doesn’t even have that. Nevertheless, the quality of the recordings themselves is good.
Even within the relatively limited confines of my Heathen music collection, I was continually struck by the great variety of Heathen music available and the depth of the musicians’ talents. I believe that the future of Heathen music is bright. You can help ensure this by buying and listening to lots of Heathen music!
I hope you will review your favorite (or not-so-favorite) Heathen music and musicians. Here’s to all Heathen musicians; past, present and future!
last modified 11/27/2003