One of the recurring themes throughout most, if not all, spiritual and religious expressions and celebrations is the use of music, chants and songs.
In the Christian tradition through the sung mass of the Orthodox church, to the time of French composers Léonin’s and Pérotin’s development of polyphonic music in the 12th century1, on to the majestic creations of composers such as Mozart, Bach and Palestrina. And in our own times, the deeply moving music of the composer John Tavener. Worship, reverence and music go hand in hand, and it is often the beauty of this music, especially that of sung music, which touches us most deeply.
Looking at other religious traditions, and at the same time traveling backwards in time, the Hindu faith has its’ rich Kirtan2 history of devotional mantras, chants and songs.
If we move away from modern organised religion, which accounts for only a small fraction of modern Homo Sapien’s time on Earth (currently estimated at around 200,000 years), what other forms of spiritual music do we have here?
Our Tribal Roots & The Shaman
Well, due to the lack of written records, our knowledge is limited. However, we do have the oral traditions from those more ancient of times which survive to this day. And they are the held in the keeping of the most ancient of holy women and men, the shamans of the tribe.
Whilst it is true that many shaman are given to dwelling on trivial mundane concerns, there are some who transcend their limited ego-minds to walk among the stars, explore consciousness and commune with the spirits, and rhythmic chants are one of the tools they use to achieve this.
It is currently believed by historians, that we have spent much of our history as humans, not in towns and cities as we do now, but in much smaller rural tribal societies. And here, traditions were passed down from generation to generation not through the written word, but through the spoken word, chants and songs. And anthropological studies have confirmed the immense capacity of the human mind to faithfully record and to pass on to future generation the most elaborate oral traditions, through myths, songs and story telling.
Rhythm of Life
So the use of musical instruments, rhythm, and in particular, the human voice feature consistently in the celebration and exploration of our spiritual life throughout our history.
Why is this I wonder?
Well I certainly don’t have ‘the answer’ to this question. But it does seem to me that music, and the human voice in its’s most eloquent and purest forms transcend our mental layers of modern languages and logical thought processes. They go deeper as it were on a biological level and touch us and resonate with us at our core physiology.
After all, from the cycle of electrons around atoms, our bodies’ numerous internal rhythms, to Earth’s changing seasons and on to the movements of star systems and galaxies, we are shaped and live our lives within many, many rhythmic structures.
And there are the modern mystics, who say that before the advent of the spoken language, we sang. The shaman too, as a part of their development, learn their own power songs for various rituals.
So could it be that the human voice3, that tool we use in our everyday communication, is at its’ root a sacred instrument to express the joy and wonder of the breath of life?
1 The BBC TV series: Sacred Music, available on CD, DVD & YouTube.
2 The great Kirtan teacher, Chaitanya Kabir. His teachings are available at the Sounds True Website.
3 Chloe Goodchild – Awakening Through Sound, Web Link.
© David R. Durham
Spirit Healer Web Link
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