THE PAGAN MUSIC LIST: #1
Week #1: Mari Boine, Garmarna, Alcest, L’Ham de Foc, Poeta Magica
The PAGAN MUSIC PROJECT is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of Pagan, Heathen, Esoteric, Animist, and related music. Each week, we’ll introduce and review four to six musical projects and, as we go, we’ll compile these reviews into one massive list.
Mari Boine is part of the Sámi, one of the few surviving shamanic/animist cultures in Europe. Her music makes heavy use of traditional yoik form (Sámi traditional chant), often mixing in pop, rock, and jazz elements into many of her songs. Her voice is often deeply haunting and the lyrics (sung in Lapp/Sami, as well as Norwegian and English) often warn against the destruction of nature and the deep racism against her people.
Two songs in particular are worth noting. The first is Gula Gula, whose lyrics speak of the despoiling of the earth and a call to indigenous unity across continents:
Hear the voices of the foremothers! Hear!
They ask you why you let the earth become polluted
They remind you where you come from, do you hear?
Another song (and a favorite by this reviewer) is Diamantta Spaillit, a warning to sacred animals to flee the forces of civilization:
Big roaring beasts,
skeletons of steel
have found their way to our land
They are roaring and roaring
digging and digging
looking for our reindeer of diamond
Big giant beasts with greedy mouths are here
Run to your sacred place
reindeer of diamond
don't let them find you
Garmarna is a Swedish band founded in 1990,one of the most prominent musical acts to revive ancient music in new forms. Most of their songs are old scandanavian ballads, recreated with traditional instruments (including the nyckelharpa and hurdy-gurdy) with some electronic elements. While most of their albums focus on pagan and folk themes, one sets the texts of Christian mystic Hildergard von Bingen to music as well.
This reviewer’s two favorite songs are both from the same album, which is definitely their best. The first (and probably most well-known) is Herr Mannelig, a folk song about a mountain troll who proposes marriage to a knight.
Sir Mannelig, Sir Mannelig
won't you marry me
For all that I'll gladly give you
You may answer only yes or no
Will you do so, or no?
The second, and much darker, song is Valruven (“Werewolf.”) The song tells the tale of a noble woman trying to hide her pregnancy by retreating to a cottage. There she encounters a werewolf who will not take her offers of wealth in exchange for her life…
“Oh dear wolf do no bite me—
I shall give my golden crown"
“A golden crown wouldn't suit me at all
Your youthful life and your blood must go”
Alcest is a French metal project with aetheric vocals and an almost epic, mystic feel to their layered guitars. Drawing heavily on fantastic themes (including childhood experiences of “the other” by its primary member, Neige), Alcest’s music feels like stumbling through Middle Earth or fairy. Also, blends many other elements from outside metal (often to the ire of purists), but this makes Alcest much more accessible to those unfamiliar with metal than many other projects.
Je Suis D’Ailleurs (I’m from elsewhere) is a particularly poignant ballad for anyone who feels they don’t belong to in this modern capitalist world:
I take off with a leap
To glide above the ground
But I fall, mystified
And with an inward scream
I've forgotten the ease
Of an era long gone
I am not from this land
Autre Temps (Other Times) also speaks to this sense of loss, but reminds that nature will continue even if our civilizations will not:
A faraway prayer carried by the evening wind
Animates the leaves in their languorous dance
It's the hymn of the old trees, sung for you
For those somber forests which are now asleep
So many seasons have passed without waiting for us
(*Note: Alcest’s lead singer was once part of a potentially fascist band; however, the reviewer has confirmed with people who personally know the members of Alcest that they are neither fascist nor racist.).
L’Ham de Foc was a musical collaboration between two Valencian musicians, Mara Aranda and Efrén López, both deeply versed in the traditional Catalan, Galician, Arabic, Sephardic, and other musical forms from the Iberian Peninsula. Their songs are soaked with mysticism, and each of their three albums is worth a listening (but Cor de Porc is probably their best).
The song Un Nom is both gorgeous and also deeply interesting for its references to traditional Iberian witchcraft:
I had nothing to lose, so I gathered the seed,
dry and black, I guarded it like gold in my handkerchief,
I still hoped that it would find comfort there.
And in the soil of a pot I planted it at sunset,
a cradle in case it grew just as the witch had said,
from its roots she promised me a child or two.
And I had to pick a hare's ear, find a cat's claw
a Digitalis minor from the mountainside and old fern
And Lluna d’Algeps (Siren or Angelic Moon) is perhaps the best example of the countless sea-mourning songs traditional to all coastal regions in Europe and the Meditteranean. This song in particularly shows a common theme to many of them, a deep reverence for the sea and its spirits who take whom they desire:
A siren moon was combing its hair with a fish's spine
as a merchant of silver crowns navigated the sea.
A moon made of plaster dances lecherously with him,
adorning his belt with its serpent hair, as the stars come out
Poeta Magica is a highly-prolific medieval re-constructionist band who focuses on traditional instruments (including reconstructions of dead instruments), archaic tuning, and other more “academic” aspects of ancient music. Their discography itself can be used as a useful reference for those curious about the wealth of folk and pagan music that survived throughout the middle-ages, and their live performances are re-enactments themselves.
The lyrics of Diogan Gwench’hlan (the prophecy of Gwench’hlan) are purported to be by the last known surviving druid of Bretagne, Gwench’lan (6th century). It is a curse upon the Christian ruler who blinded him and killed his fellow druids:
O Cormorant, cormorant, say,
What is the thing with which you play!
The Chieftain's skull: I am about
Both of his red eyes to gouge out;
Out of the sockets red blood pours:
He has done once the same with yours.
Diana Vitrea is a famous 12th century song about how good sleep is…especially after sex. In fact, the song isn’t really about sleep at all, but about what you do just before. The text contains various pagan references, including referring to the moon as Diana. It’s part of the Carmina Burana, a collection of pagan and popular music compiled by Catholic theologians for “research” purposes.
When Diana's crystalline
lantern rises late at night,
shimmering with undershine
from her brother's rosy light:
when the gentle Zephyr's breeze
whiffles little clouds with ease…
ABOUT THe List
The Pagan, Heathen, Esoteric & Animist Music List is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of Pagan music all in one place. While it’s utterly impossible to list every single project in existence, we intend to include as many as humanly possible.
By “Pagan, Heathen, Esoteric& Animist music” we mean music that fits one or more of these criteria:
Projects that self-identify as pagan, heathen, estoeric, or animist where these themes are explicit in the music.
Projects that include reconstructions or revivals of pagan, heathen, or animist music forms, even when the artists do not openly self-identify as such.
Music with recognizable esoteric themes.
Music from periods where pagan and heathen forms intermixed with other forms (including monotheistic forms): for instance, Sephardic and Moorish music during the Al-Andaluz period, or Christianized medieval folk music in Europe)
Music not included:
Music by bands or individuals demonstrably tied to racist or fascist ideology. We make every effort to filter out this category but reader insight is appreciated!
“New Age” music
“World” music and “tribal beat” music; that is, indigenous music commercially re-packaged for Western audiences for yoga studios, raves, etc.
Music found by the reviewers to have no musical merit or to deeply mis-represent Pagan, Heathen, or animist beliefs (“fluff”).
We intend to include as many genres as possible, and for each project we’ll try to label them as accurately as we can. Of course, genres are very fluid and relative so there will always be disagreement on this. Here is our general list of Genres:
Medieval: Music performed on medieval instruments, with medieval melodies, or reconstructed from medieval elements
Traditional: Music currently traditional to a culture or music that uses primarily traditional lyrics, melodies, or instruments
Folk: Primarily Acoustic, “singer-songwriter” music.
Neo-Folk: Post-industrial/post-rock “folk” forms with very little or no reliance on traditional lyrics or melodies.
Electronic: Industrial, techno, ambient, or other music with heavy reliance on sampling or sythesizers with little or no “organic” instruments.
Rock/Metal: Music with lots of electric guitars, driving drums, etc.
Chant: vocals, often with little or no musical accompaniment.
This Project needs your help!
We are actively looking for submissions to this list. If you are a musician or group that would like us to know about your music, please contact us with links where we can listen to your work. And if you know of a band that we haven’t yet included, feel free to tell us about them through our contact form!