THE PAGAN MUSIC LIST #3
Week #3: Kate Rusby, Fejd, Gyvata, Dunkelschöne
Earthy, rich, and full, Kate Rusby’s voice sounds like autumn fields, stony brooks, and warm hearths. An English folk singer, Kate Rusby’s focus has been on both traditional English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh songs, as well as many of her own. She grew up playing music in her parents’ traditional ceilidh (traditional Scots/Irish gaelic) band until performing solo at 15, and according to various interviews, her primary love is the traditional songs she learned from them and her “old ballad books.” There is also a distinctly rural motif in much of the music she sings, a connection to land through the music of the land and those who lived upon it.
Also, many of the traditional songs she performs are folk tales in themselves. For instance this one, off her most recent album (Life In A Paper Boat), tells of a wounded knight who seeks healing from a witch:
Pale was the wounded knight, that bore the rowan shield,
And loud and cruel were the raven’s cries as he feasted on
“Green moss and heather bland, will never staunch the flood,
There's none but the Witch of the Westmorland
can save thy dear life's blood.”
Sho Heen is a hauntingly beautiful lullaby. “Sho Heen” is the English transliteration of the Irish word seoithín, which is the word one says to a child to calm them to sleep.
“Sleep my friend now I'll watch o'er you
The moon is here and the stars adore you
Close your eyes and you'll sleep just fine”
Said my guardian angel once upon a time
Sho Heen Sho lo, lu la lo, lu la lo
Sho Heen Sho lo, lu la lo, lu la lo
And a third song from her, my personal favorite, “Annan Waters,” one of many folk songs involving drowned lovers. Listen to it when you really need to feel something:
He's ridden over field and fen
O'er moor and moss and many's the mire
But the spurs of steel were sore to bite
Sparks from the mare's hoofs flew like fire
The mare flew over moor and moss
And when she reached the Annan Water
She couldn't have ridden a furlong more
Had a thousand whips been laid upon her.
Fejd means “feud” or “strife” in Swedish, and there is a rousing, martial quality in Fejd’s music, like vikings riding off to war. Their songs combine all the best elements of 80’s metal with traditional Scandanavian instruments like the sackpipa (Swedish bagpipe) and Nyckelharpa (a keyed violin), as well as other ancient European instruments to consistently beautiful effect.
While Fejd’s music is best listened to as albums (especially at the gym), quite a few of their songs stand well alone. Their song Offerrök (Offering Fire), which starts out their pretty amazing album Storm, evoke all the elements of a traditional Heathen communal ritual:
Gods are revered, runes are carved, the bard composes
Ancient warriors are hailed in our tale
Brage toasts, the guild honours, mighty sounds the song
The bloodlines are strengthen and sealed
Nine days the blót will last, let us rejoice
Wild dances in delight in the hallway of the god temple
Nine days the blót will last, let us rejoice
Wild dances in delight
The smoke from the fire of sacrifice rises towards the sky
And Den Skimrande is a love song for a dead woman:
Look, she's floating, with the dísir in the fog
So shimmering and cold
That day cloaked its sacrifice for kind entities
Around her white shoulders, a mantle for the God of those who were hanged
Watch the flower buds by the grave, they speak of years that've passed
Their happiness has vanished, in a cloak of sadness.
Hypnotic vocals evocative of waves upon the shore and sparse musical accompaniment defines Gyvata, a Lithuanian folk project comprised of young music students. Gyvata means “serpent,” a word used by the Theosophist writer (and defender of ancient Lithuanian paganism, Romuva) Vydunas. Gyvata is the word Vydunas uses to describe the spirit that animates a people through its language, stories, and songs, a spirit which then connects them to the rest of the world.
Their album Su Vėjužiu Kalbėjau (“I spoke to the wind”) is primarily composed of songs about young love. Vai auga auga (“Oh grows, grows”) references the folk custom of divining the chances of love by flowers (in this case, rue):
Go to the rue garden, speak to a green rue
Oh speak to a green rue
Speak to a green rue, marry me lassy
Oh I shall go to my garden
Be green, be green the green rue,
I shall not marry this year
In Eina našlaitėlė, an orphan envies the life of nature, declaring it would be better to be a tree:
The orphan cries by the roadside…
Roots for feet,
twigs for hands,
each leaf a love note…
better than to be a parent
who has no parents…
Medieval, Folk, Traditional, Rock
Recommended Album: Irfind or Nemeton, available direct from band (see Note)
I forgot about Dunkelschöne until doing a search for a song today. That led me to spend much of the rest of my evening happily listening to their music again. Forgetting about them is a bit understandable: the German Medieval Rock scene is so large that many smaller bands tend not to get much recognition. Dunkelschöne (beautiful darkness) is one of those bands, one that really deserves to be known more widely, especially because of Vanessa Istvan’s really addictive vocals, both fierce and friendly.
My favorite song of theirs (until I so rudely forgot about them) was Liebster, a rendition of one of those German folk songs that gets really creepy when German choirs sing it. Better from a medieval rock band, trust me.
I had in the night a dream
a very difficult dream
In my garden grew
a rosemary tree
the garden was a cemetary
the flowerbed was a grave
From a green tree fell
Crowns and flowers
That I collected in a jug
That fell from my hands
And shattered on the ground
Oh lover, wake me
Oh lover, are you dead?
Another of my favorite songs from them is Dornenweich (Thorn-Hedge):
Your tears are crystals, given timidly to the thin light.
In the old marble halls you can hear the dust breaking.
Silently, a topaz weighs softly on thin mosses.
Glass-spun, almost destroyed, mist shines from the grass.
Golden-green sunspots mate with darkness.
Behind thorny hedges sounds the song of eternity.
Note: While their music is also available on Amazon, CDs can be ordered directly from the band by emailing them at email@example.com
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!