There’s a certain lift that can happen sometimes, when singing. Or, I suppose I should say, there’s a certain lift that happens to me sometimes when I’m singing, a moment when the composer has written a particularly stirring chord progression. Perhaps it’s a suspension where one line rises, aching, tipping on the edge of dissonance before resolving into the cadence. Or perhaps an unspooling of harmony, the voices calling out in unison and then peeling off until the music shifts from one monochromatic tone to a welter of harmonies intertwining. Or the inverse, a tangling near-cacophony of complex lines combining as if by magic to ring out one spare, simple motif.
However it arises, there comes a moment when everything snaps sharply into place, each voice tuning microtonally until undertones and overtones scintillate like so many sprays of light, and in the moment, I lift. You’ve seen dancers make the motion: chest arcing gently toward the sky as if lightly tugged by a string anchored in the sternum, chin lifting in concord, head falling back, arms opening slightly, hands rotating outward in a gesture both of giving and of acquiescence.
In that brief, transient bliss, though my body stays rooted firmly with good singing posture, I still feel myself lifting, transcendent, an almost double consciousness where I both sing full-throated and also clam up, overwhelmed and overawed by glory. I could characterize this many ways (and have), but recently I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s my soul singing (or my spirit body, I suppose, but that’s a distinction for another day). I don’t mean this in any metaphorical sense, to be clear. We certainly use the image figuratively in our language, but in this case I’m being entirely literal. In contrast to the little frissons I get when hearing and sometimes even performing excellent music, shivers of awe that are primarily receptive, these are rich, active sensations, laden with meaning and communication, my spirit erupting beyond my self.
Throughout my life, whether singing Catholic hymns, pagan chants, or secular pop songs, I’ve had these shining moments. They snapped more sharply to focus, however, when I began practicing druidry. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything superior about druidry as such — I certainly had moments of ecstatic communion in song as a Christian, and there are entire religious practices in many faiths built around them — but druidry is where I starting gaining the critical distance to recognize and describe what I felt in those moments, and thus to know and preserve them in my memory.
And what I recognize is the gods and spirits. Brigid, enshrouding the globe in light. The mighty queer dead, linking spectral arms with their living siblings. Manannán, plying the route to and from the Isle of Apples, past the ninth wave. My grandfather, resting his hand on my shoulder in pride and love. Teutates, pruning the world into health and order. The Matronae, opening their hands like the petals of a yellow crocus. Brief snippets, almost snapshots, but crystallized in memory with and by the songs my soul sang to them. Bardry is often service, is often focused on the hearer. But this is the special, inner magic of the bard: to open one’s mouth and, if fortune smiles, to sing in harmony with the gods.
Header image: “Arched back” by Daniel Incandela/Flickr. License: CC BY-NC.