A moss-soft ballad sung from a mountain top to the sunrise. A parent’s lullaby to soothe a newborn to sleep. Thousands of voices rising together to banish injustice from our planet. A single wavering melody infusing inspiration into a moment of despair. Whenever we open our mouths to sing, no matter how tuneful or discordant our song, we have instant access to a well of power to transform ourselves and others.
Over the years, I’ve been amazed at how often singing denotes spiritual power in myths and stories about goddesses and holy women from across the globe and throughout time. These are just a few examples from around the world. You may know others.
The first woman, Asintmah, of the Athabascan people of Canada, wove a blanket of fireweed blossoms which she spread over the Earth as she began to sing, causing the Earth to give birth to all the animals on our planet.
The young Chinese heroines Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung sang to mesmerize a dragon so they could unlock a gate that let waters flow down a mountain to save their village.
The Norse prophetesses called Volva told of the future by chanting.
Japan’s Yuki-Onne eased the passing of those trapped in blizzards by singing them to sleep, then breathing cold on them until they died peacefully and painlessly.
Some singing by goddesses and holy women is more malevolent. The Celtic Morrigan sang charms before battles to ensure victory for her side — good for her people, but not so good for her foes. The Sirens enchanted Greek sailors by singing, luring them to their deaths.
Of course, 21st century life is full of singing and chanting as part of religious liturgy or personal spiritual practice as well as inspiring positive societal change. I also find that many people find the greatest solace in songs that come from their religious tradition, especially if learned in childhood. I think this speaks to the ability of music to express spiritual and socially inspirational ideas and connect us in ways that spoken words alone cannot. I find I often sing as part of my own spiritual practice, for example, often serenading the land, or a plant or wild animal as a form of offering.
Perhaps one reason for these stories of magical singing is the physical and emotional benefits recently confirmed by medical research. Singing causes the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which lift mood, and is related to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Older people who sing in choirs are less lonely and more engaged in life. Studies of music in general show a slew of benefits to physical, mental, and emotional functioning.
Besides affirming that the power of singing was as robust in our past as in our present, the myths and stories teach us about the power of singing beyond its physiological and emotional effects. In our culture, in which women’s spiritual power has been demonized and devalued, it can sometimes feel difficult to grasp exactly what our inner power is and how to use it. We may even find ourselves fearing it, unconsciously or consciously. Singing by ourselves or with others and really allowing ourselves to experience its transformative force affirms to us that our spiritual power is real, and that it is beautiful and awe-inspiring. We can know that our spiritual power is to be embraced for making the world the paradise it is meant to be.
Singing reminds us that our spiritual power is already within us as a part of our most essential being, both physical and spiritual. It is not outside of us or needing to be conferred by another entity, divine or human, but as much an element of our lives and ourselves as breathing in and out.
Singing reminds us that our bodies are divine and holy, that we have the power to create immense beauty through our flesh and blood. Through singing we create vibrations that are not only heard but felt in the depths of our and others’ being and connect us to the very cosmos.
Singing brings magic into the everyday world. We do not have to wait till we are in some ethereal place to hear the voices of angels — all we have to do is listen to our own singing and that of others who share our world with us. Singing is not an exalted, once in a lifetime miracle, but a joy to be shared whenever we like.
Sappho once wrote “Although they are only breath, words which I command are immortal.” Sappho’s poems were written to be sung. Like Sappho, our singing is both an everyday and an immortal act, an expression of our sacred power that is within us and accessible to us always. When we recognize this power and use it for the benefit of ourselves, other beings, and the Earth, we can perhaps, like those ancient goddesses and holy women, help to sing new and better realities into being.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, student drummer, and herb and native plant gardener. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, Feminism and Religion, Return to Mago E-Magazine, Sagewoman, The Goddess Pages, Matrifocus, and The Beltane Papers, and various anthologies. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com where you can find some of her free e-books to download.