Category Archives: Sprituality

Covenant of Love

     What is the significance of the texts of the Judeo-Christian religions to one who doesn’t consider them rules to be followed, or instructions for how to be good, or even the capital ‘W’ Words of God? What does ‘covenant’ mean in that situation? Does it even have meaning?

     It may be that this Bible does not condemn people whose sexuality doesn’t conform to that same preference as the majority. If it did, would that matter? Not to me, because that isn’t what I’ve become convinced is the purpose of the Bible. It may seem odd to Bible-literal Christians that those who take a different view on the authority of scripture can think of it having any power at all, but it’s even powerful enough to affect a life when a person doesn’t believe every Bible story is a literal historical event. In that context, what does ‘Covenant’ mean?

Well, I don’t prefer the same music as the majority, though the Bible recommends certain instruments, and some even interpret Ephesians 5:19 to recommend (some say require) non-instrumental music.

Rumour has it Moses hated Jazz
Rumour has it Moses hated Jazz

Various rules (or dogma), doctrine, commands are held up by some believers as holy writ. They’re free to do so, and here’s the important thing: those who take a legalistic, literal view of scripture must be allowed room to see it as they do. A person can’t be made to change their perspective on how the entire universe is composed by argument. In fact, the evidence shows that argument only solidifies an opposing viewpoint where religious fundamentalism is concerned.

     I once thought women couldn’t be ordained ministers, but then I married a woman who is possibly the best preacher I’ve ever heard. Yes, her words mean more to me because of the intimate relationship I enjoy with her. Even with my natural bias, I recognise her aptitude through those who don’t have such a close relationship, or any relationship at all with her, each of whom react as if quenched of a great thirst. Yes, women can and, if called must preach.

  keep-calm-and-meet-new-people-20   I once thought that any kind of sexuality other than heterosexuality was an aberration, an abomination to God. Then I was befriended by men and women whose same-sex relationships were loving, honest, and every bit as beautiful as my own marriage. Nothing aberrant, and certainly not abominable. Not only are such people not condemned, but openly blessed in life, marriage, and even in ordained ministry.

     I could go on at further length about how my view of scripture has shifted, but thats not the point. I’m not writing to point out the error of those who take the literal view. I’m writing to show that scripture still has meaning, even if one doesn’t believe that these are the words of God transmitted by direct dictation to writers who somehow found God’s phone number. That it still has influence is a testament to its power and divine influence.

     This is how covenant, a word with legal implications, can have meaning to those who don’t hold that the Bible is a legal book; that the biblical dogma is in no way the “Law of God.” Ancient cultures from which these words came were tribal. Life was harsh and the times were savage. They sealed agreements with marriages, livestock, and sometimes blood. Quid pro quo was just how their world worked. If one nation didn’t hold up their end of a bargain, there was nothing for it but brutal, bloody war. If just enough rain fell to provide a good harvest, if the beasts propagated and multiplied, people naturally assumed that the gods were pleased, and they continued in their contractual obligation to make burnt offerings. If the nation is conquered and its leaders are made captive, one assumes that God is angry. If your army decimates an entire race, you are justified because those people were evil and you, the true people, are expected to destroy them. This is not an indictment of any single early culture. In many early languages the word for one’s nation or tribe translates roughly to “The true people.” ( This was the way of the ancient world, before the message of Love-your-neighbour-as-yourself managed to break through. What is remarkable is that, even in these early times, there are hints of the cosmic meaning of the word covenant; that even when broken, God still honours it.jud2-1_covenant

     Just a few centuries later things continued to progress. With the wisdom teachings of Hillel the Elder (100BC ~ 10AD) and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (~30AD), a deeper meaning is revealed beyond a do-this-or-else understanding of the nature of the relationship humanity has with God. Love is the law. Love God, love people, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” This isn’t a one-verse doctrine; the over-arching story of God is a progression from human understanding of tit-for-tat, quid pro quo, to a godly love that extends beyond anything that can be broken like a childish earthly contract. It’s the divine understanding of God’s love — not just that God loves us, but that God is the embodiment of perfect love. The-Beatles-featuring-Yoda-all-you-need-is-love

     It’s almost trite… maybe it is trite: God is Love. Throughout scripture there are references to the covenants between God and humanity, between people and other people, husbands and wives and children. Love is the root of all relationships that truly affect a person’s life. What kind of covenant can one have with God? What agreement is there to be had with the very embodiment of Love? The only covenant a person can have with Love is to love. The only way to break a covenant of love is to withhold love, yet even then love sometimes breaks through. 

     That is the covenant God kept trying to get through to the writers of scripture. Many interpreted it in legal context, but in a lot of places the message made it through with blazing clarity. This is the only law, the only dogma, the only doctrine. Whatever name you use to call out to the Architect of life, if you are calling on the Author of Love, then you’ve found a covenant of ultimate freedom; what the whole idea of a covenant was meant to be from the beginning of time to the end to time-outside-of-time.

Paul and the Oral Gospel

Paul wrote in clumps between 57 and 67, often in prison, and almost entirely through dictation. At varying points he shows different levels of acceptance, and not entirely in progressive order. Human that he is, his writings show possibly waffling about women’s issues as well as the degree to which gentiles were included in his ministry. Paul encountered God, and that gave him the inspiration and need to minister. However the only dictation that happened was from Paul to his scribe(s). Direct revelation provided the impetus of his journeying, but not necessarily the content. All that God tells him in the encounter is essentially, you’re blind, stop being a dick and killing people, now go to Damascus. It would be wonderful to know all that Ananias and the other disciples in Damascus taught Paul. I would guess that Paul’s short term as Ananias’s pupil was likely the time during which the entirety of the oral gospel (Q?) reached Paul’s ears. As all baby Christians, Paul got excited and taught for a little while in Damascus until he pissed people off and escapes, and then in Jerusalem where the disciples were still focused on ethnocentric ministry, and then, as with many baby Christians, he got excited and ticked people off again, and so he retreated to Tarsus. It’s something like 12 years before his first missionary journey. The only source for what was probably taught to Saul during those early days in Damascus is the oral lessons that were later written, which we call the gospels. And so, the oral Gospel message was Paul’s source, but then Paul’s teachings affected the later written Gospel. It’s not the perfect, infallible Word of God, but it is a beautiful 4-dimensional puzzle that points to deific inspiration, and a piece of the story of how people attempted to come to terms with what kind of relationship a people may have with the creator, and what a relationship with God might mean. I don’t take direct instruction from Paul. I read Paul and say, “Ah, so that’s what he thought about God.”

I’d have been hung or burnt as a heretic.

If there is no Hell, what is the point?

     I have never been afraid of Hell. I’ve never had a dream that I was in Hell. I doubt I ever seriously believed in it, though it was a teaching of the church I attended as a child. For me, the doctrines of penal substitution seemed logical in the sense of a need for some kind of balance, but not in the sense of staying out of Hell. For me, the idea of annihilation has always been worse. What if there’s nothing? What if I am simply no more?

    Existential crisis much?

Existential Snoopy
    I do feel that I have some assurances that annihilation will not be how I experience eternity. I have the experiences I call Glimpses from which I derive a personal knowing of certain deific personages. I believe that I’ve had encounters with natural spirits, ancestors, and even one I call Jesus or Yeshua Ben Yosef. In a small non-denominational Christian church in Indiana, I was taught that God is Love, that the Holy Spirit lives within me as a source of life and of counsel, and the Jesus died for my sins.
    Jesus died for my sins. What does that mean? In another post of mine, “Does God fix the problem of sin with sacrifice, or with String Theory?” I confessed that I believe the true miracle – and the point that joined all humanity with God – was more the birth of Christ than the crucifixion. At the moment of divine conception, all humanity – maybe even all of the material cosmos – was joined and imbued with the life eternal. Could there still be a Sheol, though? Logically and philosophically, yes, but as my favourite Christian author, C. S. Lewis put it, “The doors of Hell are locked on the inside,” which I take to mean that we each live in the Hell or Heaven of our choosing, figuratively and possibly literally. Since I also believe that the Bible is only the beginning of the word of God — as interpreted by both writers and readers — this quip from one of the greatest 20th-century masters of English literature is as authoritative as St. Paul, and I no more agree with Lewis on everything as I do Paul.
     Furthermore, I don’t believe one needs the Bible to provide a moral code, at least not beyond Matthew 7:12, 22:36-40. These two snippets of scripture are a complete summary of the entire subject of morality. The Bible is not a book about morality. If religion were only about morality, your Bible need be only half a page long.
    If this is what I believe about the workings of Salvation, and that being <<saved>> is the default — a sort of plenary predestination (yes, I’m Presbyterian) — then what is the point of Christianity? Why do I still claim the name, Presbyterian? Remember my reference to Predestination just a few words back? Well, that’s only part of it. I’ve never, ever thought of faith as either a reason to be a moral person or a get-out-of-Hell-free card. Get-out-of-jail-free
    All of humanity have the opportunity to pursue some kind of relationship with the greater cosmos. For Atheists, it is one of finding connections between the individual and the whole — “We are made of starstuff,” a quote attributed to Carl Sagan, is one of the most spiritually power-packed statements of our time, and yet it neither requires nor assumes any belief in the supernatural. Every religion on the planet has at its core the charge to pursue greater knowledge, greater devotion, and closer relationship to the god or gods of each faith.
    Are they all correct? That depends. Every religion is right about *something*. Even the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is right about its assertion that you don’t need God to be a good, moral person. It is enough “to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it, too.” (Douglas Adams) I just happen to think that these “fairies” represent holding an unspeakable wonder of the universe – a personification of the spirits of nature which I do think are there. Who am I to say that those who experience science through magic are any more wrong than those who are in awe of the magic of science? If magic is merely science mixed with pure, child-like wonder, then the cosmos is full of magic; is MADE of magic! You can appreciate the garden as well as the fairies if you like.
Grumpy fairy doesn’t care if you believe in fairies.
    Why then am I a Christian? The traditions of the Christian church, like all religions, are rooted in the struggles of my ancestors and their experiences of wrestling with God. I could certainly experience and wrestle with other aspects of the divine through other religions, but it is this one through which my forebears prospered and suffered. My little Earthly body grew within and learned about God through these traditions. Therefore, these traditions — church on Sunday, seasonal celebrations of saints’ days, Easter, All-Hallows Eve, Christmas, Yule, and Hogmanay, as well as the celebrations of the wheel of the seasons — these have the most power to create experiences and enrich a spirituality that amplifies the more noble echoes of those who came before. Those echoes that are not so noble (the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch burnings, misogyny, genocides, centuries of homophobia) are dissonances important to remember and to be called out as failures so that the better parts of my past kindred can retain their value, rather than “Throwing the baby out with the bath-water.” Through participation in the rites and nobler traditions of my ancestors, I continue the line of people in laudable pursuit of God, and live alongside the One for whom my 14-billion-year existence from star-stuff to human, is as clear and navigable as a walk down to the chemist (see Douglas Adams, “Space . . . is really big”).
I agree with the atheists, I just put more emphasis on "Made."
I agree with the atheists, I just put more emphasis on “Made.”

Does God fix the problem of sin with sacrifice, or with String Theory?

For someone who loves the scriptures of Jewish and Christian heritage, but who sees the stories of Creation, the Garden of Eden, Noah, Jonah, Job, etc… as a rich mythology designed to teach life lessons rather than history, the penal substitution theology of the cross is irreconcilable. There is, however, another way to see it, and it is no less beautiful and no less miraculous.
Would a message of hope have lasted beyond two generations without the sensational story of a hideous punishment, sacrifice, and resurrection? Maybe. My hypothesis is that salvation happened when God made a physical connection with humanity at the nativity of Christ, and that the crucifixion was necessary to send the message of hope thousands of years through time so that it would spread to the ends of the Earth. God didn’t need a sacrifice to accept and love Humanity, Humanity needed the sacrifice to accept that we could be loved by an eternal God.
3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
-Psalm 130
Nearly every culture in the ancient world in which gods were worshipped made sacrifices. They sacrificed for fertility, they sacrificed for crops, for good weather, for favour in battle, etc… Sacrifice was ostensibly the way people got the attention of the gods. Why the sacrifices?
Here is one logical back-tracking from a sceptical approach.
In many cultures, to ask a favour of the local ruler required a gift. You brought the king a bushel of fruit, grain, or a nice lamb shank or else you couldn’t even get an audience. Kings liked this arrangement. It was like taxes, only better because you didn’t have to send the army our to collect. However, to ensure the practice continues, the king has to show that it is more than just a bribe — it’s God’s will, and to demonstrate this, the king orders priests to sacrifice to God, showing that even the elite must make gifts to obtain favour.
In this logic-play, the idea of sacrifice is a kind of power economy. The ruler
Here is a less sceptical view.
” The Hebrew term קָרְבָּן (korban) is commonly and incorrectly translated “sacrifice” meaning, to give something up, actually means “that which brings closer.” The related term, מִנְחָה (mincha) means “gift.” The Biblical form of this ritual was not about appeasing the gods, but was about finding some way to get closer by bringing gifts.”
-Gil Yehuda
I think it’s rather a combination of the two explanations. Sacrifices make us rely less on the things we have, reminding us that being close to God is a matter of getting the rubbish of life out of the way. However, we have this problem that we believe that we cannot be forgiven without sacrifice. I think this is only partially true. God, who keeps no “record of sins,” has already forgiven. The problem is we have such a difficult time forgiving ourselves, even for just being mortal – the only real Original Sin (and one imagined).
So, if I suspect that there is no Original Sin, no Fall, no theological need for sacrifice – how can I say I believe in God and why do I believe in Jesus and his resurrection? Because these ideas about sacrifice evolved over millennia of mixing politics and established religion. The real God, who most believers say exists outside of what we think of as space-time, is the source of life and love, and probably a great many things about which we know nothing. We think we are minuscule, which of course we are relative to size of a star like Arcturus, but I just said that God exists outside space-time. Such a God is beyond scale, and therefore is as concerned with sub-atomic particles as with a galaxy. How do we achieve God’s attention? We don’t because having God’s full attention is a property of existing in this universe.
So why Yeshua? Now it’s time for some real wacky conjecture and dipping our toes into the cold waters of String Theory.
We say that God exists outside of time outside space, yet intimate and imminent every moment. I think the personage of Jesus was indeed, somehow, a part of God – and since you can’t split God, all of God, though perhaps a facet. This does something interesting in string theory. Highly simplified, one part of string theory is that you can view all of time as one static element and then slot that into a group of higher dimensions. Now, think about your family tree. Now imagine what it looks like without the separation that the linear passage of time creates. It’s really weird, but without that temporal separation, you are physically connected to both your parents (ewe, yes) and they to your grandparents, to great-grandparents, to ancestors — you get the idea?
Now insert Christ. All of humanity for all of time – from beginning to end – is now physically connected to God. Boom! The miracle of the nativity bridged the gap between the eternal and the temporal.
If that’s all that was required, why the cross? Think now the last time you tried to console someone who felt responsible for a tragedy that, logically, was not their fault, but who just can’t accept that they aren’t to blame. They may say things like, “If only I had been there sooner, I could have stopped that horrible thing from happening.” They may even know in their head that there was nothing could be done, but emotionally they can’t let go of fault.
The miracle of the cross is not that Jesus died on it. You get nailed to a cross, you die. The miracle of the cross is not even that Jesus rose again — okay, supernatural, yes, but think about it. Jesus is THE eternal being of the cosmos who exists both without and now within all of space-time. The source of life and love is not likely to stay dead.
This is the miracle of the cross: that the eternal God of the universe, the supreme architect of space-time, used his mortal form as a sort of grief counselling to show humankind that whatever it is that we think we have done to separate ourselves from God’s eternal, complete source of life and love, He took care of it. Yes, he took our blame, the Bible is right about that. But the blame He took was that which we placed on ourselves..
God didn’t need a sacrifice to accept and love Humanity, Humanity needed the sacrifice to accept that we could be loved by an eternal God.


There is no such thing as ‘Theology’ in practice. No-one studies God. What does exist is the study of peoples’ understanding of their gods.
It is possible to maintain a position whereby one believes one is studying God. For this to be true, the scholar must have something representative of the deity that is the subject of study. In Christian seminaries, this is the Bible. The Christian Bible is not just a book, according to a certain majority, but is the actual, living embodiment of the Word of God. The line separating scripture from the actual Godhead is very blurry: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (English Revised Version)
This is a most fascinating bit of text whose meaning remains one of the great mysteries of Christianity to this day.
The odd thing is that, in most seminaries, Biblical origins is a required subject wherein it is taught that Christian scripture has been authored by many people. The student learns that God did not write the Bible, but that its authoritativeness is born out of the assumption that the authors were inspired by God.
The implications of that word, ‘inspired’ is, in all fairness debatable. Paul, the author of sixteen letters included in the Christian New Testament, wrote one particular verse on scriptural origins that is hermeneutically problematical.
(New International Version): “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness . . .”
This is where some people make the claim that the Bible is the direct, inerrant, capital-‘W’ WORD of GOD.
But, it wasn’t always so:
King James Ver: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .”
Not so cut-and-dried, eh? This precedes the NIV by several hundred years.
It gets even better. As modern language scholars dig in to the text it becomes:
“Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching . . .” American Standard Version,
It isn’t difficult to see the subtle shift in meaning possible in this translation: only scripture that is inspired of God is profitable,
from which it can apparently be understood that, not only is scripture merely inspired (not penned) by God, not all scripture is even given the distinction of having been inspired. I think this is stretching it a little further than necessary. Doubtless, these men and women who wrote the letters and histories that became holy-writ, were inspired by their devotion to God. Doubtless, they wrote what they through their experiences – sometimes direct experiences, knew about the Creator.
Here is what I am convinced of:
The Bible as we know it is invaluable as a Rule and Guide of Faith to all Christians whether they believe in scriptural infallibility or not. Yes, it is the centrepiece of my faith.
The authors were keenly aware of the immanent presence of the Supreme Architect, and many had direct, shamanistic experiences with deity.
The authors’ awareness of the divine produced an implacable desire to record their experiences and the wisdom gained thereby.
The authors were humans and therefore subject to human deficiencies.
The Word of God is never-ending and is not trapped in 66 books.
The same applies to scripture of all religions.
The Bible is not God, but it is the record of humankind’s relationship with and struggle to understand God and the cosmos, therefore:
a study of sacred text is not a study of the deity referenced within the text, but rather it is a study of the people who wrote the text and their understanding of God – i.e.: Theophilosophy.


On aesthetic experience in worship

There are pros and cons to involving arts in the worship experience. My uncle once told me that he thought people tend to confuse an aesthetic experience with a religious or spiritual one. I think, however, that it’s inaccurate to think of them in such a compartmentalised way. I think this compartmentalisation is responsible for the imbalance people may feel when one thing is given too much precedence in a worship service. One doesn’t want any particular part of a gathering to take excessive importance and over-shadow the reason for getting together. Our ancestors quarrelled over whether to have pipe-organs and pianos, and now drums and guitars for fear people would worship the music, yet they often ended up following fallible men who used other self-aggrandising means into folly anyway. Music wasn’t the problem, rather it was putting all of the worship experience into one action or one person. This is likely where the popular practice of tearing down musicians originates: we perceive one person receiving more recognition than we like, and so we denigrate their offering by accusing them of ‘Performing’ with a capital ‘P’ instead of worshipping. I’ve been on both sides of this. My musician pride brought me to call out others on their self-aggrandizement because I would rather have been the one doing the performing. The sin was mine in that case, and it took me being the accused to realise that performing is performing whether it is in church, in the practice room, or on a public stage. Worship may be many things, but performing can always worship. It’s the responsibility of those involved in making it or receiving it to make it so. You can’t rely on a guitarist to “Enter the gates.” You have to open them, yourself.

Ultimately, I go to kirk  to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. This takes the form of lots of things: Listening to a message, reading/studying scripture, experiencing worshipful music through singing or listening or playing, hearing stories and testimony, solitary and communal prayer and meditation, and simply being with other people who are seeking God. For myself, the musical experience is one which God makes use of to soften my heart and break down the imaginary barriers I have placed around myself. I think one utility of music is to mark off a time and place, establishing a sacred space in which people lower their guard a little. It’s like the “thin places” experience people report from visiting sacred sites like Jerusalem, Iona, or any other place thought of as an area in which the veil between the words seems somehow thinner. It may simply be a state of mind in which a person is more focussed on the eternal. Regardless of what it is, it is something that I think Christians try to create through song, prayer, meditation. Sometimes it’s called “entering the gates”. We need something that says, This time and this place is a space where we are reminded that God is immanent – not because He won’t be here if we don’t do it, but because we might miss out on an opportunity to experience Him if our attention and our intentions are unfocussed. Music, more than anything helps me (admittedly a musician) to accomplish an arrival at that state-of-mind-and-spirit wherein I’m more conscious of my spiritual senses and the gentle whisper and nudging of God (1 Kings 19:11-13 — One place wherein I find God is the whispered, dying vibrations of the last note or chord of a piece of music. That, to me, is a sacred place that is no-place and a time that is no-time in which I’m most aware of the closeness of the Teller of My Story.

On Wisdom

Wisdom: That universal virtue which all peoples and religions raise to such divine heights as to be considered deific in its own right. Humans have pursued her for thousands of years, and yet we still have trouble defining the word. I think this is because, like a person, wisdom changes with every situation and every epoch of human history. It is even often personified as a deity if not actually represented by a god. Wisdom is rightly given primary consideration because without at least a minim of wisdom, a person can hardly be expected to be a contributing member of a society. The beginning of wisdom, I think, is to see oneself in relation to the Gods, to the Spirits of nature, and to all who have gone before oneself. When I consider this, I see a picture, sometimes crystal-clear though oft-times fuzzy, of where I fit. At least I see a picture in which I would like to fit. Wisdom is in part knowing where I am so that I can perceive clearly the cosmos, i.e. people, situations. This is embodied by a phrase that often is put along the somewhat trite lines of, “The wise person knows well his/her own foolishness,” or “If you think you are wise, you’re probably mistaken!” When one assumes one is brimming with wisdom, things may soon take a bad turn, however confidence is no bad thing. To be comfortable enough to say to oneself, “I have gained some wisdom,” is a good thing because that is part of knowing oneself. As a teacher, I see wisdom in learning from my students as I teach them. I should be confident enough in my abilities to show others the way to mastery, while I also should remember that every person I encounter potentially has some lesson to teach to myself.
     Another part of Wisdom, as I see it, is when one moves from knowing to acting. To use one’s insight to act upon well-made decisions. That’s not to say that every well-made decision will turn out to be the best path, but a path arrived at through considerate decision-making is more likely a good path. A wise person considers contingencies and course corrections before the first step of a worthy journey.

Creating thin places with music

Creating thin places with music

As a lifelong musician, music magic is particularly sacred to me. However I sometimes lose sight of the magic whilst I focus intently on some of it’s academic qualities, when I’m practising relentlessly to prepare for a concert, or when I pursue professional engagements for my livelihood. I’ve been searching for the meaning of magic in music, and I think I’ve missed a simple and beautiful truth that music is magic. It is unique among the arts for being the most abstract, I think of it as a particularly concrete form of magic. I’ve also realised during performances a very palpable sensation of the presence of spirits and the nearness of Annwyn, the otherworld.

One experience, for which I am eternally grateful to my gods, I get to have on a weekly basis. I could have this experience daily if I remind myself to let go and breath in the music whilst I practise. A perfect performance is one in which I step out of myself, out of this world, into a world in which the very landscape is formed of the tones from my instrument. In that place is perfect happiness, peace, and above all joy. Sometimes it’s a story of a man striking out over land and sea to find his love and return home, sometimes it’s a rendezvous in a forest during which a wild storm accompanies wild love-making. Sometimes it’s a great adventure to parts where there be dragons. When I play this music I go to these places, and it is among the greatest pleasures of life.
Often times I find myself growing tense as fear tries to break down the magic. Fear of missing a phrase, forgetting, judgment from others. It is all lies. “Let go, and exist in the music and walk in between the notes” is what I tell myself when I find myself struggling during a performance, and if I do it, the song turns around and may even become a great channel into Annwyn, the otherworld. It’s a way of being compassionate to oneself: To not berate oneself for a wrong note. The point is not to play ink on a page, although it’s good to be able to do that. The goal is to walk in Awen and allow its magic to flow into a world which needs it desperately. Sometimes the right music can thin the veil between the physical world and the otherworld. But what makes the music ‘right’?

Several years ago (okay, more like a decade) a book by John O’Donohue called ‘Anam Cara‘ introduced me to the idea of ‘thin places’. He describes them as locales and/or times wherein the veil which separates our physical world from the spiritual realms is thinner. These “spiritual realms” have many names in the religions and traditions of humankind, and I’ve taken to referring to it as ‘Annwyn‘ or the ‘Otherworld’ in Welsh mythology. In some places it seems so thin that it seems as if one could simply walk into Annwyn as through a wide open door. One goal of music magic is to create these ‘thin places’. The sacred symbol/syllable, AWEN, (or streched out as a chant: ah-oo-wen) is very important to this as well. Awen means “flowing spirit” and also describes the flow of inspiration and creativity of a bard, minstrel, or anyone who might use their creative gifts to open pathways for spirit(s) to flow. (Joanna Van Der Hoeven describes it HERE in detail.) The rays of Awen have been used for opening gateways to altered states of awareness, to begin ceremonies, and open doors to Annwyn, or possibly countless other otherworlds. Music has long been used to prepare the hearts of congregations for worshipping deity, and like the druid’s Awen, music prepares the way, not for the gods to enter our lives (they are already there), but for us to enter theirs and experience this communion — to briefly peak under the veil of our fleshy perception to experience a brighter, more real cosmos. So it is no great stretch of reason to see that music can be a catalyst for Awen to open that gate.

1My heart is steadfast, O God;
I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul.
 2Awake, harp and lyre;
I will awaken the dawn!” – Psalm 108 (NRSV)

(If you’re reading this and you’re caught off-guard by the reference to Judeo-Christian sacred texts because it’s not your religion, please stay with me. One doesn’t have to believe in the Hebrews’ idea of God to glean a little wisdom from these texts. A thing can be sacred and yet not be of one’s religion.)

The psalmist (traditionally David here) uses instruments and singing to consecrate day and dedicate it to the worship of his deity. In this, whether myth or real, God is not sitting behind the celestial curtain waiting to be invited in.

The ‘right music’ then does not refer to a genre, does not have to be a select set of tones (though certain tones put together can have what one might call an ethereal quality, and there have been written many treatises on the practical uses of music in ). Awen, the symbol, is comprised of a triad of rays coming from the sun. Awen is also the flow of inspiration and creativity – but I think there is a third part: Sharing or perhaps simply receiving. I’ve experienced the nearness of Annwyn occasionally whilst practising, but I feel it almost every time when I play and another person is there who receives the music as food for the soul. The times when I play the music and simply enjoy it as if I were a spectator are those sacred moments to me when I enter privately into the otherworld for a time. Inspiration is light from the gods. Creativity is light from the bard and minstrel. When another receives the musical offering in a way that illuminates one’s consciousness, then the three rays of Awen are complete and Annwyn seems so very near!

A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion engraving.
A traveller puts his head under the edge of the firmament in the original (1888) printing of the Flammarion engraving.

If I have written anything which is disagreeable, I ask forgiveness,
If ever I contribute to happiness and fulfillment, you deserved it,
May the music you make and the music you receive carry you to places your physical form cannot travel,
And may the magic of Awen fill your life and the lives of those around you.