©1990, 2010 by Lady Isadora
In the Great Hall of the vast eternal Palace of the Goddess, many voices are raised in song. Some are om-ing their own way to better health and prosperity; others are shouting a wake-up call to the world. Some are making a joyful noise; others got them old Kozmic Blues again, Mama. Some have new songs to offer; others are hey-nonny-nonnying, tura-lura-lura-ing, and do-wah-diddying for love of the old. Have you ever heard such a happening hootenanny?
But some of you arent joining in. Wont you stir your voices into the general jam session? So you dont sound like Aretha Franklin, Enya, or Kiri Te Kanawa most of the rest of the world doesnt, either. Open up your mouth and clear out those pipes the Good Lady blessed you with! Lifes too short not to sing all the songs only you were born to sing! Those of you with vocal or hearing impairments, Im sure you could teach the rest of us a thing or two about your own ways of experiencing and making music. Whether you sing mostly in the spotlight, in the shower, or in spirit whether you hear with your ears or with your heart theres room for plenty of diversity in the Great Minstrels Gallery of the Mother.
And what an array of instruments we have nowadays! I suspect the Lady will always hold a special place in Her heart of hearts for the tried and true: variations on the harp, flute, guitar, fiddle, and drum have traveled well through the centuries, you must admit. Still, we should all know by now that the Goddess loves novelty and change as much as anything. All you high-tech troubadours with the new-fangled rigs: She knew you were coming, of course, so She had the palace wired for electricity, just for the occasion.
Here in my own little corner of the Minstrels Gallery, theres a stained-glass window of a Pentacle and a Rose through which I can see the seasons changing. Depending on what part of the Grand Design I look through when, I can see red sky, blue grass, yellow snow, and tangerine trees... shades of the Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes? Im not an acidhead. No thanks, never needed the stuff. I just naturally look at the world through rainbow-colored glasses. Call me a devout chromomaniac, if you will. And if thats Greek to you, its because it really is, of course. Grab the nearest lexicon for further details!
Yes, its been a colorful summer. (Youre reading this in winter, but were barely into September as I write this you know how publishing deadlines go.) Yow! What was that? Can those be autumn leaves falling on my head already? Is this a snowflake I see before me?
No doubt its the Crone in me who scolds me to dig out my trusty old knitting needles again (like pens, they make good magic wands), settle down for a spell (ha, ha) in my antique rocker, which admittedly Im often off of, and reanimate last years sidelined sweater project. Its got to be the Mother who insists I bundle myself into the finished product ASAP, cozy as you please. But its definitely the Maiden, still alive and kicking after nearly 42 years, who then makes a beeline for a rousing cold walk in her favorite weather as cold and snowy as possible, thank you. Its not insanity. Its all the Norse blood on my mothers side.
Theres plenty of time after a jolly stomp through the latest Iowa blizzard for a steaming mug of spiced tea, dreaming in front of a blazing fire of the bright, stark season my wild and crazy heart loves best. Like joyful, unruly dancers, disdainful of formal choreography as I often am, the beloved memories arise: breathing in the heady scent of a real sacrificial pine tree... stringing blood-red cranberries to drape around the motley assortment of well- loved ornaments... wearing real woolen mittens to make snow people with my little brother, warming ourselves afterwards with real cocoa... making the annual earnest pact with him that whichever of us should wake up first on The Big Day would wake the other immediately, so as not to miss an exciting second of gazing longingly at the colorful flood of presents for hours before the grown-ups want to stir themselves... caroling around the baby grand at The Blue House at my grandmothers farm, taking frequent breaks to stuff ourselves with more Danish Kringle, vanilla fudge, and gingerbread men and women (bless her heart, she always made both).
This is starting to sound like material for a new verse to My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music?! But Girl Scouts honor, I cant think of a group of songs as catchy, melodically gorgeous, or dear to my heart as Christmas carols (except for songs by Lennon and McCartney, of course). Some carols, like Deck the Halls, are actually about Yule anyway. But as to the ones that arent, I dont mind hearing about a Holy Mother, a wondrous Birth, and a Divine Child of Light, even if I do think the Christians have got a few of the details mixed up. Never shun a good melody, I always say. Many of them in this case were old folk tunes to begin with, and those belong to all of us, as far as Im concerned. True, many carol melodies were composed especially for Christmas, but I find nothing inherently Christian about an arrangement of notes. So many of the most beloved trappings of Christmas have been borrowed from Paganism, such as mistletoe, decorated trees, wassail bowls, elves, and Santa Claus, that jolly old super-modified Holly King, that I feel absolutely no compunction about borrowing something back. In spite of doctrinal differences, aren?t we all celebrating love, light, and joy?
For some time, Ive been working my way gradually through the canon of carols, adapting or rewriting the lyrics for Yule. Elsewhere in my songwriting I tend to prefer original melodies, as Im one of those people who have new ones arriving on a daily basis, faster than I can put lyrics to them. Maybe when I run out of favorite carols to adapt Ill compose some completely original Yule songs, but for now Ive been having a lot of fun with this, and Ill bet you would too. Who could pass on such gems as Goddess Rest Ye Merry Gentlefolk, Good Wiccan Folk, Rejoice, and We Three Queens? To get you started (if you havent already), here are some original lyrics to be sung to the tune of Greensleeves/What Child is This:
Im planning to record an entire album of Yule carols at some future date. To my knowledge, no Neo-Pagan recording artist has yet done so as of this writing, although I hope it becomes a tradition. New Age Celtic harper Loreena McKennitts lovely 1987 release To Drive the Cold Winter Away contains mostly traditional Christmas carols, but a few selections are for general wintertime use. And we are fortunate in having a number of Pagan albums with at least one song about Yule, or appropriate to it:
This isnt meant to be a complete list, and my apologies for any songs Ive left out.
With Twelfth Night (or Thirteenth Night?) festivities over and past, Candlemas is less than a month away. Although certainly less spectacular than Beltane, Samhain, or Yule, Ive always loved this quiet Sabbat nearest my birthday. There are far fewer songs devoted to this festival than to Yule, but still some memorable ones: Lisa Thiels Candlemas Song from Songs of Transformation and Angie Remedis Hymn to Brigit from The Mother Calls, for example. And those interested in the Marian connection to Candlemas, the Day of the Holy Virgin, would most certainly enjoy the following two recordings:
Anonymous 4: An English Ladymass (Harmonia Mundi, 1992). Superb vocal performances by Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, and Johanna Rose of 13th- and 14th century chant and polyphony in honor of the Virgin Mary. Selections include Edi Beo Thu Hevene Quene, Gaude Virgo Gratiosa, Flos Regalis, and Ave Maris Stella.
The Waverly Consort: Las Cantigas de Santa Maria (Vanguard, 1972). Out of print LP as of this writing, but well worth tracking down in a used record store or looking up in a public or university library collection. Marian music from the 13th-century Castilian court of Alfonso X, El Sabio (The Wise). Features sparkling vocals from Jan DeGaetani (mezzo-soprano), Constantine Cassolas (tenor), and Nicholas Kepros (troubadour/narrator), and accomplished musicians on recorder, rauschpfeife, psaltery, organetto, shawm, nuns fiddle, Moorish guitar, and other medieval instruments. Some of my favorite selections are Cantiga 7 (How Holy Mary delivered a pregnant abbess, fallen asleep weeping before her altar), Cantiga 138 (How Holy Mary avenged herself of a cleric who had stolen silver from a cross), and Cantiga 327 (How Holy Mary cured the cleric whose legs had turned backwards because he had made underwear of an altar cloth he had stolen). Great stuff!