THE EIGHTFOLD PATH
by Sherry Gamble ©1989
The sound begins as a low hum, tentative at first, hesitant, a quiet growl … uhuhuu. The breath is still slightly too shallow – the sound unsure of its origin, yet wanting to be created. As the breath deepens, the sound deepens, becomes surer, stronger. Centered low in the body, it resonates, emanating from one’s very core. The abdominal muscles vibrate, rhythmically, slowly, in and out, in and out. Thought ceases as the power of the sound changes this process from an intellectual beginning to a purely physical action. The naturally ensuing deep. diaphragmatic breathing makes exhalation seem endless, effortless.
This sound is an earthy sound-of hidden caves, earth tremors, gigantic tree roots coming to life in spring. Bear growls and animal howls in mating season. The abdominal longing for fulfillment, and the creation of new life.
Oooooh … a fire is born, warming the body and burning away the emotional, spiritual and physical garbage that wears us down, creates fatigueand causes us to doubt our abilities. The body responds with increased energy, drive and will, created by the sound, and in turn, giving renewed life to the sound made.
The breath rises. backed by this new energy. The sound becomes a rich aaaaah as the chest reverberates, expands. The heart opens, pulsates, radiates. The eyes water from unleashed emotion. Tidal waves, oceans crashing on rocky shores. Torrential rains washing the soul clean of all negativity, leaving calm, clear pools of wonder and awe.
The sound wells upward. The vocal cords quiver, wanting to give expression to all that is felt. . aayyee. The breath is alive, soaring, full of new life, new ideas. The sound wants to leave here, to burst forth to complete its journey.
The spirit is now alive, sound and breath taking on the soulful quality of the vibrational energy connecting all living things. . – mmmmmm. There is the sensation of total peace as exhalation stops and silence ensues. The chanter has been carried to the depths of his being where one’s soul is in touch with all of creation. A vibrating wall of energy, created by this series of repeated sounds, now surrounds the physical body, ready to be released directed at will by those who have created it.
Chanting, the repetitive use of sound. is a magickal tool used in the Craft to induce trance. create a magickal space and raise energy or a cone of power to be directed toward a specific intention, object or goal The sound created can vary from a single note or word, to elaborate verse, although the simpler the chant. the easier it is to achieve deep trance. if the words are too complicated to remember, the mind feels it must stay in control, must remember what words go in what order, and never really turns itself off to allow an altered state of consciousness to occur.
There are four basic principles behind trance induction: relaxation, sensory restriction, rhythm and boredom.
Chanting, drumming and dance are tools to be used alone, or in combination, to help achieve this altered state.
Relaxation is vital. The mind must be free of worry, anger and fear. Choose a physically safe, comfortable place where you will be free from interruption. Cast a circle before you begin. Relaxation does not mean slouching in an overstuffed chair. if you are not accustomed to sitting cross-legged on the floor for long periods of time, then sit on a straight-backed chair, feet flat on the floor, back straight, and arms resting comfortably on your thighs. Imagine a string attached to the top center of your head, pulling you gently upward, Straighten your spine so the energy may flow freely up and down your spinal column, and your lungs can expand to their fullest. If you are combining chanting with movement or dance, remain standing with bare feet or flat shoes. It is important, whether sitting or standing. that the spine be straight. Relaxation calls for the muscles on either side of the spinal column to be in balance.
Sensory restriction means a single focus of awareness. Eliminate any outside noise so that you can best focus on the sound you will be creating. Robert Ornstein in his book, The Psychology of Consciousness, states, “if awareness is restricted to one unchanging source of stimulation, a turning off of consciousness of the external world follows.”
Rhythm, whether experienced in chanting, motion, song, drumming or poetic meter, also induces a state of heightened awareness. Many African, American Indian and other religions depend heavily on rhythmic drumming and dancing to induce a trance state in which worshippers become possessed by the Gods. Spoken trance inductions are always soft, sing-song and rhythmic.1
The repetition of the same sound or phrase over and over again for one-half hour or longer, particularly if accompanied by the same foot patterns, is downright boring-and boredom frees the mind of all thought, allowing your subconscious to take over psychic visions to surface and the mind to alter its reality.
Whether chanting alone or in a group, it is a good idea to first create a sacred space in which to work, to cast a circle. The circle creates a separation between the mundane and magickal worlds. it may keep out any negative influences, but more importantly it helps confine and concentrate the power of the positive energy raised. To create a magickal space through sound, many covens invoke a particular God or Goddess by chanting His/Her name over and over again, or by chanting the name of a magickal place that has come to the group through group guided meditation. To invoke a God or Goddess is to summon up from within ourselves those aspects of the Divinity we wish to have awakened and present in our circle.
The main object or working of most Pagan rituals is to raise group energy, often called the cone of power, and direct it for some purpose agreed upon by the group. it may be directed outwardly, to heal the Earth or someone not present (with their consent). it may be directed inwardly to bring healing, psychic awareness, abundance, fertility, love or energy for personal growth to those present. Or it may be channeled to manifest something visualized.2 The cone of power contains the combined will of the group, and the power of the Goddess from within each person. The power is raised by chanting and singing, repeating a chant over and over until tension mounts. The practitioners feel the power grow, feel it rise from each person to merge into a fountain of light that surrounds and leaps above them, They add their own energy to the rising cone, to the growth of energy that is almost visible-heard and felt by all. When the power reaches its fullest pitch, the practitioners either simultaneously, or at direction by a priest or priestess, halt it, hold it for a moment to feel its strength, then direct it mentally to where they wish it to go.3
The practitioners then bend or sit, touching hands or foreheads to the ground, and release into the earth any excess energy, resting this way until they are relaxed and have returned from their altered states.
The techniques of magick, the art of changing reality or consciousness at will, are used to create states of ecstasy, or union with the Divine.4 They may also be used to achieve material results, such as hearings, since in the Craft, spirit and matter are one. With the raising of the cone of power comes ecstasy, which may lead to a trance state in which visions are seen and insights gained.5
According to Mircea Eliade in Shamanism, “The fundamental characteristic of shamanism is ecstasy.” Ecstasy is the end result of raising energy, yet one problem for American Neo-Pagans who attempt to achieve trance through ecstatic chanting, drumming or dance, is the fear of losing control. The fear of looking foolish to others blocks one’s ability to achieve total abandon.
Just as charismatic Christians, speaking in tongues, are frowned upon by the majority of other Christians, so are Neo-Pagans who fall into truly altered trance states during circles, or who take “too long” coming out of a deep trance. We consider societies and religions “primitive” that revere those who become “possessed.” in these societies, this is the whole object of certain rituals. Energy is raised so that someone will enter a deep trance and channel valuable psychic information for the tribe. Observers realize the fine dangerous line the trancer walks, and stand by whenever the trance seems near completion to ease the person back into this reality.
Very few Neo-Pagans have the time, energy or the inclination to endure the sometimes hours of chanting, drumming or dance other societies put into their rituals. Most Pagans are ecstasy wimps. in most of the Pagan circles I have attended where chanting was used to raise energy, the chanting stopped before any real energy was raised. Raising a truly intense cone of power was frequently accidental. Most Pagans never turn off their brains when they chant, never totally lose control and surrender to the sound. They think, “Am I harmonizing well?” “Has this gone on long enough?” “This is supposed to be an ah sound. Someone over there is doing an oh.” When their brains finally do stop, so do their voices. Instead of the sound rising from the spirit invoked, it simply gets louder, as if the decibel level in itself produces the energy needed for the ritual, Rarely is the sound allowed to continue to grow, to come from the core of their beings, with a life of its own.
A friend of mine recently asked his coven to stop chanting om to raise energy at the start of their circles because he felt they misunderstood the use of that sound and its desired effect on the physical and spiritual body. It is believed by some that om is the original sound from which the god Brahma the Creator formed the world. Earth and air and spirit were joined and life was created. Om, often spelled aum, is frequently pronounced in three syllables-ah oh mm. Each syllable has a different physical effect on the part of the body from which it is felt to originate. The beliefs on this vary greatly. Some feel ah originates in the abdomen, navel, stomach or throat, invoking Earth, the oh from the roof of the mouth and the mm from the lips as the sound exits. The fact remains that all believe in the spiritual creation of the sound and its use to invoke the divinity in man. It is not sung in a superficial manner, and a truly altered state is the desired intent.
I had the privilege of joining Gurumayi and 200 of her followers to perform the chant Om Namah Shivaya (“I honor Siva” or “I honor the Divine-Within”) at the Siddha Yoga ashram in Brookline, Massachusetts a few years ago. This chant is used to raise Shakti, life force energy. Gurumayi’s om fills the abdominal and chest cavities with the power of a sound I have rarely experienced since. This chant has such an effect on the body that the mind automatically stops, and one connects with one’s soul. one surrenders totally to the sound as it reverberates throughout the body. The result is a feeling of total peace and well-being-of bliss.
All matter is energy, composed of vibrating molecules. Sound is one such vibrational energy. The rate at which something vibrates is its frequency, measured in cycles per second. All our cells resonate automatically to incoming sound vibrations. in addition, each cell, gland and organ in our bodies has a characteristic frequency at which it will both absorb and emit sound vibration. Most Eastern religions recognize that sounds resonating from different parts of the body cause different experiences and effects in the person creating the sound. Chants or mantras are created and performed with this in mind. Vowels are one of the most important aspects of mantras: the seven energy systems of the body. or chakras, are activated by vowel sounds.
Sound researcher R. Murray Schafer discovered that when American and Canadian students were asked, during meditation in a deeply relaxed state, to sing whatever tone seemed to arise most naturally from the center of their beings, the most frequent response was B Natural. Students in Germany and other European countries tended to hum G Sharp.6 In America and Canada, our electricity operates on an alternating current of 60 cycles per second. This resonant frequency corresponds to the B Natural tone on the musical scale, in Europe, the electrical current is 50 cycles per second, corresponding musically to G Sharp.6 Exposed for a lifetime to the silent noise in our walls, light fixtures and appliances, we begin to hum right along with our electricity.
Our bodies are living bio-oscillators, extremely sensitive to the sounds and vibrations of life around us. The frequency of the brain waves of a person in a deeply relaxed (alpha) state. as in meditation, is approximately eight cycles per second. Physicists have shown that the Earth, too, vibrates at this same frequency. Thus, “relaxation” may be described as being in harmony with oneself and the universe.7
Most cultures without our technology realize the importance of sound on our health and our mental well-being, In more “primitive” societies, everyone participates actively in ceremonies using chanting, singing, drumming and dancing to promote physical, emotional and spiritual health through the release of tension from the mind and body. For people of these cultures, sound and spirit are one. To make sound is to release spirit and energy,8 in order to restore balance and harmony to their lives. Chanting is one of the most natural and most ancient sound forms used by spiritual traditions in all ages to heal and energize.9
Fortunately, more and more groups within the Craft are going back to their Pagan roots, adding chanting and drumming to their rituals to raise and use energy to heal themselves, others and the Earth.
- Starhawk. The Spiral Dance p. 149
- Diane Stein, The Women’s Spirituality Book p. 71
- Ibid. p. 72
- Starhawk, The Spiral Dance. p 13
- lbid, p. 14
- R Murray Schafer, The Tuning of the World. New York@ Knopf. 1977
- Steven Halpern, Sound Health. p 7
- lbid p 45
- Ibid p 162
SHERRY GAMBLE forced herself to lead a chanting workshop as a shape changing exercise because she believed that she was tone deaf and couldn’t sing. It was a success and she has continued to push her boundaries by extending her work on chanting.