If there is one human sense more than any other that really drills down beneath the thinking mind and evokes feelings, memories, longings, it would be the sense of smell. Olfactory cues go to the most primitive parts of our brains, and are remarkably powerful in snapping us back to powerful feelings and moments long past.
Unfortunately, the experience of scent is passive, rather than expressive. While we have receptors for tremendously subtle combinations of chemical cues, we are not able to express ourselves in kind.
The second-most powerful sense in terms of emotional impact, however, is sound—particularly, music. Music has the capacity to transport us, to evoke a wide range of emotions, and it is something in which we may participate, rather than being passive recipients.
If magic is the ability to transform consciousness, then music is magic. In fact, by that definition its entire purpose is magical.
And music, we can make. Our bodies contain the means for making music, in the form of song.
Singing is a core skill for the ritual practitioner. You don’t have to be a professional-quality singer, but you need to be able to sing a tone, at least, and better, to be able to sing a melody with reasonable accuracy. Especially if you’re going to be working in a group.
Singing requires deep breathing. It engages the body and the limbic system and tends to help disengage the thinking mind. In other words, it helps participants to enter the Ritual (brain) State, also commonly known as trance: a liminal state of focus, clarity, and Presence in the immediate moment.
When people sing together their breathing synchronizes. Even their brain waves synch up. Singing together is a way of creating something of a group mind–a collective entity larger than the individuals within it.
Singing is creative. For those who are able to harmonize, even a chant repeated over and over can be an endless opportunity for creative variation. And harmony adds to the evocative richness of music, to its beauty and emotional power.
Repetition, too, can help to evoke the Ritual State. Chants tend to be repeated, but good ones somehow never become boring. Instead, the experience of singing them—particularly as a part of a group—simply leads to deeper and deeper entrainment, emotional openness, and joy.
For those of us who aren’t accustomed to singing, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to start. Yes, it feels awkward at first, and you may be shy about it. But especially if you hope to lead rituals with other people, it is a skill you simply must have.
Start in as easy a manner as you can. Sing in the shower. Play music you love in the car, and sing along. If nothing else, you can hum while doing your personal rituals at your Focus. Anything which helps you to become more comfortable as a Person Who Sings will serve you well in your Atheopagan ritual practice.
Illustration shown is from my Focus: an image of the late soprano Montserrat Figueras, transported in the act of singing.