Sure, there are plenty of songs for this time of year. There's "The Monster Mash" and all its brothers; there's Michael Jackson's macabre "Thriller"; there's even special "scary sound" and "haunted house" recordings one can buy from specialty shops (or, in fact, from just about any corner store around Halloween time).
But what about those of us who don't think of this holiday in terms of heebie-jeebies, costumes-n-candy, and scary movies? What about those of us for whom October 31st is a holiday about the coming of winter, the last harvest, the somber communion with passed-on relatives, and the death of a god?
For me and other Pagans, October 31st marks the arrival of the Samhain season, and just like many other people we often have parties for the occasion. Usually the "parties" involve coven members instead of costumed guests, and usually the Samhain recipes differ a little from candy corn and Snickers, plus there is usually a ceremony of some sort amid whatever merrymaking comes to pass.
Since one of the main themes of Samhain is communion with dead relatives and it is generally a more serious, introspective time of year for Pagan folks, the usual soundtrack for Halloween just won't do. So, for those under the Pagan umbrella who would wish to add some music to their festivities (and for those non-Pagans who nevertheless wish to get in touch with the roots of the holiday for any reason), I have collected here a list of appropriate music, with explanations. Enjoy. (If you'd like to read more about misconceptions of Halloween, check out my rant here, or if you want to see more about the Pagan celebrations of the Samhain holiday, check that out at my Craft site.)
I am quite sure there are more, but these are the songs that stood out to me from my own collection. I would be glad to hear suggestions for songs to add to the list, but I am not interested in songs that are just about death in a general way, are morbid beyond the level of appropriateness, or are just silly monster tunes. You might also enjoy my original song, "Halloween," which has a music video here.
- "All Souls Night" by Loreena McKennitt: From her album The Visit. Obviously nearly any music by McKennitt is appropriate for a Pagan audience, but this song is specifically written about this mysterious time of year. It is particularly evocative with its lyrics, causing the listener to picture what she describes: "Bonfires dot the rolling hillsides. Figures dance around and around to drums that pulse out echoes of darkness, moving to the Pagan sound." A very powerful moment of the song involves her description of standing on a bridge over "the river that flows out to the sea" feeling souls pass her by; this is a metaphor for souls traveling out into the big forever . . . but on this night and this night only, the veil is particularly thin, allowing us to sense the spirits' movement. The music is of course very mood-appropriate, and it remains one of my highest recommendations for a perfect Samhain song.
- "The Burning Times" by Rumors of the Big Wave: This Pagan band tends to detract some from their power by saying only and exactly what they mean, but in the case of this song it works very well. The song describes the ancient ancestors and their practices of Witchcraft in the times before the Crusades. "Can't you hear them chanting healing incantations, calling forth the Wise Ones, celebrating in dance and song?" The most beautiful (and catchy!) part of the song occurs when the singers begin to chant goddess names over and over, and the listener can feel almost as if these great powers are coming to attendance just through speaking Their names. (Who knows; in an incantation, maybe They are!) "Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna!" There is an urgency to this song and a sort of darkness, especially since it talks about a dark time in history when the Pagans were persecuted by those in power. Because Samhain is the traditional time of year to remember "the Burning Times" and mourn for those who were lost through ignorance and intolerance, this song is very appropriate for this holiday. (I don't agree with their almost accusatory tone toward the Christians or with their estimation that NINE MILLION women were killed during this time since that is definitely an exaggeration, but nevertheless the listener gets the point.)
- "Spin the Circle" by Philip Riley and Jayne Elleson: On the fantastic Pagan album The Blessing Tree, Riley and Elleson show their talents with this gem. The theme is, of course, the sadness of death, but with a hope of being reunited through reincarnation. A woman mourns her dead lover, but is comforted by her belief that she can feel him in the world around her. "I can taste you in the water, sweet as honey to my tongue. I can hear you whisper through the barley, like a song as yet unsung." This is such a lovely, bittersweet song, hearing the woman urge the circle to spin--meaning she wants the years to fly by so that she can be beside her lover once more. It is a bit of depressing song, so some caution is advised in putting this on your Samhain soundtrack if you will have in attendance a recently bereaved guest who might be sensitive to such matters.
- "We All Come From the Goddess" by Moonstruck or by Moving Breath: The lyrics to this were actually written by Z. Budapest (well-known feminism and Paganism advocate from way back), but the band Moonstruck performs this poem as a song very well, as does the normally a cappella women's group Moving Breath. Either arrangement is wonderful: "We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return, like a drop of rain flowing to the ocean." Moonstruck's version is longer and a bit more lulling (with instrumentals), while Moving Breath's is more rousing but disturbingly short. Either way, it is a nice reminder of the complete circle of life which includes death, since we are talking about a time of year where the death part of the cycle is emphasized and honored.
- "Dark Mother" by Inkubus Sukkubus: This song is undeniably appropriate for the season and some may like its sound. They sound a bit like Heart with a sort of hard-rock female-lead-vocals sound with full band. For this reason I would take this suggestion with a grain of salt; it is likely to interrupt the flow of the songs since most of the others are more meditative while this one is definitely fast-tempo and rousing. "Our dark mother, Queen of the Night, through Death's door guide us to the light, through the pain set us free, our dark mother Queen of the Night . . . let us be reborn again!" It is because of the emphasis on the Mother's role in reincarnation that I include this song.
- "The Old Ways" by Loreena McKennitt: Not strictly a Samhain song, actually, but definitely a reminder of the past, which is an influence this time of year. The chorus describes having the sea calling the speaker "home." It is nostalgic and also speaks of partings, and since wanings and endings are themes of the Samhain season, it is doubly appropriate. "Suddenly I knew that you'd have to go; your world was not mine, your eyes told me so. Yet it was there I felt the crossroads of time, and I wondered why."
- "Samain Night" by Loreena McKennitt: The beauty of this song is a bit indescribable, but I can try. Loreena showcases her upper range and somehow seems to carry in her voice those "moonsbreaths" she mentions in the song. It is mostly a song of togetherness at night; while partings are a theme of Samhain, that does not mean togetherness cannot be enjoyed in these stark nights under the moon; the delicious darkness is shared in this song. "You offered me an eagle's wing, that to the sun might soar and sing. And if I heard the owl's cry, into the forest I would fly, and in its darkness find you by."
- "The Wild Hunt" by Tamarra James: A quintessential Samhain song. "The Wild Hunt" is based on a myth that a figure of death (the god Herne) runs through the forest on this night, snatching the souls of any who would dare to look upon his face. This song tells a story of a woman whose lover made that mistake last year, and now she waits for their parade to go by so that she can join this time. Though macabre, it is also sort of sweet that she wants to shuffle off the mortal coil to be with her love, now that she knows where he has gone. "But now the hunt's returning. I wait within the glade to meet my love this Samhain, and I'll run beside his shade." Tamarra James's voice is low and rich and very powerful to carry this song's heavy subject. She leaves you with the word of advice to look away when you hear the sounds of the hunt, or you'll be taken away as well "at the dying of the year."
- "Hecate, Cerridwen" by Patricia Witt: This is quite simply a chant, not a song proper, but it is nevertheless very powerful for any Samhain circle or gathering, perhaps for use as a communion with the dark Crone goddess aspect that is in control this time of year. Hecate and Cerridwen are both Crone goddesses who are said to control the underworld and the mortals' passages through the cauldron of death and rebirth. "Hecate, Cerridwen, let us be reborn."
- "Book of Shadows" by Coven 13: This band, as far as I know, is now called Seven 13, but I believe they recorded this song when they were still Coven 13. This song is not necessarily Samhain-oriented, but the mood is exactly right. It is about working magick with the cooperation of the deities, and it sort of has a "dark" sound to it. "Secret places never seen, stories never told; one by one I write them down, here within my Book of Shadows."
- "Hecate" by Seridina: Well, if you can get over how painfully melodramatic the artist is in her spoken introduction, you might enjoy the faintly tribal musical portion in which the dark goddess Hecate is praised and solicited for communion. It is multiple female voices (though they are just the artist's voice layered over itself, not actual separate people as far as I can tell). "Hecate, to thee I pray, guide me through my darkness; Hecate, to thee I pray, hold me in the night." This is appropriate because it involves communion with the darkness, the waning moon, and the mysteries (Hecate is a goddess of wisdom).
- "So Spricht Das Leben" by Mediæval Bæbes: The English title is "So Sayeth Life," but it might as well also be called "So Sayeth Death," because that is the theme of the song. In a spoken chant-like narration, Life and Death argue about who owns the world. Accompanied lightly by harp (or something similar), this song exemplifies the way Life and Death give and take from each other, which is a prime theme of the holiday of Samhain. "You can build great tombs of marble and stone, but love you can never entomb. . . . I've made a tomb for all mankind."
- "Shadowfest" by Steve Reel: This is an instrumental from a CD called Wheel of the Year. The mood works well for Samhain celebrations, especially since its background effects make it echoey and just-slightly spooky, but it seems to keep in mind the fact that though somber, Samhain is a holiday, because the music is rather merry. Seems to be played on marimba for that great plunky sound.
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Comments from others:
Mikey:This was a great list I have found many upon it that deserve the mention that you have given here, and like what is said many songs just capture the right feeling upon the season/ritual time. And I think that it awesome that Ms. Loreena McKennitt was given the respect that she has well so earned on this.
Mari: Not so much samhain but a decent pagan group is Within Temptation. I suggest looking up mother earth and forsaken at least. ^^*
Your list fits so well, I'll have to put at least a few of these to use next turn.
Sean Brown: I love the fact that most of the songs you've listed can easily be sampled in iTunes!
The BEST version of From the Goddess I've ever heard is by Robert Gass & On Wings of Song. It is beautiful and melodic and does a great deal for mood & atmosphere! It's about a 30 minute piece of music, perfect for meditation & ritual.
Give it a listen and let me know what you think!
Robert Gass & On WIngs of Song also has many other pagan/Wiccan sogs available as well which are easily sampled on iTunes.
Synesthesia: I shall have to listen to those. I always think Dead Can Dance sounds very pagany. A
lady that had a nice witchcraft shop thrilled me by playing their songs.
Summoning of the Muse is an epic sort of song because it makes me think of angels or
gods with enormous wings either ascending or decending. It's awesome due to the
vocal layering that sounds like Lisa Gerrard is literally calling on the muses. Plus
it has BELLS. Every song should have bells. It makes my skin feel good.
The Promise Womb by Dead Can Dance is also nice, but mostly due to its texture and
lovely use of viola de gamba.
Xavier, The Carnival is Over, Lifetime (Possibly also listed as Our Kingdom, it's a
rare song that can be found on Youtube under that name), Black Sun, Ullyses and
other hauntingly beautiful tunes are sung by Brendan Frasier. Who lives in a church
in Ireland. Emmeleia is sung by both members and is dark, beautiful. Stark and
Lisa Gerrard's solo album the Mirror Pool is filled with very pagany sacred sounding
strange awesome music. I especially love Glorafin's use of a CHINESE DULCIMER. Their
music is ideal for spinning around in circles and rituals and the like.
Plus one can't go wrong with sad Irish songs, especially those sung by women. Which
I need more of.
Ooo. And Patrick Wolf! His music sounds so pastural (sp) and delightfully ENGLISH.
He has a wonderful version of Army Dreamers and Wind in the Wires is such a
I'm starting to go outside of Halloween sort of songs to general good songs. Time to