Riders on the storm: Spirituality and Music

By: Marina Verdichevski

Man’s quest to understand the source of everything – including himself – is as ancient as our existence on this planet. Equally as primal is our innate need for rhythm, which begins to comfort us as early as our time in the womb, in the form of our mother’s heartbeat. Our brains crave rhythm, desire it, and seek it out, because they are built to find order in chaos – because they are constructed to search for meaning. It is no surprise, therefore, that early humans soon discovered that they can use drumming and rattling (as well as dancing and singing) as the highlight of their spiritual gatherings and rites of passage, riding the beats and melodies into a form of altered consciousness. These ecstatic celebrations ultimately brought the tribe together, as well as closer to the earth, and to their gods. Later on, music was adopted into more modern religious practices, continuing to be intertwined with prayers, rituals, and a sense of community. In modern times, we carry the same desire toward music, many of us finding solace, catharsis, and understanding in the more complex rhythms, melodies, and lyrics offered to us by our modern musical saviours. Spirituality has been inexorably linked with music since time immemorial, melded by some unseen force from which they both spring, moving those who are able to understand their language into new realms of consciousness and enlightenment.

Throughout history, there have been those who were able to utilize the mathematical rhythmicity inherent in music to explore spirituality and mysticism, to express their desire for the divine, and to take their listeners on mind-bending, life-changing journeys. As new technologies enabled the recording of musical performances, these experiences have become available to anyone, anywhere, and have brought together listeners from all over the world, regardless of age, culture or religion. Music has become a connector on a global scale, with the tribe being all of us.

Although there have been countless spiritual musicians throughout the ages that moved their listeners, few have been as openly mystical as Jim Morrison, the self-proclaimed Shaman. A voracious reader since an early age, Morrison always seemed to be seeking something, and his search led him to exploring various philosophies (e.g., Nietzsche), poetry, and other writings about spirituality and morality. He would later use his lyrical prowess to enhance the bluesy, dark psychedelic rock sound of The Doors, which became the soundtrack of many people’s spiritual experiences in the 1960s and beyond. His unique perspective on modern life, and his spiritual search – even his brazen exploration of the concept of death – all fed his poetry and lyrics, culminating in a timeless body of work that gets the listener thinking – and feeling – today, just as in earlier decades. His demeanor was without façade, something developed through continual contact with the divine, signalling that he was truly what he claimed to be: an explorer of a vast reality, much bigger than himself. The beauty of Jim’s particular meld of music with his spirituality was the absence of dogma – he simply shared with us his own journey, and his own attempts to understand the meaning of life.

In addition to the many individuals who infused their music with their spiritual quests (also check out Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, The Cure, even Marilyn Manson, and many others), we now have access to countless genres – even outside of rock – that are meant to induce a state of relaxation, meditation and altered consciousness. One of my own favourites, Psytrance (Psychedelic Trance), is exactly what it sounds like – psychedelic, and trance-inducing. Ancient musicians could not even imagine the kinds of musical creations that we have been able to compose with our modern technology, and these have taken us on even deeper journeys within. After all, it’s the simplicity of this rhythm-focused, wordless music, that takes our brains back to those primal times when, united, the tribes would dance their ecstatic dances under star-filled skies, to the sounds of rattles and drums. Over the years, trance has become a connecting force, creating a significant culture around trance festivals, which focus on leaving politics and earthly concerns at the door, and promoting unity, peace, art, harmony and spirituality. There are, of course, countless other spiritually-inclined genres, from native American flute and drum music, to ambient electronic music, to compositions made entirely of singing bowls and bells – the selection is as varied as the human race itself.

Ultimately, however, all music – even that which is not explicitly meant to be spiritual – helps us to reach deeper into ourselves, and through our improved self-knowledge to become closer with the source from which we – and the music – spring.

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