Metal heathens and ecstatic religion

Since the earliest recorded history (and probably before), some people have found a connection to the divine through dance and song. There are records of thse participating in the Dionysian mysteries engaging in what the modern world calls “head-banging” under the influence of music and alcohol or other entheogens. “The trance induction central to the cult involved not only chemognosis,[4] but an “invocation of spirit” with the bullroarer and communal dancing to drum and pipe. The trances are described in familiar anthropological terms, with characteristic movements (such as the backward head flick found in all trance-inducing cults) found today in Afro-American Vodou and its counterparts. As in Vodou rites, certain rhythms were associated with the trance.” [Emphasis mine. According to my textbook “Survey of Western Music”, injuries in the temple of Dionysus during such rituals were common.

Within Viking culture, the Viking Answer Lady provides an account of Norse music which uphold my hypothesis that there was a strong tradition of ecstatic music within Norse culture. In fact, the words of the Christians describing Viking music sound almost exactly like modern-day descriptions of heavy metal by non-metalheads. A few highlights:

“For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm. It is not so much an articulate sound, as a general cry of valor. They aim chiefly at a harsh note and a confused roar, putting their shields to their mouth, so that, by reverberation, it may swell into a fuller and deeper sound.”

“In truth the barbarians shrieked out songs of praise of their forefathers with disorderly shouts.”

“Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig (in Denmark). The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed.”

And a Viking king, who was possessed by the madness inspired by music:

“First he [the muscian] performed various pieces so that everyone was filled with grief and numbness. And afterwards the sound of the lyre forced them to an impudent and lively state of mind, then jesting tunes which made them eager to move their bodies and they commenced to exchange anguish for applause. Finally it enraged them to madness and rashness, so that they were seized by madness and in utter fury gave great cries. Thus the state of their minds was changed variously. Therefore when the music in the hall came to an end, they saw that the king was driven to madness and rage, so that they were unable to restrain him. Thus they were seized by excessive madness and powerfully overthrown by fury; according to their natures the men’s madness increased. And so overcome by the strength of the struggle, he broke their hold and darted forward, wrenched open the door and seized a sword and killed four of his warriors, and none could come near enough to restrain him. At the end his courtiers took cushions and from every side approached, throwing them over him until at great risk they all were able to seize him. When he regained his wits, he paid the just weregild for the warriors’ injuries.”

The article is here:

Ancient Germanic culture had some sort of ecstatic musical tradition that was strongly linked to warfare, ecstasy, and drinking. It was probably similar to the rites of Dionysus, given that both cultures shared a common Indo-European background. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, ritual madness, religious ecstacy, and a figure who has similarities to Odin.

Therefore, I think the natural patron god for the ecstatic music tradition is Odin. As the Master of Ecstasy and the patron of fury, inspiration, and drunkeness, and as the patron of poets and musicians, he seems the natural choice. Odin’s Valhalla is the destination of the best poets and musicians as well as some of the fiercest warriors. His Einharjar fight with each other all day, then feast and drink together all night. Given the anecdote above of the king who killed his retainers in a fit of music- and alcohol-induced insanity, I think it is fair to say that Valhalla can be imagined as the moshpit of the afterlife.

Furthermore, Odin is the patron god of knowledge and scientific inquiry. I have yet to find a non-metal band which writes songs about evolution, biology, mathematics, and physics. Few other genres’ lyrics regularly include quotes from and references to Yeats, Emerson, Shakespeare, Nietsche, or any of the other great philosophers and poets regularly referenced by heavy metal artists. Odin as the god of poetry could hardly be displeased by the work of the greatest poets of recent generations- poetry which is set to the music of Woods of Ypres, Soulfallen, Shylmagognar, Agathodaimon, and other bands.

Odin is also the god who seeks to forestall Ragnarok. In this, he would have common ground with the entire section of metal that is obsessed with the death of this world. There are many stages of grief, and for those working through grief over the end of the world as we know it, denial is no longer enough and elements of anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance start to appear. Many metal bands and fans are concerned with the environment- metal bands often donate to environmental causes, and many metalheads deeply consider and struggle with the ethics of things like eating meat. Metalheads (particluarly black metal fans) often identify with the Einharjar.

I follow Odin as the patron of ecstatic music and the berserkergang. I follow Frigga as the patroness of the other side of a balanced life- harmony and peace and love towards family, landwights, and allies. Frigga already knows all ends and has chosen to wage her battle for a future past Ragnarok through what I emulate through homesteading (to the extent possible for me right now). This is my heathenry. All of heathenry right now is a reconstruction of an ancient and long-dead religion. This is the path I choose to be a part of reconstructing.