(Our Lady Sings A Lullaby To The Endangered Species by Shiloh Sophia McCloud)
You are the universe, expressing itself as a human for a little while.
When I was a kid nature was my friend, my therapist and my inspiration. I looked forward to the summer months when darkness fell later in the day so that I could stay outside as long as possible. One of my favourite places to go when I was troubled was to climb up to the top of the cedar tree in front of my house. After a while of swaying along with the wind at the top in silence, I inevitably felt calmer and would often start hearing music. As a kid, I was always humming or singing–to the extent that my godmother often joked that I sang more than I spoke! I experienced more inner peace when I was singing and during that time, the world made sense to me and was a less scary place. I felt like I was embraced in those moments by a unifying and loving force in the universe. I love this quote from J.K. Rowling’s book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” because I sometimes wondered if I was crazy for hearing things other folks didn’t seem to be noticing: “Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
As a kid, I thought I was making up these songs I was humming. It wasn’t until I began my shamanic training in earnest that I started to realize that these songs were not coming from me at all. People ask me where these songs originate from and all I can say with any sort of definitiveness is that they do not come from my own creative “genius.” These songs are in the ether around us: They come from Spirit and they belong to Spirit. They are lent to us for healing purposes. Some of the songs feel like they come from the land and they have the “feel” of the ancestral territory that I find myself on when I hear them. I’ve traveled all over the world and the songs I hear in each of those places tend to be distinct to them. I would love to learn more about the songlines that indigenous Australians follow in their tradition. Perhaps someday, I will receive the honour of this teaching.
I don’t know why these songs come to me–perhaps simply because I am listening. However, I do feel that this gift is not exclusive to me. I remember asking an elder I worked with about this and he said that everyone has a personal song and they can go into nature to ask for this song. If this is done with ego, it will backfire so it’s important to have a clear intent around why this personal song is needed (i.e. for healing, to help with a life transition, or to strengthen our sense of self-worth). It is a listening process that might take a lot of attempts to hear so patience and perseverance is required. We cannot demand these things from Spirit; we can only open ourselves up to receive with gratitude and humility. When I sing my personal song, it helps me connect with my Sacred Dream (my spiritual mission and the reason I am here). In the hubbub of life, this is an indispensable tool for me–especially when I need perspective because I’ve forgotten who I am and what I am about in a given situation.
I sang with the Universal Gospel Choir in Vancouver for almost a decade. It is a glorious experience singing in unison with sixty other people, creating a wall of sound that bounces off the walls of the church and into each person in it. We sang sacred music from traditions all around the world. Though I often found myself on stage, I was never singing for entertainment, but to increase my connection to Spirit. It was not uncommon for me to be so moved by the spirit of the song that I would cry or move my way through a piece. The audience members often told me that they came to our concerts for healing and hope. These folks wanted to align with their spiritual aspect through these songs and it worked for them.
What is the process of catching a song? This differs from tradition to tradition around the world. And I qualify what I am about to share by saying that this is my experience, which is not linked to a particular tradition but has been happening spontaneously “through” me since I was young. In Barbara Tedlock’s book “The Woman in the Shaman’s Body,” she makes a distinction between hereditary shamans who would pass on songs from their traditions throughout generations and what she calls “inspirational” shamans:
“In the mid-80s hereditary shamans in the Soviet Union were almost wiped out by government persecution (put in gulags or then killed). An alternative inspirational shamanic path practiced for generations by Turkic and Khakass peoples enabled shamanism to survive. Shamans traveling this path received healing knowledge directly from the spirits of the earth, water and sky.”
Although I don’t call myself a shaman, I do see similarities between what happens to me and what the inspirational shamans of Asia are doing. I don’t always go looking for these songs. They have often come to me in my sleeping dreamtime. This is my favourite way of catching songs from Spirit because I know my ego is not involved in that. I kept a recorder by bed for many years to remember them when I awoke. I would then do ceremony to see what the song was to be used for and how to share it in a good way. So far, I’ve been instructed to share all of these songs so the people could use them for their own healing. I have honoured that. If Spirit ever told me to keep a song to myself, I would respect that too. In fact, I highly recommend learning as much about the history of scared songs and the protocols around their use before singing them or sharing them in any way. I’ve included a link to the Going Shamanic podcast I did on this topic at the foot of this article in case readers want more in depth information on how to take care with and of these songs.
When I travel, the first thing I do when I place my feet on the soil of this new country is to introduce myself to the ancestors of the place and I give gratitude to them for allowing me to be there for a while. One thing I’ve learned is that these songs wouldn’t come through me at all if I didn’t seek to have a relationship with the spirit of each song and with the land they come from. It’s a bit like dating to me where every time I sing a song, I learn a bit more about it as it touches me in a different way at various junctures in my life. These songs open the heart and touch a place inside of us that we don’t always allow ourselves to visit in everyday life. Sacred songs are designed to shine a light on these spaces. When I am feeling “off,” singing while playing my frame drum brings me back to balance quicker than anything else, besides maybe dancing as a close second.
I want to point out here that sacred songs are different than popular songs credited to musicians. These songs are designed for healing and they often have a very specific intent. For example, some sacred songs are sung only during funerals, life transitions, or during full moon ceremonies. It’s good to respect this and to keep the songs as close to their original version as possible to preserve the “medicine” that Spirit sent with them. It’s not for us to understand the ins and outs of this mystery; I love engaging with it. And I hope that we never unpack the secrets of this magical process while we are still in human form. Albert Ayler said that “music is the healing force of the universe.” I am just happy to participate in that creation while I am in human form.
Featured art by: Shiloh Sophia McCloud “Our Lady Sings a Lullaby to The Endangered Species”
About the Author:
Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.
Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:
“The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com