Music and the Celtic Otherworld
Dr Karen Ralls-MacLeod
From Ireland to Iona
"This is a fascinating study of an important and
neglected theme in Celtic literature and religion. Meticulously researched and
sensitively written, it highlights the importance attached to music in both
pre-Christian and early Christian Ireland and Scotland and its particular
association with the Otherworld."
Dr. Ian Bradley,
St. Andrews University, Scotland
Cover design: Fionna Robson
'Pan' by Phoebe Anna Traquair.
Reproduced with kind
permission of the National Gallery of Scotland.
Celebrating the diversity of indigenous nations, cultures and
religions, the essays which comprise this volume discuss the musics performed
by a wide variety of peoples as an integral part of their cultural traditions.
These include examinations of the various styles of Maori, Inuit and Australian
Aboriginal musics, and the role of music in Korean Shaman rituals.
Indeed, music forms a key component of many such rituals and belief
systems and examples of these are explored amongst the peoples of Uganda,
Amazonia and Africa. Through analysis of these rituals and the part music plays
in them, the essays also open up further themes including social groupings and
gender divisions, and engage with issues and debates on how we define and
approach the study of indigeneity, religiosity and music.
With information on available recordings, and including a CD of music
from many of the traditions represented, this is a book which gives readers the
opportunity to gain a richer experience of the lived realities of indigenous
- Preface and Acknowledgements
- Special Tribute to the late Dr. Alan Bruford, School of Scottish
Studies, Univ. of Edinburgh
- Introduction: (the philosophy of the spiritual dimension
of music; Plato, Ficino, the Renaissance, Church Fathers, early Christian
beliefs about music and its perceived power; cross-cultural comparisons, Prof.
Jocelyn Godwin and his research; scientific and medical research on music and
sound; extensive details on the Celtic sources and beliefs about music,
including material from medieval Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and
- Performers: (Celtic Christian saints, angels,
archangels, sidhe-music of the fairy world - e.g., the Dagda, Cascorach,
Cnu Deroil, Finn mac Dumhaill, Lugh, Midir, Manannan, Aillen mac Midhna, fairy
women of Cruachu, Fer-tuinne mac Trogain, Uaithne, Noisiu, Senbecc; Bran,
severed heads, stones, deadly pipers of Sid Breg, mermaids, elves, devas,
birds, tylwyth teg, Breton corrigans, etc.)
- Instruments: (voices of angels and archangels, voices of
Christian saints, monks, and nuns; harps that mysteriously play by themselves,
harps played by Christians or fairies, timpan, fiddles, bagpipes, trumpets,
horns, pipes, bones, whistles, bells by Christians or fairies, the musical
branch, Pictish carnyx, mysterious music yet no performers seen, etc.)
- Effects: (the "three strains", joyful, melancholy,
trance-like sleep, to teach/inspire, Christian saints' blessings/cursings by
use of music; St. Michael shape-shifts into a musical bird; healing; relaxing
or tranquil effects; to increase prosperity; dangerous or deadly effects; music
in warfare, prophecy, music used to summon an animal or person; protective;
talented mortal musicians `abducted' by fairies or angelic beings; fairy
blessings or curses bestowed on mortal musicians; Irish king hears heavenly
- Places: (Christian Heaven as inherently musical;
churches, monasteries and abbeys as musical centres; hermit monks' cell;
Paradise or Otherworld(s) as inherently musical; the Land of Promise, Avalon,
Land of the Saints; Land of Youth, Tara, Iona, musical island paradises at sea;
St. Brendan's journey; courts of a king; site of fairs and festivals;
battlefields, nobleman's house; hills, mounds, rivers, lochs, mountains, wells
and springs, underwater fountain, well of Connla, trees, oak groves, cairn,
stone circles, etc.)
- Times: (eternal music of Heaven or Otherworld
dimensions; mysterious music heard at moment of a saint's birth or death;
canonical hours; Judgement Day, during Mass or Vespers; Samhain, Imbolc,
Beltane, Lughnasadh, twilight, midnight, dawn, dusk, continuous music of the
birds, trees, and fishing nets; the earth itself as always being inherently
musical or harmonic; etc.)
- Conclusion: (Overall summary of research findings;
analysis of sources and their contexts--Christian or pre-Christian;
theologians' and philosophers' research about the spiritual dimension of music
through the centuries; anthropologists' perspectives; taboos about music; music
and shamanic traditions; the troubadours; scientific and medical research about
the effects of classical music; summary of the Celtic aspects of this complex
and universal topic.)
"an authoritative and accessible book on the spiritual
dimension of music"
The Scotsman newspaper
"a fascinating topic that Ralls-MacLeod (Celtic and
Religious Studies, University of Edinburgh) succeeds in introducing through
various source texts... this study provides a solid introduction to an
interdisciplinary topic that will be of interest to scholars of Celtic culture
and folklore as well as medieval Irish music. Recommended..."
Teresa M. Neff, Boston
Library Journal (USA)
"this book really is a must."
and skillfully highlights the spiritual dimension of music from both a
Christian and pre Christian perspective ... the bibliography at the end of the
book is substantial."
"The influence of music in the Celtic world is
paramount... Dr Ralls methodically explores the
"There are many interesting side-lights... and the
bibliography ensures that the reader has access to an extensive
"Judging from this book, her complete study must be a
formidable one... offers a clear explanation of the relationship between music
and the Otherworld... an encyclopaedic volume of references"