The Magical use of Voice

Speech is the main form of communication used in our culture - we are all capable of making a wide range of noises with our mouths, and as the word "en-chant-ment" suggests, the voice has played a powerful role in magick, in all ages and cultures. The aim of this essay is to examine the ways in which the voice can be used in magick, and suggest exercises which will help the reader to develop the range of vocal techniques.

In all cultures, the voice has been an important carrier of power, and most mystery traditions and religions make use of songs, chants, and prose to worship or bring about gnosis. From dramatic choruses to hymn and prayer, from working songs such as sea shanties and battle songs to children's skipping rhymes and folk spells; the power of voice is amazing. Orators, both political and religious, have used the power of their voices to project their charisma and enthuse mass audiences - look at the crowds that Billy Graham attracts for example. The sound of a spoken phrase can go far beyond its meaning to speak directly to the Deep Mind. An extreme example of this is described by Nandor Fodor, a Jewish psychoanalyst who notes the effects of listening to Adolf Hitler's "rabble-rousing" speeches. He had heard these speeches on two occasions on the radio, and recalls that although due to its raucous harshness, Hitler's German was totally incomprehensible to Fodor (who was a native Hungarian),he felt that:

"ever so slowly, my blood began to boil, and I wanted to shout and scream. It was not a rage against him. It was with him, like a flow of lava is with the volcano."

Modern politicians very often resort to a speech pattern known as "pathic", which combines tone and the pacing of words to project an underlying message that no matter what they are talking about, they are "in control", and "everything is fine - don't get alarmed". The waking mind can be easily bypassed, so that meaning is carried directly to the Deep Mind, stirring the appropriate emotions which the speaker wishes to stir.

We can use our voices to convey and project emotional messages very effectively, and tone often betrays our true feelings on a subject, despite what we actually say. Young children are often confused by a verbal threat delivered in a light tone of voice. Therapists and healers can pick up a great deal of information from a client's manner of speaking. The huge differences in accents in a country allows us to identify a persons origin, even though they have been resident in another region for years. Using soothing tones can lull people into relaxive trance states, while shouting and hyperventilating can propel us into excitatory states - as demonstrated by cults such as the Shakers. Elsewhere we find that the voice can be an aid to martial prowess - ranging from war cries and battle songs, to the articulation of short syllables during martial arts duels, which are designed to act as carriers for chin (jin) or to distract an opponent.

Speech also has a cosmological dimension. That, "in the beginning, was the Word" is a concept common to many cultures, as is the idea that the correct pronunciation of certain Divine names will bring about the end of the world. Also, there is the idea of the "Rule of Names", most eloquently expressed in Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea" stories - that if you know the "True name" of an entity, then you can command it". William Burroughs, in "The Place of Dead Roads", puts it another way:

"As soon as you name something, you remove its power....If you could look Death in the face he would lose his power to kill you. When you ask Death for his credentials, his passport is indefinite".

This principle is well-known to all those who delve into the depths of the psyche - that vague, un-named fears can be "tamed", once they are recognised, and having been named, can be isolated and drained of their power to terrify. I will be looking in some detail at some of the magical vocal techniques based on this principle later.

Primal Poetry

Just for the purposes of discussion, I want to distinguish between 'ordinary' speaking and 'sacred' speech. Sacred speech, in this context, refers to those occasions when we are using speech (probably combined with other modes of display) to bring about a magical change - such as in inducing group trance, communing with spirits, being a horse, raising energy, and so on. At these times, the way in which we deliver speech is different from our usual habits of talking in that there may be an enhanced deliberateness in our enunciation, or greater care taken in projecting the subtle nuances of emotion - awe, ecstasy, gentleness or martial ardour. Whether our words well up, unbidden, from the Deep Mind, or have been carefully linked together in prolonged brainstorming sessions, it is highly likely that we will try and find a certain distinct rhythm around which to frame our words.

The Deep Mind often speaks to us in verse. Cross-cultural studies of the vocal patterns of people in the throes of possession show a striking similarity, that of a rising and falling intonation at the end of each phrase, with each phrase punctuated by a pause or groan. This pattern emerges regardless of native language and cultural background. The English version of this rhythm is known as Iambic Pentameter. You can hear it also in the frenzied oratorical deliveries of evangelical preachers and in the apparently meaningless gush of words and phrases from those who have been seized by the 'Holy Spirit'. It wells forth from the Deep Mind as unconscious or deity-inspired poetry & communications. People who are overshadowed by a deity during ritual often seem to stumble over their words, as though they are trying to fit their words around the rhythms of the trance. I would conjecture that the more complete the spirit-possession, the less laboured the sacred speech, as the persons self-awareness' will be all the more completely submerged by that of the entity.

As the Deep Mind calls to us with a particular rhythm and meter, so do we attempt to call into the depths of our being by rhythmically pulsing our speech. Sound, like light, sets up rhythms in our brains, as experiments with electro-encephalographs (EEGs) have shown. These internal rhythms reflect the sounds which propel us into varying degrees of trance, whether it is the gentle, watery lapping of the Moon or the thundering frenzy of Pan. If we are caught off-guard, and susceptible, their effect can be devastating. J.F. Hurley, in his book, "Sorcery", describes a trance condition known in the Philippines as Lata, which is brought on by a startling sound, after which susceptible people will imitate actions that they see or words that they hear. Philippino head-hunters took advantage of this susceptibility by paralysing their victims by using sharp, piercing cries.

This sort of talent appears in many cultures and settings. Pat Crowther, writing in her book "Lid Off The Cauldron", mentions 'calls' which, when used in open spaces, can draw the unwary to the caller. Forcefully projected, stattaco hissing noises, reinforced by jerking body movements, can also precipitate trance. Peter Redgrove, in his short novel, "The God of Glass", makes use of the syllable SATATATAT, which, when chanted, at the same time as whirling around, produces in its initiates a disassociation, which culminates in a bee-hum - the Om of ultimate being.



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