The Wonder of Wyrd

“Nothing may happen without wyrd, for it is present in everything, but wyrd does not make things happen. Wyrd is created at every instant, and so wyrd is the happening.”
Brian Bates – The Way of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer 1983

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Finally or Firstly

Spilling over from my last post, and my list of beloved classical pieces, I totally missed Gustav Holst’s “The Planets”!!! Gracious sakes, how did I miss that one? That puts my count to a nice round twenty-one selectable and delectable Pisces, which is where I shall astrologically leave it. Speaking of astrology, I have promised for several months to write about the concept of wyrd in music. So now that the Popeswami’s Moon Unit is in the 7Stones’ house of The Rising Sons, and Jupiter’s Child is aligned with Martians, then the 21st piece is “The Planets”, and the band, Love, will steal the stars. Could it be the awning of the sage of equestrians?

Going back to the subject of Martians, “You’re a Martian” was a musical observation of Schwump when he first recorded this odd-ditty in 1976 with The Residents. And, in 2013 The Residents toured under the theme, The Wonder of Weird; so this brings us full circle to the Wonder of Wyrd. See what I did there?

Henceforth I shall attempt to give the square roots of the concept of “wyrd” and how this influenced a fascinating genre of music that began to flourish in the 1990s, blossomed in the early 2000s, and continues today.

NOTE: My primary reviewer feels that this is far too analytical and cerebral for a blog post. So be forewarned. It does get rather detailed.

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Hand/Eye Wyrd Folk Compilation

Isn’t Esoterica Lovely?

The term “wyrd” is closely associated with an ancient Anglo-Saxon view of the universe that goes back well over a millennium, and probably back to oral traditions. The word “wyrd” has an etymology that stems from Common Germanic “wurdiz”, and to the Proto-Indo-European root “wert-“, meaning “to turn” or “rotate”. It is associated with today’s usage of the words “fate” and “destiny”, but has a deeper meaning than the simple application of those words. The spelling “weird” first appears in Scottish and Northern English dialects in the 16th century. But by the 18th century the word “weird” began to mean “odd” or “strange” in connection with the supernatural, and eventually began to be applied as it is today to everyday situations that appear to be unusual. Modern paganism and mysticism has attempted to restore the use of the term “wyrd”, as well as the original meaning of the word “weird”.

In “What is Wyrd?” which was published in Cup of Wonder No. 5 (October, 2001), Arlea Hunt-Anschutz writes: “The most fundamental concept of heathenry is wyrd. It is also one of the most difficult to explain and hence one of the most often misunderstood…Wyrd literally means “that which has turned” or “that which has become”. It carries the idea of “turned into” in both the sense of becoming something new and the sense of turning back to an original starting point. In metaphysical terms, wyrd embodies the concept that everything is turning into something else while both being drawn in toward and moving out from its own origins. Thus, we can think of wyrd as a process that continually works the patterns of the past into the patterns of the present.”

The British psychologist, Brian Bates, has written extensively about the concept of wyrd. In his introduction to The Way of Wyrd” (1983) he wrote: “Wyrd is the unfolding of our personal destiny…But…It does not see our lives as “pre-determined”. Rather, it is an all-encompassing view which connects us to all things, thoughts, emotions, events in the cosmos as if through the threads of an enormous, invisible but dynamic web. Today, scientists know intellectually that all things are interconnected. But the power of Wyrd is to realise this in our inner being, and to know how to use it to manifest our personal destiny.”

Continuing, Bates says “…our Anglo-Saxon ancestors believed in a universe where lines of power ran through the earth, spirits inhabited the trees, streams and stones, and where magicians were able to look into the future through the mysterious power of runes. People understood their universe as held together by an interlaced web of golden threads visible only to the wizards. And still today, The Way of Wyrd transforms our experience of personal destiny – who we are, and how we can manifest our personal potential. It is a way of personal healing… Today, through a deep connection with wyrd, we are inspired to see our lives in a new and empowering way. It restores our experience of the healing power of love, nature and creativity. It is about letting into our lives the guidance of an extended universe of spirit. It brings ancient wisdom together with modern science in the service of enhancing our lives, and the integrity of our human presence on the planet.”

I bet many of you didn’t know any of this. I bet many of you didn’t care much, either. But there is no one reading this that hasn’t for at least a moment in their lives, considered “the big picture” – considered their destiny and asked why things were the way they were. I’m not referring to attending religious ceremonies, and performing rituals, but digging deep into ourselves and wondering what it is all about.

So what does this have to do with music? Well, we are all familiar with the close association music has with every aspect of our lives, from the sacred to the profane. From the time the first human uttered words tonally (or atonally), created instruments or contraptions to blow through, vibrate, pluck, or pound, we have associated these sounds with everything we do, we dream, we ponder, or imagine. Today we have music representing various cultural and religious traditions and customs, and dealing with all sorts of social concerns as well as our relationships with nature, with the cosmos, and with each other. When the concept of wyrd was revived in recent times, music began to be associated with that concept.

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The Birdtree – Orchards & Caravans

The Music of Wyrd

My first exposure to wyrd folk was through a now-defunct Website that mysteriously appeared with the title “Psychedelic Albums”. This was late in the year 2003. In 2004 the owner of this site created a category he referred to as “Wyrd Folk” but later changed this to “Psychedelic Folk, Drone, Improv, Experimental Acoustic”. This is where I learned about some of the current big names in the genre such as B’eirth of In Gowan Ring, Prydwyn of Green Crown, and Tim Renner of Stone Breath. The owner of this site turned out to be a fellow named Simon Allen, from Sheffield, England. We corresponded frequently and he shared many music sources with me. One source was Brad Rose of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who had two imprint labels, Digitalis and Foxglove, and an online newsletter, Foxy Digitalis. He also recorded under the name, The North Sea, and was part of other bands such as Juniper Meadows and Corsican Paintbrush. Another Website, The Unbroken Circle, was run by Mark Coyle from the UK. It was an excellent historical resource that described “wyrd folk” and the artists that performed it. Coyle also had a sister Website, Woven Wheat Whispers that served as an outlet for CDs and downloads for these artists. Simon Allen also began an imprint label, Barl Fire, where artists performing wyrd, experimental, and other related acoustic music forms released some wonderful albums. Unfortunately, Allen pulled the plug on the Psychedelic Albums site in 2006, and by early 2008, Barl Fire was gone as well. Likewise, Mark Coyle closed both The Unbroken Circle and Woven Wheat Whispers sites in 2008 after someone hacked into the site and caused him several problems. Brad Rose continued on with his imprints and Website for a few more years but finally discontinued his recording labels and then in 2013 his Foxy Digitalis site merged with Decoder, an Internet ‘zine with a broader focus, and so it was no more. Tim Renner, from Southeastern Pennsylvania, not only has formed several groups in a variety of folk sub-genres, but has operated a Website and album store, Some Dark Holler, that continues today under the name Dark Holler Arts. Groups formed by or associated with Renner include Stone Breath, Breathe Stone, Moth Masque, Mourning Cloak, The Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree, Crow Tongue, and others. There are several other Websites catering to those interested in wyrd folk, experimental folk, and other related unconventional music forms that sprung up in the late 90s and early 00s and many still exist. I believe the biggest heartache for me was the closing of The Unbroken Circle, for it was a treasure trove of information about the beginnings of wyrd folk, with an immense reference section related to the many sub-genres of modern folk.

A characteristic of these artists is to release their music independently, often on homemade CDrs on their own imprint. Another characteristic was to form music collectives such as the San Francisco-based Jeweled Antler Collective, where a small core of artists, or an artist, works with a continuously rotating list of artists and a “music session” is represented by a group name under which they record. Many of these sessions are totally improvised, and the “recording studio” may be outside near a stream or meadow incorporating all the sounds around them into the music; artists like Juniper Meadows from the US, Sedayne from the UK, and Anaksimandros from Finland come to mind. Recordings often include sounds by the artists themselves such as coughing or sneezing, or even talking to one another in the background. Generally the music is acoustic, but not always. For example The Does and Family LSD use traditional electric rock instrumentation.

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The Franciscan Hobbies – Masks & Meanings

Many of these recordings are wordless, with the human voice being used as an instrument or as part of the ambience if heard at all. The music can be anything from a traditional Western structure with beautiful melodies and harmonies, to a Middle-Eastern sound such as from Josephine Foster or Mike Tamburo, or to atonal free-form chaos, and everything else in between. When there are lyrics, they leave no aspect of the human condition untouched, with an emphasis on subjects that are often avoided in more conventional music forms. One can sense the feeling of darkness, existential loneliness and pessimism, and of fateful resignation in some of the lyrics. Sometimes there is an ominous concern but yet a curious wonderment regarding the unknown or the spirit world. Some artists will uncover lyrics from centuries old songs that reflect similar dark, fatalistic views and superstitions. But not all the lyrics are about fearful and depressing subjects. Some are happy, even joyous, but still have that element of fate tied to it. Such lyrics, old or new, I believe are what make these songs part of the wyrd folk genre. The instrumental recordings, while often by artists who also perform lyrical wyrd folk, are another sub-genre and perhaps this is why Simon Allen changed his listing of such artists from “wyrd folk” to “psychedelic folk, drone, improv, and experimental acoustic”, which is a more accurate description of the variety of sounds. A more recent word used to group all these styles together is “neofolk”, with “free folk” being a sub-genre.

Many people associate the idea of “wyrd” with pagan traditions, Wicca, or Satanism. This genre does not represent such religions or traditions any more than any other music form. There are indeed Christian artists, such as Caedmon, who have been classified as “wyrd” just as there are others who are committed pagans such as Omnia. And yet there are others that are “unclassifiable” when it comes to spiritual orientation, such as Stone Breath, Sharron Kraus, Marissa Nadler, and Terry Earl Taylor. Some artists, such as Pamela Wyn Shannon, Circulus, The Wyld Olde Souls, and Spires That in the Sunset Rise, tap into the ancient Anglo-Saxon heritage of magic and mysticism, but without overtly making a definitive commitment to these beliefs; they are merely observing and reporting. Spires is more avant-garde in musical structure than the others mentioned here.

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Bert Jansch – Jack Orion

Wyrd folk, as in psychedelic music, has its primary origins in the 60s, when the youth of that era were experimenting with psychedelic drugs, Eastern religions, mysticism, magic, alternative lifestyles, and the like. Just as psychedelic rock of the 60s reflects these interests, so does 60s folk. While the term “wyrd folk” did not come into usage in modern music until the late 1980s, it has been retroactively applied to artists from the 60s onward. Music that has retroactively been given the label “wyrd folk” has a more metaphysical aspect to it, and in the UK the artists tapped into the ancient Anglo-Saxon shamanistic expressions described earlier. Early popular artists that could be tangentially connected to the genre include Donovan and The Incredible String Band. Also notable would be Fairport Convention, Pentangle and specifically John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Jansch’s album “Jack Orion” is noted as an early example of what would later be considered wyrd folk. In the early 70s this really took off in the UK, with groups like Comus, C.O.B., Magna Carta, Forest, Trees, Fresh Maggots, Spriguns, and a host of others. However, in the US, it did not seem to catch on, and psychedelic music gradually melded into either progressive rock or hard rock and metal. Psychedelic aspects of music continued to bubble under the surface around the world for decades, surfacing mostly within the rock genre. But something happened in the late 90s that was a turning point. I have yet to figure this out. Some of the earlier artists of this genre, beginning in the late 80s through mid 90s, were Current 93, Sol Invictus, In Gowan Ring, and Mourning Cloak.

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Stone Breath – Songs of Moonlight and Rain

Around 2004, these related folk styles began to spring up everywhere, especially in the US and the UK but also throughout the planet. From Ireland come United Bible Studies and Agitated Radio Pilot. From Russia (with love) we have Julia Vorontsova who follows the traditions of the Russian bards. Japan’s Makoto Kawabata is noted for his work with Acid Mother’s Temple and the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. and related groups, but some of his solo work could be classified in this genre. In Scandinavia you have groups from Sweden, Norway, and Finland but the Finns seem to have been the most prolific, tapping into ancient folk traditions. There are artists such as: Anaksimandros, mentioned above; Paivansade; Uton; Pekko Kappi; Lau Nau; Islaja; Es; Keijo (Virtanen); Vapaa; Kukkiva Poliisi; and one of my favorites, Kemialliset Ystavat. Most of these Finnish groups/artists are classified as “free folk”. Most are instrumental. In New South Wales, Australia there is a collective of musicians centered around brother and sister, Michael and Kristina Donnelly. Groups related or attributed to them include Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, Terracid, Alligator Crystal Moth, 6majik9, ffehro, Soarwhole and are primarily in the free folk sub-genre. The Jeweled Antler Collective is centered around Steven R. Smith, Loren Chasse, and Glenn Donaldson. Groups to come out of this collective include Thuja, The Birdtree, Skygreen Leopards, The Franciscan Hobbies, Hala Strana, The Child Readers, The Ivytree; The Buried Civilizations; The Once and Future Herds; and D. Smolken (who was originally from Poland). What seems to set these artists apart from the others mentioned here is that there are Eastern European elements that seem to run through the music coming out of the Jeweled Antler Collective, perhaps due to the influences from D. Smolken of Dead Raven Choir, Garlic Yarg, and Wolfmangler. Wolfmangler actually veers into dark metal drone more than folk.

Other notable US artists would be: Fursaxa from Philadelphia; Poppy Sward and Green Mistletoe from Oswego, NY; Hush Arbors and The Golden Oaks from Virginia. From Tyne and Wear, UK comes Sean Breadin who is responsible for several artists: Eleanor’s Visceral Tomb; Shibboleth; Venereum Arvum; and Sedayne. All are grounded in ancient Anglo-Saxon music, with many handmade instruments designed to be true to ancient construction and sound. The album “Winter Heresy” by Shibboleth is a very dark, primitive, instrumental work that sounds like it is performed by ancient spirits in a dank, dark dungeon. Malaysian born David Tibet (now living in the UK) has been instrumental in the promotion of wyrd folk and was one of the earliest artists in related sub-genres, recording as Current 93. He is also closely associated with the dark ambient sounds of Nurse With Wound and the more rhythmic acid house of Psychic TV. Phil Legard from the UK is another prolific artist recording as Xenis Emputae Travelling Band and The Pneumatic Consort. And I must not forget English Heretic, which mixes paranormal experiences with psychedelic folk and electronic sound. Do not listen to English Heretic recordings alone and in the dark as you never know what might visit you!

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In Gowan Ring – Abend the Knurled Stitch O’er the Glinting Spade

Recommended Albums

The following are just a small sample of items that I strongly recommend. Some are nearly impossible to obtain today with some titles having releases of less than 100. Others are much easier to locate.

1. Stone Breath – Songs of Moonlight and Rain
2. Stone Breath – A Silver Thread to Weave the Seasons
3. In Gowan Ring – Abend The Knurled Stitch O’er The Glinting Spade
4. Current 93 – All The Pretty Little Horses – The Inmost Light
5. Kemialliset Ystavat – Alkuharka
6. English Heretic – The Sacred Geography of British Cinema: Scene One: A Hilltop Hanging From Witchfinder General
7. Paul Giovanni and Magnet – The Wicker Man (original soundtrack album)
8. The Juniper Meadows – Pine Needles and Cones
9. The North Sea – Locust Grove
10. Hush Arbors – If There Be Spirits, Let Them Come / Cleaning The Bone
11. Green Crown – Washed In Her Blood
12. Green Mistletoe – God of the Blood of the Woods
13. Poppy Sward – Fawn
14. Xenis Emputae Travelling Band – Under a Soular Moon
15. Shibboleth – Winter Heresy
16. Sedayne – Astray Volume 6: Green As God The Touched Brow Of The Winter
17. Terracid – Transcendent Reign Inheritor
18. Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood – Animal Speak
19. Charlotte Greig and Julian Hayman – Live at Resonance FM
20. The Franciscan Hobbies – Masks and Meanings
21. The Birdtree – Orchards & Caravans
22. Omnia – Chrone of War
23. Sharron Kraus – Beautiful Twisted
24. Spires That in the Sunset Rise – Four Winds The Walker
25. The Spectral Light and Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree – Scarecrow Stuffing

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The Spectral Light & Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree – Burning Mills

And these compilations are totally necessary:

26. Lammas Night Laments, Volumes 1 – 14: a collection of wyrd-folk music from 1966-1980 (14 CD set compiled by Mark Coyle)
27. John Barleycorn Reborn, Volumes 1 – 3 (6 CD compilation in 3 sets of 2 CDs each)
28. Invisible Pyramid: Elegy Box (6 CDs)
29. Gold Leaf Branches (3 CDs)
30. Wailing Bones, Volumes 1 – 14 (14 CD set of extended instrumental compositions)

From the 60s and early 70s we have the following:

31. Donovan – Fairytale
32. The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
33. C.O.B. – Moyshe McStiff And The Tartan Lancers Of The Sacred Heart
34. Comus – First Utterance
35. Caedmon – s/t
36. Stone Angel – s/t
37. Seventh Sons – Raga
38. Peter Walker – Rainy Day Raga
39. Pearls Before Swine – These Things Too
40. Forest – Full Circle
41. Trees – The Garden of Jane Delawney
42. The Trees Community – The Christ Tree
43. Jade – Fly on Strangewings
44. Trader Horn – Morning Way
45. Mandy Morton and Spriguns – Magic Lady
46. Amazing Blondel – Fantasia Lindum
47. The Sallyangie – Children of the Sun
48. Linda Perhacs – Parallelograms
49. These Trails – s/t
50. Agincourt – Fly Away

So that’s it. Don’t ask me to do this again!

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