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Celtic Music

Copyright by Searles O'Dubhain

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This Celtic Workshop covers the following major topics in Celtic Music and
Magick: The Role of Bards and Druids in Celtic Music, the Music Ogham - Aradach
Fionn, Tree tones and their musical associations and some example folk songs and
their interpretations. May we all sing together in harmony! May our Magical cha
nting be empowered! May the Three Gods of Eloquence bless our tongues!
The Magick of Music
Anyone that has ever done Magick knows that it involves resonances and
associations. Magick has many color associations as well as musical
associations. We have all experienced the magick of music in contemporary music.
Sometimes this can be in the form of attending a concert, othertimes it can be
when we are alone and listening to our favorites tunes. Modern day religious ser
vices take advantage of the Magick inherit to music to enhance their worship ser
vices. This can be in singing hymns or hearing organ and choral anthems. I'm sur
e that we will all agree that music in such sitruarions alters our state of bein
g. We are uplifted and changed by the ritual music we experience. It should be n
o surprise that the ancient Celts used music in a similar manner. In Morgan Llwe
llyn's "Druids" we find an example of such a Druidic use of music in Magick. The
chief Druid of a village would greet the Sun with song, and lead the village ea
ch day in welcoming the Sun back from the Underworld. When the Sun set, another
farewell song was enjoined. This practice is still followed by some in
Celtic lands to this day. Examples of such incantations and greetings to the Sun
may be found in the "Carmina Gadelica" by Alexander Carmichael, a vast resource
of ancient and more recent Celtic verse and song
Words of Power
In many Magical systems, "Words of Power", containing the names of the Gods, are
used to create resonances within the Magicians to attain a higher state of awar
eness. The use of these words also serves to open the internal "Power
Centers" or "Chakras" of the participants (in our own practice they synchronize
the Three Cauldrons and align the Duile). These godnames are constructed using t
he letters of their respective Magical alphabets, as well as by using the natura
l tones and corresponding resonances that are associated with each letter or sym
bol. For example: " YHVH Yud Heh Vahv He" - (a Kaballistic godname) Such resonan
ce and power in the use of names and tones is not unique to Kaballa. They were a
lso used by the Druids. An incantation of a godname becomes a chant with its own
inherit melody and rhythm. Such sounds, generated from an occult alphabet, are
thought by Magicians to have inherit Power wihin their vibrations. They are thou
ght to generate Magical resonances within the Magician and the ritual. It is my
belief that the ancient Celts and Druids used music and sounds from their secret
Ogham alphabet to aid them in working Magick in a similar manner. This form of
Magical chanting was known by the ancient Irish as "Amrun". How the Druids and B

ards may have constructed such chants is what I'd like to

discuss next: Anu - Danu - Brighid Dagda ie. " AAH Noooo DAAH Noooo VREEE Jeeehh
DAAACH Dahhhhh " (Celtic chanting) . Druidic Bards studied for as long as 12 to
20 years to learn the epics, chants, spells and histories of their peoples and
clans. These works were memorized exactly as given and were a requirement for ad
vancement to a higher or inner level of the Druidic ranks. These works had to be
rendered perfectly and with feeling so that the listeners would be spell bound
and consequently could relive the event within their own minds (or recall the wo
rking, learn the knowledge, open the pathways within the mists, use the Second S
ight, etc.).
The School of the Poets
The Irish Druids had the following classes of Bards, known collectively as
Filidh: "a 'Fochlac', a 'MacFiurmedh', a 'Doss', a 'Cana', a'Cli', and an
'Anrad, with an 'Ollamh' as the seventh.."The following table gives some idea of
the amount of study and lore that they accomplished in their training :
Study Required by a Filidh
# of Epics
20 (the Beginner)
30 (Advanced beginner)
100 (Journeyman)
175 (Master/Warrior)
175+ (Doctor/Judge)
Celtic Instruments
According to several authors, certain instruments have been used across the ages
in magico-religious ceremonies. These instruments are the flute, the harp, the
sistrum and the lyre. The Irish Filidh learned to play or to use similar instrum
ents, as accompaniment or augmentation, along with their own poetry, incantation
s, and invocations. It is my belief that these instruments were: the pipes ("pio
bh"), the whistle ("feadog"), the harp ("cruit"), the musical branch ("craebh ci
uil"), and the drum ("bodhran"), all classical Celtic instruments. It has also b
een conjectured, that these instruments were used in a manner that was based upo
n the mood or tone required by a particular magico-religious work. Using such in
formation as an inspiration, I created the following table of Celtic instrumenta
l correspondences to the Duile:
Elemental Musical Magick

Craebh CiuilPipes

Breath and Spirit

Mind and Magick
Flesh and Bones
Brain and Head
Blood and Face
Hair and Skin

Tree Tones
Poets and Bards carried "craebh ciuil", branches with bells and amulets attached
to them. A beginner's branch would be bronze, journeymen carried a silver branc
h and the Master Bards (Ollamh) carried a golden branch. The music of the bells
would announce the Bard's presence and an impending performance or ritual. In hi
s book, "Ogam, The Poets' Secret", Sean O'Boyle made a very convincing case for
the first use of Ogham to be as a musical tabulature. He showed how each Ogham h
ad its own corresponding note on the Irish small harp. In a more modern work, "T
rees for Healing", Pamela Louise Chase and Jonathan Pawlik independently identif
ied tree "soul tones" which are said to uniquely resonate with the spirit of eac
h tree. There are a lot of similarities between the two systems of tree toning.
There are also many other works that point to the spiritual presence of the tree
s and their interaction with the duile of both Space and the individual. As we'v
e already discussed, Ogham was keyed to the memories of Druids, as a music of th
e mind and a linking of many concepts. Such linking is essential for us to be ab
le to use the Ogham within our own art of divination. We shall need to learn the
ancient songs of the trees. It was within the rhythm of such songs that the Dru
ids first greeted the Sun and the Day. It was among the trees of the
Grove that the Druids learned the Truth of the World and it is within the Ogham,
the Knowledge of the Trees, that we will begin to learn about Ogham Divination.
The Harp Strings of the Forest
My own belief is that the Bards usually accompanied themselves with the harp as
they recited their repertorie. Just as Oghams were used as keys to memory with v
erses being linked by assonance and alliteration, I believe that each Ogham had
a unique tone or note associated with it on the harp. The tone or string was str
uck as the Ogham sound was spoken or sung two notes per line. The beginning and
ending notes serving to connect each line to the next line in a continuing strea
m. In the world of my my imagination I can hear the tones and words of the Bards
echoing as they float upon a wave of melody acroos the room. The sound reminds
me of chanting monks or the plainsong of worship (similar to modern Anglican or
Roman Catholic Plainsong). Sean O'Boyle, a late Irish scholar, made an attempt t
o interpret "Aradach Fionn" (Fionn's Ladder) as harp tabulature using Oghams. He
suggested that the Irish practice harp that has only 20 strings has a 1 to 1 co
rrespondence to the first 20 Oghams. As far as I know,no records survived to rea
ch us verifying his theory. It seems to make sense to me but I only speculate. T
he modern work "Trees for Healing" by Chase and Pawlik, reinforces this belief f
or me. This book is all about trees, their lore and their spirits. It describes
techniques for meditation to determine the harmonic resonaces for a variety of t
rees. I believe that the ancient Druids also detected certain harmonic tones for
each tree and used then in their Tree Ogham Alphabet. If we use the tones that
have been rediscovered by Chase and Pawlik and combine them with the ancient cha
nts, incantations and songs of Taliesin and Amergin, we may also be able to work
powerful Magicks. This Magick can take any form from enchanting an audience to
calling the winds. The Greek Bard Orpheus was able to walk between the worlds in
this manner and so can we. I list the trees and the derived modern tonal corres
pondences below:
Harp - Ogham Correspondences

Old Irish


Musical Note

Silver Fir
White Poplar E


The Sea


Some of these tones were derived by meditation and resonance, some are based
upon the colors associated with the Ogham. My suggestion is to find such a tree
yourself and to meditate under it. play a pipe, a whistle or a harp (even a guit
ar will do in a pinch!) until you find "?" the correct tone for the tree. Other
tones will reflect from the tree. The "soul tone" of the tree will be absorbed a
nd you will possibly feel a tingle of energy that is released by the Spirit of t
he Tree. This experience is somewhat akin to the common belief in Ireland (even
today) that a particularily gifted musician, harper or piper has been taught by
the Sidhe (famed for their enchanted music). Celts believe in harmony and rightn
ess in all things and particularly in Nature. I noticed that many different Ogha
m had the same note... are these the same notes or are they in differing octaves
? The table I presented is not cast in stone! The first approach has each Ogham
on a different tone. For Fionn's ladder for instance. The second approach used m
editation techniques to determine the "soul tones" of the trees. Some trees evid
ently have a similar feel to them. I think that the table needs some work myself
. Perhaps one of the more musically gifted members could undertake such a study!
Need to have the transmogrification of what tree is which out west for me to do
it...but with that I'd love to do the tree/tone thing! Does this explain the pr
evalence of willow/oak in celtic magicks? It does to some extent. I have entire
books on nothing but healing properties of trees. I'm sure Druids knew much more
The Padstow May Song
Now to continue...Some of this Magick comes down to us today in the form of folk

songs still sung in the outer reaches of Ireland and the British Isles. Such a
song is the "Padstow May Song" from Padstow, Cornwall (in part):
"Unite and unite and let us unite
For summer is acome unto day
And whither we are going we will all unite
In the merry morning of May."
"I warn you young men everyone
To go into the greenwood and fetch your May home."
"Arise up Mr. _______ and joy you betide
And bright is your bride that lies by your side."
"Arise up Mrs. _______ and gold be your ring
And give to us a cup of ale the merrier we shall sing."
"Arise up Miss ______ all in your gown of green
You are as fine a lady as wait upon the Queen."
"Now fare you well, and we bid you all good cheer
We call once more unto your house before another year."
This song is sung on Beltaine and is said to charge the atmosphere of the
festival. It symbolizes the marriage of the youth with the land. (Unite and
unite and let us unite) It also addresses 3 individuals: A man, a woman and a
Maiden in a green gown (who represents Nature). This song is sung around the May
Pole or May bonfires in the evening (and prior to anyone escaping to the outer
folds of darkness for an evening of bliss).
Green Grow the Rushes
Another ancient folk song that has hidden meanings of Magick is the song "Green
Grow the Rushes":
"One of them is all alone and
ever more shall be so.
Two of them are lily-white boys
all clothed all in green Oh!
Three of them are strangers o'er the
wide world they are rangers.
Four it is the Dilly Hour when
blooms the Gilly Flower.
Five it is the Dilly Bird that's
seldom seen but heard.
Six is the Ferryman in the boat that
o'er the river floats, Oh!
Seven are the Seven Stars in the Sky,
the Shining Stars be Seven, Oh!
Eight it is the Morning's break when
all the World's awake, Oh!
Nine it is the pale Moonshine,
the shining Moon is nine, Oh!
Ten Forgives all kinds of Sin,

from Ten begin again, Oh! "

This song can be interpreted to mean:
1. There is One Power.
2. The Gods have two aspects (Light and Dark).
3. The Celts are a wandering people with the sacred number of "3".
4. The 4th Ogham is the Alder sacred to Bran the Blessed and his sister Branwen
"the Gilly Flower".
5. The Wizard Merlin as well as the sacred number of the Celtic Gods
(not to mention the number of points on a Pentagram or the strokes in Ogham).
6. Ceridwen's Coracle that ferries us to the Underworld.
7. The sacred number of sea gods and the stars in the crown of Arianrhod.
8. The number of judgement or resurrection.
9. The Triple Moon Goddess Thrice emphasized. The number of Priestesses that gu
ard the Cauldron of Rebirth. The number of completeness
10.The necessity to find our "True Selves" in order to understand the Inner Myst
eries. The endless cycle of death and rebirth.
As I find, interpret ,and understand more Celtic songs, I will be posting them h
erein. I trust that you have discovered some things about sound and Ogham that m
ay help you to discover your own songs, make your own music, and live within the
Draiocht of harmony.