Ever since childhood, I have been enthralled by music, especially in its traditional or folk idioms, poetry, God, and Nature. I’ve never grown out of this inclination, and music that combines all of these is that I hold dearest to my heart.
So, given my absolute delight in the music that combines these, here is my list of what I’m calling “Christian Neo-Paganism’s Greatest Hits.” Feel free to recommend others in the comments!
Summer Is Acumin In
Nothing beats a canon (or round) sung in Middle English. Middle English is such a beautiful language. I fell in love with it in graduate school while studying medieval English mysticism (Walter Hilton, The Cloud of Unknowing, my beloved Julian of Norwich, and their contemporaries). This version by Elizabeth Mitchell captures not only the language but the spirit of folk celebrations of the Wheel of the Year.
Meet on the Ledge
Richard Thompson wrote this song for his band Fairport Convention when he was nineteen. Not bad for a rookie! I’ve loved it since I saw Fairport (without Thompson, alas) in about 1985. They end every show with it. I hope when I die I will meet my friends on the ledge to drink one for the road. Here’s Thompson doing a solo version that is chilling. He’s not nineteen anymore. And neither am I.
There are many different versions of this elfin knight tale, a fine version by Robert Burns among them. Fairport does a great one, but I recently fell in love with this one by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer. The song is also a great meditation on marriage.
The Pan Within / The Christ in You (counts as one)
Mike Scott, leader and songwriter for The Waterboys, from what I recall, lived at least for a while at Findhorn, the visionary community in Scotland. These two songs, in my take, offer two faces of the Christian Neo-Pagan vibe.
Morning Has Broken
This song was all over the radio in the 1970s. I may have had the single as a kid. It wasn’t until decades later that I discovered the lyrics were written by Eleanor Farjeon, the English poet and writer. I’m writing a chapter on her for my forthcoming book, Sophia in Exile. I love her so much it hurts.
Let’s have a nice round of applause for the death, resurrection, and triumph of John Barleycorn. Sir James Frazer and Jessie Weston, represent! Nobody does this one better then Steve Winwood.
The Mummers’ Dance
Loreena McKennitt could sing the phone book and make it sound mystical. I love this song. When I was a Waldorf teacher, by the way, I revised the Mummers’ Play and had my class perform it. It’s a comic take on the death and resurrection motif.
Theme from Harry’s Game
I don’t know what’s in the water up there in Donegal, but pour me glass, will ye? Clannad moved from straight trad music in the early 70s to a kind of atmospheric trad-jazz-New Age amalgam later. They’ve been together for over fifty years. A dreadful consequence of the PANDEMIC™ is that they cancelled their tour and my wife and I couldn’t see them. This is one of those songs that makes people cry and not know why.
Now the Green Blade Riseth
Speaking of death and resurrection—here’s a hymn from the Anglican tradition that more closely than any other ties the death and resurrection of Nature to the death and resurrection of Christ. My family and I do a take on this one I arranged every year during Holy Week. Steve Winwood’s version, which is spookily like mine (I did mine first!) is perfect.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.