Celtic Music

Copyright by Searles O'Dubhain

These files may be downloaded by individuals for their own private viewing.
No other duplication or use is implied, given or granted.
All other rights are reserved and retained by the author.

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 chanting 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 services take advantage of the Magick inherit to music to enhance their worship services. This can be in singing hymns or hearing organ and choral anthems. I'm sure that we will all agree that music in such sitruarions alters our state of being. We are uplifted and changed by the ritual music we experience. It should be no surprise that the ancient Celts used music in a similar manner. In Morgan Llwellyn'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 each 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 awareness. 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 the letters of their respective Magical alphabets, as well as by using the natural tones and corresponding resonances that are associated with each letter or symbol. For example: " YHVH Yud Heh Vahv He" - (a Kaballistic godname) Such resonance and power in the use of names and tones is not unique to Kaballa. They were also 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 thought 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 Bards 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 advancement 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 working, learn the knowledge, open the pathways within the mists, use the Second Sight, 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

     Class      # of Epics

     Driseg      20   (the Beginner)
     Fochlac     30   (Advanced beginner)
     Cli         100  (Journeyman)
     Anrad       175  (Master/Warrior)
     Ollamh      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 instruments, as accompaniment or augmentation, along with their own poetry, incantations, and invocations. It is my belief that these instruments were: the pipes ("piobh"), the whistle ("feadog"), the harp ("cruit"), the musical branch ("craebh ciuil"), and the drum ("bodhran"), all classical Celtic instruments. It has also been conjectured, that these instruments were used in a manner that was based upon the mood or tone required by a particular magico-religious work. Using such information as an inspiration, I created the following table of Celtic instrumental correspondences to the Duile:

Elemental Musical Magick

     The Feadog      -  Breath and Spirit
     The Harp        -  Mind and Magick
     The Bodhran     -  Flesh and Bones
     The Craebh Ciuil-  Brain and Head
     The Pipes       -  Blood and Face
     The Voice       -  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 branch 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 his 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 had its own corresponding note on the Irish small harp. In a more modern work, "Trees for Healing", Pamela Louise Chase and Jonathan Pawlik independently identified tree "soul tones" which are said to uniquely resonate with the spirit of each 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 trees and their interaction with the duile of both Space and the individual. As we've already discussed, Ogham was keyed to the memories of Druids, as a music of the mind and a linking of many concepts. Such linking is essential for us to be able 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 Druids 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 verses 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 struck 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 stream. 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 to 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 correspondence to the first 20 Oghams. As far as I know,no records survived to reach us verifying his theory. It seems to make sense to me but I only speculate. The modern work "Trees for Healing" by Chase and Pawlik, reinforces this belief for 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 trees. 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 chants, 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 correspondences below:

Harp - Ogham Correspondences

Ogham    Old Irish    English    Musical Note
B        Beith        Birch         F
L        Luis         Rowan         C
F        Fearn        Alder         E
S        Saille       Willow        F
N        Nuin         Ash           G
H        Huathe       Hawthorn      B
D        Duir         Oak           F
T        Tinne        Holly         G
C        Coll         Hazel         D
Q        Quert        Apple         D#
M        Muin         Vine          G
G        Gort         Ivy           G
Ng       Ngetal       Reed          F
St       Straif       Blackthorn    B
R        Ruis         Elder         A
A        Ailim        Silver Fir    A
O        Ohn          Furze         E
U        Ur           Heather       B
E        Eadha        White Poplar  E
I        Ioho         Yew           F

Ch,Ea    Koad         Grove         F
Oi,Th    Oir          Spindle       C
Ui       Uilleand     Honeysuckle   D
Ph       Phagos       Beech         A
Xi       Mor          The Sea       G

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 guitar 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 and you will possibly feel a tingle of energy that is released by the Spirit of the 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 rightness in all things and particularly in Nature. I noticed that many different Ogham 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 meditation techniques to determine the "soul tones" of the trees. Some trees evidently 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 prevalence 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 guard 
    the Cauldron of Rebirth. The number of completeness
10.The necessity to find our "True Selves" in order to understand the Inner Mysteries.  
   The endless cycle of death and rebirth.

As I find, interpret ,and understand more Celtic songs, I will be posting them herein. I trust that you have discovered some things about sound and Ogham that may help you to discover your own songs, make your own music, and live within the Draiocht of harmony.

Return to top of page
Return to the Celtic Workshop