What do you suppose a trance devotional for Freyja lead by a singer should look and sound like?
Over the course of this year’s PantheaCon I ran into several different people who wanted me to consider presenting some kind of music-based Freyja devotional at a future PantheaCon. I used to be the lead-singer for the American Magic Umbanda House, and during that time the annual Pomba Gira devotional held on Friday night of PantheaCon was part of my job. (Before that, my job was to lead the warding team and interface with the convention and hotel staff on behalf of the ritual staff, some of which I still did after I switched to singing – the hour before the ritual started involved a lot of me running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get all the details settled. ;p)
The AMUH Pomba Gira devotional is structured something like a concert with singers and drummers up on a raised stage at one end of the room, a large dance floor in the center, and tables with chairs all around the edges. Because it’s actually a trance devotional the lyrics are very repetitive, and there’s no instrumentation, only percussion. More than half the music is call-and-response, with the audience being encouraged to sing along on the responses, and the whole musical sequence is designed to build energy to a peak, and then release it all at once at the end, before cooling everyone back down and letting them go. Many people attend the Pomba Gira devotional who are not otherwise involved in an Afro-Diasporic tradition to enjoy the energy and dance for a couple hours with a few hundred fellow Pagans dressed in red and black getting their sexy on for the Sacred Harlot of Rio.
Well, it seems now that my time with AMUH is over (having learned what I needed to from that setting) many of my Heathen friends who had attended during the years I was the lead singer realized this year that their enjoyment of the devotional was primarily because they found my singing enchanting, rather than any attraction to Pomba Gira.
I admit, I was startled. As much as I’d hoped that people missed my singing when I left the house – I certainly miss singing so regularly! – I wasn’t actually expecting anyone at PantheaCon to really care all that much. Several of the people I used to perform with are still involved. The current lead singer is at least as talented and trained as I am in music, and the structure of the ritual can’t have changed all that much. So I wasn’t really expecting the majority of the audience to even notice my absence. And to be fair, it’s likely the majority don’t notice. Only one or two people actually noticed my absence last year as far as I know.
Then again, maybe they just thought I’d taken a break for the year, and only came to me pleading when they realized I wasn’t going to return at all. I do tend to underestimate how much I am missed when I am absent. Come to think of it, the ritual music did become significantly more popular the year I stepped up. People started asking us if they could buy CDs of our music the first year I took the lead. I got a lot of compliments every year from friends and strangers alike, which is part of what made it worth all that work. And make no mistake, putting on the annual Pomba Gira devotional is a LOT of work, especially for me in the middle of winter.
So yeah, I thought there might be one or two close friends who loved my singing for Pomba asking me why I’d stopped, or if I would please come back if they didn’t already know, but I never expected a bunch of Heathens to ask me to instead translate those ritual skills into an equivalent event for Heathen Powers! Especially given the tendency amongst Heathens to reject any prospect of taking rituals from other traditions and modifying them to suit our own gods. Even my more-liberal-than-average Heathen friends tend to have a strong preference for giving the chocolate and peanut butter separate rituals whenever possible.
Am I up for it? Quite possibly. But it definitely can’t be just Freyja plugged into the Pomba Gira devotional. For one thing, we’d need different music, and for another, it’s just the wrong approach. Plugging Freyja’s attributes into an Umbanda ritual would get us a mangled Oxun devotional, and that’s just wrong all ’round.
But we can take some similarities – invite folks to wear Vanic colors like gold and green with touches of red or earthy brown. Have honey candies, fruit, or chocolates out for people to share with each other. Plan a drum circle where people can play whatever percussion instruments they have, and then sing [modern] Heathen-style songs for Freyja, inviting people to dance and inviting Her to join us. I can maybe start slow, with the Vanir version of the Summoning Song, and set the space the way I do for Intensives, and then build in speed and energy. Heathen music does tend to be somewhat less energetic than Afro-Diasporic music, I have to say, so I may end up having to find and/or write some new Freyja chants and songs that are suitable for a more driving beat…
Anyway, it may take me some time to sort out what a voice-lead drumming devotional ritual for Freyja, or the Vanir in general, should really look and sound like, but the idea has serious merit, no?