Holy Rave: Sacred Ecstatic Dance Music
Posted: On WitchVox August 17th. 2003
This article was originally published on Witchvox, August 17, 2003and has been reproduced here with
the permission of the author, granted on May 3, 2007
Witchvox, August 17, 2003 and has been reproduced here with
the permission of the author, granted on May 3, 2007
As a gay man, I have been to a ton of gay clubs, and, with few exceptions, there is always dance music. You know, that electronic thump-thump-thumping, pointed with repetitive sounds, a bass so heavy it vibrates your chest and lyrics that often amount to little more than slogans. But is that all that lies behind dance music? Is it just noise, or is dance music calling us to recognize something more primal, more holy in ourselves? Dare I say that there is even something mystical and ecstatic in dance music? Yes, I believe there is.
What is Dance Music?: The core idea underlying dance music is simple. It is purely to make people dance. By whatever means possible, the music is meant to stir something in you, to evoke a response, to lure you out onto the dance floor and join the others who heed the call. Most common in dance clubs today is a cheerful form of electronic music consisting of a compilation of synthetically produced sounds, sometimes accompanied by a voice.
The first and strongest component of dance music is a bass beat; this is the deep drum sound thumping out the pulse of the song. Perhaps next in importance is a (usually) short melodic phrase that forms the tune. Occasionally there will be a vocal track, but not always, and this complements the main melody. Vocals in dance music primarily consist of a short repeatable phrase (unless there is a Diva involved and she alone has the authority to sing through an entire song). Underlying and weaving through the bass and the melody are a plethora of short continually repeated background sounds. Often so many individual sounds are incorporated that they become nearly indistinguishable from each other, and it takes some very careful listening to pick out unique sounds from the background, but they are there. Each of these three elements, the bass, the background sounds, and the melody, all rely on HEAVY repetition in order to produce the music. This is where the power inherent in dance music begins.
Repetition as Chant: As Pagans we are familiar with chanting in one form or another. We may have heard the beautiful sounds of the women's chorus On Wings of Song as they chant, "We all come from the Goddess;" or perhaps we have heard the chants raised in the spiral dance telling us that "we are a circle, within a circle;" or maybe even the Gardnerian Witches Rune, "Eko Eko Azerak." Is dance music really any different from these? In my previous definition, dance music consists of repeating patterns of sound, and the voices in them are repeating, i.e. chanting, phrases to us. Why do we chant in our rituals? To raise energy and to transform our state of consciousness. As the sounds of dance music are repeated over and over and the phrases are chanted in them, we begin to change. An energy begins to build within us and around us.
Dancing and Raising Energy: Most Neo-Pagan music has a soft lilting quality about it, (I am aware this is a stereotype, but bear with me). Commonly we find a gentle, controlled chanting, such as Robert Gass, or On Wings of Song would provide; or we get the soft "New Age" ambient music of artists like Enya, or Loreena McKennitt, who provide a calming meditative sound. We even have our Pagan Goth/Rock bands like Inkubus Sukkubus, that stir us up with a little darker energy. But dance music is wholly different from any of these, and the energy that it raises in the body is palpable and extraordinarily powerful. Anyone who has ever been to a dance club with a good DJ has felt compelled to dance, and is easily drawn into the whirling vortex of the dance floor. When we hear a tune that strikes a chord with us, such as Sandstorm (one that never ceases to amaze me), we are blown away by the raw force of the music as it resonates in our bodies, and, to some, into the depths of the soul.
As Pagans we recognize that the movement of the body also raises energy. Being in a spiral dance is a very moving experience, but the spiral dance is controlled. The dancing in a club is frenetic and highly energized. As the music raises the energy in our bodies, the dance lets that powerful energy flow out through us. Our body puts shape to sound, and the movement we make brings even MORE energy onto the floor. When caught up in the spirit of the dance we are electrified. Many may fear this unbridled energy, but I say there is nothing that could ever be as powerful.
Call of the Goddess: Another of the powerful forces in dance music, particularly in gay dance clubs, are the ladies of song who we have elevated to Diva status. Among them we number our Madonna, our Cher, even our RuPaul, and they have a message for us. They tell us that we are beautiful, that there is love in this world, and yes, there is pain too, but still they call us to dance, to share in the joy of life. Their voices speak to our hearts, and in the thrall of their soul thumping music we make their power manifest on the dance floor. And so we hear the voice of the Goddess as she speaks through those who embody her strength, beauty, mystery, power and awe.
The Great Rite: When we go to these spaces we put on our glamour, and make ourselves beautiful. We dance among other beautiful people, often with hope in our hearts that we will find a mate. In the midst of this pure energy, dancing the ageless dance, we begin to connect with those around us. We hear the Goddess call us to love and we seek others who will share their love with us. Eyes connect, a spark ignites, our hearts are pounding, and we share our energy in the dance. When the music fades, and our bodies cool, we meet, and talk, and come to know each other. Perhaps to share an ecstatic union...
An Exercise: [Note: Especially straight people, get over yourself and do this too!] Do your homework and find the best gay dance club in the city nearest to you, get out your most FABULOUS outfit, put on your glamour and go there. Now, look at the dance floor through your Pagan eyes.
* Look at the lights. Do they follow the music? Do they change the energy in the room? Do you see the elemental color correspondences coming through the lights?
* Listen to the music. Do you hear the chant, the repetition? Do you feel the rise, the crest, the ecstatic explosion, the sheer drop from a cliff of sound? Does the sound of the deep bass drumming shake your ribcage?
* Now get out on that dance floor. Let your body move to the sound. Don't get hung up with formality or dance steps or body image or anything, just feel the energy of the dance running through you like electricity and let your body move as it chooses. Feel that incredible raw energy coursing through you. Lose yourself in the power, and connect with the primal heartbeat of the Earth.
* Now look around at all of the beautiful people surrounding you. Do you see the God and the Goddess in and among the dancers? The Lady is calling to us all. Do you see the energy connecting two people, drawing them together, like the lovers at the Beltane fires? See it. Feel it. This is magic indeed.
I have a vision of the Holy Rave. Where Pagans recognize the power of dance music, and the High Priest and High Priestess are DJs creating a ritual of sound. Where the dedicants dance with Dionysiac abandon around great electric bonfires. Bodies pulsing, hearts pounding, feet thumping. Where eyes meet for the first time and the Goddess of Love calls people together to see each other's beauty, to see the divinity pulsing through their veins, to feel the strange magical power of wordless attraction, and the sharing of the ecstatic dance. What a blessed rite that would be.
Eric "Fritter" Riley
Bio: Eric "Fritter" Riley is a Circle Keeper with the DC Radical Faeries, Devotee of Venus, and a generally nice guy. When not spending time working with the Faeries, he is working as a Librarian in Washington, DC, and when not working he's spending time with his partner.