My wife and I were discussing when we first saw Wendy Rule, I thought it had been a single concert but the alternate story is that I saw her first and then insisted that we both go along the next time. I guess this is what 40 feels like when it comes to remembering things that happened in a semi-drunken state in my 20’s.
In any case, the concert that I remember in Canberra around 1996/1997 was terrible; terrible because it was in a downstairs club with the house music on and a bunch of patrons talking loudly over a truly incredible voice. I had never before heard someone use their voice like that, conjuring images of a sacred and mystic world, bringing the audience into an ancient grove, a Greek oracle in the mountain mists, an incense filled Egyptian temple. The only experience I have ever heard that comes close to it is the work of Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance.
In the late 90’s I was embarking on a short foray into life as a druid/solitary witch. Reading the work of Scott Cunningham and Douglas Monroe was where I started. Monroe’s 21 Lessons of Merlyn has since received some terrible reviews from those in the druid community. This was one of my greatest frustrations with neo-paganism, each group insisting on the supremacy of their order and the credentials of their texts and practices. In any case, the advent of a singing Witch coming to Canberra was too good to be true for my young self and after hearing Wendy sing I knew this was something special (and genuine).
For all its failings, the books by Douglas Monroe spoke about the importance of music and song to ancient ritual. Whether the chanting of a shaman, the choir in a church or the team song at a football match; there is no denying the capacity of music and song to heighten human experience. As a singer/songwriter, I know there are moments when my voice and the music combine to generate something which makes your hair stand on end and your heart leap into your throat.
If you ever get to attend a concert with Wendy she is quite up-front about the relevance of her singing to ritual. The corners are called (horrendous Hollywood example) with song, and at some concerts Wendy has spoken about using song as a tool of transformation.
In general, I am a sceptic, as I have unmasked and seen the unmasking of too many charlatans to remain trusting. However, just like my experience at the Chalice Well in Glastonbury, there is something undeniable about the power present when Wendy sings.
From a scientific point of view, I am fascinated by the question of whether the words are largely irrelevant and the quality of tone, rhythm and power (RMS not the mystical kind) is what generates the experience. In much of Lisa Gerrard’s singing with Dead Can Dance, there are no discernible words, yet the emotion seems to be clearly conveyed.
From the point of view of someone who does meditation in the Buddhist school, I know that intent is also a significant part of any action in the magical world. Both in the magical imaginings of David Eddings and Christopher Paolini the combination of Will and Word is critical, as it is in the more practical world of Aleister Crowley.
I had the great fortune to see Wendy again in Adelaide in 2013, along with Spiral Dance and Kellianna at the Singing Gallery (a very special venue that I also saw Damh the Bard at). Please don’t misunderstand, Kellianna and Spiral Dance are a pleasure to listen to, they have beautiful voices and are musically accomplished, but they don’t do what Wendy can in terms of the conjuring of experience.
In all the heights of human endeavor in music, the Nessun dorma from Puccini’s Turandot, Allegri’s Misere, Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach, it feels like we are touching on the surface of an ocean of potential. Potential that Wendy Rule with the same black Yamaha guitar has been conjuring for 20 years now.
Unfortunately the ‘witch’ label has meant that many people probably won’t get to experience the divine pleasure of sitting in a quiet room and listening to Wendy sing. At the concert Wendy played in Canberra last night I had to chuckle at the ‘what are YOU doing here’ response I got from one of the local neo-pagan community in attendance. Me in my Hawaiian shirt with five kids, what business did I have being at a witchy concert? I smiled and said that “yes”, I was here to listen to Wendy Rule.
If you ever get the chance to see Wendy play live, don’t miss it, even if you aren’t a neo-pagan. And if you can’t make the concert, Black Snake is Wendy’s latest, dark but cathartic and re-awakening, album. The subject matter is human existence, and her talented mastery of the voice is incredible to experience.
Note: My research takes me to some funny places, here is a Sydney Morning Herald article, not even sure if it is tongue-in-cheek, about pagan opposition to Kosher/Halal treatment of meat. Wendy is cited as a random Australian witch, probably because the stock photo was ‘witchy’.