A Darker Shade of Pagan
by Jason Pitzl-Waters &
©2012 Holly Golightly
We confess: we don’t like pagan music. At least, we don’t like what most folks think of as “pagan music.”
Don’t get us wrong. We’ve heard a rendition or two of Goddess chants that had that certain “something” and we’ve used space-agey soundscapes with intermingled nature sounds once or twice in ritual. Heck, we even own a pseudo-Native American drumming CD with the sound of rain in the background. Yet 99% of the time when someone has played a pagan or Wiccan tape for us saying “but you’ve just got to hear this one, it’s great!” what we heard just didn’t “do it” for us at all. After spending over a decade in the pagan movement, being subjected to “pagan” tunes, we had given up in defeat, believing we’d never find an album that evoked the delicate and dark enchantment of a cold Samhain night or an artist who could evoke a spell of pure witchy-ness that made you want to put on your best ritual gear, light all your candles and call up your pagan pals for a spontaneous night of spell work. It seemed if you weren’t a fan of folk music, you were out of luck.
Then, about two years ago, Jason started hosting a gothic and dark-wave radio show at our local community radio station. After months of playing favorites from his collection and the new disks that were pouring in from bands and labels around the country, he started to notice that there were many bands with lyrics that seemed, well, pagan. Curious, he began to do some research. What he found gave us new hope as fans of dramatic, haunting, “witchy” music. quietly developing off in a musical sphere far, far away from Pagan folk songs and chants set to acoustic guitar was a whole new breed of pagan music: a darker, edgier breed.
This new music ranged in style from goth to medieval choral music set to driving backbeats. Then there were recordings as ethereal and delicate as gossamer, and others reflecting a return to the ancient roots of traditional Scandinavian vocal styles. Still more were an eclectic melding of all of these trends and more. Sometime in the late 1990’s a new pagan musical tradition was gestating underground, a tradition that is now bursting through the surface and into the brilliant light of day.
In the nineties, one of the labels creating this new breed of pagan music was Dark Age Productions. Dark Age specialized in music that explored “occultism, folklore, mythology and creativity.” Decidedly anti-commercial, they released recordings in small production runs with high quality packaging that made each release a work of art in and of itself.
Sadly, Dark Age folded in 2000, but soon after its demise, a compilation recording was released as a memorial to the label. Michael Riddick, a member of the band “The Soil Bleeds Black” came up with the idea for the memorial CD and spearheaded the project, entitled, The Fossil Dungeon. Inspired by the success of the disk, Michael started a new label to carry on in the tradition of Dark Age Productions. He named his new label The Fossil Dungeon, after the project that had inspired his new company.
We began our exploration of The Fossil Dungeon at their website. The site is clean, monochromatic and terribly sensual. (A professional web designer, Jason expressed envy at the evocative display of web engineering and design, and I found him sneaking peaks at it for several days. Needless to say, touring the site is an experience in of itself and one we suggest you don’t miss.) After taking in every inch of The Fossil Dungeon site, we decided we just had to chat with the man behind it. Riddick was enthusiastic and gracious, answering all of our questions articulately and thoroughly.
Riddick has always had the inclination to operate his own label with a spiritual esthetic. “I am inspired by the creativity of others,” he told us. “I feel it is my obligation to disseminate art to others whom I believe might find similar enjoyment and appreciation of the more esoteric side of creativity.”
Dark Age Productions, The Fossil Dungeon’s predecessor, considered itself an “occult” label and Riddick feels the “occult” designation fits his new label as well. Many artists who have signed on are pagan or deeply interested in the esoteric. “I have always had an interest in the way occult and magical themes are expressed through music and lyrics. I believe this form of communication is a substantial part of sorcery,” explains Riddick, “as the sorcerer or magician is him/herself a creator.” Riddick also adds that he feels The Fossil Dungeon might also be considered “occult” because the label has an underground/independent following and has a tendency to work with unusual packaging concepts or mediums such as vinyl records.
When we asked him about his personal path Riddick commented that "I consider myself an al-chemist" but was quick to add, “my own beliefs do not necessarily determine what artists I choose to work with. Rather, it is more an appreciation of an artist’s creativity as well as their motivation for success and personal ambition that draws my attention to them. As it happens, many folks I find to be of this nature turn out to be pagan or practice magic in some form or another. . . The majority of Fossil Dungeon artists are associated with magic, mythology, or paganism in some form or another. This will definitely remain a key element of the label.” Riddick estimates that three quarters of the artists working with his label practice an “alternative” spiritual path.
Among these musicians are the three artists who comprise the group Butterfly Messiah. On their site at www.butterflymessiah. com) they refer to their art as “musical witchery” and to their live performances as “a musical ritual in the flesh.” The members of Butterfly Messiah are openly Wiccan and their site contains many pictures of the band in flowing robes or holding blades, as if caught in the act of casting the circle for a private night of magic in an outdoor grove.
Another Fossil Dungeon artist, Phyll Smith, (a.k.a. The Dark Muse) had this to say during a recent interview: “I do not follow any one path or Dark Muse . . . but I am inspired by most of them . . . like Hekaté, Kali, Lilith and other strong-willed, intense women."
If you have an open mind and a spirit craving unique, pagan, and esoteric music, we recommend that you visit the Fossil Dungeon website at www.fossildungeon.com.
Select Albums From The Fossil Dungeon
Butterfly Messiah Priestess
Imagine a mixture of lush female vocals that soar to angelic heights and plummet to earthy lows, mixed with intense, sometimes spoken, sometimes sung, lyrics and chants and you have an idea of the magic of Butterfly Messiah. The band is gaining a large following due to their unique combination of electronic beats, gothic atmosphere and ethereal bliss. A little too “driving” to use in most rituals, “Priestess” is great for inspiring a witchy mood and even better to experience on the dance floor. Find them at: www.butterflymessiah.com.
Dark Muse Sounds from Beyond the Silver Wheel
Phyll Smith's mesmerizing debut, Sounds from Beyond the Silver Wheel, takes us on a languid journey: long swirling tracks flow into one another while the almost-whispered vocals lull us into a trance state, inviting us to see the world with the Dark Muse’s eyes. This adventurous experiment in mapping the darker corridors of one woman’s haunted life succeeds on many levels. Perfect for a night of meditation in moonlight or an introspective ritual exploring the heart’s inner recesses. Find her at www.eyescreamjewelry.com.
The Soil Bleeds Black Mirror of the Middle Ages
The project of The Fossil Dungeon founder Michael Riddick, his twin brother Mark, and Eugenia Houston, The Soil Bleeds Black focuses on the music and thought of the Medieval Age. Blending classics such as “Pastime with Good Company,” and the original Plague song “Ring Around the Rosy,” with original compositions, they create a rich tapestry both archaic and timeless. Fabulous for high ritual, this album gives a formal and ancient feel to everything it touches. Keep an eye out for TSBB’s collaboration with the band Psychonaut, entitled Hexentanz, exploring medieval witchcraft and sorcery. Find TSBB at www.soilbleedsblack.com.
Pagan practitioners for over a dozen years and life partners for over eight years, Jacqueline Enstrom-Waters and Jason Pitzl-Waters discovered Paganism together in their teens. Jason is an artist and gothic DJ. Jacqueline is an artist, astrologer and tarot reader. Both feel that they experience and express the sacred through their passionate inolvement in their work and community.
» Originally appeared in newWitch #01
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