Perpetual Choirs

On 2nd February 2020, I took part in The Perpetual Choir for the Ash: a gathering of voices that sang for 24 hours non-stop for the healing and regeneration of the ash tree. Different groups around the world sang for slots of one hour or more at a time by a chosen ash tree. People took part in the UK, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Slovenia, The USA and Canada.

The event was conceived and organised by Azul Thomé of the Earth Wisdom Tenders Group as an attempt to heal the ash tree, which is very sick in Britain and in parts of Europe. 95% of Ash trees are dying back due to the spores of the mushroom, Chalara, which enter the leaves
There is more information about Ash dieback on this Woodland Trust page:

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/tree-pests-and-diseases/key-tree-pests-and-diseases/ash-dieback/

As soon as I heard about the choir, I was moved both by the intention to support the ash trees and by the underlying conviction that sound and music – offered in the right way – could make a difference. As a sound healer, therapeutic music practitioner and tree lover, this was right up my street! In addition, I have been fascinated with the concept of Perpetual Choirs ever since I read about John Michell’s research on the subject – and here was a chance to actually take part in one, albeit “Perpetual” for one day only.

Ash Tree

Apparently, I’m not the only one. The idea of Perpetual Choirs is gaining in popularity, with people like Giles Bryant leading the way. The modern iteration seems to emphasise the combination of massed voices and an extended length of time for singing – in our case, 24 hours. This makes sense: we know that focused singers sharing the same intention can have a powerful effect and – while I am simplifying things here – in general the effect is heighted through an extended duration. How does this compare to the original Perpetual Choirs?

There is evidence that there was an ancient tradition, now lost, of continual chanting or singing in Britain, India, Egypt and other countries. Here I’m going to concentrate on the Perpetual Choirs of Britain as it’s the research into these with which I am familiar. The British Perpetual Choirs are recorded in The Welsh Triads of the Island of Britain, a Medieval collection of much older material. Some scholars believe that the Perpetual Choirs were maintained by monasteries in order to praise God continuously; others contend that this may be so, but that that origin of the choirs was pre-Christian and presumably, their original function was to uphold the integrity of the land. Interestingly, an English translation of the text from 1796 give the location of The three Perpetual Choirs of Britain as the Isle of Avalon (Glastonbury), Caer Caradoc (Old Sarum) and Bangor Is-y-Coed. There is debate about whether the third location refers to Bangor-on-Dee, near Wrexham, or Llantwit Major. John Michell puts forward a convincing case for further choir locations, including Goring-on-Thames and Croft Hill in Leicestershire.

The choirs could well have been huge. Iolo Morgannwg, translator of the original text, tells us that there were 24,000 singers in each choir. Unfortunately, Morgannwg has a tendency towards exaggeration and downright invention, but still, it is worth closing your eyes for a moment and imagining what a choir of that number would sound like. Its no wonder that modern re-creators aim for a large number of participants.

But what interests me is not so much the size of the choirs as their locations.  John Michell’s work shows that the choirs were situated in very precise locations in order to form a decagon, or 10-sided form, just under 63 miles in diameter. If you enjoy maths and geometry, it is set out here:

https://sacred.numbersciences.org/2018/12/27/john-michells-perpetual-choirs/

But, if you’re like me, and cannot make sense of the maths at all, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is not so much how the choirs were situated where they were, as why. It is clear to me that the choirs were located in such as way as to collectively focus the sound. Its not clear, however, whether that focus was inwards towards the centre of the decagon or outwards, using the decagon as a concentrated point from which sound could be radiated out.

Having received healing vocal tones in the centre of a circular group, I can attest to the powerful accumulation of energy when sound is directed inwards to a specific point. Equally, I can see how sending sound outwards from a concentrated centre point could increase the transformative power of the sound. Its possible that both were intended and utilised. We just don’t know. So, why don’t we find out? This is my request to those called to organise modern Perpetual Choirs: let’s set up more choirs of singers who are equipped to utilise the healing power of sound and music, training them in this, if necessary. But let’s not focus so much on numbers or duration, but on position. Let’s experiment with sound, sacred geometry and geomancy and see if we can understand the intention and effect behind the locations of the ancient Perpetual Choirs. Let’s see if they can teach us something important that we can use to heal the Earth and ourselves today.

How Sound Healing Works

“In essence, we are sonic creatures living in a universe created by sound. In sound we are born and in sound we are healed.¹” – Mehtab Benton

The Hopi Indians talk of Spider Woman singing the song of creation over the Earth and bringing all beings to life. Hindus speak of Brahma creating the universe from the primal sound of his finger cymbals. Modern physicists tell a very similar story of how the universe is set in motion through a process of contraction and expansion – otherwise known as vibration. Since all vibrations are theoretically audible, we can indeed say that we are born in sound.

In sound too, we are healed. Scientific research has shown that sound and music can have a transformation effect on a physical, mental and emotional level. According to cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin:

Music initiates brainstem responses that, in turn, regulate heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance and muscle tension, partly via noradrenergic neurons that regulate cholinergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission. It is also being used to help people manage pain, anxiety, stress and a surprisingly wide range of other issues.²

This post looks at some ways in which sound creates vibrational changes in our physical, mental, emotional and etheric bodies. When these changes occur, they can initiate transformation and healing.

Good Vibrations

“Sound healing is the conscious therapeutic application of sound frequencies to a person, for the purpose of healing and with the intention of bringing them back into a state of health and harmony.”³ – Sheila Whittaker

As we know, everything in the universe vibrates. This includes our bodies, organs and cells. All matter has a frequency at which it most naturally wants to vibrate and in a healthy organ, for example, its molecules will be vibrating in harmony with each other. Therefore, it is said that everything in nature has its own note at which it vibrates when in optimum condition.

Every cell within that organ is a sound resonator that may respond to any other sound inside or outside the body. If a different sound pattern enters the organ, it could affect the harmonious vibration of its molecules. So, it could then be said that the organ is no longer sounding its own note: it is out of tune. If the new sound pattern is stronger than the original, it could establish its disharmonious pattern in the organ. This is what we call disease.

A sound healer uses their knowledge and intuition to produce a frequency which harmonises with the diseased organ. Sound sources could be voice, gongs, tuning forks, conch trumpets, singing bowls, didgeridoos or any instrument that can provide a stronger frequency than the new invading sound pattern. This frequency penetrates the organ, reinforcing its original sound pattern, neutralising the vibrations of the intruder and re-establishing harmony.

In the same way, emotional events held by the body in cellular memory can be dissolved. All tissues and organs produce magnetic pulsations that are the result of tiny electrical currents generated by charge flow in the body’s cells. These pulsations are known collectively as the human biomagnetic field, or biofield. According to sound healer, Eileen Day McKusick, the biofield contains the blueprint for the material form of the body, so a coherent magnetic field will form a healthy body. In contrast, traumatic physical, mental and emotional experiences can become trapped in the biofield, where they can give rise to incoherent electromagnetic oscillations that exert a non-harmonious sound pattern within the person’s body and mind. Over time, they can cause a breakdown of the body’s structure and function, causing disease.

Again, a sound healer would work to neutralise these non-harmonious vibrations within the biofield, thereby returning order to the body.

Of Sound Mind

Sound can alter brainwaves and balance the two hemispheres of the brain. This has a profound effect upon our consciousness. Gongs, especially, are known to lower brainwaves. Simply opening ourselves up to the gong sound, can take us from every day beta brainwave consciousness (12-30cps) into the calm and relaxed state of alpha brainwave consciousness (8-12cps). This brainwave lowering is lovingly referred to by sound healers as “automatic meditation.” Most people feel calm, peaceful and centred after receiving the sound of the gong and, this in itself, can be healing. As 85% of disease is caused by stress, simply relaxing and de-stressing is vital for our health.4

If we are receptive, our brainwaves can slow further from the alpha state to theta brainwave consciousness (4-8cps). This is known as the dream and visionary state, linked to our subconscious, where all sorts of inspiration can occur, giving us insight into ways to solve our problems and live a more holistic life.

The gong sound is so densely filled with so many tones and overtones, that it confuses the left brain which likes to be in charge and keep everything in order. Consequently, the overwhelmed left brain may let go of control, allowing the intuitive right brain a chance to come to the fore. The right side of the brain is associated with peace, serenity and spiritual bliss; when these qualities are experienced by the recipient, their body’s natural healing mechanism is stimulated. Therefore, the withdrawal of the left brain can be an essential part of the healing process.

Many sound healers believe that if the two hemispheres of the brain become synchronised, it can lead to transcendent states of consciousness. We are now beginning to understand why, as Sheila Whittaker says, “Sound has always been seen as a direct link between humanity and the divine”.5

 

¹ Benton, Mehtab Gong Therapy: Sound Healing and Yoga, 2013
² Levitin, Daniel This is Your Brain on Music: Understanding a Human Obsession, 2011
³ Whittaker, Sheila In the Heart of the Gong Space: The Gong as a Spiritual Tool, 2012
4 Center for Disease Control quoted in McKusick, Eileen Day Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy, 2014
5 Whittaker, Sheila as above

The Benefits of Harp Therapy

I very much enjoyed introducing people to Harp Therapy at last month’s Health and Healing Market. After the session, Ann of Relief from Pain kindly invited me to write a blog post explaining a little more about what Harp Therapy is and how it can be of benefit.

What is Therapeutic Music?

The right music at the right time soothes, relaxes and uplifts us emotionally and spiritually, restoring us to harmony and equanimity. Music can also bring about physiological changes that have a positive effect on our body and mind:

 “Music initiates brainstem responses that, in turn, regulate heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance and muscle tension, partly via noradrenergic neurons that regulate cholinergic and dopaminergic neurotransmission.” Daniel Levitin, Cognitive Psychologist and Neuroscientist

So, what type of music could be considered therapeutic? I was very struck by a comment I read once by pioneering sound and music healer, John Beaulieu. He bemoaned that many people had come to associate therapeutic music with the amorphous, ambient music commonly known as “New Age”. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with New Age music and, for some people, it can be just what is needed, that’s not always the case. For someone needing an injection of energy, for example, a good old boogie at the discotheque (the book was written in the 1980s ) may be far more therapeutic.

The same goes for the musical instrument itself. I would argue that, whatever the instrument, if the listener loves it, then it can be therapeutic for them. However, when you don’t know in advance who your listener/s will be, its best to play it safe. In this case, the harp is about as safe as you can get. I only ever met one person who didn’t like the harp – and he played the banjo!

Therapeutic Harp

The harp has a long history as a therapeutic instrument: it was used for healing in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Ireland. Indeed, the future King David soothed Saul’s soul (try saying that quickly) with his harp. The harp’s status as a healing instrument can be attributed to several factors, including its particularly resonant sound and pure harmonics, its wide pitch range (which maximises available frequencies) and its long decay (which gives the frequencies time to do their work). It is not surprising, therefore, that there are a number of currently available programmes intended to train therapeutic harp practitioners to serve in modern clinical settings, such as hospitals, hospices and private practice.

Harp at the Healing Market

The harp is used in clinical settings in two main ways: first, its music affects change by the process of entrainment – for example, the listener’s breath or heart rate slows to match the music, or their emotions shift to the mood of the piece. The second way involves applying specific frequencies from the harp directly to the desired part of the body via speakers installed in a vibroacoustic table or chair. In both, the harp player tunes in to the needs of the patient and then plays whatever is needed to produce a beneficial change in their physical, emotional, mental or spiritual state.

My own interest in Harp Therapy came about because I am a professional harpist and a qualified Gong Practitioner. I have played in healthcare settings over the years and I’ve witnessed some strong therapeutic reactions to the harp: I’ve seen previously non-responsive dementia patients come alive at the sound of an old favourite tune and I’ve seen the calming spell the music wove in a children’s intensive care ward. Eventually, I decided to formally train as a Certified Healthcare Musician with the International Harp Therapy Programme.  I chose the IHTP because they take a wide-ranging view of what constitutes therapeutic music. Whilst their main focus is training harpists to play in hospital and hospice settings, they were also quite happy for me to focus on my own personal interest: therapeutic music for groups.

I play music for healing sessions, meditation groups and yoga classes; in anxiety-triggering environments, such as hospitals and prisons and in care homes. I have also devised a therapeutic harp session based on the Ancient Irish tradition of the three strains of healing music: sadness, joy and peace. This was what brought me to the Health and Healing Market.

Get Involved

If you are a musician and interested in playing therapeutic music on harp, or your own instrument, then I would say, first, learn to tune in to your listener/s and try to intuit what they need in that moment. If you feel they need to be more relaxed, more energetic or whatever, then music will provide the way for them to get there. There are techniques to help you do this – Stella Benson’s  book, The Healing Musician, is highly recommended. Ultimately, though, allow yourself to be guided what to play.

If you would like to give yourself the benefit of therapeutic music, then my advice would be to listen to whatever you are drawn to at the time. Give yourself permission to really immerse yourself in the music and listen. These days it is rare to completely give our attention to music unless we’re in the audience of a formal concert; it is usually just something we have going on in the background. Why not make it a regular practice to switch off, close your eyes and just listen to your choice of music for however long you need?

Benefits of Sound Healing with Gongs

The Gong Sound Calms, Relaxes and De-Stresses You

The sound of gongs, singing bowls and other therapeutic instruments lowers the frequency of our brainwaves. From the everyday, active and busy, Beta brainwave state (13-30 cps), we slow into the Alpha brainwave state (8-13 cps). This is the state just before sleep, where our mind and body are calm and relaxed.

The Gong Sound Helps Protect You from Disease

According to The Center of Disease Control (USA)¹, 85% of all diseases are caused by stress. Whenever we actively relax body and mind, we are reducing our susceptibility to stress-related disease.

The Gong Sound Leads to Heightened Creativity and Insight

If we allow ourselves to relax more deeply into the sound, our brainwaves can slow further from the Alpha state to the Theta state (4-7 cps). In this state, the subconscious mind becomes accessible, along with its gifts of inspiration and intuition. Here we experience those “a-ha!” moments when we suddenly KNOW the answer to niggling questions and solutions to problems.

The Gong Sound Rejuvenates You

We know from quantum physics that everything in the universe is in a state of constant vibration: this includes our bodies. During a gong treatment, every cell and organ of the body gets a sonic massage, leaving us feeling refreshed, revitalised and energised afterwards.

In a healthy organ, all molecules will be vibrating in harmony with each other. When an organ is diseased it could be said that it is no longer in tune. During sound healing, weak and missing frequencies are re-introduced, thus re-establishing the organ’s original harmonious sound pattern.

The Gong Sound Transforms Limiting Thoughts and Negative Behaviour Patterns

In Ancient China, gongs were believed to exorcise demons. Today, the sound of the gong continues to clear away negativity, de-toxify body, mind and emotions and dissolve blockages. No longer stuck, or held back by negativity, we are free to move forward with positive life changes.

The Gong Sound Holds You in a Cocoon of Love

Sound waves are carriers of intention and the gong space is permeated with the loving and healing intention of the gong player for the highest good of those receiving the sound. It is said that during a gong treatment or sound journey everyone gets exactly what they need at the time and there does seem to be a higher intelligence at work, enabling this to be so.

The Gong Sound Re-Connects You to Your True Nature

There is a point in every sound wave at which the amplitude of vibration is zero. This node, or still point, is present at the heart of the gong sound as a silence and stillness which can be discerned by those who are ready. If we follow this silence/stillness back to its source, we may be led ultimately to the state of consciousness that exists behind and beyond thought – the state of nondual awareness, which is our true nature.

 

¹Cited in McKusick, Eileen Day Tuning the Human Biofield: Healing with Vibrational Sound Therapy, 2014, page 197

Book of Job

William Blake Room, Tate Britain, London

Listening to paintings

Have you ever sat listening in an art gallery? No? Then I highly recommend that you give it a try. 

First of all, it’s deliciously subversive. You can bet that you are the only listener in a room full of lookers. You will hear the odd word as people discuss the art, sotto voce. Can you tell by listening who’s confident in what they are saying and who’s not sure? Can you tell who’s genuinely captivated by the art and who’s just read the book, done the course and parroted an opinion?

People who are moved by art SOUND different. They move and speak in a different way, their attention held outwards and inwards at the same time. They even sit or stand still in a different way, a way that has a quiet reverence about it. Try it and you will hear what I mean.

Before you ask, yes, I listen to paintings. Many of them, if not most of them, are unlistenable. Very few painters know how to paint for the ears, but some do. That’s one of the reasons I like it in the Blake room so much. We take Blake out of context now, with his plates and prints peered at in art galleries and his words prodded at in books. But his songs were intended to be sung and his prophecies were intended to be intoned and the images in his illuminated books were intended to represent the energies of his words in spiritual form.

If you get into this, try listening to Blake’s words. What you do see? Then, try his art. What do you hear? Do let me know.

Site of York Gallows

Knavesmire, York, North Yorkshire

Dream listening

I walked past Knavesmire several times on my way between my hotel and York city centre. A commemorative plaque situated near to the road informed me that it had been the site of public hangings until 1801.

On first acquaintance, I could tell that the place didn’t have any particular need of assistance and I had no interest in listening to it simply for the sake of it – a kind of aural rubber-necking, if you will. But eventually, I stopped. I noticed the flowers that someone had left on the plaque, but I also noticed something else. Can you see it too? How the benches, the trees, the paths, everything, was perfectly balanced. Interesting, I thought, and walked on.

Later that evening, I couldn’t stop thinking about the symmetry of the site. Was it a positive symmetry, showing balance and harmony, or an unnatural symmetry, showing constriction to the area’s life force? I couldn’t tell. At some time in the night, I had a vivid dream in which I dreamt that I was an “aural archeologist” investigating the symmetry question. One of the first things my dream showed me was that the plaque wasn’t situated exactly on the site of the gallows – it had last been about 2 metres to the southeast. Before that, the gallows had been reassembled several times in slightly different locations, but the strongest energetic imprint was from its most recent position. The design of the site, the placing of the raised platform, benches and path and the planting of the trees had indeed imposed a constrictive symmetry on the site, which was successfully containing its negative energies. But I could hear a low rumbling which – I knew in my dream – was the undercurrent of the trauma associated with the site that had not yet been cleared. If any of the surrounding containers were to change, the negative energy could well be released again.

When I woke up, I could still tune into the site as I had in my dream. The rumble was still discernible, but now I could also feel a tension between the plaque and the actual position of the gallows. Whoever had put the plaque in the middle had played a master stroke because it was pulling the energy into an uneasy, but relatively stable, alignment. 

All of this is interesting enough in its own right. But what has really peaked my interest about the whole dream is that it has started me wondering about intentional remote listening. Is it possible to listen to places remotely? It’s certainly a question that is worth investigating further…

Improvisation From Scratch

I know plenty of musicians who would rather be lowered head first into a pit of adders than improvise music. Even some gifted jazz and rock musicians, who would think nothing of creating endless variation on a pre-existing melody, would be petrified at the thought of improvising from scratch.

Which is odd, really. What leads an accomplished musician to be so terrified of putting together a sequence of notes? The answer, of course, is fear of doing it “wrong”.

So, to help anyone in this position, here’s a guide to improvisation that kills the fear of doing it wrong with one fell swoop. Because, in this approach to improvisation, there is no “wrong” to worry about.

1. Start Playing Anything. Anything at all. Music is Optional

You learn how to improvise by improvising. So, go on. Do it. There’s absolutely no need for it to be any good. It will get better, given time.

Now, I could end this post right here as, in a nutshell, you’ve just had the best advice I could give you. But, I hear you say, “I can’t just improvise. That would be improvising and I can’t improvise.”

Ok. Here are some starting points. (Players of harmony instruments, such as piano, guitar, harp, accordion etc, stick to a melody line only):

• Sit somewhere where you can hear everyday noise. A kitchen with an open window would be ideal. When you hear something, play it. A dripping tap? Play it. A plane flying overhead? Play it. Your neighbour coughing? Play it. In this exercise, you are translating what you are hearing into music. This – in essence – is what improvising is.

• How are you feeling? Play it. This is especially useful for vocalists, but instrumentalists can play too. Maybe, you feel a grunt coming on, or a whoop, or a sigh or a scream. Allow them to come. They may want to take you over for a while and this is great, its good medicine. Eventually, after a few minutes, you will reach a point where underneath, there is music waiting to come. It may only be a single tone, but stay with this and it will lead you somewhere very close to improvisation.

• If you feel too exposed doing the above, take on a character. The sillier, the better. What would a one-armed panda play? What would your most/least favourite old school teacher play? What would you, aged 4, play? What you would you, 20 years into the future, play? Try to really feel that you are them/you, as you play.

2. No Judging

Just don’t. Seriously. If you did any of the above exercises, you will see that there is nothing to judge. The sounds you made came from your experience of the environment, emotions or imagination and were a true representation of your reality at that moment.

Feel silly? Annoyed? Vulnerable? That’s fine, but don’t judge that either.

3. Drone On

Shruti Box

Most people in the west continue to believe that melody needs to be underpinned by harmony. You only need a casual listen to Indian classical music, to see that this is not the case. Indian musicians have no need for harmony – everything that needs to be expressed can be expressed through melody.

Choose any drone you like: Shruti box, harmonium, organ, tanpura, didgeridoo – anything that can provide a single sustained note. Pick a note and listen to it.

4. Listen

Few musicians listen enough. Especially score-based musicians. Just listen to the drone for a few minutes. Try focussing in on the drone and try listening to the drone as part of a soundscape that encompasses every sound that you can hear. Next, add your improvisation. Listen to the sound of the combination of the drone and your instrument; listen to the up and down motion of intervals between the two; listen to both instruments as a part of the soundscape; listen to anything that occurs to you. By listening to what is happening, you have no time to think about what is about to happen. You are just playing in the moment.

5. Surrender

Place your awareness on listening to what you are doing, rather than what you will do or have done. Don’t plan or analyse. Just allow what happens to happen.

6. No Wrong Notes

What did you learn from the above exercise? There are no wrong notes. Whatever note you played formed a relationship with the drone that had congruence and meaning. Sure, it is possible to play a note you may not like, but that doesn’t make it wrong. And anyway, that would be judging again and you agreed not to do that.

Its only possible to play a wrong note when you are improvising over a harmonic structure. Once you have chordal patterns, then you have notes that are part of the chords and not part of the chords. Then, there is always one part of your brain looking out for the chord changes. At this point, you stop being free.

7. Modus Operandi

Once you are happy freely improvising over a drone, you may want to start to re-introduce a framework. Chose a mode or scale to improvise in. The key here is to understand that the music is in charge, not the scale – if you find yourself playing a note that does not feature in your particular scale and it feels right, that’s because it is. Go with it. Now you are learning to follow.

8. Follow

This is true improvisation. Think of a musical score, where the tune already fully exists in potential – all you have to do is play it. True improvisation is the same. The tune exists, all you have to do is play it. From here, you start to realise that the role of the musician is simply to translate “unstruck” music into audible music.

So then, if you are truly following the music that already exists, how could you ever play a wrong note?

Happy improvising.

The Glastonbury Thorn

Wearyall Hill, Glastonbury, Somerset

Listening to The sound of love

What often strikes me as I listen to the land is how much there is to be heard on the non-audible level. This can translate as feeling, sensation and “knowing”, as well as sound, words or music that is heard or perceived internally. A word that is frequently used to describe non-audible sound is energy and I’m sure many people habitually tune into the energetic signature of a place. When I arrive at a new site, as soon as I have permission to approach, I become aware of its energy. The energy is transmitted as part of the permission, actually, because this is how you know whether or not you are welcome.

As I tune in more deeply, I start to sense whether the energy is longstanding or recent. Usually, longstanding energy is a natural part of the place, whereas recent energy has been brought to bear upon it – mostly by human activity. There are also instances when human activity has caused a longstanding effect on a place’s energy. Sadly, when a place’s long term energy has been altered by humans, it is usually of a negative kind, such as that at battlefields and other places of significant trauma. 

When I pick up recent energy, it can be either positive or negative. I have felt some very chilling energy left by human activity at a certain stone circle, for instance. I wondered what I would find today on Wearyall Hill.

Glastonbury Tor from Wearyall Hill
Glastonbury Tor from Wearyall Hill

Legend says that The Glastonbury Thorn sprang up where Joseph of Arimathea planted his staff on Wearyall Hill – the first land he reached on his travels to Britain. The Thorn that has grown ever since on Wearyall Hill is said to be a descendant of that first Thorn. The most recent tree was planted from a cutting in 1951. I say grown ever since, but in reality, the Thorn was tragically vandalised in 2010: subsequent efforts to revive the tree were also brutally thwarted as shoots of regrowth were continually damaged by hands and motives unknown. 

I remember well the outpouring of grief for the Thorn at the time. I was prepared for the energy of the place to reflect this, but what I found was something very beautiful. There was sadness, yes, but most of all there was love. A lot of people had put a lot of time into intentionally healing the place – and it was tangible.

I felt moved to add a song. There was no need for me to sing of remorse or sorrow. That work had already been done well by others. Instead, I sang a simple song of gratitude:

Thank you for bringing us together
Bringing us together as one
In love of you.

Chalice Well Bell

Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury Somerset

The peace of silence

One of the most wonderful things about being a Companion of Chalice Well and staying at Little St Michael’s retreat house is the freedom to be in the garden at any time, day or night, for the duration of your stay. I fell irrevocably in love with the peaceful and nurturing presence of the gardens the first time I visited Glastonbury over 30 years ago and on that day I bought a small goddess carved from a branch of one of the gardens’ yews trees. This figurine keeps me connected to the gardens even when I’ve not visited for several years. But this year, it felt time to go again.

The Companions of Chalice Well understand well the value of silence. There are no mobile phones, radios, laptops or tablets allowed in the retreat house and the upper room is reserved for silent meditation. I slipped quickly into a state of peace and tranquility. 

May Peace Prevail on Earth
May Peace Prevail on Earth

I hadn’t planned to do so, but I ended up spending time in the gardens, alone, during the two liminal times of dusk and dawn. Around 7.30pm, I stepped out of the backdoor of Little St Michael’s and made my way slowly through the sections of the garden, ending up at the well enclosure just as it was getting dark. Sitting here, I could hear a robin chirping and a light breeze rustle the ferns. I could also hear the well itself. Its difficult to describe what a well sounds like – if you’ve listened to one too, you’ll understand. You can hear the spring itself trickling down the hill, but the well cavity amplifies it in a certain way so that it sounds both more immediately present and also further away. I imagine it would sound similar if you were able to stand inside a conch shell and listen to the sound of the sea. I was in my happy place and I re-iterated my vow to those present that I would continue to listen my way through life, striving to know more and more deeply that which ever sounded on an audible and on a non-audible level. I also whispered my desire to learn how to embody the peace enveloping me in that special place and share it out in the world.

The next morning I woke at 4am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so again I went out into the gardens. I spent some time recording the fountains on the lower lawns and in the Lion’s Head Courtyard on my Zoom recorder. I was hoping it would be quiet so early in the day, but there was already quite a bit of traffic on the A361 and I only ever managed to get about a minute’s worth of clean audio. I didn’t feel drawn to the well as I had the previous evening, so I went up to the Meadow and listened to a small but exuberant dawn chorus of robin, wren and blackbird, while watching the sun rise on the Tor. 

On my way back to my room, I passed the silent minute bell. A plaque in the garden describes its purpose thus:

“Around midday and mid afternoon we invite you to take a minute’s silence with us.

A moment of silence
A moment of reflection
A moment of inner peace

On most days the ringing of a bell will signify these times.”

Here is a really good recording of the silent minute:

https://www.richardmudhar.com/blog/2020/03/chalice-well-bell-sounding-for-a-silent-minutes-reflection/

More information about the origins of the silent minute here: 

https://chalicewell.org.uk/the-origins-of-the-silent-minute-2/

Tuning Forks

The tuning fork was invented in 1711 by John Shore, Court Trumpeter and Lutenist to Queen Anne. Originally intended as a pitch standard for tuning musical instruments, the accuracy, constancy and purity of the tuning fork’s tone has led to it becoming a valuable tool for healing and the development of spiritual consciousness.

The tuning fork is used in two complimentary ways:

1. The stem of the activated tuning fork is applied to the body so that the sound vibration is received directly by the body’s tissues and bones.

2. The tuning fork is activated away from the body so that the vibration is received as audible sound waves.

I work with tuning forks in both ways and will usually combine them during a treatment session.

ON BODY APPLICATION

Disharmony can manifest in the body as stress, tight and sore muscles and fatigue, creating blockages to our Qi or natural energy flow. These blockages can lead to illness. The sound waves created by the tuning forks work like kinetic energy to move disharmony and tension from the body, remove Qi, stagnation and helps to restore a sense of balance and well-being.¹

Osteophonic – or Otto – tuning forks feature a weighted prong which is designed to strengthen the fork’s vibration as it is transferred to the body. Osteophonic means “to vibrate bone”. During a treatment, the recipient can feel their body vibrate in resonance with the tuning fork: it is a very relaxing and pleasurable experience.

In a typical session we will apply one or two otto tuning forks to acupressure points, including Heavenly Gathering (SI11), Bubbling Spring (K1), Central Treasury (LU1), Sea of Qi (REN6), Primordial Child (REN17) and Gathering Bamboo (UB2). This opens up the body’s energetic pathways, removing energy blocks and allowing the Chi or Qi to flow freely.

It is a feature of tuning forks that their sound naturally decays into silence. In a healing context, this silence is vital because it allows the sound to be absorbed fully by the body.

Off Body Application

Accompanying the Otto tuning forks are a range of forks that are designed to be sounded away from the body for a range of different purposes. Here are the main sets that I use:

Brain Tuner Tuning Forks

Brain tuners use sound to shift the brain into different states of consciousness. They work through brain wave entrainment, which alters the frequencies of brain waves. For example, experiencing the slower alpha, theta or even delta brainwaves can bring about healing for the typical stress-ridden “Type A” personality who is normally dominated by the faster beta brain waves associated with peak concentration and heightened alertness.

Solar Harmonic Tuning Forks

This set is tuned to the Pythagorean scale – a scale built on the naturally occurring overtone series. It is ideal for exploring the healing effects of natural musical intervals and can also be used in meditation. Musical intervals can have a powerful effect on our mind-body. For example, tuning fork expert, John Beaulieu, believes that the interval of a perfect 5th triggers the release of nitric oxide, antibacterials, antivirals and free radicals:

Research suggests that vibration transferred to neuronal, endothelial and immune cells through tuning forks stimulates nitric oxide and sets off a cascade of physiological events which directly influence our health, well-being, state of mind and consciousness.²

Fibonacci Tuning Forks

This is an extension of the Solar Harmonic Tuning Fork Set, based on the Fibonacci number sequence. Their main purpose is to open gateways into alternate realities and to explore higher states of consciousness in order to empower a creative healing response. They are intended for work on a deep level and therefore, we would approach this tuning fork set once you have worked with the Solar Harmonic set.

The Solar Harmonic tuning forks work well in conjunction with other Sound Healing treatments. Likewise, if we are struggling to unwind, the brain tuners can be used to induce a slower brain wave pattern, helping us to be in in a better place to receive the sounds of the gongs and other instruments.

¹ De Muynck, Marjorie Sound Healing: Vibrational Healing With Ohm Tuning Forks: A Practical Application Manual 2015
² Beaulieu, John Human Tuning Sound Healing with Tuning Forks 2010