Tag Archives: chant

We Are A Circle- A Pagan Chant

Background: My informant (M) shared with me her experience with a song we learned growing up. We attended a daycare, which was run by our grandmother, from infancy to 5 years old, and would frequently stay there during summer breaks. She shared with me her perspective on a ritual we performed daily. Neither of us had ever thought too much about this ritual until we got older, but talking about it now we could tell there was probably more to this chant than we realized as kids. Our grandmother always talked about the importance of being kind to the Earth and thanking it whenever we took something from it, like food. As kids, this was just part of growing up, and the chant was part of our daily routine, we agreed that we never thought about the words or meaning until we got older.

M’s Perspective on The Ritual: 

M: “I guess it was a way for all of the daycare kids to come together and bond and be calm. We would sit in a circle with a candle in the middle and we would sing childhood songs and tell nursery rhymes. At the end of the “circle time,” as our grandmother called it, we would have a closing ceremony of sorts where we would stand up and join hands and we would sing this one song. She played it on a CD, but we all knew all the words and we would look at each other and sing. There were a couple of verses to the song that I don’t remember very well, but during the chorus, we would all sing loud and join hands and walk in a circle. Then it would be another verse and we would stop walking. The verses all had to do with the elements, you know fire and wind and stuff. And with each new chorus, we would walk faster and faster until it got a little crazy and we were screaming this song (laughs). I don’t think she does it anymore because it started getting a little aggressive. But anyway the closing line had something to do with coming “FACE TO FACE” and we would all get really close to each other- you know face to face- and we would throw our hands up and someone would blow out the candle and that was it (laughs and pauses).

And we did this for probably ten years or more. It was a little strange now that I’m thinking about it, like what was that even about? We never really anything else that I can look back on as being out of the ordinary.         

Main Text:

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

You hear us sing, you hear us cry

Now hear us all you, spirits of air and sky

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Inside our hearts there grows a spark

Love and desire, a burning fire

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Within our blood, within our tears

There lies the altar of living waiter

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Take our fear, take our pain

Take the darkness into the Earth again

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

The circle closes between two worlds

To mark this sacred space where we come face to face

We are a circle within a circle

With no beginning and never ending

Analysis: I looked up this song to find the lyrics we remember from our grandmother’s. I also wanted to see if I could find an explanation for it. What I found was the song has strong ties to paganism and Wicca, relating to a spiritual bond with the Earth and magic. The song is written by Rick Hamouris in the 80s so I’m not sure when or where our grandmother learned it. It seems like it’s been adopted by Wicca and other pagan religions and some say it is a song for festivals or a full moon chant. The book Casting Circles and Ceremonies by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart explains how circle chants like this one are effective for “casting circles” and “calling quarters.” These terms refer to creating the circle, which is the safe and sacred space and utilizing the Earth’s quarters-the four elements and the four directions. 

You can read more about this here: http://www.egreenway.com/wands8/envoke1.htm

Playground Taunts

Background: The performer is my college roommate and friend. She spent the first fifteen years of her life in Minneapolis, Minnesota before moving to Thousand Oaks, California for high school. She is currently in her twenties and attends school at the University of Southern California.

Main Text:

“Brick Wall

Waterfall

Boy you think you got it all

You don’t

I do

So poof with the attitude

Loser, whatever

Flyaway forever

Where’d you go?

Loserville

Population? You!”

Context: The performer explained that traditionally this taunt was chanted in elementary school, usually from the age ranges of eight to eleven. She explained that most of the time, they chanted it on the back of the bus on the way home from school, usually with friends. She mentioned a social heirachy on the bus, which stemmed from the fact that children were all different ages but lived in the same area, so the third graders, who didn’t like the fourth graders and so on, would chant it back and forth in a playfully “mean” manner. Sometimes it was targeted at a specific person and other people would join in.

Thoughts: Growing up in a different state from the performer, I had not heard this chant before, nor did I ever take a bus to elementary school. Still, I think the chant is amusing, especially looking at how it eases tensions for young children in a way that isn’t violent or truly hurtful. Instead they trade somewhat playful stock insults, which other children are encouraged to join in on. I wonder if there was a standard rebuttal phrase the performer and her friends would use if others sang this at them. The comment about the age-related hierarchy is also interesting, presumably because this sort of chant would only be learned by listening to old kids singing it. In addition to the lyrics, the performer had simple hand motions to accompany the lyrics (“where’d you go”/shrug, “population, you”/pointing at other person).

Wish Upon a Star

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., a woman born, raised, and living in Northern California. While having dinner together at my family home, I asked her whether she remembered any rituals she and her friends had when they were young.

Main Piece: “Growing up in a relatively small town, my brother and I used to play outside a lot at night during the summers with the neighborhood kids. I remember from a young age being with my childhood girlfriends and we’d lay on the lawn in one of our backyards and wait for the first stars to come out and sing:

‘Star Light, Star Bright, the first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.’

Then, we’d each close our eyes and make a wish. It felt almost like a solemn oath and mysterious ritual to me. I think we kept the wishes to ourselves, rather than tell each other what we wished for. I don’t know who I learned this poem from. It was definitely something that was passed on orally and just seemed to be universally known by us all from a very young age. I think that I probably had a nursery rhyme book that included it, too.”

Analysis: “Star Light, Star Bright” is an English language nursery rhyme, has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 16339, and first began to be recorded in the late nineteenth century. The song and tradition seem to have reached Britain by the early twentieth century and then spread worldwide. This particular song calls out to the first star of the night, whereas other similar superstitions were based upon the granting of wishes made when seeing a shooting or falling star. The custom of wishing on a first star likely predates the rhyme, and that of wishing on a shooting or falling start may date back to the ancient world and the influences of the astronomer Ptolemy. (For another version of this chant, see the Disney Park Fireworks show performances.)

Preparing for Performances

Main Piece:

Informant: We played with xylophone for a couple of years before percussion. And once we were able to be in percussion, you got to use it a lot more. So it’s basically for the kids that wanted to have more time playing on it and making music with it and going more into depth with the instrument. That was for those students who wanted to.

Something we did, we would go around the carpet playing different instruments. So we would say like. . . like we had this certain beat that we would do on every single one. And to prepare for all of our performances, we would do a thing called “Rock your mallets to the top.” So we would say “Rock your mallets to the top.” Then you’d go to the bottom and say, “to the bottom do not stop. Hit them in the middle please. Hit them on your long tong C’s.” And then we’d change to D’s and then we’d change to minors.

Interviewer: Do you think you could do the whole thing for me?

Informant: It’s not very long. It’s . .  *laughs,  “Rock your mallets to the top. Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. To the bottom do not stop. Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom. Tap them in the middle please, doo doo loo doo doo loo. Hit them on your long tong c’s. Boom boom boom boom boom boom boom.

So we basically would do that and then we’d switch instruments. And then she would say, uh, she would just count to 3 and, or we would do certain, different like patterns and she, our music teacher, would do it and we would repeat them back. And sometimes she would say, we’d put it in different, um, you could take certain bars off. We would do C pentatonic a lot, where you take off your F’s and B’s and so there would be groups of 2 and groups of 3 and then she would ask us to do a certain thing on a group of 3 and a certain thing on a group of 2. And that’s kinda how we prepared for every single one of our performances.

Background:

The informant is a twelve-year-old Native American girl from the Choctaw, Blackfoot, and Lakota Nations. She was born and raised in Tennessee and frequently travels out west to visit family and friends. She is in sixth grade.

Context:

During the Covid-19 Pandemic I flew back home to Tennessee to stay with my family. The informant is my younger sister. I was asking her about groups she was a part of at school.

Thoughts:

She emphasized that this was a musical group for those who wanted to dive deeper into the subject, in this case, spend more time learning the instrument. It was fun to hear the rituals and chants the students would use during practice and before a performance. Ritual is a creative process, key in attaining a certain frame of mind and promoting active engagement. It is also a picture of the beauty that can come out of community and teamwork. It is not solely about the individual. Rather, individuals in a group working together as a cohesive unit. 

University of Alabama – Dixieland Delight Chant

Main Piece:

Dixieland Delight is a song by the rock band Alabama, but is more formally known as a chanting song during Alabama football games. It originally wasn’t intended as a song for the university’s football team, but they adopted it as their own. They add their own lyrics in between the verses of the chorus. It’s a tradition to sing it at the start of the 4th quarter of home games. The words between the chorus vary and expletives about their state school rivals in the region are added to it. Because of this her freshman year they weren’t allowed to play this song during football games, but this was lifted her sophomore year.

One constant verse of the song is as follows (additions are in italics):

“A little turle dovin’ on a Mason-Dixon night. F*** AUBURN.

Fits my life. LSU. oh so right. AND TENNESSEE TOO.

My Dixieland Delight.”

Context:

EG is a sophomore at the University of Alabama, and has attended football games for the past two seasons. Both of her parents attended the school and are also avid fans of the team. She was raised an Alabama fan her whole life and has never been otherwise. This was taken from a conversation at our house.

Thoughts:

This trend of chants is appealing to me as it takes a song and adds lyrics to it, similar to a mashup or a cover. This seems to be used as a method of getting the crowd at their games riled up so that they can have a lot of spirit. This being done at the beginning of the fourth quarter would mean that they get much more energy during for the final push of the game. This greatly reminds me of when the USC Band plays Tusk during football games. While we don’t use expletives during the songs, we do add our own lyrics. A similar style of song that is also in the SEC, Alabama’s football conference, is LSU’s chant to the song “Neck”. Students also chant it during games to the point where it got banned. (https://youtu.be/Ji-mFaIAcX4, Neck, LSU Band and Student Body).

E Ala E!

Main Piece:

Informant: Something we do before the sun rises is a chant called E Ala E. It basically connects us with our ancestors. It means “awaken and arise.” You perform this by saying the chant three times. 

Original:

E ala e

Ka la i kahikina

I ka moana

Ka moana hohonu

Pi’i ka lewa

Ka lewa nu’u

I kahikina 

Aia ka la.

E ala e!

Transliteration:

Awaken/Arise

The sun in the east

From the ocean

The ocean deep

Climbing (to) the heaven

The heaven highest

There is the sun

In the east

Awaken!

Context: The informant is a current freshman at USC. She lived in Hawaii until she graduated high school. Growing up there, she learned all about the customs and folklore of Hawaii. She learned this chant from her family who taught it to her.

Thoughts: It was really interesting to learn about the chant. It shows how my friend still thinks of her ancestors and holds a connection with them through this chant. Hearing this chant and its translation for the first time, if it wasn’t told to me, I would not think that it focuses on an ancestral connection. At first glance, it seems to speak to the sun, so I thought it was a chant to a God of some sort.

“Smile, Shake It, We Love You, Woot Woot!”: A Figure Skating Chant

The following is MA’s recollection and interpretation of a common Figure Skating chant.

 

MA details how this popular chant is performed before a figure skater begins their performance at a show or competition. “Smile, Shake It, We Love You, Woot Woot!” is a figure skating chant that younger skaters chant as a group before their friend takes the ice. It is used to give the skater confidence, luck, and support before they perform and to encourage them to put some spunk in their program. The group of skaters who chant this are usually all from the same figure skating club, so it shows a sense of camaraderie and association between the skaters in the club as they support their friend from their club. Likewise, it differentiates them from other figure skating clubs, especially if others say a parody of the chant or use a different tone.

 

MA is used to saying the chant with a brief pause between each part of the chant (there are four parts) and will only say it when she’s with friends. She adds that she would not be confident enough, nor project her voice enough, to yell out the chant by herself. MA says that “even if I go out and do a bad program, at least I know I gave it my all and my friends will always have my back.”

 

My Interpretation:

As a figure skater, I know the isolating feeling of competing or performing under pressure and not having a teammate to rely on. Figure skating is a very independent, individual sport, but with this chant, a skater can still get team-like support. It seems like this chant is pretty mainstream among younger skaters, most likely between the ages of seven and sixteen. It would definitely be surprising to hear it at a bigger event, such as a grand prix competition or at the Olympics, mostly because it is considered slightly immature for older skaters to say. Overall, the chant builds passion for the sport, camaraderie in the group and, in general, lasting friendships between the skaters in the same club through showing/performing their support for a fellow club member.

“Over, Under, Through” Horse Riding Proverbial Phrase

Main Piece:Over, Under, Through.

 

Background: GR is a horse rider, and spends a large portion of her time riding horses on a ranch and training them for upcoming events. Additionally, she also trains horses so that other people can buy them, and use them for themselves in high end events. GR is from just outside of Washington DC., and would spend her time at a barn in silver spring Maryland. Because GR’s family all rode horses, and the people at the barn spent so much time riding horses, this proverb was super important to her. GR said that this proverb originated from a woman named Coleen Rutledge who was the first American eventer to ever run all three four-stars in America in one year. The type of riding that GR does is similar to Rutledge, and the events consisted of lots of jumps and “hits.” So GR said that this proverb was a way to get riders to focus and not doubt themselves, because any kind of apprehension on the event or in the country will screw you over. GR said that this proverb helped her to focus and when it came time for the jumps in the events she would think to herself, “We are going over this jump, under the next, and through the other.”

 

Context of the Performance: GR told me this proverb, while we were talking about the things we would do in our free time, and what types of hobbies we like to do. Since GR is from an area where horse riding is far more popular than in California, GR was very excited to share this proverb and some of the other horse related folklore that is somewhat new to me.

 

Analysis: I had never heard this type of proverb before, as I am rather ignorant when it comes to the folklore of the rural countries and especially as it relates to horses. But this seems to be a very important proverb especially in the horse event riding world, especially given how much GR knew about its inception and how seriously GR takes this proverb. As someone who isn’t very familiar with horse riding, this proverb seems like it certainly seeks to push riders into trusting their instincts and not get too much in their own head when riding the horses. GR said that the type of riding she does is very dangerous, and so this proverb makes even more sense in that context as if you are a rider who does not make a snap decision, and you second guess yourself instead of simply deciding to go “Over, under, and through,” you could not only get seriously injured but you could also seriously injure your horse.

No Music Party Chant

Main Piece:

 Informant: It’s simple. It’s just like, if the music cuts out at a party, or if like, the speaker blows and there’s a long stretch of silence someone will stand up and start a “No Music” chant. It’s like, one person will clap three times and then the rest of the party will reply “No Music!” in rythm back. God. And that’ll keep going until someone has the music back on again.

Background:  The informant is a senior here at USC. He is my next door neighbor and we conducted this interview in person at his apartment. He is from Manhattan Beach and has lived there for his entire life. He is a social individual and has attended many parties throughout high school and college. He attended a large high school in Manhattan Beach.

Context: The informant learned of this chant/song when he experienced it first hand. Typically, this kind of chant is typical amongst high school “party” culture. The informant clearly didn’t have high praise for this piece of American high school party folklore. He had no idea when this chant came about, but was certain it had been along for much longer than he had been around.

Analysis: I specifically asked the informant whether or not he had experienced this chant in his own life. I was interested because in own hometown, whenever a situation like this would occur at a social gathering we would break out in a similar style chant. However, In my experience, the chant involved much more rhythm and was significantly more intricate. Another contrast is that I look back on this chant fondly, in comparison to the informant. This could potentially be because my school was much smaller in size and emphasized an arts-based education. This chant is folklore because it contains multiplicity and variation (Dundes) and is an example of artistic communication performed in small groups (Ben-Amos). While the informant’s chant is more simplistic, that could be due to the large nature of his high school. On the other hand, the chant I experienced could be a function of my high school emphasizing artistic performance, making my community more willing to indulge the dramatic nature of the chant.

Nebraska Football Greeting

Background:

            The informant is a 20 year-old white male from San francisco. Our coversation was recorded in the Leavey Library while taking a study break. We begun talking about his background and that of his family. After a while, we made it to the subject of Nebraska and his relationship with his Grandfather. Even though he is not the biggest football fan, he spends a lot of time with his Grandfather discussion Nebraska Football. I asked if the did any special surrounding Nebraska Football and shared with me this folk-greeting.

Main Piece:

“Yeah so we’ll do this thing, it’s pretty funny actually. I have no idea why we do it but whenever I do my grandpa gets super hyped up it’s so funny. The first time I’ll see him, like at the airport or some shit. He’ll see me and yell “Husker”. Like, really really loud. I have to respond with the word “Power” as loud as he does”.

Context:

When I asked the informant where this came from he wasn’t sure. He said it was related to Nebraska Football but could go into further detail. The informant said this folk-greeting started when he was a much younger age. However, the greeting has transcended into the informant’s adult years and has now become common use. The informant stated how Nebraska Football had been the main source of commonality in his relationship with his grandfather.

Analysis:

            I did some background research on this greeting, and it turns out it’s a pre-game chant done by the crowd at Nebraska Football right before the game starts. I find it interesting that the informant had no knowledge of this, despite partaking in the greeting for the better part of 15 years. Chants like this are typical of American Football culture but seeing it translated into a greeting is a development. The informant seemed to equate this greeting with his relationship to his grandfather, and not to Nebraska Football, where the call and response chant originated. In this piece, we see an example of how folk-behavior can evolve to take on a completely different meaning to a different group of people.