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Of Bones, Ash, and Song

Vid. Gunnþra. Gjoll. Leiptr. Elivagar, Elivagar. A well-taught purveyor of norse mythology would recognize these terms as a handful of the eleven rivers associated with the Élivágar, or “ice waves” that existed in the primordial void at the beginning of the world. A connoisseur of the new and experimental, however, may recognize them as lyrics to the Heilung song also titled “Élivágar”, with text from both old norse texts and the poetic edda and set to music in a chant meant to be felt down to the bones. Heilung, meaning “healing” in German, is an experimental folk band founded in 2014 by Kai Uwe Faust, Christopher Juul, and Maria Franz, describing themselves as a music journey. When asked about the name, Faust states “The listener is supposed to be left at ease and in a relaxed state after a magical musical journey that is at times turbulent”. So why am I talking to you about this?

Music has always been a big part of my life. I have a music note tattooed behind my ear, have studied a variety of instruments throughout my life, and even my stories are meant to sound like the songs that are constantly going through my head. It was the first thing my mother introduced me to that I fell in love with, and the thing we have always bonded over. So in 2018, she sent me a video, believing that the music as well as heavy themes of nature, spiritualism, and culture older than almost any country around today would be right up my alley. It was by a band called Heilung, one I had never heard of before, and the song was called “Krigsgaldr”, roughly translating to “war chant”. The lyrics were pulled from the Eggja Runestone, sung in proto-norse, with a music video created from the Tanum Petroglyphs of Sweden. I was immediately in love. I found a full recording of a live concert on YouTube and watched the entire thing when I got off work, and as soon as tickets were announced for a show in Los Angeles we were in queue to buy them. I painted our faces, and that night we went to a show that began with a smudging ritual and ended feeling more like a ceremony than a concert. It was the last concert I went to before COVID started, and it is the best show I’ve been to. 

Anaheim, CA – Jan. 2020

Heilung is a band that stems from spiritualism. The founding members have all embraced paganism and/or shamanism in some shape or form, and their instruments are made from bone, ash, and pelts. They wear elaborate outfits on stage, partially based on the traditions of the Eurasian circumpolar populations as well as reproductions of Nordic bronze age attire. Their beats are built to induce the same trances that would have been attained during these ceremonies. When performing in the US they invited representatives of local tribes to participate with them, beginning their shows with “Remember that we all are brothers. All people and leaves and trees, and stone and wind.” Their music gained immediate traction from their release of “Ofnir” in 2015, having tied for the World Tradition Award in the 18th Independent Music Award for their song “Norupo” and been selected to compose the soundtrack for “Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II”. It is also a band that, in a few short years, has come to mean much more to me than ever thought it would. I’ve never been a person who says any song is “just music”. Music is powerful. It is meaningful. It is one of the things that connects us across time and space. In the case of Heilung, most of all, it is a healing.

By Jace McDonald

Jace McDonald is a Ventura College student from Southern California studying business and social media marketing. As of 2021, he is a full time barista as well as full time student moving towards a degree in global management with hopes of pursuing writing, photography, travel, and entrepreneurship.

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