Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

4. The Heathen Lyre: On Religion, Music and Touch

Religion and Touch - Christina Welch

Andy Letcher [+-]
Schumacher College
Dr Andy Letcher is a Senior Lecturer at Schumacher College (UK) where he leads the MA Engaged Ecology. He is the author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom and has written papers on subjects as diverse as psychedelic experience, fairies, the spirituality of environmental protest movements and kinship in a world of animism. He is a folk musician who plays English bagpipes, low whistle and Dark Age lyre.


In this chapter I investigate the intersection of religion, music and touch by focussing on musical instruments, the things we touch to create ‘humanly organised sound’. I consider both the denotative and connotative meanings of instruments and how certain instruments, and not others, become meaningful in the context of religion. I use the lyre, and my learning to play a replica Dark Age lyre, as the main examples throughout. Though associated with Christianity and with ancient Greece and Rome, the lyre was also played in pre-Christian Europe. Consequently the lyre is undergoing a revival of interest by practitioners of contemporary heathenism, such that its connotative meaning is shifting from its more traditional, ‘heavenly’ associations. I end by suggesting that in many instances (and even within the supposedly secular West) an animist reading of musical instruments may both be warranted and open new areas of research within the underexplored field of music and religion.

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Letcher, Andy. 4. The Heathen Lyre: On Religion, Music and Touch. Religion and Touch. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 93-113 Sep 2021. ISBN 9781800500334. Date accessed: 25 Jun 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.42172. Sep 2021

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