According to renowned metaphysician Ted Andrews in his book, Sacred Sounds, "Every society, tradition, and religion has had teachings both magical and wondrous. The relaying and demonstrating of these wondrous teachings fell to individuals who were schooled in the natural and spiritual laws of the universe." (Andrews, 2001, 2003, p.ix). These were the ancient priests, priestesses, magicians, and shamans they we often hear archaeologists mention.
Those of us who research the origins of music, also read about prehistoric flutes and drums. And every culture, both nomadic and sedentary has possessed some type of fiddle, lute, flute and drum--everything from shepherds flutes, oracles lyres and medieval harps. These ancient and not-so ancient cultures also possessed the knowledge of healing with the power of sound and words. Many of these healing words were embedded in myths and legends, such as the Finnish national treasure, the Kalevala or the Icelandic Elder Edda. It was not enough to tell an accompanied story, an initiate needed to understand the sacred symbolism hidden in the various phrases and one needed to know which story to recite depending on the various tribal occasions.
Although sound healers and musicians today employ various instruments such as drums, flutes and harps in their healing modalities, many ancient healing traditions are extinct or about to be. According to a National Geographic News article, "Lord of the Rings Inspired by an Ancient Epic," first published in 2001, only one Finnish shamanic elder, Jussi Houvinen exists in Finland who understands the healing powers of the epic Kalevala. (Handwerk, 2001, 2004, online).
National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, Wade Davis had traveled to Finland to research the shamanic aspects of the pre-Christian era, Finnish legend. The oral tradition which is sung by what are known as, rune singers is a thousands year old tradition that has been passed down from singer to singer. According to Davis, "In an oral tradition, the total richness of the language is no more than the vocabulary of the best storyteller. In other words, at any one point in time the boundaries of the language are being stretched according to the memory of the best storyteller."
National Geographic News journalist Handwerk reported, "In what was the Viena Karelia region, the oral tradition of the Finnish language is still alive, but now contained in the memory of just a single storyteller. His name is Jussi Houvinen, and he is Finland's last rune singer. This elderly man is a living link to myths and languages that have been passed mouth-to-ear over the ages in an unbroken chain."
Powerful stories have been extracted from the legend and transformed into children's literature and folk-pop groups such as Värttinä and Hedningarna have modernized the old shamanic rune songs that were once sung by initiates. The language and shamanic magic and healing intent has all but been lost because these musicians and children's storytellers lack the intent and training of a shamanic initiate so it is possible that the power of this oral legend will fade into the mist of time, at least in Finland. We will be left however with a few token souvenirs.
However, Norwegian vocalist and kantale player, (a harp that derives from the Kalevala Legends), Sinikka Langeland and kantale player, Ove Berg discovered remnants of the rune song tradition on wax-cylinders recordings of shamanic elders. Langeland and Berg featured those archival recordings along with contemporary rune songs on their CD, Tirun Lirun. While the featured elders, Puro-Juhoin Pekka and Kaisa Vilhuinen passed away during the early part of the last century, Langeland and Berg featured archival interviews with the elders on their label, Finnskogen Kulturverksted web site. The site lists a selection of rune songs with healing effects.
In my World Music Central article, "Rune Songs: Vainamoinen Returns," (Herlevi, 2004), I mention a quote that appears on the label's web site of what one of the last shamans, Puro-Juhoin Pekka told the last wise woman in Finnskogen, Kaisa Vilhuinen. "'You must not place the sword in the hands of a fool; With sorcery both good and evil can be done.' And often is in both legends and reality in places where this sort of magic is practiced. The rune songs featured on this CD were once used to protect people and their animals, to heal wounds and to cast a spell over bees."
Further in the article, "The rune songs that appear on Tirun Lirun run the gamut of epic poetry, such as track 4, "Vainamoinen" (from Kalevala Legends), to practical purposes, (the shamanic-inspired "Rollota" used to fire up the oven). "Kanteleensoitto" is an epic song that focuses on the musical instrument kantale (a lap harp believed in the legend to have been created by the shaman Vainamoinen). "Anfallsrune" is an incantation against fits and "Turskarune" is an incantation against wounds. "Jonnrune/Raudan jalgea" can stop a wound from bleeding and according to Professor Timo Leisio, 'The Skogfinn's runes to heal open wounds are so remarkable that they should be the subject of comprehensive research.'" (World Music Central, 2004, online).
However, some ancient healing musical traditions still thrive today, mainly because the traditions were passed down through generations of healers. Mainly these traditions can be found on the African continent and the Indian subcontinent.