This nicely-presented volume is, as the author acknowledges, aimed more at the pagan reader than the average punter.
Perhaps more refreshing is Bird’s recognition of the more recent origins of modern paganism. His approach to the magical tradition is both frank and open, and lends weight to his assertions that follow.
The melodies of the songs are included in an appendix, and in some cases expand upon the song text published in the body of the book.
As one might expect there are the usual suspects – John Barleycorn, Tam Lin and several ballads from the Child canon which refer to supernatural goings-on. But Bird has done a bit more thinking and invites the reader to consider a deeper significance in Widdecombe Fair to give one example, or The Lambton Worm as another.
Both of these songs are essentially comic, and as such were deliberately conceived to be frivolous, so Bird’s approach to such material is a bit of a surprise. Other songs described are associated with ceremonials, such as the Cutty Wren, The Boar’s Head Carol and The Somerset Wassail. These come closest to the songs about magic, but just avoids being too New Age. Bird’s note on Tam Lin, for example, doesn’t assert that ‘this is an ancient pre-Celtic shamanic survival’, as some writers have done. It is this simple and open approach that sets this book apart from many others of its type.
Jerry Bird is a folk musician and writer, living in Dorchester.
Songs from the Magical Tradition by Jerry Bird, Green Magic Publishing £12.99, greenmagicpublishing.com (Excerpt from a longer review published in English Dance and Song, the magazine of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.)