Book & Music Review: Spell Songs

A few years ago, I fell in love with The Lost Words – a stunning collection of poetry and illustrations by Rob Macfarlane and Jackie Morris celebrating the wonders of nature and preserving the words that are becoming increasingly absent from our common vernacular. With that book, I taught a class of eleven year olds what bluebells are, what an otter is and opened their eyes to natural wonders that they had no names for – and some that they didn’t even know existed. I treasure that collection, both for my own enjoyment of its beauty and for what it brings to the world. 

So when, in a bookshop a few months ago, I stumbled across Spell Songs, I was thrilled and intrigued. Not just another beautiful volume but one accompanied by a CD, filled with music inspired by The Lost Words. What a wonderful idea.

The whole collection – book and music alike – feels like a prayer for wanderers and seekers, a mantra for those of us looking to reconnect with the natural world around us. Both are beautiful, masterful works of art and are utterly compelling.

The book’s various introductions end with a wish and a reminder:

We are not ‘stewards’ of the natural world, we are not something that stands apart from it. We are a very small part of an amazing ecosystem. The Earth is our home, but it is also home to so many forms of life, life that is so astonishing, intelligence that puts our arrogance to shame. We need to find better ways to live, ways that give respect to all life. Our desire is that Spell Songs will be a harbour for the soul, a chorus of hope in the dark days, a rallying cry. These are songs of protest, of praise, and of blessing. May they lift your hearts and give you hope.

Spell Songs

It is the perfect summary of what this work achieves. Praise, protest and blessing in one. A spotlight on our oft forgotten place within, rather than outside, nature.

The book is also beautifully put together, combining Jackie Morris’ stunning artwork, striking black and white photography, and the carefully formatted words of the spell songs, along with a short piece of text giving insight into the origin or development of each. It is a joy to read.

The songs themselves are varied, sometimes playful, sometimes contemplative. From soothing melodies to thought-provoking spoken word pieces, they have a deep resonance that vividly calls to mind the different things they were written for. Every track is fabulous in its own way but my personal favourites bookend the album.

The opening piece, Heartwood, is a song in praise of trees and carries the sound of walking through woodland in its simple melody and rhythmic patterns.

The final track, The Lost Words Blessing, has captured my heart, mind and soul so completely that I know it will rank high in my list of all time favourites forever. This gentle, soulful piece is just what it says: a blessing. It feels like a lullaby and invokes images of wild landscapes so vividly that you are transported to the machar sands, wandering past dying stars, slipping beneath the flowing water. It really does weave a spell unlike anything else.

Spell Songs is a stunning work of collaboration and the thought and care and passion on every page, in every word, in every note is a resounding call to return to nature. I urge you to seek out a copy and read and listen and immerse yourself in this wonderful reminder of the miracles all around us. And I leave you with The Lost Words Blessing, in the hope that it speaks to you.

Enter the wild with care, my love 
And speak the things you see 
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow 
And even as you travel far from heather, crag and river 
May you like the little fisher, set the stream alight with glitter 
May you enter now as otter without falter into water

Look to the sky with care, my love 
And speak the things you see 
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow 
And even as you journey on past dying stars exploding 
Like the gilded one in flight, leave your little gifts of light 
And in the dead of night my darling, find the gleaming eye of starling 
Like the little aviator, sing your heart to all dark matter

Walk through the world with care, my love 
And sing the things you see 
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow 
And even as you stumble through machair sands eroding 
Let the fern unfurl your grieving, let the heron still your breathing 
Let the selkie swim you deeper, oh my little silver-seeker 
Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker 
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus 
And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home

The Lost Words Blessing

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