©2022 Michael Raven
Heilung is one of those bands/acts/performances/whatever I have wanted to see since I was introduced to them about two years ago. I saw one of their videos for a live performance and was instantly hooked. This, I thought, is what ritual should be about.
Sure, it was a musical performance that I saw, with no small amount of theatre involved, but it scratched all the right itches based on some other experiences I’ve had within the non-standard spiritual community (and I consider most wicca and other neo-pagan derivatives to be part of the “standard” community). When I say non-standard, I mean really out there groups for whom have been kind enough to let me be a guest.
I don’t want to overemphasize Heilung’s intent or role, but they most definitely have done some serious homework and put deep thought into the ceremonial and ritualistic parts of their performance. Most impressively, they wouldn’t allow themselves to be rushed and they refused to compromise on their ritual. You can tell that, even if they don’t necessarily believe in what they are doing, they do believe in the impact doing it very precisely can have on other people.
But I don’t want to delve too far down the rabbit hole of how to do ritual well (incorrectly or correctly). Let’s just say that Heilung sells the ritual damn well while they are performing, regardless of their personal beliefs.
I showed up about twenty minutes before the doors opened to the Myth Live and queued for another 20 before I got inside the venue, which was a bit of an experience in of itself. It’s been a long time since I went to a show where I had to queue up more than five minutes and things have changed since I had last done so. Or, maybe, I have.
There was far more costume than I expected to see, honestly. I really didn’t expect to see much more than a few people in Hollywood’s and gaming’s idea of what Vikings wore for clothes and make-up, but I was honestly the rarity, dressed up as a mundie. There were others like myself, but watching the sheer amount of full cosplay on display just waiting to head into the venue took me a bit aback. And most of what I saw felt very slapdash, which made me wonder why anyone bothered. As a goth back in the 80s, I was very concerned about finer details and quality — that gives you an idea about what I would expect of myself if I chose to “dress up” for the event.
I was also a bit surprised at the enthusiasm, considering that the chatter around me plainly gave away that most of the attendees (at least around me in line) had no real clue what this was all about — they may have had the Old Norse phonetics memorized (some did), but didn’t understand the context of the Old Norse they were reciting via rote memorization actually meant.
The fact that more emphasis was placed on how to correctly play drinking games than on the upcoming performance gave away the hat. Especially when the trio who stood behind me in line were nearby inside and they failed to comprehend the solemnness of the beginning ritual at the beginning of the show, talking and cackling loudly as the stage was ritually smudged with incense, deaf to nearby shushes from other audience members.
But, enough about the crowd, the annoyances some of them brought inside and the distractions some of them provided…
While I encourage folks to watch Lifa, which is freely available on YouTube to get a sense of the Heilung concert experience, the band has really refined and improved on the experience since that performance was filmed. You get a sense, but not the full experience, which is something altogether different in person. The video does not convey the sub-bass thrum of your whole body as the amplified drums beat out the rhythms, or the shimmering of the air as Maria (the “shamanka” with the white leather-tasseled headdress) hits particular notes that seem to resonate within your chest and gut. It doesn’t capture the frenetic energy of the other performers or of the crowd buying into this whole performance, reverberating in the essence of everything happening on stage.
One of the elements I found refreshing from what you might expect was the inclusion of women as shieldmaidens and warriors in some of the support performers. I caught some of the “warrior” routines in video, but not in pictures — otherwise I’d share that. What I also found to be an interesting choice was that it appeared that the shieldmaidens might have been as topless as their male counterparts. It was difficult to tell, as everyone was painted with black grease paint to mimic the grime of battle, but there was an obvious lack of “support” during their performance and more definition to their chests than you would expect to see if they were wearing tank tops. I was too far away to see for certain, but it didn’t matter enough to investigate anyway. I do notice that they did not join some of the male warriors near the end in jumping in with the crowd below the stage — it ways, I suspect that confirms what I think I saw (and I think is smart on their part).
Another element I loved was the ritualized warrior sacrifice that I really should have filmed because of how connected it felt to some of my own thoughts about these things. At one stage, a female warrior was bound to her spear by rope during the song in such a manner as to have it appear symbolically to be piercing her through the abdomen (sideways). The core member of Heilung who plays the role of a “shaman” then slipped a noose over her neck, tightening it. At the precise moment in the song, he appeared to thrust her to the ground with the noose, making it appear as if she had been pierced by the spear, bound and then hanged/slayed.
Bear with me, if you find this disturbing.
After a short cycle of music, the shamanka (female “shaman”) walked up to the dead warrior, lifted her up as if raising her from the dead, removed the spear and the noose and “freed” the warrior from the confines of death, arms reaching out toward the heavens to celebrate. A sacrifice, now resurrected.
The last song was a frenzy of everyone on stage, and off stage, the Myth was vibrating and throbbing in unison. And then… it stopped. The ritual was closed off by smudging the stage and the actors, and everyone thanked the crowd for coming, bowing to the crowd and filing out.
There was no encore.
There are no encores in ritual.
I walked away, amazed, stunned and a little wobbly. It was fantastic.
I’d love to do it again.