Iconic Pagan songwriter stricken by rare disease

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LANGLEY, Washington — Many Pagans are familiar with the song “Burning Times, which weaves a captivating story of the end of matriarchal, earth-based religions in Europe. It’s an anthem that has been recorded by a number of artists, including by folk singers Roy Bailey and Christy Moore. While many Pagans identify strongly with the song itself, its writer, Charlie Murphy, may not be as well known in those same circles, since much of his work is not specifically Pagan. Recently, Murphy was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and his supporters, known as The Charlie & Eric Hope Well Team, are raising funds to provide for his care.

Burning Times was first recorded on Murphy’s 1981 solo album Catch the Fire. The piece includes the “Goddess Chant” attributed to Deena Metzger, which weaves a haunting counterpoint of goddess names through the mournful tapestry of the song itself. Many Pagan artists have since performed it during bardic circles, around campfires, at festivals and conferences.

When Christy Moore recorded “Burning Times for his 2005 album of the same name, it rose to number one on the Irish pop charts. While some of the historical assertions, which the song is based upon, have since been debunked, it still remains a powerful piece of music. The Online Pagan Song Book notes:

This song is a wonderful, stirring and inspirational song that has brought — and still brings — the Wiccan community together. This is a good thing, so I wish others to continue singing “Burning Times.” However, one must note that there are a few historical inaccuracies in the song that everyone needs to be aware of, if we are to be honest and truthful about ourselves and our origins as a religious movement.

Most noteworthy among those inaccuracies is the claim that nine million women died during the Inquisition, While the death toll was terrible, the number of victims of both genders was likely in the hundreds of thousands, not millions.

Charlie MurphyAs his song caught fire in the Pagan world, Murphy continue to perform, eventually forming a band called “Rumors of the Big Wave,” which recorded the song again in 1992 on another album titled Burning Times.The band included cellist Jami Sieber, who had played on the original 1981 recording of the song.

The Rumors of the Big Wave album provides a glimpse into the larger work that Murphy was doing with his music at that time, as it includes “I Choose Life,” a song about the AIDS epidemic, and “Needle Full of Dreams.” The band opened for such acts as Pete Seeger, Midnight Oil, and Ziggy Marley, and appeared on a Barbara Walters special. Murphy also wrote and performed “Gay Spirit,” “Light is Returning,” and “Free South Africa,” while that nation was struggling with apartheid. Rumors of the Big Wave played together from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, when Murphy laid down his touring guitar to work with young people.

That pivot took place around 1996, when he started working for the YMCA Earth Service Corps. A year later he teamed up with a journalist named Peggy Taylor to form a group which would eventually be called Partners for Youth Empowerment. This arts-based mentoring program now provides activities and training on five continents. According to the organization’s web site, “The happiness and success of our young people rests on more than academic achievement and IQ. They need life skills often missing from traditional teaching and youth program. Our mission is to create a movement of people who are able to fill that gap, providing creative, transformative learning experiences to help the next generation to tap into their full potential.”

While the work of PYE continues, Murphy has had to take a step back, as described in the crowdfunding campaign for his care. The diagnosis came on April 28 of this year:

It was a heavy blow for him and his husband Eric. They are fortunate to have loving families and to live in a supportive community with people who are doing so much to help them cope with the reality of this disease. Caring teams have been set up that are helping them navigate their financial, medical and personal needs.

“Charlie and Eric are discovering what its like to live with uncertainty. Knowing that for the most part there are only experimental treatments available, they are learning how to be pro-active about Charlie’s health and tirelessly researching the most promising avenues in slowing the progression of this disease and hopefully reversing it. They realize the odds are formidable, but nevertheless they are moving forward with hope.

ALS involves the death of neurons and loss of muscular control, with symptoms ranging from difficulty speaking, swallowing, and eventually breathing. Only one in 50,000 is stricken by this disease, which became the focus of the popular 2014 ice bucket challenge. It’s a disease that usually manifests after the age of sixty. The cause, in most cases, is a mystery, and there is no cure.

As explained by the The Charlie & Eric Hope Well Team:

Charlie is working with doctors of traditional Chinese medicine using acupuncture, herbs and nutritional supplements to address this disease. Research and clinical trials of new treatments show positive results with stem cell therapy and other approaches. ALS is known to be a costly illness and in the event of disease progression, Charlie and Eric will need to prepare for the very real possibility of having to buy equipment, supplies and re-fit their home to make it accessible and comfortable. Increased costs now and over time, will create financial hardship. They are already seeing a steep increase in their monthly expenses to cover the costs of the current treatments.

Notwithstanding experimental treatments, most ALS patients only live a few years after diagnosis.

Charlie The campaign is seeking to raise $150,000 to provide for Murphy’s care. The Wild Hunt has reached out to him for an interview, and while he is willing, speaking tires him easily and that conversation has not yet been scheduled. When it is, we will bring more of his story to the forefront, particularly about his formative role in Paganism.