“I know Brigid’s walking with me when the wild flowers have come,” the Australian-born Adrienne Piggott sings on “Goddess of the Southern Land.” The lyrics continue with “and the wattle flowers into life the color of the sun. In misty mountain bush land the smell of eucalyptus after rain and bark fall signal that it’s time to celebrate Beltane.”
As the croaking drone of a didgeridoo and gentle djembe and guitar open the song which opens the CD, Piggott unveils a confession: despite remaining rooted to her ancestors in the British Isles and to Brigid, she is on a vision quest to discover and connect to a new goddess: the “rainbow serpent mother protector of the land” where Piggott lives in the Mount Lofty Ranges near Adelaide Hills in South Australia.
The tone of Spiral Dance’s aptly-titled, mesmerizing ninth album is set from the start: connecting, or staying connected, to land and legend in the midst of an increasingly mobile global culture, in an age when a modern-day shaman’s dance is a mundane reality for so many humans who literally walk — or jet — between two worlds.
It’s a topic of deep import for Pagans, polytheists and members of earth-based religions, especially those in the United States. Except for those honoring the paths of the indigenous people of “Turtle Island,” the deities and legends revered by stateside Pagans are frequently rooted in distant lands across the pond: Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia, the ancient Middle East, Egypt, the Yoruba region of West Africa, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean islands.
How can one deeply connect to the genii loci, the “spirits of a place,” in such cases?
The liner notes to “Goddess of the Southern Land” detail that song’s genesis: “This is a song that draws from Adrienne’s life and spiritual journey. Constantly torn between the land of her parents and ancestors and the country of her birth, she had never really felt a strong sense of ‘belonging’ to any one place.”
Piggott is then quoted in the liner notes: “Feeling like a visitor for so many years, I wanted to create something to help my roots sink into the soil. I needed this southern land to claim me . . . I called and she answered.”
That answer, as Piggott sings, remains somewhat cloaked in mystery: “Goddess of the southern land I’m yet to know your name. I’ve been travelling the pathways from where my ancestors came. But now I long to hear the song lines that are singing in your veins. Goddess of the southern land I’m yet to know your name.”
On Land and Legend, Spiral Dance doesn’t proscribe how to connect to the genii loci of one’s new home or stay connected to those of one’s ancestral home. Rather, the band members — main songwriter Piggott, accordion player and songwriter Paul Gooding, guitarist and didge player Nick Carter, bassist Nigel Walters, and drummer Rick Kearsley — go about their business of honoring, in song, the old gods and old ways of their British-Irish ancestors, while keeping their hearts open to the spirits of the land they now call home. Tellingly, the band acknowledges the Peramangk, Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri people “on whose land we live.”
(An historical note: the first English settlers/colonizers arrived in Australia in 1788, and an influx of Irish followed over the next century. “Australia remains the most Irish country in the world outside Ireland,” says Richard Reid, senior curator of the National Museum of Australia.)Cloaked in folk rock and brought to life by the songbird voice of Piggott (think of Moya Brennan of Clannad), Land and Legend includes tales of the Sheringham mermaid of Norfolk, England; the enchanted forest of Broceliande in Brittany in northwest France; the Irish legend of the children of Lir, who were turned into swans; and the seldom-celebrated Elen of the Ways, the Celtic antlered goddess.
In the liner notes to “Wicker Man/Landlord’s Daughter,” the band says the song was written “to celebrate our annual English ale held in the Adelaide Hills town of Mylor. We honor many of the customs of our English ancestors: Morris dancing, hobby horses, guisers, the fiery torch-lit procession with our pageant giants and the burning of the wicker man. Our ritual celebrates the turning of the year, the harvest and honors the old gods, ancestors and spirits of the land as we move into the darker time – the time of the crone.” (The next English ale will be Saturday May 19, 2018, at Mylor Hall and Oval, Strathalbyn Road, Mylor, South Australia; see the “gig guide” section on spiraldance.com.au for more information.)
Throughout the music of Land and Legend, Carter’s acoustic, electric and 12-string guitars and mandolin weave gentle tapestries and occasionally flex some muscle, as in the moody, staccato groove of “King Orfeo.” Gooding’s button accordion appears and disappears and reappears like a will-o’-the-wisp, bringing a wistful, fresh breeze to the tune each time.
Land and Legend concludes with the song “Mallee My Mother,” written by Wyverne Ogma Vyvyan, a friend of the band. While Mallee is a place in Australia, the song’s liner notes reveal that Mallee is “a dreaming” – a spirit entity who seeds the land with flowers and fruits while also incarnating as human souls so that she can “experience humanity close-up,” and so the CD comes full circle: from Australia to the British Isles and back again. The journey to connect to land and legend will continue, wherever one’s feet happen to be walking upon the earth.
[An interview with band members has been published here – ed.]