On Land and Legend, the band’s latest album and its ninth since its 1996 debut, Spiral Dance walks in two worlds. Its members celebrate the gods, goddesses, and myths of their ancestral roots in the British Isles, and they seek to connect to the spirit of their Australian home.
The Wild Hunt spoke to singer and main songwriter Adrienne Piggott, as well as accordion player and songwriter Paul Gooding, about walking that walk.
TWH: Do you identify as Pagan? What terms do you use to describe your spiritual path?
Piggott: I do identify as Pagan and I follow the Druidic path. I’ve always been drawn to the myths and legends of the land of my blood ancestors — Ireland and England — and Druidry draws on the ancient tales for wisdom and guidance. I believe they speak to us on a deep level and I know they are in my blood.
Along with this, the love of nature and the arts drew me to Druidry as a spiritual path, and being of a first-born generation in Australia I needed to connect to this land while still holding the land of my ancestors close. Druidry has been my guide in this, although it took many moons to be in the space I am now.Gooding: I identify as Pagan, though I’m quite solitary on my path. I think I draw from many faiths but probably align more closely to Druidry than, say, modern Wicca. I like to live with respect to the land and to the natural world and like the idea of my spirituality being open and all-encompassing, not limited by borders or ethnicity or somehow dependent on my ancestry.
I had no orthodox religious beliefs when I was younger and my spiritual path developed slowly and is still developing as I expand my learning and life experiences, but certainly joining Spiral Dance was a huge influence. I’d never considered Paganism before that and though I’d always had a great respect for nature, I wasn’t aware of Druidry as a spiritual path. Attending ritual at many Pagan festivals all over the world with Spiral Dance has certainly made me much more aware and perhaps more open to different paths, and I think I became more connected to my spiritual side, rather than just to my musical path, slowly over time.
However, I did have a bit of an “a-ha” moment a few years ago. We were touring in the U.K. with Damh the Bard and we had climbed Glastonbury Tor before our gig there. I was born in the U.K. and had visited Glastonbury as a teenager, but on this particular windy, rainy day I had an experience that was very powerful and personal to me. I spoke to Damh about it afterwards and told him that I’d visited Glastonbury before, but never with my eyes open! That experience certainly changed something within me.
TWH: Adrienne, in the liner notes to the song “Goddess of the Southern Land,” you mention your ancestors. You also mention that, in seeking to connect to the land of Australia, “I called and she answered.” How did she answer?
Piggott: My father was Irish and my mum was English and they emigrated to this wild and beautiful country in 1947, just after World War II. I grew up surrounded by stories and songs of the U.K. and Ireland, and have always felt those places as being home, so I struggled with my place and connection to the land of Australia, the land of my birth. I love the customs, traditions and legends of England and Ireland and feel very connected to them to the point that I don’t know where these things end and where my spiritual path begins. They are all connected.
I have been working on my journey for many years now and the song “Goddess of the Southern Land” is a reflection of this journey. The chorus of the song — “Goddess of the southern land I’m yet to know your name” — is not a question, but a statement. I feel like my feet have grown roots into the soil here but it has taken a long time, and the journey still goes on. I have the utmost respect for the first people of this land and I find their creation stories mesmerizing, so that is why I mention the rainbow serpent mother; you can feel her energy. And also the story of the giant who was slain: that is a Peramangk dreaming and told about the area I live in. And the creation story about the Kookaburra waking the sky-people to light the sun.
I do this with total respect and love. Every time Spiral [Dance] perform[s] this song I am close to tears : it’s a spiritual journeying song, a song that celebrates a few of the seasonal occurrences that trigger strong emotions within me and they happen here where I live, right where I live. I feel many people who live in a land that is not of their ancestors will be able to relate to it.
TWH: Paul, being a native of England, how connected do you feel to your adopted homeland, and how did your spiritual path help in forging that connection, if it’s there?
Gooding: Well, I’ve lived in Australia now for 20 years and I absolutely consider it to be home. It was a bit strange at first as all the flora and fauna were so different from the U.K., in fact the whole landscape felt almost alien! The sun moved across the sky the wrong way and almost all the constellations were unfamiliar, with the exception of Orion that can be seen in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, but it was upside-down, and so was the moon! All very weird.
But then, as I slowly learned about Paganism as part of the band and became more connected to the land in Australia, I found that the wheel of the year became a contentious issue as just simply reversing the sabbats really didn’t fit with what was going on in nature and upon the landscape where I live in Adelaide Hills. We’ve had many discussions about it now and, along with a super little book by Julie Brett called Australian Druidry: connecting with the sacred landscape, I feel much more confident sketching the wheel to fit with my location and place on the land.
This has helped me a lot and it’s still a work in progress as these things change every season. Probably even acknowledging that goes to show that I’m much more connected to Australia than I once was.TWH: Songs on Land and Legend mention Brigid, the Horned God, Morris dancing, the children of Lir, Elen – all goddess, gods, myths and traditions of the British Isles and Ireland. The British and Irish have been present in Australia for centuries, but has it been difficult for you two to maintain deep connections with your spiritual/ancestral roots?
Piggott: I find it quite easy to maintain my connection to my ancestral roots. I’m lucky to be morris dancing with others who connect to this ancient English custom. Spiral Dance started as an English/Celtic folk rock band, we wassail and perform mummers plays and we host an event each year called the English ale, which is a day-and-night celebrating the customs and traditions from England. We also always acknowledge the traditional owners of the land where we hold the event as a mark of respect and thankfulness.
I try to get to the U.K. every second year or so and I feel very much at home there but Australia is my real home. The land is in my DNA now. I eat food grown on this land. I know the smell and feel of each season and I hear her sing to me when the wind blows through the she-oak trees. I recognize the bird calls of the birds who live in the bushland opposite my house. If you listen, the land it really does speak to you!
Gooding: I’ve never had a deep connection to feeling Celtic or whatever, maybe that’s because I didn’t knowingly follow a spiritual path when England was my home, but I still have a deep love of the customs and traditions from Britain. I was a morris dancer and loved the more rural, unspoiled and more windswept places in England, especially at the coast, close to the ocean where I was born. I think that still inspires me and influences my creativity through the tunes I write. They still feel more “English” than “Australian” to me.