Please Note: Everything showing as available to buy is physically in stock in our UK warehouse and available for delivery!

Singing to the Dying

Singing to someone  as they are dying is something I have instinctively done many times.


It ‘s feels like  an ancestral memory I’m drawing on a lament for the dying person,  and also for  those  vigiling, their loved ones, sharing the experience. 


Yet, there isn’t ,as far as I know, there isn’t any part of the  England where this has been practised within living memory .  have a sense that death songs are  similar to lullabies. Probably simple  soothing melodies   set into very simple tunes which can be almost whispered or chanted.




I come from Cornwall which has  many  folk memory’s still intact and traceable, but trawling  the county’s music heritage,  has led no where, though I have heard that there may have been such songs in Wales and also Ireland.


Many years ago Caitlin Mathews  told me that  in the Western Isles of Scotland, women, tending the dying  would sing the song , of the native redshank bird, intertwined with the dying person’s name. It would be sung in a round as the women sat keeping watch around the  bedside.



This month I shall be traveling to the  Isle of Mull and also  Speyside  in search of these ancient laments  and seeking out the help of some folk musicians  who  keep the old ways alive.


many indigenous cultures, further afield,  have a tradition of singing  to the dying.. the shamans of the far north, the nomadic   Sami tribesmen   sing to the Northern Lights who appear each night, in the skies,  to guide departing souls back home.


These special songs, or Yoiks are song-chants and are traditionally sung a cappella, usually sung slowly and deep in the throat with apparent emotional content of sorrow or anger. 


Yoiks can be dedicated to animal totems such as Moose or reindeer  ,birds  eben waterfalls and tundra ,special people or special occasions, and they can be joyous, sad or melancholic. 

They don’t contain words, but are often are based on syllablic improvisation.  Musical instruments frequently accompany yoiks. The only traditional Sami instruments that were sometimes used to accompany yoik are the "fadno" flute (made from reed-like Angelica archangelica stems) and hand drums (frame drums, and bowl drums)..... 



In some  parts of Africa there are songs sung, by the elders, to call in the ancestors for  protection of the outgoing Soul.


 Closer to home, Some years ago I discovered some wonderful CD’s produced b  the Ceile De spiritual community, also in Scotland. They sing Fonns, or sacred chants to maintain their oral traditions and safeguard their knowledge. 


A Fonn is a gaelic word that simultaneously means  song, state of mind and the land.


There is one  which  draws me deeply into the essence of sitting in vigil with someone, as a Soul Midwife. It’s title is Eisd Le Mo Chridhe which translated means “listen to my heart, I listen to your heart”


Another Fonn,  Urnaigh Chridhe -or the heart prayer- is soothing and melodic and although spoken as a prayer can be sung as a simple chant  



If anyone reading this knows anything about traditional music for the dying please get in touch as I would love to help revive this dying art.

Posted: 15 Apr 2016 By: Valerie Whitworth

I just saw that this is from 2011,..and so now many people are looking to bring this practice back and renew it, haveprobably come across Threshold choir movement. It is a wonderful healing practice, with lovely simple songs, and beautiful harmonies,... I will die happy like that : ) Thanks for the info

Your basket contains:0 items