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Book: Religion and Touch

Chapter: 4. The Heathen Lyre: On Religion, Music and Touch

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.42172


In this chapter I investigate the intersection of religion, music and touch by focussing on musical instruments, the things we touch to create ‘humanly organised sound’. I consider both the denotative and connotative meanings of instruments and how certain instruments, and not others, become meaningful in the context of religion. I use the lyre, and my learning to play a replica Dark Age lyre, as the main examples throughout. Though associated with Christianity and with ancient Greece and Rome, the lyre was also played in pre-Christian Europe. Consequently the lyre is undergoing a revival of interest by practitioners of contemporary heathenism, such that its connotative meaning is shifting from its more traditional, ‘heavenly’ associations. I end by suggesting that in many instances (and even within the supposedly secular West) an animist reading of musical instruments may both be warranted and open new areas of research within the underexplored field of music and religion.

Chapter Contributors

  • Andy Letcher ( - andyletcher) 'Schumacher College'