Immersive Sonic Elements from Greek and Roman Ritual through Contemporary Christian Worship: A Closer Walk with Thee


As the lyrics to the traditional nineteenth century gospel hymn state, one of the goals of many magical and religious practices is to experience ‘a closer walk with Thee,’ coming into the presence of the holy in both figurative and arguably literal terms. One of the many ways to improve this likelihood of achieving the deep and immersive presence of the holy—described by the scholar of comparative religion Rudolf Otto as the “gentle tide, [the] pervading [of] the mind with a tranquil mood” numinous experience—is through the careful use of various sonic elements. To this point, an exploration of physical worship spaces themselves, a review of the means of creating sounds within worship, and a study of the related uses of sonic technology during worship rituals can help to elucidate just how these sonic elements compare in their utilization between ancient magic and more contemporary magical and religious applications. It is my contention that the overall goal of creating an immersive environment for worship and ritual practice has remained a constant from Ancient Greek and Roman times through to the present, while the technology available to achieve this goal (both in the creation of an immersive physical space and in the use of engaging and relatable musical instruments and instrumental styles) has continually progressed. Put another way, the methods in which we might best utilize various sonic elements to achieve the most numinous experience—the ‘how’— have certainly changed over time, but the underlying ‘why’ and the core goal of using sound to increase this sense of a presence with the holy has remained largely unchanged.

Author's Profile

Jeff Hawley
York St John University


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