There are many cultures and spiritual sects who use chanting as a spiritual tool. Below are some cultures and groups who use chanting to enhance their sacred ceremonies and religious practices. Of course this only to name a few and the purpose of chanting within each individual group could also be expanded upon ten fold.
Many African languages are tonal languages and this creates a close connection between, music, chanting and language itself. Many communities upon the continent of Africa use vocal sounds and movements with their chanting and singing as well. A native speaker of a language can often perceive a text or texts from within the music or chant. This effect also creates the foundations of drum languages. Chanting has been used across Africa for thousands of years to connect with the ancestors, to evoke deities and for protection and prosperity.
The belief in Hawaiian culture is that chanting opens up the heart. Chanting is believed to be much more than words or songs. Each chant creates a vibration or energy that at the deepest levels, corresponds to the meaning of the chant. In Hawaiian culture they chant to remember their ancestors, pass down stories, attune to spirit and to expand their consciousness. It is a deeply spiritual practice.
The American Indians, like many native cultures were extremely spiritual people. Among there many spiritual practices, they used chanting as a key part of their spiritual ceremonies. Native Americans chanted in a similar way to the Hawaiian natives and believed their chants to be more than singing or mere vibrations. The vibration of each word was in itself sacred, as were the words being spoken. They often used chanting to worship their deities, call upon the ancestors, remember their ancestors, give thanks and offerings, and call for protection.
The Assyrian Church is one of the earliest known followers of Christianity. The Assyrian church considers itself the continuation of the Church of the East which was a church that developed among the Assyrians during the first century AD in Assyria. Like many cultures with spiritual ties and beliefs, the Assyrian priests used chanting as a form of worship to their God. Modern Syrian chanting is more rhythmic and syllabic in style than Gregorian chanting.
Aboriginals of Australia
Aboriginal Australians often used music, chanting, singing, and dancing altogether within a sacred ceremony. The ritualistic chants played a huge part in “a rite of passage” as a being moved from one stage of their life to the next (Death). Chanting was also used in ceremonies of marriage, adult hood and speaking to the ancestors. As with the Hawaiians and Native American chanting, singing and dancing were extremely sacred and spiritual practices for their people.
In Buddhism, chanting is the traditional means of preparing the mind for meditation. Some forms of Buddhism also use chanting for ritualistic purposes. Cambodian Bhuddists aswell as Japaneese Bhuddists use chanting for funeral ceremonies, among many others. Chanting is also used to tell stories about the Buddha’s life here on earth.
In the Vajrayana tradition, chanting can be used to set one’s mind upon a particular deity, Tantric ceremony, mandala, or particular concept which one wishes to further in themselves.
Tibetan bhuddist monks are revered for their skill at “throat-singing”. This a specialised form of chanting where they are able to produce multiple distinct pitches simultaneously.
Hindu chanting, as with many ancient cultures mentioned, is much more than words or prayers. Chants are used to call upon deities and worship them. They are also used to repeat sacred and ancient texts and to preserve them in the oral form.
There is an insistence throughout Hindu tradition to preserve the pronunciation and accent of the chants as accurately as possible, as it is believed that the potency of the mantras lies in their sound when pronounced correctly.
Mantras, chants or sacred sounds, are used in Hindu tradition to pierce through sensual, mental and intellectual levels of existence for the direct purpose of ones purification and spiritual enlightenment. It is known that by sound vibrations – one becomes liberated.
The oral tradition of the Vedas (Hindu texts) consists of several specific ways of chanting the Vedic mantras. Vedic chants are often considered the oldest unbroken oral tradition in human existence.
Vedic chanting consist of 4 tones –
Udatta उदात्त(middle tone)
Anudaatta अनुदात्त (lower tone)
Svarita स्वरित (higher tone)
Deergha Svarita दीर्घस्वरित (High tone extended).
Gregorian chants were traditionally sung by choirs of boys in churches, or by men and women of certain religious orders inside of their chapels. The chanting was usually performed as a spiritual tool and for an act of worship.
Gregorian chanting replaced the other indigenous traditions of the Christian church to become the official music of Christian worship. Other forms, such as Ambrosian chanting continues to be sung in Milan, Italy to this day. Although Gregorian chanting is no longer as popular or revered, the Catholic Church still considers it to be the music which is most suitable for worshiping God.
Gregorian chants were organized initially into four music scales (modes), then eight, and finally 12. Gregorian chanting played a massive role in the development of medieval and Renaissance music, and later classical.
The chanting of mantras to attain prosperity, wealth, health and peace of mind is very prominent within Islam and Sufism. Chants are used frequently and religiously for worship, reverence and personal well being (gifted to the worshiper by Allah).
In Islam, Allah is known by 99 names, and by chanting the names through mantras, it is believed that one may attain spiritual growth, satisfaction, purification and rejuvenation.
Typically, recited as “duas” (Prayers), these chants work as an invocation to Allah, for him to provide blessings through which recovery, healing and progression can be attained. Though chanted in the Arabic language the majority of the time, the chants or mantra’s can be translated and used accordingly. However, like the previous cultures we have looked at, when translated to English or a modern language, the vibration of the words changes, and from a spiritual perspective (as seen by ancient cultures) the effects of the chants then change too.
Chanting in the Jewish faith is similar to all the Abrahamic religions of today (Islam and Christianity) whereby chanting is used as a form of worship to God, however, it is also used to recite holy texts and prayers.
Many passages within certain prayer books, such as the Amidah and the Psalms, can be chanted rather than read. The style of chant within a particular Jewish community may be known as its nusach. The recitations follow a system of musical modes, somewhat like the maqamat within Arabic music.
As we have discovered, chanting can be found in all four corners of the earth. Every religious sect, spiritual group or ancient tribe uses some form of chanting for a spiritual purpose. Many indigenous tribes regard the art of chanting as one of the most important and most difficult forms of ones spiritual practice. The ceremonial shamans utilize ancient chants to alter reality, both in the spiritual and material world.
Chanting is seen in shamanic culture as a way to alter consciousness and create a link to the divine. Specific tones, vibrations and sounds can help to open the heart and shift ones mental state into a more peaceful and harmonious phase. Chanting is also used to warn off bad spirits, to call the ancestors and give thanks to certain deities and to Mother Earth.