Author Archives: Mātōnya

Anime: Why I Want to Like It, But Usually Can’t

PART 1: Introduction

I love cartoons.  Pretty much all of my favorite shows are cartoons, or animated series if you prefer, most of them admittedly meant for children.  If you enjoy cartoons, then you cannot escape the phenomenon of anime.  This is especially true as an adult fan of cartoons, since anime is particularly good at marketing itself toward adults and the industry is invested in making more adult-oriented media (as well as adult media, so to speak, but I will not tackle that here).

As most readers will no doubt know, anime is a style of animation that has its origins in Japan.  Indeed, I have heard it argued that all anime is Japanese, and that anything made outside of Japan does not qualify even if the artistic style is identical.  Personally, I think the word describes more of a style than a country of origin, and thus South Korean anime and American anime and so forth are allowed to be called anime, and they probably are called anime by most fans of the genre, and they certainly are categorized that way by Netflix and other platforms that host these series.  However, it is difficult to escape the essential Japanese character of the vast majority of anime.  We will return to that shortly.  Anyone who likes cartoons needs to address the issue of anime’s existence because it has been extremely influential even in animated series that are not explicitly anime.  One only needs to look at the monumentally successful Teen Titans (2003) or the more recent She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2017) to see the influence of anime even in American comic book superhero cartoons.  Even if you don’t like anime and don’t watch it, it is already here, and its influence and appeal is reflected in the shows that North American animators are creating today—animators who, no doubt, are probably mostly fans of anime themselves.

First, I want to describe what I like about anime.  In short, I like the animation.  Anime is a victim of budgeting just like any other kind of animated work, and it is obvious that some are not at the artistic quality of others.  Nevertheless, anime, in general, is quite well-animated.  As the younger folks are saying, it is very “AESTHETIC”, for lack of another, equally succinct explanation.  If every frame was a painting in Kubric’s films, then some high budget anime productions seem to have taken that notion literally.  Anime can be gorgeously drawn.  I’m not a huge fan of the characteristic way in which human faces are drawn in anime style, but I can understand what makes it compelling to fans in the same way that I can understand why characters in classic Disney films were drawn in the characteristically Disney way of animating them (e.g., “Disney eyes”, etc.).  As I understand it, this style is influenced by kawaii culture, the Japanese fascination with a certain kind of cuteness.  Most anime characters are, first and foremost, drawn to be cute and youthful.  How much more beautiful can animation be, then, when a gorgeous aesthetic of landscapes and settings and carefully drawn scenery and objects are mixed with a cast of cute, youthful, beautiful characters with surreal and exaggerated eyes (and ubiquitous bangs, since, apparently, anime characters ALWAYS have bangs/fringes as if foreheads are anathema to anime aesthetic)?  I think the character animation is an acquired taste, but they are almost always dressed well with nary a hair out of place, just like any Disney princess or prince.

Where I think anime fails is in its narrative execution, not in its visual aesthetics.  Anime seems to suffer from a collection of eccentric tropes that are unceremoniously wedged into nearly every production.  This alone isn’t contemptuous, for surely this can be found in plenty of media.  For example, if you have seen one American 80s action film, you just may have seen them all.  Police procedurals are mostly the same as well except for an occasional gimmick to add an interesting twist (e.g., the medical examiner is a zombie!, or the Devil himself is the detective’s partner!, etc.).  What makes anime unique is that these tropes do not seem to be genre-specific, being found in equal number and emphasis in a cyberpunk epic as in a romantic drama or a high school comedy.  What’s worse still is that many of these tropes are not just “problematic”, but can actually be quite disturbing.  (Well, to me, at least.)  I find that anime plots, narratives, and characters tend to suffer greatly under the weight of these ubiquitous tropes, and the creators of anime seem to be quite willing to throw out an otherwise great aesthetic experience in service to these quirky characterizations and arcs.  Indeed, it seems that most anime is only enjoyable to a person who would enjoy these idiosyncrasies, as if the anime industry itself is devoted to a very specific kind of fan service to the detriment of creating better, more compelling, more interesting art.

To that last point, I suspect that most within the anime community are also aware of this phenomenon, and some may even celebrate it.  Anime seems to be a slave to otaku culture, the community of die-hard anime fans that seem to particularly enjoy these tropes and reward their inclusion in anime-styled media with their financial support and praise.  Again, I do not think this is necessarily a recipe for disaster.  Anime is not the only genre that is heavily invested in fan service.  However, most successful media try to find a medium between fan service and mass appeal.  Art under capitalism is, after all, out to make a buck, and the greater appeal, the better.  Anime seems to have an opposite goal in mind: to make the audience comfortable with its small bag of tricks.  Rather than changing itself to reach a greater audience, it expects the audience to become familiar with its tropes and come to acquire a taste for them.  Perhaps the strategy isn’t a terrible one given the success of anime both within Japan and outside of it.

In the following section, I am going to dissect a specific anime that I tried very hard to enjoy recently and put into context just what these tropes are, why I think they are unsuccessful (unless you have just come to appreciate them for their own sake), and why I think they are even somewhat pernicious to the point that appreciation of anime makes the otaku community suspect in my eyes (and thus turns me off from the style as a whole).  I believe it is a good example of what’s “wrong” with anime and why I, speaking for myself, find it difficult to enjoy.

PART 2: The Anatomy of Violet Evergarden

Violet Evergarden is the titular character of an anime produced this past year in Japan for Netflix.  Needless to say, there will be spoilers, but I also want to confess that I never managed to finish the series’ thirteen-episode run.  I made it to the fifth episode, a little more than a third of the way through the show, and it is at that point that I stopped to write this review/critique.  This is one of those shows that reveals the past of the characters as the narrative drives forward, so I am still left to speculate on some things at this point.  Feel free to criticize me for not even bothering to finish the show I’m criticizing, but at the risk of sounding arrogant, I believe I’ve seen enough to get my point across concerning what I find unappealing about the show, and about anime more broadly.

First, the pros about the show.  As I have come to expect from anime, it’s beautifully drawn and the universe it creates it fairly compelling.  The show takes place in the fictional Germanic kingdom (or colony) of Leidenschaftlich and a fictional era from about the early 20th century from the looks of it.  Automobiles seem like a new invention, as are typewriters, and the wardrobe is a steampunkesque/WWI era mix of Victorian frills and bustles and petticoats.  The setting evokes simultaneously a western European (mountains, woods, and fields), Japanese (rice paddies), and tropical (palm trees) landscape, making itself nowhere in particular, but able to feel nostalgic to just about anyone.  Details about Violet are vague, but she has mechanized prosthetic arms after losing them fighting in a war.  What we learn about her by episode 5 is that she was apparently kidnapped by an army officer’s brother and given to him to use as a weapon.  Why she is treated with such inhumanity when she is ostensibly a teenage girl is not explained by episode 5, nor why she seems to lack any sense of emotion, nor why she seems to be utterly obedient to her master, so to speak.  Why would she be considered a weapon at all?  Is she a supernatural being?  Is she an immortal fairy?  Is this why she looks 15 years old and everyone thinks she’s a child?  Is this why her commanding officer treated her “like a dog” and “like a tool” as it is said?  Whatever the case, her commanding officer/master dies and she is left to carry on in a post-war world that is reconstructing itself.  She lands a job at the company of her dead master’s friend.  It is a company that specializes in writing letters for clients using auto memories dolls: women who put to paper the true thoughts and feelings of the client, taking dictation but also adding their own insight into what the client truly means to express.  All of these auto memories dolls are young women, they all wear unique uniforms (which, if I may nitpick, means that they aren’t uniforms) to look presentable—or sexy?—to the clients.  Violet, being unable to feel emotions and whose personality is uncompromisingly candid and matter-of-fact, predictably finds this task particularly challenging.  She takes everyone at their word and has little understanding of their emotional states because she is—as I assume we are led to believe—some kind of quasi-supernatural 15-year-old blonde killing machine who feels nothing but loyalty to her master for reasons never explained.  She takes the job because she wants to understand what her master meant when he said that he loved her just before he died.  The other characters are mostly understood in relation to Violet, each of them having their own little moments of appreciating her quirks, and finding that her forthright nature and courageous (or robotic) honesty actually helps them with their problems.  They also seem to admire her for her persistence and loyalty and sense of duty.

The tropes we’re dealing with in this one underline a serious problem I find in anime: sexism and specifically the sexualization of young women.  Anime seems broadly interested in this artistic goal with many of their tropes to the point that in the past I have stated, perhaps unfairly, that I suspect most hardcore anime fans of having a paraphilia for young girls.  (Some anime fans do by their own admission, and so it is not totally unfair for me to say that anime tends to cater to them, even if I may adopt a graciously charitable position and say that producers of anime don’t intend to appeal to hebephiles or pedophiles or whatever you wish to call them.)  Violet is literally a mindless slave from the beginning who is the property of an older man, barring of course any later reveal that she’s a 900 year old elf girl or something.  (I don’t say that glibly either, for in anime this is a believable plot twist that one might encounter.)  She is dressed by her new boss as a porcelain doll, a fact that is stated explicitly by several of the characters, and of course her job title is that she is an auto memories doll, a very doll by name.  To say that she is objectified would not be contentious or some kind of feminist talking point: she literally is objectified as a doll after being objectified as a toy soldier/slave.  The other young female characters face a similar treatment, but I don’t even need to discuss them to get the point across.

There are a lot of tropes in anime that are part of a Japanese cultural milieu.  Some of these are strange only in that they are unfamiliar.  For example, I find the Japanese concept of romance very foreign: the stilted, awkward way characters tend to undermine their own affections for the sake of their public image.  No doubt this resonates better with Japanese audiences and their own idealizations of love and romance and courtship.  Those Western audiences that have come to accept these idealizations may also appreciate it.  However, Violet Evergarden and its sexualization and objectification of young girls is beyond a cultural misunderstanding for me.  Perhaps this is a natural consequence of idealizing youthfulness and cuteness in anime character design, but it is a feature of anime that I find difficult to look beyond.  One moment you’re enjoying the aesthetic experience, forgiving the awkward dialogue and the other eccentric, silly tropes (like girls with cat ears) that abound in anime, but then you hit that part that makes your skin crawl.  You ask yourself, “Am I supposed to find this romantic that this girl, this child, has the subtext of being a seen as a sex doll to the men around her?”  Or perhaps you see one of the many schoolgirls that find their way into anime and think, “Why do teenagers in miniskirts and bikinis need to be surrounded by perverted older men in situations that are meant to be comical?  What is funny about men predating upon high school students?  Why does the audience need multiple scenes shown through the ‘male gaze’ with bikini shots and upskirt shots and closeups of unrealistically bouncing breasts on teenage girls with enormous eyes?”

As for Violet Evergarden herself, her story is pure schmaltz even when you can ignore, for the moment, the fact that she went from being a dehumanized slavegirl to a slightly less dehumanized “auto memories doll” in a set of scenes that emphasized the various curves of her body and the wind lifting her skirts to reveal more of her legs to the adult men around her while she meekly did their bidding without complaint.  Instead of finding her a tragic victim, we are meant to be moved at how much this treatment of her touches the people around her.  Isn’t she marvelous, this double amputee slavegirl who seems to be devoid of emotion, because she told me a truth I didn’t want to hear?  Her character only seems human and compelling if we are meant to be horrified by the way people around her are treating her and read her lack of emotion as some kind of post-traumatic coping mechanism, or if she responded to her own treatment appropriately instead of displaying a grotesque kind of Stockholm Syndrome for which is impossible to suspend disbelief.  How can anyone find Violet admirable unless they think that this is somehow appropriate?  Are young women best when they are property with no real thoughts or feelings of their own who are put on display for the enjoyment of, and in service to, the people around her?  The fact that her master claims to have loved her and that the characters around her find her charming because her honesty and obedience is supposed to resonate with me?  Thanks, I hate it.

Maybe I’m missing something.  Maybe I’m supposed to be horrified.  Maybe this is a witty parody, a cogent social commentary, a reflection of anime culture that is meant to mock it somehow.  But I doubt that.  It’s a male otaku fantasy.  Violet Evergarden is the doll they wish to possess, a presumably underage girl who barely eats (this is indeed a plot point for her, I am not assuming this), obeys every command, has no thoughts and feelings of her own other than a pathetic devotion to a man who literally owned her as his property and got her arms blown off to protect himself in battle and whom she seems to love not just in spite of this, but because of this, and one who will listen to your every emotional diatribe without adding any of her own, since she has none to offer.  To top it off, she’s dressed like a Victorian serving wench just for your enjoyment along with the other girls of the show, and she’ll never talk back to you with sarcasm or laugh at your failings.  When you tell her to jump, she will say, “How high, sir?”  Does anyone consider this a compelling character beyond those who would pine for her as the girl of their perverse, emotionally stunted dreams?

After five episodes, there is no growth.  True to her role of being an object, the characters around Violet show growth, but she shows none.  Dolls do not grow, after all.  They remain the same.  If Violet had an arc of her own, then the otaku fantasy would be crushed.  She would be a real person, and that would be unforgivable to the trope.  The only thing compelling about Violet Evergarden to me is the case study in how appealing to what can only be a patriarchal, pseudo-pedophilic male fantasy results in a failed narrative, a failed heroine, and a bad taste in one’s mouth despite the gorgeous animation.  As a bunch of still images with no dialogue or plot, Violet Evergarden would be an aesthetic masterpiece.  So why should it be used to service such unappealing and frankly disturbing tropes that can’t even be charitably said to offer an interesting plot?  It can do so much better, and I am left both disappointed and disheartened by the prevalence of these chilling themes I have found in so much anime.  When I try to give anime a chance, I get more of the same, and sometimes even worse than I could have expected.

PART 3: Conclusion

Anime can be rehabilitated, and anime masterpieces have been made that do not service otaku fantasies nor remain culturally insular to the essence of Japan.  Inasmuch as anime-inspired cartoons in the West can be what I call “anime-adjacent” or anime in their own right, anime can be made to be international and universal.  The problem with anime is, in my opinion, the problem of its fandom and the commitment to fan service and tired tropes.  Why does Lucy from Elfen Lied need to have cat ear-like appendages coming out of her head when it doesn’t serve the plot, and why does she have to have an alternate personality that shows her as cute and innocent?  It ruined the series for me, and it was hard to look past it, and the series would have been better without this obvious fan service to every otaku who drools over mindlessly cute catgirls to imagine them as their literal dehumanized pets.  Why did Kagome from Inu Yasha have to wander around medieval Japan in the miniskirt and top of a Japanese middle school girl’s uniform?  It didn’t make sense other than to make her look different from the cookie-cutter faces of the other anime girls around her, for which I suppose I am grateful, but all it did was offer fodder for jokes about perverted men ogling her legs and backside (and sometimes even groping her).  If Violet Evergarden had to be some kind of tragic slave-doll who is the victim of her circumstances in her own story, why can’t that have been explored in a way that humanizes her instead of continuing her dehumanization in the narrative to serve an otaku male fantasy?  There have been so many anime series that I almost enjoyed were it not for the tired tropes that work toward a consistent sexualization of cute, underage anime girls, and that isn’t even counting the other seemingly pointless tropes that may have Japanese cultural significance that I just will never understand.

One might argue that anime isn’t obligated to appeal to me, but if that’s the case, then I conclude with this: why do we accept that it has to appeal to them, then?  Should anime be the refuge of the perverted and predatory, and should its producers be committed to feeding them a steady diet of this, or are we allowed to offer a criticism that encourages them to look beyond the otaku masses and toward the vast audiences awaiting the anime aesthetic experience?  I think they can do better.  I hope they do better.  I want to enjoy anime someday.


The Intersection of Intersex and Trans Issues

The Intersex Issue is a big theme in sex/gender ontology discussions because intersex conditions often throw a wrench in the easily-classifiable-sex-binary enterprise.  Intersex conditions are medical conditions that make someone difficult to classify as either biogentically “male” or “female” by the usual metrics of chromosome karyotype, genital morphology, gonadal tissue, and perhaps sex hormone profile for those later in life.  An intersex person can, for example, have a “male” karyotype of XY and have female sex organs and produce enough estrogens and other hormones to develop female secondary sex characteristics.  Such intersex people can live a relatively normal life (for lack of a better term) as long as they can outwardly pass for one or the other typical sexual anatomy and body morphology.  However, some intersex people have conditions render them not merely as having anatomies incongruent with the expectations of genetics or other features, but as individuals who don’t fit easily into one category or the other.  Some may have ambiguous genitalia—genital morphology that is something “in between” a penis and scrotum on the one hand and a vulva on the other.  In some extremely rare cases, intersex people can have both.  They can also have all kinds of karyotypes beyond XX and XY, and genetic chimera are individuals who have some cells with one karyotype and other cells with another.  Intersex conditions are relatively common in the scheme of things, perhaps as much as 1 in 1000 people.  Any time you’re in a shopping mall, the statistics suggest that you’re probably shopping with a few people with some kind of intersex condition.  They may not even be aware of their condition themselves.

The Intersex Issue seems like a huge win for those espousing ontologies of sex and gender that are not binary and not contingent upon things such as genital morphology, karyotype, or hormone profile.  If things aren’t so cut and dry, then it demonstrates that society has been perfectly fine all along accepting XY folks as women and people with pseudo-vulvas and gynemastia (female breast tissue) and XXY karyotypes as men, so what’s the big deal with allowing unambiguously male people to live as women and unambiguously female people to live as men and either to live as another gender category altogether (i.e., a nonbinary gender identity)?  What’s the point of hanging onto something that was never true in the first place? And by something that was never true in the first place, I mean specifically that certain anatomical and genetic features necessarily force you into a specific sexed/gendered existence along a reproductively male/female binary.

Despite how compelling the Intersex Issue is in supporting ontologies of sex and gender that allow for the consideration of trans men as being unequivocally men and trans women as being unequivocally women, there seem to be people still taking issue with this.  In my time observing arguments between Twitter mutuals and TERFs, I’ve noticed a particular person often shows up whenever the discussion of the ontology of sex and gender moves to the Intersex Issue. This person claims to be intersex and uses this as a cudgel: “I’m intersex.  Don’t use my issues to support your ‘transgenderism’.  You are appropriating my struggle.”  The only thing being appropriated here is left-wing language, but I’m not writing this to “own” this person in particular.  TERFs are just trolls.  I’m writing this for the victims of their abuse and those still on the fence who might be compelled by such a response.  I want to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with such a take, even though the take is obviously given in bad faith anyway and is just meant as a “gotcha” to silence trans women seeking to justify their view of gender by using the Intersex Issue as a point of discussion.

Being intersex and being trans are not mutually exclusive issues because intersex trans women exist (and intersex nonbinary people and trans men, for that matter).  Someone can be intersex and desire not to live as the gender assigned to them.  They may still have to see a psychologist and an endocrinologist, have to undergo surgeries and hormone replacement therapy, and have to struggle with convincing some people that they are a gender that may not line up with certain aspects of their body morphologies that defy gendered expectations of how they “should” look or sound.

So what do intersex people need?  They need unique medical care.  They need the freedom to live as they feel suits them best.  They need a society that recognizes them so that they can receive this medical care and have the legal right to be who they are without discrimination.  They also need a society that is more welcoming of them and compassionate, a society full of people who accept them so that they don’t feel like foreigners in their own lands, some kind of sex/gender outcasts looked upon with amusement, suspicion, or even hatred.  If this sounds remarkably like the things transgender folks needs, it’s because it is.  Intersex folks may not have the exact same struggle with gender and sex that transgender people have, but they can have broadly similar needs.  It’s not hard to imagine why the TERFs of Twitter can only seem to find one token intersex person to agree with them: anyone who has ever dealt with intersex conditions and the dysphoria often associated with at least some of them would obviously sympathize with any trans person!

So to that token Twitter rando and all the people who tag them into every conversation in order to score some rhetorical points over the trans women they abuse, no, you are not allowed to speak for intersex people.  Intersex issues intersect with trans issues, and this is especially true when you consider that lots of intersex people are also trans (and some trans people may be intersex without knowing it).  The struggles of intersex people, trans people—and yes, intersex trans people too—cannot be dismissed so easily by people who are just looking to score rhetorical points in their profoundly disturbing and malevolent quest to hurt trans women in any way they can.

Don’t appropriate the struggle of intersex folks to give yourself ammunition to spew your venom at trans women.

The Exaggeration of Trans Identities in Ancient and Indigenous Cultures

There’s no question that Western colonialism (and non-Western colonialism, which also exists by the way) was bad and is bad.  I am also not so much of a Western cultural imperialist to suggest that Western culture has, necessarily, been a net benefit to anyone where it has been foisted upon them violently and where it has displaced a native culture.  However, one of the decolonization talking points that has always struck me as odd is the following indictment: if it were not for Western colonialism, the idea of a gender binary would not exist in many cultures today.

I confess to a certain amount of ignorance about a wide array of cultures, both ancient and modern, but this claim has always struck me as specious.  I am not necessarily doubting that some ancient and indigenous cultures have had room for a proverbial “third sex” or a flexibility of gender roles.  There are a few notable examples that come to mind: the Galli priest(esse)s of the ancient Mediterranean and the similar eunuch priest(esse)s of the cult of Atar’atheh in the Levant, the “two-soul” people of certain Native American cultures, the hijra of Indian, the fa’afafine of Samoa, and so forth.  There are some that could be offered as well that are much more of a stretch, like the ergi men of Scandinavian lore, who may better be described as men accused of effeminacy rather than a separate gender identity.  Perhaps even the castrati associated mostly with 16th, 17th, and 18th century operatic male soprano practice could be considered another stretch, depending on how loosely one chooses to define a third sex.  However, were these third sexes really all that common?  Furthermore, when and where they existed, are they at all comparable to the modern notion of transgender and nonbinary identities?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that first question, and I fully admit that I’m not particularly interested in taking the time to track down every possibility.  I feel that most of what I would find may be exaggerated anyway, much like my examples of the ergi and castrati above, both of which can only disingenuously be called gender roles of their own and are not comparable to a third sex or a trans identity.  (And indeed, since castrati are very clearly part of a relatively modern Western European tradition, it would mean that even “the West” has had a messier view of gender than the oppressive and absolute binary which it is blamed for propagating.)  The second question, however, is much easier to answer, and it becomes quite easy to dispute the decolonizer talking point that the West is responsible for a rigid gender binary that is practiced throughout the world.

For one, I think it’s safe to say that most world cultures have practiced a relatively strict gender binary throughout human history, and the examples usually proffered are the exception, not the rule.  Let’s be honest: what percentage of human cultures that have existed have truly had a third (or fourth or fifth) gender role that was an accepted part of their societies?  Is it even ten percent?  Five percent?  Less?  Secondly, how many cultures with additional gender roles gave those roles dignity?  The hijra, for example, have a history of merely being tolerated, an otherwise unwanted part of society that was nevertheless deemed useful in certain kinds of religious rites.  Indeed, it seems that a lot of third sex roles in societies were subject more to toleration than to anything resembling true acceptance, and these people represented the fringe of their society’s generally accepted behavior at best.  Perhaps there’s something to be said for a culture that allows the existence of these folks at all rather than denying or erasing them entirely the way the Protestant West has had a history of doing, but the irony is that it’s probably the progressive West that is now beginning to make strides for those third sex individuals.  (I’m not trying to say that this makes colonization ok by any means, and it’s impossible to know how these cultures would have fared in terms of trans acceptance if they had been allowed to continue uninterrupted.)

It should also be noted that third sex roles can almost never be considered comparable to the modern and mostly Western idea of transgender identities.  For one, many third sex people in such societies seem to have been placed there without their consent, which is no different than being assigned male or female at birth.  If you behaved a certain way or showed certain traits, you were pushed into a role that you may not have wanted in the first place.  Just because there’s more than two gender roles, it doesn’t mean that the gender roles themselves were any less strict or more fluid or that individuals had the right to assert their identities without censure or persecution.  It’s actually kind of comical in its absurdity to imagine a third sex individual being “transgender” themself, i.e., being forced into a third sex identity but wishing they were a man or a woman instead.  Second, the idea of trans identities is still more or less a modern, Western concept.  Many third sex roles are contingent upon certain kinds of social structures (which, by the way, were universally patriarchal despite an additional gender role being added to the society) or even religious beliefs.  In fact, the use of third sex people as priest(esse)s, healers, or prophet(esse)s and mystics seems to make up the bulk of third sex roles I’ve seen proposed by decolonizer folks.  Without intending to be glib, it’s kind of like calling celibate Catholic clergy a third gender simply because their existence is solely predicated upon the completion of religious rites and not on the normal patriarchal binary of fathering and mothering children (i.e., the binary identities of man and woman, respectively, in a strongly patriarchal society).  Were the Galli really a third sex, or just homosexual eunuchs who were tolerated as necessary for the sake of Cybeline rites?  Did such “trans” people as the Galli, if they were indeed such, take on that identity for devout religious purposes, or was the Cybeline cult simply a haven for them to express their gender identities in a society that was otherwise hostile to them?  We can only speculate, and therein lies the problem with many of the proposed examples of historical third sex roles in these societies.

I think the discussion of third sex roles and supposedly nonbinary identities in non-Western cultures leaves us with more questions than answers.  I think it’s pretty clear that the supposedly trans and nonbinary identities found in (a very small amount of) indigenous and pre-modern cultures were not at all comparable to the modern idea of being transgender or nonbinary, and, in the very least, were probably just as restrictive considering the patriarchal cultures in which they existed.  In short, I think the rumors that the sex binary is a particularly Western Protestant invention foisted upon the world, and that the gender constructs of other societies were/are less oppressive (especially to trans-identifying people today, such as they are), are greatly exaggerated . . .

Magickal Thinking: The Modern Origins of Witchcraft and Its Tenuous Politicization by the Contemporary Feminist Left

I’m going to start this out by saying this: witchcraft isn’t real.  That’s not to say that there isn’t a modern religion known as Wicca or Witchcraft and various offshoots of it within the “New Age”, “Earth-based” new religious movements of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.  Those are most certainly real religions.  Some of them even enjoy the same legal status in some countries that other major world religions have.  As I understand it, U.S. Army personnel can even have their religious designation on their dog tags refer to them as practicing Witches/Wiccans and can request Wiccan chaplains.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to refer to the real, modern religion as Witchcraft and its practitioners as Witches (with a capital W) and distinguish it from the historical phenomenon of the oft-maligned witch and accusations of witchcraft (with a lowercase W).  So again: witchcraft, and witches, are not real, and never were.

There isn’t any historical evidence that anyone has ever actually been a witch.  Surely people have been accused of being witches in Western Europe and have been tried, convicted, and executed for the supposed offense of practicing witchcraft, but this doesn’t mean that any of these people were ever witches.  And, of course, by witches I mean individuals who engaged in some kind of unorthodox religious/spiritual tradition that may have included such things as casting spells, summoning demons, being in league with Lucifer, dancing naked in the moonlight during a Black Mass, or anything else you might have seen in television or movies or read in a New Age book in the spiritualist section of Barnes & Noble or at your local neo-pagan trinket store.  The people executed for witchcraft were almost universally practicing Christians in their own communities.  (The exceptions to these Christian “witches” were usually Jews, who we should note were also not witches because they were, well, Jews, i.e., practitioners of Judaism.)  For historians and scholars, the verdict is quite clear: the witch was a Protestant bogeyman, and accusations of being one were not unlike those accusations seen in the medieval Catholic purges of supposed (and occasionally actual) heretics.  And it seems that almost anyone could be accused of being a witch: men and women, the elderly and children, high-born and low-born.  There are some cases of spouses even accusing each other.  At its height, the Protestant witch hysteria is the exemplar of a moral panic taken to its extremes.  And like nearly all moral panics, there was nary a kernel of truth to any of it.

Some will disagree with me (and historians) on this point and conflate pre-Christian European paganism with witchcraft, suggesting that, somehow, there was a minority of actual, practicing pagans that navigated their way through the centuries of a Christianized Europe.  They might even suggest that some of the witches who were executed during the moral panics actually were these crypto-pagans, and therefore “witch” is just a Christian pejorative for some kind of real, practicing pagan.  There are two problems with this view.  The first is that European paganism wasn’t witchcraft and did not resemble what modern Witches consider historical witchcraft to be.  For example, one probably would not argue that the Vestals of ancient Rome, who were pagan priestesses dedicated to the rites associated with the goddess Vesta, were witches.  No Roman would have viewed them that way, and I doubt even modern Witches would suggest it even to bite the bullet.  Priestesses are not witches.  Paganism doesn’t share the cosmology, ethics, belief-system, or ritual action of Witchcraft or even alleged witchcraft, according to modern Witches.  (N.B.: Modern neo-paganism, which is often influenced by Wicca/Witchcraft, may share considerable common ground, but that is not what we’re talking about.  So-called neo-paganism has no real historical connection to pre-Christian religious beliefs either other than appropriating some of its mythos to various degrees.)

The second problem with conflating witchcraft with pre-Christian European religious practices is that even European pagans accused people of being witches, though the terminology may vary from place to place.  The pagan Germanic peoples, for example, looked down upon men practicing divination and even outlawed such people upon pain of death.  So even in pagan communities you could be executed for being a little too “witchy” for their liking, so to speak.  So it’s clear that the kinds of practices associated with witches—spellcraft, divination, augury, etc.—were not part of mainstream pagan society in many parts of Europe.  There is no evidence that suggests, however, that such “witches” considered themselves practitioners of a separate religion from their pagan neighbors.  It seems that they just engaged in taboo religious practices that were viewed as unseemly, but shared the religious worldviews, cosmologies, beliefs, and general practices of other pagans.

I should also note that I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that indigenous religions outside of Europe constitute witchcraft.  This is a point that can be used against everything stated above.  If witchcraft was never a thing in Europe, then what about the “witchcraft” native to Africa or the Americas?  Well, that’s just not the same thing.  There’s a difference between a European Christian being executed for being a “witch” and an Afro-Caribbean being executed by colonial Christian authorities for practicing his native Vodun.  Such a person is practicing Vodun, not witchcraft, and to call it witchcraft is factually inaccurate and enforces a Western Protestant view of other religious traditions.  So no, Africans (or any others) were not practicing witchcraft either.  There simply was no such thing except in the minds of pious Protestants in the midst of a moral panic or as a racist, colonialist view of indigenous, non-Christian religious traditions.

Where does this leave us?  There was no such thing as witchcraft.  It was never a spiritual tradition practiced by anyone, though admittedly there may have been some people in Europe engaging in taboo and “magical” arts.  But there’s no evidence that this was considered a separate, native religious tradition, and invariably these people all identified with the dominant religious culture of their communities.  If, at most, a witch was just a woman who knew how to use herbal remedies, then I think it’s safe to say that witchcraft was never real in the first place.  However, it was an accusation meant to marginalize and persecute people.  In that sense, it is understandable why the cultural symbol of the witch is one with which marginalized people can identify.  And since up to three quarters of accused witches were women (as far as we know), it’s also understandable why young feminist women today are identifying with the historical symbol of the witch and why books like this exist:


That said, what exactly is my problem, and why am I talking about this at all?  To be honest, this entire post is just setting me up to say this: internet leftists need to stop accusing people of “culturally appropriating” witchcraft!

You can’t appropriate the symbols of a religious tradition that never belonged to anyone. It never existed.  There’s nothing to appropriate.  And even if someone appropriates from Witchcraft (i.e., modern, New Age Witchcraft actually practiced as a new religious movement by some people), then maybe that’s in poor taste, but it still isn’t appropriating from indigenous people.  Modern Witchcraft was invented at the earliest in the nineteenth century by Victorian occultists/spiritualists.  Surely you don’t think that white Victorian-era people count as an “indigenous people”.  (And again, you can’t move the goalposts to call witchcraft some non-European indigenous religious tradition because that’s inaccurate and most certainly racist, and it also makes the connection to the trope of the persecuted “witch” of the European witch hysterias meaningless since it can’t be both.)  Maybe it is in poor taste that Sephora, for example, might be commodifying  (modern) Witchcraft with their “witch bundles” as I saw many people say with “woke” glee.  I can understand why that might upset some actual Wiccans, just as I understand why a Catholic might get upset if Sephora started selling Virgin Mary branded white eyeliner for that extra pure and bright waterline all the girls want.  I won’t begrudge anyone from commenting on the grotesque nature of capitalist commodification.  But it’s not any kind of cultural appropriation, and certainly not from any indigenous culture.

There’s no such thing as witchcraft and you can’t appropriate from any kind of traditional “witch culture”.  And as a final note, there’s nothing inherently feminine about witchcraft either because, again, it isn’t real and never was, but also because plenty of men were accused of being witches too.  Maybe there’s something feminist about being a Witch/Wiccan in its modern imagining, but there’s nothing feminist about being a witch in the real, historical sense of what they were (and, incidentally, were not).  It turns out innocent Christian and Jewish men and women burn at the stake in pretty much the same manner and there’s nothing particularly subversive in that worth celebrating to me.  Don’t get woke.  Get educated.

Wiccan Ethics as Discontinuation of Indo-European Pagan Ethics

The religion of Wicca is one of the largest and most widely represented new religious movements within what is variably called the New Age, Earth-Based, or (neo-)pagan communities.  Like most of these new religious movements, Wicca is difficult to pin down, and many who identify as Wiccans or witches may eclectically adopt a variety of New Age or other spiritual practices.  However, one thing that Wiccans have contributed to New Age spirituality, and specifically religious ethics, is the so-called Wiccan Rede.  The Rede variously goes something like this: As long as no harm is caused (by your actions), do what you will.

I should note that it is called a rede, which is an archaic way of saying “a piece of advice”.  As such, the Wiccans and other neo-pagans adhering to it are not necessarily accepting a moral proclamation.  It may be called good advice instead of a moral mandate, e.g., like the “Golden Rule” in ethical religious systems like Christianity and rabbinical Judaism.  I see no problem with the Wiccan Rede at first glance.  It certainly does seem like good advice, even if it doesn’t claim to be some moral truth about the nature of ethics and moral behavior under Wiccan neo-paganism.  However, this kind of religious ethic is unknown in the Indo-European Pagan religious systems from which Wicca (and much of the New Age movement) derives its mythos, aesthetics, and claimed pseudo-historical lineage.

The Rede doesn’t represent Indo-European paganism from an ethical perspective.  By far the greatest ethical lesson taught in all Indo-European mythological systems and epics is this: hubris will be the downfall of everyone.  In Indo-European myths, whether Celtic, Greek, Hittite, Vedic, Avestan, Norse, Slavic, or Baltic, hubris kills humans and deities alike.  The exalted are humbled through cunning by their enemies, and through guile the humbled make themselves exalted.  The weak find strength and the strong are made weak, the good perish with the evil, and death swallows all life as winter swallows summer and night swallows day.  The real rede or advice derived from Indo-European pagan spirituality and myth is this: always keep your wits about you, stay humble and don’t ask for trouble, do not trust gods or men or seductive women or beasts, and know that everything comes with trials and sacrifice, even for the very goddesses and gods themselves.

Indo-European religious ethics are not so consequentialist as the Wiccan Rede would have us assume.  Sometimes you can do all the good things in the world and unpleasant things will result anyway.  It is haughtiness to assume that you ever know what your actions will ultimately cause, even if it is admirable to try not to harm anyone or anything in your comings and goings.  To elaborate further, Indo-European paganism would give us this ethical advice instead of the Wiccan Rede: know that you are most often powerless in a universe full of powerful forces, and make propitiation to them for the sake of the Cosmic Order.  Treat everyone as a goddess or a god, a fairy or a spirit, because they could be, and their wrath could come back to haunt you.  Be humble, be kind, choose sides wisely, and make sure that you never have to answer for any wrongdoing by not committing any in the first place.  The Indo-Europeans recognized honor and expected to be honored.  The narrative of “As long as your actions are victimless, then they are ok” that is proffered by the Wiccan Rede is not consistent with the ethical lessons of Indo-European myth, nor with the ritual action of Indo-European religion.  You can dishonor the deities simply by not offering proper homage to them, and thus you can incur their wrath.  It doesn’t matter whether or not they are harmed by your inaction; you have to have respect anyway.

As such, Indo-European religion is more accurately described as a system of virtue ethics, not consequentialism.  The moral lesson is to be humble, hospitable, and kind because such characteristics are personal virtues that will be counted favorably to your credit and the Powers of the Universe will give you your just desserts for it (if fortune favors you, and as such there is no guarantee).  Whatever ends that come about from your actions, good or bad, be you virtuous so that the deities and heroes themselves mourn the demise of someone so righteous should events turn against your favor.  This is the best one can hope for in an Indo-European pagan worldview.

The Wiccan Rede comes from either a fundamental misunderstanding or a rejection of the same Indo-European mythos, cosmology, and ethics it often claims to represent in renewed or continued form.  It is in fact a discontinuation of the religious purposes of the Indo-Europeans.  Wiccans see themselves as agents of magical or mystical power to enforce their will rather than accepting that it is one’s virtue, not one’s good will, that earns favor with the pagan Powers.  The virtue of your character and the heroism of your deeds are the ethical mandates of the Indo-European pagan.  Neither is this message a piece of advice for the Indo-European pagan.  It is cosmic law.  Good things happen to you because you are favored by powerful beings and deities who are pleased with you in light of your virtues.  Sometimes these virtues may even be shallow, like the virtue of simply being born beautiful and as such being favored by the deities.  Often these deities are even depicted as being enticed by the virtuous beauty of mortals.

If I am to make a guess, I assume the motivation for Wicca’s discontinuation of pagan religious ethics may have more to due with its determination to be anti-dogmatic.  Many Wiccans and neo-pagans I have met have expressed their appreciation for the consequentialist ethics of the Rede as opposed to the often oppressive religious morality of the more mainstream religious alternatives.  The Wiccan Rede serves to replace the equally demanding religious ethics of the Indo-European religions from whence Wicca takes much of its inspiration.  Indo-European religion is about virtue and religious purity as much as the Abrahamic religious morality that usually permeates the cultural ethos in which New Age practitioners are operating.  The Wiccan, in trying to escape more conventional religious systems, may be equally burdened by the Indo-European mandate to act with dignity and humility, keep herself pretty and clean and ritually pure, honor others with humility, make propitiation to the Powers, and sacrifice to please her patrons (whether deities or humans) so that she can have their protection.  It is an uncomfortable pagan dogma to accept that our goodness, fairness, beauty, and generosity is what make us worthy pagans, and not the mere consequences of our wills.

The Wiccan discontinuation of paleo-pagan religious morality is a novel effort to reinvent Indo-European religious practice, and it frames neo-paganism as an alternative to more conventional religious ethics.  I conclude by suggesting that this is not necessarily wrong or inauthentic as a genuine neo-pagan religious practice, especially since Wicca and neo-paganism do not usually claim to represent paleo-paganism or traditional Indo-European religions, per se.  However, I think it is important to hash out where Wiccan neo-pagan ethics fit (or do not fit) into the traditions they are claiming to emulate or otherwise continue.

The Psalm Tones of the Liber Usualis and The Modern Tradition of Psalmody In The Western Rite Orthodox Church

The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate two forms of the Liturgy: the Mass, or Eucharistic service, and the Office.  The Divine Liturgy of the Office consists of a daily series of prayers, readings, hymns, and psalms to be spoken and sung at various hours of the day.  It is for this reason that it is also called the Liturgy of the Hours (The Liturgy of the Hours Volume III, 6).  This form of the liturgy is as old as the pre-schism Church itself with the command given by the Apostle Paul: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:23 [New King James Version]).”

The Church Fathers instituted prayer hours from older Jewish traditions of psalmody or psalm-singing and adapted it to Roman hours during the Roman occupation of Palestine (Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, Book X, Letter xcvii).  Within the plainchant tradition of the Western Church the Liber Usualis outlines the chant formula to be used in the Office for the singing of psalms.  These are known as the psalm tones (Liber Usualis, xxxij).  In this paper I will discuss the chanting of psalms within the Divine Office of the Western Rite Orthodox Christian communities in the U.S. and compare it to the rubrics outlined in the Liber Usualis.

A participant needs a source text in order to perform the chants and hymns and know the prayers to be spoken during the Office.  In the Eastern Church the Horologion (lit., “Book of Hours”) is used, and traditionally the Roman Catholic Church used the Roman Breviary; today the three volume Liturgy of the Hours has replaced it for use in the English language (The Liturgy of the Hours Volume III, 6).  In the tradition of Western Orthodoxy, the modern Office in English is outlined in The English Office Noted, published first in 2004 by St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church in Washington D.C. and approved for use by Orthodox Christians within the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America (

First, the psalm tones used in The English Office Noted will be examined below.  There are nine psalm tones in total, labeled with Roman numerals I through VIII and including the Tonus Peregrinus (“wandering tone”).  They are written in an adapted form of modern notation as seen in Figure 1 with the prescription for chanting Psalm 1 in Tone I.

Fig 1. Psalm 1 in Tone I (The English Office Noted, 29).

Psalm Fig 1

The whole notes indicate the reciting tones, preceded by the intonations or anacruses sung at the beginning of the psalm, and the first reciting tone is followed by the mediant notated in eighth notes and quarters notes.  The bar line represents the end of half of a psalm phrase.  The second half of the psalm phrase receives its own reciting tone and the final cadential formula or termination is written, as with the mediant, using eighth and quarter notes.  As the number of syllables vary within lines of text, the number of notes can vary within the mediant and termination.  Figure 2 provides another example in the second psalm tone for Psalm 3.

Figure 2. Psalm 3 in Tone II (The English Office Noted, 30).

Psalm Fig 2

The psalms themselves come from the Biblical Book of Psalms, a collection of 151 scriptural poems in praise of God.  When singing in English in the Western Rite, an English translation of the psalms accompanies the psalm tones provided for each of them.  Specialized notation in the text is given so that the reader may interpret which syllables of the text are to be performed on the reciting tones, the mediant, and so forth (Figure 3).

Figure 3.  The Benedictus Dominus in Tone III (The English Office Noted, 15).

Psalm Fig 3

Capitalized words are to be sung with the intonation, with the following syllables to be chanted on the reciting tone.  The slash (/) indicates for the reader to chant the syllables that follow in the formula of the mediant, and the asterisk (*) corresponds with the bar line in the psalm tone and the beginning of chant on the next reciting tone.  The second slash in each line of psalmody indicates the beginning of the termination. Figure 4 presents an interpretation of the first line of the Benedictus Dominus from Figure 3.

Figure 4. Realization of Benedictus Dominus using psalmody rubric.

Psalm Fig 4

The challenge of psalmody using the method of The English Office Noted lies in calculating the number of syllables for each chant on the mediant and termination.  However, this is not different than the method prescribed in the Liber Usualis.  Neither of the two rubrics notate every line of the psalms to a specific pitch.  The chanters are expected to remember the psalm tone formula and adapt it to the lines of psalm text (Liber Usualis, 112-113).  Compare the Benedictus on Tone III with the outline for this psalm tone provided in Liber Usualis (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Rubric for Tone III (Liber Usualis, 114).

Psalm Fig 5

There are some subtle differences between the two tones.  For one, the Liber Usualis only uses music ficta on B♭.  Therefore, the F♯ Aeolian in The English Office Noted is merely a transposition of the original A Aeolian.  The Liber Usualis also uses neumatic notation because there is no need in plainchant to indicate precise rhythmic proportions and divisions, but the pitch content corresponds exactly in transposition.  If the termination species labeled “a²” is used, then the intonation, tenor (i.e., reciting tone), mediant, second tenor, and the termination are all identical to the version of Tone III used in the Benedictus in Figures 3 and 4.

The psalm tones of the Liber Usualis, however, also contain a flexus, or “flex” as well as the reciting tone of the first tenor.  This flexus is another pitch, usually a second or a third down from the reciting tone that is chanted in the middle of an especially long line of a psalm to break it up and add some variety (Liber Usualis, xxxij).  This is indicated by a cross (†) seen under the flexus in Figure 5.  This symbol is also used in the text of psalms in The English Office Noted (Figure 6) and seems to indicate the performance of a flexus as well, although it is not noted in any of the provided psalm tones.

Figure 6. Flexus notated within the text of the Benedictus (The English Office Noted, 15).

Psalm Fig 6The English Office Noted and Liber Usualis are not always in such perfect agreement.  By far the largest meaningful variation between the two is in the diversity of terminations found in the Liber Usualis.  Not all of these are represented in the Western Rite English psalmody.  Occasionally a slight variation to the psalm tone is found in the psalter of The English Office Noted that does not match the prescriptions of the Liber Usualis.  Psalm 2 (Figure 7) is in Tone III like the Benedictus, and though it also uses termination “b” from the Liber Usualis, the mediant is altered with the addition of a lower neighbor which is not found in the second species of mediant found in Figure 5.

Figure 7. Psalm 2 in Tone III.

Psalm Fig 7The mediant has an additional pitch not found in Liber Usualis (The English Office Noted, 29).

It can be argued that The English Office Noted utilizes alternative species of the mediant not provided in Liber Usualis.  In the example in Figure 7 the mediant is clearly derivative of the second species of mediant found in Figure 5.  Figure 8 demonstrates the direct correspondence between the two sources in the rubric for Tone II.

Figure 8. Second Tone of Liber Usualis using first species of mediant corresponds to Tone II of  The English Office Noted (Liber Usualis, 114 & The English Office Noted, 30).

Psalm Fig 8Even the tonus peregrinus from both sources are an exact match, represented crucially by a different reciting tone after the mediant (and from whence it gets its Latin name as a “wandering tone”).  With the exception of slight variations in the mediant and termination formulae, the psalm tones represented in The English Office Noted are directly derivative of those prescribed in Liber Usualis for the chanting of psalmody.

The correspondence may not be surprising.  The Anglican source for singing the Office is The Plainsong Psalter which, like The English Office Noted, uses the same nine psalm tones with very little variation from the neumatic rubric of the Liber Usualis.  The most significant difference is that the Anglican source does not include the anacruses or intonations, preferring to notate that part of the psalmody independently (The Plainsong Psalter, xv-xvii).  The Office Liturgy, preserved as it has been in Western Europe since the eleventh century, varies little from these three sources.  In practice the greatest different is merely language: The English Office Noted is in the dominant vernacular for Western Rite Orthodox Christians in North America, and the Liber Usualis retains the original Latin texts of the Roman Rite from which the (English) Western Orthodox Rite is ultimately derived (

There are, however, major liturgical differences.  The English Office Noted only gives the reader the chants, psalm tones, antiphons, hymns, and texts for matins (morning) and vespers (evening) services with a single daily rubric for compline (night).  The Liturgy of the Hours in Roman Catholicism includes multiple prayer hours: matins (early morning), lauds (morning), terce (mid-morning), sext (midday), none (afternoon), vespers (evening), and compline (night).  Liber Usualis is divided into individual days of prayer within the Gregorian calendar year with specific readings and psalms appropriate for each.  This is contrasted with the thirty day cycle for the Office outlined in The English Office Noted.  In other words, while one reads through the Liber Usualis only once a year, one reads through the Western Rite Orthodox Office twelve times during the liturgical year.  This creates significant daily differences in the liturgy itself despite the compelling similarities in the psalmody rubrics.

As an example consider Psalm 112 (“Beatus vir qui timet Dominum” or “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord”).  This would be sung amongst other places at Matins on the first Sunday of February in Tone V according to the Liber Usualis (p. 145).  In the Western Rite Orthodox Office, this is to be sung in Tone VII on the twenty-second day of the month, placing it well beyond the first Sunday of February (The English Office Noted, 170).  The performance of Psalm 112 is thus highly variable in the two liturgies.  The liturgies are entirely dissimilar even though they utilize nearly identical psalm tones for psalmody chant.

It is unclear how the psalm tones are chosen in either liturgy.  The Liber Usualis implies in its extensive interpretation rules that certain poetic qualities of the Latin texts make some psalm tones preferable to others in some contexts (Liber Usualis, xvij-xxxij).  While it seems possible that language difference could have affected the different choice of psalm tones prescribed in The English Office Noted, it is not consistent with the Anglican liturgy in English.  The Plainsong Psalter prescribes Tone V for chanting Psalm 1 (Figure 9) whereas the Western Rite Orthodox Office indicates Tone I (Figure 1 above).

Figure 9.  Psalm 1 chanted on Tone V (The Plainsong Psalter, 1).

Psalm Fig 9In spite of the differences between the rubrics of the Liber Usualis and The English Office Noted, the fact that a person proficient in psalmody can meet with considerable success engaging in either of the two Divine Office liturgies is remarkable.  Some aspects of modern psalm chanting in Roman Catholicism and Western Orthodoxy (and indeed Anglicanism) can be heard today that were heard as many as ten centuries ago, most notably the psalm tones themselves.  For modern Christians this provides both a liturgical and a musical-cultural link to Western European Christianity before the schism of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Western Rite Orthodox Christians of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America as well as Roman Catholics can experience a relatively unbroken tradition of observing the Divine Liturgy of the Office in the singing of psalms.  Both The Liber Usualis and The English Office Noted give Christians today a chance to pray the same way Christians have daily for generations of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in Western Europe.  Unlike plainchant during the Mass, which has fallen out of use in the Western Church over the past several centuries, psalmody offers a liturgical singing tradition that better represents the original musical-cultural ethos of Christian liturgical music.


The English Office Noted. Washington D.C.: St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church, 2007.

The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol III. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975.

The Benedictine Monks of Solesmes. Liber Usualis. New York: The Declee Company, 1961.

Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald J. Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music (9th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2014.

Most Rev. Bishop Elijah, ed. The Psalter: A Book of Hours. Roseville, CA: Dry Bones Press, Inc., 2001.

Litton, James, ed. The Plainsong Psalter. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1988.

Pliny the Younger, Epistulae

St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church. “Liturgical Resources.” Accessed November 11, 2014.

St. Gregory the Great Orthodox Church. “The Daily Office.” Accessed November 11, 2014,