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Suggested Albums: Loreena McKennitt's album "The Mask and Mirror" (1994) in her own words

"The Mask and Mirror" is an album mostly influenced by Loreena’s travels. Her trips to Spain and Morocco, were source of inspiration for this album.

The album was honoured with a 1995 Juno for Best Roots/Traditional album

Loreena McKennitt

writes about her music

on “The Mask and Mirror”

Official Press – Track by track comments

All rights reserved by the author

“I looked back and forth through the window of 15th century Spain, through the hues of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and was drawn into a fascinating world: history, religion, cross-cultural fertilization... For some medieval minds the mirror “was the door through which the soul frees itself by passing”... for others the pursuit of personal refinement was likened to “polishing the mirror of the soul.” From the more familiar turf of the west coast of Ireland, through the troubadours of France, crossing over the Pyrenees and then to the west through Galicia, down through Andalusia and past Gibraltar to Morocco... The Crusades, the pilgrimage to Santiago, Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Sufis from Egypt, One Thousand and One Nights in Arabia, the Celtic imagery of trees, the Gnostic Gospels... who was God? and what is religion, what spirituality? What was revealed and what was concealed... and what was the mask and what the mirror?”—Loreena McKennitt, Introduction to The Mask and Mirror

This recording began with an image of a night market in Spain... not that I’d ever been to one, but somehow there was enough of a picture haunting me that I was driven to find out more about it.
I delved into Spanish history and began learning more, not only about history per se, but also the history of religion and the way in which Spain served as something of a crossroads for the evolution of Western “civilization” in the areas of literature, music, art, science (particularly astronomy) as well as religion, to name but a few. This recording is, in part, a documentation of this exploratory journey, led by my own growing and persistent curiosity.
It led me from the more familiar turf of Ireland and its sacred Celtic imagery of trees, across the Pyrenees and west to Galicia, down through Andalucía and past Gibraltar to Morocco; through the thoughts and literature of the troubadours of France, the Knights Templar and the Cathars, One Thousand and One Nights, the Sufis and the Gnostic Gospels. The question which kept appearing was, “What is God and what is religion?” In our human need to be spiritually engaged, how was this done, and how was it missed or manipulated?
Rather than reflect any definitive view, I nave aspired to cast a light on a few things that carne to me by way of that exploration and leave you to be haunted by your own curiosity.


This piece began with the question of how pe

ople were spiritually engaged before and during the advent of many of what are now considered the world’s major religions. The word “mystic” and the varying concepts that lie behind it seemed to be expressed in various religions. I was drawn to paint a musical picture to represent the mystical elements emanating from things Celtic, Islamic, Judaic and Christian, with a particular eye on those people referred to as the Sufis, who could be found in any religion, at any time. Through Idries Shah’s book The Sufis. I carne a little closer to comprehending who these people are and who they have been and the roots of their understanding of the world and their harmonious mysteries.


As inmuch medieval work (such as the Unicom Tapestries, which heavily influenced the cover design of this project), life and human expression have been portrayed in parables, or in symbols articulated as creative vehicles, like folk songs. This is a fablesque tale in the Celtic fashion, which tells of a girl envious of her sister’s lover, and who is driven by jealousy to drown her. The drowned sister is rebom as a swan, which in medieval times was a symbol of death, and is transformed yet again into a harp which is brought to, and played in, her father’s banquet hall by a travelling bard.


This is a poem written by the 15th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. On its own, it stands as a beautiful love poem, but it is written in the style of its day, where the Beloved is God and the lover, the mortal, and where the unión of the two is what is being striven for. Where one sees “god” in the natural world around us, it is reflected through that world. The language here is strongly metaphorical, in amask-like way, revealing its own kind of truth. “... the mystic who, through images and metaphors, succeeds in conveying the most subtle experiences of the soul in its search for, and surrender to, the Divine Lover.”
Seeing that he was heavily influenced by another mystic, St. Theresa of Avila who in turn carne from Jewish ancestry, St. John of t
ne Cross brought perhaps a more Semitic angle to his Christian duties and perspectives. Many would argüe that it was due to these influences that his work was so influential and insightful in the area of mysticism.


This song was inspired by the myriad of circles in the night market in Marrakesh during the time of Ramadan: each group of people with its own special drama of music, poetry which is directly connected to drumming rhythms, snake charmers, monkeys and “magic” made up of bones, stones and seeds which could be found lying in bulk on rugs. It is also an introduction to the various religious components present in this part of the world, particularly prior to 1500: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.


Three different moments at three very different times and places seem to be closely related in my mind. One was a visit to a Benedictine monastery outside of Quebec City; the next carne listening to men chanting at a mosque in Marrakesh in the early hours of the morning, and finally, the third carne witnessing the sunrise at a thousand-foot-high sand dune in the desert near the Algerian border. One was my own personal experience of connecting with what I considered to be an expression of God, and the others, being witness to someone else’s. Through these experiences, I realised two things: we all have a need to understand what god is, and that we fmd that, and do that, in different ways.


This instrumental is a 15th century piece from Spain, found in the great
body of music composed for the pilgrimage to the Christian shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the most Celtic part of Spain. The shrine was said to have been founded over the bones of St. James, who was thought to have preached in Spain and whose remains had subsequently been spirited back. Many would argue that this shrine was “developed” through necessity by a Catholic church seeking to consolidate its growth in Spain and, simultaneously, to rival the prominence of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, devoted to the Muslim prophet and founder, Mohammed, and is said to contain some of his remains. Because Compostela thus carne to rank highest in Christian holy sites after Rome and Jerusalem, there were pilgrimage routes which stretched from all comers of Europe to

this place, with monasteries, inns and resting places set up along the way. These routes, which were at their most active between 1000 and 1598, became tremendously influential in the cross-fertilization of the Judaic, Christian and Islamic cultures, including the fields of music, literature, mathematics and astronomy.


I have spent a fair a
mount of time in the west coast of Ireland, culminating with the purchase of a modest cottage there amidst an ancient landscape called The Burren. This área is marked by many ancient holy sites of ring-forts, boulders, wells and the like. The Irish poet W.B. Yeats who composed these lyrics had, I have always felt, a healthy appreciation, curiosity and respect for the mysticism embodied in the land, and expressed it wonderfully through his verse. I was struck by this poem’s sentiment of looking into ourselves to the well of goodness and not being drawn into th

e fíame of cynicism.


In 1982, I was fortunate to play the part of Ceres in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest at the Stratford Festival in Southern Ontario. The play resonated for me in many ways as a person and as a “performer”. I’ve always felt that, as a performer, one should not forget that it is a mask one wears, albeit, at many times, an honest one and not one of deception. It is important, then, that those we call our audience or “fans” are reminded of our mortal bearing, warts and all; that we are the vehicle of illumination and explorations of

ideas and themes, and in the end, these are more fascinating than the messenger. Shakespeare’s take on the human condition will be one of which I will never tire and I felt it most fitting to end The Mask And Mirror with his words.

Track List

“The Mystic’s Dream” – 7:40

The Bonny Swans” – 7:18

“The Dark Night of the Soul” – 6:44

“Marrakesh Night Market” – 6:30

“Full Circle” – 5:57

“Santiago” – 5:58

“Cé Hé Mise le Ulaingt?/The Two Trees” – 9:06

“Prospero’s Speech” – 3:23

Song Information

“The Mystic’s Dream” was featured in the 2001 miniseries, The Mists of Avalon, as well as the 1995 film Jade.

“The Bonny Swans” has been made into a video.

“The Dark Night of the Soul” is based on the poem “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross.

“Santiago” is named after the Spanish city Santiago de Compostela and by the saint that carries its name.

“The Two Trees” takes its lyrics from a poem by William Butler Yeats.

“Prospero’s Speech” is the final soliloquy and epilogue by Prospero in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

“Marrakesh Night Market” has been covered by Greek singer Kalliopi Vetta in her album Sto Phos.

Other Editions

The Mask And Mirror -  Rough Mix -1993  -   40 min

Marrakesh Night Market - 6.25
The Dark Night Of The Soul - 6.43      
The Bonny Swans - 7.19
Seeds Of Love- 4.11
Santiago (instr.)- 5.56
Full Circle- 5.15     
Prospero’s Speech- 3.24       

The Mask And Mirror  - LP Version - 1994  - Spain
 The Mask And Mirror -  Australian Tour Edition
(single CD case contains album plus 6-tracks live)

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