Audio collage of Eckists singing HU together, including during an Eckankar regional seminar in Dublin, OH. Above, a portrait of Sri Harold Klemp, the spiritual leader of Eckankar, in the meeting room of the Eckankar, Ohio Satsang Society in Columbus, OH.
In Eckankar, a new religious movement with roots in the 1960s, humans are thought to be connected to God through a spirit that can be “heard as sound and seen as light.”
For adherents to Eckankar, who refer to themselves as Eckists, sound itself is a religious experience. One of the cornerstones of Eckankar is the HU song: By repeatedly singing the word HU, which they believe to be ancient word for God, Eckists say that they can alter their inner landscape and consciousness, raise energy, and become closer to the divine.
This experience is especially palpable in group settings, where Eckists often sing HU collectively, such as a 2015 regional seminar in Dublin, Ohio, included in the audio essay above. Although each person tends to have a unique tone, volume, and pace, disparate voices nonetheless combine to form a seamless melody. The result is a so-called “rolling HU,” an undulating wave of voices that ricochets around the room and creates an encompassing, energizing sonic experience.
But Eckists also sing HU on their own as part of their daily routines, or even to clear their minds. Below, read about and listen to different Eckists’ experiences singing HU. The audio files may be played individually or simultaneously, with the latter evoking a rolling HU.
“I was experiencing a great calmness, feeling very peaceful, happy, love. I felt like I was in tune with God. It’s kind of hard to put into words. It’s like a tune-up for me when I sing HU. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m pretty blessed. I’ve always heard the sound long before I found out anything about the spiritual path. Like right now, the sound is like a high pitch, almost like a tuning fork, a high-pitched sound. I hear that almost all the time. But when I sing HU, it gets even more concentrated.
Oftentimes I sing it just before I go to bed. I sing it every time I take a shower. I sing it when I drive down the road. Basically any opportunity I have when other people aren’t around.”
“I always start out by opening myself to be a channel for the light and sound of God.
It’s a communication between God and myself, and it helps bring me peace and centers me. It just brings me peace and joy and I can visualize whatever is in my spiritual eye. Whatever is needed at that moment, whether it’s a walk in the park or just being in touch with nature or in touch with the beauty of what is around us.
I visualized the temple of Eckankar, which is in Minneapolis, and they have walking grounds. I was there walking the fields. The light of the sun was shining, and I saw the blue star in the temple. That freedom of being there.
I could hear the wind and a little bit of the tinkling of bells kind of, or the sound of just, you know, of love.”
Mary Jane Portaz
“Each of us has a relationship with God, the divine, whatever you want to call it. Sometimes, we don’t take the time to spend in that love relationship. And so, for me, the experience was one of reminding me of it’s a one-on-one relationship with God. Just reminding me, I’m loved. We can all use that.”
“I could hear like a static sound, through my head and just surrounding me. I kind of felt like I was in a vacuum, and it was just like a protective cocoon, which is kind of like what I feel like I need right now.
I feel so good right now. It’s just one of those kinds of HU where everything is just very peaceful, quiet. I noticed the clock occasionally ticking, and the air conditioner. But everything else was really . . . I was really just here, just very relaxed today.
It’s one of those things that I won’t start my day without.”
Audio recording, photography, exhibit design, and production by Lauren Pond