We Heart: Robin Ritz’s Feminist Anthem for the #MeToo Era

“Holy, Holy,” a new single and video by debut singer and songwriter Robin Ritz, sounds like it’s existed forever. As if you’ve heard it all your life—yet you’ve never heard anything like it. Everyone can sing along. And you can’t get it out of your head.

© 2019 Robin Ritz; All Rights Reserved
Robin Ritz:  Songwriter, Vocals, Backup Vocals. Charlie Braun:  Guitars, Bass, Organ, Keyboards. Arranged, Recorded, Mixed and Produced by Charlie Braun

I am holy, holy, holy. I am holy; I & I

I am a Lioness, a Tigress, an Ibis

I am Enchantress, High Priestess, a Goddess

I will stand, stand my ground

And I will not back down.

My head’s held high.

This song celebrates the divine feminine—in the women in our lives, in our archetypes and in ourselves. Each time the lyrics repeat, “I” becomes “You” and then “We.”

“No matter what gender we are,” Robin Ritz told Ms., “we can all see and respect the divinity in women and ourselves and know that it’s nourishing, know that it’s compassionate. This song is for every single woman on the planet, and it’s about taking back pride in our many roles in life and reclaiming those titles with a sense of honor.”

In her day-in-the-life video, Ritz—wearing a black “Rebel Soul” t-shirt under her coat, loose shoulder-length hair framing her wide, beaming smile and shining hazel eyes—walks along the streets of Willimantic, Connecticut, a classic old mill town. As she drops by a juice bar and a tattoo shop, greeting and embracing friends who work there, we see clips of each woman as she sees them: divine beings, each wearing stunning, elaborate headdresses that illustrate the song’s iconic archetypes.

Ritz passes street art, skateboarders and the bridge and falls before stepping inside of a local bar to perform at an open mic. Among the crowd, many of the same women are dancing together when Ritz sings, while relaxed, appreciative men sit back and listen.

We rule with love. We guide with light,” she sings.

“Holy, Holy” is a song about empowerment. Robin Ritz wrote the song after experiencing several abusive relationships, but she also accredits the lyrics to a childhood that made her all too familiar with abuse. She wrote the song she needed—then realized there are a lot of other women who need it, too. Robin says that’s one of the reasons she sings: to help others feel they’re not alone.

“Sometimes I just hear a song’s lyrics and feel better,” Ritz said. “Music is my church. Music has always helped me make sense of things and sometimes just get by.”

“I was born on Friday—I was in church on a Sunday,” says Ritz, who remembers listening to her father and grandmother sing every Sunday. “I was raised by a very fundamentalist Christian mother and a very supportive and musical father.” As a young child, she began singing in a children’s choir, learned to read music and knew all the hymns.

But she also knew not to stand out in any way. If she complimented her grandmother’s singing in church, her grandmother would say, “If I’m singing in the choir and you can hear my voice, I’m doing something wrong.”

Robin Ritz never once sang at school and no teacher ever encouraged her. “I got stuck with a clarinet,” she explained to Ms. “I hated it. I played piano. Played in jazz band. I hated it. While I could make my fingers move where they were supposed to move, I never felt one moment of passion.”

In college, as a 19-year-old student living in León, Spain pursuing International Studies, she got drunk one night in Madrid with friends and sang outside of a bar. Her friends always begged her to sing and she loved singing for them. The band that had been playing in the bar came outside to hear her and immediately asked her to come back the next night and sing with them.

“I’m not a singer,” she argued.

“We just heard your voice!” they argued back. But one of her friends told her, “You are going to get up on that stage and you are going to sing!”

When Ritz did get on stage the next night, the audience slumped down in their chairs. “They certainly weren’t excited to hear me—a teenager wearing paneled pants and hair wraps.”

She started singing “Mercedes Benz,” Janis Joplin’s a cappella anti-capitalist anthem, originally written on bar napkins, and the last song she ever recorded. Ritz belted it out as the audience transformed before her eyes. By the end of the song, the entire room was singing and clapping along. “It was the best drug ever—to see that transformation and feel that connection to everybody in the room. It was alchemy—I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

After college, Ritz moved to Puerto Rico and started singing in a blues band that turned into a reggae band. “I loved every minute of it,” she recalls. But ten months later, after the breakup of a tumultuous relationship, she returned to Connecticut where she’d grown up and began working, again, for her family’s manufacturing business. Connecticut was “dismal” for singing opportunities, she says. “I got stuck singing only cover songs and guitarists wanting me to be their backup singer but then getting jealous if I got attention. It sucked. But I didn’t stop.

“Every time I traveled, I’d go to an open mic and freestyle—I would just keep grabbing the mic.”

After becoming a mother, she joined a Ugandan vocal assemble and sang with pick-up bands. “I was always trying to pull it together—a lot of open mics and dive bars and hoping to get lucky someday,” Ritz says laughing.

Looking back, she feels she had no idea how long it can take, what it takes and the way life can pull you in other directions for countless reasons: “Because I’m working, because I’m a mom, because sometimes I’m just tired, because sometimes it’s just not coming together. Our society inundates us with Disney princesses and crap that’s completely unrealistic but who’s one of my heroes? Tina Turner! And she was rocking it when she was 45!”

This is the story of a woman who doesn’t give up. Recently, after ending an unhealthy relationship, she recommitted to herself and her music. On a trip to a cherished family home where the ashes of her grandmother and great aunt were spread, the song came to her instantaneously. “I could hear the music in my head and I started singing along. Immediately, I wrote it down and kept singing it. ‘Holy, Holy’ was a gift to myself. I felt so apologetic, like ‘here’s the flowers!’ I owe this to myself.”

She sent the song to folk, rock, rhythm musician Charlie Braun, who specializes in sacred music, and he worked on the arrangement, then recorded and mixed it. Braun plays guitars, bass, organ and keyboards on the single. Ritz performs all the vocals, including three-part harmony backup.

After Ritz recorded “Holy, Holy,” she contacted Katrina Kelly, a local artist, and commissioned her to make a series of headdresses for the video. While Ritz doesn’t “see” visual ideas in her mind—and says she tends to block out visuals because of the childhood abuse—she sensed what was needed. “I thought of all these modern-day heroes, especially all these moms in my life—my friends, our mothers, ourselves, our daughters—and I knew the video needed to represent real people, not actors but the women I know.”

Likewise, she chose a real place she knows well, Willimantic, Connecticut. The entire video is filmed downtown. “Willimantic, which means ‘swift running waters,’ looks like many other small towns in America. It’s a run-down, forgotten about mill town. I love it.”

Millz Marley, a tattoo spokesmodel, encouraged Ritz to do the video to get out of her comfort zone and to be seen and heard. Ritz invited friends to choose which headdress they wanted to wear without any prompting. Millz chose the rose headdress. Ritz explains, “The rose represents the divine feminine, the eternal flame, Sisterhood of the Rose, Mary Magdalene of the Rose.” Millz’s best friend, Lily, chose the Black Madonna crown. Jess is the lion. Terra is the tigress. Martha’s the Ibis. They’re all friends—Terra and Martha have been best friends since they were two.” Ritz says she found it interesting that her three closest “soul sisters” picked the lioness, the tigress and the Ibis. “They went for all the beasts, if you will!”

Ritz felt strongly that there be no objectification of women in her video. “It’s very sensual with beautiful, beautiful women, but there’s nothing overtly sexual about any of us in any of these scenes,” she says. “The video shows women loving each other, supporting each other and being part of each other’s community.”

This song comes full circle back to a song Robin Ritz sang when she was three years old— “Holy, Holy, Holy”—but she remembers how that song “keeps you on the other side of divinity, singing about God in third person. In so many of those songs I sang as a child, no one’s telling you the truth—that there’s divinity in you.”

Robin Ritz first learned about the divine feminine from a book, which would lead to reading another and another until “the layers started to accumulate.” The book that most inspired her was The Book of Love by historical novelist Kathleen McGowan, who tells the story of Mary Magdalene.

“Back when I was a kid in church and was told that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, I knew in my heart of hearts that wasn’t true. I was pissed and I would argue with my mom about it. Kathleen McGowan’s research and writing showed that Mary Magdalene was in fact Jesus’ divine wife, and that she was a high priestess, and that she was a devotee to the Goddess Isis, and that she was trained in the School of Mysteries and that she was a badass bitch! And I was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds like the Mary I’m talking about.'”

The singer learned that after Jesus was crucified, Mary Magdalene fled in a boat with their children to Southern France to seek asylum, and that their divine lineage carries on. “And I thought that sounds like the truth,” Ritz says.

When more historical evidence was discovered, she read about it and then her father decided to take the family to the south of France. Robin Ritz went to where Mary Magdalene dwelled, went to the caves where she meditated.

Ritz says she often carries beads, shells and feathers in her pockets so that if she finds a sacred place, she can leave small gifts. And so, she went to France with gemstones in her pockets, to seed them randomly in sacred places.

“I went to the cave of Mary and it was a hot, hot, burning Southern France sunny day and I had Angelite, a light blue gemstone, which I smushed into a crevice in the cave and then hung out there for a while,” Ritz recalls. “However, it was like being in a cemetery where you know it’s a holy place but you’re not feeling it. Geographically, you’re in the right place. But you know the spirits are just not here right now.”

“As we left, it became like Sodom and Gomorrah—all of a sudden the sky purples over. We barely make it back to the car before dramatic hailstones. And as we’re driving up out of the valley, the entire valley turns into a rainbow—not an arc—the entire freaking valley turns into a rainbow as if the Divine Mother is saying, ‘Here I am, my child, I’m right here.’ It was absolutely incredible, undeniably completely tangible. That was the first time she presented herself in that way to me.”

Another time was last summer in St. Thomas. Robin Ritz remembers sitting and talking with her “soul sister, Chinwe, who is a shaman, about Goddess energy and Goddess retreats. We both looked up to see, over one particular island, something happening that was creating a pulsating rainbow back and forth, and it lasted for about forty minutes. Sometimes when the veil is so thin, the divine feminine becomes more obvious, frequent and undeniable!”

Holy, Holy

I am holy, holy, holy. I am holy; I and I
I am a Lioness, a Tigress, an Ibis
I am Enchantress, High Priestess, a Goddess
I will stand, stand my ground
And I will not back down.
My head’s held high.
I rule with Love. I guide with Light.
Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace.

You are holy, you’re holy, holy. You are holy, you and you
You are a Lioness, a Tigress, an Ibis
You are Enchantress, High Priestess, a Goddess
You will stand, stand your ground
You know you can’t back down.
Your head held high.
You rule with Love. Guide with Light.

Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace.

We are a Lioness, a Tigress, an Ibis
We are Enchantress, High Priestess, a Goddess
We will stand, stand our ground
You know we can’t back down.
Our heads held high.
We rule with Love. We Guide with Light.
We are holy, holy, holy. We are holy, holy, holy…

I’m gonna stand, gonna stand my ground.
I’m gonna not, gonna not back down.
I’m gonna walk with my head held high.
I’m gonna rule with Love and Light.

We are holy, holy, holy. We are holy, holy, holy…
We are a Lioness, a Tigress, an Ibis
We are Enchantress, High Priestess, a Goddess
We are holy, holy, holy. We are holy, holy, holy…
We and we, you and you, I and I…


Chivas Sandage is a digital columnist at Ms., winner of the 2021 Claire Keyes Poetry Award, and author of Hidden Drive, a finalist for the Foreword Book of the Year Award in poetry. Her poems and essays have appeared in the Texas Observer, The Rumpus, Salmagundi, Southern Humanities Review, and the print version of Ms. Magazine, among others. Her debut nonfiction book is forthcoming from the University of Texas Press. Ms. Muse, her column, features contemporary feminist poets and essays on the intersection of poetry, politics, and our lives. Follow her on Twitter: @ChivasSandage.