Monthly Archives: November 2012

Music arcana

I recently received some great questions regarding magic and mysticism in music. It sparked such thought that I had to write this rather long article.

Questions from the original poster:

1. what is the purpose of scales? I know based on almost a days worth of research that each scale can be used in certain incantations or just painfully evoke certain emotions, or in evocation magic summon spirits.

2.when you say certain tones bring about an ethereal feel to them could the devils tritone or diabolus in musica be explained in that sense?

3.what makes scales and chords in music magic evoke spirits and emotions? though I didn’t understand what he means exactly, mind you my friend is NOT musically inclined, I played a pagan friend of mine a very nice happy sounding Major chord progression and was told “do you know how much white magic your pushing with that?” So then I played him something a bit faster at 180 beats per minute playing riffs I created in Locrian with the distortion on and was asked to politely stop because it brought about “angry lonesome feelings” what gives one the ability to discern between white, grey and black magic within music? and even when you can discern how can you create while knowing exactly what type of emotion and spirits you’re evoking?

Excellent questions! Music is the most subjective and most abstract of the arts. The subject is so mysterious – even people who don’t believe in anything may speak reverently about music as one would a god.

SCALES – have several uses. Speaking purely musically, scales establish a tonal centre, give a performer a framework for composing (either on paper or in live improvisation), can be used as a tool for the personal practise of discipline, and if you don’t practise your scales, your teacher will thrash you.

Scales do not have to be playing linearly. A scale can be a launchpad into a state of free-flowing improvisation, and through focusing your intentions can be a link to the creative forces of the universe. You play, you create, you experience joy. Dedicate that experience to the object of your worship, and invite your deity to participate, maybe by carrying out the rites one would normally do without music, but as a kind of prelude. Then work through the music to create a cathedral of sound in which you and those around you might experience communion with your beloved Gods, Spirits, Ancestors, and other kindred.

Practically speaking, pairing a scale with an incantation would be a great idea, but not *as* a scale. The scale is the source of tones and a tonal centre. Rather than signing a scale, invent a melody using the scale. I think it would be really interesting to try this. If anyone

In the time of J.S. Bach, it was thought that beautiful music should be evocative of a general ‘Affect’. The listener is said to be ‘affected’ by the music when one feels generally positive, negative, remorseful, curious, mysterious, frightened, indignant, amorous, nostalgic, etc… During the era we term ‘Classical’ and especially the later ‘Romantic’ musicians sought to get more specific with emotions, and the tone-poem became very popular a-la Felix Mendelssohn.

In general, these composers who sought to evoke emotion, or even specific ideas through music were experimenting with ancient Greek methodologies that had been brought to light after the Renaissance with the rise in availability of re-prints of some very old manuscripts. The medieval-early-renaissance church modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and the transposed modes Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, and Hypomixolydian) were thought to convey specific emotions or ‘humors’ – not to be confused with joviality. The names of these modes are based upon the more ancient classical modes, the specifics of which sadly are lost to us, but a few examples have survived. What they termed ‘phrygian’ was thought to be aggressive, even war-like. That one seems to align with what we call ‘phrygian’ – but of course it’s all very subjective.
You may find this interesting: you say certain tones bring about an ethereal feel to them could the devils tritone or diabolus in musica be explained in that sense?

If two planets were to come in close proximity, there are two likely possibilities: 1- they obliterate each other, the resulting mass coalesces and becomes something new like a planet or asteroid belt, or 2- some equilibrium is arrived at and the end up orbiting each other like binary stars. What they don’t do is stay at the same distance. That’s the tritone – it is a device that can either be used to create a sort of new harmony of its own, or it creates tension that is released when the interval is resolved to a perfect 5th, 3rd, or somewhere else entirely. Tritone is an example of the ultimate imperfect harmony in that is is just a half-step under what had been called the most perfect harmonic device for over 1,000 years, i.e. the perfect 5th. If there is magic in music, it is in the fact that it obeys the same laws as the physical cosmos, but in this strange realm that seems so transcendent. A rogue planet without a star about which to orbit is likely a very inert world, but a planet that is part of a system of planetary bodies orbiting one or more stars is a dance, and may support some form of life if the right conditions are met. A single tone can be beautiful, but left alone it is inert. Tones that interact with each other, creating and releasing tension, rising, falling, sustaining, hopping about – there is life there. A traditional sonata movement, for example, is the journey of two melodies, a kind of love story without words. I think they may live in a way far different than our biological definition of life.

“what makes scales and chords in music magic evoke spirits and emotions?”

all physical objects and locations have resonant frequencies. It stands to reason that people do as well, and if people are spiritual beings, then non-human spiritual beings may also experience a kind of sympathetic harmonic resonance. Metal makes some people feel alive; has healing effects, while to others it may cause physical illness. I think its best not to over-complicate this: Music that resonates to your soul is likely also to resonate with a deity that calls to your soul. If you are attempting communication or evocation of a spirit that is unfamiliar to you, use your innate ability to empathise with that being. If a phrygian-mode melody sounds war-like to yourself, it might be a good choice if you are trying to call upon Mars for strength in a conflict. Ritual, generally speaking is for the ritualist, not the Gods per se. All ritual puts yourself into a state in which you relegate your physical body so that your spiritual senses can rise out of the depths of your person. In other words, if a certain type of melody, chord grouping, rhythm, etc… makes you feel in sync with your goal, then it is as much as you can do because we can’t really know how these beings percieve music. For all we know, a melody is as solid as a stone wall or fluid (and dangerous) as water in other realms.

“… what gives one the ability to discern between white, gray and black magic within music? “

The psychological and emotional reactions of yourself and your listeners is the biggest clue. You have a very musically/spiritually sensitive friend, this person could be an invaluable help to your development and a music magic worker. Discernment is something that increases with use, I think. Hang around your friend as you did, and then try the same things apart and see if you can develop this sense. Music, to certain extents, operates along the same laws by which the rest of the universe is ordered. The great sacred paradox of the universe is that nearly everything that seems wrong or out-of-place has some place where it is proper. Two planets passing too close together cause tension and destruction, but in their proper orbits they create harmony. The music that you played for your friend that created ‘angry lonesome feelings’ might be welcome to another person in another ‘sphere’ of being. Blues music sounds depressing to some people, but to myself, when I went through a serious depression, the blues helped me to own my depression. Through the music, I claimed it as my own and therefore possessed power over the negative emotions, using them as a creative force. A few months of shouting the blues total strangers in a bar, and I was myself again, off anti-depressants now for over a decade.

To sum up – music is a medium that takes everything inside you and creates worlds out of it, sometimes gateways to other worlds, sometimes thins the veil between worlds. It can be very powerful, and it is the responsibility of the magus of music magic to learn what music fits in any given environment. Music that is uplifting and empowering in one situation could seem aggressive and destructive in others. “Black magic” in music is anything that is intended to manipulate the feelings of others, just as Black Magic in other realms also comes from a manipulative or destructive intent. That’s not to say that a love song meant to inspire amorous feelings is black magic – I wouldn’t say that!

Modes, minor chords, major chords, diminished, and augmented — can’t be said to be White or Black. Music is so colourful that it seems incredible to refer to anything in black and white. Any major or augments chord can be made to sound grave, any minor or diminished chord can be made to seem uplifting, positive, powerful.

“…and even when you can discern how can you create while knowing exactly what type of emotion and spirits you’re evoking?”

When I play my best, I am existing in the music. Music exists in the dimension of time, but we think of it (at least I do) statically, like a painting. Even master classical musicians, whose careers depend upon their ability to play the same notes in the same durations and dynamics flawlessly every time, to a one will still say the music is different every time they play it. It is because a huge part of any successful performance is the reception of the music. Playing a death-metal anthem in a cathedral to a horde of screaming metal fans might uplift and inspire. Playing the same music in the same place to 75-year-old church-goes might literally kill someone. A non-metal fan attending a show at a club where that music is often played will expect that kind of music, and may even learn to enjoy it.

Environment & audience will effect the ‘Affect’ as much as the music itself. Your attitude and the listener’s attitude sets up what kind of affect the music has. It’s like a ritual. The set-up is nearly as important as what prayers are offered.

I think I should give an example of a piece I had to stop playing. That is the first movement of “La Catedral” by Augustin Barrios Mangore. The second and third movements are deeply moving works of art, as is the first movement. However, the first movement was added by the composer and dedicated to his late wife. When I play this work, all I can see is a man weeping at the death of his beloved, and I just can’t handle it. I felt myself entertaining the same depressed feelings that I had experienced a decade earlier. I may be able to play La Catedral in its entirety some day, but I need to be in a different place for that to be appropriate. It will still be an emotional experience, but I will have to inhabit an emotional sphere at a healthier distance from that of the composer or the general ‘Affect’ within the music — two planets passing too close destroy each other.

Another work, the 2nd Lute suite by J.S. Bach, is one I had to abandon for similar reasons. The Affect was causing a resurgence of depression. However I have recently taken it back up, and I now find it an uplifting experience.

I have an arrangement of ‘Loch Lomond’ by Eythor Thorlaksson that often makes me weep when I play it, and yet I feel cleansed and uplifted after playing it. It is in a major key, but it is one of the saddest ballads composed, about two soldiers, one who will return home on foot, one who will return home only in spirit.

What gives one the ability to discern between white, grey, black in music magic, must be the same as how one discerns in other areas of magic. I’m probably not giving a conclusive answer because I don’t feel conclusively about the black/white/grey distinctions in magic. I don’t think there is any truly ‘black’ magic in music, because when I play and that veil thins between the worlds (and when I’m aware of it) I see colours upon colours. The thing about music is that it can have a life of it’s own. You have to get to know a piece so you can bring it to life in the right situations. Practising this will also help you to be able to improvise songs more effectively for any given situation, environment, and audience.

The audience is so important to how the magic works. A good audience who are receptive, understand your music, and respond in ways that increase your own energy. People whose ideas and beliefs harmonise with your own (note that harmonise doesn’t have to mean ‘same’) can direct the energy of your performance to epic levels. Unfortunately you can’t count on the audience to always help you out. One audience that shouldn’t be neglected is/are your deity(s) and other spirits that you venerate. Considering your supernatural audience is, I think, the greatest act you can do to build your own musical character and ability to create and experience potent music magic.

What I’ve written about are my experiences in the practise of playing music with the intent of venerating deity, spirits of nature, and edifying other people. There are more specific writings available, notably the above link and also the book “Music, Mysticism, and Magic” by Jocenlyn Godwin, the latter is a source-book style collection of some older sources. What I don’t think really holds much salt are correspondences between specific tones and astrological signs, tarot cards, runes, etc… Such correspondences may exist, and I do plan to explore them more fully, but the problem is that one doesn’t just play one tone or one scale or one mode. I’ve always felt the most mystical moments in music happen when all these different elements with their differing correspondences coalesce.

Brief words on depression

Depression touches everyone at some point. With myself, it is either a major life change, frustrated goals, having so many responsibilities that I can’t keep up, or even just bills that have just gotten out of control.

It’s all-right to be sad, you *need* to feel sad when a major catastrophe happens. It’s often a problem that the sad person feels guilty because they think they shouldn’t waste time being sad when there are children or other life responsibilities involved, but that’s just the opposite. You have to outwardly grieve to get through the change. The new situation has to have a chance to become the new normal. I think the best thing is to not tell someone about all the good things he/she has goin – say “you damn-well ought to feel sad because this sucks.” When I had my worst turn many years ago, I was rescued by music. I met a really great guitar teacher at just the right moment who taught me the blues – the real, old, acoustic finger-style blues from the Mississippi delta that’s hard to find recordings of. Blues music was great because you’re encouraged to explore pain on a visceral level – even literally applauded for how rotten you feel. I just started playing pubs and coffee houses and shouting (musically) at complete strangers. I took my pain and re-organised it into what I wanted it to be; learnt to laugh at my own misfortune and pain because it was mine and I could do with it what I willed.

If you know someone who suffers from depression caused by a situation or event, help the person acknowledge everything he or she is feeling, claim every pain as one’s property in some way, then maybe the person can feel he/she has some power over it.