Music and Healing – The Pythagorean Theory
Pythagoras of Samos, Greece (ca. 580 B.C.E) was one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of all time. Apart from his many contributions in those fields, he was highly unusual amongst the great prophets of history for being an accomplished musician. He played the kithara, an ancient form of the guitar, and often sang as he played. He is reputed to have been able to soothe both animals and people when he did and should rightly be regarded as the founder of music therapy.
Recognizing the profound effect of music upon the senses and emotions, Pythagoras did not hesitate to influence the mind and body with what he termed “musical medicine.”
Pythagoras evinced such a marked preference for stringed instruments that he even went so far as to warn his disciples against allowing their ears to be defiled by the sounds of flutes or cymbals. He further declared that the soul could be purified from its irrational influences by solemn songs sung to the accompaniment of the lyre. In his investigation of the therapeutic value of harmonics, Pythagoras discovered that the seven modes–or keys–of the Greek system of music had the power to incite or allay the various emotions. It is related that while observing the stars one night he encountered a young man befuddled with strong drink and mad with jealousy who was piling kindling about his mistress’ door with the intention of burning the house. The frenzy of the youth was accentuated by a flutist a short distance away who was playing a tune in the stirring Phrygian mode. Pythagoras induced the musician to change his air to the slow, and rhythmic Spondaic mode, whereupon the intoxicated youth immediately became composed and, gathering up his bundles of wood, returned quietly to his own home.
There is also an account of how Empedocles (ca, 492-432), a disciple of Pythagoras, by quickly changing the mode of a musical composition he was playing, saved the life of his host, Anchitus, when the latter was threatened with death by the sword of one whose father he had condemned to public execution. It is also known that Esculapius, the Greek physician, cured sciatica and other diseases of the nerves by blowing a loud trumpet in the presence of the patient.
Pythagoras cured many ailments of the spirit, soul, and body by having certain specially prepared musical compositions played in the presence of the sufferer or by personally reciting short selections from such early poets as Hesiod and Homer. In his university at Crotona it was customary for the Pythagoreans to open and to close each day with songs–those in the morning calculated to clear the mind from sleep and inspire it to the activities of the coming day; those in the evening of a mode soothing, relaxing, and conducive to rest. At the vernal equinox, Pythagoras caused his disciples to gather in a circle around one of their number who led them in song and played their accompaniment upon a lyre.
The therapeutic music of Pythagoras is described by Iamblichus (ca. 245-330) Preeminent Neoplatonist of his age) thus: “And there are certain melodies devised as remedies against the passions of the soul, and also against despondency and lamentation, which Pythagoras invented as things that afford the greatest assistance in these maladies. And again, he employed other melodies against rage and anger, and against every aberration of the soul. There is also another kind of modulation invented as a remedy against desires.”
It is probable that the Pythagoreans recognized a connection between the seven Greek modes and the planets. As an example, Pliny declares that Saturn moves in the Dorian mode and Jupiter in the Phrygian mode. It is also apparent that the temperaments are keyed to the various modes, and the passions likewise. Thus, anger–which is a fiery passion–may be accentuated by a fiery mode or its power neutralized by a watery mode.
The far-reaching effect exercised by music upon the culture of the Greeks is thus summed up by Emil Nauman: “Plato depreciated the notion that music was intended solely to create cheerful and agreeable emotions, maintaining rather that it should inculcate a love of all that is noble, and hatred of all that is mean, and that nothing could more strongly influence man’s innermost feelings than melody and rhythm. Firmly convinced of this, he agreed with Damon of Athens, the musical instructor of Socrates, that the introduction of a new and presumably enervating scale would endanger the future of a whole nation, and that it was not possible to alter a key without shaking the very foundations of the State. Plato affirmed that music which ennobled the mind was of a far higher kind than that which merely appealed to the senses, and he strongly insisted that it was the paramount duty of the Legislature to suppress all music of an effeminate and lascivious character, and to encourage only s that which was pure and dignified; that bold and stirring melodies were for men, gentle and soothing ones for women. From this it is evident that music played a considerable part in the education of the Greek youth. The greatest care was also to be taken in the selection of instrumental music, because the absence of words rendered its signification doubtful, and it was difficult to foresee whether it would exercise upon the people a benign or baneful influence. Popular taste, being always tickled by sensuous and meretricious effects, was to be treated with deserved contempt. (See Emil Nauman The History of Music.)
Even today martial music is used with telling effect in times of war, and religious music, while no longer developed in accordance with the ancient theory, still profoundly influences the emotions of the laity.
In his chart THE MUNDANE MONOCHORD WITH ITS PROPORTIONS AND INTERVALS Fludd set forth a summary of his theory of universal music. The interval between the element of earth and the highest heaven is considered as a double octave, thus showing the two extremes of existence to be in disdiapason harmony. It is signifies that the highest heaven, the sun, and the earth have the same time, the difference being in pitch. The sun is the lower octave of the highest heaven and the earth the lower octave of the sun. The lower octave (_ to G) comprises that part of the universe in which substance predominate over energy. Its harmonies, therefore, are more gross than those of the higher octave (G to g) wherein energy predominates over substance. “If struck in the more spiritual part,” writes Fludd, “the monochord will give eternal life; if in the more material part, transitory life.” It will be noted that certain elements, planets, and celestial spheres sustain a harmonic ratio to each other, Fludd advanced this as a key to the sympathies and antipathies existing between the various departments of Nature.
The most sublime but least known of all the Pythagorean speculations was that of sidereal harmonics. It was said that of all men only Pythagoras heard the music of the spheres. Apparently the Chaldeans were the first people to conceive of the heavenly bodies joining in a cosmic chant as they moved in stately manner across the sky. Job describes a time “when the stars of the morning sang together,” and in The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare writes: “There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st but in his motion like an angel sings.”
So little remains, however, of the Pythagorean system of celestial music that it is only possible to approximate his actual theory. Pythagoras conceived the universe to be an immense monochord, with its single string connected at its upper end to absolute spirit and at its lower end to absolute matter–in other words, a cord stretched between heaven and earth. Counting inward from the circumference of the heavens, Pythagoras, according to some authorities, divided the universe into nine parts; according to others, into twelve parts. The twelvefold system was as follows: The first division was called the empyrean, or the sphere of the fixed stars, and was the dwelling place of the immortals. The second to twelfth divisions were (in order) the spheres of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, Mercury, and the moon, and fire, air, water, and earth. This arrangement of the seven planets (the sun and moon being regarded as planets in the old astronomy) is identical with the candlestick symbolism of the Jews–the sun in the center as the main stem with three planets on either side of it.
The names given by the Pythagoreans to the various notes of the diatonic scale were, according to Macrobius, derived from an estimation of the velocity and magnitude of the planetary bodies. Each of these gigantic spheres as it rushed endlessly through space was believed to sound a certain tone caused by its continuous displacement of the æthereal diffusion. As these tones were a manifestation of divine order and motion, it must necessarily follow that they partook of the harmony of their own source. “The assertion that the planets in their revolutions round the earth uttered certain sounds differing according to their respective ‘magnitude, celerity and local distance,’ was commonly made by the Greeks. Thus Saturn, the farthest planet, was said to give the gravest note, while the Moon, which is the nearest, gave the sharpest. ‘These sounds of the seven planets, and the sphere of the fixed stars, together with that above us [Antichthon], are the nine Muses, and their joint symphony is called Mnemosyne.'” (See The Canon.)This quotation contains an obscure reference to the ninefold division of the universe previously mentioned.
The Greek initiates also recognized a fundamental relationship between the individual heavens or spheres of the seven planets, and the seven sacred vowels. The first heaven uttered the sound of the sacred vowel _ (Alpha); the second heaven, the sacred vowel _ (Epsilon); the third, _ (Eta); the fourth, _ (Iota); the fifth, _ (Omicron); the sixth, _ (Upsilon); and the seventh heaven, the sacred vowel _ (Omega). When these seven heavens sing together they produce a perfect harmony which ascends as an everlasting praise to the throne of the Creator. (See Irenæus’ Against Heresies.) Although not so stated, it is probable that the planetary heavens are to be considered as ascending in the Pythagorean order, beginning with the sphere of the moon, which would be the first heaven.
Many early instruments had seven Strings, and it is generally conceded that Pythagoras was the one who added the eighth string to the lyre of Terpander. The seven strings were always related both to their correspondences in the human body and to the planets. The names of God were also conceived to be formed from combinations of the seven planetary harmonies. The Egyptians confined their sacred songs to the seven primary sounds, forbidding any others to be uttered in their temples. One of their hymns contained the following invocation: “The seven sounding tones praise Thee, the Great God, the ceaseless working Father of the whole universe.” In another the Deity describes Himself thus: “I am the great indestructible lyre of the whole world, attuning the songs of the heavens. (See Nauman’s History of Music.)
The Pythagoreans believed that everything which existed had a voice and that all creatures were eternally singing the praise of the Creator. Man fails to hear these divine melodies because his soul is enmeshed in the illusion of material existence. When he liberates himself from the bondage of the lower world with its sense limitations, the music of the spheres will again be audible as it was in the Golden Age. Harmony recognizes harmony, and when the human soul regains its true estate it will not only hear the celestial choir but also join with it in an everlasting anthem of praise to that Eternal Good controlling the infinite number of parts and conditions of Being.
The Greek Mysteries included in their doctrines a magnificent concept of the relationship existing between music and form. The elements of architecture, for example, were considered as comparable to musical modes and notes, or as having a musical counterpart. Consequently when a building was erected in which a number of these elements were combined, the structure was then likened to a musical chord, which was harmonic only when it fully satisfied the mathematical requirements of harmonic intervals. The realization of this analogy between sound and form led Goethe to declare that “architecture is crystallized music.”
In constructing their temples of initiation, the early priests frequently demonstrated their superior knowledge of the principles underlying the phenomena known as vibration. A considerable part of the Mystery rituals consisted of invocations and intonements, for which purpose special sound chambers were constructed. A word whispered in one of these apartments was so intensified that the reverberations made the entire building sway and be filled with a deafening roar. The very wood and stone used in the erection of these sacred buildings eventually became so thoroughly permeated with the sound vibrations of the religious ceremonies that when struck they would reproduce the same tones thus repeatedly impressed into their substances by the rituals.
Every element in Nature has its individual keynote. If these elements are combined in a composite structure the result is a chord that, if sounded, will disintegrate the compound into its integral parts. Likewise each individual has a keynote that, if sounded, will destroy him. The allegory of the walls of Jericho falling when the trumpets of Israel were sounded was undoubtedly intended to set forth the arcane significance of individual keynote or vibration. On the positive side, each individual therefore has a keynote or vibrational frequency that, when sounded, will complete him and bring him to perfect harmony of body, mind and soul.
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It would be a worthwhile endeavor to find that certain keynote in each of us . As a first step, make a list of your favorite music , with or without words and see if you can find the what the original key signature is. Without getting too deep into music theory – Key signature is determined by how many flats or sharps there are – for example, I like songs in E Flat. Second step, is find out what mode the main melodic scale is in. My favorite mode is the Dorian mode. There are seven modes in western European music, which is what most of us listen to:
1. Ionian (“Major”)
6. Aolean (“Natural minor”)
Illness or disease is essentially a breakdown of cells caused by physical, mental and emotional imbalances. There have been many experiments and studies that evidence the validity of the Pythagorean music-healing connection. I will continue to post articles and videos on this fascinating subject and hopefully you’ll find it helpful.
FYI: If your favorite songs/music have a common key signature and mode, you won’t need to dig too deep to find your vibrational keynote.