The Magic Flute
by Frater S.A.
About this lecture
The subject of this lecture
is "Die Zauberflöte" or "The Magic Flute",
written in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Magic Flute is arguably the
most well-known and loved opera in the history of music, probably
because it has a simple fairy-tale type of plot and because the
music is easy to listen to and to "understand". There
is a kind of lightness to it that makes it, in fact, ideal as
an introduction to opera in general, or as a family-type entertainment.
But beneath this apparent simplicity
can be found several deeper layers of meaning. This is often the
case with great works of art: they can be enjoyed and understood
on several levels depending on your experience and insight. Some
are fascinated by the fairy-tale dimension of The Magic Flute,
others might just enjoy the great music. Still others will see
it as a love story. Yet others might regard it as a parable dealing
with the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment.
A story of Initiation
But I'm going to speak about
something deeper still - for the story told in The Magic Flute
is really a story of Initiation. And it is, in fact, the only
opera which deals with this particular subject. It does so quite
openly, if you have ears to hear and eyes to see. Behind the apparent
naïvety can be found a quite profound statement about the
importance of the initiatory process, disguised as a fairy-tale.
The characters are deliberately chosen to demonstrate and underline
this main theme, but in themselves, they are totally subordinate
to the main idea: the soul's advancement through initiation.
So why did Mozart choose to write
an opera about Initiation? He didn't - the text - the libretto
-was written by a friend of his by the name of Emanuel Schikaneder.
He was a singer and an actor, as well as the General Manager of
the Opera where The Magic Flute was first performed, but far more
important than this was the fact that both he and Mozart were
Freemasons. And that is very, very important indeed. But let us
first take a quick look at the time in which Mozart lived.
The Age of Enlightenment
The Magic Flute was composed
in 1791, right at the end of the Age of Enlightenment, which had
started in the early years of the 18th century. The Enlightenment
was an intellectual movement, strongly influenced by the rise
of modern science and by the the long religious conflict that
had followed the Reformation. The philosophers believed that science
could reveal nature as it truly is and show how it could be controlled
and manipulated. Modern science has its roots here.
Also, the enlightened understanding
of human nature was one that emphasized the right to self-expression
and human fulfillment, the right to think freely and express one's
views publicly without censorship or fear of repression. Everywhere
the Enlightenment produced restless men (because they were mostly
men) impatient for change. All this was eventually to lead to
the French Revolution, and with the birth of the Napoleonic era,
the Enlightenment came to an end, roughly in 1815. The ideals
of Enlightened Harmony and Peace were utterly disrupted, and history
took another turn.
In other quarters, the idea of
Enlightenment meant something different, but closely akin to the
secular ideas of the movement: the advancement of human consciousness
through education. To these people education was of two kinds:
secular education on one hand, and spiritual education on the
other. These two ingredients are strongly present in Freemasonry,
which like the movement of Enlightenment is based on the idea
of the essential brotherhood of humankind. The secular education
has its parallel in the charitable activities of the Masons, and
the spiritual education in their system of initiation, which uses
builder's tools as symbols to teach basic moral truths. So, the
ideas of Freemasonry were very much in line with the spirit of
Mozart the Mason
Let's return to Mozart as a
Mason and to The Magic Flute. We don't know if Mozart and Schikaneder
belonged to the same Masonic Lodge, but we do know that both of
them were Masons, and that they were familiar with Masonic Symbolism
and with the general ideals of Freemasonry. So, when Tamino, who
is the main character of The Magic Flute, enters the Temple of
Wisdom, he is in fact being initiated into the Masonic Mysteries,
or into a mythical version of it: as you will see, there is a
lot of talk about Isis and Osiris, of pyramids and sphinxes, etc.
Now, this was very fashionable and modern in those days - exotism
was quite the thing - but, equally, as anybody with a bit of insight
into the Masonic Tradition knows, there are many Egyptian elements
in Freemasonry proper, even today. Before we go into all that,
let me describe what goes on in The Magic Flute.
The story, in condensed form,
goes roughly like this:
Tamino, a prince, happens onto
a wild landscape where he is rescued from a gigantic serpent by
Three Veiled Ladies - servants of the Queen of the Night. The
Queen, also called Flaming Star, has a daughter - Pamina, and,
as the Queen herself tells Tamino, the girl has been abducted
by a cruel magician, Sarastro. If the prince can rescue Pamina,
he may then marry her.
During his adventures Tamino
is joined by a youth of contrasting qualities: Papageno, a bird
catcher, jovial and earthy. Fortified with a magic flute and a
set of bells, they set out in search of Pamina. They find that
things are often not what they seem. The Queen, in reality, is
a destructive plotter; Sarastro, a spiritual leader, has abstracted
the Queen's daughter to free the girl of a wicked influence.
Gradually both the prince and
Pamina, who meet, undergo rites of purification that enable them
together to enter the temple of Sarastro as enlightened servants.
Tamino plays the magic flute as he passes through the ordeals
of fire and water. At the same time, Papageno achieves his heart's
desire: "a bride, Papagena, very much like his earthy self."
So let's try to analyse the
story of the opera in Mystery terms. The first thing we must remember
is that in Mozart's time, most of the psychological terms we now
use were not invented yet. The concepts were of course familiar
to what we loosely may term "the wise", but the terminology
We talk, for instance, about
"integrating the Higher and the Lower Selves". They
might have referred to the same thing under the name of "The
Conjoining of the Sun and the Moon". The integration of two
aspects of consciousness was frequently termed "a Marriage",
for instance, and images and symbols from earth-level marriage
ceremonies were employed.
They certainly didn't talk about
"The Shadow of the Psyche" or about "repressed
material", but of "demons". In fact, it is possible,
indeed very likely, that we have lost something in dropping this
colourful vocabulary. It is entirely possible that they used the
term "demon", not out of ignorance, but because their
basic way of thinking was different: it might have allowed for
this kind of interpretation of the psychic facts. Certainly, what
we coolly might term "a repressed complex" -thereby
reducing it to a neat, easily handled object - frequently takes
on an independent psychic existence, sometimes even outside the
psyche itself. The old term "demon" is perhaps, in such
cases, a more accurate term, simply because it is evocative to
our mind and not dry and clinical. The mind is never dry, nor
is it clinical.
The symbolism employed in The
Magic Flute is not known to us in its entirety. However, the story
is a spiritual one, and many of the symbols employed are known
to us: they are still employed in a spiritual context; they are
still in use Freemasonry and within the occult. As Masons, Schikaneder
and Mozart must have been familiar with basic occult history and
symbology; elements of the Kabbalah and of Alchemy were certainly
known to them. It is very easy to understand some of the more
obvious symbols. I'm not saying that Mozart was a Kabbalist; in
fact, there is nothing to support such an idea. It is possible,
however, to interpret the story of The Magic Flute in the light
of general kabbalistic symbolism, because most of it is archetypal
anyway: for instance, the symbol of, say, a forest means much
the same thing in Western Kabbalah as it does in Jungian analysis
or, indeed, in Dante's Divine Comedy. There is a common layer
of meaning which runs through all of them, but equally, I don't
think that Mozart was, for instance, into Gematria, Notariqon
or any of the more abstruse Kabbalistic disciplines.
As an occultist, it is always
wise to remember the story of Procrustes, who used to solve the
problem with houseguests being too tall or too short for the beds
he provided for them by simply cutting off their legs or racking
them until they fitted! As occultists we are equally prone to
make the same mistake - forcing the facts fit our theories.
I shall try to avoid this particular
trap, but don't be surprised if you, after the end of this lecture,
find the odd toe lying about this room. Shoot me, not Mozart!
I will simply try to use the basic elements of Western Qabalah
to demonstrate how the Magic Flute might be interpreted in the
light of esoteric symbolism. Mozart and Schikaneder might not
agree with every detail in this particular interpretation. However,
archetypes being what they are - common to all humankind - I think
they would agree in principle.
To quote from Julie Andrews
in The Sound of Music: "Let's start from the very beginning".
So let's start, therefore, with the Overture. An overture is usually
a kind of collection of orchestral highlights from the opera which
follows: it's a potpourri or a medley as it were. The overture
of The Magic Flute is different, however: not a single bar of
it is taken from the opera itself. It is a separate piece altogether.
Now, this has caused some musicologists to believe that it has
nothing to do with the opera, and that it perhaps was added afterwards.
This is not true, and there are
two strong points of evidence which demonstrate this. Firstly,
the key of the overture is E flat major, which acts as a kind
of central key throughout the entire opera. E flat major is a
key which has a special Masonic significance; one reason for this
is that E flat major is written with three flats, symbolic of
the Trinity, and also of a certain group of three men which is
very central to the basic "Masonic myth", if I may call
it so. Mozart was not alone in using E flat major in this way
- other composers have used it as well, notably Beethoven, who
also was a Mason, and there are plenty of other examples.
Secondly, the overture begins
with three chords, three heavy, accented, majestic chords - in
E flat major. These three chords are separated by long pauses
which makes them stand out like three great pillars. Indeed, this
is exactly what they represent. In a Masonic Lodge of a certain
degree, there are three Pillars: one in each Quarter, next to
each major Officer: East, South and West (there is no Officer
of the North). Note that we are not talking about Jakin &
Boaz, the usual black and silver pillars so familiar to us today,
but something totally different: the Pillars of the Three Officers,
who have high-sounding titles like Worshipful Master. Those familiar
with the rituals of the Golden Dawn will recognize these titles,
because the Golden Dawn was founded by Masons (three Masons, in
fact!) and much of the Masonic symbolism was carried over into
that of the Golden Dawn.
So these three chords symbolize
the Three Officers - or the Three Masonic Pillars. They are the
Three that rule the Lodge. Indeed, throughout the score of The
Magic Flute, attention is constantly drawn to the number three
in various ways.
So Mozart, by choosing E flat
major - a Masonic key - and by opening the entire opera with a
reference to the Three Who Rule The Lodge (the "Masonic Trinity"
if you like), is by this very act symbolically asserting that
what is to take place is under the aegis, as it were, of the Masters
of the Lodge. It's rather like opening Lodge, declaring that everything
that is to take place therein will be under the protection of
the Light, under the protection of the Most High, whatever name
you choose to recognize It by.
In the overture, Mozart also
draws special attention to the trombones. It's as if he wants
to emphasize that they have a special function. Indeed, they do:
throughout the rest of the opera, fanfares or chords for the three
trombones (there's that number three again) announce the next
stage or phase of the process of initiation. They urge the protagonists
on, they make things happen.
Trombones are extremely ancient
instruments. The name is Italian for "large trumpet",
but whereas trumpets are martial instruments - having to do with
the forces of Mars: energy, courage, war, and so forth - the trombones,
on the other hand, are particularly royal instruments. Traditionally,
trombones and their ancestors were mainly used in religious ceremony.
They represented the majesty and divinity of the King; compared
to the trumpets, their sound is heavier, calmer, more dignified
and expansive: all qualities of Jupiter. So we might say that
trumpets belong to the Sphere of Gevurah on the Tree of Life,
and trombones belong to the Sphere of Chesed.
However, we might also put the
trombones in Tifaret, the Royal Sephira above all others, the
Sphere of the King. Tifaret is also the Sphere of Sacrifice and
of Higher Initiation, and since The Magic Flute is an opera about
initiation and the trombones are given the task of summoning the
characters to their initiation, we can regard the trombones as
symbols of Tifaret, the Sphere of the Sun and of the Higher Self.
If you listen to the second half
of the overture, try to identify what the trombones are doing;
there is one place where they very clearly are "sounding
the summons", and towards the end you can hear them stand
out clearly as they are playing very loud, off-beat accents; it's
like Mozart is telling us: "Look: take note of the trombones;
they have a special significance!"
Scene 1 - the Main Characters
When the First Act begins, we
find ourselves in the wilderness, in a large forest. At the back
is a circular or roundish temple (though I very much suspect it
is nine-sided, but more of that later on). Tamino enters, pursued
by a large serpent which is threatening to kill him. He faints,
but as he does so, the doors of the temple open and three veiled
ladies rush out to kill the beast with spears of silver.
A forest - a classic symbol of
the unconscious; also a symbol of life itself, the tangled circumstances
we frequently find ourselves in. Another forest which immediately
comes to mind is the one in which Dante finds himself at the beginning
of his Divine Comedy: he was also threatened by various wild animals.
In fact this forest, this wilderness, is nothing other than Yesod,
the Sphere of the Moon and of the unconscious, which is further
borne out by the fact that the three veiled Ladies are servants
of the Queen of the Night: they are Priestesses of the Moon, as
witness their silver spears. Three, of course, being the number
of the Great Mother, Binah: the black veils refer to the Veiled
Tamino, on the other hand, is
a Prince. What, then, is a Prince? A Prince is a King's son, a
young man, whose destiny is to succeed his father and become the
Ruler of the Land. Seen microcosmically, a King (or a Queen, for
that matter) is a balanced human being, in command of his own
inner Kingdom and thereby of his own circumstances: he has achieved
integration of his Lower and Higher Selves: he is a true Initiate
in the deepest sense of the word. A Prince is someone who is still
aspiring to all this: he is a candidate, seeking Initiation.
It is also very important to
keep in mind that a Prince is an educated person. He has prepared
himself for Kingship through studies in many fields and disciplines.
This is a prerequisite for a good ruler: only a person with knowledge
can rule well; therefore, he who wants to be King must first educate
himself. In the language of the Mysteries, this means that in
order to become eligible for Initiation, we must have reached
the point where we have mastered the exoteric sciences, which
train our minds and give us the tools to understand the inner
knowledge. There must be some degree of inner balance, otherwise
we won't perceive the inner teachings. There must be enough data
in the mind, otherwise we won't understand their import.
There is much preliminary work
to be done before Initiation becomes possible. Dion Fortune says
(in The Initiate, His Training and Work):
"The emotions must flow
freely, without conflict or distortion, in the channels which
Nature has appointed for them before they can be lifted to a
higher level. You cannot sublimate a pathology.
The professors of a university are not willing to ground students
in the elements of knowledge that belong to the schoolroom,
and when the student wishes to undertake the higher studies
of esoteric science, he should come as completely equipped as
exoteric studies can make him."
This is the true meaning of
Princehood. Tamino fulfils all these requirements: he is reasonably
balanced, he is brave and knowledgeable; he has stamina and self-control.
In fact, Tamino may be regarded as an image of the rational conscious
mind itself, rather like "The Magician" of the Tarot.
The Kabbalists of old called this aspect of the microcosm, Ruach.
A modern-day term is the Ego.
But right now Tamino, the conscious
mind, is out of action, lying unconscious on the ground. The Three
Ladies, after some debate, all decide to return to the temple
to inform the Queen of the Night, so the Prince is just left there,
but not for long.
A curious figure enters - Papageno,
the Bird Catcher. In fact, it is difficult to tell whether he
is human or not: he is covered in feathers, and in one place he
talks about something being "so horrible it makes him moult"!
His feathers are, in fact, not worn like a coat that can be taken
off at will, but are part of him. He is actually part human, part
bird or animal. Papageno is a simple soul, a good-natured, earthy
character. He is not exactly what you would term an intellectual.
He likes simple things; if he lived today, his intellectual pursuits
would limit themselves to comic books, TV soaps and a pint at
the pub. As he enters, he sings a simple little tune, very typical
He operates at an instinctual
level, and it is not surprising to learn that he is employed by
the Temple of the Moon where he, in exchange for the birds he
catches, is given wine, figs and sponge-cake - all sweet and pleasurable
A little further on in The
Initiate, His Training and Work by Dion Fortune writes the
"The direction of the
energies of life must be removed from the domain of the desires
to that of the will. Until this is done there can be no steady
progression in any direction, for the desires are called forth
from without, not directed from within, and vary with the external
It is almost as if the character
of Papageno was invented to illustrate this point. He is much
more interested in good food than in danger and adventure. He
is basically a coward, has absolutely no self-control, he rarely
stops to think at all, but there is nothing evil in him. He is
the personification of the instincts, that part of the Ruach (the
Ego) which Kabbalists term the Nefesch or the animal soul, that
part of us that connects us to Nature. It is interesting to note
that he carries a set of pipes, a Pan Flute.
Aspects of one Person
As we go along, you will note
that all the characters may be regarded as aspects of one person:
Tamino and Papageno are one. Tamino is the conscious mind of the
person that is to be initiated, Papageno is his unconscious animal
soul. He is the Nefesch part of the Ruach, for the instincts can
never entirely be separated from the Ego. Treating persons in
a drama or a myth as sub-personalities can often reveal very interesting
Tamino wakes up
Tamino regains consciousness
and assumes that Papageno is the one who has saved him from the
serpent, something Papageno doesn't particularly mind: in fact,
he takes full credit for it - very typical of the Nefesh, the
instinctual level! However, the Three Ladies return and put a
padlock on his mouth, "to teach him not to lie to strange
people, and to stop him from bragging about heroic deeds done
by others". So what we are seeing here is the Yesodic subconscious
level disciplining the instincts. Training such as this comes
from many levels, not just the conscious one. In fact, the instincts
are much better disciplined by the unconscious than by the conscious
The Three Ladies then present
Prince Tamino with a small portrait of the daughter of the Queen
of the Night. And of course it's love at first sight - what else,
especially since her name is "Pamina", a simple variation
on his own name, Tamino. This shows the basic unity between the
two. Pamina can be regarded as an aspect of himself which he has
to reclaim in order to reach maturity and integration. In fact,
Pamina is his contrasexual image - or to use a Jungian term, his
It is it not surprising to us,
then, when we learn from the Three Priestesses that Pamina has
been abducted by a powerful evil sorcerer - the anima is in a
fallen, captive state. Naturally, Tamino promptly swears that
he will save her.
The Queen of the Night
At this point, the scenery suddenly
changes: it becomes dark, and the Queen of the Night appears.
She is sitting on a silver throne, decorated with silver stars.
Under her feet is a silver crescent. You will note that the imagery
used by Mozart and Schikaneder is very similar to that in the
tarot card of "The High Priestess", which isn't very
surprising: there are strong links between this card, the Moon
and the Goddess. Up until now we've encountered her in her Triple
form, as the Three Ladies, but now she reveals herself fully as
the Star-Crowned Isis of the Moon, of the subconscious, of Yesod.
In a slow, plaintive aria, she tells Tamino that if he saves Pamina
from the evil magician, Sarastro, he will then be free to marry
her. Then she disappears, and the scenery changes back to normal,
leaving Tamino wondering if it was a vision or a dream - so typical
of an encounter with the astral levels of Yesod where everything
is fluid and dream-like.
Papageno's padlock is removed
by the Three Ladies. He promises never to lie again. Tamino is
given a magic flute with protective properties to help him on
his rescue mission. Papageno, not wanting to get involved, decides
that this is a probably a good time to vanish, but the Ladies
stop him, saying that the Queen has decreed that he is to follow
Tamino to Sarastro's castle. Understandably, he is not too happy
about this, but agrees when he is given a set of silver bells,
also with magical properties.
The Higher Genii
Tamino and Papageno are also
assigned Three Guides to show them the way to Sarastro's castle:
Three boys will hover near
you on your journey;
They will be your guides,
Follow only their advice.
These three boys, hovering nearby,
are the Guardian Angels of Tamino and Papageno - they are three
in number for the sake of consistency, and also because they are
assigned to watch over them by the Temple of the Queen of the
Night, and as children they symbolise the purity of the Higher
We might also regard them as
personifications of the Tifaret consciousness which now has begun
to overshadow, or "hover over", the person who is to
be initiated, even if that person does not realise it. This is
always the case when we are reaching the stage where initiation
takes place - the Higher Consciousness will overshadow us to a
certain extent, but very often it isn't until long afterwards
that we recognize this fact. And in yet another and third sense,
in the early stages the mystical consciousness is like a child,
requiring care, love and protection.
In the next scene, which is
very brief, we're in Sarastro's palace. Slaves are are laughing,
because Pamina has escaped from her jailer, Monostatos. His name
could be taken to mean "of a single state", "Single-minded"
or perhaps "One-Track minded". He is a Moor - in other
words, he is black. Monostatos is a cruel, embittered person who
lusts after Pamina and is just about to rape her when he suddenly
sees Papageno through a window. Frightened by one another's appearance
- "surely this is the Devil" - they both run off in
icrocosmically speaking, Monostatos
can perhaps be said to represent the Shadow, the complex of repressed
psychic material in our subconscious; our psychic "dustbin"
if you like, or, using an old Mystery term - the dreaded Dweller
on the Threshold.
We, as moderns, cannot but help
come up against the idea of racism here. We must keep in mind
that 200 years ago, the so-called supremacy of the white races
was rarely questioned. Therefore, it is very interesting to note
that Schikaneder and Mozart have assigned an aria to Monostatos
in which he sings, "skin colour matters not when one is in
love". This might, perhaps, be seen as a reflection of the
Masonic ideals of the essential brotherhood of all humankind.
The Finale of Act I
After this short scene follows
the Finale of the first act. The Three Boys, or Higher Genii,
have guided Tamino to the gates of Sarastro's temple complex.
The layout is interesting: we see three portals. The left one
leads to the Temple of Reason, the right one to the Temple of
Nature, and in the middle, another portal leads to the Temple
Remember that we started in the
forest of Yesod, in front of the Temple of the Moon? We'll, we're
still in Yesod, but Tamino is getting ready to leave the Sphere
of the Moon, and as you know, on the Tree of Life there are three
paths leading upwards from Yesod: the 30th Path, leading to Hod;
the 28th Path, which leads to Netzach, and the 25th Path, leading
to Tifaret. It just happens that these three paths correspond
exactly to the three Temple Gates: In Hod is the Temple of Reason,
of course; in Netzach is the Temple of Nature, and in Tifaret,
which is the Sphere of the Sun, the Higher Self and of Higher
Initiation, is the Temple of Wisdom! One begins to wonder if Schikaneder
wasn't, after all, familiar with the Kabbalah...
Anyway, Tamino, who is of course
firmly set upon rescuing Pamina from the evil sorcerer, Sarastro,
boldly knocks on the right portal. From beyond it a chorus of
priests replies "Stand back!". Puzzled, he tries the
left one, with the same result: "Stand back!" He then
tries the middle portal, and an old priest appears.
He asks him,
"Where are you bound for,
bold stranger? What do you seek in this holy place?".
Pamino answers, "That which is love's and virtue's".
The priest replies, "Those are noble words - But how are
you to find it? You are not guided by love and virtue, because
you are inflamed by death and revenge."
Now, at this point something
very interesting happens. Tamino, and the audience, discover that
Sarastro is no evil-doer at all, but a Priest of the Sun, a Holy
Man, and that the Queen of the Night is a false and treacherous
woman who has plotted against him. Sarastro has indeed abducted
Pamina from her mother, but only in order to protect Pamina from
her mother's evil influence.
This might sound a bit puzzling,
and it has indeed puzzled musicologists since The Magic Flute
was first performed, but it is in a way typical of the reversal
of values that is said to take place as we leave the subjective
consciousness of Yesod, the Moon-consciousness, and enter the
objective solar consciousness of Tifaret. Tamino is simply advancing
on his path of initiation. He is leaving the shadowy, ever-shifting
world of Yesod, and is preparing to fully enter the higher consciousness
The priest has left Tamino at
the gate. In despair he asks if Pamina is still alive, and a hidden
chorus of priests reply "Pamina still lives!". He decides
to play his flute - perhaps its magic will lead him to her - and
after a few moments he hears Papagenos pipes in reply. Pamina
and Papageno use the enchanted bells to escape from Monostato's
slaves, and then join Tamino at the portal of the Temple of Wisdom.
A procession appears: Sarastro comes riding a chariot, drawn by
six lions - the symbolism of this is perfectly obvious: six is
the number of Tifaret; lions are solar symbols as well as symbols
of royalty. Sarastro is indeed a Priest-King, in fact, his name
is probably an allusion to Zoroaster (or "Zarathustra"),
which further underlines his essential solar nature. There is
no doubt about it: all this symbolism shows us that Sarastro is
the Higher Self, or, as Kabbalists term it, the Neschamah.
Sarastro sentences Monostatos
to receive 77 strokes of the bastinado. Tamino and Papageno are
taken into the Temple of Trial to be purified, and the First Act
ends with a chorus:
When virtue and justice
have strewn the path of the great with glory,
Then will the earth be the kingdom of heaven
And mortals will be like gods!
The second act begins with another
march as the College of Priests process into a courtyard inside
the Temple of the Sun. There is a grove of palm trees - symbols
of victory - with golden leaves. There is reason to assume that
the palm trees stand in for akacias, which have a deep symbolic
significance within Freemasonry. There are also eighteen seats
or sieges; on each siege stands a pyramid and a large black horn,
set in gold. The pyramids puzzled me a great deal, until someone
remarked that the 18 four-sided pyramids make a total of 72 sides,
which is the number of the Schemhamforasch, the Great Name of
God, which is inextricably linked to the Rosicrucian Mysteries.
Each priest is holding a palm (read, akacia) twig in his hand.
Sarastro opens the meeting, saying,
"Brethren! Initiates of
the Temple of Wisdom; Servants of Isis and Osiris! Tamino, who
is waiting at the Northern Gate of the Temple, is yearning to
be free of the veil of the night, he wants to behold the sanctuary
It's spelled out for us here:
the candidate is about to raise his consciousness from the shadowy
realms of Yesod to Tifaret, where the Sun never sets, where, in
fact, the Sun can be seen at Midnight.
We also learn that Pamina is
destined for Tamino, and that this is the real reason for her
abduction from the Queen of the Night, who is described as being
full of deceit, seeking to mislead the people with illusion and
superstition - glamour or maya - typical properties of an unbalanced
Also note that the Moon Temple
is served only by women, and the Sun Temple only by men. Thus,
what we have got here is actually a polarity between the Moon
and the Sun, between the subconscious and the conscious - and
the Age of Enlightenment was very much in favour of the conscious
mind as a guiding principle. Remember, the previous period of
political and spiritual unrest (religious wars, witch hunts, etc)
had indeed proved to be a time of "lunacy" (and the
word "lunacy" is derived from the latin name for the
Moon, Luna). Therefore, Reason, as symbolised by the Sun, was
perceived as the only alternative.
However, we also learn that Sarastro
is Pamina's father! Thus she is, in fact, the daughter of the
Moon and the Sun: pure alchemy. And by the way, during the priestly
deliberations we hear, three times, the initiation trombones sound
their three-chord fanfare.
The First Test
Meanwhile, Tamino and Papageno
are brought into a dark chamber by two priests. Papageno is afraid.
Solemnly the first priest asks them: "Strangers, what do
you seek or demand of us?" Tamino answers: "Friendship
and love". He is willing to undergo any ordeal, no matter
how painful, in order to win Pamina. Now the other priest questions
Papageno about his ideals and hears, to his displeasure, that
he is not at all anxious to aquire wisdom; all he wants is sleep,
food and drink, and if only it were possible, a pretty young wife,
but that he does not intend to undergo ordeals and mortal danger
to this end: "I think I'll stay single". On being promised
a young pretty Papagena who matches him in everything, he is prepared
to at least attempt the ordeal of silence.
They are told that they will
be left alone, and that they, no matter what happens, may not
speak. If they do, all is lost. The first test is to be able to
resist the guiles of women: this is the beginning of wisdom.
To modern ears this sounds decidedly
sexist, so let me rephrase it slightly. The beginning of wisdom
is to be able to liberate yourself from being dominated by the
forces of the subjective and subconsious mind as represented by
the Moon. It also has to do with controlling your sexuality; the
Initiate is not ruled by his passions. There is nothing wrong
with having passions, not at all, but to advance on the Path,
your passions must not control you, you must rule over them; you
must not suppress them, but rule them wisely. Note, also, that
Tamino and Papageno are not being told to give up women: it is
a simply a test, and as such is limited in time. Neither are women
decried anywhere in the text, nor is the female principle. We
are simply talking about aspects of the soul. It has nothing to
do with physical gender. Let's not confuse the map with the terrain.
This is extremely important in all occultism.
Suddenly, the Tree Ladies appear,
seemingly out of nowhere. They try everything in order to make
Tamino and Papageno speak to them. Papageno, who has no self-control,
can barely keep himself from talking; Tamino constantly has to
tell him to shut up. Finally, a chorus of Initiates proclaims:
"The holy threshold has been desecrated! Away with the women
to Hell!". The Ladies vanish, but the Queen of Night is still
at large in the Temple...
The Queen of the Night's Aria
She is furious because Tamino
has chosen to become an Initiate of the Sun. She appears in her
daughter's chamber and calls upon her to kill Sarastro and to
hand her the powerful Disc of the Sun. Otherwise she will forever
be disowned. So, the forces of Night are indeed threatening to
overtake the Realms of the Sun.
So, an uprush of subconscious
force, working through the anima of the candidate, is threatening
to flood the conscious mind, thereby cutting off all contact with
the superconscious levels of Tifaret. It is in fact a classic
reaction from the subconscious: it does not want to change, it
wants to stay the way it is, and it will go to great lengths to
prevent any change in consciousness. This applies to quite mundane
things, like giving up smoking, and it also applies to Initiation.
Here, though, we see it in a very dramatic and extreme form: by
acquiring the Disc of the Sun, the subconscious would overthrow
the superconscious and rule supreme - a very serious mental condition,
if not a total dissolution of the entire psyche.
But of course, the Higher Self
cannot be killed. When the Queen of the Night has vanished, Sarastro
appears, comforting Pamina: "in these halls no traitors can
lurk, for here we all forgive our enemies." Very typical
of the Higher Self, which is one with all other Higher Selves.
The Second Test
Meanwhile, it's time for the
Tamino's and Papageno's second test. The two priests lead them
into a vast hall. Papageno chatters and complains that he is hungry.
Their Guardian Angels, the Three Boys, appear from on high bringing
the Magic Flute and the Magic Bells. They also bring a table full
of food - Papageno immediately proceeds to stuff himself. Tamino
plays his flute, and Pamina is attracted by its sounds. Tamino
turns away, since he has been forbidden to speak. Pamina cannot
understand this and thinks Pamino has stopped loving her. This
is the second test, one which Tamino just barely is able to pass.
Papageno doesn't notice: he's too busy chewing. Then the trombones
call on the two men to continue on their way.
In preparation for the final
Sarastro praises Tamino for
his calm. Pamina, who by now is quite beside herself and even
has contemplated suicide, is brought in. Sarastro bids the two
say farewell, for it is time for the final test.
Papageno, meanwhile, has lost
his way. He can't pass into the next hall: wherever he goes, he
hears "Stand back!" He cries. One of the priests arrives
and chides him, telling him that if he goes on like this, he will
never attain to the celestial joy of the Initiates. This doesn't
bother Papageno a bit: what he'd like just now is a glass of wine.
And as he wishes, so it is.
The Third Test
Pamino is ready to undertake
the third and final test: the Trial by Water and Fire. Once again,
the key switches to the Masonic key of E flat major. We can see
two mountains on either side of the stage: through two openings
can be seen black mist and glowing fire, respectively. Two men
in black armour, wearing helmets with burning crests, read from
He who treads the road full
Is purified by fire, water, air and earth.
If he can overcome the fear of death,
he soars heavenwards away from earth!
Enlightened, he will then be able
To dedicate himself entirely to the mysteries of Isis.
Oh, yes, the Mysteries of Isis: those who are not able to think
in symbols and would like to accuse The Magic Flute of being sexist
might have a slight problem here. The two men's hymn is one of
the most evocative passages in the opera: very suitable, by the
way, for Lodge initiations.
Just as Tamino is about to enter
the first cave, he hears the voice of Pamina, who has been given
permission to join him as an Initiate: they can now undergo the
final test together. I rather like that: remember that the Sun
temple is a male temple, a temple of the Sun: only men are allowed
as Initiates. By letting Tamino and Pamina undergo the tests together,
as one unit if you like - a syzygy - both principles are joined
together. This is a sure proof of balance and of a successful
initiation. Anyone who still thinks The Magic Flute is sexist?
They pass through the portal,
which closes behind them. The music during the actual test is
very quiet: Tamino plays his magic flute, accompanied only by
soft trombones (what else?) and kettle drums.
We do not see the actual tests - they remain secret and withdrawn
- but finally Tamino and Pamina emerge from the cave and the stage
transforms into a brightly lit hall. A chorus greets them triumphantly
and bids them enter the Temple as full Initiates.
This is basically the whole story.
After this, the Queen of the Night and Monostatos make an abortive
attempt to storm the Sun Temple: but of course the Sun cannot
be conquered; the Queen of the Night and her followers are thrown
into the abyss, and immediately the stage transforms into a gigantic
Sun. Sarastro stands exalted; Tamino and Pamina are now wearing
priestly robes. They are surrounded by Egyptian priests on either
side, and the Three Boys are holding flowers in their hands. The
Hail to you who are blest!
You came through the night!
Thanks! Thanks! Thanks be to you, Osiris!
And thanks be to you, Isis!
Strength has conquered
And crowned as a reward
Beauty and Wisdom
With an everlasting crown!
And Papageno? He never became
an initiate, having chosen the wine instead (what else would you
expect from the instincts?), but he did get his girl, Papagena,
in the end. So everybody was happily mated, each principle of
the soul on its own level: Papageno - the instincts - "marries"
(is integrated with) Papagena. Tamino - the conscious mind-marries
Pamina, the Anima; and the Higher Self, Sarastro, through whom
all of this came about, watches over them all. And Sarastro is
the King that Tamino is destined to succeed, in a higher initiation
still. But that is another story.