The Magic Flute

by Frater S.A.

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 the times.

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

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.”

The Analysis

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 was different.

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.

The Overture

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.

The Trombones

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 Isis.

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 of him.

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 things.

A little further on in The Initiate, His Training and Work by Dion Fortune writes the following:

“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 stimulus.”

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 things.

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 mind.

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 anima.

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.

The Mission

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 Self.

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 opposite directions.

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 of Wisdom.

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 of Tifaret.

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!

Act II

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 of Light.”

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 Yesod.

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 Test

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 a pyramid:

He who treads the road full of care,
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 chorus sings:

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.