Freemasonry is filled with music. Many organizations use hymns and the like to inspire their members. Classical music and modern aesthetic music can fill Temple rooms these days, provoking emotion or thought, based on the hearer. Music is so important that it has its own officer, one who consciously chooses the soundscape of every Lodge meeting. Lodge meetings may be some of the first occasions of some members being able to hear classical music, applied to ritual and oration. As we progress through the degrees of Freemasonry, we begin to apply a deeper meaning to the reason for the sounds we hear, the lessons we learn. We understand that, if the Lodge room is a blueprint of the universe, music is the harmony of that universe, connecting our brains to a larger realm.
How did music become so integral to ritual and important to Freemasons?
It started with Pythagoras. It always does. Pythagoras is the name that springs to the lips of students and teachers alike, when the question of origin is involved. It had to start somewhere. Here, though, the germ of the idea really did start with Pythagoras. Like Lucretius, another man ahead of his time, Pythagoras conceived of the bodies of the universe having a resonance and harmony that created what was called, later, as “Musica Universalis.”
Pythagoras proposed that our celestial bodies had a district hum to them, based on their orbits. While no surviving works by Pythagoras exist, we know that he conceived of the harmony of rational numbers. Based on this harmony, he extrapolated that the Sun, Moon, planets, and Earth all produced a vibration that may not be heard by the human ear; yet, for all intents and purposes, it did produce a sound.
Plato took this farther, combining music and astronomy as different methods by which to conceive, with human senses, the ideas of numbers. Other philosophers took up the idea, including Pliny the Elder (referencing Pythagoras) and Aristotle. Aristotle did not believe the music was audible to the human ear and truly, that it did not exist at all; his rationale was that the bodies in question were so great that if they did make a sound, we would surely hear it and die from it.
These ideas, especially between mathematics, astronomy, and music were so great and consistent that they eventually made their way into the classical lessons of the Quadrivium, where the concepts of the Music of the Spheres was taught. Boethius, a 6th Century C.E. Roman philosopher and neoplatonist, wrote De institutione musica and based on the ideas of Plato and Pythagoras, reawakened the ideas of numbers/mathematics and astronomy being critical to the understanding of the cosmos. This work was used by medieval and early renaissance scientists in understanding why the Greeks found these harmonies to be so important.
We fast forward to 1619 and Johannes Kepler. In this year, Kepler published a book Harmonices Mundi – meaning “The Harmony of Worlds.” After publishing Mysterium Cosmigraphicum, Kepler continued to pursue the ideas that were put forth by these early Greek Philosophers.
However, he, like Aristotle before him, did not believe this music could be heard by the human ear. What Kepler did believe is that the human soul could feel and/or hear this music produced by the universe and be soothed by its harmonies. Kepler dove deep into the past (Proclus, Pythagoras, Aristotle, even Boethius) and not only enlivened a new generation of scientists to the conjunction of music and astronomy, but bolstered his heliocentric theory of our Solar System.
As we move solidly into the 21st Century, we now have recorded some of these sounds being created. Radiation produced by the celestial bodies can be converted into sounds that the human ear may hear. They are not musical to our sensibilities; yet, from them one can see how music can be created. From orbits and spacing, one can also create music for the human ear – not just with our solar system but with many solar systems. One man, Matt Russo, has done just that. For an interesting TED Talk on all of this, access this link.
Freemasonry is a proponent of the Trivium and the Quadrivium, ancient foundational teachings that are the source of much of what we know today. The ideas of these ancient philosophers are the stones by which the Trivium and Quadrivium were established. Lucretius conceived of atoms and molecules. Pythagoras conceived of the harmony and relationship of strings and notes. Hypatia conceived of the idea of elliptical planetary orbits. Aristotle gave us the idea matter being made of fire, earth, air, and water.
All of these, simplistic and common as we now know them to be, began somewhere. That ‘somewhere’ is ancient thought, refined and brought forward to the modern age. Why does Freemasonry care so much about this knowledge? These philosophers?
It is not just because they are foundational knowledge; Freemasons care because they are curious. The curious explore and discover. The curious are the ones that create new modes of thinking, of being, and living. They debate and discuss and expand thought based on this curiosity and this knowledge. They ask themselves, how did ritual and music become so inextricably entwined?
Knowing that these ordinary humans may conceive of extraordinary ideas, and further progress of humanity give us modern humans that same license — a license to be curious and create; a license to build a better life for us all.
“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”– Kahlil Gibran