Plato’s words reflect the ancients’ view that there was a sacred canon of proportions, a "harmonia", which interconnected the macrocosm and the microcosm, from which was revealed a knowledge of the stars, the planets, the earth, the seasons, and man himself; and that no understanding of this sacred canon was possible without the four keys of geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy, all four being necessary to unlock the secrets of universal laws.
Centuries have slipped by since man has taken seriously the idea that there could even be such a thing as a harmonia - a system which gives knowledge of wholes rather than fragmented parts; a system the means by which it becomes possible to describe the structure of all things, perceived and not perceived. Even though scientists today are finally coming around to a “theory of everything”, still the study of music, of tone and harmony encompassing both physics and metaphysics, remains missing from the Quadrivium. Music has degenerated beyond measure insofar as its importance to societal values is concerned. Today we consider it to be merely a diversion, a pleasant pastime. Let us contrast this modern attitude with the way music was considered several thousand years ago.
In ancient China, music was regarded as the image of the order of the universe. According to Chinese beliefs, music was key in promoting the success of civilization; therefore the most important position in the ancient Chinese empire, other than the emperor himself, was the Court Musician. The very extinction of a dynasty was invariably attributed to the failure of the Musician-of-State to secure the kung, the tone upon which the regulation of the universe, the society, the family, and the individual depended. The study of music was found in treatises on agronomy and agriculture, as music was considered to be the regulator of crop yield. Famine was blamed on the musician who did not have the proper understanding of his duty. The statement, “If you want to know whether a country is well-governed and has good mores, listen to its music”, is attributed to Confucius. The idea was taken very seriously.
In ancient India music was treated as the chemistry of the universe, a theory of sound, which with correct application, led to prosperity for the civilization and spiritual liberation for the individual. A vast system of correspondences existed between notes and gods, as well as castes, seasons, times of day, colors, and emotional states. The subject of music was important in the sacred writings of India as a method of attaining spiritual enlightenment. It was believed that just as a fakir played tunes controlling the cobra, so could man’s mind yield and become still, attuned to the proper music of the soul. By rhythmic chanting there were repercussions that echoed throughout the three worlds; from these positive vibrations were harmonized the different states of being. Although there was a “desi” or regional music of whose compositions of a popular nature pleased the masses, there was also another, a higher music, called “marga” - the music of the path - which was kept secret. Knowledge of it was believed give one the power to regulate or alter cosmic occurrences. In ancient myths, when there were fought the battles between the higher and lower forces, the weapons used were musical. For example, in the theme of the struggle of the Devas against the Asuras, the Devas protected themselves from the Asuras by reciting the secret Vedic musical formulas whose repetition caused specific vibrations that dispelled the evil forces. By the same token, music was able to create evil and wreck havoc. The idea was taken very seriously.
In ancient Egypt, there is also reference to a harmonia, a sacred canon of proportions. The Egyptian court carefully trained its musicians in this canon, who were taught that if canonical ratios were not followed precisely, an imbalance would occur leading ultimately to the collapse of society. The pyramids, the great temples, the sphinx - all were musical compositions in stone, demonstrating harmonic ratios. Egypt was a land of measures; and even the units of measure themselves were those very musical ratios that demonstrated discrepancies between the just and perfect scale ratios. Pythagoras reputedly learned his knowledge of musical laws in the Egyptian court.
In ancient Greece, music was believed to be a microcosm of the universe, subject to exactly the same laws and organization. To study music was to study a textbook of proportionalities which occurred from subatomic to galactic dimensions. The topic of “ethos”, the power of music upon the listener, was dear to the Greek philosopher’s heart. Music was said to have a curative effect: there is the tale of Thaletas healing by music during a plague in Sparta, and an analogous tale is reported by Livy in Rome; Hismenias was credited with relieving the Boeotians of gout by singing, and Athenaious stated that persons subject to sciatica would be free from its attack if one played the aulos in the Phrygian mode over the part affected. The idea of good and evil forces, and the communication between hierarchical states by rhythmic chanting, was also accepted by the ancient Greeks. It was said to be the ethos - that mysterious unknown factor - which gave the resulting ratio differences and specific magical qualities which, according to ancient writers, so effected those who heard them. Like other ancient civilizations, music was held to be not a passive image of the universe, but rather a vital force which ruled by mathematical laws, and which affected the passions of the soul as well as world events. The correct blending of the three aspects of the ethos - mode, rhythm, and genus - required knowledge of specific calculations and mathematical ratios, and resulted in music which had magical properties: it could be lethal or beneficial depending upon the aim and action of the one applying its principles.
Our curiosity piqued, we may well ask: What exactly is the harmonia? What was there about ancient music that could affect listeners so markedly? What was the principle that caused such strikingly different effects to be imputed to it? What gave music so much power? How can our music today be so very different? Apparently no one today knows with certainty the answers to any of these questions. They beckon and intrigue like the sirens’ songs, and despite tremendous efforts on the part of ethnomusicologists and music theorists, they remain as obscure now as they have been for the past two thousand years. It might even be said that the search for the lost harmonia has lured many a reputable research project onto the rocks.
Why have so many significant and long-term efforts by highly intelligent scholars resulted in dismal failure to reproduce the sounding structure of the ancient harmonia? Today’s researchers would most likely agree that the obvious reasons for this unfortunate situation are threefold:
The surviving corpus of existing written musical examples is, at best, fragmentary and inadequate.
Information about ancient instruments and how they were played raises more questions than it answers.
Theoretical writings extant, while fairly numerous, tend to be
ambiguous, contradictory, and are often based more upon legend than
To this list of difficulties must be added the proclivity of present-day scholars to study musical cultures in isolation from one another. Throughout the history of music, there were the two tuning systems: one cyclic, the other divisive. A thorough study of only one of these musical systems was itself a formidable and daunting task. (Arguably, no complete and systematic study for either has been done in any modern language to date). Even a superficial understanding of either system requires a vast amount of knowledge. Nevertheless, an isolated study of one musical system at the expense of the other can only result in an incomplete knowledge of both.
The admittedly huge difficulties enumerated thus far pale in comparison to a more hidden but far more plausible reason for the seeming inability of modern scholars to understand the power of music in the ancient world. Evidence shows that the harmonia is based upon an esoteric knowledge which was purposely hidden from view by those within the mystery schools who knew its secrets. The disinterest in and refusal by scholars to admit to such an arcane knowledge has built an invisible but invincible wall around the entire subject. This monumental wall separates not only the present from the ancient past, but also effectively repels any who would refuse to consider an intuitive approach to the search.
In their misdirected attempts to maintain scientific credulity, scholars have ignored the grave necessity to reconstruct, not just the ancient instruments and scattered musical fragments, not just the theoretical writings and historical analyses, but the very metaphysical principles upon which the ancient world stood, and without which no serious study of ancient music can yield meaningful results. It is this closed mind-set, content and even determined to ignore or reject the ancient traditional metaphysical idea of harmonia - the harmony of whole systems - as primitive, unnecessary, or scientifically embarrassing, which serves as the most formidable obstacle to serious objective scientific research. It is this metaphysical gulf which must be bridged if the music of the ancient world is ever to be understood. It is man’s subjective misconceptions of the world which must be viewed as the blockage. One thing is sure: if we are to find solutions to the so far unsolvable problems; if we are to rediscover the harmonia of the ancients, we must begin in a new way.
The word harmonia itself signifies a new kind of knowledge, great metaphysical knowledge. According to extant texts, the word first appeared during the pure modal period of ancient Greece. Records show that knowledge of the harmonia was already hidden from the world even at this very early period in history.
Historian and scholar Kathleen Schlesinger makes the following observation regarding those who “knew” during this period when she says: “ . . . [this statement] probably represents such portions of those of the Harmonists as were allowed to penetrate into the outside world from the inner sanctum of the schools of those custodians of the Modal System”. She goes on to say “Although the system of the Hamoniai had by inference been in general use for centuries in Ancient Greece, as elsewhere, its theoretical and scientific basis appears for the most part to have remained an impenetrable mystery not only to the Greeks, but likewise to every other nation with the exception of the Persians”. Schlesinger’s statements imply that knowledge of the harmonia was a secret teaching coming from a mystery school, the Pythagorean Brotherhood of Harmonists, who deliberately and purposefully hid it from view.
This Pythagorean love for secrecy was noted by present-day scholar Flora Levin who said: “The fact is that the closer one approaches the era of Pythagoras himself, the sparser is the evidence concerning his activities. This condition derives quite possibly from the oath of secrecy that bound the earliest members of the Pythagorean school”.
Proclus, in his Commentary on Timaeus, also comments: “Plato, for the sake of concealment, employed mathematical names as veils of the truth of things, in the same manner as the theologists employed fables, and the Pythagoreans symbols”.
It is perhaps this very secrecy itself which has kept alive the twenty-five hundred year quest for the lost meaning and significance of the harmonia. It is in the nature of man to love a mystery. Unquestionably, throughout the twenty-five hundred years of historical records about the harmonia, the secrecy surrounding it has continued to arouse thought, has succeeded in pushing and prodding and tantalizing man to wish to discover more and more; has served as a “mustard seed” which perhaps over centuries has taken root in man, has engendered an essence-wish to eat of the “fruit of the tree of knowledge” - the knowledge of which cannot be satisfied without a knowledge of the All.
On the other hand, perhaps no one is concealing anything. Perhaps there are clues in abundance for those who seek in the proper way. The words in Fragments echo this sentiment. “And those who possess this knowledge are doing everything they can to transmit and communicate it to the greatest possible number of people, to facilitate people’s approach to it and enable them to prepare themselves to receive the truth”.
In the words of Gurdjieff:
"From ancient times people who have understood the content and the meaning of this idea [knowledge of the All] have endeavored to find a way of transmitting this idea in a form comprehensible to others. The successive transmission of the ideas of objective knowledge has always been a part of the task of those possessing this knowledge."
The historical and philosophical perspectives about the soul are still available - for those who wish to avail themselves of the information. However, the actual means of working are not so readily accessible. To learn about the soul is one thing. To know how to make a soul for oneself is something else. The difficult work of soul-making is taught in the mystery schools and is appropriately termed “the Great Work”.
One thing is certain: if we are ever to solve the seemingly unsolvable riddle of harmonia, the soul, it is necessary that we think in a new way. In my books, commonly accepted ideas are put into question, and the clues afforded by esoteric writings are given serious consideration in order to come to truths hidden for over two millennia. From this new approach, it is possible to bring to light an entirely new and different picture than what is being handed down by the Establishment as factual information.