Music and Religion


Music plays a special role in all religions. Part of the Vedic ceremonies consisted of songs from the Sâma-Veda. David’s psalms sang the praise of the Lord and the signs of cantilation guided how they should be sung during prayer. The deliberately dissonant music of flutes and tambourines accompanied the Dionysian thiases.

Plato presented a theory of music in its relationship with philosophy and religion, based on Egyptian ideas, introduced in Greece by Orpheus and developed by Pythagoras.

This musical science was subject to secrecy. Pythagoras openly explains the theoretical part of the system to be used, but he remains silent about the fundamental meaning of sacred music, reserving that knowledge for the initiated.

The initiates had access to these mysteries only after painful trials, and after swearing silence about them. Aeschylus was suspected of having publicly unveiled a subject supposed to be covered by the Mysteries in one of his plays. He only narrowly escaped the fury of the people who wanted him dead for committing this blasphemy. Antoine Fabre d’Oliveti writes that, according to Aristotle, Aeschylus denied having revealed the Mysteries by saying that he did not know that these things should not be said. He could only be absolved of this crime by proving that he had not been initiated himself.

But according to Clement of Alexandria, Aeschylus in fact admitted to having been initiated, but this gave him, unlike his accusers, the ability to disentangle precisely what could be said about the Mysteries and what should be kept quiet.

Fabre d’Olivet also reports that Diagoras’ head was put at a price for the same reason as those of Andocides and Alcibiade. Diagoras de Melos, nicknamed « the atheist », discredited the Mysteries by disclosing them, explaining them, and went so far as to mimic them to make fun of them. He recited in public the Orphic Logos, and told the Mysteries of Eleusis and the Cabires.

Times were not conducive to freedom of criticism and analysis of religion. Aristotle escaped the prosecution of the hierophant Eurymedon with great difficulty. Long before Galileo, Philolaos of Crotone and Aristarchus of Samos were publicly accused and dragged before the court, one for saying and the other for writing that the Earth was not at the centre of the universe.

Philolaos was himself an initiate.

It was through him that Plato was able to read the books of Pythagoras, and to acquire the foundations of his own initiation to the « Pythagorean Gospel ». If this initiation included teachings denying geocentrism, as early as the 5th century BC, their relevance can only be underlined, confirmed by the patronage of such eminent minds as Pythagoras and Plato.

The initiation was supposed to provide a deep understanding of the mechanisms governing the universe. Music was one of the elements of this initiation. It was exoteric (by its public manifestation) but esoteric (by its true meaning, which had to remain hidden).

There are still some traces of this cult of mystery in the solfeggio today.

The musical notes (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si, i.e. C, D, E, F, G, A, B) were named after Guy d’Arezzo, who used the first syllables of a sacred hymn to Saint John to name them:

Ut queant laxis

Resonare fibris

Mira gestorum

Famuli tuorum

Polluted Solve

Labli reatum

Iohannes Sancte

It should be noted that the B (SI) is made up of the initials of Sancte and Iohannes (S.I.).

This hymn is translated as follows:

« So that your servants

can sing with their throats extended

the wonderful deeds,

dissolves the stain

of their sinful lips,

Saint John! »

The fact that the initial Ut replaced Do does not change much in terms of substance. Do is the first syllable of Dominus, the « Lord ».

Whatever the sound of music, it sounds the praise of Lord…

iAntoine Fabre d’Olivet (1767-1825) in La musique expliquée comme science et comme art et considérée dans ses rapports analogiques avec les mystères religieux, la mythologie ancienne et l’histoire de la terre.