Saturday, November 28, 2009

Between Occultism and Farce

Or, "Encounters with Mythology and Technology."

Perhaps my favorite scholar is Joscelyn Godwin, a musicologist who has written fascinating books about music, renaissance art, and the occult. If we ever had a really bookish President, Godwin might be awarded a citizens' medal for translating the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili into English.



In the second chapter of Godwin's Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde (1987), he relates certain occult studies of fairies or, more formally, 'elementals,' who are "beings made from the subtle essences of the elements, rather than from the physical matter that constitutes our own bodies."

It's a beautiful mythology in that it posits that every particle of matter in our universe possesses a divine spark, that consciousness permeates everything. From this belief in elementals, as defined above, there arises notion that as human beings manipulate our environment (forging tools from metal, for instance), elemental beings get captured and held there in bondage. Anthroposophists describe a cycle of life in which elementals are continually being imprisoned in and freed from matter, as matter changes.

It gets more interesting, with regard to music. There is a body of 'fairy lore' associating elementals with music and the powers of music. It is even said by some that when a composer organizes music, his or her Ego is summoning elementals into a state of enchantment. When the music is performed, the influence of these elementals is conveyed to air and water spirits who convey the music to a listener. When the music reaches the inner ear of the listener, the spirits are freed from enchantment.

The encounter of this theory with modern technology is delightful and fascinating:

The inevitable question, which could not have arisen before Edison's phonograph (1877), is, What happens when the tones are reproduced mechanically via a record or tape? Rudolf Steiner, speaking in 1923 shortly before his death, had condemned the gramophone as a source of music. Of course the gramophone of that time could only produce a travesty of live music, but according to his follower Ernst Hagemann the rejection was more than aesthetic. In an extraordinary passage on the borderline between occultism and farce, Hagemann solemnly described his own research with various clairvoyantly gifted people in order to find out what happens to the elementals' function when music is mechanically reproduced. Not every detail was satsifactorily explained, but the concensus of several clairvoyants working independently was as follows.

On applying their second sight to the surfaces of gramophone records, they found them thronged with elemental forms - all dead. Looking through a magnifying glass, they could see even more of them! These, they said, are the lifeless replicas of the elementals who were constellated in the air, entered the microphone, and were 'shadowed' upon the record matrix during the original live performance. In order to carry over these dead copies into the physical world via the reproducing device, one needs the cooperation of other, living elementals - tiny Gnomes, to be precise - whom the clairvoyants were able to perceive in the diamond or sapphire stylus. (One recalls that gemstones are traditionally associated with these earthy spirits.) Through the Gnomes' agency, the very same kinds of elementals - presumably Sylphs and Undines - could be seen emerging from the loudspeakers as had originally been captured in the recording process.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Long live spiritus mundi.