Tag Archives: Music

Music In Theory & Practice, part 4


The Harmonic Method

I will just briefly mention this because it is vaguely to do with the theme of associating colours and musical tones mentioned in the preceding blog posts in this series. The main problem with this method is that it was an idea ahead of its time and therefore, as far as I can make out was not taken up in a great way in the past. Ironically however, living in the twenty-first century we are now technologically advanced enough to develop the idea for the future. The basis of the idea lies in Harmonics.

Musicians who play stringed instruments like the guitar or violin will be familiar the concept straightaway – they are the bell-like tones produced by lightly touching a string at the 4th, 5th, 7th, 12th etc frets or the equivalent positions. What you actually have here is a tone which is equal in frequency to that of the open string, multiplied by a whole number. Hence:

Frequency Known as Where on guitar
x The First Harmonic (Fundamental) 0 (Open string)
2x The Second Harmonic 12
3x The Third Harmonic 7
4x The Fourth Harmonic 5
5x The Fifth Harmonic 4
6x The Sixth Harmonic 3 *
7x The Seventh Harmonic 15 *
8x The Eighth Harmonic 17 *

* These harmonics are not as easy to play on a guitar as the other harmonics. But if they were easy, then it wouldn’t be a guitar!

As a sort of aside, it is worth noting that going by Pythagorean Temperament, the various Harmonics would thus be equivalent to: –

Harmonic Note
1st I
2nd I’
3rd V’
4th I”
5th III” **
6th V”
7th b VII” **
8th I”’

** NB: The note-equivalents of the 5th & 7th Harmonics are approximations – probably more suited to a Just Tempered scale, as opposed to a strict Pythagorean one. The strict Pythagorean versions of these notes would be several cents sharper than the corresponding harmonics.

It is here that Madame Blavatsky shoved her oar in: she asserted that the colours of the spectrum correspond to Harmonically to one another, hence:

Harmonic Note Colour
1st I Red
2nd I’ Orange
3rd V’ Yellow
4th I” Green
5th III” Blue
6th V” Indigo
7th b VII” Violet
8th I”’ “The Ghost Ray”

“The Ghost Ray…” Yes indeed, Blavatsky postulated that there was an eighth, mysterious colour of the spectrum, which is where Terry Pratchett got the idea for Octarine from. Hence Chaos magicians have incorporated this into Chaos Magic thinking they are being really ironic, when in fact they are just re-cycling hundred year-old Theosophy!

Anyhoo… now that we have a basis for assigning colours to harmonics, it is possible to analyse the timbre of a musical instrument in astrological terms – e.g. if one particular harmonic is stronger than the rest, one could say that the sound of the instrument is more under the presidency of the corresponding planet or planets than the others. However, in terms of using this for practical magic, this system would have had limited functionality in the late 19th century when it was first proposed. For a particular planetary working one would have to hunt high and low for the particular instruments that sounded just right. Pipe organs would have been more useful in this regard – unfortunately, most organs were not and indeed are not built to accommodate the full range of harmonics as listed above.

Fairlight CMI

So, to fully make use of the system in the 1880s would have been very inconvenient. However: fast forward one hundred years, and the invention of digital synthesisers from the 1980s onwards does now allow one to pick and choose the harmonics with which to imbue your tone. This of course is only if you are prepared to actually synthesise instead of just use the presets. However, such synthesisers can do far more sophisticated things than just “pick a harmonic” – for example, by creating dynamic tones in which the levels of different harmonics alters in real time, thus reflecting that as in music, so in astrology, and so in Life – the influences of the various planets are not constant, but are modulating continually.

Leave a comment

Filed under Supernatural

Music In Theory & Practice 3: The Hexagram and Middle Pillar Rituals

More rituals scored according to Macgregor Mathers’ system of attributions.

The Lesser Hexagram Ritual

The Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, composed by Alex Sumner © 2011.

The Middle Pillar Ritual

The Middle Pillar Ritual, composed by Alex Sumner © 2011.

Leave a comment

Filed under Supernatural

Music In Theory and Practice – Part 2

S L Macgregor Mathers

Mathers’ corollary to “The Chromatic Method”

Following on from yesterday’s post, I would like to review a similar method which Macgregor Mathers gave to the Alpha et Omega – it is set out in full detail in Pat Zalewski’s book Inner Order Teachings of the Golden Dawn.

Like Case and Bennett, Mathers made an association with colours and musical notes – however he differs in several important aspects. Firstly, Mathers starts with the assumption that Red = F, not C as in the Case / Bennett system. Secondly: there are no sharps or flats in Mathers’ system. Thirdly, the Seven planets follow a scale starting with the F above middle C, and ascending in the same order as the walls of the Vault of the Adepti. Hence:

Hebrew Letter Colour Note
Heh Pe Shin Red F
Vau Red-Orange F or G
Zayin Resh Orange G
Cheth Amber G or A
Teth Beth Aleph Yellow A
Yod Yellow-Green A or B
Lamed Daleth Green B
Nun Green-Blue B or C
Samekh Gimel Mem Blue C
Aayin Tau Indigo D
Tzaddi Kaph Violet E
Qoph Vermilion E or F

This system has its advantages – and disadvantages. From a musicological (read: “snobbish”) point of view, some of the reasons that Mathers gives for adopting the particular peculiarities of this system are suspect and inconsistent, and smack of “dumbing down.” The only reason I can see for starting with Red = F and treating the planets as he does is to make use of the spaces and lines of the Treble Clef. Perhaps if he was confident with leger lines we might have had a whole different secret teaching! It could, of course have been to allow Adepti to play the piano one-handed, the left-hand being left free to hold a ritual implement or something.

However, Mathers’ aversion to sharps and flats is something else. The reason Mathers gives for avoiding it touches upon a problem that musicians have had to deal with for thousands of years, namely Temperament. It is impossible to tune the twelve-note chromatic scale so that all intervals are “perfect” – therefore, historically, several different methods have been proposed including the Pythagorean, “Just Intonation” (like Pythagorean but with easier arithmetic), “Well Tempered” (made famous by Bach’s Das Wohltempierte Klavier), and “Equal Temperament,” amongst others. The upshot of this is that depending on which system of Temperament you are using, the actual tuning of some chromatic intervals might vary by as much as 10Hz – enough to create an out-of-tune “beating” sound, assuming two different instruments had been tempered differently.

How did the Secret Chiefs, from whom Mathers claimed to derive this teaching, resolve the problem of Temperament? Um, well, the unfortunate fact is that although they were willing to lay down minutiae on a whole host of other topics, they conveniently passed on this one: the simplest way for Mathers to resolve the situation was to avoid using sharps and flats.

Of course, on the other hand, Mathers might have interpreted “Quit the night and seek the day,” as meaning “avoid the black keys and play only the white keys.”

What we thus have from Mathers is therefore a reduction of the chromatic scale to the F-Lydian mode – ironic, as Mathers complained about using modes as well.

HOWEVER: the very fact that Mathers’ system is completely unsophisticated compared to the Case/Bennett system is in fact its greatest advantage – because it allows Hebrew words to be chanted in simple melodies. This in turn makes it highly conducive to teaching a temple full of initiates whose musical talent may well range from hardened rock-musicians reared on Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin to, well, drummers. By way of example, I shall now attempt to re-score the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram according to the note-values suggested by Mathers.

The Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, composed by Alex Sumner © 2011.

Leave a comment

Filed under Supernatural

Music In Theory and Practice – Part 1

Starting today I present a short series of blogs on the esoteric use of music in the Western Mystery Tradition.

As I understand it, there are four main methods of incorporating Music into the esoteric practices of the West. These are:

  1. The Chromatic scale method;
  2. The Harmonic method;
  3. The Modal method; and
  4. The Intuitive method.

Each of these embraces dogmatism and pragmatism to differing degrees. The Intuitive Method is the least dogmatic / most pragmatic, and typifies the approach of mainstream composers creating works for the general public, but is not necessarily best suited for a ritual unless it were specifically composed for such. On the other hand, the chromatic method is probably the most dogmatic and arbitrary – but, once learnt, it can be deployed the most quickly to create Qablalistically-correct ritual chants. However a chant thus created would sacrifice aesthetic charm for intellectual rigour, which is a polite way of saying Geekishness.

I intend to review each of the four methods: the Chromatic Method today, and the other three in blog posts in the days to come.

The Chromatic Scale Method

This method has been advocated by Paul Foster Case and Allan Bennett. The basic principle may be expressed thus:

There are 12 notes in the Chromatic Scale; they have a one-for-one correlation to the 12 colours of the Artist’s colour wheel.

The Chromatic Scale

As those who follow the GD teachings know, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet can all be related to the colour wheel, hence on this basis when can then relate them to the chromatic scale as well. This is done by arbitrariliy saying C = Red, C# = Red-orange, D = Orange, etc. A full list would be as follows:

Hebrew letters / Colours / Piano keys

Hebrew Letter Colour Note
Heh Pe Shin Red C
Vau Red-Orange C #
Zayin Resh Orange D
Cheth Amber D #
Teth Beth Aleph Yellow E
Yod Yellow-Green F
Lamed Daleth Green F #
Nun Green-Blue G
Samekh Gimel Mem Blue G #
Aayin Tau Indigo A
Tzaddi Kaph Violet A #
Qoph Vermilion B

Armed with this knowledge you can now grab any music instrument you have to hand, such as a guitar, recorder or a keyboard (if convenient), and start working out how Hebrew divine names would sound if sung to the notes proposed in the table above. Here are some I prepared earlier:

The Qabalistic Cross

The Qabalistic Cross (chord accompaniment optional).

Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram

Divine and angelic names from the LBRP


If you are a musician and have stayed with this so far, you will probably have noticed that the use of this Chromatic method does not a pleasing melody make! More interesting, though is the fact the interval between one note and the note represented by its opposite on the colour-wheel is the infamous tri-tone, which historically is known as the Diabolus In Musica of “Devil’s Interval” (the fact that the melody of  “Black Sabbath” by the group of the same name is based on the tritone is not a coincidence!).

Finally I would just like to leave you with this video, in which a group of musicians have set the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram to music using just this method. Although it’s called “Rites of Luna,” from what I can make out in the excerpt shown the lady is just doing the regular Hexagram ritual.


Filed under Supernatural

Cosmic Music – reminds me of Lenny Henry

Me? Embarassed about that Lenny Henry remark? I signed Jedward 4fs!

Following on from a story I reported on several months ago that scientists had recorded the music of the Sun, it turns out they have been applying similar techniques to other stars, including one with the catch name of KIC 11026764. For publicity purposes this has been bigged up as a “star’s song,” but it would be more accurate to say it is more of an ambient drone of the kind that Brian Eno might come up with. As soon as I read this this article I thought: “KIC 11026764! Of course, it’s so obvious! I mean, as if anyone wants to hear what more famous stars like Regulus or Aldebaran sound like.”

Anyway – it certainly beats listening to X Factor.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment

The Music of the Sun

I read with interest that some scientists have concluded that the Sun actually makes music. What they in fact mean is that the various magnetic fields of the sun vibrate at frequencies which, if they were vibrations in an acoustic medium and they were speeded up to be audible to humans, they would indeed sound like something. The sceptical among you  will be thinking that a sound which is speeded up by an arbitrary amount can hardly be said to be the authentic music of anything: for example, if I had a note vibrating at 440Hz and speeded it up to 660Hz, I would be raising it in pitch from A to E. Do that too many times and on an inconsistent basis and that is tantamount to altering the melody of the whole song!

However, if one were to look at it not as the actual sounds in themselves but as a method of composition – by applying a consistent algorithm (algo-rhythm?) to the vibrations – one actually comes up with a piece of ambient process music of the kind that Karlheinz Stockhausen or Brian Eno would be interested in.

For those interested in hearing a WAV file of the sounds generated by the scientists from the Sun, Please click this link.


Filed under Comment