Layers of Meaning in The Magic Flute

Layers of Meaning in The Magic Flute
JOSCELYN GODWIN

Musical Quarterly 65 (1979): 471-92.

Mozart's Magic Flute is of course the “esoteric opera,” and a mine for speculative studies of all kinds. This was a rare and successful effort to infiltrate the world of academic scholarship with esoteric notions. I am still surprised that such a mainstream musicological journal should have accepted it.

The substance of this article was given as a paper at a meeting of the New York State Chapter of the American Musicological Society at the State University of New York at Fredonia, on May 1, 1977.

Mozart's last opera holds a perennial attraction for critics of every color. Alone among operas, it has been favored in recent years by three full-length books,1) whose authors succeed so well at not overlapping that one wonders if they are treating the same work. For the historically minded Frenchman Jacques Chailley, the tension between Freemasons and Catholics is still a reality, and he sets the story and music against the background of eighteenth-century Masonry. On the other hand, the English literary critic E. M. Batley treats the Singspiel in the straightforward context of the Viennese theater; and Alfons Rosenherg, author of a book on astrology approaches it with a Germanic feeling for the mystical and the numinous. {471} Yet they concur in one important respect: they all find the libretto sensible, consistent, and full of meaning.

Jean and Brigitte Massin said the same thing twenty years ago in their indispensable book on Mozart2) with such ample documentation and masterly insight that one should no longer really have to defend it. But even in educated circles, it seems, the rumor survives that The Magic Flute's libretto suffers from some form of dislocation.3) Many people are still confused by the general complexity of the story and in particular by the fact that for most of Act I the Queen of the Night appears to be good and Sarastro bad, while in Act II the reverse is true. All manner of circumstances surrounding the opera's genesis have been invoked as excuses for this putative failure in dramatic consistency.4) I hope to show that the plot has not only perfect coherence but also a profundity attained by no other operas except those of Wagner.

The Magic Flute is, of course, a highly symbolic story. Chailley and Rosenberg have shown in their books how Mozart's music itself abounds in symbolism.5) Here I am concerned only with the libretto, with the proviso that Mozart was instrumental in bringing it to its final form and probably understood it far better than Schikaneder did. The Massins are uncompromisingly of the same opinion:

What we know of Mozart and Schikaneder is sufficient to demonstrate that [the plot's] seriousness was brought to the work by Mozart and not by Schikaneder. It would be difficult to find another example of comparable seriousness in the works of Schikaneder (who was later to be expelled from Freemasonry), while we find it in every one of Mozart's masonic compositions.6)

It is even possible that neither understood it fully. Did Mozart {472} “understand” his own music in the sense that it is understood today by musicologists who analyze and verbalize certain compositional procedures, with all the benefits of hindsight? But if Mozart did not see explicitly all the details and interrelationships which a scholar can distinguish, how did they get “inside” his music? One answers according to one's beliefs about the nature of artistic inspiration. The case of the libretto is similar. If The Magic Flute (or The Odyssey, or The Tempest, or Faust) renders, on examination, layers of interpretations with whose premises its authors may not have been familiar, then one can only conclude that it was formed unconsciously according to laws of more or less universal validity which transcend its human creators.

All the great symbolic works of art have given rise to a variety of interpretations. Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, for example, has recently been treated as an allegory of human history and prehistory by Franz Winkler, a follower of Rudolf Steiner, and as a study of the psyche in development by Robert Donington, from a point of view inspired by Carl Gustav Jung.7) These varied and, to the superficial view, mutually exclusive viewpoints have their parallel and their explanation in the world itself. The same Universe enters each human consciousness, yet different people form immensely varied views on its nature and origin. Each view is valid for him who entertains it, and relatively true on its own level. A Marxist interpretation of Wagner's Ring, or a Freudian interpretation of Parsifal, is “true” for Marxists and Freudians; for great works shine, like the Sun, on all men equally, giving to each what his capacity enables him to receive.

A simplistic view of The Magic Flute ignores all symbolism and allegory and sees the story in ethical terms of black and white. No wonder it seems so confusing. From this standpoint, one has no choice but to regard the opera as a patchwork fairytale fortuitously set to beautiful music. Serious librettos which do not go beyond the ethical level, such as many of the Metastasian type and most of those set by Verdi, can grow into great and moving operas through the musical characterization which the composer can bring to them. But in The Magic Flute, where each principal has only one or two arias, such {473} opportunities are limited. We do not feel Tamino's individuality as we do Figaro's or Rigoletto's. The one real “character” of flesh and blood is Papageno; and he, significantly enough, as we shall see, has little symbolic depth to him.

If they were not fumbling incompetents, then, Mozart and Schikaneder must have been trying to convey some further idea. The simplest version of this takes into account the opera's well-known references to Freemasonry and to the mysterious trials which prospective members of this secret society must undergo. Eighteenth century Freemasonry had a political as well as a social purpose, and for this reason it was suppressed or persecuted by unsympathetic authorities. Jacques Chailley and Paul Nettl summarize several different interpretations of The Magic Flute as an allegory of eighteenth-century history.8) They agree in identifying the Queen of the Night with anti-Masonic forces, but do not go further towards explaining her ethical transformation, nor the purpose of the second act beyond its being a staging of Masonic ritual. These shortcomings stem from an unawareness of the nature and original purpose of Freemasonry.

Freemasonry traces its historical origins, as opposed to its legendary ones, to the craft guilds of the Middle Ages. Anyone who has marveled at a Romanesque or Gothic cathedral will agree that the Masonic craftsmen who designed and executed it must have been among the most remarkable people of their time. The achievements of the other guilds - fishmongers, merchant tailors, even goldsmiths - pale before these dual miracles of art and engineering. Even on a mundane level, the Masons obviously had secrets. Recent re searches into the design and construction of the Gothic cathedrals have revealed further levels of meaning in the buildings' proportions and even in their actual measurements.9) Understanding of this sacred geometry requires some familiarity with an esoteric tradition {474} which was also manifested in the occult sciences of astrology, gematria or kabbala, and alchemy. Allegiance to this tradition was not limited to the craftsmen or “Operative” Masons but included “Free” Masons whose interest was speculative and philosophical rather than practical. It is thus impossible to understand a Masonic work of art, which The Magic Flute patently is, without a knowledge of its esoteric beliefs. Even Rosenberg, whose excellent book is unashamedly metaphysical in its approach, uses for interpretation only sources which predate the work's composition and ignores the vast amount of esoteric knowledge of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This knowledge was alive through the preceding ages but was never published in a form comprehensible to the uninitiated. If some of the ideas to be discussed seem startling or unscientific, it is because they are seldom aired in musicological circles. Yet one can not understand The Magic Flute unless one accepts that such ideas are at its very foundation, whether they be true or not.

The pursuit of occult or esoteric studies has been regarded by most of the world's religious traditions as a path which is reserved for the few, but which nonetheless is compatible with the simpler, exoteric religious teachings with which the vast majority of men are content. In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is room for every degree of spiritual activity, from virtual idolatry to metaphysical specula tion and mysticism. The Confucianism of China had its esoteric counterpart in Taoism, just as Islam still has it in the Sufis and Judaism in the Kabbalists. But in the Christian world it has been rather different. Rene Guenon, the French “traditionalist” authority on comparative religion, writes in a discussion on “Esoterism and Exoterism”:

… one can find in the West, since Antiquity, certain schools which have gener ally remained very closed — and more or less notorious for this — which were nothing other than philosophical schools whose doctrines were expressed only under the veil of certain symbols, most obscure to those who did not possess the key to them. This key was given only to adherents who had made certain pledges and whose discretion was sufficiently proven, while their intellectual capacity was deemed adequate. This situation, which clearly implies that it was a question of doctrines so profound as to be totally foreign to the popular mentality, seems to have been most frequent in the Middle Ages … 10) {475}

Some of these schools or movements were the Gnostics, Cathars, Templars, Alchemists, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and Theosophists. Every one of them, at one time or another, has come into disrepute with the Catholic Church, for, unlike the other major religions, official Christianity has seldom been tolerant of its esoteric children. It has persecuted, tortured, and slaughtered them, but more recently has remained content with excommunication; hence the disguises under which many of them have been forced to pursue their spiritual goals. The respectable “front” of the architectural guild sheltered them in the Middle Ages; and it is interesting to reflect that when, at the end of this period, the focus of esoterism shifted from Masonry to Alchemy, European architecture lost all its originality and from then on was reduced to a series of Roman, Greek, and Gothic revivals. When Speculative or Freemasonry revived in the seventeenth century, it retained only the imagery of its parent craft; and it was as a purely philosophical and initiatic doctrine, expressed in symbols and ceremonies, that Mozart and Schikaneder knew it.

Concerning Mozart and Schikaneder, it is pertinent to quote again from René Guénon, who says, when discussing the question of anonymity in works of art, that even when one knows the author's name

… he may very well have been only a spokesman or a mask, … the work attributed to him may imply knowledge which he never actually possessed; he may be only an initiate of a lower degree, or even a non-initiate, who was chosen for one reason or another. Thus it is evidently not the author who matters, but only the organization which inspired him.11)

Guénon cites in this context the Holy Grail legends and the plays of Shakespeare. Such a view counters the possible objection that Schikaneder or even Mozart was unequal to the creation of an esoteric work.

With this background, we can proceed to one possible interpretation of The Magic Flute: as a historical allegory of esoteric organizations in the Christian world, colored by the particular history of postmedieval Freemasonry, but applicable to the others as well.

In Act II, Scene 8, of the opera the prehistory of the action is revealed. The dialogue tells us that the Queen is a widow, and that her husband bequeathed his dominion to Sarastro, leaving her with {476} only a few useful trinkets, including the magic flute and glocken spiel. Here is the complete quotation (the Queen speaks to Pamina):

With your father's death my power went to the grave. … [He] willingly handed on the Sevenfold Solar Circle to the Initiates; Sarastro wears this powerful Solar Circle on his breast. When I reproached him for it, he spoke thus with furrowed brow: “Woman! my last hour is nigh; all the treasures which I myself possessed are yours and your daughter's.” “The all-consuming Solar Circle!” I hastily broke in; “It belongs to the Initiates,” he answered, “Sarastro will guard it as man fully as I have done hitherto. And now not a word more; do not strive after things that your womanly spirit cannot grasp. Your duty is to commit yourself and your daughter to the guidance of wise men.”

Who was the Queen's husband? He is not referred to by name or by title in the opera, but his status is made plain by his attributes: wielder of the “Sevenfold Solar Circle” and husband of the “Star flaming Queen,” he must be the Lord of Day - the Sun Himself. Why the Sun should have died is not explained, but the death and resurrection of the solar hero is a rich and widespread symbol, dominating many religions, including Christianity and the cult of Isis and Osiris, patron divinities of this opera. An identification of Christ with the Sun was prevalent in early Christianity and persists in modern occultism: following Rudolf Steiner, the Anthroposophist Elizabeth Vreede says that the highest Sun contains “that Sun-being, who at one time united his being with the Sun and thereby made it the most glorious star in the whole universe. This is the Sun-being, which has been called by different names in the course of the ages, and which in the present time bears for earthly men the name of Christ.”12) Steiner derived much of his teaching, though not his view of Christianity, from the Theosophical works of H. P. Blavatsky. She devotes a chapter in her The Secret Doctrine to “Symbolism of Sun and Stars,” in which, besides identifying Christ, on one level, with the Sun, she quotes a passage from Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 5, 6), on the Seven-Branched Candlestick:

The six branches fixed to the central candlestick have lamps, but the sun placed in the midst of the wandering ones pours his beams on them all; this golden candlestick hides one more mystery: it is the sign of Christ, not only in shape, but {477} because he sheds his light through the ministry of the seven spirits primarily created, and who are the Seven Eyes of the Lord.13)

Schikaneder's “Sevenfold Solar Circle” is an even closer image of our Solar System, in which the seven Chaldean planets circling the Sun reflect the Seven Rays of Creation.

In Catholic terminology, the Queen, in turn, represents the Church, the Mother of the Faithful and the Bride of Christ. But a member of any of the esoteric groups mentioned above might be forgiven for regarding his own group, rather than the See of Peter, as the true inheritor of Jesus Christ's teachings. Madame Blavatsky, fortunately writing at a time when such words no longer led to the stake, calls down “a curse on both your houses” in her usual immoderate way:

Thus, the Latin Church, intolerant, bigoted and cruel to all who do not choose to be its slaves, the Church which calls itself the “bride” of Christ … and again the Protestant Church which, while calling itself Christian, paradoxically replaces the New Dispensation by the old Law of Moses which Christ openly repudiated - both these Churches are fighting against divine Truth, when repudiating and slandering the Dragon of Esoteric Divine Wisdom.14)

If anyone is “intolerant, bigoted and cruel to all who do not choose to be her slaves,” it is the Queen of the Night, bride of the Sun-King. And the last phrase of the above quotation may remind us of the first action performed by the Queen's emissaries, the Three Ladies: they kill a serpent (symbolically equated with a dragon), which is pursuing Tamino, who has as yet no means of subduing the monster himself (he has no arrows). The seal of Count Cagliostro, founder of the Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry, pictures a serpent transfixed by an arrow, with an apple in its mouth: the “Dragon of Esoteric Wisdom” bearing the Edenic fruit of knowledge, fixed by the will of the successful initiate.15) If Tamino could have done {478} likewise, or at least questioned the Serpent as Siegfried did Fafner, his progress might have been more rapid. After all, the Ophites and other Gnostics believed that the Serpent of Eden was none other than the true God, bent on imparting wisdom to Adam and Eve against the will of the lower Demiurge, Jehovah. Christ then became the incarnation of the true God in the body and mind of Jesus of Nazareth, saving mankind from Jehovah's constricting and loveless rule. And so in this Gnostic opera, the serpent of wisdom “reincarnates” as the solar power entrusted to Sarastro. The Ladies naturally do not “fix” the serpent, but on the contrary dismember it, and celebrate the fact in a peculiarly hollow-sounding song of triumph. The young Prince, having lost this chance, is now under their sway, and their attitude to him is nothing short of seductive.

Papageno is a vassal of the Queen: bird-brained, cowardly, yet enormously endearing. He deserves something better than his life of enforced chastity and a diet of cookies, wine, and figs. Perhaps he represents the exoteric populace, kept in thrall by the Church and fed with something strikingly similar to the Sacraments of bread and wine. The esoteric view does not deny that the Church is the proper spiritual guide for the mass of people, and indeed it is the Queen who provides Tamino with his first taste of spirituality. One glimpse of Pamina's picture is enough to send him on his Quest; her Ladies give him the necessary directions and, of course, the Magic Flute. The Queen's idea, however, is that he should bring back Pamina and that the two of them should live happily ever after - under her strict surveillance. “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (no salvation outside the Church).

The flute itself is a many-layered symbol. It is phallic, of course, and as such represents the virility which is lacking in Tamino at the outset, but which is a vital quality on the Quest. Chailley goes fur ther: “Its symbolism is that of music itself: to carry out his journey of purification, man needs aid from rites that give him the power to transform souls, and music is the most essential sign of them.”16) Another, deeper meaning is expounded by the Sufi poet Mevlana Jalalu'ddin Rumi, founder of the esoteric Islamic order of Whirling Dervishes, who dance to the music of reed-flutes (nays): “First [the flute] is cut away from its original stem. Then in its heart the holes {479} have been made; and since the holes have been made in the heart, the heart has been broken, and it begins to cry.”17)

The Magic Flute was made by Pamina's father, the Sun-King. “The flute is the human heart, and a heart which is made hollow becomes a flute for the god of love to play.” “Then he becomes the flute upon which the Divine Player may play the music of Orpheus, which can charm even the hearts of stone.”18) The flute is Tamino's purified heart, in which divine happiness wells up in Act I, 15, and which, with Pamina's support, gives him the power to pass the trials in Act II, 28. The Church can kindle in man's heart the desire for union with God, but that desire can rarely be satisfied within the bounds of an institution which has abnegated the esoteric path.

Even for Papageno, it seems, the Church is no longer adequate. For the drab routine to which the Queen binds him, Sarastro substitutes the prospect of happiness with a soul mate of his own caste. He can taste, in an unconscious way, the joys of spiritual union. No doubt in a future life he will develop further, though from his point of view his immortality is only through his numerous children; when he is at the point of suicide (II, 29), the Boys tell him, “One lives only once, this should be enough for you.” If the higher-grade Free masons shared the universal occultists' belief in reincarnation, it seems that they did not see fit to propound it for the average person. But Pamina, when she in turn was prevented from suicide (II, 27), was not appeased with such an argument: she was persuaded only through her love for Tamino.

The presence of Monostatos in the service of Sarastro needs some explanation. Chailley19) sees him rightly as the Evil One, the carnal man, the traitor, the black, chthonic element, “standing alone” (the literal meaning of his Greek name) in the Kingdom of the Good. But if there is any truth in our historical allegory, Monostatos must also find a place there. Chailley and the Massins20) allude to the identification of the Moor, whose only desire is the seduction of Pamina, with the black-robed Jesuits, traditional enemies of Free masonry. Blavatsky again provides evidence which strongly supports this bold allegation: {480}

The Brotherhood [Freemasonry] does possess a considerable portion of the symbolism, formulae, and ritual of Occultism, handed down from time immemorial from the previous Initiations. To render this Brotherhood a mere harmless negation, the Jesuits sent some of their most able emissaries into the Order, who first made the simple brethren believe that the true secret was lost with Hiram Abiff [the legendary founder]; and then induced them to put this belief into their formularies. They then invented specious but spurious higher degrees, pretending to give further light on this lost secret, to lead the candidate on and amuse him with forms borrowed from the real thing but containing no substance, and all artfully contrived to lead the aspiring Neophyte to nowhere.21)

Perhaps as a result of such outside meddling or through internal disputes, Freemasonry was anything but a unified system by the end of the eighteenth century. The tide of the times had affected the original esoteric movement, sweeping it up in the service of the Enlightenment. By Mozart's time, there were two distinct tendencies among the welter of Lodges, Grades, and Rites. The Massins describe the first as a progressive, future-oriented current:

Without ever reneging on the secret traditions … it was in tune with the trends of history and philosophy as the “enlightened” mind understood them. It worked to guide or direct this movement, at whose end it believed the Temple would be built. Philosophically it was more and more rationalist, half-deist, half pantheist, more and more hostile to the influences of the Church which it judged regressive. Politically it prepared for and welcomed enthusiastically the French Revolution, at least in its early stages. (And with Franklin and Washington it had already played a primary role in the struggle for American independence.)22)

This was the exoteric side of Freemasonry: the one whose acknowledged goals of Freedom, Equality, and Brotherhood are stressed in The Magic Flute, with an insistence that not even the most obtuse critics have been able to ignore. It is a philosophy that reigns today in the secularized democracies of the West; and we in America may thank the Founding Fathers for the Freemasonic ideals with which they have instilled the national consciousness.

Whether Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington ever had anything to do with the second, esoteric current of eighteenth-century Freemasonry must remain an open question. The Massins call it the “regressive” current which

turns towards the past of the human race and examines the secret traditions and initiatic mysteries in search of the faint but faithful vestiges of the original wisdom {481} of a prehistoric revelation. It seeks to regenerate primordial man, not to reform civilized man. Politically it is antidemocratic, antiegalitarian, antiliberal, like all gnosticism. It believes neither in the efficacy of philosophic reason nor in that of experimental science, for it entrusts the world's salvation to a wisdom which transcends common psychism. In religion it is, like all gnosticism, on bad terms with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but ever dreams of converting it to the true Gnosis, and surpasses in the ardor of its mysticism the meager fervor of believers.23)

These two currents were not so much antithetical as complementary, at least from the point of view of the second (rather misrepresented in the above quotation). The esoteric view, by virtue of taking a higher standpoint, includes the exoteric views which lie beneath it. Thus the adherents of the Primordial Tradition, alluded to in the second category, can afford to look tolerantly on manifestations of secular and political life which they know to be transitory.

The questions naturally arise: to which current did Mozart and Schikaneder belong, and which supplies the true meaning of The Magic Flute? Since all Mozart's Freemasonic correspondence has dis appeared, we have only the merest clues, of which the most definite lies in the famous letter to his father, Leopold, of April 4, 1787. Readers who know it well will forgive us for quoting it once again here:

As Death, properly understood, is the true goal of our life, I have made myself so familiar these past years with this truest and best friend of mankind, that his face not only frightens me no more, but is of the greatest comfort and consolation to me! And I thank my God for having bestowed on me the opportunity (you know what I mean) of learning to know it as the key to our happiness.24))

The third Masonic grade of “Master,” which Mozart attained in 1785, includes in its ritual a mimed “death” and “resurrection” of the candidate. (Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music was probably inspired initially by this ceremony, rather than by the actual death of a brother Mason.) What is not so generally known is that the initiations of the ancient mystery religions, from which so much of Free masonry was derived, involved not merely a charade of death but the actual temporary separation of the candidate's consciousness from his body, bringing about in him the sensation of death and the unshakable conviction that in his truest self he was incorporeal and {482} immortal, and that death was but the gate to higher planes of existence. Modern accounts of this experience can be read in the auto biographical writings of Paul Brunton and Jung,25) who both returned to tell the tale after their “initiations” - which, having been attained without institutional assistance, bore no obligations of secrecy. I think we do Mozart an injustice to assume that he had experienced anything less, for what else could have given him the certainty that rings in those words to his father? If this be so, then he had certainly gone beyond the “progressive” current of Freemasonry and received one of the prime revelations of the Gnostic stream.

However much these considerations may enrich the background to our enjoyment of The Magic Flute, they do not bear directly on the opera, because the Ritual Death does not figure among the initiations through which the protagonists are sent. And no wonder: no European Freemason who knew about such things, whether through repute or through experience, would dare reveal them in any guise whatsoever. It is only in the past hundred years that they have been explained and discussed openly, protected almost as effectively by modern skepticism as they had been by secrecy.

While the allegorical interpretations of The Magic Flute may afford a measure of insight into the plausible intentions of its creator, and the possible reactions of its first audiences, the next layer of meaning may have been opaque to both. The justification for adducing interpretations that cannot have been in the creators' conscious minds is based upon the assumption that there is a fund of ideas, common to the human race, which enters through the unconscious part of the mind and emerges in symbolic form through the imaginative functions of dream, phantasy, and artistic creation.

Jung made it his life's work to map out this process and to present it in scientific form. His concepts prove applicable to all truly symbolic works of art, though his deliberately cautious approach deterred him from expressing in print some of the more mysterious conclusions to which his experiences led him.26) He always shied away {483} from metaphysics and was not entirely comfortable with the doc trines of the East. But Western esoteric tradition embodies meta physical teachings that concur in part with those of Hinduism and Buddhism, and we cannot afford to ignore them in our discussion of this esoteric and metaphysical opera. The historical-allegorical interpretations may explain the characters and the basic plot, but if that were all, the opera might as well end as soon as Tamino's loyalties are transferred to Sarastro at the end of Act I. Both Tamino and Pamina, however, have much farther to go, and we can best examine their journey by treating them separately.27)

From Tamino's standpoint, Pamina represents his soul or anima. In Jung's view, this is the side of a man which “usually contains all those common human qualities which the conscious attitude lacks.”28) Since men are outwardly masculine, this means that inwardly they have feminine qualities. Edward C. Whitmont specifies some of these: “As a pattern of emotion the anima consists of the man's unconscious urges, his moods, emotional aspirations, anxieties, fears, inflations, and depressions, as well as his potential for emotion and relationship.”29) If these qualities are not recognized consciously as one's own (and they seldom are), they can only be experienced as projections on another person who manifests them outwardly. “For a man, a woman is best fitted to be the real bearer of his soul-image, because of the feminine quality of his soul; for a woman it will be a man.”30) The discovery of a partner who is an ideal carrier of this soul image will cause the happy discoverer to “fall in love.” How appropriate, then, that Tamino falls in love initially not with Pamina herself but with her image, in the portrait which the Ladies give him. Some couples live together their whole lives without transcending the projections of their soul images on each other: each sees in the other only what reflects his or her own unconscious qualities. Papageno and Papagena are such people; they are each other's {484} mirror image, devoid of distinct individuality. As Chailley observes, “This future couple will remain forever incomplete.”31) This kind of relationship is universalized in the social roles of expected feminine and masculine behavior from which, with the emancipation of women, the West is only just beginning to free itself. “But true relatedness requires that we reach past the projections to the reality of the other person. For the actual reality of the other person is likely to be quite at variance with the projected expectations, hence while the projections continue to prevail one feels disappointed and let down by the partner when he or she fails to conform to the image.”32) This painful but profitable experience is symbolized in The Magic Flute by the prohibition placed upon the hero by higher powers: he is forbidden to speak to the heroine, no matter how often she begs him to.33)

I would not deny the antifeminism implicit in many passages, such as the Priest's admonition to Tamino to “beware of women's chatter” (II, 3), but I do not agree with Chailley that the enforced silence “refers essentially to the discretion vis-à-vis women which a man should observe,” nor that this trial is “designed to harden man vis-à-vis woman, to teach him to despise her.”34) There is more to the process of individuation than that. Tamino's silence represents an attempt on the part of one partner to withdraw his projection on the other. He withdraws symbolically from the most basic form of communication, ignoring the efforts of the anima to impinge upon him from the outside and thus encourages it to arise from within himself. At the same time he feels compassion for Pamina as a person in her own right and not merely as an image of his own feelings. When communication is restored between them (II, 28), they are on the same level: in fact it is she who leads him safely through the perils of Fire and Water. This seems to show that the anima, when it is recognized as one's own Soul and is not merely experienced through infatuation with another person, can lead one on to new realms of spiritual growth; “Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns heran.” {485}

If the libretto of The Magic Flute had told us the whole psycho logical history of Tamino, it would have had to begin with his mother, a man's first anima image, who has to recede to the background (more or less gracefully) when the time comes for him to transfer his projection on to a woman of his own age. Now the Queen of the Night is not his mother, and he does not even meet her until he has fallen in love with Pamina's portrait. It is not a case of a young man breaking away from his mother to find his love. The Queen of the Night is a goddess, the very archetype of the feminine, who can be both helpful and destructive to a man. She gives Tamino the flute, the gift of music which is the royal road to the emotional world of a man's unconscious, so that he can charm beasts, find Pamina, and pass his trials. In her relationship to Pamina, the Queen is a more personal figure, and it is Pamina's development that is primarily indicated by the Queen's descent from a lofty stance of wounded motherhood (I, 6) to crude revenge and annihilation (II, 30).

From Pamina's point of view, the process of breaking away from her mother is her major achievement in the opera. The Queen of the Night represents the worst kind of human mother, one who regards her children as her possessions and cannot bear to release them when they attain maturity. Esther Harding describes the situation:

If the mother's love has masked a desire to possess her children and find her own emotional fulfillment through the mutual dependence of mother and child, the struggle for freedom will reveal the “other side,” one might say the “under side,” of the maternal attitude, aptly called by Jung “the devouring mother.” … In extreme cases this “devouring mother” assumes that she has the right to dispose of her daughter's whole time and strength as she sees fit - her daughter is literally her slave. … The mother considers it her right to make or break her daughter's marriage at will, to make or break her career, or even … to dispose of her daughter's virtue to suit her own convenience.35)

The Queen will happily promise the absent Pamina to Tamino (I, 6), and then, when he has failed to achieve her desires, to Monostatos (II, 30). No wonder Sarastro abducted the daughter: she already had one foot in the psychic grave (symbolized by the cypress wood which she was frequenting - I, 5). The gradual stages by which {486} Pamina differentiates herself from her mother emerge in the course of the opera.

Pamina's relationship with Tamino cannot be described by a simple reversal of terms. A woman has an unconscious “animus” which she projects on to a suitable man, but this is not the same as her soul image. Her soul, like that of a man's, is feminine; but she is conscious of its qualities and therefore does not need to project them on to anyone else. (This is why women are so fitted to receive the soul projections of men.) “In the same way that the anima gives relationship and relatedness to a man's consciousness, the animus gives to a woman's consciousness acapacity for reflection, delibera tion, and self-knowledge.”36)

Irene Claremont de Castillejo, who quotes this passage from Jung in her book Knowing Woman, is much more specific on the contribution of the animus. With an authority denied to male psychologists, she describes his function as that of focusing woman's “diffused awareness,” lighting up and crystallizing her feelings and intuitions, so that something definite and creative can come out of them. More than that, she says:

I am … convinced that a woman cannot find her feminine soul image at all unless she first becomes on very good terms with her animus. It is he in fact who, bearing aloft his torch, leads the way into the innermost recess where the soul image of a woman so successfully hides. As it is he whom a woman meets first he may appear to be himself the soul image she is seeking; but if she ventures with him further into the dark and unknown she may find that he does not himself represent her soul but is rather acting as her guide towards it.37)

If one keeps this in mind when Sarastro is telling Pamina “a man must guide your heart, for without him every woman will stray outside her domain” (I, 18), his words seem less obnoxious. Certainly Pamina is at loose ends until Tamino appears to focus her emotions and show her in what direction her soul development lies: not with her mother but with the Initiates.

Two further characters fall easily into place in a Jungian scheme. Monostatos is the archetypal shadow figure: he embodies all the qualities which we ordinarily wish to forget we possess. He is cunning, lustful, traitorous, and fawning. His black skin is the outward sign of his shadow nature. The white race finds the black one a {487} convenient recipient for its shadow projections: the Anglo-Saxon Protestant would never admit that he himself could be lazy, shiftless, dishonest, and oversexed - so he affixes these labels to the Blacks. But whose shadow is this embarrassing character? If he were Tamino's, then our hero would be obliged by tradition to fight and overcome him. On the contrary, their only encounter is when Tamino is actually captured and brought into Sarastro's presence by the Moor. The person who does possess most of the appropriate negative traits is Papageno. He is undependable, untruthful, and has a certain low cunning (e.g. in I, 3, when he claims to have killed the serpent), while his mind is generally concentrated on women, food, or drink. When he and Monostatos first meet (I, 12), their horror of each other betokens a meeting of mutual shadows, but on their next encounter (I, 17) Papageno shows his mettle: armed with the glockenspiel, he bewitches the Moor and the slaves and drives them away, subdued by the music which symbolizes the fundamental goodness of simple folk. From then on Monostatos' power is gone: he is persona non grata in Sarastro's realm and becomes a creature of the Queen of the Night.

Monostatos can alternatively (or additionally) be regarded as Sarastro's own shadow. Just as the wicked Queen actually does much to further the hero's progress, so the chief of the “good side” seems to retard that of the heroine by nurturing the seeds of evil in his own dwelling. He must have been sufficient judge of character to know exactly what Monostatos would do if put in charge of Pamina! In punishing him, he is actually disciplining the lower side of the masculine nature whose positive aspects he himself so shiningly exemplifies: appropriately enough, by a beating on the soles of the feet. Monostatos' vices are the masculine ones of lust and cruelty; the Queen's are the feminine ones of clinging and resentment. When the vices all line up on one side and the virtues on the other, things seem a little too unlifelike, which may be why the Sarastro of Act II has been mocked by some critics as a pompous, overvirtuous bishop or schoolmaster.

But what fails to satisfy us on a psychological level may do so on another level. Sarastro is the archetypal Wise Old Man, a symbol of the Self, and that not merely in Jung's interpretation as the potential totality of the psyche or the “unity of the personality as a whole.”38) {488} Jung used the term “Self” as a phenomenological description for any irruption into consciousness of a higher order of things than that of ego: for everything, that is, from a feeling of inner well-being to the experience of the Absolute. That is a very wide range indeed. There is a danger in the psychological interpretation of myth and religion to which some Jungians are prone: they tend to think that once a story is translated into Jungian terms it is disposed of. But to mystics and metaphysicians of both the West and East, there is a loftier destiny for the human being than psychological individuation: that of total liberation from conditioned existence. One of the classic texts of the Advaita (nondualistic) Vedanta describes thus the liberated Sage:

Acting, though not himself the actor; reaping the reward, though not seeking enjoyment; possessing a body, yet beyond the body. … Neither good nor evil, neither fair nor foul touch him, dwelling ever beyond the body, full of the vision of the Eternal.39)

According to the Hindu teachings, every person is potentially a Sage, just as to the Buddhist we are all enlightened right now - only we do not recognize that fact. The idea of the Perfected Man is lacking in exoteric Christianity, which denies this status to all but Christ himself. But the esoteric doctrines hold out the ultimate possibility of attaining Perfection while in human life. The Hindu Jivanmukti (= liberated in life) and the Buddhist Boddhisattva have attained this state, and such beings are presumed to be the prime movers of every true esoteric movement, whether or not they are outwardly recognized as such.

Rosenberg is of the opinion that Tamino and Pamina themselves attain this state of deification:

In The Magic Flute the … Trials by Fire and Water are the climax of the whole Mystery-play, and also the direct preparation for the Deification, the solar assimilation [Versonnung] of the Hero, and of the Heroine who is bound to him in love. Tamino and Pamina go “into the Sun,” i.e. they become one with the Godhead, which as the solar power symbolically fills the stage, hence the world.40)

Pamina and Tamino have certainly come far by the end of the opera, and have been vouchsafed a glimpse of the Deity, but they {489} have much farther to go before they will attain the level of their Master. That is why it has been possible here to describe their progress in psychological, rather than truly initiatic, terms. They have found each other, they are committed to the guidance of an esoteric order, and they have passed certain trials. Chailley goes to great lengths to explain how the four protagonists each go through trials associated with the four elements.41) The only ones explicit in the libretto are Pamina's and Tamino's trials by Fire and Water, though the chorale of the Two Men in Armor does refer to all four elements:

Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden,
Wird rein durch Feuer, Wasser, Luft und Erden. [II, 28]

(He who wanders this onerous path is purified through fire, water, air, and earth.)

But they are far from being the complete initiation that some commentators think they are.

… the trials are preliminary or preparatory rites for the actual initiation. … They are essentially rites of purification … [which] operates through “elements” in the cosmological sense of this term, and the reason can be expressed briefly as follows: an element is a simple entity, and simplicity is incorruptible (qui dit élément dit simple, et qui dit simple dit incorruptible). [The purpose of these purifying rites is] to restore the subject to a state of undifferentiated simplicity comparable … to that of the materia prima (naturally understood here in a relative sense), so that he is open to receive the vibration of the initiatic Fiat Lux.42)

The occult doctrines consider man as possessing not only a physical body, but also a number of higher or finer “bodies” of which the first three are known (among other terms) as the Etheric, the Astral, and the Causal bodies.43) These are respectively the seats of the vital and reproductive functions, the feeling and imaging faculties, and the capacity for abstract thought. They are associated in turn with the cosmological principles of Water, Air, and Fire, while the inert physical body is associated with Earth. The “elementary” {490} trials therefore represent the purification of these four bodies through the acquisition of conscious control over their functions.

The “Trial by Earth” which purifies the physical body could consist of dietary practices and fasting; the “Trial by Air” might involve reducing the mind to a condition of absolute stillness, de void alike of involuntary thoughts and feelings. Perhaps the libretto represents these by Tamino's restraint as opposed to Papageno's greed, and by his silence in the face of Papageno's chatter, the Three Ladies' urgings, and Pamina's pleas (II,5-19),44) which graphically illustrate the protean strategies of the mind against attempts to still it. The Trials by Fire and Water, though shown more explicitly on stage, are in substance left entirely to the imagination; and it may be significant that Tamino is joined in them by Pamina. In any case, the successful completion of the elementary trials does lead to a vision of the Light to which Guénon refers:

Ihr Götter, welch' ein Augenblick!
Gewaihret ist uns' Isis Glück! [II, 28]

(Ye Gods, what a moment [glimpse]! The bliss of Isis is vouchsafed us!)

Far from being a symbol merely of the enlightened social state to which the Freemasonry of the Aufklärung aspired, this is the Uncreated Light of the mystics. The audience sees it only through the temple door, as Tamino and Pamina enter at the bidding of the unseen chorus of Initiates. The stage direction reads as follows: “Man sieht einen Eingang in einen Tempel, welcher hell beleuchtet ist. Eine feierliche Stille. Dieser Anblick muss den vollkommensten Glanz darstellen.”45) This is the Light that can bring blindness to the unpurified, mortal vision, as in the case of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus.46)

After the comic interlude of Papageno-Papagena and the final downfall of the Queen and her retinue, Tamino and Pamina reappear for the closing tableau. They are clothed in priestly garments, showing them now to be full, “accepted” members of Sarastro's order. Their status is that which the Buddhists call sotāpanna, {491} meaning “one who has entered into the current.” “They are the 'noble sons' who have so acted that the fundamental force of their life is pervaded by what is beyond life, and they have therefore quite eliminated the danger of taking a 'descending path.'”47)

The significance of the Queen's annihilation emerges from this quotation: from the initiates' point of view, she no longer exists to drag them down, though no doubt her power still extends over less fortunate mortals.

Nevertheless, the Couple still remains unmarried, and we may read this as a symbolic indication of the steps which they have yet to take. They have not achieved the Mysterium Conjunctionis, the union of opposites that is explicitly the goal of the alchemical process and implicitly that of every path, representing as it does the indissoluble marriage of Soul with Spirit that “consummates” the person.48) But since Tamino is a Prince, and Pamina is a Princess, we may presume that they will reign one day as King and Queen. Then, perhaps, the time will come for them to progress from the Lesser Mysteries presented in the opera to the Greater Mysteries that complete the Royal Art, on which Mozart and Schikaneder wisely held their peace.

{492}


1)
E. M. Batley, A Preface to The Magic Flute (London, 1969); Jacques Chailley, The Magic Flute, Masonic Opera, trans. Herbert Weinstock (New York, 1971); Alfons Rosenberg, Die Zauberfi6te, Geschichte und Deutung von Mozarts Opera, 2nd ed. (Munich, 1972).
2)
Jean and Brigitte Massin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Paris, 1959), pp. 1137-59.
3)
As recently as January, 1977, this view was repeated by Spike Hughes in Opera News, XLI/11, 12-14.
4)
Best summarized in Chailley, op. cit., pp. 7-10, 21-28.
5)
Chailley, op. cit., passim, but especially pp. 83-91, 158-65; Rosenberg, op. cit., pp. 71-108, 146-51.
6)
Massin and Massin, op. cit., p. 1146; see also Chailley, op. cit., pp. 29-41. Schikaneder's sequel to The Magic Flute, Das Labyrinth oder Der Kampf mit den Elementen, which was first performed in 1798 with music by Peter von Winter, certainly does not show the same profundity. The text is printed in Fritz Brukner, Die Zauberflöte (Vienna, 193?). Strangely enough, neither does Goethe's projected sequel. For the plots of both of these, see Paul Nettl, “Goethe and Mozart,” in Goethe Bicentennial Studies, ed. H. J. Meessen (Bloomington, Ind., 1950), pp. 83-106; also Rosenberg, op. cit., pp. 266-80.
7)
Franz Winkler, For Freedom Destined; Mysteries of Man's Evolution in Wagner's Ring Operas and Parsifal (Garden City, N.Y., 1974); Robert Donington, Wagner's Ring and its Symbols; The Music and the Myth, 3rd ed. (London, 1974).
8)
Chailley, op. cit., p. 48; Paul Nettl, Mozart und die königliche Kunst (Berlin, 1932), pp. 124-30. Nettl's book has much valuable historical content (conveniently summarized in Chailley's work) but does not touch on the deeper meanings either of the opera or of the “Royal Art”—which term should actually denote not Free masonry but Alchemy.
9)
See Louis Charpentier, The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral, trans. Sir Ronald Fraser (London, 1972); John Michell, The View over Atlantis, 3rd ed. (London, 1974); id., City of Revelation (London, 1972); Otto von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral, 2nd ed. (New York, 1962).
10)
René Guénon, Introduction générale à l'étude des doctrines hindoues, 5th ed. (Paris, 1964), pp. 134-45.
11)
René Guénon, Aperçus sur l'initiation, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1953), p. 186.
12)
Elizabeth Vreede, “The Threefold Sun,” in The Golden Blade (1963), pp. 21-31; this quotation is on p. 23. See also my Robert Fludd, Hermetic Philosopher and Surveyor of Two Worlds (London, Boulder, 1979) for a Renaissance esotericist's views on this matter.
13)
H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (reprint, Adyar, Madras, 1971), V, 313. For further references on early Christ-Sun identification, see Franz Cumont, Textes et monuments relatifs au culte de Mithra (Brussels, 1899), II, 355.
14)
Blavatsky, op. cit., V, 376.
15)
For a description of the Egyptian Rite, see A. E. Waite, A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (reprint, New York, 1970), I, s.v. “Count Cagliostro.” For a more appreciative account of this contemporary of Mozart's, see Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 20th ed. (Los Angeles, 1975), pp. 198-99. Cagliostro's seal is shown in Chailley, op. cit., p. 122.
16)
Chailley, op. cit., p. 124.
17)
Quoted in Ira Friedlander, The Whirling Dervishes (New York, 1975), p. 25.
18)
Ibid., pp. 25-26. These quotations are attributed to Hazrat Inayat Khan.
19)
Chailley, op. cit., pp. 105-7.
20)
Ibid., p. 105; Massin and Massin, op. cit., p. 1149.
21)
Blavatsky, op. cit., V, 273.
22)
Massin and Massin, op. cit., p. 1180 (my parentheses enclose a footnote to the original quotation).
23)
Ibid., pp. 1180-81.
24)
Quoted in Chailley, op. cit., pp. 68-69. (This passage is a retranslation from Mozart's original.
25)
Paul Brunton, A Search in Secret Egypt (New York, 1936), pp. 72-76, 169-73; C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (New York, 1961), pp. 289-95. See also Raymond A. Moody, Jr. Life after Life (New York, 1976), a collection of similar experiences on the part of ordinary people.
26)
Some of these appeared in the autobiographical Memories, Dreams, Reflections which Jung refused to issue as part of his official Collected Works; others are being published posthumously, such as his essay on the Kundalini in Spring (1975 and 1976).
27)
An excellent and comprehensive essay by the Jungian Erich Neumann came to my notice too late for proper treatment here, but should be consulted as a source for still further meanings. It is translated by Esther Doughty as “The Magic Flute” in Quadrant, XI/2 (1978), pp. 5-32, and forms part of Neumann's Zur Psychologie des Weiblichen.
28)
C. G. Jung, Psychological Types, trans. H. G. Baynes, rev. by R. F. C. Hull (London, 1971), p. 469.
29)
Edward C. Whitmont, The Symbolic Quest (New York, 1969), p. 189.
30)
Jung, Psychological Types, p. 471.
31)
Chailley, op. cit., p. 257.
32)
Whitmont, op. cit., p. 195.
33)
This is not the same as the similar prohibition placed on Orpheus. His legend, so inspiring to musicians of all ages, is most adequately explained in Manly P. Hall, op. cit., p. 32.
34)
Chailley, op. cit., p. 137.
35)
Esther Harding, The Way of All Women (New York, 1973), pp. 184-85.
36)
C. G. Jung, Aion, trans. R. F. C. Hull, 2nd Ed. (London, 1968), p. 33.
37)
Irene Claremont de Castillejo, Knowing Woman (New York, 1973), p. 166.
38)
C. G. Jung, Psychological Types, p. 460.
39)
Shankara Acharya, Vivekachudaimani, trans. Charles Johnston as The Crest Jewel of Wisdom (London, 1964), paras. 546-47.
40)
Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 179.
41)
Chailley, op. cit., pp. 136-57.
42)
René Guénon, Aperćus sur l'initiation, pp. 175-76.
43)
The terminology of this subject is extremely confused, and I am indebted to Sharyn Godwin for sorting it out for me. Those interested in pursuing it are advised to consult first G. R. S. Mead, The Doctrine of the Subtle Body in Western Tradition (London, 1967). The appropriate parts of Manly P. Hall, Healing, the Divine Art, 5th ed. (Los Angeles, 1971), and Rudolf Steiner, Wonders of the World, Ordeals of the Soul, Revelations of the Spirit (New York, 1929) are also helpful.
44)
See Chailley, op. cit., pp. 138-41, for an analysis of these scenes in terms of the elements supposedly involved.
45)
“The brightly lit entrance to a temple is visible. A solemn silence. This view must show the brightest possible glow.” (II, 28; my italics).
46)
Acts of the Apostles, Chap. 9.
47)
Julius Evola, The Doctrine of Awakening, trans. H. E. Musson (London, 1951), p. 245.
48)
Jung made this the subject of his last major book, Mysterium Conjunctionis, trans. R. F. C. Hull (London, 1963).