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Renaissance Music Magic

& The Music of the Spheres

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"Music of the Spheres"

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"Music of the Spheres"

The Music Magic of the Renaissance


"It has no less a power than anything else that goes into the one who is singing. From him this power goes to the nearest listener, to the extent that the song keeps its vigor and keeps the spirit of the one singing, especially if this singer himself has a Phoebean nature, a strong vital spirit of the heart, and a strong animal spirit…. The seminal spirit generates beyond itself an offspring, so the vital and animal power, where it is most effective, makes the most intense sort of things through the song of its spirit. It works powerfully, with conception and agitation, on the nearest body; then, spilling over, it moves the next body, and when it has affected its own, it then affects someone else with a certain property. It conceives this from its own form and from selecting the right time." ~ Marsilio Ficino

Music in Renaissance Magic was the art of producing a desired effect or result on the soul through the use of various techniques, like incantation, that presumably assure human control of supernatural agencies or the forces of nature. Music magic is essentially the art of combining and regulating sounds of varying pitch to produce compositions expressive of various ideas or emotions. This music art of magic that was designed to effect the soul was based upon a system of occult correspondences between certain chords, planets, and the individual's temperament or "humours."

The connections of these two arts persist in our common usage as well. We still hear talk of "the magic of music," a phrase that evokes the emotions music mysteriously but powerfully arouses. The lexicon of magic has loaned one of its specifically musical terms to our vocabulary of emotional delight: from incantare or incantatio, the musical technique taken the dictionary to be exemplary of all magical operations--"enchanting," "enchanted," and related words. And from the most common Latin term for a song or tune, we derive a ubiquitous English word that still retains magical implications in some of its meanings, "charm." On a less commonplace level music and magic are linked in the etymologies of their names themselves. Both derive from ancient mythical or semi-mythical figures, from the Muses of ancient Greece and the Zoroastrian priest/shaman of the ancient Middle East, the Old Persian magush, sorcerer. Both words referred originally to the arts of these personages and carry still the resonance of their authoritative, all-embracing knowledge: the nine arts represented by the Muses, daughters of Memory (Mnemosyne) herself; and the high priest/sorcerer of all-but-forgotten mystery religions.

This resonance is by now weak in the case of music, of course. The history of this term's use has been one of delimitation. Though derived from words that once denoted the totality of the Muses' arts, the universal knowledge of techne, music has in modern times come to denote a much more restricted range of craft. The variety of arts denoted by magic, on the other hand, has always remained broad, notwithstanding local redefinitions and circumscriptions in particular historical situations. In the history of these two usages the European sixteenth century was a pivotal time. It was the last moment in central currents of European culture when the term music could allude to a form of universal knowledge, when musical thought could aspire to embrace or at least touch all human conceptions and fashionings. But it also witnessed an efflorescence in magic, a transitory broadening of the always significant range of the occult arts that allowed the word in some usages to connote a universal philosophy. The stage attained in the sixteenth century by each of these branches of thought along the arc of its internal development--the still-persisting breadth of the one, the momentary comprehensiveness of the other--allowed for novel and rich interactions between them.

Music, therefore, begins to look like a method of magic. If this is true, then this is an old connection, since it all goes back to Orpheus, the musician/magician. The word music itself is derived from the Muses, the legendary goddesses of Delphi. Greek mythology is rich in stories related to music. One of the most well-known myths concerns Orpheus, the son of Apollo and Calliope, one of the nine Muses, who played the lute so enchantingly that he charmed trees, rocks, animals, and even gods. When Orpheus lost his beloved Eurydice in the region of Hades, he sang to the accompaniment of his lyre so persuasively that Sisyphus stopped rolling rocks uphill and the Furies themselves shed sentimental tears. After his death, the lyre of Orpheus was retrieved by Zeus who placed it among the constellations in the heavens.

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Music & the Occult Philosophy of the Renaissance


The visionary effect of music is the beginning of Renaissance occult, magical science of music based upon Pythagoras and Orpheus, which Marsilio Ficino and Robert Fludd practiced. Central to this occult music magic was the concept of "soul," since it was this that music effected. Those who are affected by music can be divided into two classes: those who hear the spiritual meaning, and those who hear only the material sound.

The enchanted atmosphere of “music magic” on RE-VISION RADIO takes you back —”way, way back”—to the long-ago-and-far-away Romantic atmosphere of the Orphic “Temple of Music,” where the Renaissance idea of Magic & Music (through Hermetic-Neoplatonic philosophy) is etched in stone. Inspired by the divine visitation of the Muses, “Pythagorean magic” and “Neoplatonic poetic furor” combine to evoke various heightened ideas and emotions. This definitive “poetic furor”—also referred to as “frenzy” and “rapture”—was believed to manifest in poems & songs:

Whoever is possessed in any way by a deity indeed overflows on account of the vehemence of the divine impulse and the fullness of its power: he raves, exults . . . therefore this possession is called furor .... No one under the influence of furor is content with simple speech: he bursts forth into clamoring and songs and poems.”

Furthermore, the highest reaches of “poetic flight”—inspired music and poetry associated particularly with “poetic furor”—were attained by the soul in the throes of Venus's “amatory” or “erotic furor,” which suggests an infused, over-flowing soul rather than an absent, disembodied state. And because the occult power of the spoken word & music was taken for granted—as poetic magic—, this phenomenon of “musico-poetic furor” was seen by Neoplatonic occultists, like Marsilio Ficino, as evidence of the presence of numinous forces.  (Ficino "translated the works of Plato and the Corpus Hermeticum into Latin" and "was responsible for recreating the Orphic incantations and for giving music a high place in his scheme of planetary magic.")

“In the light of Ficino’s suggestions, the marvelous psychological effects of music described by writers of Antiquity now take on a new meaning: they are not records so much of music as of ceremonial magic, of precisely the kind Ficino was trying to revive.”

The correspondence of word, image, music, soul, and the planets suggested an “imagistic” conception of words & music that united in song intellectual content & sound, as perceived by soul. Yet, this Italian Renaissance conception of musical magic (“word, image, and music”) most probably has its beginnings in an earlier period, also known as a cultural rebirth—the “Twelfth-Century Renaissance” of the Troubadours, who also venerated Orpheus. Here, too, “music was seen as having magical powers.” Throughout the Middle Ages, the pitches used in western music were consistently linked with the Pythagorian musical spheres of the universe. The spheres, in turn, were intimately bound up in astrology, a cornerstone of medieval magic. (The tradition goes back as early as Pythagoras and Plato.) The connections between singing and Troubadour story-telling is emphasized in the root for “song;” cant. This root takes on considerable significance when we realize that the word for magic in certain romances is encantement (en-cant-ment, literally “en-song-ment”). Thus, we have the link between singing, story-telling performers, and magic.


This link seems to have been taken up again and perfected by the Renaissance occultists, who believed in the power of words and song for moving the soul and gaining celestial benefits and climbing the Platonic stairway to heaven. Once concretized in the Renaissance “Temple of Music,” these celestial raptures can today be gained by climbing high up in the TOWER OF SONG. So RE-VISION RADIO, going back—“way, way back”—would use its Orphic, magical, and amatory, Song-form—the Essay-with-Soundtrack—to get down to the roots of Medieval Troubadour and Renaissance Magical Music traditions in order to reveal their revival and continuation in the popular music of the Sixties. Thus Everybody Knows: “The powerful pulsing of love in the vein .... / These are the roots of rhythm / and the roots of rhythm remain.” And every time you hear the Orphic medley or philosophical acoustics of RE-VISION RADIO’S Essay-with-Soundtrack you hear something new and novel, because it's full of those hidden or Hermetic correspondences, resonances, and connexions. However, listening to its Orphic melodic rhythm isn't just about the words or just about the music but, as in Renaissance music magic, it’s about how their synergy moves your soul. Thus, RE-VISION RADIO’s version of “Magic Song,” because of its synaesthetic mix of sound & image—”radio-graphics”—, has musically-determined meanings that evoke an occult Musekal Philosophy through the ceremonial magic of hosting RE-VISION RADIO. And because RE-VISION RADIO expresses its esoteric Philosophy best in magical Song (“That’s why I’m telling you in song” –Van Morrison), it hopes that its listeners would ask: “What I want to know is: how does the song go?” (Grateful Dead) And, Everybody Knows, it goes, ultimately, to the TOWER OF SONG.

The Renaissance “Philosophy of Music and Magic” becomes, on RE-VISION RADIO, the music of philosophy through its Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack, since, according to the occult philosopher, Agrippa, the right words when joined to the right music fill the listener with heavenly energies:


“Besides the virtues of words and names, there is also a greater virtue found in sentences, from the truth contained in them, which hath a very great power of impressing, changing, binding, and establishing, so that being used it doth shine the more, and . . . of which sort are verses, enchantments, imprecations, deprecations, orations, invocations, obstestations, adjurations, conjurations, and such like. . . . They that desire further examples of these, let them search into the hymns of Orpheus, than which nothing is more efficacious in Natural Magic . . . . [which will] confer a very great power in the enchanter, and sometimes transfer it upon the thing enchanted, to bind and direct it to the same purpose for which the affections and speeches of the enchanter are intended.” (“Of many Words joined together, as in Sentences and Verses; and of the Virtues and Astrictions of Charms”)


However esoteric and transcendental this magical power may sound to the average person, it should be noted that it is fundamentally a natural magic of human expression:

“For we are not now speaking of worshiping divinities but of a natural power in speech, song, and words.” ~Ficino


This is, then, the only claim that RE-VISION RADIO’s makes: to exercise the natural magic of the blend of words and music. So, whether it is this magical theory of Agrippa, or Ficino’s notion of the “power of words and [planetary] song for capturing celestial benefits,” or Robert Fludd’s notion of “the occult and wondrous effects of the secret Music,” RE-VISION RADIO’s magic of Musekal Philosophy is to rediscover the Renaissance “Temple of Music” in the TOWER OF SONG.

Because the esoteric Renaissance “Philosophy of Music” is inseparable from Ficino’s Neoplatonic concept of soul (“Music and the soul’s longing;” “Other melodies and rhythms have the power of transporting the soul from one state to another;” “the soul awakened by music;” “the soul’s ascent through music;” “music as an occult numeration of the soul”), RE-VISION RADIO’s enchanting mix of words and music is its own special kind of “soul-music;” a “soul-manifesting” music.

So the magical musicology of RE-VISION RADIO’s Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack, with liquid measures flowing, creates a hypnotic atmosphere, or shamanic trance-state of mind; an intellectual mood-piece for radio that strikes a “mystic chord”—a deep, soulful chord: “Music that can deepest reach” (Emerson). So Everybody Knows that the “deepest reach” of RE-VISION RADIO’s music is for “the perfect union of words and music”—the radio-quest or night-journey that is also a search for the “Unending Melody.” For Everybody Knows, also, that this quest goes back—”way, way back”—to Ancient Greece; to the Pythagorean view of music as a microcosm—an esoteric system of sound & rhythm ruled by the same mathematical laws that operate in the macrocosm of visible creation: “Music, in this view, was not a passive image of the orderly system of the universe; it was also a force that could effect the universe—hence the attribution of miracles to the legendary musicians of mythology.” And, thus, Everybody Knows RE-VISION RADIO’s Orpheus—hence the ancient magical connotations and extensions of music come to be understood as the power in music akin to the power of words for influencing human thought & action.

So Everybody Knows, too, that the power of music is a mysterious power we don't fully understand; a magical power for reflection and creative exploration. Because RE-VISION RADIO’s believes with Emerson that “the manner of using language is surely the most decisive test of intellectual power,” it would ask in unison with the “American Plotinus:” “Who does not feel in him budding the powers of a Persuasion that by and by will be irresistible?” And Everybody Knows that these magical “budding powers of Persuasion” are maximized in the TOWER OF SONG.

RE-VISION RADIO's Orphic Essay-with-Soundtrack, in mixing Philosophy & Music --dialectics/argument and song--, also broadcasts a confluence of the ancient "Infinite Conversation" & "Unending Song." Again, this goes back to the legendary Orpheus, whose favorite pursuits were rhetoric and music--Orpheus, "singer of love songs."

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Pythagoras & the Music of the Spheres

There is geometry in the humming of the strings ... there is music in the spacing of the spheres. ~ Pythagoras

The philosopher Pythagoras was very interested in music, and so were his followers. The Pythagoreans were musicians as well as mathematicians. Pythagoras wanted to improve the music of his day, which he believed was not harmonious enough and was too hectic.

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Pythagoras, with his music and his heavenly bodies, in perfect harmony.

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Pythagoras (c 560-c 480 BC) demonstrating the recognized mathematical relationship between vibrating string length, air

column, or percussion instrument size, and musical scale notes.

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Poetry and Music: The nine Muses inspire Arion, Orpheus and Pythagoras, with the help of the source of all harmony. (A miniature from "Liber Pontificalis," a 13th century manuscript.)

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"The Harmony of the Spheres"

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Robert Fludd's "Utriusque Cosmi" (1617) depicting his theory that the entire universe, from the planets and the elements to the letters of the alphabet, is a "divine monochord" tuned by the hand of God.

Utriusque cosmi majoris et minoris historia or macrocosm and microcosm (Robert Fludd 1619.
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Mind of Macrocosm

 Macrocosm and Microcosm (Robert Fludd 1619)

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Microcosm (Robert Fludd 1619)

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Mind of Microcosm (Robert Fludd 1617)

“Of what is the body made? It is made of emptiness and rhythm. At the ultimate heart of the body, at the heart of the world, there is no solidity. Once again, there is only dance.” ~ George Leonard


In The Silent Pulse, Leonard’s understanding of mastery through the practice connect with the metaphorical patterns in science to create a new musical-mystical vision. And this underlying beat of all things takes him well beyond both practice and science into the elemental vibrancy, a metaphysical pulse that connects sexuality, mystical experience, and social reform.”  ~Jeffrey J. Kripal

“To be ‘in tune’ with the elemental vibrancy of sexuality is also, sometimes, to be in tune with the silent pulse of reality itself.” ~ Jeffrey J. Kripal

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The Fractal Cosmos

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The Fractal Music of the Spheres

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Music Magic & Night Music in the Tower of Song


Music Magic also has a sub-theme of "Night Music." Thus, midnight was a time especially potent for music magic. This sub-theme can be seen (as indicated above) from medieval folklore, to Shakespeare, and down to our own time, where the theme of midnight music magic and its enchantment can be seen in early animated cartoons (1920s and 30s), wherein at midnight, when humans went to sleep, inanimate objects came to life in singing and dancing (a throwback to the animistic world-view). However, at daybreak the music magic ended and normal, daytime reality returned (as in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream). Thinking of the Troubadours in relation to the sub-theme of music-love-magic, a good many poems/songs (e.g., the genre of the Alba) were concerned with the disenchantment of the coming of day--the "callousness of dawn." It was a subject that the troubadours and trouveres returned to again and again, for example: "God grant the night may never end / Nor my love leave my side, / The watchmen never see the dawn. / Ah God, how soon the dawn breaks!"

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Therefore, in the Romantic quest the re-enchant the world, the Tower of Song, beckoned by the soul's eternal longing, only appears (out of the "invisible landscape") by the "river of dreams / in the middle of the night." Its music magic plays all night until the dawn when the magic ceases and the  daily routine begins once again. But the imagination records its existence in the Romantic Nightworld and assures its return in order that the routine of daily "getting and spending" can be relieved by its music magic and we can find a "somewhere else" where we need to go to from time to time.  That "somewhere else" is the Tower of Song.

"This longing keeps us in proximity to our souls. It reminds us, as we conscientiously go through the obligations and activities of every day, that there is a place, a "somewhere else" where we also belong and need to go to from time to time." –Jan Bauer, "Impossible Love"

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The Gypsy Scholar's Quest for Renaissance Music Magic:

"Did Ye Get Healed?"

The Gypsy Scholar quests, through Orpheus' musical magic, for The Tower of Song, by following the aboriginal "songlines" of the planet in order to enter into the soul of the "Unending Song" (i.e., the "Music of the Spheres"). And questing back--"way, way back"--to the archaic pre-Socratic philosopher-poet-shamans (Pythagoras, Parmenides, Empedocles), The Gypsy Scholar discovers that the original "philosophy" wasn't some disinterested, theoretical discipline, but rather, like music, a healing discipline: "Essential to the texts in question is the idea of the philosopher not just as a magician but also a healer." (Thus, in the Renaissance, Ficino dressed up as Orpheus when applying his melancholy "musical cures."). In Re-Vision Radio's "Musekal Philosophy," entering (with the astral body) into the song is a metaphor for emerging into the Tower of Song. 

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