Soulful Aesthetics: Music of the Spheres (Part III)
"But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that is illuminated becomes a light itself... speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts..." - Saint Paul, Ephesians 5
Since at least the time of Pythagoras up to the modern age, the musical aesthetic and numerology had existed together in harmony. Three, Seven, and Twelve - these are the numerical qualities most integral to music's essence. We cannot list these numerical qualitative relations out as we would in a spreadsheet accounting if we want to stimulate our imaginative knowing. Instead, we will allow the relations to naturally take root and blossom from within our soul as we explore their qualities. We already witnessed some of these relations in the previous installment Music of the Spheres (Part I), when exploring the triune essence of rhythm-harmony-melody in connection with spiritual activities of willing-feeling-thinking ("W-F-T"); limbs-chest-head; senses-blood-breath; body-soul-spirit. We also briefly considered the connection between the seven musical notes of the diatonic scale with the seven vowels of speech and their soul-qualities. Readers should try to keep these relations in mind as we move forward.
Those relations, however, are only a sample of music's overall relations with our soul qualities and spiritual activities; they form a foundation from which the entire phenomenal world can be raised up before the questioning soul. Rudolf Steiner - a prolific commentator on all matters spiritual and soulful - concludes, "real aesthetic life in human beings consists in this: that the sense-organs are brought to life, and the life-processes filled with soul." We will clarify the essential meaning of that conclusion and build up our own confidence in its validity by way of imaginative thought as we journey through the rest of this essay. We cannot engage the sort of transfiguration spoken of by Steiner until we first comprehend its basics. It is only through knowledge that all spiritual metamorphoses occur in the current age, whether they be minor or major ones. They can never be gained by chemical substances, ascetic practices, blind obedience to dogma, or anything similar. We should always heed Carl Jung's warning, "beware of unearned wisdom".
Wisdom is only found by those of us who seek her earnestly and endure her trials. We cannot do that without first admitting there is someone who we must seek; someone whose personality we don't yet understand in the slightest and who is always calling upon us to enter a thoughtful relationship with her. In that devotional soul-mood, then, we ask of Wisdom, 'what are these sense-organs that Steiner is speaking of, in their essence'? What does it actually mean to bring these senses "to life"? It will be critical for readers to abandon all presumptions and prejudgments in this phenomenological approach to the musical aesthetic, as I also attempted to do in the course of researching it. We cannot take physicalist conclusions of scientific inquiry and translate them into corresponding conclusions within the realm of Spirit-Soul. That will become more clear as we begin discussing the sense-organs shortly. We must approach this topic with the attitude that we know absolutely nothing.
That is, until our reason and imaginative knowing, by way of Wisdom, give birth to those "aha!" moments when the idea-bulbs begin lighting up from within us. Some bulbs will light up faster than others; some will be more luminous than others - that will depend on the inner tempo at which we forge the ideal connections and make sense of our inner experiences - yet the lighting-up process, frequently called "illumination" by esoteric spiritual types, will occur in due course for the true seeker, without a shadow of a doubt. One of the most important illuminations will occur when we begin to understand that "illumination" is exactly what it sounds like - the shedding of light on something which already exists in our immediate vicinity; a simple truth which is long-forgotten yet remains forever on the tips of our fingers and tongues. In the words of Jean Gebser, this "integral reality is the world's transparency"; it is the turning of the World-Soul inside-out.
With this soul-mood in mind, Steiner asks us to distinguish between sense-organs serving the human organism 'inwardly' in connection with the soul-world and those serving 'outwardly' in connection with the world of appearances. We should carefully note that there are twelve total senses, in these three distinct inward-outward groupings, and with varying intensities for each sense. When considering the senses, we should remember what it truly means to "sense" 'objects' with our bodily organism - to discern some way in which our organism relates to the 'object' of sensation and is influenced by it. The phrase, to "make sense of something" captures this activity's essence - that is, contemplating 'objects' to render them useful and aesthetic wholes of our experience. Our soul's sensing activity is inseparable from our spirit's thinking activity. "What we see changes what we know, and what we know changes what we see". Sensing and thinking should always be considered two forces revealing the same underlying power in contrasting ways - one from without and one from within.
HUMANITY'S SENSE-ORGANS: INWARD (WILLING) (1) Touch-sense "If you come up against a needle, you will notice that it is pointed, but of course you do not get inside the point." (2) Life-sense "This vital enlivening or damping down is something we are aware of, but generally we are too accustomed to the feeling of being alive to be constantly aware of it." (3) Movement-sense "I am referring to movements such as the bending of an arm or leg, or the movements of the larynx when you speak... all these inner movements that entail changes in the position of separate parts of the organism." (4) Balance-sense "When we relate ourselves to the world, orientating ourselves with respect to above and below and to right and left so that we feel upright, we are employing our sense of balance..." OUTWARD AND INWARD (FEELING) (5) Smell-sense "...smell does not take you very far outside yourself... people are willing to use the sense of smell to perceive the world, but they do not want the world to come very close." (6) Taste-sensing "When we taste sugar or salt, the experience of its qualities is already very inward... more so than with smell... there is already more of a connection established between inner world and outer world." (7) Sight-sense "In seeing we take into ourselves more of the properties of the external world than we do with the sense of smell." (8) Warmth-sense "When we are aware of the warmth or the coldness of an object we also experience this warmth or coldness — we experience it along with the object." OUTWARD (THINKING) (9) Hearing-sense "Sight only gives us pictures, so to speak, pictures of the outer surface... when I take hold of something, a piece of ice, say, I am sure that the ice is cold through and through... but when I make an object resonate, the sounds bring me into a particular relationship with what is within it." (10) Speech-sense (also Word-sense or Tone-sense) "...when I perceive a mere word I am still not so intimately connected with the object, with the external thing, as I am connected with it when I perceive the thoughts behind the words..." (11) Thought-sense "...a sense that goes deeper than the usual word sense must come into play before I can come into a living relationship with the being that is forming the words... before I can enter through the words and transpose myself directly into the being that is doing the thinking and forming the concepts." (12) Ego-sense (also "I-sense") "We are referring to the ability of one person to be aware of the "I" of another... it is the sense that enables you to feel another being as yourself and that makes it possible to be aware of yourself while at one with another being."
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All of these senses, as we experience them today, are but "shadowy reflections of something which becomes great and significant in the spiritual world." The realms of our ordinary sense-perception are separated by clear 'boundaries' within the organism and remain 'fixed' in our normal Earthly experience of them. In that manner, the sense-realms have become terribly mechanistic in the modern age. They call to mind the superficially perceived activities of non-human animals. When we picture the shark or the crocodile with these rigid senses, we see instinctive and powerful death-machines. Yet, if we were to have the opportunity of observing such an animal closely, we should still sense something truly alive within them; something which lights up within them just as it lights up within us. We should never take that for granted, because it is very possible that, within decades, a few years, or even by tomorrow, the majority of people in the Western world will perceive these dynamic animals with no more living essence than the copier machines at their offices or the drones in their skies.
Can you feel those beats hypnotizing your soul? That is the drumbeat of mechanization at work, marching us towards an existence more and more devoid of life and soul. The stakes here are high and we must remember that, when we approach the threshold of our soul-life, there is a real possibility of engulfing the soul deeper into darkness rather than mounting it upwards to the radiant energy of Imagination. At this threshold, what feels most immediately pleasurable is also what tempts us towards a mechanistic fate. We must resist this temptation, because it is only through the straightest of gates - the narrowest of ways - that our feeling soul builds the connective tissue between our will and thinking, so that we can effectuate the impulse to steer clear of sensuous materialism, over-spiritualized mysticism, or any toxic combination of the two. Balance between these delicate processes is now of critical importance. Specifically, we must invite the feeling soul into a balanced remembrance of things past and attraction of things future; a balance between the gravity of Earth and the levity of Heaven.
That will allow us to begin bringing about the reanimation of the animal kingdom. This imaginative capability is a remnant of our spiritual involution - the process by which the Spirit descended and differentiated into the world of forms we currently perceive. During a very early stage of that process, the twelve senses functioned more like our sevenlife-processes. There are two distinct groups here as well: one group of three life-processes - (1) breathing, (2) warming, and (3) nourishing; another group of four life-processes - (4) secretion, (5) sustenance, (6) growth, and (7) reproduction. The senses, like the life-processes now, were constantly in motion and interpenetrated by each other. It is more appropriate to imagine that they were merged into one another and could not even be differentiated from each other at that time. Those undifferentiated human souls were still tending to the Garden in Eden, so to speak.
They beheld the greens and blues in the images above not only by sight-sense, but they also "heard" the colors, because the twelve senses were imbued with the seven interpenetrating life-processes and the seven life-processes with the three soul-processes of willing, feeling, and thinking. We no longer experience these interpenetrations and, actually, we can scarcely imagine them now. Yet that should not discourage us, because a complete return to this past state of merged sense-life-soul processes would be pathological for our current spiritual disposition. They would block our path of ascension more than they would clear it of debris. Instead, we need the core processes to remain distinct but also to be transfigured by the power of the Spirit. It is a half-return to the old visionary period of involution and a half-anticipation of the new perfection and wholeness we will attain by evolution into spiritual freedom and moral imagination.
What does this mean? It means that the person will to some extent inwardly alter his Zodiac, with its twelve sense-regions. He will alter it in such a way that in his Zodiac, with its twelve sense-regions, more life-processes than sense-processes will occur. Or, to put it better, the effect is to transform the sense-process in the sense-region into a life-process and so to raise it out of its present lifeless condition into life. Thus a man sees, but at the same time something is living in his seeing; he hears and at the same time something is living inwardly in his hearing; instead of living only in the stomach or on the tongue, it lives now in the eye and in the ear. The sense-processes are brought into movement. Their life is stimulated. This is quite acceptable. Then something is incorporated in these sense-organs which today is possessed only to this degree by the life-organs. The life-organs are imbued with a strong activity of sympathy and antipathy. Think how much the whole of life depends upon sympathy and antipathy! One thing is taken, another rejected. These powers of sympathy and antipathy, normally developed by the life-organs, are now poured into the sense-organs. The eye not only sees the colour red; it feels sympathy or antipathy for the colour. Permeation by life streams hack into the sense organs, so we can say that the sense-organs become in a certain way life-regions once more. - Rudolf Steiner, The Sense-Organs and Aesthetic Experience
For anyone still skeptical of the above, consider that ancient Greek philosophers linked the timbre of music to the perception of color. Both Newton and Goethe also remarked on this deep relationship between musical tones and color tones in their scientific inquiries. Carl Jung wrote, in his Symbols of Transformation - "these images point back to the sun-god Apollo, whose lyre marks him out as the divine musician. The fusion of sound, speech, light, and fire is expressed in an almost physiological way in the phenomenon of 'colour-hearing'... the perception of the tonal quality of colours and the chromatic quality of musical tones". Jung concluded, "there must be a preconscious identity between them". And, well after Steiner was writing, modern science finally managed to systematically explore the cognitive phenomenon of synesthesia, where stimulation of one sensory-cognitive pathway "leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway".
Steiner's observations, then, rest on a firm foundation and his conclusion naturally follows - the twelve fixed senses must be once again raised into the seven moving life-processes of man, and the life-processes must be once again ensouled by the three soul-processes. Only now, however, this transfiguration of sensory experience must be attained in full clarity of consciousness. The slumbering stars which constellate our experience will be awakened and illumined from within us, as they flow through our body, soul, and spirit with care and precision. Our senses are "hacked" by the life streams so the former can discern more than mere sensations - they will discern also the full depth of meaning embedded in those manifold sensations. The sensations then start to reveal ethical significance to our moral imagination. We will begin to sense a moral antipathy when experiencing fragmentary senses and illogical thoughts, while sensing a moral sympathy when feeling the integration of experience by way of imaginative, inspired, and intuitive thoughts, which reveal the harmonies of ideal experience within us.
"Hearken to the storm of hours! Ringing out for spirits’ ears Now the new-born day appears. Gates of rock grind back asunder, Phoebus comes with wheels of thunder, Light brings tumult in his train. Drums and trumpets far resounding, Dazzling, deafening, dumbfounding, A din the ears can scarce sustain. Into bells of blossom creep, Lie there quietly, as in sleep, Into rock and under leaf: If it strikes you, you are deaf." - Goethe, Faust (Part II)
These transformations spoken of above will approach our psyche with incredible ferocity - they may illuminate aspects of our 'shadow-self' that we are not yet prepared to behold. Both Steiner and Jung saw clearly that the "remnants of archaic consciousness" can lead to "occult imprisonment" if they are not fully understood when rising from the subconscious abyss into the light of awareness. All subconscious contents which come within the purview of our normal consciousness must be tamed by knowledge so that they do not take possession of us. That is why Steiner places so much importance on patient learning, disciplined training, and focused practices for anyone seeking knowledge of the higher worlds. The difference between where we are now with our senses and where we can be with that time, discipline, and effort will become more clear when considering, as Steiner alluded to above, that the twelve sense-realms are inward reflections of the outward Zodiac constellations.
The sense-realms of each individual are a microcosm of the Zodiacal macrocosm. Picture man standing upright and divided into twelve sense regions with three bodily regions containing four senses each - four in the lower region including limbs (willing), four in the middle region (feeling), and four in the upper region (thinking). The constellations have remained relatively fixed through much of human history. The person who looked up to the clear night sky 2,000 years ago could discern the same stars in the same constellations as the person looking up today. We can imagine that the visible constellations of the Zodiac, in relation to our Sun's position, function just like a modern clock - they tell us what has occurred, what is occurring, or what can be expected to occur at any given time. The modern clock tells us it is time to go to work when it strikes a certain number, but it never says to us, "I have caused you to go to work by striking this number". Likewise, the visible Zodiac tells us certain qualities were present, are present, or can be expected to be present at any given Cosmic time, but it does not cause those qualities to be present.
RELATIONS OF TWELVE ZODIACAL SIGNS TO TWELVE SENSES
ARIES: LIFE-SENSE "He takes in the Universe and looks back." TAURUS: MOVEMENT-SENSE "He looks out into the Universe. He takes in the mobility of the Universe." GEMINI: BALANCE-SENSE "He grasps himself." CANCER: TOUCH-SENSE "He encompasses himself." LEO: WARMTH-SENSE "The true 'heart animal'." VIRGO (with the Sheaf): TASTE-SENSE "Maturity - the fruit is on the verge of drying up." LIBRA: SMELL-SENSE "He fits himself into the inorganic world and seeks balance." SCORPIO: SIGHT-SENSE "The poisonous sting." SAGITTARIUS: HEARING-SENSE "Hunter - an animal form ending in a human being armed with bow and arrow." CAPRICORN: SPEECH-SENSE "Breeder - makes wild beasts as tame as fishes - an artificial symbol." AQUARIUS: THOUGHT-SENSE "Farmer and Gardener - striding along with two urns and pouring water out of them." PISCES: EGO-SENSE "Trader - the character of trading."
Steiner wrote: Now, let us look at the earth and imagine that we put a chair out there into space and look back at the earth.... when we look from our chair in space at the various languages on earth, as in a sort of language map, then we get a certain picture. When we then turn the chair around and look out into the universe, we get a picture of the stars. And the two pictures match... this means that we could draw a map of the starry skies above us, and from our study of the connection between the stars and language we would then be able to tell which language is spoken under a particular constellation. You see now that as soon as we begin to observe human spiritual life, for example, the formation of our minds through speech, we must look up to the stars in order to understand anything... if you want to know what people in a certain area eat, you must examine the soil. If you are interested in how people breathe in a particular region, you have to study the atmosphere. And if you want to know what happens inside the skull, in this brain of ours, you must look at the position of the stars. You always have to see the human being as an integrated part of the entire universe.
The fixed nature of the constellations is an artifice of our now isolated and distant perspective, since the stars are, in reality, always moving in relation to one another. And the fixed nature of our senses is a microcosmic artifice in the same way. What we know truly changes what we see - whether we are looking right in front of us or out into the depths of space. Our senses are yearning to be set free from their chains by way of our inner illumination - to die and to be reborn - and aesthetics provides the fuel to keep our inner lamps burning in the darkness. This rebirth of the senses will then reveal their true essence as faculties of knowing. That is how we come to raise the senses from lifelessness back into life. Saint Paul spoke of our redemptive duty when he wrote, "we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time." We do not need to stretch our imaginative thought very far to know who exactly was born from those pains of childbirth; born of the Virgin Mary; born of the death at the Cross, and given the breath of life in the Resurrection and Pentecost.
Steiner wrote: And in the earliest Greek times it was expressed, still more concretely, in Imaginations that came from the Mysteries. Instead of concepts, the men of those ancient times had pictures. They would say: Once upon a time lived Uranus. And in Uranus they saw all that man takes in through his head, through the forces which now work out through the senses into the external world. Uranus — all twelve senses — was wounded; drops of blood fell into Maya, into the ocean, and foam spurted up. Here we must think of the senses, when they were more living, sending down into the ocean of life something which rises up like foam from the pulsing of the blood through life-processes which have now become processes in the soul. ... We need to connect a further idea with this older form of the myth, where Aphrodite is the child not of Zeus and Dione, but of Uranus and the ocean. We need to add to it another Imagination which enters still more deeply into reality, reaching not merely into the elemental world but right down into physical reality. Beside the myth of Aphrodite, the myth of the origin of beauty among mankind, we must set the great truth of the entry into humanity of primal goodness, the Spirit showering down into Maya-Maria, even as the blood-drops of Uranus ran down into the ocean, which also is Maya. Then will appear in its beauty the dawn of the unending reign of the good and of knowledge of the good; the truly good, the spiritual
Our evolutionary story dawned in the age of Pisces and now it travels in the orbit of Aquarius. It is now we become farmers and gardeners tasked with revitalizing the soil of the lower senses so they yield the fruit of higher cognition. We must not forget that we are active participants in this story: writing it in our thoughts, producing it with our feelings, and directing it by our will; directing it by our imaginations, producing it with our inspirations, and writing it in our intuitions. The story has no meaning independent of these triune spiritual activities. There can be no egoism here, but only a profound sense of responsibility. We must contemplate these truths in humility, but we must also recognize our own participatory role in their unfolding. By playing that part well, we bring the twelve constellations of our senses from fixed distant galaxies into our seven moving planetary orbits. We shift from the realm of distant mythos into the realm of living spiritual drama - the realm of twelve becomes the realm of seven.
Speech is the condensation of the element of Voice, and the Word is the crystallized measure of Tone... it parts and unites, according to [man's] need and pleasure, the images which all his senses bear him from the outer world... in order to appease his own desire for a sure and intelligible utterance of his feelings, his reflections, or his will. Yet he finds once more his limit where... he finds himself again amid the wide communion of all-embracing world-emotions, a partaker in the unconditioned truth of universal feeling and emotion... Here must he reach back once more to the universal mode of utterance; and, in exact proportion as he has pressed forward to his special standpoints, has he now to retrace his steps and borrow from the emotional man the physical tones of feeling, from the corporeal man the physical gestures of the body... and this whole man is the man of understanding united with the man of heart and man of body - but neither of these parts for self alone. - Richard Wagner, The Artwork of the Future (1895)
From the dwelling of the twelve Greek Gods on Mount Olympus, Wagner transports us into the world of the seven Norse Gods - Wotan (Odin), Fricka (Frigg), Freia (Freya), Donner (Thor), Froh, Erda, and Loge (Loki). He witnessed the havoc wreaked by the "wise men" of his day, as opposed to the ancient Germanic "folk" who spurned the "march of human evolution... from unknowledge to knowledge, from need to satisfying". The folk invented Speech, while the wise men "could but spoil its physical beauty, break its force, mislay its understanding, and painfully explore the loss." Likewise, the folk invented Religion and the wise men "could but mutilate its inner meaning, turn the heaven that lay within it to a hell, and its out-breathing truth to lies." While many "wise men" resorted to apathy or self-destruction in the face of these lies, Wagner only immersed himself even further into his honest ideals and got to work composing musical epics.
That is how Wagner came to address these "prudent and intellectual men, to offer [them]... the redemption from [their] egoistic incantations in the limpid spring of Nature... where, after many a battle between the hope within and the blank despair without, [he] won a dauntless faith in the assurance of the Future." The faith Wagner won was that in the ability of spiritual aesthetics to deliver the human soul back to the heights from which it descended through its involution. He looked at the eagle soaring in the sky and saw, not a mechanical creature existing apart from him, but an aspect of his own Spirit which longed to keep his gaze focused upwards so that this world of decay and death no longer ruled over his Soul. That is how five of the twelve senses are transfigured - life to ego, movement to thought, balance to speech, touch to hearing, sight to warmth - leaving seven which give birth to a triune life of imaginations, inspirations, and intuitions. The physical once again becomes the spiritual.
Wagner sought to wed the sprawling human drama of Shakespeare's poetic plays with the thrilling ambition of Beethoven's symphonies and give birth to monumental testimonies of our spiritual essence. Each individual can dwell on these testimonies at their own pleasure to experience how they weave the fragmented physical realm, shot through with isolated images and sounds, into the integrated spiritual realm, shot through with holistic meaning and purpose. Wagner also wanted to spin an even larger web which united art with the fields of philosophy, science and spirituality. That is an aim he shared with Goethe and Schiller, as we saw in The Rebirth of Poetry installments. These German philosopher-poets had a profound influence on him. Just as Goethe and Schiller were staggering artists in the 18th century who also engaged philosophy as a natural extension of their art, so too was Wagner in the middle of the 19th century.
For Wager, Music ensouls the forms of Art. She provides heart-throbbing mediation between the Melos and the harmony; between the motion and the meaning; the limbs and the head; the blood and the breath; the body and the spirit; the willing and the thinking; the inner and the outer. We could go on for much longer with these triune relations in that same manner. Wagner concludes that the motion of dance becomes "more noble [and] more intelligible" through its ensoulment by musical tone. The musical melody illuminates measured words of poetry to become their "unerring vindicator and redeemer", which brings forth an "ideal coil of yearning syllables, that indirectly shadow forth in images, but cannot yet express their thought with all the truth and cogence of necessity." Music is the World-Soul who not only gave birth to human life with all its physical necessities in a world of forms, but will also give birth to a new human life who thinks it necessary to exist in a harmonious world of ethical ideal relations.
From the moment when Man perceived the difference between himself and Nature, and thus commenced his own development as man, by breaking loose from the unconsciousness of natural animal life and passing over into conscious life - when he thus looked Nature in the face and from the first feelings of his dependence on her, thereby aroused, evolved the faculty of Thought - from that moment did Error begin, as the earliest utterance of consciousness. But Error is the mother of Knowledge; and the history of the birth of Knowledge out of Error is the history of the human race, from the myths of primal age down to the present day. ... The primal organs of creation and of nature are represented in the instruments. What these instruments express can never be defined in clear, hard-and-fast terms, for once again they convey to us those archetypal moods arising from chaos in the first days of creation, when as yet there was no human being to receive them into his heart. - Richard Wager, The Artwork of the Future (1895)
The Valkyries are the 'archetypal moods' of the World-Soul - they remain virgins, undefiled by the physical world, and transport those who voluntarily and bravely confront the death of their bodily senses into the ceaseless musical movements of eternal life-processes. All ancient myths speak to these same realities of Soul and Spirit, and all ancient mysteries spoke of the One "who is and who was and who is to come". It was no coincidence that there were twelve tribes of Israel and its prophesied Messiah, the ever-traveling Sun, chose twelve disciples to surround Him. Neither is it a coincidence that this Messiah stated He is the eternal "I AM" seven times to those who had ears to hear what the Spirit spoke, nor that He sent seven letters to seven churches by way of the seven spirits. He appeared among seven golden lampstands to John the Revelator, His voice booming like a trumpet and the roaring of many waters. This musical symphony of the Soul has the greatest significance for our Spiritual story, as it orients our imagination towards the fulfillment of our Spiritual freedom in this everlasting relation - "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends..."