by Lon Milo DuQuette
(A pre-performance address at the opening night of the Los Angeles Opera’s presentation of Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles Music Center, March 24, 2002.)
In a world…where your mother is a homicidal Moon Goddess…and your father is a Sun Worshipping Cult Leader, your only protection just may be a very confused Prince with a flute….and a guy dressed up like a bird…with a glockenspiel!
I’m Lon DuQuette. I’m very proud to say I’m a Mason. My father was a Mason. My brother is a Mason. Many of the men whose lives and works have inspired, enlightened, and encouraged me throughout my life have been Masons.
Masonry is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) secular fraternities in the world. It traces its modern origin to 1717 when a grand lodge was formed from several existing lodges in London. Just how long those lodges had been in existence prior to 1717 is unclear. There are some 130 versions of Masonic documents known as the Old Charges that date from around 1390 – but Masonic tradition would have us trace its origins back much farther – back to the medieval cathedral builder’s trade unions – back to the Dionysian Artificers who built the great civic monuments of the Roman Empire – back to the builders of King Solomon’s temple – even to the craftsmen who built the Great Pyramids of Egypt.
Of course, there is no real evidence to support the existence of a prehistoric INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF PYRAMID BUILDERS (LOCAL 327).
But, even if none of the traditional histories of the Craft can stand the scrutiny of historians, it is clear that Freemasonry, as an initiatory society, is an incarnation of (if not the heir to) the great mystery schools of antiquity – especially those that flourished in and around the Mediterranean basin – the Eleusinians, the rites of Mendes, of Osiris, Isis, Dionysus, Serapis, Mithras, and the Persian Magi, from whence we get the word Magic.
The Mystery Schools taught that, ultimately, the true essence of each man and woman is divine … in fact, if ever we could come to the full realization of our true natures we would discover we are one and the same with the supreme consciousness and life-force of the universe.
Among the various Mystery rites, the name and symbolic character of the deity chosen to represent this supreme consciousness varied considerably – but they all had one very important thing in common. They all surmised that it is possible to consciously raise oneself to supreme realization – and they attempted to assist this evolutionary process by degrees – by means of a step-by-step program of purification and instruction. And by literally mutating the candidate’s character by putting him or her through a series of dramatic and artfully choreographed personal ordeals.
In the early years of the Christian era, Alexandria Egypt was center of the intellectual, philosophical, and initiatory world. The universal order and stability of the Roman Empire brought the world together as never before. For a brief and brilliant moment in time, knowledge and wisdom gleaned from scores of cultures from China and India to Egypt, Israel, Europe and Britain, synthesized within three great libraries. Here the holy wisdom of the Hebrew Qabalah met the celestial sciences of the Chaldean Astronomers and the occult wisdom of the Egyptian priests of Isis. Here the subtleties of Taoist and Buddhist philosophies touched the mathematical sciences and pragmatic politics of the Greeks.
A catastrophic fire destroyed much of at least one of Alexandria’s great libraries, and the growth and often violent zeal of the young Christian movement for all intents and purposes put an end to the overt activities of the Mystery schools. Carl Sagan speculated that, had the wealth of information stored in Alexandria not been destroyed, the level of technology that placed a man on the moon in the 20th century would have been reached in the 1500s.
Be that as it may, we know there survived throughout the suffocating centuries of the Dark Ages, a body of men who, because of their unique knowledge and skills, formed a distinct class of world citizen. Men who could move freely from town to town, city to city, kingdom to kingdom – unrestricted by the limits of feudal servitude.
Masters of geometry and construction, who could make stone rise to heaven. Master artists who could enshrine the symbolic and mathematical secrets of creation within the very dimensions and ornaments of buildings that would stand for a thousand years.
These were Freemasons. Men who, by virtue of their own talents, wit, and experience, had freed themselves from the tyranny of Kings and the oppression of the Church.
The Freemason was the archetype for the modern, liberated human being.
Freemasons were quite literally …the coolest guys in the western world.
When the great cathedral projects ended, the fraternity evolved from being one that applied its mystical principals upon stone to one that does so upon the hearts of human beings. By 1784, when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became a Mason, the progressive Masonic ideals of Love, Tolerance, Enlightenment, and Universal Brotherhood were poised to set Europe and America on fire with revolution.
Late in 1790, Mozart learned Masonry would soon be outlawed in Austria. He conspired with a Brother Mason, librettist, and theatre owner, Emanuel Schikaneder, to enshrine the essence of Masonic ideals within a light-hearted (and seemingly innocuous) opera. That opera, of course, is “The Magic Flute.” And like all of Mozart’s creations, it is constructed on many levels.
The first level is purely musical. By this point in Mozart’s career he was famous for creating melodies that were not only beautiful to the ear, but memorable to the mind. Mozart wrote music you could hum and whistle. His musical logic is so clean and natural that the listener’s ear anticipates each upcoming phrase as if the music is gushing spontaneously from our own mind. Mozart’s audiences frequently became so instantly infected by these almost deja-vu melodies that they joined in with the principals on second and subsequent refrains.
The music of “The Magic Flute” is delightful, and I’m sure there was no doubt in Mozart’s mind that, once it was heard, it would be impossible to erase it from the musical consciousness of the world.
The next level was that of contemporary comment. Several of the characters in “The Magic Flute” were quite recognizable caricatures of some of the most important and powerful people of the day.
The darkly passionate and vengeful Queen of the Night was the perfect image of Empress Maria Theresia whose opposition to the ideals of the Enlightenment and hatred for Masonry was well known.
Our hero, Tamino, was clearly based upon Emperor Joseph II, the son of Maria Theresia, who was not only a driving force of the Enlightenment, but also an early activist for equality between the classes and the sexes. Tamino’s efforts, early in the opera, to please the Queen of the Night is a touching comment on the efforts of a royal son, who, in his youth, naturally made efforts to please his imperious mother.
And Sarastro, the Wise and Noble Hierophant of the Temple of Isis und Osiris, could only have been Vienna’s most revered Grand Master of Masons, Ignaz von Born. Von Born was the most idealized example of the Enlightened man – humanitarian – scientist and teacher.
The next level is more esoteric and Masonic; and here we ask, does “The Magic Flute” actually reveal Masonic “secrets”?
Masonic secrets concern themselves primarily with the clap-trap of the fraternity – the signs of recognition…the hand shakes…passwords…and, of course, the details of the dramatic ceremonies of initiation. There are very few aspects of “The Magic Flute” that would worry any Mason who actually knows what is (and what is not) secret in the Craft.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, also a freemason, said of “The Magic Flute”:
“It is enough that the crowd would find pleasure in seeing the spectacle; at the same time, its high significance will not escape the initiates.”
In the time we have left before we enjoy tonight’s performance, I’d like to highlight just a few of those elements of “high significance” that do not escape initiates.
Let’s begin by observing Mozart’s use of the number 3. The number 3 is, for a number of reasons, a highly significant number to Masons. The overture of “The Magic Flute” exploits quite dramatically three chords sounded in batteries of three. These same three chords are sounded in the Temple scenes. As we will soon see, there are three Temples, three doors, three attendants to the Queen of the Night, three guiding angels, and three rounds of voting. Brother Mozart even wrote “The Magic Flute” in E flat – a key that contains three flats in the key signature.
While these are interesting tidbits, they are hardly veil-rending expositions of Masonic secrets. In the Temple scenes, however, we will see the suggestions of many elements of secret Masonic procedure; from the way the brotherhood admits the candidate and votes upon his admission, to the various tests of fidelity, silence and secrecy – most especially, the ordeal of initiation itself.
Peeling back yet another layer of esoteric secrets, we discover that Brothers Mozart and Schikaneder incorporated key elements of the Hebrew Qabalah within the characters and plot of their opera. We must remember that mystical sciences such as Qabalah, Alchemy, and ceremonial magic were subjects of intense fascination to many Masons of the 18th century, and it is not at all surprising that these two Masons-with-a-mission would want to load their masterpiece with the biggest mystical punch they could.
A fundamental concept of the Qabalah divides creation and the human soul into four levels. These four levels correspond to the four letters of the Great Name of God, which in Hebrew is spelled Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh. (Most of the non-Jewish world pronounces this Jehovah.) The dynamics that exist between and among all things represented by these four sacred letters is the focus of Qabalistic study and meditation. But if we were to simply personify Yod, Heh, Vav, Heh as family, they would have the characteristics of a Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter. If we thought of them as royalty they would be a King, Queen, Prince, and Princess.
The Qabalistic scenario goes something like this: If each of us really knew our true spiritual identity we would realize that we were like a King….a King who is the most-awake Being of all. But, for some reason, we have chosen to fall asleep. The King has fallen asleep and is dreaming he is the Queen of the Universe, who has fallen asleep and is dreaming she is the Prince of the Universe, who has fallen asleep and is dreaming he is a sleeping Princess.
Unenlightened humanity is just like Sleeping Beauty. We are dead to the greater reality and have completely forgotten our divine birthright. We are asleep to our true spiritual nature and are dreaming that we are trapped in a tomb of matter, and time and space(this is just the position Princess Pamina finds herself in the first Act of “The Magic Flute”).
There is part of us, however, that is not so deeply asleep, a part of us that remembers there is something more. This more-awake self is our own Prince Charming. If only he could kiss our Sleeping Beauty and break the spell of illusion, then the Princess could marry the Prince and become the even-more-awake Queen, and by doing so the Prince will automatically be elevated to become the most-awake King.
The great secret to this Qabalistic soap-opera is, of course, the Zen-like revelation that each one of us has been the most-awake King all along.
I know this sounds hopelessly mystical and abstract – because it is hopelessly mystical and abstract. It is also is the hidden scaffolding that supports and sustains the Western spiritual tradition – and, as such, it is naturally the plot and a subplot of “The Magic Flute.”
We have King Sarastro, the Queen of the Night, Prince Tamino, and Princess Pamina – and on a lower level we have Papagano and Papagana, who in their own more mundane universe play prince and princess to Tamino and Pamina.
The most esoteric statement made by “The Magic Flute,” however, was one that shocked even the free-thinking Masons of Vienna – and proves Mozart to be a revolutionary even within a revolutionary society, and a visionary mystic among mystics.
Despite several charming and (by modern standards) incredibly incorrect ditties about the nature of woman in earlier scenes, the opera climaxes with the duel initiation of Tamino and Pamina – a surprise ending that was very unsettling to many in the all-male Masonic fraternity.
To initiates this is more than just a social comment upon the equality of the sexes. It is a bold and visionary statement that touches upon the very dynamics of humanity’s evolving consciousness.
At the beginning of the opera we meet the awesome and beautiful Queen of the Night enthroned upon the moon. She represents a time in human history when woman was the supreme mystery. An innocent but primitive age when life appeared to spring directly from woman, and was linked to the cycles of the moon. This was the time of the great goddess and matriarchal social and religious institutions.
As human consciousness evolved we began to recognize how important the sun was to life on earth, and the importance of the man’s contribution to the procreative process. The pendulum swung violently in the opposite direction. Patriarchies (this is the source of the vengeful hatred that the Lunar Queen of the Night feels for Sarastro and his sun-worshipping order) supplanted matriarchies, and the Great Goddess was overthrown and ruthlessly subjugated by male gods.
Mozart envisioned the next step in human consciousness, when equality and balance between the sexes is achieved – when the Moon and the Sun are no longer at war but united to bring a new light to the world.
Initiation means “a beginning.” Pamina and Tamino’s initiation at the end of The Magic Flute represents Mozart’s sweetest hope that a new and wonderful age was at hand. An age in which the Masonic ideals of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth would manifest in the hearts of all humanity.
An age when, as the three Guiding Angels sing:
“…All doubts will disappear,
when only the wise will rule…
Oh heavenly peace, return to us,
and fill the hearts of all.
Then the earth will a heaven seem…
And mortals will have godly esteem”
Well…It’s almost time for the opera to begin. We are very lucky people. A wonderful – delightful – and magical initiation awaits us just inside the great doors of the temple of music; an initiation we can experience simply by seeing, hearing, and enjoying. The Ritual team is almost ready. Maestro Foster and Sir Peter Hall will serve tonight as Junior and Senior Wardens, and the Worshipful Master in the East will be none other than the immortal spirit of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Thank you very much. Enjoy your evening.
Since 1975, Lon Milo DuQuette has served as a national and international administrative officer of Ordo Templi Orientis, one of the most influential and controversial magical societies of the 20th century. He is an acknowledged authority on the life and magical work of Aleister Crowley, the O.T.O.’s most celebrated and notorious leader, and since 1994 has served as the Order’s United State Deputy Grand Master. DuQuette has authored numerous magical texts plus the story of his own life as a practicing ceremonial magician, My Life with the Spirits.