Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mage Music: Lucifer, Bringer of Light

Mage Music:  Lucifer, Bringer of Light

There is no doubt that music is a form of communication, a kind of language that is meant to convey meaning without words.  Music can convey mental images and states of emotion by learned association or, like magic, directly through the music itself.

Learned association:  Rossini’s The William Tell Overture is so associated with the TV show, The Lone Ranger, that it is almost impossible not to imagine the Masked Man and his sidekick, Tonto, when hearing the music.  Similarly, Wagner’s The Ride of the Vakyries brings forth the image of the helicopters of Apocalypse Now.  Who, other than students of classical music, knows that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a symphonic poem written in 1896-97 by the French composer Paul Dukas, and not in the 20th century by Walt Disney?   The instruments of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf are so well-dedicated to specific characters and actions that they scarcely need the words of the children’s story to tell what is happening (the links provided here and below are to a version charmingly narrated by David Bowie). Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition is a suite of ten movements that ushers the listener through an exhibition of paintings by the artist Viktor Hartmann.  Even without having images to guide the listener, the music clearly describes passage through the exhibition as well as the artworks themselves.  

Or like magic:  The potential for communication through music is vast - yet sometimes what is offered cannot be expressed at all through words, and sometimes the emotions conveyed are not the common ones of everyday life - particularly when a mage offers something from the deepest mind and soul, reaching for the infinite, embedding concepts that no language can express, opening the path to knowledge and enlightenment to the listener.

“Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite.” Thomas Carlyle

Like moths to the flame, mage music pulls in all but the most spiritually deaf to transcendent realms that they otherwise might never reach on their own.  In this sense, the mage musician is a Lucifer, bringer of light, bringer of enlightenment.

Contrary to popular belief, however, Lucifer is not the devil. 

Fallen angel

The association of the unfortunate Lucifer and ultimate evil comes from relatively modern Judaic and Christian religious writing.  To the ancient Greeks, Eosphoros and Hesperus were the gods of the “star” Venus:  Eosphoros was the morning star, Hesperus the evening.  Eosphoros translates as “Dawn-Bringer”, or Bringer of Light; the ancient Roman name for that same god was Luciferus, or Lucifer, which translates as “light-bearer”.

Bringers of light have a long tradition of suffering for their efforts.  In both Vedic and Greek mythology, the theft of fire from the gods -  fire (knowledge, enlightenment) that was then given to humans who had none - was severely punished.  The Greek Prometheus, a figure representing human striving for knowledge (particularly scientific knowledge), was bound to a rock for eternity; each day Zeus’ eagle fed on the immortal’s liver, which grew back and was eaten by the eagle again the next day.  In the Garden of Eden, Eve was offered the forbidden apple from the Tree of Enlightenment by the snake, and when she took it and was then found out by God, the snake was condemned to slither on its belly for all eternity, forever the enemy of humankind.

Gustav Dore illustration for
Paradise Lost 
Although the story of Lucifer’s demotion from archangel status says that he became the devil because he dared to elevate himself to the level of God (i.e. to have the knowledge of the infinite, thus enlightenment), in fact the connection of a fallen angel with evil did not come about until approximately the first century BC in Judaic writings - and even then not about Lucifer, but some other angelic being named Satan.  Lucifer, good guy bringer of light, had existed long before the Judaic writings and was not associated with Satan until some time after the death of Christ.  It was, simply, the new Christian religion's way to take care of pesky free-thinking angels:  Combine them into one.

In human tradition, there always seems to be a steep price to be paid for the gift of knowledge and enlightenment, and it isn’t always paid by the bringer – sometimes the recipient is the one punished for daring to seek more.  Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden, forever blocked from the Tree of Life, and burdened with sin for choosing enlightenment.  It happens even in fairy tails:  Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid yearns for knowledge of the world above the sea.  A “strange child, quiet and thoughtful”, the youngest mermaid can only have an immortal soul like humans do if she chooses to give up immortal life, is willing to lose her tongue and accept that every step she takes will stab her with pain.  Even Siddhartha must give up his wealth and position as prince of the realm and suffer unto death before becoming the enlightened Buddha.

The seeking of enlightenment is obviously not in itself evil, but it does threaten the status quo and it is that threat that is labeled evil by the powers that be.  Beyond the fairy tales and mythology, many have died throughout human history, victims of religious, political and social persecution in reaction to the act of independent thinking - be it science, the arts, the quest for direct spiritual knowledge, or simply alternate lifestyle.  

Bringing enlightenment and knowledge to humans is not for the faint of heart.  Lucifer is not evil, but he pays the price for bringing light.

Pushing the musical envelope

Image from video of 1977 Page
solo with theramin & bow 
The mage musician or any artist at the mage level, like Lucifer or Prometheus, risks being persecuted and thereby associated with evil - not just for seeking personal enlightenment but for offering it to others through their art. The best art may not be the most beautiful, but rather  something that can be disturbing in ways that cannot even be pinned down.  This can be a sign of the magical.

Jimmy Page has not hidden his interest in the occult teachings of Aleister Crowley.  It would be easy - but not necessarily correct - to point to that interest as the reason that Mr. Page's work (including the music of Led Zeppelin) has been  accused of being associated with the black arts and the devil.  I believe, however, that such accusations have not been truly based on any connection with the occult - after all, the world is full of much darker stuff that is tolerated and not claimed to be the work of Satan - but because the music that Jimmy Page creates is so powerful, so full of other, that the magic cannot be hidden, and the enlightenment that it brings is feared by those who do not seek it or whose power would be threatened by it.  

From Jimmy Page's website recently:  
"Here is a section of my solo spot that features the theremin and the bow and the exploration of both. It's lengthy but gives an example of my avant garde journey with this sonic architecture."  (July 17, 1977 Seattle Kingdome with Led Zeppelin)  
Jimmy Page began experimenting with alternative sound early on:  Multiple instruments, alternate tunings, manipulation and distortion of sound - above all with sheer outrageous pushing of the musical envelope.  Some of the results are not traditionally melodic, but they sound surrealistically meaningful.  What is being created can be so outside our experience that it is hard to resist hunting for something we can hang on to, an association that makes sense of what we are hearing.  The reverberations of the bowed guitar and the theramin could be the voices of the lonely denizens of the depths, bits of captured alien communication between the stars, or perhaps fragments of restless dreams.  We have no guide; the meaning is outside our intellectual grasp.  We are forced to either allow ourselves to be enlightened or to turn away.  If we risk it, the magic will speak to hearts and soul in some way that can be frightening or disturbing - or exciting - depending on the listener’s openness to what is being offered.

The Seattle solo provides nearly 15 minutes of sound outside the normal realm of expectation.  It is in no way ordinary and it might not even be considered music at all.  It is a kind of exploration of the unknown through alchemical ritual:  A seeking, a summoning, and transformation.  It brings a clear sense of there being much more being offered than what is heard - a sense of vastness and something that is not music but is borne through the music.  Magic, bringing light.
"I may not believe in myself, but I believe in what I’m doing." Jimmy Page
Dangerous stuff, that mage music.
Rossini, William Tell Overture Finale

Wagner, Ride of the Valkyries

Dukas, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Prokofiev , Peter and the Wolf, Narrated version by David Bowie

Mussorgsky Pictures At An Exhibition, Promenade
Emerson Lake Palmer version

Jimmy Page, Seattle Kingdome solo with bowed guitar and theramin


  1. How true and so threatening to some who may fear the depth of their own soul and the exploration that leads one there. Jimmy Page lived through his music, while transcending each note a step closer to enlightenment. Music invites us on this journey if we allow. Great post Lif.
    ~Lady Kate

    1. Thanks, Lady Kate. To be fair to humankind, those who step outside the norm do threaten its safety, and turning on those individualists is a legitimate - if primitive - response by the tribe. Ironically, it is only because some individuals are willing to step outside the norm and to share new knowledge that the tribe can experience intellectual and spiritual growth.