The Power of Music / by Sam Abelow

"Guitar Man" by Alex Grey

Back to the Start

Firstly, to understand the power of music, it may be important to understand the architecture that current music is based upon. The ancient Egyptians understood a lot about triangles (oh really? i.g. the Great Pyramids at Giza). In fact, they knew a lot about geometry in general. Sacred knowledge of how simple geometry relates to the natural world and the cosmos was passed from the mystery schools of Egypt to the Greek philosophers. Namely, the wise Pythagorus who after, traveling to Egypt, took this knowledge and created the foundation for modern music.

Pythagorus designed what is now known as the musical system based off ratios found within the golden ratio. I won't bore you with the mathematics and technical aspects, but what is important is that the general "sacred geometry" which is inherent within all of the organic plant and animal kingdoms is also reflected within the intervals and scales of the musical system, still used to this day in all of modern music.

Throughout time all cultures around the world have used tones (frequencies of sound and noise), as well as rhythm for ritualistic and ceremonial purposes as well as a way to tell stories (griots), or for entertainment. Spiritually, the use of sound is present in shamanistic practices of drumming and chanting. Also this is found in mystical Jewish mantra-like chants and Christian prayers. Of course it is well known that Sufi's and Hindus use songs and mantra in their religious activity. Recently, transpersonal psychologist Stanislav Grof has recognized the power that music has to induce natural altered states of consciousness as a vital part in "holotropic breathwork".

After a great deal of study, thought and experience with music I try to summarize some philosphical ideas, as well as hit on upon key points of practical understanding

It is clear that tonality and rhythm have a profound effect on consciousness, on a basic primal and deep, spiritual level. The fact that it can induce transcendent states of consciousness where, for example, individuals and groups feel they are merging with an ultimate creator spirit is revealing of extraordinary potentials of sound. Beethoven is quoted as saying that "music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy." Even to the Western mind it is obvious that music has the capacity to transcend the intellect and all rationality.

Modern Music and the Unconscious

Today music is more often lyrically orientated and therefore introduces much more content of the conscious mind. Still, it seems that the content resonates into the recesses and labyrinths of what is not intellectually grasped. This can be for better or for worse, considering the wide selection available to listeners in a globalized society.

Largely speaking, popularized music is not used in ceremonial, traditional manners but, when viewed objectify, the festival culture, for example, seems to be reminiscent of tribal gatherings, church and temple ensembles and other type of mass-rituals. People seem to connect with the lyrical and musical content in songs for experiences of ecstasy and dance (archetype of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility, for example) as well as for more dynamic emotions of lost-love, heartbreak, loneliness and so forth. The personification of different universal forms (archetypes) within music is absolutely an expression of modern day mythology.

Teenagers going through phases of angst are notorious for retreating into their favorite artist's lyrics in order to feel understood and less alone. Songwriters express collective themes within their lyrics, which are supported by musical forms; a"musical language" which resonates to profound depths.

Understanding Carl Jung's concept of the "personal and collective unconscious" brings this all into focus. Jung, based on Sigmund Freud's work, discovered that beneath the veil of the conscious mind is a vast well of material which stretches far beyond the individual, merges back into the group, and more. The forms which play and act within our psyches are known as archetypes.

It seems that over generations the group psyche has amassed countless themes which correlate with specific sound idioms such as classical music, or more recently blues and folk rock. These new outlets for archetypes, such as "the lovers", are universal and connect with us on a core level. Now it is easy to see why music, in a modern, non-secular society has become so important.

My dear friend and musician, Jeff Moss, suggests in an essay on this topic that "a composer performing an original composition in front of a large audience is undergoing therapy each time he steps on stage. He is revealing so much of himself, displaying his personal archetypes and complexes to the crowd. [As] they sing along [...] they 'take over' his sufferings." 

"[The singer] can also act as their healer. If we assume that the crowd attended because they already liked the music, then we can assume that something about the music speaks to them, and relates to their personal sufferings. Attending the performance and listening to the music are exposing them to the sufferings of the composer, in which they relate to, and are therefore being exposed to their own unconscious sufferings, which is characteristic of the healing process."

The issue is that today much of popular music does not reveal personal struggles (complexes) or positive archetypal, mythological or universal forms and themes. Instead, much of the Top 40 portrays stories of lust, materialism, drunkenness and so forth. This may be understood, in the Jungian sense, as a manifestation of the collective "shadow" (that which is not seen by the "conscious ego"). Meaning, that which is normally repressed is coming forth. Obviously, many destructive forces are revealed through the popular content today. It seems though that rather it is our conscious values that have degraded and we are, in fact, not expressing a "shadow", but instead just the outright corruption of our principles. The apparent destruction of humanity is therefore present within the artistic expression of our lyrics.

New spiritual horizons for music and tone

After following this exposition you may agree that the power of music is often misused in the modern world. Even still, there may be a resurgence of music which is healing and insightful rather than destructive and poisoning. It's a very personal, subjective issue, as to discerning what music is authentic and what is phony. I know that for me, it can be immediately apparent.

Besides the popular forms of music found in such genres as rock, pop and hip hop, there are less structured forms of music that resemble some of the traditional, spiritual-orientated uses of tone and rhythm mentioned earlier. People are creating all sorts of ambient pieces, which often are specifically directed towards different chakras (energy centers within the body, described in yogic texts), or brain wave sates (such as the "theta brain state"). These musical creations often promote healing, balance, and relaxation. It is interesting to see this new trend evolve, as it seems to be a resurgence of the original uses of music thousands of years ago.

In this sense, more positive, holy archetypes of "the shaman", "the old wise man" or "the earth mother" are being expressed. I believe that as musicians and artists explore the inner world of the "personal and collective unconscious" and integrate their findings into the "conscious ego", the great healing and insight they experience will continue to be reflected in their art. In turn this will inspire the public to activate themes which propel humanity towards evolution and spiritual truth.

Links for more research

Binaural Beats, The Sacred Solfeggio, and The Algorithms of Organic Life Systems

Letter, Musical Pitch, and Color in the Work of Paul Foster Case 

Dr. Emoto's studies on Music, Thoughts effects on Water