Music and Healing

Andrew Rooke – Australia

Theosophy AR 2

Most of us frequently listen to music. We have a radio in the background at home; we hear music in supermarkets as we shop and in the railway station or lift as we make our way to work. Music is an essential feature of modern life. Did you ever think that besides the music blaring from a million radios and televisions that a sea of cosmic music surrounds us, harmoniously vibrating life-atoms that form the vehicles of spiritual forces underlying manifestation? Perhaps the beautiful colors in nature are manifestations of the symphonic harmonies singing about us. From the gurgling of a brook to the complex melodies of a classical symphony, the many forms of music we hear are translations to our plane of music that fills the Universe.

This truth provides the key to the use of music for healing as practiced since antiquity. Just as each musician plays his part in an orchestra, each of us inaudibly sings his or her keynote as part of the larger harmony of the environment. Theosophical teacher, G. de Purucker, tells us that:

A human being is] somewhat like a sounding board, strung with seven chords like Apollo's lyre, across which sweep the winds of eternity, and the combined notes of these chords produce within him a cosmic symphony -- each one of us being a living mystic lyre vibrating in sympathy with the Music of the Spheres.

                                                                            Fountain Source of Occultism, page 203

Playing out of time or out of tune, a violinist brings disharmony to the performance of a symphony; similarly, our disharmonious thoughts and actions eventually result in physical or mental ill health. Men of medicine long ago learned to use music in the healing of mind and body. So-called primitive men down to native people worldwide today use incantation, song, rhythm, and sound to ward off evil spirits, absolve sins, or placate the gods. Initiate priests-physicians of ancient Egypt, who called music the "physic of the soul," specialized in its use to alleviate a wide range of disease, especially mental illness. The ancient Persians played the lute to cure many illnesses, and Hebrews record the story of David who soothed the madness of Saul by the power of his harp.

Greek legend tells of Orpheus who charmed the wild beasts and stilled troubled minds with his lyre. Homer recommended music to counter negative emotions; the physician Asclepiads of Bithynia in 100 BC is reputed to have used music to cure disorders of the ear and to advocate the use of a trumpet played in the Phrygian mode against the affected parts of the body to relieve sciatica.

Likewise, Democritus believed that the melodious strains of the flute could cure many diseases. Pythagoras used music to treat nervous illnesses, while Plato went so far as to link music with the future welfare of entire nations. Aristotle believed music to be an emotional catharsis, and his most famous student, Alexander the Great, used music to rouse his troops to martial ardor and to calm them after battle.

Galen, Physician to the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was a firm believer in the application of music for healing, and for many centuries, his influence on the development of medicine in Europe was profound. He also recommended the playing of a flute upon afflicted parts of the body on the principle of a "musical bath" -- the principle being that prolonged immersion in a particular note caused sympathetic vibrations in the nerve fibers, thus relieving pain.

Roman statesmen such as Cicero and Seneca followed the Platonic belief that music profoundly affected the whole basis of social behavior. The Roman physician Celsus, who had an extensive influence on European medicine down to the Middle Ages, recognized it therapeutic effect on the mentally ill in the manner of modern psychiatric hospitals. In later centuries, the Austrian physician Mesmer (1734-1815) prescribed the use of a glass harmonica to induce magnetic cures.

As we interact within the intricate patterns of nature, it is but a short step in our analogy to conclude that by reestablishing inner harmony, we restore good health, and that music forms a natural medium to achieve this end. For beyond the effect of music on the body, the ancients were even more aware of the power of music on the emotions, mind, and soul.

The Swiss physician Paracelsus restated the occult principle that discordant states of mind interfere with the normal happiness of the individual. If allowed to continue, they lead eventually to bodily dysfunction and ill health.

Along with the ancients, Paracelsus believed that every living thing radiates or vibrates, and believed that certain herbal remedies, colors, and sounds have the capacity to restore normalcy to disturbed centers of the body. By surrounding the sick person with things that stimulate inspiration and focus consciousness on spiritual reality, like beautiful music, one brings the inner constitution to find balance gradually, and the body reflects this in time with a cure.

One of the first hospital uses of music therapy in the twentieth century was to strengthen the morale of wounded and especially shell-shocked soldiers of World War II. These therapeutic uses were based on laboratory studies in the 1930s and speculation in the early part of the last century on the healing properties of music.

In the 1940s, music therapy was included in the curricula of the University of Kansas and Michigan State University. Since then, it has been applied in a wide variety of ways ranging from the relief of boredom from repetitive exercises in physiotherapy and aerobics to direct psychiatric treatment. The latter forms the main use of music therapy in helping mentally disturbed patients to reestablish communication, encouraging self-confidence, socialization, and restoring the sense of self-worth in severely withdrawn and mentally retarded people.

Most experimentation since the 1960s aims to identify and correlate the physiological effects of different types of music with their efficacy in reducing anxiety. These experiments have led to the use of background music in hospitals, patient's waiting areas, delivery rooms, and of course, the ever-present Musak at public venues. It also stimulates higher productivity in factories and by thousands of tradesmen singing along with their radios whilst they work outside your window early in the morning! At a more serious level, recent studies have shown that beautiful music reduces the amount of medication required by seriously ill cancer patients and that doctors could reduce the amount of anesthetics for mothers awaiting delivery.

After pondering the effects of music on health, perhaps we can begin to understand why ancient Greeks equated the Good and Beautiful with Order and Harmony as reflections of Truth. Greek philosopher Aristotle likened the man who attempts to live a good life to a musician. Both express the harmonies within themselves and thus encourage balance and symmetry in the sphere of their influence. Along with the Greeks, perhaps we can now appreciate that a life well lived should be considered a work of art worth cultivating.

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