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Posts tagged ‘Papageno’


Music is the most potent instrument in education because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.   – Plato

Print This Post On September 30, 1791, two years after the French Revolution, The Magic Flute premiered in Vienna. To work on what would be his last and one of his most celebrated pieces, Mozart temporarily moved in with Emanuel Schikaneder, the man who penned the libretto of The Magic Flute and also happened to be a fellow member of “Zur Wohltätigkeit,” Mozart’s masonic lodge. The opera opened to much acclaim but less than a month and a half after its debut, Mozart suffered a painful and mysterious death, and confided in his loved ones his conviction that he had been poisoned (see last week’s post: Mozart, the Free Masons and A Mysterious Death).

Theories of Mozart’s death are as numerous and varied as the Gulasch in Vienna’s Gulaschmuseum. One proposes that the timing of Mozart’s death (so soon after the premiere of The Magic Flute) was no coincidence.

Indeed, since its origin, The Magic Flute, like episodes of South Park, has led a double life. For the unordained, the opera relates the age-old tale of the hero’s journey: a hero reluctantly answers the call to adventure and leaves the world he knows to undergo trials and overcome challenges to earn his reward and return home a new (and better) person. For those in-the-know The Magic Flute amounts to a 1791 shout-out to the composer and writer’s masonic brethren.

Below are just a couple characteristics of the opera that have provided fuel to the fire of speculation.

The goal of the free masons and Tamino in the opera is to overcome that which ruins the spirit of man (perverted thought, uncurbed emotions and destructive actions) in order to ascend the stairs of the one Lodge – the Universe – to attain universal oneness.

Unification of opposing forces of the universe to achieve oneness: On the one side you have the dark evil Queen of the Night who also represents in addition darkness/Isis/Booz/feminine/moon/fire/evil/chaos and on the other you have Sarastro who represents light/Osiris/Jakin/masculine/sun/water/good/order. You can go deep into philosophy, psychology and spirituality here and simply say it’s like Yin and Yang, good cannot exist without evil, there can be no Sonnie without Cher — you get the picture.

The steps of a Freemason: Entered Apprentice (youth), Fellow Craft (manhood), Master Builder (old age) – we see similar representations of Tamino as he undergoes his journey in the opera.

The Masonic Triangle (you know the one – look at the back of your 1 dollar bill)  reflected in the many groupings of three in the opera:

Three boys: In the Magic Three, three young boys offer Papageno and Tamino guidance on their journey. They demand of Tamino three traits: steadfastness, patience and secrecy – three golden rules of the free masons. They are thought to symbolize the two deacons and the master of ceremonies of a lodge who likewise accompany new masonic apprentices on their symbolic journey during which they must face the trials of two of the four basic elements: fire and water. Symbolically they may also represent a person’s inner voice of reason.



Three temples appear on stage in the Magic Flute: The “Temple of Wisdom”, the “Temple of Reason” and the “Temple of Nature” similar to three of the pillars of belief of the free masons – the other two: strength and beauty. The Temple of Wisdom (Solomon’s Temple) should symbolize the temple of humanity, in which all people are “brothers” who should unite in a higher spirituality. (Beethoven was a mason too which — if you read the lyrics of Ode to Joy explains the brotherhood concept pretty well).

The three chords in E-flat major in the overture and grand final:  Mozart had written quite a few numbers for the masonic lodges and liked to use E-flat, which has three flats arranged in triangular form (the “Masonic Trinity” sheet music style). Since then, the E-flat has often been referred to as the Masonic key.

Three musical knocks throughout the opera represented by wind instruments (beginning of second part of overture).

Characters in the Opera

Tamino: The initiate who is willing to undergo the trials set forth in order to achieve a higher state of being is thought to symbolize a masonic initiate.

Sarastro: (the Italian name for Zarathustra) The spiritual leader who resides in the seven circles of the sun -perhaps symbolic of the lodge Grand Master. Or perhaps Osiris (believed to be the personification of Truth) and the powers of the sun. In freemasonry seven represents the seven liberal arts and sciences (grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy) but also the seven planets (belief at the time).

Magic Flute Stage with Queen of the Night

Magic Flute Stage with Queen of the Night

Papageno: the character of Papageno is a bird catcher and someone satisfied by life’s simple pleasures. Rather than striving to reach a higher state of existence/awareness, Papageno would prefer to forgo hardship in order to indulge in earthly delights (women and wine). Nowadays, Homer Simpson would be the embodiment of Papageno. Many purport that masonic beliefs also based on principles and values from ancient Egypt. Indeed, the first set designers of the opera referred to drawings of Egyptian monuments. Interesting is therefore the similarity between Papageno, a creature with a man’s head, and a bird’s body, and the ancient Egyptian creature of Ba. Ba has been described as the spiritual part of human beings that survives death – that part that makes you who you are and unique from everyone else and the Egyptians believed rises from the corpse to embark on the journey into the afterlife. An explanation of how both theories would coincide is that perhaps only that part of a soul able to overcome secular desires for the sake of spirituality will exist beyond the earthly world.

Symbolic rituals/tasks

Rites of purification before entering the temple: thought to be symbolic of lodge rituals.

The journey of the initiate from the veil of the night (the Queen of the Night – Isis and the powers of the moon – represented in the number 5 and the star (five points)),  into the Sun Temple of Sarastro (represented by the number 3 and the triangle or pyramid) The ascension of an initiate from apprentice to fellow craft to master builder.

Environment/ Objects

The forest: perhaps a symbol of the unconscious and all its wilderness

Symbols of the free masons

Symbols of the free masons

Nature: animals tamed by the magic flute – harmony with nature – order from chaos

Magic flute: an instrument crafted from wood that turns into gold by the end of the opera (ancient Egyptians were thought to be master alchemists who held the secret for producing precious medals). Music holds the power to instill harmony and raise “man” to otherworldly states. The flute enchants nature and brings it under control.

White robe: At the end of the journey the initiate is given a white robe representing purity.

Historically the masons have upheld a strict code of confidentiality, in part, to survive. They didn’t want to suffer the bloody end of the Knights of Templar who got on the wrong side of the king. Many of the ideas promoted by the free masons (education over birth – meaning a commoner could be equal to a nobleman) were threatening to the established systems (like the nobility and the Roman Catholic Church). Even more so at the time of The Magic Flute since its debut immediately followed the French Revolution. In addition, the masons probably recognized early on that a secret handshake here and a discreet compass there had a cool factor that drew members. Every child with a clubhouse, gang with a pair of shoes, and military unit with a clandestine mission knows that the secret knock, shoestring color, or patch makes you “in” and when you are “in” you are not “out” and can be readily identified by fellow brothers as one of the gang and not a woeful wannabe.

Was Mozart’s work on The Magic Flute somehow connected to his death? The free masons are infamously strict about their code of secrecy and said to have graphic symbolic gestures which signify the painful death he who breaks the code of silence will suffer.

Did the interweaving of masonic symbols into The Magic Flute amount to a severe and fatal breach of confidentiality? Since Mozart’s body was buried in a mass grave in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna, the world will probably never know for sure. What would seem to exonerate Mozart’s brothers from accusations of foul play is the fact that Mozart’s fellow collaborator in The Magic Flute, Emanuel Schikaneder, continued to live and perform another two decades before losing his marbles and dying impoverished in Vienna at the age of 61.

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The Magic Flute by W.A.Mozart. BBC/animation/ part1

  The Magic Flute by W.A. Mozart BBC / animation / part 2    Check out the dancing rhino – who can resist a dancing rhino? Gotta get me a magic flute to calm down spectators at heated soccer matches!

The Magic Flute by W.A. Mozart BBC / animation / part 3




“Stop! …Be Smart! You only live once!” – Mozart, The Magic Flute.

In September 2010, a teenage boy who was bullied at school for being homosexual took his own life. Amidst inconceivably cruel messages of continued bullying and belated outreaches of sorrow and understanding, a stranger wrote on his memorable page, “I wish I would have known you so I could have told you: It gets better, RIP.” Struck by the obvious desperation of this young man, US advice columnist, podcaster and gay rights activist, Dan Savage, started the It Gets Better Project with his partner, Terry Miller, to bring messages of encouragement directly to the youth at risk through internet videos of those who have gone through similar situations while growing up but persevered.

Yesterday evening, the US embassy, It Gets Better Austria (Es wird Besser, Österreich) along with the Vienna Anti-discrimination for Same Sex and Transgender People held a panel discussion at the Vienna Amerikahaus entitled, “Building Bridges to Make it Better.” Dan and Terry sat on the panel and shared their own experiences working as activists to help young people at risk.

Dr. Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, of the University of Vienna Medical School, and an expert on suicide, talked extensively about the challenges of the media in dealing with these heartbreaking incidents. Contrary to reports about other diseases such as heart disease,  sensational reporting on teen suicides can actually cause an increase in suicides and suicidality. Professionals have dubbed this phenomena the Werther Effect, after the lovelorn protagonist in Goethe’s 1774 novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.”

Werther loves Lotte but she is committed to Albert. Unable to bear the pain of such all-consuming passion unrealized, the young man commits suicide.  The book is believed to have caused young men throughout Europe to not only emulate Werther in they way they dressed but also his desperate end. The book is believed to have triggered a chain of the first recorded “copycat” suicides.

To combat this negative trend, the author Christoph Nicolai published a satiric version of the novel, in which Albert gets wind of the young man’s intentions and fills Werther’s pistol with chicken blood. The hero’s suicide attempt fails and he ends up getting over Lotte and living a happy and productive life. Goethe, was not amused, but for literary reasons, not social. Due to the seemingly contagious effect of suicides, medical professionals work together with press organizations to draft media recommendations on best practice standards for suicide reporting. Studies suggest that there is a right way to approach the subject to achieve the “Papageno Effect.”

In Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute”, the bird catcher, Papageno, in utter despair from losing his love, Papagena, decides to hang himself. He chooses his tree and bids the deceitful world farewell. But then he sings, “If anyone wants to love or pity me before I hang myself, just call out to me, yes or no.” Silence. Nevertheless, he looks and waits, and then decides to count to three, just in case. One. Looks around. Two. Looks around. Three. Looks around. Then so be it. And at that moment, three youths rush onto stage calling, “Stop, Papageno. Be smart! You only live once …” But he argues and they tell him to ring his bell. Lo and Behold, his lady appears and happiness ensues. In other words, sometimes it just takes an interruption to the darkness – a sign of hope — encouraging words that things will get better. And eventually, they do.

Terry Miller and Dan Savage of It Gets Better

Terry Miller and Dan Savage in Vienna, Austria, May 2015 talking about their initiative, “It Gets Better”

Dan and Terry’s heart-felt talk was incredibly sincere. Terry talked about his return to his old high school – a place he associated with painful memories of bullying and torment. But his school had evolved and during the return visit, he received a public apology from the director for how he had been treated so many years before.

Nothing can undo the pain and scars that bullying can inflict on a young person, but it’s good to know that there’s hope. And people who’ve also ventured through the dark tunnel to discover that there is light on the opposite side. Too many young people in this world are denied the unconditional love they deserve and it’s good to know there’s a place they can go to get the encouragement to Stop! and Be smart! Because it gets better.

The It Gets Better Project website has more than 50,000 user-created videos which have been viewed more than 50 millions times. Check it out. It’s a great initiative.

Read more:

Austrian newspaper, der Standard, article entitled, “Journalisten können helfen, Suizide zu verhindern,” Oliver, Mark, 19 December 2011, about how journalist can help prevent suicide.

Links to the Austrian initiatives:
Es wird Besser, Österreich

Wiener Antidiskriminierungsstelle für gleichgeschlechtliche und transgender Lebensweisen (WASt)