Brian Allan is a personal experiencer of the paranormal and a prolific author of exceptionally researched books on mysterious phenomena and new science. He is a passionate and uncompromising investigator and commentator on all things mysterious. A formidable and true Elder Statesman of paranormal research.
The use of music and cadence in all their forms to codify and enhance spiritual awareness long predates all forms of monotheistic belief. Although it is arguable that the use of music in a conventional sacred setting dates from at least 3000 years ago with the founding of Judaism, for the sake of both clarity and brevity I will concentrate on its use within Christianity, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. That said, the music was originally in a form that would scarcely be recognised today; rather, it consisted of tuneless monophonic chants. However, a gradual evolutionary process gradually led to the introduction of polyphonic music which was originally strenuously resisted by the church fathers because they regarded this as in some way frivolous and not entirely in keeping with their serious message.
This view came from the perception that sacred music was in danger of being contaminated by secular music, which, somehow, was seen to somehow devalue the sanctity and importance of the sacred elements. Nevertheless, the use of polyphony in religious music is still actively resisted elsewhere and is still seen to some extent among the Amish schism of Christianity who use their literalist interpretation of scripture to eschew the use of what they regard as any musical ‘heresies’, as indeed they do with most items regarded as ‘modern’, preferring instead to rely almost entirely on the human voice to produce music. The Amish, especially in the more extreme variants, only use the ancient technique of ‘monophony’ where the embellishment of polyphony is actively discouraged as is the inclusion of any form of rhythm. Even within these strictures it is not considered good form to actually take any pleasure in it since this might lead to pride, perhaps pleasure and therefore, by their measure, sin.
Singing the Changes
In spite of the issues regarding the use of music in a religious setting, an Italian scientist/priest, the late Fr Pellegrino Maria Ernetti a Benedictine monk and sometime exorcist who died in 1994 aged 69, was instrumental in examining the exploitation of music in a religious setting. Fr Ernetti became famous, or perhaps that should be infamous, in a slightly different although related setting for the allegation that he had assisted in the construction of a dubious time-warping device known as a ‘Chronovisor’. This tale came via the research of one Peter Krassa, an author who was also a prominent cheerleader for Erich von Daniken. Be that as it may, although the provenance of the Chronovisor is doubtful there is no doubt whatsoever that Fr Ernetti did in fact exist and was a noted specialist in archaic (i.e. pre-Christian) music.
In this respect he carried out research into the development of homophonic and monophonic music into the polyphonic music that we know today especially in how this related to its development within the Church. In addition to this he also had a keen interest in the harmonics associated with Gregorian chants. In the course of this aspect of his work, which he conducted in collaboration with one Fr Agostino Gemelli, a physician, psychologist and member of the Franciscan order who is notable for being the founder and chancellor of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan (Catholic University of the Sacred Heart). The priests had, for no immediately obvious reason, been attempting remove the harmonics from the aforementioned Gregorian chants.
There are however at least two viable possibilities that might apply here; one may have been that although the use of Gregorian chants is long established in the canon of what the Catholic Church regards as acceptable and even desirable, the harmonics within them were originally regarded as sinful because of their association with paganism and nature. The other possibility involves the use of so-called ‘healing tones’ and the use of Gregorian Chants as an adjunct to inducing meditative, elevated and other altered states of consciousness. Perhaps the two priests were embarked upon some mission created by a sense of scientific curiosity to see how the chants would sound without the inclusion of harmonics, something that, as we shall see, might defeat their original purpose.
We must also bear in mind that the etymology of the term, ‘chant’, is already by association inherently magical since the term to ‘en-chant’ derives from exactly the same source. The object of the chant is to deliberately create a sound, word or small group of words repeated in a rhythmic and frequently hypnotic fashion; it is fundamental to shamanic and other mystical practises and traditions. Oddly enough the use of Gregorian Chants finds favour in such blockbuster video games as the ‘Halo’ series where the ethereal qualities of the sound act in direct counterpoint to the almost surreal levels of imagery and violence in the game and in this context it is spectacularly successful.
First though we should consider why Fr. Ernetti and his colleague were trying to filter the harmonics out of Gregorian chants, the reason for this, as already commented on is not at all clear and it is here we enter another esoteric field, i.e. the concept of so-called ‘healing frequencies’ and the use of the ‘Solfeggio Frequencies’ that are supposedly entrained in this type of traditional (and remarkably restful) church music. The ‘Solfeggio Frequencies’ consist of six main elements: DOH – 396 Hz – Liberating Guilt and Fear, RE – 417 Hz, – Undoing Situations and Facilitating Change, MI – 528 Hz – Transformation and Miracles), FA – 639 Hz – Connecting/Relationships, SOH – 741 Hz – Awakening Intuition, LA – 852 Hz – Returning to Spiritual Order. All of these sound frequencies are considered to have individual healing properties and of these frequencies the most remarkable is 528 Hz, because biochemists apparently use the frequency when they are repairing broken single strands of DNA. That being the case, what were Fr Ernetti and his associate trying to achieve; perhaps to distil the very essence of healing chants by extract some kind of powerful source of sonic healing without any necessity for human input?
Once again, although the relationship between sound frequencies and healing is well known in the contentious field of alternative therapies, it has little relevance to mainstream medicine where both the technique and those who use it are, in the main, regarded as quacks and charlatans. This paradigm, although predictable, can be difficult reconcile because many of the legitimate preparations used by ‘conventional’ doctors contain toxic substances and other ingredients that can be positively harmful, so anything that is non invasive and potentially effective should be encouraged.
That aside, the concept of the effects of sacred music on the faithful was well-known to the Catholic Church, because in 1234AD there was one particular musical interval that Pope Gregory IX caused to be banned outright and that was the so called ‘Devils Chord’ or ‘El Diabolis et Musica (the devil in music)’. The actual name originates from the fact that medieval composers used the note to convey a feeling of unease in listeners and modern composers exploit it for exactly the same reason. Perhaps we still fail to realise just how fundamental the effects of specific sounds and frequencies on the neurophysiology of the human being actually are. It is also reasonable to point out that we live in a universe that is directly related to, and immersed in, sound and frequencies of various kinds.
This chord is actually an augmented fourth, sometimes called a ‘tritone’ and was originally used in all forms of music, but as we have seen the Church for its own reasons proscribed its use and that included secular music as well, it is a proscription that, amazingly, still exists today. It is thought that this particular chord, if played in an appropriate setting like a church, might have caused some listeners to have a ‘spiritual experience’. The reason for this could lie in the shape and ratio of the interior of the church (or other building); many churches were constructed to the ratios of the ‘Golden Mean’ or ‘Golden Section’, which is a ratio of 1.618 (or phi). This is a set of proportions thought to be harmonious and pleasing to the eye and is often found in classical artwork and buildings.
More importantly, this proportion is also present in a myriad of naturally occurring objects like sea shells, ears of corn, pine cones and even the majestic, cosmic swirl of galaxies and the same ubiquitous proportion is also observed at the subatomic level. The ratio is also thought to have close ties with the concept of sacred geometry and proportion where icons like the Kabbalistic sephiroth traditionally represent the harmonic elements present in both geometric proportion and number. Therefore it is possible that if the chord was played in buildings that incorporated this proportion in their design some of those present might find themselves in an altered state of consciousness; in effect they might experience ‘the divine’. In the 13th century the Church was having enough trouble securing and consolidating its borders and dogmas and the last thing it needed was any possible negative influence on its brand of ‘truth’ from external sources such as the physical representations of harmonic ideals found in Egyptian Hermeticism and Neo-Platonism.
We should not lose sight of the fact that especially in this era, the Roman Church was not some laid back, idealistic cause, rather it was continually at war both with schisms within itself and also with outside forces. In this sense it saw any dilution of its self imposed purpose as the right hand of God’s will on earth a very real threat. That being the case the displeasure of the Church found expression in a series of vindictive pogroms that ended messily and bloodily with the Albigensian Crusade launched against the Cathari and others who used aspects of the harmonic and dualistic properties in their worship.
These pogroms resulted in many of these groups taking refuge in anonymity and wandering the land as gypsies: it is no accident that the word, ‘gypsy’, is a derogative term devolved from ‘Egyptian’. In other words, in order to retain its authority the Church assume the role of the sole temporal arbiter of who would and would not have these experiences, so as we have seen it simply proscribed the use of this chord. Since the Church was, and obviously still is, aware of the effects that music and frequency have on human beings, then small wonder that Fr Ernetti and his colleague were so interested in the effects of the frequencies found in Gregorian Chants.
Brian Allan 2010
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