Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Western esotericism, or the practice of trying to understand divinity through secret initiatic means, exists in several philosophical strains, which mystics through the ages have formalized into systems of teaching. One aspect that appears in many of the traditions is music. Music is a direct language of the consciousness within esoteric traditions because it does not rely on language to express higher concepts. Just as these societies teach truths mainly through symbolism, they use music, since it lends itself to interpretations beyond the connotation-laden nature of words. This dissertation focuses on three major strains of western esotericism: Rosicrucians, Theosophists, and American Freemasons. Regarding the first group, I demonstrate how music influenced Rosicrucian conceptions of unity, primarily through the example of Erik Satie, who incorporated these ideals in his three Sonneries of the Rose and Cross while involved with a Rosicrucian order, particularly focusing on the esoteric concept of transversality, or the coming together of two directions or opposites. Regarding the second group, I focus on the Theosophical Society’s involvement in the translation of Gustav Holst’s gnostic Hymn of Jesus text and demonstrate how the connection to that tradition heavily influenced Holst’s own composition. Regarding the third group, I trace the use of music among American Freemasons from colonial times to the present day, and demonstrate how Freemasons understood music as well as a means of attaining wisdom.

Each of these groups exhibits an understanding of what some traditions call the “ternary principle,” or the idea that all pairs of opposites are not independent of each other, but rather are just different levels of manifestation of a higher principle. A member of any of these organizations employs the ternary principle to transcend oppositions until one is left with the unity of all things. For these groups, music helped to bring them closer to their goal of finding that unity by connecting the physical world to the immaterial world, or the body to the consciousness. These societies compared the laws of music to the harmony of all things. Music became for these organizations the truest symbol of the highest wisdom.



Committee Chair

Howe, Blake



Included in

Musicology Commons