For Synergy explorers, it can be fun to see where in the cultural landscape representations of Synergy practices can be found. One of my favourites is Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute”. Many people say it is full of masonic symbolism as Mozart was a member of that fraternity. Interestingly, many Masons emphasized symbolic union. Mozart may have been suggesting here that the sacred love between partners is a path to eternal wisdom.
The story opens with Tamino, a prince lost in a foreign land being pursued by an enormous snake or dragon. Such creatures are often a symbol of our basic, raw sexual energy. He is rescued by three mysterious ladies, who kill the monster and give Tamino a picture of Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, with whom he falls instantly in love. They tell him that Pamina has been captured by the powerful and evil Sarastro, and Tamino vows to rescue her.
The mysterious ladies also present Tamino with a magic flute and some magic bells, and with the assistance of the bird-catcher Papageno (who has become reluctantly involved), Tamino sets off on his quest. However, he soon discovers that nothing, not even day and night, is quite as it first appears….
Tamino learns that it’s not Sarastro, leader of the Temple of Wisdom, who is evil but the Queen of the Night. Further, Pamina was only being held to keep her hidden from her threatening mother. The Queen believes herself to be all-powerful, and hopes through sorcery and superstition to enslave people and destroy Sarastro’s mighty temple and fellowship. She later tries to have Pamina murder her father Sarastro on her behalf.
Sarastro meets with his council. They decide that Tamino and Pamina should marry and that Tamino should succeed Sarastro as their leader, provided he passes the trials set out by the ancient Egyptian rites defying air, earth, fire and water.* The rites presume that the Divine contains masculine and feminine entities, unlike the predominantly male God of the later Abrahamic religions.
The key to gaining Tamino’s loyalty is the gentle and virtuous Pamina. Sarastro prays to Isis and Osiris, asking them to protect Tamino and Pamina and that by overcoming fear they will achieve enlightenment.
Papageno, whose birds symbolize the animal elements of humankind, is a sensual fellow uninterested in trials or seeking wisdom; all he wants is food, wine, and a wife. The temple priest tells him that he will get a wife only if he undergoes the trials.
In the first trial, Tamino and Papageno are under oath not to speak a word to anyone. The three mysterious ladies appear out of thin air and try to seduce them both. Papageno cannot resist their attentions but Tamino averts his eyes and remains steadfast.
The priests praise Tamino but scold Papageno, who does not understand why he has to undergo these trials if Sarastro has already found a wife for him.
The second trial also entails sacred silence but this time the temptation is stronger. Papageno meets his future wife, Papagena who then disappears. Papageno rushes off to tell to Tamino, but Tamino shushes him up as he is taking the trial seriously. Even when Pamina comes to see him, he will not speak to her. Fearing he no longer loves her, Pamina rushes off to kill herself. She is saved by three angelic messengers.
However Tamino has now succeeded in the first two trials with the help of his magic flute to soothe him and keep him focused. The priests take pity on Papageno and he meets again with his Papagena.
Tamino is reunited with Pamina for the third trial. They exchange loving words and face the trial together. This trial is the most important one, and builds on Tamino’s proof of intention and self-discipline in the earlier trials.
The all important third trial
The third trial entails fire and water, which often symbolise the powerful pulls of sexual arousal and emotion. Swedish director Ingmar Bergman produced my favourite portrayal of the opera in a 1975 film. It illustrates this third trial especially well.*
Tamino and Pamina are dressed as initiates or more recognizably like a monk and a nun, to symbolize celibacy, or perhaps sexual continence. Pamina leads Tamino with his eyes shut through an orgiastic scene full of writhing naked bodies reaching out for them. Tamino plays his magic flute to protect them and the couple are neither seduced nor distracted as they make their way through the orgy.
I have always wondered whether the flute is a phallic symbol. Perhaps Tamino’s skillful mastery of the flute symbolizes the mystery of conscious use of sexual energy to increase inner strength in the face of challenges.
Regardless, as a result of the couple’s success in the third trial Tamino proves himself qualified to become the new leader of the Temple of Wisdom and a worthy suitor for Sarastro’s daughter Pamina. They live happily ever after in the Temple. In contrast, Papageno eagerly anticipates earthly delights with his Papagena and a brood of children.
What it means for me
Many have interpreted the symbolism in The Magic Flute over the years, but Bergman’s rings true for me. The key to the opera in my view is the willingness to harness sexual energy for the benefit of achieving spiritual clarity and inner strength. Yes, a couple can choose everyday pleasures like Papageno. Yet the more intriguing prize is the wisdom sought and achieved by Tamino and Pamina together with the aid of the mysterious flute.
* [From the Bergman script]
TAMINO, barefooted is led on by TWO ARMOURED MEN who carry a chart inscribed with Egyptian symbols.
“The man who treads this pathway fourfold trials must bear
He’ll pass through earth and fire, through water and air
And should his fear of death be overcome at last
From earth to heaven he shall then have passed
Enlightened he shall stand within the door
To serve the mysteries of Isis ever more”.
T: No fear of death can now disarm me
For led by virtue, what can harm me?