The gods cannot ignore the sound sacrifices that men offer them because these rites touch the very substance of the immortals. They are obliged to participate in it.
My translation from the Italian edition of “La Musica Primitiva” by Marius Schneider, Adelphi Spa publisher, Milano, 1992:
The Civilizing Hero does Music to Humankind
We have seen how, against the will of the creator, the transformer was able to set a limit on human life. The mortal condition was a direct consequence of the materialization of the sound and light bodies of the first men. If the gods escaped that degradation of acoustic images, it is “because they were afraid and took refuge in time in the acoustic sacrifice”. Thus they became pure chants and saw with their own eyes the hymns in which they embarked” (Maitrāyana Upaniṣad). Not subject to matter, they were not even victims of that illusion of the senses which prevents most mortals from recognizing the sonorous and luminous essence of metaphysical reality. But men can still partially go back up the stream of materialization if they, too, decide to put the sacrifice into practice.
However, that bridge between heaven and earth remains usable on both sides only if built with an extraordinary degree of trust. All rites indeed presuppose trust as an active force (and not only as a precondition) for the sacrifice to be successful, but the musician, especially the blind musician, seems to have been considered the most suitable individual to develop such a force because the invisibility, the impalpability and the appearance itself (the emission) of the sound phenomenon require a trust-strength greater than any other form of sacrifice. For this reason, the Rg Veda designates the musician as a svabhänu, that is, as a man who has light within him. Of all mortals, the musician with the bright song is the one who most resembles the gods.
Yet man, with his strength, could not recognize the extraordinary power of that sound bridge that gave him such easy access to the world of the gods. On the contrary, he was annoyed by the proximity of the sky (once so close to the earth) and pushed it away from him to have more space. He also cut down the talking tree and realized too late how bad that action (performed very often by a woman) had been for him. To remedy this evil, the civilizing hero had to come down from heaven and teach men the rites and songs necessary to overcome the illusion of the senses and make them recover immortality. He turned their attention above all to the most substantial form of possible offerings, that is, to the sound sacrifice that takes place in the hymns of devout people. This benefactor, often revered as a mythical ancestor, made them understand how, in that materialized world, the offering of the vital breath with a song was the most direct, safe, and effective means of setting out for the bridge, the wire or «the ladder » that unites the earth to the sky. The gods cannot ignore the sound sacrifices that men offer them because these rites touch the very substance of the immortals. They are obliged to participate in it.
Likewise, men cannot escape the sacrifice that the gods demand, even if they can accept it by singing or turning a deaf ear, undergoing it silently and passively. The sacrifice is mutual; it is the law of the world. But, when it is sonorous, along that path, the gods materialize, and men spiritualize themselves. The interpenetration between heaven and earth is obtained, which leads to harmony between gods and men. If a man is willing to transform himself into a resonator and to become “fine-eared”, he is rewarded with the ability to undo the veil of illusion and to approach the acoustic world of the dead. Sound sacrifice is superior to all other forms of sacrifice. It is the substance of the ritual chant and resounds in the vibrating string (the thread or the “hair bridge”), in the flute (“the bamboo walkway”), or the drum (the talking tree). The Samoyeds and the Californian Kato narrate that a thread runs from every man that unites him directly to God. The tighter the thread, the closer the relationship. According to the Lakher (India) belief, heaven and earth communicate with a network of strings so close to each other that only a spirit can pass through the space between them. When a chieftain dies, his soul passes through those ropes and breaks one of them. Then an earthquake occurs. The way from the earth to the world of the gods and the dead develops as a spiral. This symbol of the sun’s growth and revolution is often depicted with a spiral staircase made up of a series of recessed angles in helical succession in the trunk of a tree. Musically, this “eight-spiral ellipse” (Dogon, Duala) corresponds to a chant that is repeated in groups of eight-time units, either by increasing its intensity, with an “accelerando”, or with a progressive decrease in sonority or the duration of the sounds used.
Music, Food of the Gods
These hymns or sound spirals implement the exchange of forces between heaven and earth through alternating singing. Since the gods are always greedy for songs of praise that “strengthen them and make them grow”, and, on the other hand, men also need the songs of divine grace (albeit in the form of fertilizing rain), the song alternate feeds both men and gods. “The gods find their sustenance in what is offered to them here below, just as men find it in the gifts that come to them from the celestial world” (Taittiriya Brāhmana). Men, therefore, do not fail to take advantage of this situation and offer their vital breath to prepare the sound vehicle that their souls will need after death to enter the “house of songs” or the “land of music”. “If the gods eat, even once, the food offered to them, one becomes immortal” (Kauşītaki Brāhmana). The Sāmavidhāna Brähmana assigns to each god (Prajāpati, the Adityas, the Sādhyas, Agni, Soma, Mitra, Varuņa and Vāyu) a specific sound of the tonal scale as food. But generally, the gods are nourished by hymns bearing their names. In the Rg Veda, the poet offers his song of him as a ritual drink. The Li Chi considers singing and libation the two main elements of the sacrifice, but the Siberian shaman pours the god Aerlik a wine he draws directly from his drum. Mexican priests tied cups to their ritual drums. For the sacrifice of Soma, the Vedic priests applied resonance cavities to the sacrificial vessel to increase the loudness of the “murmur of Soma” as the juice came out of the press. Burnt offerings and libations are secondary expressions of sacrifice, however, conforming to the materialized world. The süitras of the Yajurveda clearly state that the dead do not eat material sacrifices. They mainly consume its heat. But originally, no material sacrifice was made to them; we limited ourselves to pronouncing mantras.
Multiple Functions of the Civilizing Hero
We have seen how the civilizing hero opened the sound path, capable of establishing this fruitful contact with the dead. This benefactor of mankind also revealed that the dead often dwells in stones and trees. Since the partial materialization of the acoustic world takes place first in rock and wood, these “older” materials are – after singing – the best mediators between the acoustic world and the material world; for this reason, they also constitute a place of passage for the souls of the dead who go from one world to another. Therefore, the civilization hero strives to settle the earth as soon as possible, exploiting all these natural resources. He digs canals to make the earth more habitable and makes stones and trees more manageable by transforming them into lithophones, drums, axes, containers, or canoes. First, he builds musical instruments and transforms them into tools whose power will reside in their musical origin. The musical bow will become a hunting bow, the musical horn will become a common horn, the flute will give rise to the bellows, the harp will turn into a boat, and the circular drums will form a chariot or the wheels of a chariot. To increase the strength of the sound sacrifice of the instruments that allow him to work, fight, travel, and eat, he will also use corpses to make the dead sing. Their skins shall cover his drums; the femurs will provide him with trumpets, and two skulls, joined at the top, will form a drum in the shape of an hourglass.
The civilizing hero is now a doctor, shepherd, or blacksmith, but he is always a singer. He has the great merit of having invented the metal whose sound repels demons and whose sacredness is almost equal to that of stone. The dark side of his dual nature is expressed in his cooperation with the second transformer, a fierce and somewhat stupid warrior or hunter. The former demands sacrifice, and the latter values it. On the astrological level, the transformer represents (depending on the civilization) the waning moon, the evening star, or Mars. The civilizing hero corresponds to the crescent, morning star, or (as opposed to Mars) Venus. This pair often represents the mythical ancestors of mankind. According to the mythology of the Coras (America), the evening star is a libertine who lives in a beautiful garden located on the banks of the river of life; in contrast, the morning star is a chaste poet, a doctor-musician, an enthusiast of the sciences and limbs it brings to men. Thanks to his close contacts with the gods, the civilizing hero can give men the fire he obtained by smashing the solar disk and the animals and seeds he often transports in a drum. In the stories that relate events of this kind, a comic or dramatic element often intervenes to characterize the dual nature of the intermediate position of the cultural hero, who is neither an authentic god nor a real man. According to a legend by A.-M. Vergiat from Ubanghi-Sciari, Yilungu, the creator god, gave Tere three parcels, then wove a long rope and a large net. In a container, he had put water, in a basket a couple of each animal species and in another the seeds of all the plants, and he had closed them. Tere, who did not know the contents of the three parcels, settled with them in the net to go down to earth.
But, before leaving, Yilungu handed him a tam-tam to warn him of his arrival on earth, carefully recommending that he use it only when his buttocks touched the ground. Then he let the rope drop. Halfway there, Tere, curious to know the contents of the three parcels, began to beat the tam-tam. At that call, Yilungu leaned over and cursed at Tere: ‘What, you’re not even halfway there, and you’re already beating the tam-tam. The earth is still far away » he continued to lower the rope. A few moments later, the tam-tam sounded again. Yilungu just shrugged and continued to lower the rope. A few minutes passed, and the tam-tam was heard again. Then Yilungu cut the rope. But poor Tere had not yet arrived and fell heavily to the ground with his gifts.
The relationship between the civilizing hero and the drum is constant. However, he does not always possess this burlesque aspect since the true strength of the mythical ancestors lies precisely in the use of the drum. The god of thunder granted them the right to reproduce the rhythms of thunder on this instrument so that men could hear at least an echo of the celestial voice. Dogon legend relates that the pair of twins or the blacksmith-musician possess drums in the shape of forge bellows or anvils. By beating those drums, they imitate the creative force of the gods, punctuate and reinforce prayer and appease anger. Whenever the blacksmith sacrifices his strength by beating the anvil, a part of them escapes him and passes to the earth. The mass of him, which encloses the seeds that have come down from the sky, is the “image of the world” and the center of the cave. In that earthly forge, the civilizing hero performs the sound sacrifice following the example of the celestial forge, whose drum orchestra gives rhythm to the universe’s movement. Numerous traditions narrate that the blacksmith drags a leg, imitating the god of thunder, who has only one leg, and dances on a snake’s tail. But since the body of the civilizing hero and his rival are more human-like in shape, with two legs, they imitate the gods by limping on one foot.
The Civilizing Hero in Chinese Mythology
In Chinese mythology, many blacksmiths and drummers populate the mythical mountain. To-Fei, the son of the bell-shaped mountain, is a greedy god, an owl with ferocious cries, whose drums and flutes are forge bellows. The sons of the daughter of the Red River invented drums and bells. Ch’ui created wind instruments. Different traditions report that the first songs and the first musical instruments came from the eight winds or the voices of the eight ancestors. The eight songs narrate the education of men, the care of poultry, the cultivation of herbs, the plowing of the fields, the respect for the rules of heaven, the beneficial works of the mythical emperors, the exploitation of the earth’s resources, and the domestication some animals. The eight instruments are intended to make the eight elements resonate. Stone vibrates in the lithophone (particularly the phonolite from volcanoes), terracotta in the ocarinas, metal in the bells and reeds of the mouth organs, wood in the scrapers and castanets, bamboo in the flutes, the long gourd, skins on drums, silk on stringed instruments. Establishing peace and order on earth requires great sacrifices. The musician Kun had to sacrifice himself, fighting chaos and greedy gods. K’uei – who made the animals dance using a lithophone – was commissioned by the mythical emperor Shun to create music: “Music is the essence of heaven and earth. Only a saint can introduce harmony into the foundations of music. K’uei can create this harmony.” AIlora Huang-Ti took him prisoner, sacrificed him, and used his skin to build a drum, struck with the bone of the thunder beast to strike respectful awe in the empire.
For these brand-new tunes, a blind musician increased the number of strings on his zither from five to fifteen and used them to make sacrifices to the gods. But there was also an attempt to use that new music for magical purposes. King Wu had some songs composed and numerous musical instruments built, the sound of which forced the pheasant to adjust its flight to the rhythms of the imperial orchestra. Yü the Great even put music in the service of propaganda. When he channeled the great rivers, he ordered the musician An-yao to compose the nine parts of the Hsia Yüeh, which celebrates the emperor and benevolent deeds.
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