Sacred Sites: Places of Peace and Power

Sound and Music

The Influence of Sound and Music

The power of sound and music is well known. Most everyone has favorite kinds of music, which they enjoy listening to for hours on end. Indeed sound has such power that only a few notes played in particular combinations can stimulate the distinct feelings of serenity, excitement, joy, agitation, sadness and foreboding. In long-ago China, India, Persia, Egypt, Greece and many other places around the world the knowledge of sound was a highly refined science based upon an understanding of vibration as the primary causative impulse of the universe. Numerous ancient cosmologies and mythologies tell how the universe was created when the gods spoke, sang or intoned sacred sounds. A New Testament passage (John 1:1) echoes this idea succinctly: "In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

The priests and priestesses of antiquity were well aware of the awesome power of sound and used sacred music, secret harmonies and specific percussion patterns for both spiritual and therapeutic purposes. The Old Testament (1 Samuel 16: 14-23) relates how David released Saul from an obsessive depression by the use of music. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is known to have taken patients with extreme cases of illness to temples of the god Asclepius in order to listen to the sacred music that was played and sung there. And the use of sound has been an integral part of India's ayurvedic system of medicine for thousands of years.

How are we to explain the therapeutic power of sound? Jonathan Goldman, both a musician and scholar of music, has traveled the world for many years in search of an answer. In his book Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics, he comments that Dr. Alfred Tomatis, a French physician specializing in the healing qualities of sound...

believes that the sacred chants from different traditions are rich in high-frequency harmonics and have a neurophysiological effect which charges the brain....In particular, Tomatis found that sounds which contain high frequency harmonics, such as those found in Gregorian chants, are extremely beneficial. It is these high frequencies (around 8000 hz) which are capable of charging the central nervous system and the cortex of the brain. According to Dr. Tomatis, nearly all of the cranial nerves lead to the ear. In particular, the ear is understood to be neurologically involved with the optic and oculomotor nerves, and therefore is interrelated with the process of vision and movement. The ear is also related to the vagus, or tenth cranial nerve. This nerve affects the larynx, the bronchi, the heart and the gastrointestinal tract and thus our voice, our breathing, our heart rate and our digestion are affected by our ears....Everything in the universe is in a state of vibration. This includes the human body. Every organ, bone, tissue and other part of the body has a healthy resonant frequency. When that frequency alters, that part of the body vibrates out of harmony and this is what is termed disease. If it were possible to determine the correct resonant frequency for a healthy organ and then project it into that part which is diseased, the organ should return to its normal frequency and a healing should occur....Dr. Manners, an English osteopath, has since 1961 been engaged in research into the effects of sound upon the structure and chemistry of the body. Working under the premise that disease is an "out of tuneness" of some aspect of the body, Dr. Manners has correlated different harmonic frequencies which are the healthy resonant frequencies of different parts of the body. There are frequencies for every organ of the body and for specific diseases. There are also frequencies for emotional and mental problems. (15)

Besides their therapeutic effects, sounds and music have been used in religious contexts since prehistoric times. Cultures throughout the world have used sound, created by both the human voice and an extraordinary variety of musical instruments, to call forth the spirits of unseen realms, to praise the divine and to awaken the mind to sublime states of spiritual consciousness.

The earliest use of instrumentation seems to have been percussion. Long before the development of string or wind instruments, prehistoric peoples were making and playing many kinds of drums. This art was developed to its highest degree in Africa, where over tens of thousands of years shamans discovered that different arrangements of drum beats created a connecting link between different realms of existence. Particular drumbeat patterns were known to give magical access to the communicative spirits of plants and animals, from which the shamans received teachings for the people of their tribe. The Australian aborigines had an equally magical use of sound. When the didjeridu, an Australian aboriginal instrument, is sounded, the aborigines believe it creates a sonic field, a sort of interdimensional window through which the Wandjina (a race of supernatural beings who preceded the aborigines and who created the world) can travel to the aborigines and vice versa.

Equal in power to the different sounds produced by musical instruments are those produced when individuals or groups of people chant, tone or sing. Vibrating through the bodies of both the singer and the listener these sounds also have a transformative quality that contributes to the awakening and development of spiritual consciousness. Writing in The Secret Power of Music, David Tame explains…

The Vedas, the basic scriptures of Hinduism, and among the oldest religious texts in the world were not intended to be read and studied but rather were sacred hymns which were intoned and sung. The Upanishads, which form a part of the Vedas, are not poems or written dialogues, but songs. Their function was not merely to convey abstract, intellectual wisdom, but literally to release that wisdom as a real and sacred energy. Energy was always considered to be released when the magical Sanskrit formulas were vocalized. This energy then helped - not only theoretically, but also practically - to create the spiritual states of mind and of life which the words described. (16)

Better-known examples of harmonic chants still being practiced are those of the Islamic Sufis, Gregorian monks and Tibetan Buddhists. Nowadays we may listen to such sacred music on records, tapes and CDs. However, when they are chanted within the great pilgrimage shrines, their spiritual power, for both musicians and listeners alike, is magically amplified. The mosques, cathedrals and temples of olden times, designed and built with sacred geometry, function as resonant sound chambers. The same mathematical proportions that gave birth to the various sounds were also incorporated into the measurements of the religious structures. Sound and structure were simply different manifestations of the same universal mathematical constants. Therefore, when people make music within the sacred shrines, the vibratory field manifested by their sounds and the sacred geometry of the structure resonates. Out of this resonance comes an awakening and quickening of spiritual consciousness.


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