Habakkuk exclaimed that in the presence of Lord the “sun and moon stood still in their habitation.” The Empryean (Canto XXXII) of Dante’s Paradiso concludes with the splendid phrase “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle” (the Love which moves the sun and the other stars). And in 1945 when Harry S Truman realized the weight of the office he would inherit upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he declared, “I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”1 It seems that when prophets, poets, and presidents have the need to express the inexpressible, destabilizing the heavens, if in language only, signals their sense of wonder.
Yet, in the sixteenth century the earth and sun and moon and stars did move, at least to those who comprehended the radical implications of the Copernican model, namely, the shift from a geocentric to a heliocentric reality. This new principle—the universe organized around the sun—became the emblem of a movement that would produce an equivalent Copernican shift in human thought and society: the Enlightenment.2
Seventeenth-century thinkers were engaged with concepts such as theodicy and theophany and were concerned about European wars in which religion and politics had collided so viciously. Later philosophers found at least partial answers to these perplexing questions in natural religion and religious toleration. In England (including its North American colonies) and France, new political ideas informed the Glorious, American, and French Revolutions respectively. And the Constitution of the United States of America can be seen as the culminating response to the nexus of socio-political and religious issues raised during the Age of Reason. It was during this tumultuous time that Masonic lodges spread across Europe, including the Germanic lands. Freemasonry “is an allegory of morality in which men are taught the virtues of an upright life through the symbolism of stonemasonry.”3
The Magic Flute (1791), “a product of the late eighteenth-century German Enlightenment in that it exemplifies—like many other artworks of the time—an attempt to instruct the audience in ethical matters through the vehicle of entertainment or amusement,”4 is associated deeply with Freemasonry.5 Some major productions, such as the Metropolitan Opera Mozart Bicentennial Celebration production (1991) under James Levine (set design by David Hockney), nurture this link. The eighteenth-century flourishing of Freemasonry in which lodges sought to reinterpret symbolically Judeo-Christian values in the light of reason is a hallmark of the Enlightenment.6 In this article I will identify certain Masonic ideals that inhabit The Magic Flute by comparing the conceptual themes and language of the libretto with those found in key Masonic texts.7 But many Masonic ideals are a subset of Enlightenment thought,8 thus it is necessary when analyzing Masonic elements in the opera to refer to the pervading Enlightenment themes as well.
Vienna and Catholic Enlightenment
The Vienna in which The Magic Flute was created experienced a “feverish intellectual activity” springing from Emperor Joseph II’s enlightened reforms.9 Certainly it was more tolerant than Salzburg—where Mozart was born, was baptized a Catholic, and gave performances—which had only decades earlier expelled thousands of Protestants.10 In 1781, Mozart, who had had artistic restrictions placed on him, was basically thrown out of Salzburg.11
Mozart never foreswore his Catholicism, but his initiation as an Apprentice Mason into a Viennese lodge, for which he also composed music, would have put him at odds with a 1738 (renewed: 1751) Catholic Bull, In eminenti apostolatus, forbidding such membership (it is not known if Mozart was aware of this Bull). Indeed, the Catholic ruler, Maria Theresa, mother of Joseph II, viewed Masonry (to which her husband belonged) with suspicion.12 Mozart’s actions need not be seen as contradictions if examined from the standpoint of the Catholic Enlightenment, which, as Eda Sagarra observes, inspired a diversity of Catholic thought.13 Furthermore, the Masonic lodge to which Mozart belonged was known to be a place where faithful Catholics attempted to combine their religion with the Masonic Craft (plate 1).14
The atmosphere of tolerance created by Joseph II did not last long, for in late 1785 he issued an edict on the Masons that was the prelude to the end of the lodges in Vienna.15 This change in the political climate has prompted the analysis that The Magic Flute was a rearguard action to promote (if not save) Freemasonry during the reign of Leopold II.16
Eighteenth-century thinkers continued to break down the remaining rubble of religious orthodoxy left over from the fanaticism and wars of the previous century. David Hume’s idea of natural religion, François Voltaire’s biblical criticism, and John Locke’s and Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on toleration continued the process of the demythologization of religion that had been ongoing since the scientific revolution. In the Germanic lands, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann David Michaelis, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and others would initiate similar epistemological changes.
The Magic Flute can be understood in light of this transformation of religion. The opera opens with a biblical motif: Prince Tamino flees a deadly serpent. The libretto endows the snake with an anthropomorphic quality associated with Lucifer, namely, it is cunning (1.1).17 The Prince faints, and the Three Ladies slay the pursuing beast. It is possible to see in this a metaphoric Fall of man, and German intellectual preoccupation with explaining the biblical Fall is evidenced at precisely this time in the writings of three of the eighteenth century’s most well-known luminaries: Immanuel Kant, Johann Herder, and Friedrich Schiller.18 The Magic Flute redefines allegorically the transgression of Adam and Eve, as a positive Fall (felix culpa), for Tamino is reborn as an Adam figure who begins his quest to find Pamina (Eve) and then they proceed together on a ritual journey to discover new knowledge, truth, and light in a priestly temple community.
Wisdom and Leadership
Tamino’s odyssey parallels other eighteenth-century narratives that feature a prince wandering in a foreign land and learning to become the ideal of a “wise ruler” (2.21) who understands his duties towards humanity (2.1). Indeed, in the eighteenth century the popular French novel Sethos, accepted by many Masons as factual, depicted a prince who becomes initiated into the secret knowledge of ancient Egypt.19 Ignaz von Born, the acclaimed Viennese Master Mason, whom Mozart knew and respected,20 continues this line of thought in an influential article, “Ueber die Mysterien der Aegyptier” (On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, 1784), published in the Journal für Freymaurer (Journal for Freemasons), which would become a leading Masonic publication in Vienna. In this article, von Born asserts that the pattern of the initiation of a young prince had ancient antecedents—and he cites Sethos.21 Similarly, Schiller, as a professor lecturing on history at the University of Jena, taught the commonly held view that Moses had been initiated into Egyptian mysteries (Die Sendung Moses, 1790). Thus the Egyptian22 backdrop to Tamino’s learning and development is in part a reflection of the cultural milieu of The Magic Flute.23
Ignaz von Born affirms that the mission of Masonry is to combat “ignorance” (Unwissenheit) and “foolishness” (Thorheit).24 In The Magic Flute, the Three Boys sing that the “wise man” will triumph over “superstition” (Aberglaube), and their aria contains a plea that peace be restored, perhaps brought about by Tamino, for this peace will make “the earth a heaven and mortals as the gods” (2.26). Identical language is used by the temple chorus at the conclusion of act 1, as it praises a future time when “virtue and justice” (Tugend und Gerechtigkeit) will spread and make “the earth a heaven and mortals as the gods” (1.19).25 The Magic Flute puts forward the thesis that society can be morally regenerated by educating humanity, a common late German Enlightenment theme.26
When Tamino comes upon the temple grounds,27 he queries, “Is this the residence of the gods?” (1.15). He concludes, however, that the temple exemplifies more about the mortals who built it as he notices abundant evidence of intelligent design, diligence, activity, and craftsmanship that are its hallmarks. Eventually, he ascertains that an order of priests, under the leadership of Sarastro, dwell therein, and he decides to join “the initiates” (den Eingeweihten) (2.8) through undergoing ceremonies and symbolic trials, a common feature of Masonic ritual to try the “persistence” (Beharrlichkeit) of a “seeker” (den Suchenden).28 Masonic initiates were required to make and keep certain promises, for example, of verbal restraint, a pattern that is followed in the opera.
Verbal Integrity and Restraint
In an expressly didactic moment, Papageno is punished for prevarication: he lies to Tamino by stating that it was he who had killed the serpent. After a lock is placed on Papageno’s mouth, Prince Tamino, the Three Ladies, and Papageno (whose mouth is eventually freed) sing a moral homily that extols how brotherhood and love would abound if lies, hate, and betrayal could be overcome (1.8). That these vices stem from the mouth is not insignificant, for the Enlightenment ideal is that self-control, particularly of verbal expression, is a key to harmonious relationships. The theme of verbal restraint arises again as Tamino is led by the Three Boys to Sarastro’s abode and instructed to be “steadfast” (standhaft), “patient” (duldsam), and “discreet” (verschwiegen) (1.15). And later, before Tamino is accepted into the temple order, Sarastro asks his fellow priests if the young prince possesses discretion (Verschwiegenheit) (2.1)—a typical trait of Masonic initiates represented by “the Seal of Solomon, the seal of discretion” (Salomons Siegel, das Siegel der Verschwiegenheit).29 Moreover, a major portion of the trials that Tamino and Papageno must undergo are connected with remaining silent, as the priests instruct: Stillschweigen (2.13).
The eighteenth-century preoccupation with verbal discretion and the esprit de conduite is found, for example, in Antoine de Courtin’s Nouveau traité de la civilité (New Treatise on Civility) (1690), in articles in Addison and Steele’s journal Spectator (until 1714), in Freemason George Washington’s notes on the “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation” (ca. 1747, published posthumously), and in the immensely popular book by Enlightener and Freemason Adolph Freiherr von Knigge Über den Umgang mit Menschen (On Social Relations) (1796). Ignaz von Born recounts that only through silence could the Egyptian gods be honored.30 In addition, Masons were charged with “avoiding all Wrangling and Quarelling, all Slander and Backbiting.”31 Yet there is more than manners presented in The Magic Flute, for the opera presages the humanistic sentiments that ought to inform such outward manifestations in a way that anticipates Jane Austen’s novels.32 One of these sentiments was to recast the relationship between male and female, a move that the opera throws into vivid relief.
Union of Male and Female
Tamino remains in traditional masculine modes of discourse as he declares that he will face his final and greatest trial “as a man” (2.28). The opera appears to adhere to the gendered outlook of the age as Tamino is chastised for being tricked by a woman (1.15), Pamina is told by Sarastro that a man must guide a woman so that she does not step out of her sphere (1.18), and the male initiates are exhorted to beware of the trickery of women (2.3). Furthermore, the power of the Queen of the Night is associated with intoxication (1.7), fantasy (1.1), superstition (2.1), illusion (2.1), prattle (2.5), feminine cunning (2.5), hypocrisy (2.5), and night (2.30).33 The Enlightenment agenda could be described as the binary opposite of these, namely: sobriety, reality, reason, rationality, science, logical discourse, sincerity, truth, and light. Thus masculinity would signify illumination and reason, and femininity, superstition and irrationality.
Therefore it is unusual that Pamina joins Tamino prior to his undergoing the final purifying trials by fire and water and that in this crucial moment is granted permission to become a temple initiate.34 Astonishingly, she not only claims her place at his side, but also declares that she will lead him and love will lead her (2.28). This startling assertion highlights the possibility of male-female partnership in an opera that tends to rely on stereotypes. It also breaks with custom, for joint male and female initiations deviated from typical Masonic convention.35 The Magic Flute here surpasses the possibilities foreseen for women in Rousseau’s acclaimed novel of pedagogy, Émile (1762), in which Sophie is denied the education afforded the eponymous protagonist. Moreover, the necessary union of male and female, which had been posited philosophically by Rousseau and Kant (to achieve existential wholeness)36 is illustrated in the joint initiation. Jacques Chailley interprets the joint initiation in The Magic Flute as “a proclamation of the redemption of Woman and her rise to equality with Man in the Mystery of the Couple.”37
This joint initiation is embodied in the opera’s references to the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, another male-female unity to whom the priests pay homage.38 Tamino and Pamina can be seen to represent the necessary interdependence of male and female as they are initiated into the temple order and, as a single unit, obtain the mysteries of the gods:
Triumph, triumph you noble couple![Triumph, Triumph du edles Paar!
You have overcome the trials!
Initiates of Isis now,
Come, enter into the temple!
Besieget hast du die Gefahr!
Der Isis Weihe ist nun dein!
Kommt, tretet in den Tempel ein!] (2.28)
The opera announces the arrival of a new power to which both Tamino and Pamina submit willingly: Love (die Liebe). This is an expansion of Tamino’s earlier view of love as a passion like fire (1.4), expressed prior to his initiation when he first saw Pamina’s portrait and then later when he proclaimed that he would rescue her (1.5). Now, in love, they walk the path together, including when thorns are strewn along the way and even when they are in the shadow of death (2.28).
The Magic Flute hints at a new direction for gender relations that attempts to frame the debate not so much in the language of supremacy, but of willing interdependence through love. This relationship is underscored by the performance on stage. After being separated and fearing the worst, they are relieved and enthused to see each other, and the stage directions indicate that they embrace each other (2.28), reminding viewers of their first meeting in the temple gardens (1.19) and foreshadowing their next embrace after the trial by fire (2.28). They are attracted to each other, love each other, and draw strength from one another, especially as they face their fiercest challenges together.
The most explicit and lyrical statement in relation to the interdependence of female and male occurs itself as an instance of human potential vis-à-vis divinity in the duet of Papageno and Pamina:
There is nothing nobler than husband and wife.[Nichts Edlers sei, als Mann und Weib.
Husband and wife and wife and husband
Mann und Weib und Weib und Mann,
Reichen an die Gottheit an] (1.14).
Daniel Heartz points out that the opera “is not a story but rather a parable about love and its role in the human quest for self-betterment.” He further suggests, convincingly, that the “interchange of nouns” (husband and wife and wife and husband) bears “linguistic testimony to the reciprocal relationship of the ideal pair.”39 The essence of this relationship is evoked by the duet of Papageno and Papagena, in which divine approbation is signified in the cooperation of man, woman, and gods—unified through love—and embodied in the power of procreation:
What joy will be ours, When the gods consider us,[Welche Freude wird das sein, Wenn die Götter uns bedenken,
Bless our love with children, Delightful, lovely children!
Unsrer Liebe Kinder schenken, So liebe kleine Kinderlein!] (2.29)
Brigid Brophy quips that “Mozart remains Catholic enough to remember that marriage is a sacrament.”40 Of course, these verses are put into the mouth of Papageno, who insists that he is a “natural man”; who relishes sleep, food, and drink; who is not too particular about obtaining wisdom (2.3); and who would trade the joy of the initiates for a glass of wine (2.23). In fact, the stage directions indicate that Papageno and Papagena engage in “silly games” (2.29); nevertheless, although they do not enter into the temple order, marriage and family life are held up as noble and good. Tamino and Pamina, in sacerdotal clothing, choose temple initiation and strive to attain “strength . . . beauty and wisdom” (Stärke . . . Schönheit und Weisheit) (2.30). According to Ignaz von Born, Freemasons strove to achieve this same trio of virtues,41 which metaphorically constitute three pillars that support a Masonic lodge.42 To reach these pillars of the temple, a Masonic initiate needed above all knowledge and light, and these find their analogies in the opera as well.
Knowledge and Light
Two key moments of moral orientation occur in act 1. When Tamino awakens after being hunted by the great serpent, he exclaims, “Where am I! Is it fantasy that I yet live?” (1.1). For the duration of the first act, Tamino is motivated by falsehoods stemming from the Queen of the Night, and he is led to believe that Sarastro is a villain (1.5), inhumane (1.15), and a tyrant (1.15). The Queen also calls the temple priests “barbarians” (2.8) and “sanctimonious hypocrites” (2.30).
Only when these views are contradicted firmly and he is confronted by his own prejudice does Tamino reconsider his course at the doors of the temple. Ignaz von Born proposes that wisdom, virtue, goodness, and knowledge are all a part of “spreading enlightenment” (Aufklärung zu verbreiten).43 Similarly, Sarastro defines the temple community’s goals as overcoming “prejudice” (Vorurteil) through “wisdom” (Weisheit) and “reason” (Vernunft) (2.1).
The second moment of orientation occurs when Tamino again wonders, “Where am I?” (1.15). He has left the barren mountain regions of the initial stage setting and enters into an increasingly organized temple community in which the dichotomy between light and darkness increases. He is forlorn as he supplicates the gods: “O eternal night, when will you wane?—When will my eye find the light?” (O ewge Nacht! wann wirst du schwinden?— / Wann wird das Licht mein Auge finden?) (1.15). This question can be read as both literal and metaphorical, for according to one contemporary account, eighteenth-century Masonic initiates were asked what they desired most, and the response was, “To be brought to light.”44 Furthermore, Ignaz von Born teaches that once the initiate (der Eingeweihte) has seen the light (das Licht erblickt hat) more is revealed to him.45 And in The Magic Flute, Sarastro proclaims that the great goal of the temple priests is to assist Tamino as he seeks to tear the veil of darkness from himself and look into the sanctuary of the greatest light (2.1).46
The sun, as the ultimate source of light, becomes the crowning symbol of truth in the opera, and darkness its antithesis. The chorus suggests that “the gloomy night is driven away by the brilliance of the sun” (2.20), the Three Boys anticipate that the rising sun will force superstition to flee, and Sarastro’s power is represented by the “Sevenfold Circle of the Sun” (2.8), an Ephod-like device. The opera reaches a climax in an earth-centered apotheosis using the sun, a quintessential Enlightenment symbol, as the stage directions set forth: “The entire theater transforms itself immediately into a sun” (2.30). The attempted special effect appears to be one of a sunburst, in which Enlightenment radiates from the stage onto the audience.47 Sarastro’s final words clarify the meaning of the image: “The rays of the sun drive out the night, Destroys the usurped power of the hypocrites!” (2.30).
This finale underscores the Enlightenment belief in societal progress such that a celestial kingdom may be achieved here on earth.48 This would require a harmonizing of societal tensions that remained elusive in the late-eighteenth century (and of course continues to remain elusive today). Yet the opera espouses explicit attitudes on the brotherhood of man that point the way to a family of humanity.
Family of Humanity and Virtue
The interdependent family of humanity is alluded to throughout the opera. One way this is shown is through the symbolic use of hands. When Tamino first arrives at the temple grounds, he seeks understanding and the priest tells him that his confusion will be clarified “as soon as friendship’s hand guides you into the sanctuary to an eternal bond” (Sobald dich führt der Freundschaft Hand, Ins Heiligtum zum ewgen Band) (1.15). At different points in the opera hands are used to help guide Tamino, Papageno, and Pamina (1.19; 2.2; 2.21), not least because the characters, like Apprentice Masons, are “hood-winked”49 or blindfolded, and Sarastro sings that a friend’s hand strengthens one who has made an error (2.13). Handshakes are used to signify promises (2.3), and a handshake is the last sign that Sarastro gives to Tamino before the final tests (2.21). Sarastro also instructs the temple priests that it is their duty to offer Tamino the hand of fellowship (2.1).50
As Pamina relates the history of the magic flute (and for the first time speaks of her father) to Tamino, “she takes him by the hand” (2.28) to give him strength and to gain strength, for their culminating trials may well overcome them. And Tamino and Pamina will enter the temple joyously, hand in hand (Froh Hand in Hand im Tempel gehn) (2.28). In each of these instances hands are used to assist, to guide, to show empathy, and to lend vitality to another in need.
The equality of the human family is highlighted when Tamino first encounters Papageno and asks him, “Who are you?” (1.2). That Tamino expects an identifying rank or profession is implied when he informs Papageno that he is a prince whose father rules over many lands. Instead of stating his profession, Papageno replies: “Stupid question! [I am] a person like you” (1.2). This response is meant to show Papageno’s social naiveté, yet the overtones of a shared humanity despite class differences cannot be overlooked. This perspective is given greater emphasis in act 2 when the Speaker (Sprecher) moots his concern that Tamino, a “prince” (Prinz), would not be able or willing to endure the trials of initiation; Sarastro responds that he is “even more” than a prince, that “he is a human being” (Noch mehr—er ist Mensch!) (2.1).
A common humanity is again recognized when Papageno and Monostatos first encounter each other. Mutually frightened—Monostatos by Papageno’s strange bird-like clothing, and Papageno by Monostatos’s dark skin color—they blurt out simultaneously, “That is surely the devil” (1.12). After fleeing, Papageno reflects, “Am I not a fool to have allowed myself to be frightened?—There are black birds in the world, why not then black people?” (1.14). Demonizing the unfamiliar is here castigated as foolish, and an acceptance or at least a tolerance of others regardless of color is implied.
Of course, Enlightenment thinkers struggled with racial prejudice,51 and it cannot be ignored that Monostatos’s darkness of skin is marked by the opera’s semiotics, as is all darkness, as an outward sign of the inward state of his soul (2.11), although the audience hears his plea that he is of “flesh and blood” and subject to the same passions as others (2.7). Self-pity blinds him to his own selfishness, for he attempts to force himself on Pamina against her will, and when she rejects his ultimatum—“love or death!”—he imputes that it is his skin color which repels her (2.10).
The more complex question concerns Sarastro’s apparent status as a slaveholder or at least one who sanctions slavery within his realm. Enlightenment thinkers were not slow to decry slavery, but it is a bitter irony that in what they viewed as one of the greatest socio-political successes of the age, the United States of America, actions were not always swift to follow ideals. Attila Csampai argues that Sarastro fits the image of the modern, enlightened leader akin to U.S. presidents (Annette Kolb proffers that he embodies Plato’s ideal ruler52), who could proclaim “human rights” but keep slaves.53 The Magic Flute retains this ambivalence but may show a way forward. Eckelmeyer argues that Monostatos and Sarastro exchange places in the opera in that the former becomes more brutal and the latter more magnanimous. Sarastro chooses to banish Monostatos for his odious behavior rather than apply capital punishment, which may reflect Joseph II’s Enlightenment penal code changes in the Empire.54
If Tamino is to occupy a leadership role in the temple order as is implied by Sarastro (2.1), then it appears that he will begin an era of non–slave holding, which harmonizes with the overall thrust of the humane pronouncements of the opera that suggest a person’s worth is not incumbent upon rank or status, but rather upon an individual’s innate humanity. Hence, Tamino, a refined prince, and Papageno, a rustic bird catcher, are given the same opportunity of initiation into the temple community,55 the opera’s central metaphor of a fraternal society. Masons called each other “brother”56 and saw it as their highest obligation to cultivate “BROTHERLY-LOVE, the Foundation and Cape-stone, the Cement and Glory of this ancient Fraternity.”57
This ideal is inherent in the ritual question, akin to Masonic questions asked of an Apprentice, posed to Tamino by the priests: “What drives you to enter our walls?” (Was treibt euch an, in unsre Mauern zu dringen?). Tamino answers soberly: “Friendship and love” (Freundschaft und Liebe) (2.3). Similarly, in “Ueber die Mysterien der Aegyptier,” von Born relates a story of twelve priests who ruled together in harmony, and he cites this convivial relationship as a “monument to friendship” (Denkmal der Freundschaft).58 Analogous reconciliatory and harmonizing gestures in The Magic Flute are many and not least among them is the aria sung by Sarastro to Pamina, who has been disowned by her mother for refusing to assassinate him, when he explains that within the “holy walls” of the temple (In diesen heilgen Mauern), forgiveness is inculcated (2.13).59
What emerges in The Magic Flute is a new social order, a “Brotherhood” (Bruderbund) (1.8) based on virtue. One of the central questions asked by the priest before Tamino may proceed with initiation illuminates the importance of this quality: “He possesses virtue?” (Er besitzt Tugend?). To which Sarastro gives a resounding affirmation—“Virtue!” (2.1). At the close of act 1, the choir sings in praise of virtue (1.19), and Sarastro’s prayer to Isis and Osiris in act 2 intimates that choosing the path of virtue might cost one’s life (2.1).
For Freemasons, this new order made men of all ranks brethren and virtue their common goal: “Yet does the craft admit that strictly to pursue the paths of virtue, whereby a clear conscience may be preserved, is the only method to make any man noble.”60 And von Born argues that the goal of “our Brethren” is to show those who wish to join “our circle” the way to perfection on “the path of virtue.”61 Tamino contends that he is ready to walk “the path of virtue” (Den Weg der Tugend fortzuwandeln!) (2.28).
Directly thereafter Pamina shows by her own virtue and courage that she, too, is worthy to be initiated (Ein Weib, das Nacht und Tod nicht scheut, / Ist würdig, und wird eingeweiht) (2.28). Here Mozart and Schikaneder transcend the metaphor of universal brotherhood and transform it into a typical late-German Enlightenment one of the universal family of humanity.
On November 18, 1791, Mozart would conduct his final musical performance, Kleine Freimaurerkantate (KV 623), a cantata celebrating the opening of a new temple for his Masonic lodge.62 Virtuous societies had been envisioned by Klopstock in Die deutsche Gelehrtenrepublik (The German Republic of Letters) (1774); transformed by Kant, whose treatise Zum ewigen Frieden (On Perpetual Peace) (1795) foresaw a federation of nations; and anticipated by Goethe, who created an intellectual blueprint for a parliament of the world’s religions (1784/1816).63 Perhaps the grandest expression of global harmony is declared in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony choral setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” (An die Freude, 1786): “All humanity will be brothers” (Alle Menschen werden Brüder).64 Similarly, The Magic Flute’s Masonic ideals of the late-German Enlightenment throw into relief the possibility of a family of humanity.
The Magic Flute integrates Masonry and Enlightenment ideals into Mozart’s musical language; and yet, these seem to give way to a unique aesthetic-ethical vision. If The Magic Flute epitomizes the crowning possibility of male and female potential as Tamino and Pamina are initiated into the temple order and obtain the “Mysteries of Isis” (Mysterien der Isis) (2.28), that then begs the question: What are these mysteries? The opera does not give a clear answer. The etymology of the word mystery implies those things that are sealed to the uninitiated, and although the opera guides the audience through the initiation, it ends just after the initiation is complete.
Nevertheless, there are hints as to what these mysteries may be. Tamino is given instructions by two men in black armor with flames on their helmets, who stand sentinel-like near the entry way to the place of his final “trials” (Beschwerden). The words they read to him from a pyramid suggest that after purification through the elements of fire, water, air, and earth and overcoming the fear of death, an initiate is prepared to soar heavenward and, illuminated, dedicate himself to the Mysteries of Isis (Erleuchtet wird er dann im Stande sein, / Sich den Mysterien der Isis ganz zu weihn). When Pamina joins Tamino at this point and is granted permission to undergo the temple order’s initiation with him, they all sing that fate or destiny cannot separate them, and, significantly, they all add that death cannot do so either (Nun trennet uns [euch] kein Schicksal mehr, / Wenn auch der Tod beschieden wär!) (2.28). It appears, therefore, that on one level the temple ceremonies prepare the initiate to prevail over the fear of death or even death itself.65
The Egyptian iconography of the opera and its temple cult’s devotion to Isis and Osiris lend some credence to this elucidation. But from a rationalist Enlightenment standpoint, one could assert that the opera’s temple order dispels superstitions about death. And from a Masonic coign of vantage, conquering death could symbolize a new way of life and fellowship; considering the opera from the perspective of esoteric Masonry (which, for example, took elements of Rosicrucian thought or alchemy seriously; or was taken in by outright frauds, such as Cagliostro’s so-called “Egyptian Rite”) might infuse the opera with more mystical overtones about conquering death.66
Another purpose of the “Tempel”67 (2.28) is alluded to throughout the opera. Tamino, upon first gazing at Pamina’s portrait, wishes that he could be with her forever. He imagines that embracing her with the passion and rapture he feels in his heart would bind them eternally (Ich würde sie voll Entzücken / An diesen heißen Busen drücken, / Und ewig wäre sie dann mein) (1.4, emphasis added). Indeed, the Queen of the Night lays implicit claim to the authority to make Pamina his eternally, if Tamino does as she says (Und werd ich dich als Sieger sehen, / So sei sie dann auf ewig dein) (1.6, emphasis added).68 It can be inferred, too, through what Pamina momentarily misconstrues as an eternal loss (Ewig hin) of Tamino’s love, that she had believed that their love would be eternal (2.18, emphasis added).
Each of these—Tamino’s fiery passion; the Queen of the Night’s usurped and presumptuous authority; and Pamina’s piercing grief—insists on some kind of an eternal union. After Pamina and Tamino penetrate the night (Ihr dranget durch Nacht)69 and are purified through initiation, they are prepared to enter into the Mysteries of Isis in what appears, in the stage directions, to be the celestial chamber of the temple.70 They will be rewarded “with an eternal crown” (Mit ewiger Kron) (2.30, emphasis added)—a royal symbol of rule that combines political and ecclesiastical authority. This scene is thematically and linguistically linked to the words of the temple priest (the Speaker) to Tamino when the prince seeks Pamina and is told that he will be led by the hand of friendship into the sanctuary (or holy place) to an eternal bond (Sobald dich führt der Freundschaft Hand / Ins Heiligtum zum ewgen Band) (1.15, emphasis added).
If taken literally, all of this could intimate that another purpose of the temple order is to forge a new family ideal in facilitating an “eternal bond” between husband and wife;71 however, that is about as easy to assess as it would be to know how literally Mozart meant it when he signed his letters to his beloved wife, Constanze, “Eternally yours” (Ewig Dein), as he often did.72 Certainly F. J. Lamport shows that a number of German dramas emerged during the late eighteenth century (about the time of The Magic Flute) with “plots turning on family relationships.”73 One could argue that learning to relate to each other as family is a strong subtext in The Magic Flute and deem the references to eternal love and temple initiation as metaphors of this or choose a less fashionable and speculative view and see in these “open secret” statements a Romantic hypothesis, perhaps even the recrudescence of a religious hope: that relationships of love deserve to be eternal.
Dorothy Koenigsberger holds that the “emotional experience Mozart and Schikaneder intended their audience to have parallels the experiences that they believed ancient petitioners had when they were accepted at the temple. . . . In other words, as Sarastro and the priests do to the characters, so the opera is intended to do to the audience.”74 In this sense, an audience is instructed in what is just and humane, a moral precondition for entering the temple community. Thus, the opera’s aesthetic strategy is one of perceptual reenactment: the members of the audience witness the initiation of Tamino and Pamina into the Mysteries of Isis, itself rooted in an artistic interpretation of Masonic ceremony, and are themselves initiated into the enlightened ideals of The Magic Flute’s temple community.