"Die Zauberflöte" and Mozart's Ties to Freemasonry

Bronze bust of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart's Masonic-influenced final opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), made its debut in Vienna, Austria on September 30, 1791.
(Image credit: Bigstock/markara)

Freemasonry in the Age of the Internet

Freemasonry is often considered to be a controversial subject because the organization maintains a veil secrecy about its goals, membership and philosophy. From the Morgan Affair to the Taxil hoax, Freemasonry commonly finds itself in the crosshairs of a multitude of conspiracy theories and it garners a certain level of public distrust because of its shadowy nature and its secret rites and rituals that are off-limits to the uninitiated. Indeed, Masons are forbidden to proselytize. That is, they aren't allowed to "convert" people to Freemasonry and they aren't allowed to recruit new members. A prospective new candidate must approach a Mason of his own free will and accord if he would like to join. A person who is overly shy or meek may find great difficulty in just this first step.

In the modern world, the Internet has made it easier for us to recognize Freemasons and learn which celebrities and well known people might be members. Some outright admit to being a Mason, and for others, it's much more ambiguous. As was true in centuries past, modern Freemasons are sometimes viewed in a negative light and questions immediately arise as to just what it is they may be up to. Sometimes, however, the public is surprised to learn that a famous historical figure was a Mason.

Famous Masons Include Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 and died at the age of just 36, in 1791. His links to Freemasonry are well known, both because of his extant historical Masonic records, and also because much of his work has Masonic influences, such as Maurerische Trauermusik (Masonic Funeral Music), and even more so, his final opera entitled Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute).

The Magic Flute is perhaps one of the most famous operas written by Mozart. It originally premiered at the Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna, Austria, on September 30, 1791. In addition to its Masonic themes, the work was also influenced by the philosophical currents of the time period in which it was written, the Century of Lights, or more commonly, the Age of Enlightenment. For example, it advocated for an enlightened or benevolent form of rulership--a political philosophy that emerged from the Enlightenment--in which an absolute monarch ruled in a manner that would benefit the people as a whole rather than having the spoils reserved for just a favored few.

The Magic Flute is the story of a handsome prince named Tamino, who finds himself lost in a far off distant land. He is being pursued by a serpent when three ladies--attendants of the Queen of the Night--intervene and kill the serpent in order to save Tamino. Immediately, the audience is immersed in symbolism and mythology. The serpent, a creature that in some traditions represents evil, poison, darkness, deception and ignorance, also represents wisdom, healing, and cosmic infinity in others. In the context of The Magic Flute, we might assume that Prince Tamino is being tormented by his own inner demons and ignorance, until fate steps in, which gives him the opportunity to transform his life. Incidentally, the three female attendants that kill the serpent are reminiscent of Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the three Fates of Greek mythology, who would determine how long a mortal would live or how long the rule of a god should last. Recall also that according to one account by the famous Greek poet Hesiod, the Fates were daughters of Nyx, the Greek godess of the night.

When the queen's three attendants return, they give Prince Tamino a portrait of the queen's daughter, Pamina, and Prince Tamino immediately falls in love with her. The three ladies tell him that Pamina has been captured by Sarastro, whom they describe as being an evil and powerful demon. The Queen of the Night tells Prince Tamino that Pamina will be his if he successfully rescues her, so he immediately vows to rescue her from the evil Sarastro. Just before Prince Tamino leaves for his quest, the three attendants give him a magic flute which has the power to change sadness into joy.

The Magic Flute is a Magical Story

The concept of a "magic flute" can be traced throughout antiquity. A medieval legend tells of the Pied Piper who was able to catch rats by essentially putting them under a hypnotic trance induced by the melody of his magical pipe. If the citizens refused to pay for his "rat-catching service," the Pied Piper then turned his magical flute against the children of the village, hypnotically leading them away from their families as he had the rats. However, according to Masonic historian Manly P. Hall, the idea of a "magic flute" can be traced much further back, to the time of Pythagoras. In Chapter LXXXII in his famous work, "The Secret Teachings of All Ages," Hall recalls a story of when Pythagoras once encountered a young man who was drunk and enveloped in madness brought on by romantic jealousy. In his envious, alcohol-fueled stupor, the young man was attempting to burn down the house of his lady friend, and his rage was amplified by a flutist playing a stirring tune in the "fiery" and aggressive Phrygian mode a short distance away. Pythagoras asked the musician to change his song to a slower and "watery" Spondaic rhythm, which induced the intoxicated man to immediately compose himself and go home to sleep it off.

Opera Glasses

The Magic Flute contains a number of Masonic, esoteric and mystical themes.
(Image credit: Bigstock/Taborsky)

Returning to the opera, Prince Tamino is led to the threshold of Sarastro's temple. He is promised that if he remains patient, wise and steadfast, he will be triumphant in the rescue of Pamina. There are three entrances to the temple and Tamino attempts to enter from both left entrance and the right, but he is denied both of these paths and is instead only allowed to enter from the middle. Walking the "middle path" is an extremely important theme in esoteric tradition. Upon entering the middle doorway, Tamino is greeted by an elderly priest who tells him that Sarastro is benevolent, not evil, and that he should not trust the Queen of the Night.

The priest further tells Tamino that all confusion will be lifted if Tamino approaches the temple in a spirit of friendship, in a obvious allusion to the Craft's intention to raise the individual from a state of ignorance if the candidate approaches the lodge with an open heart in the spirit of fraternity. At the end of the first act, Sarastro tells Tamino that he must undergo a series of trials in order to become worthy as Pamina's husband. These trials are reminiscent of the ancient initiatic degrees that an aspirant or supplicant would have to submit to in order to gradually attain an intellectual and spiritual transformation. Throughout the ordeals in the opera can be found themes of the importance of silence, loyalty, forgiveness, and faith.

At the end of the opera, Monostatos, who betrayed Sarastro, conspires with the Queen of the Night to destroy the temple, but at the last minute, before they can enter the temple, they are magically cast out into eternal night. Sarastro announces that light has triumphed over darkness, heralding a new age of wisdom and brotherhood.

Mozart died just two months after the first performance of The Magic Flute. While some scholars believe the Masonic influences on the opera are overstated, there can be no doubt that Die Zauberflöte fully demonstrates the genius of Mozart and themes of chivalry, faith, and spiritual alchemy, mixed together with archetypes from Classical mythology and elements of the initiatic degrees from ancient mystery schools, make this opera a truly "magical" work.