What Makes Music Orphic?
An interview with Esoteric Quest faculty member Joscelyn Godwin, PhD
1. In Plovdiv in August at our Esoteric Quest in Bulgaria, Crossroads of the Mysteries, you will be speaking about Orpheus. You wrote about Orpheus in the Open Center’s magazine Lapis so you came to mind immediately as our perfect speaker on the subject. You are also a musicologist which could hardly go better with our Orphic theme. Can you give us a brief overview of Orpheus and his place in Thracian/Greek mythology?
There are at least three personalities to the mythic Orpheus. The first is of the singer or musician who is so gifted that beasts and even trees are enchanted by his song. This became exemplary for the power of music, and by extension of all the arts, over body and soul.
Second, he descended to Hades to retrieve his wife Eurydice, and failed because he could not resist looking back at her. Was this Orpheus’s fatal weakness, or a necessary sacrifice? And did she really want to return? There is much for psychologists to discuss here.
Third, Orpheus was set upon by the Maenads, torn limb from limb, and his head and lyre went floating down the river, lodging on a rock from which the head continued to give prophecies.
2. You will be giving a workshop on What Makes Music Orphic? What is the short answer to that question?
It has an effect on body or soul, rather than going in one ear and out the other.
3. Can you tell us about the relationship between Orpheus and Dionysus, both of whom were worshipped in ancient Thrace?
Orpheus has an ambiguous relationship to Dionysus. Some say that he purified the Dionysian rituals by abolishing bloody sacrifices, which led to the Pythagorean tradition, vegetarianism, etc. Others say that this is why Dionysus’s devotees, the Maenads, made a sacrifice of him. But what they did was exactly what the Titans had done to the young Dionysus, tearing him apart so that he had to be restored and born again. And the power of Orpheus’s song, like Dionysus’s wine or entheogens, causes a sort of intoxication and altered state of consciousness. No one has sorted all this out in rational terms. It is best to view the images, hear the stories, and let them soak in.
4. You have been on a number of Esoteric Quests over the last 24 years, starting with the very first one on The Rosicrucian Enlightenment in Cesky Krumlov, Bohemia in 1995. How would you describe the essence of the Quest experience and what new participants might benefit from their time with us.
The Quests have three aspects:
1.. At each carefully-chosen location the spirit of place is very strong, and immersing oneself in it is like an excursion into the imaginal world.
2. Everyone who comes on the Quest has some kind of spiritual center to his or her life, which is not the case in most people’s social, much less public environment. You don’t have to feel shy about your own, but you must also be tolerant as some of them may be weirder than you are.
3. You may learn something from the speakers, in or out of the formal presentations, but I think numbers 1 and 2 are what you’ll never forget.
5. I imagine Bulgaria will be mostly a new adventure for you. What do you find most intriguing about this often overlooked part of the world that has such a rich and varied history – antiquity, Byzantium, medieval Manicheans, Ottoman Sufis and much more?
I find something very moving about countries that have woken up from the nightmare of Communism, and I like to see how the people enjoy their freedom today. A rekindled love of the past is the reward for giving up the myth of progress, and every sign of preservation and exploration of it is inspiring to me. I expect this to be particularly strong in Plovdiv, this year’s European Capital of Culture.
6. Any final comments you would like to make as we prepare for our journey to Bulgaria and Romania?
I accepted this adventure because I knew I would never get a second chance.
Joscelyn Godwin, PhD, is a leading scholar and writer on the Western Esoteric Tradition, including its musical aspects. He teaches at Colgate University and has written, edited and translated numerous books including Harmonies of Heaven and Earth, The Spiritual Dimension of Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde, and Mystery Religions of the Ancient World.
An Esoteric Quest in Bulgaria: At the Crossroads of the Mysteries
In Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the Oldest Living City in Europe
August 22-27, 2019
Click here for more info and to register.