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Mozart's The Magic Flute

(Die Zauberflöte)


Ignaz von Born's Three Levels of Meaning

Portrait of Ignaz Edler von Born by Johann Baptist Lampi the Elder (1751-1830)

 

Perhaps the most important influence upon both Mozart and his librettist, Johann Josef Schnikaneder, when creating their famous opera entitled Die Zauberflöte, was a man named Ignaz Edler von Born (1742-1791).  This man was a famous Austrian mineralogist, metallurgist, Freemason and a known member of the Bavarian Illuminati!

Many writers on the subject of The Magic Flute have asserted that Ignaz von Born was Mozart's mentor and that the character of Zarastro, in the opera, was modeled after von Born. My research indicates that von Born's Lodge and Mozart's Lodge shared the same temple building in Vienna; also, Mozart was an acquaintance of von Born and had written music for his Lodge. However, I could find no evidence that they were close friends. Even so, I do believe that von Born was the major influence on both Mozart and Schnikaneder through his writings. In particular, in 1784, von Born published a comprehensive, 116-page article that almost every educated, German speaking Freemason in Austria had read; it was entitled "On the Mysteries of the Egyptians" (über die Mysterien der Aegyptier) which appeared in the first issue of the Viennese Journal of Freemasonry (Wiener Journal für Freymaurer).

The eminent German Egyptologist, Eric Hornung (born 1933), Professor Emeritus at the University of Basel, has this to say concerning von Born in his book entitled The Secret Lore of Egypt (published 2001), at pages 123, 125 and 192:

... In 1784, the geologist and mineralogist Ignaz von Born (1742-1791) inaugurated the new Journal fûr Freimaurer with a fundamental essay, "über die Mysterien der Aegyptier" (On the Mysteries of the Egyptians). ... Von Born, relying in particular on Apuleius' account, stressed the similarities between the initiation of an Egyptian priest and that of a Mason. He drew chiefly on Diodorus and Plutarch for his depiction of the "condition, duties, and knowledge of the Egyptian priests" -- ancient Egyptian sources were not yet known. He did not view the pyramids as places of initiation; rather, he thought that the knowledge of the ancient Egyptians was stored in them.

In the same year 1784, in which von Born's essay ... appeared, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was admitted into the Zur Wohltätigkeit Lodge in Vienna, and it has been assumed that he memorialized Ignaz von Born, the Master of the Zur Wahren Eintracht lodge and the spiritual head of the Viennese Freemasons, in the person of Zarastro. ...

Ancient Egypt was ... significant to the eighteenth century as a political alternative, a model of peace, material well-being, just and wise laws, and cultural flowering. ... They viewed Egypt positively as a model of a strong, enlightened monarchy ... The notion of the Egyptian priesthood as a sort of Catholic clergy began in this period and was long held, though at the same time, Ignaz von Born took the priests of Egypt to be the ideal, original Freemasons. Notwithstanding many negative voices, the feeling prevailed that if there were ever a Golden Age, it had been in ancient Egypt. ...

Erik Hornung

Another eminent German Egyptologist, Jan Assmann (born 1938), Professor of Egyptology at the University of Heidelberg, has this to say about von Born in his book entitled The Mind of Egypt (English edition published in 2002) page 429:

... Among the abundant Masonic literature on Egypt is the tractate On the Mysteries of the Egyptians [1784], by Ignaz von Born, master of the Viennese lodge to which ... Haydn belonged. ... Von Born's tractate inspired Mozart and Schikaneder's opera The Magic Flute (1791) ...

Jan Assmann

Based upon my own research, I am also convinced that both Mozart and Schikaneder had read von Born's essay entitled "über die Mysterien der Aegyptier" and that it became the primary influence with respect to their decision to make the opera into a mystery play about the initiation of a seeker into the ancient Egyptian mysteries.  More importantly, their conscious decision to craft the opera so that it would have meaning upon three progressively more abstruse levels was due to von Born's finding that the mystery religion ceremonies were all intended to be experienced at the moral, historical and mystical levels.

The following are English translations of pertinent passages from the von Born essay:

1)  From the Introduction (Einleitung):

... Osiris was a mortal. We call the sun, this unchanging symbol of the godhead by his name. ... Knowledge of nature is the final purpose of our application. This procreatrix, nourisher and preserver of all creatures we honor under the image of Isis. -- Only that man lifts her veil unpunished who knows her whole might and strength. ...

2)  In the second section of the essay von Born discusses the hidden meaning of the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing:

... The profane man saw, for example, Osiris and Isis in the image or sign of the sun and moon. According to mystical meaning ... the sun was the highest unique godhead, the primeval source of all good, and the moon the image of the omnipotence of the creator. The sign of the sun often betokened the spirit and the fiery particles, and the sign of the moon, on the other hand, the waters and the little parts of the earth to which, as the effective causes of the whole creative process, according to their teaching, the air owes its existence. ...

3)  The third and longest section of his essay describes the similarity of the ancient Egyptian priesthood to the modern-day Freemasons and Illuminati. He then goes on to say that everything that was experienced in the Mysteries had a threefold purpose:

... a moral, an historical and a mystical meaning.  Wholly impenetrable, however, is -- owing to the profound silence of the initiates and the older writers about everything that was carried out in the innermost part of the temple -- the mystical meaning. Hardly ever will even the most far- and clear-sighted Brother of our Fellowship be able to unravel it; for that our so-called illuminated Brothers cannot come to our assistance, is beyond all doubt ... In their anxious search they wander from the prepared path on which they were led when they were admitted to the Order; bury themselves in labyrinths, wander from the twilight into the night, and their cry that they see light where the deepest darkness reigns, that they are quenching their thirst for truth at the source of life, leads many a good Brother from the straight path, leads him to the pool of nonsense, from which he thinks he is drinking wisdom, and diminishes the little band of the elect which, under the guidance of reason, this special light that the greatest architect has given man to guide him, slowly but surely approaches the desired goal. ...

4)  A bit farther on, von Born comments about the practice of the Viennese Masons:

... We, too make it clear to the initiate, as soon as he has seen the light, that we are not ordained to be a secret and hidden society, but that we, when tyranny and vice gained the upper hand, secretly banded together in order to oppose that stream more surely. ...

5)  Almost all of the European Masonic Lodges excluded women from membership. Ignaz von Born strongly supported this policy. He noted the subordinate position of women among the Egyptians:

... The Egyptian priests believed women to be incapable of the higher knowledge which was the priests' task, and doubted their discretion. ...

On the above issue, I note that The Magic Flute supported the opposite position.  In the opera, Tamina is ultimately allowed to also become initiated and indeed, in the last phase of the initiation process, she actually takes the lead, ahead of Tamino.  However, I also note that Zarastro and the older priests allowed this only with great reluctance.  However, at the end of the opera, they admit that they were wrong about Tamina and agree she should be treated as an equal with Tamino!

 

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