In The Myth of Invariance, page 7, Ernest McClain wrote:

Throughout my study I shall focus on invariances, that is, on patterns which remain the same in different contexts. This theme of invariance was expressly formulated by Marius Schneider :

In view of the inconstancy of the world of form, primitive man questions the reality of static (spatial) phenomena and believes that transient (temporal) dynamic rhythms are a better guide to the substance of things.15

Schneider affirms that "sound represents the original substance of the world" for the historian of culture, and points out that the Indian tradition emphasizes the "luminous nature of sound" in the similarity between svar (light) and svara (sound).16 My mathematical presentation can be regarded as a very specialized development of Schneider's general view of the role of music in the spiritual history of man.

15 Marius Schneider, "Primitive Music," The New Oxford History of Music, vol. 1, (London : Oxford University Press, 1957) p. 43 [out of print].

16 Ibid., pp. 45-49. Schneider's essay anticipates many of the themes in my book. Especially significant is his appreciation of the male-female sexual imagery involved with the instruments and their playing, "bisexuality" proving to have an interesting arithmetical meaning. Schneider also emphasizes the "friction" necessary to sound a tone, and points to the sound-box as "a kind of sacrificial cavern" (pp. 46-51), ideas which will prove important in later chapters. I deeply regret that the magnum opus which he now has in progress, summarizing his life's work in musicology and ethnomusicology, is not yet available, for it is obvious that Schneider and I are concerned with the same topics, although from quite opposite perspectives which must eventually be coalesced.

As time permits, further extracts from this essay by Marius Schneider (see note 15 above), runs on below. Pages, separated by lines and numbered, may break differently to the original publication.



So many writers have remarked on the astonishing unity of basic religious conceptions which underlies all the varied manifestations of primitive culture in so many different times and places that there is no need to emphasize it again here. Universal predispositions of spirit and the same fundamental observations have presumably resulted everywhere in similar conceptions; myths, symbols, and social organizations have been the clearest expression of these universal ideas. The progressive development of the physical and metaphysical conception of the world can be clearly traced from the earliest cultures right into the Megalithic Age, and the systematic symbolism of that age underlies the religious systems of the highly developed cultures. Some tentative efforts to combine the now disconnected remnants of these ancient conceptions into an organic whole have already been made.1 An attempt must be made here to represent the specifically musical part of this ancient conception of the world, excluding as far as possible the contribution of the highly developed cultures, although it is very difficult to separate these latter elements since, on the one hand, the religious conceptions of the highly developed cultures include many primeval constituents and, on the other, many late elements have been assimilated by primitive cultures. 

1 L. Frobenius, Atlantis, vi (Jena. 1921), p. 261. 

2 P. Witte, 'Lieder und Geslinge der Ewe-Neger', Anthropos, i (1906), pp. 66-67.

 3 Schneider, El origen musical de /os animates simbolos and La danza de espadas y la tarantela (Barcelona, 1946 and 1948); 'Los cantos de lluvia', Anuario musical, iv (1949). Recent studies by the present writer after the completion of this section have strengthened the arguments here given. Cf. Schneider, 'Die Bedeutung der Stimme in den alten Kulturen', Tribus (Jahrbuch des Linden Museums) ii-iii (Stuttgart, 1953), Singende Steine (Kassel, 1955), and La phi!osophie de la musique chez !es peuples non europeens (Paris, 1956).



Music is the seat of secret forces or spirits which can be evoked by song in order to give man a power which is either higher than himself or which allows him to rediscover his deepest self. This is true of 'religious' and 'secular' music alike, for no distinction between the two kinds exists for primitive man, whose whole thinking is essentially religious or magical. When primitive man sings at his work, the music serves both to lighten his labour and to appease the spirit of the felled tree or the gods of the water he is crossing. It is only in later cultures that the working-song serves a purely practical end.

It has already been mentioned in connexion with totemistic ideas1 that every being has its own sound or its own song, the timbre and rhythm of which embody the mystic substance of the owner. Just as the 'personal song', which develops the sound-substance of the bearer to magical power, is not the melody itself but the personal way in which it is sung, so here too the term 'sound' is to be understood not so much as a clearly defined note as a particular inflexion or characteristic tone-quality. This rhythmical sound is the clue to the nature and quality of an object. From merely hearing a voice we know whether it is the voice of a human being and we can even identify the particular human being and tell whether he is happy or sad, resolute or undecided, bold or reserved. If we strike a tree or a stone, the sound produced tells us not only the nature but also the condition of the tree or stone. We can also tell by merely hearing the blows of an axe how well it has made its mark.

The mystical sound-substance inherent in all things, manifesting itself now directly, now indirectly, exists everywhere, even beyond the range of the normal human ear. The fact that primitive man easily attributes non-acoustic impressions to acoustic sources ( owing to the unity of his sense-perceptions, or to the priority of his sense of hear­ing?) substantially widens the field of the rhythmic sound-substances

1 See p. 8.


which can be grasped indirectly. This is particularly facilitated by his psychological disposition to observe dynamic phenomena more intensely and to rate them much higher than static ones. When the sombre sounds and violent rhythms of a tempest convert the waves of the sea or the bushes of the forest into the likeness of the trampling and the swaying backs of a herd of animals stampeding down a hillside, the Duala Negro feels that these three phenomena are dynamically related and is at once able to reduce them to a common acoustic denominator by a suitable drum-song. Where the same sounds or rhythms appear, there also analogous beings are at work.

In view of the inconstancy of the world of form, primitive man questions the reality of static (spatial) phenomena and believes that transient (temporal) dynamic rhythms are a better guide to the sub­stance of things. Hence he calls the same animal or the same tree by different names (i.e. rhythmic sounds) according to its age, condition, colour, and so on. Even one and the same person represents entirely different beings according to whether he acts in anger or kindness, as friend or foe, or moves like a child or an old man. The primitive conception of nature has a psychological basis. To the primitive mind the phenomena here called 'rhythms' are spirits, the audible souls of the dead ancestors who created all things1 and in which they constantly reincarnate themselves. They are the physical and meta­physical reality which is the source of all life and all magical song.

1 See p. 9.

In contrast to stones and plants the rhythms and sounds of which are monorhythmic and therefore have only one meaning, man is distinguished by his polyrhythmic constitution. The animals come between these two groups. It is true that man too has his own unequivocal basic sound, corresponding to the resonator of his out­ward appearance, but since his resonating surface is not so limited as that of inanimate nature, he is not only able to produce the sound peculiar to his own nature but also to imitate non-human rhythms and sound-colours. In addition, he can imitate sounds artificially since he makes musical instruments. Thanks to all these abilities, man is able to develop enormous power; for anyone who knows and can imitate the specific sound of an object is also in possession of the energy with which the object is charged. The purpose of magic is to utilize this indwelling energy (orenda, mana, sila, manitu, kami, &c.) in some way. The words orenda, mana, and so on denote the power of the sound-substance which an object emits audibly or otherwise. Orenda is the growth or the special curative power of plants, the purifying power of water, the dynamic power inherent in a song. It becomes a magic energy whenever it appears to any exceptional degree. The re­sourceful magician gifted with special vocal powers can control this energy because he can imitate the sound-substance of the orenda; for, although it is emitted by spirits or particularly outstanding human beings, the orenda is an impersonal force which can be communicated, especially by exhalation or by shooting, to other people or suitable objects, such as musical instruments, and then withdrawn again. It is not confined to its bearer.1


By sound-imitation the magician can therefore make himself master of the energies of growth, of purification or of music without himself being plant, water, or melody. His art consists first of all in localizing the object in sound2 and then co-ordinating himself with it by trying to hit the right note, that is, the note peculiar to the object concerned. He may attempt to do this by way of a rhythm in the cadence of its original murmur, by briefly shaking a rattle or by singing a short musical motive, thereby relating himself to the object or spirit by sympathetic vibration. If the contact between subject and object has led, by such musical analogy, to a mystic fusion of both parts, the sound or the motive ,vill gradually develop into a song. Through the correct intonation, the spirit is held captive in the magicians' body and sings through his mouth. But it is the song which the magic­ian makes from the sound-substance of the spirit and the correspond­ing visible rites that determine the dynamic and the course of action which the magician attempts to force on the spirit. The spirit can be localized and allured by its own personal sound but it can only be captured, appeased, or overwhelmed by the song developed from its sound-substance. Admittedly, the visible rites may include analogical actions, such as the representation of the spirit by a mask, but their essential purpose is to act on the spirit which the sound-analogy has evoked. This activity may be expressed by the brandishing of a magic spear or sword, but it may also be limited to the words which envelop the sound-substance.

To understand this action of imposing the will on a spirit, it has to be remembered that for primitive man the world consists of an inter­action of spirits which think and act like human beings. The spirits are conceived as fabulous beings (often in the shape of animals) dwelling in rain-clouds, springs, crevices, dark caverns, under heavy stones, in old trees, or in bamboo reeds. As a particular spirit is responsible for every disease and a particular healing-song exists to cure every disease,3 the doctor, after he has localized the cave­dwelling or the note of the spirit by examining the patient, must try to establish the name of the spirit, so that he can name it in the magic song. By means of a song pleasing to the spirit, by shaking a rattle, or by singing abusive and mocking songs, he entices the spirit from its dark dwelling-place (that is, from the recesses of the patient's body). If the spirit appears, that is, if the doctor is possessed by the spirit, the spirit must be forced to 'confess'. It must name its name, that is, sacrifice its substance and become a song. Although this sacrifice is entirely in the nature of the sound, the spirit makes it only on condition that a return service is offered in the form of a song or a sacrifice and that the patient patiently endures the suffering involved in the treat­ment.

1 R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians, vii (Oxford 1891), p. 119; J. N. B. Hewitt, 'Orenda', American Anthropology, iv (1902), p. 33.
2 On localization in rain-ceremonies see Densmore, Papago Music (Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 90) (Washington, 1929), pp. 154-5.


The spirit which gives its sound and its name to the healing-song emerges from the dark cavern into the light, like sound escaping from a resonator. All the dark dwellings from which the spirits 'look out', that is to say, emerge in sound,1 are symbols of the sleep that brings health and purification, of the potential concentrated energy of the Womb and ultimately of the fruitful sacrificial energy of the dead spirits which are the givers of all life. The ordinary man and the medicine man both receive their healing songs as a rule from a dead ancestor who is revealed to them in a dream. When the shaman sings a healing song, the spirit says to him: 'You are singing a song which pleases me. It is my song. Therefore I will give you also my power. If you will care for me, I will care for you. If I hear your song, I will come.'2 Spirit and medicine man need one another. The shaman receives his strength from the song, but the ancestor (i.e. the spirit which causes the disease and takes it away again) also needs to sound in song. By drawing the sounds of spirits from the dream-cavern and bringing them to light in the form of a song, the medicine man carries the spirit, becomes the singing cave, the 'drum', the 'ship', the 'wagon', or 'bird'. The usual expression for this is: 'He carries the tune.'

1 G. Speck, Ceremonial Songs of the Creek and Yuchi Indians (Philadelphia, 1911), p. 211; Densmore, Papago Music, p. 88; Music of the Indians of British Columbia,p.18. (Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 90 and 136) (Washington, 1929 and 1943); Schneider, La danza de espadas y la tarantela, p. 47.

2 See p. 49, n. 5.


In view of the fact that sound represents the original substance of the world, the singing dream-cavern (which is also symbolized by the moon or by water) constitutes not only the source of musical inspiration but also the source of Creation. In his Religion und Mytho­logie der Uitoto Preuss writes: 

There is an inexplicable substance which seems to be a phantom and yet exists in a form hidden from the senses and perceptible only in dreams. The world came into being when God touched this unreal substance and as a result of a dream held it fast by a dream-thread which passed through the breath of his mouth. As he dreamt, he held the substance fast, stamped on the deceitful ground, and settled on the substance which he had dreamt, and created heaven and earth by secreting their elements from his body.1

To produce a sound, however, an effort has to be made. The bow­string has to be stretched and the breath must impinge on a sharp resisting edge. The 'ground' must be 'stamped down'. All life arises solely from stamping, from the tension or friction of two opposing factors, which have to sacrifice their strength and, if need be, their life for the birth of new life. All new life comes from sacrifice and, ultimately, from death. Since sound forms the substance of life, the spirits—that is, the sounding souls of the dead—are the real givers of life and preservers of the world. The dream-cavern is both the entrance to the underworld and the source of life. When the cavern sings or shouts, or the cloud thunders, each is sacrificing and emptying itself, like a fruit when it reaches maturity. But by giving their fruitful waters to frightened man, they liberate and regenerate themselves. When man offers his song or his shout, he purifies himself from the overripe guest of the cave and thereby helps it (the spirit) to achieve its full existence, to become sound. Sound is the material expression of the mutual sacrifice that is enacted between the living and the dead.

 1 Op. cit., i, p. 27.


The experience that concentration and effort are necessary for every creative act led in ancient Indian philosophy to the cosmic idea of sacrifice. According to this, the world arose from the expiration of a light-sound, the 'friction' (sacrifice) of which created the gods and the stars, until it finally 'expanded' into matter. According to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad this original sound was a song in praise of death or hunger which made all things grow or 'swell'. The fasting ascetic acts analogously when he offers the breath of life in singing or reciting from the 'cavern of his heart and lungs'. The sacrifice or 'friction' is the path or wagon on which man overcomes the dualism of the world. Since the world can be preserved only by the mutual sacrifices of the living and the dead, the ascetic can exert the same kind of compulsion on the gods as they exert on man.1 In the prac­tical magic which has developed among primitive races from similar ideas, the idea of a balance between the living and the dead is much less pronounced. For primitive man the dead are always the more powerful and he is therefore not afraid to feign sacrifices to mislead the spirits, or to sing them flattering or plaintive songs in order to achieve the desired result. 

Although primitive races are not acquainted with the idea of sacri­fice in the strict and theoretical form in which it appears in advanced cultures, there is–quite apart from the fact that they are continually making food-offerings, performing ritual war-dances, castigating themselves and fasting-sufficient evidence to suggest that for primi­tive man, too, light-sound (in particular lightning and thunder), sacrifice, and an immanent dualism are recognized as the beginning of all things. When the gods were still wandering on earth they sang and drummed ( = lightened and thundered) in order to create all things in the war-dance (sacrificial dance). These' gods' are probably only sounds or vibrating objects conceived in the forms of human beings or animals. The Australian creator-god created the solid earth by beating the original seas with a reed. At the sound the waters divided and the death-gods came forth from their caves and created men and things.2 In European folk-lore the tradition of the beating of the water is ascribed to witches. The Marind-anim of New Guinea say that God lit a fire of bamboo wood to warm the first freezing (semi-human, semi-fishlike) creature; at the first crackling of the fire the creature's ears were opened, at the second its eyes, at the third its nostrils, at the fourth its mouth: so man gradually came to life.3 (It is very significant that hearing was the first sense to be created.) The father-god of the Uitoto created the primeval waters by beating the hollowed-out tree-drum (he was probably one himself).4 The first crocodile created the harmony of the world when it drummed on its hollow belly with its tail. 5 Theodor Preuss has already shown that the gods are thought to have produced all created things from their own bodies and, more especially, from their own mouths. Created things are apparently released from the caverns of the divine bodies, just as sound is released from a drum or thunder from a thunder-cloud.

1 Schneider, 'Die historischen Grundlagen der musikalischen Symbolik', Die Musik-f,mchung, iv (1951), p. 113. 

2 C. Strehlow, Die Aranda und Loritjastamme, i (Frankfurt, 1907), p. 3.

3 P. Wirz, Die Marind-anim, i, 2 (Hamburg, 1922), p. 185.

4 Preuss, op. cit., p. 29

5 M. Granet, Danses et /egendes de la Chine ancienne, i (Paris, 1926), pp. 263 and 326.


Music not only creates the world; it also cultivates and preserves it. On the island of Er they say that the first settlers, the original ancestors Pop and Kod, who were probably twins, dwelt in a hollow coral-tree (Erythrina) and made a song; then they climbed down to earth and 'had connexion on the ground' .1 The custom of promoting the growth of fruit with such instruments as bull-roarers, panpipes, and flutes is very widespread. According to a story told in the Aleutian Islands a girl raised a man from the dead by singing. 2 In the language of the Ewe the word lo means both "to sing' and 'to weave'.

The idea of sacrifice is particularly marked in the cosmic myths according to which the world was created by the self-castigation or self-fertilization of a bisexual god. Sometimes the god is the god of lightning and thunder, sometimes a drum-, tree-, or cave-god. This immanent dualism is also represented by a fighting pair of twins, whose flashing swords and thudding shields produce the creative sound. The idea that this sound can develop only from fighting, castigation, and sacrifice dominates all religious music in primitive cultures. Song is a sounding sacrifice of the breath of life. Women beat the abdomen rhythmically; men beat their arms until the blood spurts. Stretched ox-hides are beaten with an ox-tail. The sound of the drum acquires magic power only when it is 'heated' by special songs3 or has been smeared with blood. Often, the drum must be beaten until the skin bursts. Many instruments have to be made from parts of sacrificed animals or human beings (bones or skin) in order to acquire magic power. A legend from the Sudan tells of a musician who ac­quired a lute from a blacksmith. But the lute 'did not sing'. The smith said, "This is a piece of wood. It cannot sing if it has no heart. You must give it a heart. You must take it into battle with you on your back. The wood must resound at the blow of the sword; the wood must soak up dripping blood; blood of your blood, breath of your breath. Your pain must become its pain, your fame its fame.'4 

From painful darkness self-sacrificing man reaches the joyful light, as sound enters the light of day from the darkness of the cave. On the Andaman Islands it is said that the ancestor of the tribe once crushed between the palms of his hands the grasshopper sacred to the lightning and thunder god Biliku; the creature groaned like a human being and

1 Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, vi (Cam­bridge, 1908), p. 19.

2 E. Ermann, 'Ethnographische W ahrnehmungen auf den Kusten des Berings-Meeres', Zeitschrift fur Ethno!ogie, ill (1871), p. 212-13.

3 Densmore, Menominee Music (Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 102) (Washington, 1932), pp. 154-5; Preuss, op. cit., i, p. 140.

4 L. Frobenius, Spielmannsgeschichten der Sahel (Jena, 1921), pp. 56-57.


darkness fell; then the ancestor taught men songs and dances which continued till the light returned.1 Like night and sleep, music is the dark giver of power which leads to the light. That is why the cavern of night is the right time for music-making. It preserves life in the dark­ness and every morning is a new act of creation through which dark sound is brought to radiant light. In the mythology of the Pawnee Indians the morning star repeats the act of creation every day, by appearing as a warrior (beside its little brother) and bringing up a dark ball (the sun). Reddening, it throws the ball in the air and sings: 'This I did, when I became angry in order that in the future the earth might be formed.'2 (Ex. 52.)

The luminous nature of sound, which in Indian tradition is based on the similarity between svar (light) and svara (sound), recurs in the creation myth of the Navaho. Originally all mankind lived in a cave in the heart of a mountain. Their light glimmered only for a few hours a day but two flute-players enlivened the darkness with their music. Accidentally one of the players hit his flute against the roof of the cave. A hollow echo resulted and the men decided to bore a hole in the direction from which the sound came. The flute was held against the roof and the boring continued until they reached the outside of the mountain. Then a wind arose which dried out the sea and the people climbed out of the cave and played their favourite song 'Patole'. Then they built the sun and moon and entrusted the two flute-players with the conduct of these lights.3 The association of the light-producing explosion of the bamboo nodules with the origin of man has been mentioned earlier.4 Jakob Grimm held that the original etymological affinity between 'peeping', 'string', and 'piping'5 indi­cated that the idea of the association of light and sound also existed in ancient Europe.

Music for worship consists in a repetition of the act of creation. Admittedly it has not the creative power which enabled the divine ancestors to call forth matter from nothing by their shining songs and war-dances, but its power is analogous and has the power to renew life. The sound produced by sacrifice or battle establishes the con­nexion between heaven and earth. In many legends the sky formerly hung so close to the earth that it was possible to come and go between the two on an intervening rope (or tree). The obvious inference is that the string of the earth-bow stretched between the bough of a tree and a hole in the ground was the musical symbol of this rope. In any case, sound nourishes and preserves both gods and men. In the sky resound sun and moon, lightning and thunder, which give man sun­shine and rain. The sounds of earth, human songs of praise, nourish the celestial spirits. Since heaven and earth are regarded as analogous spheres, though with opposite values, all earthly sorrow is a joy in heaven and all earthly joy a heavenly sorrow. In accordance with this inversion of values, the lamentations in which primitive music abounds serve to attune the spirits to a happy, therefore favourable, mood.

1 A. R. Brown, op. cit., p. 215. 2

2 Densmore, Pawnee Music (Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 93) (Washing-ton·, 1929), p. 20.

3 E. Fuhrmann, Tlinkit und Haida (Hagen, 1923), p. 18.

4 See p. 47.

5 Grimm drew attention particularly to the English words 'peep' and 'pipe' and to the German word svegel which means both 'pipe' and 'light'. See Deutsche Mythologie (Gottingen, 1844), pp. 706-8.


The sound symbols developed from these ideas are very diverse. Recitative bridges the dualism of the world by its psalmodizing balance between music and speech, or a tremolo-like oscillation be­tween two notes (a third, fourth, or fifth apart). Perhaps singing in parallel seconds (Ex. 125) also goes back to the same source. Other forms attempt to reach their goal by inversion. On earth-bows sighs are produced which resemble those of the human voice. If a funeral song does not sound completely realistic, it progresses mainly in descending semitones.1 Among the Duala piercing cries are regarded as arrows, and even today in Andalusia in the night of Good Friday the saeta (from sagitta) is still sung in a high falsetto, with hands clenched. In the advanced culture of India the syllable om (arrow) (which is pitched very high in the udghita song) is the 'nail' which pierces the whole world and holds it together. The expression 'to fire off a song' is also very widespread.

The long sustained (non-rhythmical) drone also appears to represent a particular mystic force. In West Africa (Baule) it is thought to be the expression of 'female strength'. Among the Menominee it is sung by the women to help the men. 2 In the Caucasus it is associated with a melody used in healing the sick. 3 Among the Indians of western Brazil a woman utters persistent piercing cries, while the men sing a solemn communal song.4 In the South African panpipe bands the drone is called the 'weeping note'. Since the nose conveys the breath of life among the living and has phallic significance among the dead, erotic and funeral songs are often sung in a nasal tone. Piping during the night is usually interpreted as the voice of one recently dead. Among the Duala eating is stopped even in daytime whenever a passer-by whistles, lest the spirit of a dead man settle on the food. The sound of the bowstring represents a compressed force. The harsh sound of the scraper justifies the obstinate survival of this most unmusical of all primitive instruments since it represents the act of sacrifice most vividly as a process of' 'friction'.

1 The thirteenth-century theorist Elias Salomonis still calls the semitones below B flat, C and F, 'lamented' notes. See Gerbert, Scriptores, iii (St. Blaise, 1784), p. 18.

2 Densmore, Menominee Music, pp. 161-2.

3 V. Belaiev, 'The Folk-Music of Georgia', The Musical Quarterly, xix (1933), p. 423.

4 T. Koch-Grunberg, Zwei Jahre unter den Indianern N. W. Brasiliens (Stuttgart, 1923), p. 55.


In view of the significance of sound it is not surprising that certain sounds constantly associated with some process or other are consi­dered the most important constituent of the process. The superior power of the rattle-spear, the setting stick, or priest's staff is based on the specific noise they make. Deafening noise is particularly impor­tant. The roaring waterfall from which the spirit of great Manitou speaks, and any noise that proceeds from stone or iron frightens away evil spirits because—by definition—they shun the act of sacrifice. Noises are specially contrived in rain charms and at change of moon; noise keeps off the evil spirits which attempt to arrest the rain-laden clouds or prevent the birth of the new moon. At funerals the soul (which still cleaves to the earth for the first weeks after death) is banished as an evil spirit, until it is released from this world and transformed by the sacrifice of banishment into a good spirit. A systematic abstention from noise (prohibition of speaking and singing, pounding rice, and beating down nuts) is also recommended as a means of misleading the spirits.

Sound is regarded as just as much the substance of the powers of darkness as their dwelling-place. For primitive races sound is a wholly concrete expression of the spiritual world. In West Africa a series of identical musical phrases is likened to a string of pearls. In Uganda, where the soloist often breaks off in the middle of the theme and leaves the rest to the chorus, the chorus is said to 'catch' the melody (like a ball).1 Among the Nyamwesi, parallelism of voices is called going arm in arm. The expression 'to carry a tune' indicates that the singer is thought of as the seat, wagon, ship, or cavern of the sound.

The musical instrument and in particular the sound-box also represent a kind of sacrificial cavern. The ideas associated with instruments are largely conditioned by two factors: firstly, by the ideas connected with the surrounding world from which the material of the instrument comes and secondly, by the way in which the 

1 Schneider, '-Über die Verbreitung afrikanischer Chorformen ', Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, lxix (1937), p. 88.


outward shape of the instrument conditions the antagonism of forces, thereby making the sound possible. Because of the place where it is found, the conch is closely associated with the life-giving ocean of death; its outward shape is thought to express the idea of bisexuality. Since the sound-substance of the world is produced by a dual being who overcomes (i.e. converts into sound) the immanent dualism by self-castigation or self-fertilization, so originally every sound-producer must be thought of as bisexual. The African drum which, in a moment of danger, speaks of its own accord; the tree-drum which is the seat of the deity and which beats itself to create the primeval waters; the crocodile which beats itself with its own tail: all these embody the immanent dualism. But where a male or female player approaches the instrument, the immanent dualism may disintegrate into two separate elements (instrument and player). Yet the two parts are related like horse and rider, who always form a unity in symbolism.

By this conception of the basically dual nature of musical instru­ments the writer differs from the view held by his revered teacher, Curt Sachs, who tries as far as possible to attribute a male or female character to each instrument. There is no doubt that in many instru­ments the accent is on one sex or the other but instruments seem to resemble the bisexual cave-god who is very often divided into two persons and is therefore sometimes thought of as male, sometimes as female (the god of spring or Magna Mater). If a predominantly female instrument is played by a man, the bisexuality is maintained in the relationship between instrument and player. The player, the instrument, and the sound are related as father, mother, and child. If a woman plays a predominantly female instrument, however (for example, a drum), or a man a predominantly male one (for example, a flute), the player acts only as the outward shape or even merely as the technique of the instrument and the sound of the drum is masculine and that of the flute feminine—a relationship which again recalls the self-fertilization of the mythical dual being or of the ascetic whose 'wife' (sound-box) resides in his own nature and whose 'child' (sound) represents his spiritual renewal.

In fact the idea that the present division of the sexes has gradually developed from an original unity, by way of a hybrid being and a pair of twins (the marriage of brother and sister), is already found in the old hunting civilizations.1 Usually this mythological figure is a bisexual forest god or a fabulous creature who manifests himself in the echo, in the whizzing of the bull-roarer or in the complaining note of the bamboo trumpet. He is half man and half tiger or partly stone and partly straw or bees-wax. Sometimes he is also thought to be a grandmother or a hunter whose bow is carried by a brother or a mourning leopard (the transition from the hybrid to the pair of twins). The dualism is also expressed in psychological terms when the gloomy hunter indulges in some wild sport, killing or seriously injuring men and then healing them and teaching them medicine-songs. His close association with the rustling of the forest and the buzzing of insects suggests that the drone represents one of his most essential symbols. He too lives in hollow trees, and, as he is moreover lord of the dead, it is probable that the bisexual forest god is an anthropomorphic formulation of the dream- and resonance-cavern.

1 Baumann, op. cit., p. 208.


In order to understand the dual conception of instruments properly the whole man or the whole of nature as represented anthropomor­phically must be taken into account, not merely the sexual aspect. Man and nature are tripartite beings. Heaven, intervening world (humanity), and earth correspond to the head, the trunk and the lower part of the body or, alternatively, to the mouth and nose, the heart and the digestive organs, the sexual parts and the feet. The body is often thought of as a circle, so that mouth and feet touch one an­other. When a man stamps in the rhythmic dance, or offers his sperm, he creates new physical life. In the sacrificial meal he mediates between heaven and earth, by passing on celestial food to the earth through the 'digestive fire'. When he gives his breath, his speech, and his song, he creates spiritual values, analogous to heaven. These three zones represent the three aspects of the creative sacrifice. They are analogous to one another, but hierarchically ordered. A given symbol can be valid in all three zones. In Europe this tripartition survived in music right into the Middle Ages, when three kinds of music were distin­guished: musica mundana, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis. As a mere tool, the instrument belongs to the third zone. The fact that it is essentially a sounding instrument, however, means that it cannot represent primarily a sexual symbol but belongs rather to the first zone (head, heaven). The player or the sound-board belongs to the second zone. The musical instrument therefore belongs to all three zones, but as used by man its specific task is to connect the third and first zones. And the power to do this comes to it from the 'cavern' of the second zone. If lightning and rain are usually interpreted as the product of the marriage of heat and cold (sun and cloud, drumstick and drum),1 this simply means that an obvious aspect of dualism is being transferred to the first plane. The terms 'masculine' and 'feminine' (instead of fire and water, day and night, &c.) are therefore used below for all three zones in order to express as simply as possible the dualism that runs through all three levels.

1 Sachs, op. cit., p. 35.


The conch which Sachs, too, regards as bisexual,1 is a clear example of the dual structure and the three levels on which it is expressed. Because it dwells in the sea and is spiral, it is thought to contain all the seeds of life. Its role in the first zone as propagator of the breath of life is apparent in creation myths, in its use as a call-signal, in its ritual fixing on the forehead, and in its combination with ear and nose shells. Its war-call or sacrificial call is used particularly in rain charms. From the second zone downwards, it is used increasingly as a simple implement besides its function as a musical instrument. It is heard in fertility rites, but in libations and cures it is used predominantly as a container. On the third plane it is closely associated with the wor­ship of the dead, since conches are at the same time sexual symbols, dwellings of the dead, and burial places, from which new life springs. On all three levels the conch is a sacrificial cavity, but its fertility is spiritual in the first zone, physical in the second, and metaphysical in the third.

Rattles consisting of hard objects strung together, and hung round the body, turn the dancer himself into a rattle, into the homme-sonnaille (to use Schaeffner's expression) from which the spirit speaks. In the vessel form the dual structure is indicated by magic carvings (for instance, of birds and aquatic animals) though it is already symbolized to some extent in the combination of handle and hollow ball. The first of the three planes is shown by its significance in the 'cloud festivals' (i.e. rain ceremonies) in which each dancer wears a tall head-ornament of feathers (representing clouds), to which a rattle is attached.2 Its use in field and medicine rites corresponds to the second zone, as does probably also the interpretation of spherical rattles as female breasts.3 According to Frances Densmore a different rhythm is beaten for every illness.4 The third zone appears to be specially indicated by wearing the rattle in the region of the knee. Characteristically, the orenda of the rattle is also connected with that of the cricket and the dragonfly, both of which are creatures of the underworld. 5

1 Schneider, 'Los cantos de l1uvia ', Anuario musical de! Instituto Espa,iol de Musico-[ogia, iv (1949).

2 Wirz, op. cit., iv, p. 60.

3 Densmore, Pawnee ,Wusic, p. 18.

4 Papago Music, p. 102.

5 Preuss, op. cit., i, pp. 35, 80, and 128; Die Nayarit-expedition, i (Leipzig 1912), pp. 75 and 81.


The idea of sacrifice which is expressed in the conch and the rattle by the friction of the breath against the mouth-hole or the grains rubbing against one another in the hollow inside of the rattle, is symbolized in other instruments by the skin taken from a living body. When the skin is stretched over a pit or a hollow vessel, a drum results. Its specific effect depends on the quality of the sound it produces, that is, on the sound of the animal or person from whom the skin is taken. The dry hard sound of a goatskin attracts thunder, because the mountain goat is a thunder animal. Cow-hides bring rain. Although the low or belly-shaped drums 'speak' (in the first zone) they seem to belong predominantly to the second, i.e. the animal zone; they are regarded as mothers, cows, or frogs and are practically simple 'caverns'. On the other hand, the skin that produces the sound is thought of as the head. The ngoma-drum of the Venda seems, however, to extend over all three zones; it is called 'egg of an ostrich'; the side-handles are called 'a frog's knee'; the opening at the bottom is termed 'vagina' ; the head, 'the skin of a man'; the smooth hairless circular portion in the centre of the head, 'a baby's fontanelle'; the pegs which secure the head, 'the fingers'; the drumstick, 'the hand of a person' .1 The skin of these drums is often rubbed with sacrificial foods, and sacred stones or bones of the dead lie inside the instrument. If the skin bursts, no one is allowed to look inside.

It seems doubtful whether the friction-drum represents the sexual act, as is generally assumed. Its use in initiation ceremonies in the spring and at the winter solstice and also the term 'menstruation drum' seem rather to point to puberty.2

While the low barrel-shaped drum represents fertility as a crouching figure, longitudinal instruments express it in the upright or recumbent position of the mystic dual being. Since the self-fertilization typical of this dual deity is performed by most trees, it is not surprising that the deity also appears as a tree god. The corresponding musical symbols are the springy dance-tree (with a crocodile's or woman's face) and the slit-drum. The hollow interior of the slit-drum is the dwelling of the dual deity (or the deity itself) and the home of dead or still unborn souls. It was its 'word' that created the primeval waters when the father-god beat the slit (or himself) with the drum­stick. The Uitoto connect this sacrificial act with the darkened moon. It is characteristic that the slit of the anthropomorphic drum is often

1 Kirby, op. cit., p. 36.

2 Marius Schneider, 'Zambomba und Pandero', Spanische Forschungen, i, 9 (1954), p. 13.


found on the back, not on the front. The beating or whipping by a power behind (that is, invisible) clearly shows that fertilization is not conceived in specifically sexual terms. The head-hunters of the Naga place captured skulls on these sounding ancestral figures, tree-men, forest spirits1 or soul containers. Gigantic drums are laid or hung horizontally in a house specially built for the purpose or they are hung on a tree (usually in a sloping position). In this position they have quite exceptional power because they are thought to be suicides,2 i.e. beings who have become especially powerful spirits owing to their self-sacrifice.

Since the original types of flute were very large, like the earliest drums, the tree or the long reed seems to have determined their original symbolic form. Among the Tlinkit, flutes are carved in the shape of ancestral figures or supplied with figures of eagles or :fishes (symbolizing fire and water). The dualism is also expressed by double flutes or pairs of flutes. (In the creation myth of the Navaho mentioned above,3 the two flutes correspond to the sun and moon.) In the initiation ceremonies of the Nor-Papuans the lads are laid on the drum and beaten until the voice of the spirit Brag sounds in the two flutes, of which the male is 1 ·5 metres and the female 1 ·25 metres long.4 It is said of the Parak flute, which holds the secret of life and death, that it forms the veil in which the god Wunekau has enveloped the mystery of procreation.5 The flute is primarily the carrier of wind and breath. 'I have reared a bird' means 'I have made a big bamboo flute. '6 If the face of the totem-god, to whom the instrument be­longs, is known, the flute is provided with the corresponding head.7 Or when the spirit is evoked a corresponding mask is held ready,8 so that the totem-god can manifest itself vocally as well as bodily. Flutes are also played to promote the growth of the fruits of the field.

The flute is related to the drum in a number of ways. Neither instru­ment must be played indoors since both give rise to thunderstorms.9 Both 'speak' not only alone but to one another. In such dialogues the flute assumes the symbolic role of the drumstick. This relationship

1 A. Steinmann, 'Über anthropomorphe Schlitztrommeln in Indonesien ', Anthropos, xxxiii (1938), p. 244.

2 Ibid., p. 243.

3 See p. 49. '

4 J. G. Schmidt, op. cit., p. 344.

5 R. F. H. Mayer,' Sonnenverehrung in Neu-Guinea', Anthropos, xxviii (1933), p. 48.

6 P. A. Schaeffner, 'Zur Initiation im Wagi Tal (Bismarck Archipelago)', Anthropos, xx.xiii (1938), p. 401.

7 K. Koch, 'Totemismus und Zweiklassenkultur in Neu-Guinea', Zeitschrift fiir Ethnologie, lxxi (1931), p. 325.

8 J. G. Schmidt, op. cit., pp. 341 and 666.

9 J. Kunst, Music in Flores (Leyden, 1942), p. 127; R. F. W. Arndt, 'Die Religion der Nad'a', Anthropos, xxvi (1931), p, 356.


seems to be confirmed by the fact that in later cultures the flute is predominantly a male instrument and the drum female. Among the Banoro the sexual relationship between flute and drum is expressed in the longitudinal bisection of the spirit house. In the flute section (opposite the drum section) of the house, the bride is deflowered by one of her father-in-law's kinsmen.1 According to a story told by the Mandan and the Papago a boy saw his grandmother (the moon) take a full pot into bed with her every night, and the pot was empty in the morning. One day he found a snake in it and killed it. The snake (the sun) was the grandfather. The woman buried him (the grand­father) in a lake, took the stalk of a sunflower (or a reed from the lake) and made the boy a flute with which he could summon snow and rain.2

The high notes of the flute are particularly effective in sexual magic and a special style of singing has developed in association with this instrumental sound-symbol. The special songs sung while a flute is being made, which still survive in some European folk-customs, may also be connected with this. The reeds which grow on graves and betray the name of the murderer, the singing bones and the tomb­flutes close the life-circle by letting new life sound from the sacrifice of the old.

The power which springs from dualism is particularly obvious where a tree or a stick has been bent by an opposing force. The easily bent slit-drum or the sighing spirit-voice of the bow, with which the player holds converse, arises in this way. Even though the musical bow seems to be an earlier development than the hunter's bow, the ideological relationships between the two cannot be overlooked. According to a legend of the Hehe, the musical bow sprang from a girl thrown into the water; her head became the calabash, her back­bone the stick, and her limbs strings.3 According to a legend of the Marind-anim, however, the hunter's bow is also a human being, sometimes even a pair of human beings. The stick is the man, the string the woman. When the Papuan goes hunting he conjures the 'wife' to clasp her 'husband' firmly so that the string shall not break.4 The Washambula believe that men whose strings break while they are playing the bow will not get wives.5

1 Koch, op. cit .. p. 328.

2 Densmore, Mandan and Hidatsa Music, p. 81; Papago Music, p. 61. Sachs, op. cit., p. 63.

3 P. Wirz, op. cit., i, 2, p. 128; iii, p. 106-9. & Sachs, op. cit., p. 63.


The harp, which derives historically from the bow, often appears among primitive races as the retrogressive form of an instrument from an advanced culture. It is the fish-hook of the death- and water-spirits or a man whose back is bent with sorrow and care. Because of its long neck it is also called crane, goose, or swan.1 With this identifica­tion with the swan (the ship of the dead) is probably connected the later 'swansong'.2 In the outward shape of the harp, the hunter's bow, and the easily bent tree-drum, one can detect the mystic shape of the ship which, like the cry, the arrow, the path, the wagon, the waning moon, and man is a symbol of sacrifice. According to totemistic myths, the canoe is a human corpse which has been stamped into shape.3 According to other traditions, the drum is a forest spirit which origin­ally stood at the bow of a princely ship.4 Schaeffner has already drawn attention to the connexions between the construction of a harp and of a ship.5

The bull-roarer also appears to be a small boat. Many Australian legends tell of the circular voyages of the totem-gods who left their caves after the dividing of the waters, singing and dancing with spears, and set out to create all things. Then they taught men the songs on which the preservation of the world depends, returned to their caves, and turned into bull-roarers. These instruments represent the 'mystical body' of the totem-god and renew its creative energy as soon as they begin to travel, that is, as soon as they begin to whiz in the air. As carvings representing the journeys of the totem-gods or ancestral figures (in animal forms) are often found on Australian bull-roarers,6 the whizzing of the bull-roarer appears to represent a revival of the voice and ritual journeys of the cave-gods. The bull­roarer which a grandfather carves out for a child is kept in a cave before the child is born and returned there after its owner's death. It confers on its owner the joy of mystic communion with his an­cestors so long as he hides it from the women. It is customary to give the sick a few shavings from the wood as medicine.7

The bow or the tree-man that has been painfully bent into a circle or oval forms the framework of the shaman drum. It is used particu­larly in medicine, rain rites, and soothsaying. The victim (reindeer or horse) which gave its skin for the drum, is the lord of this 'singing

1 A. 0. Vaisaenen, Wogulische und ostjakische Melodieen (Helsinki, 1937), p. 22; Sachs, Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde (Leipzig, 1920), p. 231.

2 The Rigveda, iii, 53, 10 and ix, 97, 8 also requires the singers to sing like the swans who perform the prelude to the hymns.

3 Wirz, op. cit., i, pp. 122 and 176.

4 Steinmann, op. cit., p. 244.

5 Op. cit., pp. 164-5.

6 Strehlow, op. cit., pis. 1 and 2.

7 Ibid., ii, p. 79.


bow tree'.1 Since the doctor's original implement is a bow and arrow2 (medicine is 'shot'), it is not surprising that the drum, which replaces the bow, is also called 'bow' and the drumstick 'arrow'. Among the Shor of the Altai mountains the six 'horns' on the frame of the drum are used to attack, and the six iron rings (ring-mail) to ward off, evil spirits. The 'iron bow-string' runs right across the frame and beside it is the 'sword' (six knife-shaped iron plates).3 Like all sym­bols of sacrifice, the frame-drum represents a way or a means of transport by which the shaman travels to the world of spirits. If the drum is a horse, the drumstick is a whip.4 The skin, on which blood or libations are poured, is often decorated with symbolic drawings (of the sun, moon, drums, or animals) which represent 'the whole world'. 5 The number-symbolism of Samoyed drums6 probably points to a very late cultural development. On the other hand, the description of the drum as 'grandfather' and the Lapp custom of never bringing the instrument into a tent through the main entrance but only through the small 'sacred door' through which the hunters crawl are probably of earlier origin. Since the drum is a dead man it is worth mentioning in this context the custom of carrying the dead out of the house through a small door that is usually kept shut. 8

A dark god also speaks out of the hourglass-drum and is even depicted on it occasionally. Two similar, approximately triangular but inverted sections form the body of the drum. These outlines, which occur in many archaeological representations as the body of the tightly-girdled dancer (and later, in the shape of Shiva), represent the inversion brought about by sacrifice. The same significance attaches to the depiction of the waxing and waning crescents of the moon. The conches and the whale or crocodile jaws at the lower end and the resonant skin at the upper end of the instrument symbolize, like lizards and snakes, the dualism of water and fire.

In the transition to the higher farming and pastoral cultures many of the ideas touched on here undergo considerable extension or specialization. They become more and more the esoteric preserve of individuals; the people as a whole only partially continue the old tradition and usually lack any deeper understanding of it. But in the depths of the subconscious the ideas continue to be active. No art fascinates primitive man more than music; he is as vividly aware of its dynamic fluctuations between light and darkness as he is of the mysterious relationship between life and death.

1 E. Emsheimer, 'Zur Ideologie der lappischen Zaubertrommel', Ethnos, ix (1944), p. 142

2 Ibid., p. 143.

3 L.Menges and P. Potapov, Materia!ien zur Volkskunde der Turkvolker des Altay (Mitteilungen des Seminars fiir orientalischen Sprachen) (Berlin, 1934), p. 62.

4 Emsheimer, op. cit., p. 147.

5 Menges and Potapov,-op. cit., p. 64.

6 E.Emsheimer, 'Schamanentrommel und Trommelbau', Ethnos, ix (1946), p. 173.

7 Emsheimer, 'Zur Ideo!ogie', p. 162.

8 Baechtold-Staeubli, Handworterbuch des deu/schen Aberglaubens, v (Berlin, 1932/3), p.1134.

from: Marius Schneider, "I. Primitive Music," The New Oxford History of Music, vol. 1, (London : Oxford University Press, 1957) p. 43 [out of print].