Occult symbolism in The Magic Flute

An illustration and explanation of the sacred science of occult symbolism

The reason we have chosen Mozart's famous Masonic opera of The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) to illustrate the practical application of the science of symbolism is because it is one of the best known examples of how genuine occult truths have been concealed in plain sight.

If you know little or nothing about symbolism we suggest that you read our commentary in the sidebar before continuing. Equally, if you are unfamiliar with the themes in the opera you can find the complete libretto (text) of it on various websites in German and in English translation.


As many of you will know, Mozart and Schikaneder (who wrote the libretto) were both freemasons. When The Magic Flute was composed in the latter years of the 18th Century, freemasonry still preserved some of the teachings of the Ancient Mysteries, albeit in an often distorted and incomplete form. Although we do not know the full extent of the authors' esoteric knowledge, it is probable that Mozart and his fellow freemasons would have been aware of many of the subjects we discuss in our various articles, and in particular, the importance and real meaning of Initiation.

We may however, safely dismiss the notion popular among believers in the nonsensical rigmarole of the so-called impending 'Event', 'Planetary Shift', 'Ascension', etc., popularised by various blogs under the 'Prepare for Change' banner that Mozart was the pupil of the Sicilian 'adept' Cagliostro. Nor was this 18th century occultist the inspiration for the character of the Hierophant, Sarastro, in Mozart's opera. Whatever occult 'powers' the colourful count may have possessed, it must be clear to anyone who bothers to acquaint themselves with Cagliostro's life and career that his character has more in common with Goethe's sorcerer 'Faust' than a Hierophant of the Sacred Mysteries which is the real theme of this opera.

We may also dismiss the equally silly fantasy that Mozart 'spread the mysteries of Isis' through his opera. For although the Queen of the Night and the ancient Egyptian Goddess Isis share some qualities in common, this does not mean that they represent the same principle, nor that Isis has anything whatsoever to do with the fictional figure of 'Astara' who it is claimed by the prophets of the 'Ascension' craze, came to earth from the Sirius star system 26,000 years ago. Isis was not an extraterrestrial. The passions of ambition, jealousy and revenge which consume the Queen of the Night find no counterpart in the unconditional love, mercy and goodness which are associated with the Goddess Isis and her worship. Moreover, the Mysteries which Mozart did spread through his opera are as much those of Osiris as Isis. The two deities were never separated in ancient Egypt, for it was known that the gods, like man, were dual-beings, male and female, neither of which could manifest without the other. It is this important fact which has been ignored by those who have usurped the themes of this opera to bolster their own fanciful agendas of 'Ascension' and the 'goddess presence'.

If these are the reasons you have stumbled on this page it is most unlikely that anything we have to say will remotely interest you. If, however, you are genuinely in search of Truth and not childish fantasies, please read on. Who and what Isis really was you may discover for yourself by studying the Virgin of the World, one of the most important books which preserve some fragments of the Hermetic Wisdom of ancient Egypt.

It is impossible in a short analysis such as this to explore and explain the many layers of symbolism in The Magic Flute. The best we can hope to do is to identify and explain some aspects of the main symbols to encourage you to delve further, following the suggestions we make in our commentary on the science of symbolism in the sidebar on your right. We emphasise the word 'science' because there is nothing remotely wishy-washy or 'woo-woo'—to coin the current derogatory slang used to describe belief in anything irrational or nonsensical—in the science of symbolism. Like any of the material sciences, the science of symbolism demands careful observation, experiment and deduction based upon fixed universal laws, as you can read in our commentary.

Principal Characters

Before we consider the story of the opera and the music (which is full of symbolic meaning too), let us have a look at the principal characters, to see what they represent.

The principal actor in the drama is Tamino, the candidate for Initiation. He is a Prince. That is to say he is one who is destined to succeed to his father, the King. The symbolism is clear here. Tamino is a beginner who has yet to learn and master the arts and sciences which will make of him a King, or Initiate.

Soon after his introduction to the audience, Tamino meets the colourful bird-catcher, Papageno, who is half man, half animal, and covered in feathers. This is not such a bad description of the lower self, partly redeemed by the Higher Self and partly cursed by it's animal origins (the human body with its passions and instincts) as you can read in the first article in our occult studies course. So we may regard Papageno as the lower self of Tamino, who has his feminine counterpart in the shape of the rustic lass, Papagena. This theme of male-female runs through the opera, each principal character having his (or her) opposite polarity (or we might say 'sex'). Thus Tamino has his Pamina, Papageno his Papagena, and the The Queen of Night has Sarastro, the latter two also symbolizing the Moon and Sun. But there is more to Papageno than this. We learn that he catches his 'birds' for the Queen of the Night, who in return provides him with food and lodging. Papageno sings:

As the bird-catcher I am known
By old and young throughout the land.
I know how to set decoys
And whistle just like my prey!

Birds were symbolical of the soul from the earliest times, and even today we see the Holy Spirit depicted as a dove in the Christian religion. Birds also played an important role in the religious iconography of ancient Egypt. So we can say that Papageno is an unconscious emissary of his Mistress, the Moon, who collects souls on her behalf. He does this by setting traps for the unwary. Need we name them? Greed is one. Fear is another. Riches are a very successful trap indeed, and few among the 'young' or 'old' can resist their attraction. There are many 'decoys' in this world which lead the good and the not-so-good astray, and the road to Hell is paved with them.

We have said that Pamina represents the female counterpart of Tamino. But she symbolises other ideas too, for as you can read in our commentary in the sidebar, there are many different aspects to every symbol, and we must resist the temptation to try to place too narrow an interpretation upon them, lest we miss the bigger picture. Pamina is not only the daughter of the The Queen of the Night, but of Sarastro too, hence we may say she has a dual, or soli-lunar nature. In her solar nature she represents the true Soul with which the Higher Self seeks re-union. In her lunar nature she represents the Higher Self which is imprisoned in matter. All this is very reminiscent of the Roman myth of Proserpina, the daughter of Zeus, or Jupiter, who is abducted by Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, against the will of her mother, Ceres. It is possible that Mozart intended Monostatos, the Moor, to represent Pluto in the drama, who is thwarted in his attempted rape of Pamina, first by Papageno and later by Sarastro. This is the age-old allegory of the rape of the soul and its descent into matter, from which imprisonment it can only be rescued by its own efforts. As initiated freemasons, Mozart and Schikaneder would have been familiar with this myth, and so perhaps incorporated elements of it into their opera.

As we have seen so far, The Queen of the Night is the personification of the Moon and all it stands for, physiologically, psychically and spiritually. She both resents and fears Sarastro, who here symbolises the solar light she is compelled to reflect, but attempts to conceal from Tamino, for fear that he will see through her stratagems. Sarastro himself symbolises several important principles, each of which can again be regarded from several different aspects. But his primary role is the personification of Divine Wisdom in the shape of the Hierophant who initiates Tamino into the Mysteries of Isis and Osiris.

The remaining, minor characters symbolise either different aspects of the major actors in the drama, or personify specific ideas or qualities. As we mentioned above, we may regard Sarastro's servant, Monostatos in several different ways. As the ruler of the underworld in the guise of Pluto, Hades, Satan, etc. As the embodiment of the worst traits of the lower self, just as Papageno represents the better ones. As such, Monostatos symbolises the vices of lust, cruelty, hatred and indiscretion, just as the Three Youths who guide Tamino and Papageno to the Temple of Wisdom symbolise the opposite virtues of selfless love, compassion, kindness, steadfastness, patience and discretion.

Finally, the 'cunning serpent', who is pursuing Tamino as the opera opens, symbolises the lower self from which Tamino is trying to escape. He cannot really escape from him of course, for that 'serpent' is our constant companion throughout earthly life from which only the death of the physical body can liberate us. We may also regard the 'Serpent' as emblematic of the lower astral light, which ever deceives and misleads the soul imprisoned in matter. The fact that it is 'killed' at the very beginning of the opera suggests that Mozart either did not know the complete laws of incarnation on earth, or concealed his knowledge, or perhaps he simply wanted to create a dramatic entrance, which the slaying of the monster by the servants of the Queen of the Night certainly achieves! In any event, this does not alter the symbolism of that cunning serpent, which every Initiate must learn to tame and control—not kill—before he can obtain liberation and enlightenment.

The symbolism of the Music

Having discussed the principal characters and what they symbolise, let us now proceed to the story itself, together with Mozart's magical music, to see what further facts we can uncover. The opera begins with the overture in the heroic key of E flat major. This is no accident, given the grand theme of Initiation which is the heart and soul of the story. Mozart himself considered that E flat major evoked stateliness and religion, so it is no surprise that it is the dominant keynote of the whole opera. Beethoven used the same key in his Eroica Symphony, as did Holst for the Jupiter movement of The Planets.

The three sonorous chords—again in E flat major, each separated by long pauses, with which the overture opens, symbolise the trinity, whether we regard it from the Christian perspective, or as emblematical of the Soul, Mind and body. These three loud calls can also be regarded as representing the three officers who presided over the Sacred Mysteries of both Greece and Egypt. Originally these three symbolised the Creator, the Sun and the Moon respectively, but modern freemasonry has lost the inner meaning of these principles, though it retains three 'officers' in its rites as every mason will know. As we are not musicians, we must regretfully leave the further and fuller interpretation of the musical symbolism in The Magic Flute to the musicologists among our readers. You can read more about the occult side of sound in our article on the Magic of Music.

The Magic Flute

ACT ONE: the quest begins

At the beginning of Act One, Tamino finds himself in a rock-strewn, forested wilderness, pursued by the serpent mentioned earlier. This forest may be likened to the 'dark woods' in which Dante loses himself at the beginning of his Divine Comedy. Like the Italian Poet, Tamino prays for rescue and deliverance, but faints away in fear. Whilst he is unconscious, three veiled Ladies appear carrying silver spears; these are the Servants of the Queen of the Night. They kill the serpent and keep watch over the Prince until he awakens. During their vigil, they fall in love with him, and vie with one another as to who should keep watch and possess him...but, "it is not to be", they sing in the final verse of their aria. Whether or not Mozart intended this scene to symbolise the fatal attraction the illusions of the material world have for the Higher Self, we cannot say. Yet the words 'it is not to be' suggest that the three handmaidens of the Moon recognise that Tamino is not for them, but destined for higher things, and so they reluctantly depart to make report to their Mistress, The Queen of the Night.

When Tamino awakes he sees the dead serpent lying at his feet, and hearing someone approach, conceals himself behind a rock. After Papageno has sung his famous aria "The bird-catcher am I", Tamino learns about his outlandish visitor, who pretends to have slain the serpent. Those of you who know something of the nature of the lower self will smile at this point, for one of its less amiable traits is to take the credit for noble deeds it has never committed, and assume virtues it has never possessed! Once again the Three Ladies of the Moon enter, and discovering Papageno's falsehood, punish him by giving him water instead of wine, a stone instead of sugar loaves and a lock over his mouth in place of the figs he hoped for. All this is replete with rich symbolism.

The Ladies present Tamino with a portrait of Pamina, the beautiful daughter of the Queen of the Night, and depart with Papageno, leaving Tamino gazing at the picture in wonderment, which is the prelude to one of the most moving arias of the opera: "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd Schön" (this image is enchantingly lovely). As in every good fairy-tale, he instantly falls in love with the beautiful princess! And why not? Is she not his counterpart in every way; his true affinity of body, mind and soul? This touches upon one of the deepest secrets of the Mysteries which we are not permitted to divulge. What we can say with Plato is that: "Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature." Another aspect of this mystery is that: "once the soul (Higher Self in our terminology), imprisoned within the body, has lifted herself to the perception of the real Good and of Truth, she cannot again fall back. The might of Love, and the oblivion of all evil things, forbid the soul who knows her Maker to separate herself from the Good," as we may read in the Books of Hermes. So we may say that this is the point in the story when Tamino truly 'wakes up' and becomes aware of his destiny and his quest, though the details of it are yet to be unfolded to him. This point comes in the life of every candidate for Initiation and it can take many forms.

Searching for Pamina

Tamino is about to start on his search for Pamina, when the Queen of the Night herself appears and explains to him that her daughter has been abducted by Sarastro, the Hierophant of the Temple of Isis and Osiris, and that if he frees her, she will be his for evermore. Papageno promises never to lie again after his padlock is removed by the Three Ladies of the Moon. Tamino now receives the flute after which the opera is named; a magical instrument which "will confer great power upon you, to transform the sorrows of mankind." This is the reward for his loyalty and sincerity; symbolising the powers every candidate for Initiation gains once he has proved his worthiness. Would-be 'magicians' please take note that these 'powers' confer no other benefits than the power to be of real service to mankind, and the protection that is automatically extended to those who place their faith in God. Such is the difference between the right and left-hand paths, one leading to eternal life and liberation from earthly incarnation, and the other to death and slavery.

We recently read an 'interpretation' of The Magic Flute in which the author compares the flute to a penis of all things! Words fails us. . . except to say that some people will read sex into everything, which tells a great deal about them, but nothing at all about this opera. So let us leave them to their fantasies and continue our discussion.

At this point in the opera Papageno, learning that he is expected to accompany Tamino on his dangerous quest to rescue Pamina, takes fright and says that "the Prince can go to the devil! I value my life..." How familiar this sounds! So reasons the lower self in its dire ignorance of anything it cannot see, taste, smell or grasp in its greedy maws. So too, think the lowly-evolved mass of humanity which Papageno also symbolises and which we referred to when we mentioned those whose minds are focused below rather than above. But the Three Ladies of the Moon give the reluctant bird-catcher a magical set of silver bells, and so, for the moment, he is mollified and agrees to accompany the Prince. Which tells us, among other good things, that even the lower self can be taught to sing a better tune, even if it cannot be compared to the divine symphonies sounded forth by the fully-emancipated Higher Self.

The Three Ladies now tell Tamino and Papageno that "Three boys, young, fair, gentle and wise, will appear to you on your journey. They will be your guides; follow their counsel and theirs alone." The symbolism of Divine protection is obvious in these lines and requires no further comment.

The next brief scene takes us to a splendid chamber in the ancient Egyptian style wherein we encounter the servant of Sarastro, Monostatos the Moor, and his prisoner, Pamina. Some critics consider Monostatos an inexplicable anomaly in The Magic Flute. Superficially it does seem rather odd that such a thoroughly evil personality without a single redeeming feature is employed in a holy temple devoted to Wisdom. But as we have seen so far, a superficial reading of the themes in this opera can never reveal their hidden meaning. It is only by using the keys of occult symbolism that we may discover that Monostatos stands for Pluto and the worst traits of the lower self. As such he is preeminently a symbol of chaotic matter and the turbulent conditions of the material world over which his master, Sarastro rules in utter wisdom.

Just as Monostatos is about to ravish Pamina, Papageno discovers her and comes face to face with the Moor. Frightened by one another's appearance, they both flee in opposite directions, and Pamina faints. When she regains consciousness, Papageno returns and tells her a handsome prince loves her and is being sent by her mother to rescue her.

Before the Portals of Wisdom

In the next scene we find ourselves in a sacred grove, behind which can be seen a beautiful Egyptian temple. The massive, central portal is inscribed with the words: "Temple of Wisdom." On either side, there are smaller gates, the one on the right bearing the inscription "temple of reason", and the one the left "temple of nature." Tamino is led towards the Temple by the Three Youths, each bearing a silver palm frond. The main symbolism is clear: wisdom, or balance, and also the true Soul (wisdom), flanked by the Higher self (reason) and opposed by the lower self (nature), forming a trinity, or symbolism of the number three, which runs right through the opera as we have seen.

Tamino asks the Youths if he will be able to rescue Pamina. "That we may not divulge," is the solemn reply. They further advise him to be "steadfast, patient, and discreet." This is sufficiently similar to the well-known occult axiom 'to know, to dare and to keep silent', to require no further comment. Tamino boldly opens the right-hand gate which leads to the temple of reason and is immediately rebuffed by a voice which tells him to go back. He next tries the left-hand gate, with the same result. Finally, he knocks, but does not attempt to open (mark this well), upon the main gate. The door opens to reveal an aged priest who asks: "What do you seek?" To which Tamino replies: "Whatever belongs to Love and Virtue."

There is a difference between opening a door and knocking upon one, which will not be lost on the attentive reader. We may seek until we are blue in the face; we may open and enter many doors in the edifice of the occult sciences, but not until we KNOCK upon the door of the Wise, will our real quest truly begin. In other words, "when the pupil is ready the Master appears."

A long dialogue now ensues during which Tamino (and the audience) discover that Sarastro is not the wicked tyrant described by the Queen of the Night, but the beneficent Hierophant of the Temple of Wisdom and High Priest of the Sun. He further learns that the Queen of the Night is not what she seems either, and that Pamina, though a prisoner of Sarastro, yet lives. The Prince is overjoyed at the news and taking up his flute is astonished to hear Papageno's pan pipes answer his playing. If we regard the Higher and lower selves as instruments, each of whom responds to the other's tune, the hidden meaning of this scene becomes clear. There is very much that is hidden away in this opera in just this obvious way; read, study, seek and meditate!

The Master appears

Pamina and Papageno use the bird-catcher's enchanted bells to escape from Monostatos' slaves and join Tamino in front of the main gate of the Temple of Wisdom. The gate opens and Sarastro appears in a triumphal chariot drawn by six lions, accompanied by a procession of priests. He punishes Monostatos by ordering him to be beaten 77 times on the feet. Tamino and Papageno enter the Temple to begin their trials of Initiation. The lion is pre-eminently a solar symbol, and six was called "the perfection of parts" and "Marriage" by Pythagoras, because it is a number equal to its parts, and marriage is a ceremony to sanction the production of offspring similar to the parent. Six is also the number of the hexagram, or six-pointed star comprised of two interlaced triangles, which again symbolises the union of male and female in perfect harmony—all very suggestive given the theme of the opera.

Sarastro now commands that Tamino and Papageno be taken into the Temple to begin their Initiation, adding significantly that: "First they must be purified." This was the first part of the Mysteries in both Greece and Egypt, for as Theon of Smyrna tells us, Initiation was divided into five parts: "The first of which is...purification; for neither are the Mysteries communicated to all who are willing to receive them; but there are certain persons who are prevented by the voice of the crier...since it is necessary that such as are not expelled from the Mysteries should first be refined by certain purifications." By 'purification' is not meant sexual abstinence as many think, nor asceticism, but the cleansing of wrong thinking and wrong attitudes, of which the opera provides many examples in the attitude and behaviour of Papageno!

ACT TWO: Initiation

Act Two begins with the entry of Sarastro and his priests in stately procession, carrying palm fronds. When they have taken their positions they sound three blasts on their trumpets. So again we hear the three chords which run through the opera like a golden thread, signifying the three principles of body, mind and soul. Sarastro now calls on Isis and Osiris to bestow their wisdom on Tamino and to direct his steps in his coming Initiation.

The First Test

In the next scene Night has fallen in the court before the Temple. Two Priests enter and remove the blindfolds from the two candidates. This is significant, for Night is the only time of day when the lower selves of mankind are asleep and the Higher Self is released from the body for a while. Night is also symbolical of the greater Light, now to be revealed, which the candidate could not perceive before owing to his blindfold—a symbol of the blindness of the lower self, which will not permit the smallest glimmer of light to dispel it's ignorance. You may be wondering at this point why there are TWO candidates for Initiation. The answer is there is only ONE; Papageno, as we have pointed out, is simply the lower self of Tamino, and BOTH benefit (in different ways) from Initiation, the inward secret of which we are not permitted to divulge.

Papageno now confesses his fears, emblematical of the resistance of the lower self, and Tamino reproaches him for his lack of courage. The two priests return to test Tamino's determination to rescue Pamina and his answers prove satisfactory. Papageno is encouraged by the promise of a wife. Both are now instructed to keep silent in the presence of women, no matter what the provocation. "Guard yourself from women's tricks," say the Priests. On the face of it this sounds rather misogynistic but we must remember that the entire narrative of The Magic Flute is symbolical, not literal. 'Woman' is the emblem of matter, just as 'Man' is the emblem of Spirit. These two archetypes should never be confused with their purely human expressions. The test begins in earnest with the arrival of the Three Ladies of the Moon, who employ every stratagem to get the two candidates to speak. Whilst Tamino remains steadfast, Papageno wavers and admits that he cannot prevent chattering in the face of the Ladies' verbal assault. Anyone who has seriously practised meditation will know how hard it is to silence the incessant chatter of the lower self and completely relax their body so that they cease to feel it at all. At last the Lunar Maidens depart, defeated, accompanied by thunder and lightning, and the Priests re-enter to congratulate Tamino on his successful completion of his first trial. So we may say that essence of this test is SELF-control, which is the first and most difficult lesson every candidate for Initiation has to learn.

Interlude: Pamina's faith is tested

The scene now changes to a garden in which Pamina lies sleeping on a couch, watched by Monostatos. He is determined to ravish the princess, but as he slinks forward to kiss her, The Queen of the Night enters and offers a dagger to her daughter with which to kill Sarastro. During the aria that now follows the Queen tells Pamina that if she does not kill Sarastro she will abandon and disown her forever. Monostatos returns and snatches the dagger from the stunned princess and threatens her with it. If she will elect to love him he tells her he will save her life. But she refuses, and Monostatos is about to stab her when Sarastro appears, stops him and sends him away. The Moor rushes off to join the Queen of the Night in subverting Sarastro's rule and Pamina begs Sarastro not to punish her mother, to which the Hierophant replies: "Within these sacred halls revenge has no place! And if a man should fall, Love leads him back to duty. Then, hand in hand with a friend, he goes, content and happy, to a better land." This scene is fraught with deep symbolism, not least the many traps the lower self employs to keep the Higher in subjection and prevent it's liberation.

The Second Test

Tamino and Papageno are commanded to keep silent and then left alone. An ugly old woman (Papagena in disguise) hobbles in and chats with Papageno, telling him that she is eighteen years old and that she has a sweetheart named Papageno. But just as she is about to reveal her name, a loud peal of thunder sends her shuffling away. The Three Youths return, bringing the magic flute and bells with them, and a table laden with food and drink rises magically from the ground. As we would expect, Papageno eats while Tamino plays his flute. Pamina enters, drawn by the sound. Recognising her lover, she questions him, but he maintains his vow of silence and motions her away. Even Papageno is silent for once as his mouth is too full of food to speak! Pamina says she will kill herself if Tamino does not love her any more. She goes out slowly and sadly. Papageno and Tamino hear trumpets calling them onward and the bird-catcher is forcibly led away by his master.

We must not allow the many different strands in this scene to blind us to its underlying meaning. What is being tested here is Faith. The faith of Tamino in his wise Instructors and his quest, and Pamina's faith in their love. Faith has been called many things by many inspired poets and philosophers, but the truest definition of it is belief in that of which there is no outward evidence. Faith leads through the darkness of this world to a better land, as Sarastro makes clear in the preceding scene. The stronger and more enlightened one's Faith, the higher will be the Realm conquered by means of it. Without Faith there can be no victory in anything, nor can Initiation be achieved without it.

Preparation for the third and final Test

The scene now changes to the interior of a pyramid, into which the Priests march, led by Sarastro, who commends Tamino for his faith. Pamina is brought in to say her farewells to the Prince, who reassures her that the gods will protect him from all harm and that they will be re-united again when his quest is accomplished. Both lament their separation, but whilst Tamino remains firm in his faith, Pamina wavers and is afraid that her lover will die during his coming ordeal. Here, Pamina symbolises the doubts and fears which afflict every candidate, when the realisation of what Initiation REALLY means, dawns upon them. We see this in the Gospels, when Jesus prays: "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me..." (Matthew 26:39). Jesus refers specifically to the awful trials of Initiation in an earlier verse in the same Gospel when he tells his disciples: "Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"

Meanwhile, Papageno finds himself locked in a chamber surrounded by walls of flame. He tells his unseen guardians that he wishes for nothing more than a cup of wine, but when it magically appears and he drinks it, he is suddenly overcome by new emotions, and sings a comical aria in which he prays for a wife to assuage his longing for companionship. Papagena, still disguised as an old crone, comes hobbling in, leaning on a stick. She tells Papageno that he must accept her or die alone, and he agrees to be faithful to her. Her disguise at once falls away, and she is revealed in her true and very pretty young form, feathered exactly like the bird-catcher, but he has not yet proved himself worthy of her, and so she is led away.

Interlude: Pamina threatens to take her own life

We are now transported to a small garden shortly before dawn, in which the Three Youths covertly watch over Pamina from a distance. She is beside herself with grief and is about to plunge the dagger into her own breast to end her torment, when the Youths intervene and restrain her, saying: "Unhappy girl, forbear! Should your young man see this, he would die of grief, for he loves only you." Pamina remains unconvinced, asking why Tamino hid his feelings from her and would not speak to her during the second Test. The Three Youths confess they may not tell her the reasons, but offer to show Tamino to her, so that she may know that he truly loves her.

The Final Test begins

Tamino and Pamina are now permitted to undertake the third and final test together. Once again, the key switches to the majestic E flat major. We see two large mountains; one with a thundering waterfall, the other belching fire. Two priests clad in black armour lead Tamino in, intoning the following verses adapted from the 12th Psalm:

He who travels these laborious paths will be purified by fire, water, air and earth. If he overcomes his fear of death, he will raise himself from earth, soar heavenwards! In the light of this higher level he can dedicate himself wholly to the Mysteries.

We may say that these verses symbolise trial by the elements, each element standing for a particular sense (such as sight and hearing) as well as a particular virtue and corresponding vice. You can find further information about the Hermetic virtues and vices in the final article of our investigation of the true teachings of Hermes Trismegistus. If, on the other hand, you wish to learn more about the symbolism inherent in such Initiations then the best and truest description we know of can be found in The Quest of Ruru, by J Michaud PhD. It is not without significance that at this point in the story, male and female come together for the first time. For without the harmonious union of these positive and negative polarities Initiation cannot be achieved.

Tamino and Pamina pass through the doors into the Temple of Initiation, which close fast behind them. We do not see what happens next, nor should we expect to, for such things are secret, and no GENUINE Initiate has ever revealed them, though they may hint, as Apuleius—an Initiate of the Isiac Mysteries—did, when he said: "I approached the confines of death, and having trod on the threshold of Proserpine, I returned therefrom, being borne through all the elements. At midnight I saw the Sun shining with its brilliant light, and I approached the presence of the Gods beneath and the Gods above, and stood near and worshipped them. Behold, I have related to you things of which, though heard by you, you must necessarily remain ignorant."

The Magic Flute

Hail to the Initiates!

The twin Initiates now re-appear in a resplendent light, and the Priests sing a joyful paean of praise and thanksgiving. Here our tale of Initiation ends, but the opera continues with Papageno finally being joined to Papagena while Monostatos and The Queen of the Night make a last, vain attempt to attack the Temple of Wisdom. They fail, and the entire stage is transformed into a gigantic sun within which we see Sarastro accompanied by Tamino and Pamina clad in priestly raiment, surrounded by all the priests of the Temple, whilst the Three Youths are holding flowers in their hands. Together they sing:

Hail to the initiates!
You have penetrated the darkness!
Thanks be to thee, Osiris!
Thanks to thee, Isis!
Fortitude is victorious,
And, in reward,
Crowns Beauty and Wisdom
With its eternal diadem!

To which we can only add 'Amen' and thanks be to God for the victory obtained.


You may think that we have uncovered much of the symbolism in The Magic Flute, but we assure you that, as we explained in our introduction, we have but scratched the surface of the hidden meaning of this inspired masterpiece. The music alone, which we have not had time to discuss, is worthy of the deepest study. If we have managed to show you that, to paraphrase the words of Bulwer-Lytton, The Magic Flute is "filled with Divine Truth for those who can comprehend it, and a musical extravaganza for those who cannot," our labours will be amply rewarded.

If you have learned something from this article you can find a full list of all the articles we have published about occult symbolism, allegory and mythology in the sidebar.


© Copyright occult-mysteries.org. Article added 26 August 2014. Updated 16 July 2023.

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