Beethoven, Philosophy and the Stars

Ludwig van Beethoven was born at 03:40 am on December 16th, 1770 in Bonn. His horoscope has the Sun, Moon and Mercury in Sagittarius. Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius, is accentuated by conjunction with the Sun. This is apt considering that Beethoven developed the music of the Classical era so far beyond its existing parameters that many persons at the time could not comprehend what he was doing.

The paBeethoven, Philosophy and the Stars: Ludwig van Beethoveninting of Beethoven as a young man is biographer Thayer’s copy of a portrait by Joseph Willibrord Mähler, created in the year 1808.

Born at the dark of the Moon, Beethoven was strongly influenced by the revolutionary movement in Europe. The position of Uranus in Taurus directly opposite his Scorpio Ascendant is descriptive of his love for ancient traditions combined with magnetic compulsion towards individual freedom and liberty. Beethoven openly despised the rigid class system of the time. Friends and patrons alike found him unconventional, uncompromising and ‘difficult’.

The disruptivBeethoven, Philosophy and the Stars: Natal Horoscopee placement of Uranus in the 7th house indicates misfortune in matters of love. The field of the 7th house embraces ‘all others’, including any marriage partners. Beethoven never married but fell passionately in love with a succession of unattainable women. That is to say, the women were unattainable by virtue of their higher social class or ‘position’.[1] In the case of his love for Antonie Brentano, the problem was that she was already married. In July 1812, the composer spent two days writing a now famous love letter that he never sent, and possibly never intended to send. It was addressed to “you, my Immortal Beloved”, and went on to include,

“My heart is full of so many things to say to you—ah—there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all. Cheer up—remain my true, my only love, my all as I am yours.”

The unaspected Venus in Capricorn in the 3rd house of the chart indicates that Beethoven had an inclination towards falling in love with women that he taught the piano to. Women of ‘noble breeding’ were expected to play a little music as an ‘accomplishment’, so their husbands would not be bored by their company. While exalting the women to the heights (Saturn at Midheaven), Beethoven would remain isolated in the relationship for one reason or another, and so unable to form what was in those days called ‘an attachment’ with the object of his desire.

Beethoven, Philosophy and the Stars: portrait of the young man (detail)Anecdotes and letters show the Uranian element to be very powerful with Beethoven. He supported the French Revolution until Napoleon declared himself Emperor. On hearing the news, Beethoven took the front page of the score for his 3rd Symphony, upon which he had written a dedication to Bonaparte, and tore it in half, separating his name from that of the self-proclaimed Emperor. When his brother once acquired some land and signed himself as “van Beethoven, land proprietor”, Beethoven replied, “van Beethoven, brain proprietor”. Beethoven famously said to the noble Prince Lichnowsky (a patron and admirer),

“What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.”

Mars is the Lord of the Horoscope, as ruler of the Scorpio Ascendant. Mars, from his location in the 8th house, sends three formidable opposing rays against the Sun, Moon and Mercury in the 2nd house. As the 2nd house generally governs the physical body, it is impossible not to think of the crippling deafness that brought the maestro to the brink of suicide. Survival of that period was accomplished by a heroic effort of will. Only love of God, and the gift of music—that there was so much more music he had yet to give to the world—saved Beethoven from self-annihilation.

A further notable configuration in the natal horoscope is the Grand Trine formed between Neptune, Uranus and Pluto in the earth triplicity. The slow-moving outer planets are traditionally regarded as ‘impersonal’ factors in a horoscope, marking the character and experience of an entire generation. There are various placements, however, that can indicate the potentially subversive intrusion of supersensory phenomena.[2] Scientific orthodoxy will not accept the ‘supersensible’. Nonetheless thousands, perhaps millions of persons have experienced something that is only expressed in terms of spiritual philosophy, for example, ‘transfiguration’, when listening to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Ludwig van Beethoven and Philosophy

Alexander Wheelock Thayer (1817–1897) was the author of the first biography of Ludwig van Beethoven. The work is still regarded as a standard reference on the composer’s life. Ludwig was well versed in classical Greek literature as well as that of the German philosophers of his time. Of the German writers, the composer particularly revered Schiller and Goethe. At around the middle of his career, Beethoven wrote to a friend,

Beethoven, Philosophy and the Stars: the composer“Since that summer in Karlsbad I read Goethe every day, that is, when I read at all. He has killed Klopstock for me. You are surprised? And now you laugh? Ah ha! It is because I have read Klopstock. I carried him about with me for years while walking and also at other times. Well, I did not always understand him, of course. He leaps about so much and he begins at too lofty an elevation. Always Maestoso, D-flat major! Isn’t it so? But he is great and uplifts the soul nevertheless. When I could not understand him I could sort of guess. If only he did not always want to die! That will come quickly enough. Well, at any rate, what he writes always sounds well. But Goethe—he is alive, and he wants us all to live with him. That is why he can be set to music. There is no one who lends himself to musical setting as well as he.”[3]

‘Maestoso’ is a musical term, meaning, ‘majestic, dignified’, usually quite slow in tempo. To Beethoven, the key of D-flat major, with many black notes if played on the piano, would have epitomised a mood of depression or despair.

Thayer reports that in 1823, the Englishman Edward Schulz wrote of his visit to Beethoven. He had found in him a friend of ancient Greek literature such as the works of Homer, particularly his Odyssey. Beethoven preferred Plutarch above all classical writers; from there he developed an admiration for ancient Egypt. In Isis and Osiris, which was written as a letter to Clea, a priestess of Isis, Plutarch writes,

“All good things, my dear Clea, a sensible men must ask from the gods; and especially do we pray that from those mighty gods we may, in our quest, gain a knowledge of themselves, so far as such a thing is attainable by men. For we believe that there is nothing more important for man to receive, or more ennobling for God of His grace to grant, than the truth. … Therefore the effort to arrive at the Truth, and especially the truth about the gods, is a longing for the divine. For the search for truth requires for its study and investigation the consideration of sacred subjects, and it is a work more hallowed than any form of holy living or temple service; and, not least of all, it is well-pleasing to that goddess whom you worship, a goddess exceptionally wise and a lover of wisdom, to whom, as her name at least seems to indicate, knowledge and understanding are in the highest degree appropriate.”


1. A musician, even a composer and performer of exceptional ability, was no different from a merchant in the social order. A woman of the nobility, or otherwise of high standing, could not enter into a liaison with a person of inferior rank without risking her reputation and inheritance. Indeed, she could risk more than that. If unsupported she could not gain employment even as a menial servant. The embankment of London, for example, was densely populated in those days with completely destitute women from all social classes.

2. The book Hermetic Astrology has a chapter devoted to ‘Outer Gateways’  formed when outer planets make a personal impact on the native. These are sometimes associated with supersensory phenomena. Some dictionaries do not include the word, ‘supersensory’, as it is not acceptable to conventional science. The Oxford dictionary gives, ‘transcending the senses; that is above or beyond what is perceptible by the senses’. It would be more accurately described, ‘beyond what is perceptible to the ordinary human senses’. Some persons, and many species of animal and bird, have extraordinary senses. The word was coined by the 19th century psychical researcher, Edmund Gurney.

3. Beethoven, by Thayer, pp. 802.

© Oliver St. John 2019

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Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism

Surrealism and magick: Throughout the long dark history of humanity there have been magi. While some are known for their works, be it art or literature, there must be countless men and women that have either failed to develop their innate gift or have succeeded in mastering it while keeping silence to the end. Of those that fail to develop the gift (or curse)—whether by refusing it, fleeing from it in horror or becoming insane, there is little to be said. Of those that master it, whether partially or fully, some are known and others will never be known since they did not utter a word.

The word of a magus is irrevocable, as we shall see, though it is said that failure to utter a word is equally irrevocable since it must beget an abortive child. The momentum of the immense forces that first push the soul onward and then draw the soul inexorably inward towards annihilation of ego identity is sufficient to split the atom or, in psychic terms, to fragment the soul until its very name is forgotten and it endures dispersion and ultimate oblivion. The magical child, however, of which it is the object of the art of magical alchemy or of the Great Work to produce, is not the result of any cause. The ancient chestnut of determinism has become a poisoned apple in the hands of modern philosophers and rationalists. The magical child of consciousness—otherwise termed the True Will—grows as a seed in the silence of the womb of the cosmic Matrix. The fruit and the flower, nonetheless, has preexisted the seed. For this reason, the magi have oft been reported as stricken with awe at the sight of a portentous star where no star previously was seen, or plunged into rapture at the sight of a wild orchid blooming in a desert where a single drop of rain would amount to a miracle.

Surrealism and magick: The Magus of Power, Ithell Colquhoun

The Magus of Power, from Ithell Colquhoun TARO

Surrealism and the Occult

Automatism in the arts is frequently confused with mere techniques. True automatism is an inexorable condition of mind and soul that to all intents and purposes is exercised outside and beyond the will of the person, whether they are destined to become a master, a magus, or merely another victim swallowed up by an incomprehensible universe. For ordinary purposes, we may define artistic automatism thus:

The avoidance of conscious intention in producing works of art so that subjectivity forms the primary basis of the work.

Automatism was not an invention of the Surrealists, or of Sigmund Freud, but has always existed in magick and alchemy. Among the finest examples are the sigils or magical signatures of the Qabalistic Intelligences and Spirits of the planets as given by Cornelius Agrippa in Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531) and centuries later copied into The Magus, by Francis Barrett (1801). These beautiful designs, along with other more abstruse signatures that can be found in medieval grimoires, were written on virgin parchment by the hand of the spirit, not that of the scribe. We also have the evidence of the Enochian language received through the invocations and skrying of Elizabethan mage John Dee and his assistant seer, Edward Kelley.

Surrealism and the Arts

Occult artist and writer Ithell Colquhoun—a friend of André Breton, Aleister Crowley and later, Kenneth Grant—was a member of the Surrealist School. Ithell Colquhoun defined her use of automatism as super-automatism, presumably to distinguish the method from the same term that is used in psychiatry and law. We shall from hereon adopt the term as used by Colquhoun, super-automatism, when we are referring to spiritual, magical or artistic method or even natural inclination.

Surrealism and Hermeticism

Within the modern Hermetic magical tradition there are some notable examples of super-automatism. Aleister Crowley claimed that he magically received, through the mediumship of his wife Rose, the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, in Cairo 1904. When the book was first received, Crowley added a note to the manuscript saying:

This is a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing.

Crowley later insisted the book was dictated by a praeterhuman intelligence named Aiwass, his Holy Guardian Angel. In fact, there need be no essential contradiction between magical super-automatism and contact with a praeterhuman agency. Crowley was very sensitive, however, as to how the book might be viewed by posterity. He did not want what he considered to be his most important work compared with drawing room séances and psychism.

Magical Art: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Magical Surrealism: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Artist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956), who was associated with both Crowley and occult writer Kenneth Grant, used super-automatism in drawing, painting, and in the creation of magical scripts and even textual narratives. As super-automatism has been used in magical and Hermetic disciplines since time immemorial it can readily be seen why Surrealist artists shared ideas in common with occultists. Automatism is sometimes compared to free association, a method used by Sigmund Freud to plunder the so-called unconscious mind of his clients. The French poet André Breton, who published the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, became aware of automatism through the work of Freud. Breton here defined Surrealism as follows:

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

The method used by Breton and others involved writing down as rapidly as possible anything that comes to mind. Thus modern automatism began as a literary method. Artist Max Ernst supplied the ‘first’ visual automatism by making collages from sections cut out from magazines, catalogues, advertisements or anything else that was available. Other painters enthusiastically took up automatism, from Joan Miro, André Masson and Ithell Colquhoun to Jackson Pollock, noted for his development of abstract expressionism. Although automatism is usually regarded as a separate method from that which Salvador Dali termed paranoiac critical, the end or object is really the same. Paranoiac critical can be defined as:

The artist invoking a paranoid state with the intention of deconstruction of the psychological concept of ego-identity.

Paranoia is taken to mean the fear that one is being manipulated or controlled by others. This may of course include the paranoid manipulation of others. Some of the tricks that Dali liked to play were very much inclusive of the ‘audience’, so the boundaries between who was doing what to whom were blurred, increasing the paranoia for all concerned! The aim of the method, however, is that subjectivity becomes the primary basis of the work. It is to defeat the rational mind, prohibitions and censorship that stem from ego.

Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988) described her work as “mantic”. Mantic means, ‘pertaining to divination or prophecy’, and is derived from the Greek, mantikos, ‘divination’, mantis, ‘prophet’. Unlike other artists, Colquhoun deliberately wished to connect Surrealism with magick, both philosophically and in terms of method or technique. In her own writings she drew comparisons between visual art and the medieval art of alchemy. Colquhoun wanted to achieve a union of natural and spiritual forces as well as a union of the disciplines of art and the occult. The union of subject and object, the I-Self with all that is ‘other’, the Not-Self, is the goal of yoga or union, and is a prerequisite for magick and mysticism at advanced levels.

Surrealism in Literature: Phallus of Cosmic Recollection

Thomas De Quincey employed a type of super-automatism, comparable to Salvador Dali’s paranoiac critical; in so doing, De Quincey may have endured, and attempted to describe in his writing, the equivalent ordeal in a Rosicrucian Hermetic fraternity called the Curse of a Magus. Any attempt to describe the indicible is doomed to failure, hence the “curse”, for as cleverly suggested by Aleister Crowley in his The Book of Lies, there is a certain obligation to speak truth even while knowing full well it will be fatally misconstrued or otherwise perceived as alogia or simple incoherence.

Others will also see the utterer of the truth, the irrevocable word, as a liar, madman or fool. The magus must utter an irrevocable word yet must reverse consciousness to sail a vessel against the flow of time and return to the source of the fountain of all life. To meditate upon Wisdom herself is to behold divinity face to face, the magical power of Chokmah—it is also to court with madness. According to Thomas De Quincey (1856 Revision to Confessions):

If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the Incommunicable. And if another Sphinx should arise to propose another enigma to man—saying, What burden is that which only is insupportable by human fortitude? I should answer at once—It is the burden of the Incommunicable.


Extracts from the book, The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism.
© Oliver St. John 2016, 2018
Hardback edition: The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism
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