Pagan Studies

Learn how Classical Music harbors subliminal and not-so subliminal Pagan messages.

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The Aulos

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

We know that the ancient Romans and Greeks played and sang lots of music and performed lots of dances and dramas and SACRIFICES!!!!  MWA HA HA HA! AND THEN THEY SANG ABOUT THE SACRIFICES! (I like to say sacrifices).

The ancient Greeks and Romans worshipped multiple deities; this we know.  But how did it happen?  What were their rituals, and more importantly, was there any music in those rituals? Why, yes! Yes there was!  And what with sacrifice being the most evil...*cough* I mean, frequent, ritual, what sort of music was played at sacrificium?  PIPE MUSIC!

According to "Music in Pagan and Christian Antiquity" by Johannes Quasten, the bad bad ancient Pagans used to celebrate evil animal sacrifices with loud, blaring, and annoying aulos music.  Today, we know that the sacrifices weren't evil at all. According to "Introduction to Roman Religion" by John Scheid:

"The term sacer...referred to ownership....what was sacer was that which had been dedicated and consecrated to the gods'.  The sacred was not, strictly speaking, a divine quality recognised to be posessed by a being or a thing. Rather, it was a quality that men ascribed to beings or things. The gods were not sacred, and conversely, no object could be considered to be divine.  The sacred was not a 'magic force' placed in an object, but simply a juridical quality possessed by that object.  Like all public property, the property of the gods was inviolable, the more so because its owners were terribly superior to men and their vengeance was inexorable. The true meaning of sacrelige was infringement of divine property."  

AHA! So, 'sacrifice' (in Roman terms) meant dedicating something as the property of the Gods'!  And in the case of the public sacrifice, it meant the life of an animal as property of the Gods', but not the flesh.  We get to eat the flesh, the Gods get the life of the animal. Something to celebrate, certainly!

So what was that loud blaring instrument? A reed instrument known in Greece as the Aulos and in Rome as the Tibia.  Made from canes of the arundo donax plant (nowadays used to fabricate saxophone reeds), each aulos was a pair of instruments made from the sounding reed (which went in the mouth), two carven bulbs under that, and under that was the long cane with holes bored for the fingers to play on. 

Both canes were played at the same time, most often strapped to the face (with a phorbeia) to add stability to an instrument that could be long and unwieldy, especially the bombyx, named for its "booming" sound.

On YouTube, there are a number of good recordings of this instrument, my favorite being the one I've linked to below.  In addition to playing a bombyx with a phorbeia, this player is using a technique called 'circular breathing' (also used by players of the Australian didgeridoo) to make continuous sound.


 So, since I generally answered my own question in the first paragraph, what do you all think?  Should we take up the Aulos and blare the awesomeness of the Gods at rituals and festivals?




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Amarfa has been studying the occult, wicca, and paganism for 17 years and counting.  She has been a musician since age 5, studying first guitar, then accordion for 10 years, placing 2nd in her division in the 1995 ATARI/ATAM New England Regional Competition,  and has been studying voice for 9. She has directed small early music ensembles, performed publicly, and starred in local theatre works, particularly the World Premiere of Nightsong, a musical theatre piece with direction and book by Jon Brennan and music by Kari Tieger and Kevin Campbell, as well as composing a musical of her own and writing music in her spare time.


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