Diabolus in Musica

David Cherubim

Copyright 2004.
David Cherubim.
All Rights Reserved.

Diabolus in Musica is Latin for the Devil in Music, and it is a name for the mysterious Tritone (tritonus), the interval of the augmented fourth or diminished fifth (also called the tritonic fourth and tritonic fifth), which spans three (whole) tones.  The augmented fourth (IV+) and diminished fifth (V) are enharmonic spellings for the Tritone.  These two intervals are the same sound, but they are written differently.

In medieval times, the Tritone, after being rejected by the Church as the interval of the Holy Trinity due to its extremely dissonant sound, became the interval of the Devil himself, and it was banned and cursed by the Church.  They even went so far as to suggest that it invoked the Devil to prevent its use, and a great deal of diabolical superstition became associated with this devilish interval of Musick.

It was an awkward interval (an interval is the distance in pitch between two tones), extremely tense in nature, and it was the most dissonant sound in the Scale.  Thus it was called the dissonance of all dissonances and, for the most part, it was avoided in medieval music theory.  Fortunately we now recognize the Tritone (or augmented fourth) as a very useful interval in Musick and it has replaced the perfect fourth in the whole-tone scale.

After equal temperament came into more common use in Musick, the Tritone started rearing its beautiful head of horns after being kept in the closet for so long.  (Equal temperament is the name for our system of tuning which divides the octave into twelve equal parts or semi-tones.) And with the emergence of rock and heavy metal in Musick during the 20th Century, the Tritone has made its meaningful mark on Musick, conjuring the occult or secret part of our Soul.  (Occult means secret or hidden, like the spirit or soul which we cannot see with our human eyes, but is nevertheless a fact of life.)

The Tritone is made up of three whole tones (three whole steps above the root note), thus it was originally associated by the Church with the Holy Trinity and when this did not work it was linked to the Devil, who was also connected with the number three by the Church (let us not forget the Unholy Trinity and the number of the Devil, which is made of three sixes).  Qabalistically speaking, the Devil is linked to the third Sephira on the Tree of Life of the Qabalah called Binah (Understanding) through its connection to the gods Pan, Set and Saturn (Satan), who are forms of the Devil.  Binah is the Sephira of Saturn on the Tree of Life in the Qabalah, and the Tritone itself became associated with the planet Saturn in medieval times, since Saturn was thought to be the planet of the Devil.

Also take note of the fact that three whole tones (Tritone) is six semi-tones, and six is another number that has become associated with the mysterious figure of the Devil through the number 666, which is actually the divine number of the Sun and the occult number of the Hexagram, which is a magickal symbol of the Sun.  Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing evil about the number 666.  See my online document The Hexagram of Magick for a more occult understanding of the number 666 and Hexagram.

In Magick, the Devil represents a Great Mystery, which we must fearlessly understand and transcend.  The Devil of Magick is not the evil figure of Christianity, but it is something beyond this foolish notion and, in fact, it represents complete freedom when viewed from the highest plane of thought.  Both psychologically and spiritually, to fear the Devil and to avoid this Great Mystery is to restrict one's nature and to limit one's freedom, just as to avoid using the Tritone in Musick is to restrict oneself as a Musician and to limit one's musical freedom or possibilities of expression.  I refer you to my online document The Devil of Tarot for a more occult and psychological understanding of the nature of the Devil.

The Tritone is, indeed, the Devil in Musick which, when incorporated into one's Musick, adds a spiritual tension and mysterious quality of sound which cannot be had otherwise.  Like the Devil, who represents one half of the nature of man, the ambiguous Tritone is one half of the Octave, it pivots and divides the Scale into two equal parts, and it is the same as its inverse.  (The dreaded augmented fourth and splendid diminished fifth are the same when inverted.)  It is the Saturnian Sound that conjures up the occult aspect of every man and every woman, or that most secret and dark part of our soul that cannot be seen with the eyes our primal nature!

David Cherubim

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Copyright 2004-2017.
David Cherubim.
All rights reserved.

David Cherubim