De Clario went to some length, trying to reconcile the colours, musical notes, and chakras of his code. At the sixth chakra, located behind the forehead, violet light held sway. It stimulated the body to produce melatonin, “a chemical relevant to pigment cells”, according to De Clario. He appears to mistake melatonin for melanin, the skin pigment responsible for dark skin colour, including freckles. (Both words are derived from the Greek mela, for ‘black’.) Melanin is an effective absorber of low-frequency ultraviolet (UV) rays, converting them to harmless heat. Melatonin, on the other hand, is a hormone that brings the blackness of sleep. Its production is not stimulated by light, violet or otherwise, rather it is suppressed by it. Melatonin is secreted by the pineal (as De Clario later noted), a gland housed at the bottom of the brain, in the centre. Here, our feelings of drowsiness are tuned to the disappearance of the sun; circadean rhythms are established, which enable the pineal gland to regulate the biological clock.
We are beginning to understand a little of how light is linked to our circadian rhythms. In regions of greater latitude, those countries closer to the earth’s poles, daylight hours are much reduced in winter. Some people become moody and depressed, with a condition described in the 1980s as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The common treatment is gazing on a bright light for up to an hour a day, which suppresses melatonin secretion. The usual source is a light box emitting full-spectrum white light, or sometimes a blue-green, but not violet light. Other effects of light - on the skin rather than through the eyes - were more recently reported from Cornell University's Laboratory of Chronobiology, and published in the magazine "Science". To the astonishment of experts, the biological clock appeared to be advanced or delayed by up to three hours when the backs of the knees were exposed to bright light. Those inclined to believe De Clario’s creed might suppose a couple more chakras at the knees, where some violet component excites ‘skin melatonin’, and so on to enlightenment.
The hormone melatonin was first isolated in 1958; since then it has been manufactured in an artificial form, generally prescribed for sleep disorders or jet lag. In the US, melatonin became a fad in the 1990s. Consumption exceeded that of vitamin C, with one book, "The Melatonin Miracle", promoting the hormone as a potential cure for cancer, AIDS, old age, and much more. The journal "Nature" eventually dismissed such claims for the drug as unscientific and insufficiently tested. Nevertheless, melatonin was part of a drug cocktail fed to Essendon football players, prior to 2013, which saw players heavily fined and the club banned from competition in the Australian Football League. Now, only a highly diluted 'homeopathic' melatonin is available over the counter.
The pineal gland was better known than the hormone it excretes: the physician Galen studied it around 200 AD, and many others speculated over its purpose in the ensuing centuries. In the 17th century, René Descartes gave it a central role in his philosophy, as a focus for the senses and the seat of the soul. Bodily sensations affected the soul via 'animal spirits', “a very fine wind, or rather a very lively and pure flame”. When light entered the eye, for instance, an impulse of animal spirits travelled down the hollow optic nerve to move the gland. Individual impulses from each eye resulted in a combined movement that registered as a single image. Likewise, the two sounds from two ears were combined into a single sound. The flow of spirits could be reversed, to produce mechanical changes in the body. When the soul wished, it moved the pineal gland in a certain direction. Valves at nerve endings opened and animal spirits flowed to appropriate muscles, in the manner of a hydraulic transmission system.
Descartes’ theory of the role of the pineal gland had few adherents: his anatomy was wrong, even by the standards of his day. Some critics could not believe the soul would be housed there. Animals, after all, had well-developed pineal glands but lack the higher powers indicating a soul, such as imagination, memory and reason. (Many Americans – 43% at current count – would disagree on behalf of their pets.) Others rejected Descartes’ argument that the soul, being one and indivisible, required any single location as its seat. Today, the organ is treated as simply another part of the endocrine system, alongside the nearby pituitary gland and similar sources of enzymes. De Clario, however, seemed to paraphrase Descartes undeterred. His notion of the sixth chakra appears directly based on the dubious Cartesian model - melatonin replaced animal spirits, to transmit sensations of the highest colour frequencies directly to a 'visionary' centre in the pineal gland.
Towards the end of the 19th century, several scientists hypothesized that the pineal gland was an evolutionary relic, a vestige of a third eye. Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, jumped on the discoveries of the anatomists. Of all previous scientists, only Descartes had approached the truth as she saw it. Here was evidence for her fantastic alternative evolution: man was once a one-eyed, two-faced hermaphrodite, when the spirit ruled over psychic and intellectual powers. Increasingly, as the physical realm came to dominate the spiritual, the all-seeing single eye atrophied into the pineal gland. It atrophies in each of us, according to De Clario, at the age of seven. How he imagines it may function in infancy is unrecorded, but thereafter it becomes “a third eye in embryo”. As Blavatsky wrote, it remains the “organ of spiritual vision”, to be opened by gifted seers. You can tell, we are told, when the pineal swells during trances and visions. One day the human race will attain its rightful place on the spiritual plane, regaining full use of the third eye. Meanwhile, the pineal gland continues to have exalted status in the realm of pseudo-science.
Blavatsky referred to the third eye as the 'eye of Shiva', described in Hindu mythology. In the Mahabarata, it is the seat of higher perception, located between the deity’s physical eyes. Indians often symbolize it with a bindi - a dot (usually red) painted between their eyebrows - to represent spiritual intelligence and the faculty of inner vision. The theory of a third eye is still accepted by modern science, in modified form. Some species (certain lizards, frogs and fish) have an outgrowth from the pineal gland that may protrude through the top of the skull. Though covered in skin, it is sensitive to light and known as a parietal eye. It works by a different mechanism to the photochemistry of ordinary eyes. Mammals and birds lack this organ, though some birds have light-sensitive skin around their eyes that may aid them during migration. Specialized eyesight is common in the natural world, from the cat’s night vision to the mantis shrimp’s twelve colour receptors, and the eye is often called a miracle of evolution. But according to Blavatsky, the human eye has evolved backwards, from a spiritual organ to an atrophied pineal gland. To release its potential, she anticipated an inevitable reversal of evolution. But perhaps the Theosophical way could fix our ears instead. They have three sets of useless muscles, once used for sound location. I, for one, would prefer the wiggling ears of a fox or rabbit to the pineal and parietal eyes of the lamprey. Otherwise, I’m not buying it.
De Clario claimed the pineal gland was affected by light, "even when the pathways mediating conscious light perception are severed". Such was the case, we were told, during his piano performances at Heide: concealed from view and shielded from light, he was supposedly blindfolded throughout. The suggestion that each performance was somehow psycho-automatic, seemed intended. Some of the audience saw his playing as a channelling of the influences of the full moon and the mood lighting - in spite of the blindfold, and concealment that shielded him from the direct rays of either. Others claimed themselves to feel the influence of the moon, the music and the coloured lights, directly on their own bodies. And yet others, less suggestible, could merely ‘feel the gentleness’, despite the cold and rising river damp in the gardens of Heide.
Music could effect more than a listener’s mood according to Cyril Scott, a British composer and pianist of the early 20th century. Music created "radiations in form and colour which purify the mental and emotional atmosphere for, I might say, miles around". Its lingering vibrations penetrated physical matter to act on the etheric, sensation and astral bodies of anyone within range. Like a Thought Form, music could mould the character of society with coloured shapes that permeated the ether. Scott could not see any colours himself, but relied on a noted Theosophical medium, the Rev Robert King. Scott’s music, according to King, appeared on the astral plane in colours more brilliant than other, less modern, music. After all, critics and public alike hailed Scott as an English successor to Debussy.
Scott published a table of correspondences between colour and music, in “The Philosophy of Modernism” of 1917. He arrayed the colours - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (ROY G BIV) along a C scale. He credits the arrangement to Madame Blavatsky’s “Secret Doctrine”, though I can find no passage where she commits herself to this precise arrangement of notes and colours. (There is a similar code in the third, posthumous volume of her book, but it is thought to have been compiled by others, possibly Annie Besant.) More likely the Rev King supplied the code, an updated and not uncommon version taken from Newton’s “Opticks” of 1704. In the 1920s, Scott turned more and more to the occult. He believed his music opened a passageway to immortal members of the Great White Brotherhood, and through a medium he contacted ‘Master Jesus’ and ‘Master Koot Hoomi’. The latter disembodied spirit was considered a founder of Theosophy, and became a particular guide to Scott. Though Scott's popularity waned (his music was deemed old-fashioned), he considered himself a prophet. Much of his later music was conceived as an expression of spiritual truths, channelled at the decree of Koot Hoomi.
Scott subscribed to a conventional colour-music relationship, in which the notes of an ascending scale of C were given the Newtonian colours of ROY G BIV, from red to violet. Semitones formed hues midway between the main colours, which were also attached to seven vowel sounds. Each note of the scale had a spiritual attribute as well, ascending from raw power at red C to the rare psychism of an adept on violet B.
"The best physics ... can perceive colours produced by the vibrations of musical instruments, every note suggesting a different colour. As a string vibrates and gives forth an audible note, so the nerves of the human body vibrate and think in correspondence with the various emotions under the general impulse of the circulating vitality of Prana (cosmic energy), thus producing undulations in the psychic aura of the person, which results in chromatic effects."
Theosophical rituals could be very doctrinaire. When the poet W B Yeats visited the London lodge, he encountered a code similar to that of Cyril Scott (above). As well as colour and music, it embraced seven each of the planets, bodily organs, principles of the soul, and so on. When Yeats tried to conduct mind experiments with the colour indigo, he was asked to resign: “I was causing disturbance, causing disquiet in some way.” The Newtonian code was to be accepted unquestioningly; it gave support to Theosophy's grandiose claims to scientific verity. But it is difficult to credit ROY G BIV - or De Clario’s colours, for that matter – as a visionary revelation. Rather, it is the straightforward description of a natural occurrence, the running order of colours in a rainbow. The tradition of pairing it with a musical scale is well established, less so any link to other sounds.
The colouring of vowels in Cyril Scott’s table is haphazard. Hargrave Jennings had been more organized in "The Rosicrucians, their Rites and Mysteries" of 1870. His table of correspondences, like Scott’s, gave vowels to prismatic colours. In alphabetical order, the letters A, E, I, O, U, plus W and Y, were allied to ROY G BIV. Parallel to them, Jennings ran the colours of heraldry, seven planets, and seven precious stones. (He also mentioned “the Chromatic Scale of seven Musical Notes"", but failed to specify the key.) Other spiritualists were more inventive: Paul Sédir tested a medium for the effect of Buddhist chants as well as piano notes. In "Les sons et la lumiere astrale" of 1897, Sédir recorded the Latin alphabet as a variety of disks and squares, appearing in astral light. A ‘mantrum of the element of ether’ was a green ring with blue arrows at its rim, equivalent to a B minor arpeggio on the piano. The note C was a helmet shape, bright red, and C sharp a blue rectangle with a green point at its centre. Apparently, Sédir’s musical scale followed no spectral order, but his findings anticipated the thought forms of Theosophists, published eight years later.
Writing systems in ancient Egypt had provided no vowels, while Greek had seven - alpha, epsilon, eta, iota, omicron, upsilon, and omega. The special letters were inscribed on magical amulets and talismans, and became associated with the seven planets and seven musical notes. Gnostic sects of the early Christian era employed them in numerous sacred rituals; the nonsense sound of vowels only, when ‘sung’ aloud, could be taken as speaking in tongues. Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, in the early 16th century, incorporated some ancient uses for vowels in his compendium, “Of Occult Philosophy”. Theosophists were eager to adopt their magical properties: Alexander Scriabin gave the chorus a text of mostly vowels in his symphonic poem of 1910, “Prometheus: The Poem of Fire”. In its performance, Scriabin hoped to unify sound, colour, light and smell, in a system of correspondences. Like Scriabin, Cyril Scott thought “Prometheus” a great work, furthering the spiritual evolution of the race. But since Scriabin’s colour-music code was different from his own, Scott wondered, “whether he was a reliable psychic or merely an imaginative artist”.
The American architect and designer E J Lind was not a psychic, but he resorted to the same colour-music code as Scott. To visualize music and the spoken word, Newtonian colours were placed along the white notes of a keyboard. In twin publications of 1894, "The Music of Color” and “The Number Seven", Lind translated many popular songs into the colours ROY G BIV. Note by note, patches of colour progressed across a page, from left to right. His general aim was to ennoble colour and music as “great civilizers of the world”, and reconcile them to his own profession, architecture, “which as ‘frozen Music’ is fairly entitled to a place by the side of her two lovely sisters”. In this grand endeavor, Lind depicted the music of the spheres as the seven colours exploding from a point; their rays intercepted a rainbow (with its colours upside down!) before disappearing in nebulous surrounds. He further plotted colour use evolving through seven civilizations, from savages to the 19th century. Even ethnic diversity was found in colours, translated from songs taken from around the world. Eventually Lind applied his Newtonian colour-music code to the spoken word. At first he converted the wail of a child into six sequential colour squares. Then he took a quote from a well-known lawyer, “whose fiery eloquence has more than once entranced, if not horrified”. The bizarre text became visualized, as shown below.
"Gentlemen of the Jury! I 'aint a'goin to ask you to give a moment's consideration to the evidence before you It 'aint worth shucks, It don't count, and even if it did, it don't prove as my client were'nt there. No gentlemen, You can't convict even a white man on such evidence much less a nigger."
Cases of synaesthesia were increasingly reported from the 1850s, telling of people who saw colours when they heard music, words and vowel sounds. Their examples could have encouraged Lind in his enterprise, but Cyril Scott had grave doubts. Francis Galton’s “Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development” of 1883, showed vowels could elicit a great variety of coloured responses from different synaesthetes. At best, according to Scott, theirs was “an elementary form of clairvoyance much tainted by imagination”. The correct spiritual response “is only possible to him who has awakened the latent faculties of the pineal gland and pituitary body". Presumably, if everybody were sufficiently evolved, we would all agree on the one true form of mental visions. Anthropologists did find some widely accepted links between vowels and colours, when studying colour terms in the 1990s. A, E, I, O and U are often likened to red, yellow, white, blue and black, respectively: you possibly might find a rainbow in there, if you squint.
Scott was surprisingly more credulous of reports from mad doctors. One ‘hysterical’ patient had lost her eyesight, but continued to read through the tip of her ear. Her sense of taste was transferred to her knees, and that of smell to her toes. No surprise to Scott, since he knew those bodily parts to be centres of great activity for the gustiferous and odoriferous ethers. Such strange abilities had been reported long ago, when Robert Boyle wrote in 1664 of a blind man who could detect colours with his fingertips. The rumour was repeated, in different forms, well into the next century (sometimes in reference to Castel’s clavecin oculaire). People occasionally surface today, talking of sticky green and slippery yellow, to claim this kind of 'skin vision'. Mid 19th century, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer mentioned many similar cases of 'sensitives' in an essay on spirit-seeing. He also explored the craze for hypnotism (popularized by the Austrian physician F A Mesmer), with a chapter on animal magnetism and magic. Schopenhauer sought for idealistic reasons behind such phenomena, and would tolerate no spiritualist explanations. However, he was one of the first Europeans to champion the sacred texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, which should endear him to any Theosophist.
Under colonizing European powers, Hindu texts had been translated throughout the 19th century. Interest in their meaning reached a peak at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. There, Swami Vivekananda spoke on Raja Yoga to rapt crowds, and he later went on to establish a Vedanta Society in London. Though the composer Cyril Scott never visited India (he rather despised its people), he admired its philosophy and religions. Particularly, he considered the quartertones of Indian music superior to the semitones of the west. Much finer, they were better able to penetrate matter and communicate on higher planes with sensitive listeners. Critics have labelled Scott an ‘Orientalist’, due to the themes of many of his compositions. The same term is applied to his contemporary, the composer John Foulds, who had similar interests in eastern philosophies. Foulds would move to India with his wife, Mary MacCarthy, who he met in 1915. She was a concert violinist and former pupil of Theosophical leader Annie Besant. An established expert on Indian music, MacCarthy had experienced visions when playing her violin. She encouraged her husband to explore music’s spiritual powers, the occult universe of sound vibrating on several planes. Foulds wrote “Music Today: Opus 92” in 1934, in which he noted the colour-music table in Scott’s “Philosophy of Modernism”. But he refrained from writing out his own. It would appear too pat, since the colour evoked by a music varied not only with the pitch of a note, but also the timbre of the instrument on which it was played. Above all, coloured forms varied according to the psychic plane on which they were viewed. Nevertheless, such relationships exist:
“Close correspondences have been discovered or indicated…between notes, forms, colours, psychological states, elements, vowels, etc. It is a field of experiment in which the testing instrument is man himself and the force employed that of the creative imagination.”
In the realm of Theosophy, wave vibrations throughout the ether connected all phenomena, whether psychic or material. Despite Newton (who theorized light consisted of particles moving in straight lines), many early scientists agreed that light travelled as waves in the ether, just as sound moved in pulses through the air. The realm of visible light expanded in 1800, when Sir John Herschel noticed red rays heated up the lens of his telescope. He plotted the heating effect to discover it extended beyond the spectrum of colours, past red into invisible regions. Herschel presumed another kind of ray, ‘calorific’ or infra-red (IR), caused the heat. A year later, Johann Ritter noted another phenomena at the opposite end of the spectrum: silver chloride was blackened when exposed to violet light. His ‘chemical rays’ extended well beyond the region of visible violet, and were soon dubbed ‘ultra-violet’ (UV). In the same year, as legend has it, Thomas Young observed two swans on a pond in Cambridge; their ripples interfered with each other. Young applied the same patterns to sound and light, to postulate they were both wave motions. By 1803, he had classified both Herschel’s calorific rays and Ritter’s chemical rays as of the same kind, extensions of visible light of lower and higher frequencies.
Other momentous discoveries in science marked the few short years at the beginning of the 19th century. Alessandro Volta made a battery that, for the first time, could sustain an electric current. In 1803, John Dalton formulated the atomic theory, of immense importance to chemistry. He postulated each element was composed of tiny, indivisible particles, all the same, and compounds were formed when the uniquely different atoms joined together. Laboratory workers soon began to discover new elements, and analyse and synthesize compounds. Among them was Michael Faraday, who also demonstrated the effect of magnetism on both electricity and light (James Clerk Maxwell later combined the three mathematically, as the electromagnetic field). A devout man as well as a brilliant scientist, Faraday admonished the public for its fascination with occult practices of table-turning, mesmerism, and séances.
When it was discovered that high-frequency light could magnetize compass needles, Augustus J Pleasonton became convinced of the virtues of blue. He advertised a colour therapy in the 1850s, claiming blue light caused an electromagnetic current to course through the body, revitalizing every organ. The resultant craze for all things blue saw many interiors decorated in that colour, windowpanes and spectacles made of blue glass, and popular songs on the subject. Only after “Scientific American” debunked Pleasonton’s theory in 1877, did the fad die down. The following year, Edwin Babbit took colour therapy to new heights in “The Principles of Light and Color”. Babbitt confidently set all previous theories to rights, including those of Faraday. Spiritual and psychic forces reigned over all: in turn, ethers of electricity, light and magnetism governed the world of matter. Rhythmic, electric flows of light (and even sound) affected the body, mind and soul. Humans would eventually evolve a finer sense of vision, enabling them to see more than one octave of colours. Indeed, some had already seen them – up to ten octaves of repeating colours, apparently – with eyes closed, using psychic powers. In other regards, Babbitt adhered to convention. “There is no harm in dividing the colors into seven divisions on the Newtonian plan”, he decided, which he saw as harmonizing with the seven notes of a C major musical scale.
Different grades of ether flow along spiralling paths, wrapped around Babbit’s heart-shaped atom. Coarser grades round its middle have thermal colours, from red to yellow-green, the coarsest grade being ‘thermel’, or IR. After passing through the atom’s centre, they are converted to electro-magnetic colours of finer ether. These range from blue-green to dark violet, at the top. The final dark violet (on the UV border) has a heating component, which links it to the thermel end of the spectrum. Between these extremes are twelve other colours, based on Newton’s ROY G BIV plus intermediate hues (except for the omission of the central green).
A main thrust of Babbitt’s book was the promotion of colour therapy, or Chromo Therapeutics. Correct exposure to the right rays fixed anything from baldness to cancer, according to the testimonies he reprints. To alleviate the after-effects of sunstroke, for example, sew a blue band inside your hat (though to avoid it in the first place, I suspect any hat might do). For effective treatment, buy one of Babbitt’s Thermolumes, a box in which the naked patient sits with head protruding. A glass sheet, of a colour appropriate to the illness, covered the front; when placed near a window, the body was bathed in curative rays. The deluxe model came with its own arc lamp, and pumps to spray perfumes correlated to the colour. Otherwise, a Chromo Lens might do. These circular glass flasks were available in a range of colours; filled with water and hung in the sun, the healing properties of the colour were absorbed then the irradiated water was drunk. There was no further need for tonics or drugs, as colour cured all.
In the middle of the 20th century, Babbitt was still revered; he was the father of colour healing in the eyes of Corinne Heline. She vaguely linked colours to bodily organs, and De Clario quoted her “Healing and Regeneration through Color” as an authority. Heline’s pineal gland had a blue to lavender tinge, compared to De Clario's violet. But mostly colours were grouped according to astrology and religion; nine planets had varying colours, while Father, Son and Holy Ghost were given the three primaries of blue, yellow and red. ROY G BIV rated a mention as an ancient order known to the Chaldeans, to be rediscovered by Newton. Heline graded its seven colours in supernatural significance, from the active power of red to violet's transformation of matter to spirit. They "descend to earth in the seven notes of our diatonic scale", to awaken "the hitherto dormant seven jewels of the sevenfold body". The arrangement suggests Cyril Scott's Newtonian colour-music code (Illustration 2), with a hint of chakras thrown in.
Heline came closer to De Clario's colour-music-chakra code in a companion volume, “Healing and Regeneration through Music”. It outlines the same scheme found in her "New Age Bible Interpretation", with its seventh chakra transcendent white. In a hospital near Hiroshima, Heline tells us, people clothed all in white were unscathed when the atomic bomb fell. Music had significance for her, though placement of notes on the human body were inconsistent. As a diatonic scale, they seemed to ascend the kundalini path along the spine, from coccyx to crown. As a zodiac, however, the same ascending notes would run down the body, from intestines to feet. (The remaining semitones filled the space between head and gut.) Elsewhere, some colours had musical associations – Beethoven was generally purple, Grieg more a delicate orchid. The human voice, from bass to soprano, ranged from red to white, representing the colour and smell of roses (though the soprano’s blue rose seems odd). Many more octaves of colour were visible to clairvoyants; likewise, clairaudients were able to hear the grass grow. In the future, human kind would evolve so all could perceive the twelve psychic colours and sounds, rather than the seven of each to which we are presently limited.
James Clerk Maxwell postulated the electromagnetic field in 1864. Light was embroiled, almost incidentally, in force fields of electricity and magnetism operating in space. Heinrich Hertz verified, by experiment, the existence of the field in 1887; he also noticed how UV light facilitated the flow of electricity - a photoelectric effect. In 1897, at the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, J J Thomson found particles flying through a cathode ray tube were smaller than any atom. He had isolated the first of the subatomic particles, the electron. Thomson proposed a ‘plum-pudding’ model of the atom, and was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 1906. Undaunted, Theosophists made their own investigation of the atom. It spun and quivered, needed to be steadied for exact observation. Using meditation and clairvoyance, Besant and Leadbeater claimed to see through matter, to its 'hyper-meta-proto-elements'. Their primal atom of 1908 was clearly a copy of Babbitt’s atom, from thirty years previously. Science continued to outpace Theosophy and, by 1913, an acceptable nuclear model of the atom was proposed by Ernest Rutherford.
Albert Einstein pondered the photoelectric effect in 1905, formulating E = hf−W to express how the energy (E) of liberated electrons increased with the frequency (f) of incident light. Years later, Einstein received a Nobel Prize for his theory, which helped establish the science of quantum mechanics. At this level, where light interacts with subatomic particles, the term ‘photon’ is used to quantify its behaviour. A packet of energy – usually with no mass – it travels at the fastest possible speed. On a larger scale, light (and colour) is otherwise described as waves in the electromagnetic field. Efforts to reconcile the two different approaches were made in the 1920s and 30s, and the modern scientific community accepts the need for wave and particle theories to coexist. But in popular imagination, light as wave and/or particle presents an apparent contradiction: it threatens to revive the 18th century dispute, between rival theories of light corpuscles or ether waves. One scientist has cautioned that puzzling over the dichotomy is like marvelling that the platypus is both a beaver and a duck. Many people, without recourse to quantum electrodynamics, simply react with wonder, as did Salmon Rushdie on a recent visit to Australia:
“Even the great philosophical innovations arrive out of the knowledge now coming to us about the nature of the universe on the one hand and the nature of the particle on the other hand. So very big science and very little science turn out to be rather similar and rather poetic. Particles that may also be waves; the idea that a thing may be solid, or it may not be, or it may be both - these are completely metaphysical concepts."
De Clario enlisted both wave and particle theories of light to explain the function of the sixth chakra. The effective vibrations of violet, atomic in scale, were deemed to reach beyond the spectrum into the ultra-violet realm of the invisible. These wavelengths caused a photoelectric effect, we are told, generating electric currents in the surfaces on which they fell. De Clario was not the first to notice strange behaviour at the violet end of the spectrum: Mrs. Mary Somerville, author of "Mechanism of the Heavens", used to amuse the painter Turner in the 1830's, by magnetising needles with purple light. Its effect on human beings was related to bones, according to Corinne Heline, while UV would soften bodily tissues. In fact, UV light provokes a chemical reaction at the skin (rather than any photoelectric current), metabolizing vitamin D that in turn fixes calcium for bones. The necessary daily dose is easily had by light exposure to summer sun, though a dietary boost – oily fish is good – may help in winter. Gloomy skies cut down UV radiation, which can result in a vitamin D deficiency. In severe cases, children may grow crooked bones, a condition called rickets. Some scientists in Queensland (the ‘Sunshine State’) recently explored the effects of a lack of light, generally; it may possibly stunt the development of the nervous systems in foetuses and infants. Other long-term studies note a statistical correlate between births of schizophrenics and overcast weather (coupled with the effects of latitude and El Nino currents). De Clario failed to enlist these observations in his equation of UV+melatonin+pineal gland = enlightenment.
Overall, it seems sunlight is beneficial, but it is not all good news. If you spend too long in the sun, the vitamin D your skin has made will begin to be destroyed, along with vitamin A. UV light is mainly responsible, as it is for aging skin and snow blindness on the ski slope. If you tan on the beach till you burn, the odds of skin cancers increase. Tanning beds double the odds, and solariums were banned across Australia in 2015. UV light gradually wears away at the immune system, triggers viral activity, and hampers medications. The higher the frequency of UV, the greater its power to damage human cells, to alter DNA and the genes it encodes. Luckily, the ozone layer protects earth from the very highest frequencies. Or it did, until we decided to destroy it. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 did its best to stop the damage by banning CFCs. But over Antarctica in spring, the hole in the ozone layer is still about the size of North America and is not likely to heal before 2065. A bombardment of UV from on high, whether particles or waves, would be devastating rather than enlightening; you should not welcome it at your chakras (not even the sixth), to over-stimulate the pineal or other glands. In any case, whenever the hole in the ozone layer creeps closer to Tasmania, no evidence of enlightenment is noticeable among the local population.
Certain skin conditions, such as eczema and dermatitis, can benefit from UV phototherapy, though it tends to aggravate inflammatory conditions like rosacea. It is said to aid in the treatment of jaundice, where an excess of the pigment bilirubin turns the skin yellow. A similar sickness in newborn babies (hyperbilirubinemia) is treated more benignly. Instead of high-energy UV light (of 400 nm wavelength or less), a gentler blue light is used. The infants are placed in a bili bed and bathed in light of around 460 nm wavelength. Hey, presto! after a week under blue light they turn rosy. It would be trite to suggest that blue light and yellow skin, being of complimentary colours, simply cancelled each other out, but outlandish theories are ever with us. The composer Cyril Scott swore to the benefits of colour therapy at the hands of a particular Theosophical healer, who “would actually think the colours into the patient”. Unfortunately, the same healer experimented with the healing powers of X-rays, many times more potent than UV radiation, and died from the burns he received.
At the opposite end of the visible spectrum, red and IR lights are used for treatment of wounds and scar tissue. The lower-frequency, longer wavelengths are supposed to promote cell growth in the human body. With a little IR and UV added to either end of the colours, a ‘colour octave’ may be formed. (800 to 400 nm, say, would give the required halving of wavelength and doubling of frequency required.) According to the colour-music-chakra code, seven colours (and their differential effects) are transferrable to an octave of musical notes. While it is true that both are measurable as vibrations, visible light and musical sound are separated by a gap of forty octaves, and vibrate in totally different ways. Even so, Corinne Heline maintained music should work in a similar manner to light: “At its height, music raises pitch to excite every atom in the body.” Clearly she suggests a ‘sound photon’, obeying the same physical laws as light. Could it, like De Clario’s violet light, generate photoelectric effects in the skin with the sound of a single note? Alas, even ultrasound is many, many octaves removed from light - though it can still penetrate flesh to make a nice fuzzy picture of your unborn child.
When Mrs Hughes assigned colours to notes in 1883, she followed an updated Newtonian plan. A white-note scale was given the colours of the spectrum, beginning at C with red. Blue and indigo were conflated on G and the colours ended with a violet A. The remaining note B was black, to represent ultraviolet. Scientific opinions were cited, from Clerk Maxwell, Lord Rayleigh and Helmholtz, but her main advice came from W F Barrett, a professor of experimental physics in Dublin. Barrett had lectured and written on colour music in 1870, sparking an interested debate in the magazine “Nature”. He was a committed Newtonian, despite his modifications to ROY G BIV: “Their invariable order is— red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet; any other arrangement of the colours is less enjoyable.”
Mrs Hughes admitted to having no ear for music. Her method is idiosyncratic - the octave is divided by ‘chasms’, six semitones are doubled, yellow E is the ‘fountain’ of harmonies, ultraviolet B the ‘keynote of the fountain’. In her complicated way, Mrs Hughes sought to uncover the laws of harmony, “laws which are originated by the Creator”. Bible texts are scattered throughout her writing (along with copious amounts of English verse). She was anxious to avoid the example of her great-uncle, Erasmus Darwin, whose influential scientific writings she considered contrary to scripture. Her cousin Charles assured her his own writings were free of the family taint: Mrs Hughes felt safe to describe her work as an ‘Evolution’, in reference to Charles Darwin’s famous theory. Her evolutionary claim seems no greater (though it is arguably less eccentric) than similar claims made by Theosophists of her day.
More recently, the musical programme of "Sevenness: Sublunar" ended with De Clario improvising at a keyboard, blindfolded and in the dark. The musical key was stipulated as B, with its five sharps. Considering his limited virtuosity, De Clario needed more than ‘excited atoms’ or psychic guidance throughout the long performance. Since the Roland HP keyboard he used can be pitch-adjusted by the turn of a knob, he could pre-set it to any key required. Then the white notes alone need be played, and black-note sharps ignored. De Clario's concealment made it impossible to verify this. For all anyone knew (unless they possessed perfect pitch), he may as well have played in C, with no sharps at all. He could simply rename the key at will, and the audience would be none the wiser. My suspicions are in part grounded in the premise that was established by "Sevenness: Sublunar" itself, that the value of the performance resided not in the integrity of the way colour and music were used, nor in the quality of the result, but in the eternal verities of the colour-music-chakra code.
Sevenness: Sublunar" may seem a harmless, even beneficial diversion, apart from the gratuitous theories propped up by bits and pieces of science. But De Clario retreated into "the dark/invisible world" of the occult, taking some of his audience with him, and such practices sit uneasily with mainstream religions. While some churches adapt their forms of worship to accommodate alternative approaches, orthodox religions remain jealous of their market share. They may have little tolerance for cranky cult practices as they already have their own rituals, and a stock of mystics that includes at least one pianist. The young Mozart had also improvised, while blindfolded, as a parlour trick and the Swiss Protestant Karl Barth built a theology of divine revelation around him in the 1930s. Barth's commentary, like De Clario's, evoked a holistic universe realized through music, by a channelling process:
"It is as though, in a small segment, the whole universe bursts into song because evidently, the man Mozart has apprehended the cosmos and now, functioning only as a medium, brings it into song."
Other great musicians have claimed divine guidance. Joseph Haydn once said "Not from me - from there, above, comes everything". Understandable, considering the authority of his musicianship, the age in which he composed, and his modesty when faced with overwhelming acclaim. Two hundred years on, the electric guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix laid claim to a similar source of inspiration:
"I attribute my success to God. It all comes from God.
I go by message. I'm really a messenger from God."
Shortly before his death in 1970, Hendrix was codifying a relationship between colour and music that could trigger a physical response and reversion to positive, natural, childlike states. His interest in a therapeutic use for colour music grew out of the psychedelic era - aware of the overwhelming effect of electrified sound and light on large audiences, Hendrix speculated on more personal applications:
"I'm thinking of the days when people will be able to have this little room, a total audio-visual environment type of thing. So that you can go in there and lay back and the whole thing just blossoms with colour and sound. Like a reflection room. You can just go in and jingle out your nerves. It would be incredible if you could produce music so perfect that it would filter through you like rays, and ultimately cure."
The mythologizing of Hendrix has ensured his continuing popularity, and his original audience still consider him a seminal influence. (His reputation may have been different, had he not died young from a drug overdose.) When one of the founders of Microsoft sought a home for his immense collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, he commissioned a design (above) from the Gehry firm. The building houses exhibitions on science fiction, as well as on local popular music - with an emphasis on Hendrix, a native of Seattle. At its heart is the Sky Church, a sanctuary for rock disciples according to accounts. Huge video screens cover the walls of this towering hall, to immerse visitors in the Jimi Hendrix experience. Whether the music is perfect, whether the sights and sounds penetrate "like rays, and ultimately cure", I cannot say. But, in some way, Jimi got his dream after all.
In the late sixties, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll were considered gateways to self-realization; the sensory stimulation of Hendrix's audio-visual environment was one means of personal development. Other scenarios were derived from esoteric traditions - astrology, witchcraft and the like - where the idea that colour and music were formally conjoined was implicit. The psychedelic experience lent credibility to mysticism, and a vague spirituality permeated the alternative culture. Oriental philosophies - yoga, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism - were popular, gurus abounded, and writings on eastern religions were widely read. Australians increasingly travelled the overland route to England, taking in India, South-East Asia and enlightenment along the way. Some were eventually corralled into sects (Hari Krishna, Moonies, Orange people), though a pervasive religiosity allowed the diffusion of New Age notions.
Zealous practitioners rediscovered the colour-music code (with or without chakras), kept alive in the parallel world of the occult. Heide's "Sevenness: Sublunar" had precedents in ideas popularised during the hippie era. It was a contemporary outdoor equivalent to Hendrix's reflection room of colours and music, sharing both its form and intent and directed at much the same audience. But, compared to the music of Haydn, Hendrix or Mozart, De Clario's performances inevitably came off second-best; he needed more than divine intervention to transport his followers. The audience required a theoretical framework, allowing it to nail down more or less sententious views. A colour-music-chakra code stepped in, supplying a set of rules to give the event some appearance of durability.
Currently, the well-heeled of the first world are obsessed by the pursuit of ‘wellness’, both inside and out. Since neither science nor medicine has all the answers, the door is wide open to silly fads, crazed beliefs, and purveyors of snake-oil. In countries with clean water supplies, the practice of buying it in bottles would be laughable if it did not clog our waterways with plastic waste. Vitamins, marketed to protect your children's eyes from the blue lights of screens and phones, are useless; you may as well use blue light as a tooth whitener, say late-night shopping channels. Whether blue and red lights on a phone app clear up your acne is a matter for experiment. Fad diets are matters of faith: the composer Cyril Scott followed Swami Vivekananda’s Vedanta Society down a path of yoga and dietary regimes. His headaches succumbed to apples and oatmeal, he tells us, in the many pamphlets he wrote on health. More dangerously, he advertised he cured his own cancer by diet alone. Corinne Heline was even more alarming; she advised that colour therapeutics in the New Age "will replace the present barbaric custom of vaccination".
In the interpretive realm of psychiatry, soft-core therapies based on colour and music are likely to be tolerated, if not ignored. Since 1916, Carl Jung had developed colour as an instrument of meditation and diagnosis. His orientally-inspired model, the mandala, followed a strict colour code of red, blue, green and gold. Any mandala designed by an individual could yield complex interpretations that were personal and collective, historical and timeless. If any one of the colours were missing, a psychological imbalance was presumed. Jung presumed mandalas were the product of deep-seated universal rules, to which he gave impeccable credentials by cross-referencing the 17th century symbolism of alchemy and religion. By contrast, Gestalt psychiatry places great emphasis on visual acuity at a theoretical level. Rudolf Arnheim, in "A Psychology of the Creative Eye" of 1966, applied its principles to painting and music. He concluded that both the palette and the scale are notable for their discords as much as their concordances, and found formal systems of colour or music harmony at best incomplete, telling us next to nothing about a completed work. The doctrines of colour music are of no use here.
There is some comfort in colour and music, whether separately or together. In early experimental psychology, at the end of the 19th century, colour was used as a treatment in lunatic asylums. Cell walls painted in certain colours, or coloured glass placed in windows, were believed to alter the moods of patients. Red was said to be stimulating, blue calming, though little research was conducted into the physiological effects of colour until 1887. In “Sensation et Mouvement”, Charles Féré tested spectral lights on hysterical patients. He found red caused the greatest muscular contractions, violet the least. The effect was felt (as De Clario would claim) even when the subjects' eyes were closed. Since then, marginally higher heart rates have been detected under red light than under violet (maybe dilation of blood vessels is a cause). The results seem to support the common conception that red is an active and passionate colour, blue more passive and calm. The polarization of warm colours (red) and cool (blue) is more artificial. It arose in the European Romantic movement, in the writings of Goethe and others, and is not a prejudice shared by other cultures. (In Russia, red stands for love, and it means wealth and good fortune to the Chinese.) Contrary results have also come from a sleep laboratory at an American university - red caused drowsiness while blue promoted alertness. Other than these scant efforts, the research budget for colour psychology is largely spent by advertising firms, finding ways to sell you more.
Painting and music, as vehicles of self-expression, find a place in broader treatment programs for certain conditions, such as schizophrenia. Colour and music may be condoned for a placebo effect, especially when coupled with meditation techniques that alleviate stress. But sometimes doctors despair. Soldiers returning from war zones seem so damaged that any treatment will do. In World War I, colour-cure wards were part of hospitals in London and Sydney, for shell-shock and nerve cases. In London, Dr Kemp Prosser exhibited the paintings of A B Klein, a colour music pioneer. He also wrote out his recommendations for colour schemes in medical journals. The Red Cross hospital in Sydney hired the painter Roy De Maistre to decorate soldiers’ rooms therapeutically. Another Australian artist, Margaret Preston, taught a range of craft practices to shell-shocked soldiers in Devon, and Berger began to manufacture a line of paints for therapeutic purposes.
Treatment for combat fatigue became critical again in World War II. As part of therapy, the US Army screened abstract films in their hospitals. Auroratone films, by British-born Cecil Stokes, showed changing shapes and colours, coordinated to well-known tunes. Patients often described them as religious experiences, while doctors reported their cathartic effect on their charges, stimulating intense relaxation or weeping. To make the films, Stokes crystallized chemicals on glass plates. The crystals grew differently when subject to amplified sound; Stokes would cut a music tape into sections and play each loop over and over for each plate. When polarized light was shone through the plate, auroras of colour appeared when projected on a screen. The famous singer Bing Crosby stepped in, financing Stokes to turn his slide sequences into films. He even supplied the tape recordings for Stokes to use, and include on the film’s sound track. After the War, the films were shown in mental institutions and boys’ homes, in churches and shopping malls. When Corinne Heline saw an Auroratone film, she devoted a chapter, “New Age Color Music” to the recital. It furthered the work of Scriabin, she wrote, and the projected images and singing of “The Lord’s Prayer” had cured a case of breast cancer. As Auroratone’s popularity dwindled, Stokes applied to the Guggenheim Foundation for a grant. But Baroness Hilla von Rebay, co-founder of the Guggenheim, was more interested in Thomas Wilfrid’s “Clavilux” (another coloured light machine that Heline fancied). The baroness commented scathingly on Stokes’s imagery:
“You should first of all learn what is decoration, accident, intellectual confusion, pattern, symmetry, as all this is in these photos - all of which has no relation to Art and no influence whatsoever on the onlooker…There should be no accidental charm either; in art there is conceived law only - never an accident.”