The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound

The Acoustic Science of the Divine

We warmly welcome David Elkington, author of The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound: The Acoustic Science of the Divine, as our featured author for June. In his book, David explores the acoustic connections between the Earth, the human brain, and sacred sites, revealing an intimate relationship between the Earth’s resonate frequencies, human consciousness and the birth of religion. In his article, David provides an overview of the powerful role Mother Earth’s rhythmic frequencies have played in shaping human language and perhaps even civilisation itself. 

Interact with David on our AoM Forum here.


Of all the great tragedies in living under the conditions of the present pandemic, one of the worst has been to witness the uncanny silence now found within churches and cathedrals throughout the United Kingdom: for these are wondrous living monuments to the power of the human voice.

For the first time, probably since they were built, these places have been under an edict that has ruled that they must keep their doors firmly shut.

No more the scene of serene and ancient chanting of the Psalms, the glory of the English Hymnal nor the roar of the sermon as it echoes and redounds around the nave, the apse and at the altar, seeking to provoke, to inspire and to admonish: for church and cathedral have been silenced, not by the pandemic, not even by God, but by bureaucracy: The Church of Christ Management.

These places have survived the Black Death, the Great Plague, and two World Wars; only to finally be brought low by the management of a Church that little appreciates quite the history and the physical resonance of what it has in its property portfolio, a Church in crisis, a church that has forgotten the power of its own voice – and thus the power of place.

And where there is physical resonance there is true spirituality. And it is a vein that runs richly through our deep ascendancy, over time, from the pyramids until now, sharing a common heritage, a common energy and a rare but measurable effect.

So low have these places fallen that priests are no longer trained to use them for their oratorical splendour: rather one sees them with Bluetooth connections hanging from their ears, and microphones wrapped around their faces, as they give inaudible guidance through sermons and management advice on how to exit through the proper doors.

Never has the church seemed so distant, in this case socially distant, from its audience as it is now. Whatever your spiritual cup of tea, it is a sad prospect – and a sad reflection on today’s obsession with iPhones and iPads and the want of knowledge.

And yet, as I wander through the glory of Wells and Chartres Cathedrals, or ascend the inner shafts of the Great Pyramid, I cannot help but ponder that they too were once the technology of their time.

Looking at the pyramids of Egypt or of Central America and at the great Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, there is a sense that they represented a peak of achievement and that, in the aftermath of such an achievement it was a long slow decline from a once great height.

And yet, it is a height that can still be achieved. It is just a matter of sounding out the potential, literally ‘sounding’: of allowing the brain to become caught up in the sheer exuberance of these places.

I sing the body electric’ is how Walt Whitman put it, but perhaps more succinct are the words of Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179): “The singing of words reveals their true meaning directly to the soul through bodily vibration” – and she knew a thing or two.

 

Fan Vaulting, Exeter Cathedral. Photo Credit: David Elkington

Good Vibrations

And here is one of those things: every day, as you go into, or come out of, sleep you go through the experience of a change in consciousness.

This experience is the alpha wave frequency of the brain.

Way out towards the known limits of the cosmos supermassive quasar and supernova explosions take place that sends out shock waves: when they encounter other physical objects, they make them resound like a bell being struck by a hammer. To illustrate this: when a church bell is struck by a hammer it vibrates, and no matter how loud it might seem, the frequency of vibration always remains the same. There may, however, be overtones, or undertones, which are variations on the resonant frequency. These are dependent upon the shape of the bell, its material, and any underlying cracks or anomalies. Similarly, our Earth is struck by the incoming frequencies and therefore vibrates at a particular frequency along with its overtones. Thus it is that everything resonates, beats to its own rhythm, and in the process gives off energy that remained, until fairly recently, imperceptible. Now there are ways of measuring it, even at incredibly low frequencies. While the seismic or underground vibration of the Earth is 32 Hz the primary above ground vibration of the planet relates resonates at ELF’s of between 7 and 10 Hz. These frequencies are measured as fluctuations in the planet’s magnetic field. ELF wavelengths are extremely long for: in Earth resonance, they approximate the circumference of the planet. This is known as Schumann residence, after W.O. Schumann, who first demonstrated in 1952 that the atmospheric cavity, known as the ionosphere, was in fact a gigantic electrodynamic resonator. It is this region that, in resonating at about 8 Hz, dominates all aboveground frequencies – and all life itself.

Ions are atoms that, by virtue of gaining or losing an electron, has become negatively or positively electrically charged. As the name ionosphere implies, it is a highly electrically charged area of the atmosphere, caused mainly by the incoming ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. Incidentally, the layers within the ionosphere, the magnetosphere and the troposphere are also responsible for the reflection of radio waves and all that’s very important to long-distance communication.

By a curious turn of nature, certain frequencies emitted by the brain fall within the band of Earth resonance. The brain has varying bands of frequency, reflecting different activities at different times of the day. The lowest of these bands is the Delta rhythm 0.5 to 4 Hz. The association here is with deep sleep, and there is also a link to the onset of paranormal experiences.

Theta waves occur between 4 and 7 Hz, when we are only half awake, dreaming, or musing meditatively. Alpha rhythms, at 7 to 13 Hz, are a state of passive alertness wherein the mind is relaxed to the point of emptiness. Intriguingly, alpha is the wavelength associated with altered states of consciousness, the frequency of expanded awareness.

The fourth level of the brain wave activity is Beta, the Delta Rhythm at 13 to 30 Hz. This is the frequency of normal everyday wakefulness.

So, the brain contains electrical frequencies that occur naturally in the energy fields of the planet itself. This state of affairs may have been the natural result of life evolving to respond rhythmically to the pulses of Mother Earth. The fact that certain frequencies could coincide with Earth resonance means that, in effect, the ancients were correct in calling this planet the Earth Mother.

Coming out of sleep, you have risen, gradually emerged into the state of everyday active thinking and interaction with the physical world. Now, imagine that this was the state of humanity as it emerged from the cave environment many tens of thousands of years ago. They have become aware and are becoming increasingly aware of the world around them. Today we call them ‘primitive’. And yet this word reveals much, for there is an archaeology in language.

When we consider the idea of the ‘primitive’, we are inclined to think of it in mildly disparaging terms: we think of bearskin-clad naïfs with long hair, unshaven, with grunts for everyday conversation. However, when we realise that the word primitive actually is a Latin word meaning simply first born immediately our illusion is broken. We suddenly begin to see our ancestors in a new light, the light of their dawning awareness, the dawn of history. Humankind was awakening from a long sleep.

 

Trethevy Quoit. Photo Credit: Paul Broadhurst

The Reality of Myth

In the Pyramid, as at other monuments across the planet, the use of sleep was an essential requirement of ritual: both the sleep of life – and the sleep of death. It was a way of communicating with the gods, but more importantly, it was a liturgical ritual that kept alive our embrace with the Earth Mother and the Sky Father.

It is these liturgies, based on the initial experience of altered states of consciousness that have survived as myth.

Myth, therefore, is not a series of fictions or fantasy stories, it is a living, breathing survival of that which, in the beginning, was spoken. ‘Myth’ is derived from the Greek word Mythein, meaning literally that which is spoken. To speak of myth is to join the long roller-coaster of history, it is to become linked to the most ancient traditions of our culture – and beyond that of our science.

Enuma Elish-la nabu shamanu begins the great Mesopotamian story of creation, and in it, there is a keyword, Shamanu. The whole line reads:

When on high, the heavens were not yet named…’

It is now generally accepted that shamanism, as a worldwide phenomenon, has beginnings which are hidden in the impenetrable mists of deep antiquity – but particularly in the environment of the cave from which humanity first emerged – and Shamanism and myth are intimately connected via the heightened awareness of the brain when it is in an Alpha state.

This in turn leads us to the myths of creation – and the myth of the hero.

The shaman is the one who recreates, he does this by his naming of all things: he reflects, in his mythic trance-like state, the idea of the eternal now – the deep ongoing process of creation: and this was a process, a rite that took place at the ancient sacred site – a place that, the evidence seems to tell us, was developed specifically to resonate at specific frequencies, thus allowing us to enter into an altered state with relative ease.

 

The Great Pyramid at Dawn. Photo Credit: Paul Broadhurst

Newgrange

In 1994, in association with British researchers, Professor Robert Jahn of the Engineering Anomalies Department, Princeton University, carried out a series of experiments at selected ancient sacred sites in Britain and Ireland. Bob Jahn had been to Ireland the year before and, while on a visit to the famous Neolithic cairn at Newgrange, had come across a much noticed but little investigated effect. There, in tandem with a still and heavy atmosphere, weird and wonderful things happen when you light up a cigarette. The smoke seems to respond in a resonant fashion. Acting on a hunch, Jahn returned a year later, this time with a large array of equipment in tow.

Newgrange dates to about 3500 BCE and, as a cairn, is much like an underground church. The interior is cruciform – indeed, Newgrange is the largest structure of its sort in Europe, a Neolithic cathedral. Carved into both the interior and exterior of the monument – famously in front of the entrance to the passage grave – are a series of concentric spirals. Many theories have been put forward to explain these vivid but enigmatic symbols. Some researchers believe that they are astronomical markers with perhaps an agricultural purpose in mind, others pass them off as mere ornamentation. Such theories are in many cases accommodation, but nonetheless inadequate.

The structure is oriented so that at dawn on the mid-winter solstice, the rising sun shines beyond the doors and into an aperture, small in size but covered in spiral motifs; the result is that a shaft of sunlight penetrates deep into the passage, to the very heart of the chamber. Inside Newgrange, there are large water basins, rather like baptismal font inside churches. In the days when Newgrange was in full use, these would have been filled with water to induce the steel and heavy atmosphere mentioned earlier. This is a very damp setting in which water vapour plays a key role. As I have said, smoke, in this circumstance, does some very strange things, but it has been noted that deep inside the cave it can take on a spiral form that seems to respond to the frequency of sound. Jahn and his team found that the resonant frequencies at Newgrange were well defined, the chamber behaving like an acoustically designed building. When they compared the newly gained data with the chamber’s carved decorations, they were intrigued. Such is the accuracy of these carvings regarding the chamber’s acoustic value that they even reflect such critical niceties as nodes and antinodes – the actual construction of a standing waveform or wave pattern.

Waveforms

One can see the way that the waveform works by using a piece of string. If the string is attached to two fixed ends and plucked, waves are sent along it in both directions. They are reflected at both ends and, as they return along the string, they pass through each other and combine, producing a standing wave.

Acoustically speaking, a standing waveform is a wave that is in harmony with the interior, rather like bubbles of vibration within a fixed space. Once a pattern is established, sound reverberates from wall-to-wall, and as it does so, the frequency diminishes by a harmonic with each reverberation. Normally, due to poor acoustic design and an inappropriate volume, sound will dissipate in a building – or the attempt to achieve a standing wave will result in a cacophony of noise. However, in the right conditions, one can easily be formed.

Besides Newgrange, tests were made at the Loughcrew, also in Ireland, and at Carn Euny in Cornwall, and Wayland’s Smithy (Berkshire). The Princeton team’s conclusions were dramatic and certain features were clearly established:

  1. Despite the substantial small-and large-scale irregularities in the Boundary walls of these structures, their resonant frequencies were well-defined. After very little practice, the experiments could ‘blind tune’ the source frequency to a clearly audible resonance with a reproducibility of +/-1 or 2 Hz with little ambiguity.
  2. Although many shapes and sizes of the cavity were presented, the resident frequencies of all of them lay in the range between 95 and 120 Hz.
  3. In all cases, principal antinodes of resonant standing wave patterns were established at the outer walls, as would be expected theoretically. The number, configuration and relative magnitudes of the other antinodes and nodes leaning back to the source depended on the particular chamber configuration.
  4. In some cases, rock art on the chamber walls or some similarity to the observed standing wave patterns1.

Given that Newgrange, Loughcrew and other monuments were constructed 5500 years ago, this is extraordinary stuff, especially the latter point. But the Princeton report goes further:

‘The Newgrange and Loughcrew sites present extraordinary and well-known examples of diagrammatic rock etchings conventionally regarded as astronomical, seasonal or environmental representations. In several cases, however, the experimenters were also struck by the similarities of certain sketches with the resonant sound patterns characterising these chambers. For example, a number of the sketches feature concentric circles, ellipses or spirals that are not unlike the plan views of the acoustical mappings. In other sketches, sinusoidal or zigzag patterns resemble the alternative nodes and antinode… Note especially that the two zigzag trains etched on the corbel at the left side of the west subchamber of Newgrange have precisely the same number of ‘nodes’ and ‘antinodes’ as the resonant standing-wave pattern we mapped from the chamber centre along the passage…Conceivably, the triple spiral configurations sketched on the magnificent entrance stone and elsewhere could be somewhat more metaphysical representations of the interactive resonances of the three subchambers.2

In the Beginning

Given that these places are associated with their own myths and legends, given that they are also associated with the figure of the hero, I wondered if there was a direct connection between the rites practised at the sacred site, their liturgies, and their stories of the hero – that somehow, he brought sound into shape as script. In a lot of the world’s legends, this figure is heroic for one simple reason: he is miraculous, he can heal, he can transform and he does this almost entirely through the use of script – he can heal with a word.

Could this be the reason why, in deep antiquity, right up until the time of the famous Temple of Jerusalem, the use of script was restricted only to those who were initiated into its use?

It was not until medieval times that the Church relinquished its copyright over the teaching of language and script. And are not their holy books called scriptures?

Perhaps the greatest clue comes from the Christian religion and the beginning of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

‘One Word’ in Latin is universe.

It is therefore not at all surprising that St John’s Gospel only just made it into the canon – it was giving far too much away.

My thesis is this: human beings, it seems, have a natural urge towards spirituality and the need to grow inward and towards it is as an expression of wisdom. We have a need to know where we came from and why: this is curious – the word religion means to bind back (to the source).

Could it be that religion is an ancient language of scientific expression? What if a thing that we take for granted – so much so, that we rarely give it a second thought – was not a human invention at all but an environmental response mechanism? I refer, of course, to writing, to script.

My theory is this: upon emerging from the cavern environment at the dawn of history the first urge of humanity was to stay connected to Mother Earth. So began the construction of sacred sites: recognised from the Palaeolithic to more recent eras. From these came civilisation as we understand it.

We are inclined to see temples and pyramids very much in the past tense and fail to see that they were, and still are, living, breathing places of creation: of the outpouring of creation that came from them. What we do not and cannot see is what we cannot now hear – these were places of music and dance. Britain had Perpetual Choirs, there were Choral Guilds in the Temple of Jerusalem, the pyramids rang out to the music and hymns of the gods: wherever there is a sacred place it was a place of music and chant.

The purpose of music and chant was to alter our brainwave patterns, to take us away from the mundane and into the heavenly.

Over the course of many years, I was witness to, and partook in, a series of experiments at these places; experiments that charted their individual resonance. But there was one clear distinguishing aspect to them all that was nothing short of astonishing. When soundwave patterns from these sites were manifested in pictorial form, using a process known as Cymatics, they demonstrated a clear linguistic form, exhibiting script-types unique to those cultures. We saw Celtic knot-work at Celtic sites, Buddhist and Hindu yantras at Buddhist and Hindu sites; Paleo-Hebrew script; the Om of Hinduism – and most astonishingly hieroglyphs deep inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. The list is by no means definitive, but the implication is clear: script, in its earliest form, emerged from these sites in a form created by sound.

However, it didn’t just appear there: it was a gift of the gods given to humanity via the hero.

It is the hero who is the fulcrum point at these places: whose myth informs us that he was the meeting point of humanity and God: the perfect arbiter between both.

It is the hero who, in the mythologies of the world, brings language and the skill of writing to humanity. It is the hero who draws down knowledge and brings the civilizing arts to the world. It is also the hero who is born in the temple – and who dies there: at the centre of the world.

As I began to look deeper into the legends it became increasingly obvious to me that what we are looking at is not just a metaphor for an experience but an expression of what I can only describe as Spiritual Technology.

But who is the Hero really?

The hero is a state of mind, almost the calm after the storm of not knowing. He brings self-awareness and the ability to grow, to ascend, to climb to heaven by learning wisdom. In effect, we are witnessing a Technology of the Soul, the science of our intellectual and conscious ascent: and in this scheme of things the sacred site becomes the umbilicus connecting us to an unseen world.

These places were constructed with a clear and resonant purpose: they are places of communion – between humanity and the divine. But what exactly are the gods? What do they represent?

The general answer is that they are forces of nature, expressions of the different aspects of the world around us. However, somewhere in all of this is a meeting point, where man meets god, where man even becomes god. (I say man not because of any inherent sexism but because the feminine is already seen as an aspect of the divine in the form of the Earth Mother, whereas a man has to demonstrate his latent divinity.) That place is the Temple.

There was no denying the remarkable similarities of worldwide hero-myths – the story, with variations based on geography and culture, is largely the same: even to the degree that the names are the same and have the same meaning.

In this scheme the Sun as the Father-god shines upon the Earth-Mother, adding to the life she gives. The earth aspect is wisdom: our ability to listen to it is our wisdom, the beauty of which is reflected in the shades of the moon. The child of these deities is the hero, whose task is to unite heaven and earth by teaching us language and how to sing it: and in his quest to bring us self-awareness, dies to become a Judge of the Dead: an ancestral memory. Humanity is brought to consciousness by the Divine Child – and in all of this, the sacred place plays a central role.

 

Goddess Figure. Photo Credit: David Elkington

The Renewal

In December 1999 it was announced the very beautiful white marble Baptistry at Pisa, Italy, completed in 1363AD, is in essence the largest musical instrument in Christendom. Even more extraordinary is the fact that the circular structure, surmounted by 250-foot cupola, was in all probability designed by its architects to mimic the pipes of a church organ. The acoustics beneath the cupola are so perfect, scholars have realised, that it must be either an incredible coincidence or the work of genius. Other experts have called it The Italian Stonehenge, believing it to have been built to record the winter and summer solstices.

According to Prof Silvio Burgalassi the cathedral and the baptistery are on a perfect East-West access, whilst the famous leaning tower is 23 ½° off the axis (taking into account the angle of the lean). “The explanation is that the Sun strikes the tower later this month (December), about four days before Christmas, coinciding with the winter solstice. At Midsummer, the sun streams through a south facing window in the baptistery on the feast day of Saint John the Baptist, who is Pisa’s patron saint, striking the statue representing him on the font.”

All sacred places were carefully designed to maximise the most beneficial acoustical effects, for the precise days to which they were aimed, more often than not the summer and winter solstices; though there are plenty of exceptions to the rule.

Whilst this analysis is extraordinary it leaves out one central point: that we are the instrument of measurement in the new science – the technology is ourselves.

In order to measure the sacred place, its esoteric value and its appearance in history, as well as the fact that it was an emergent science – emergent from within us, we need to down tools and use the one tool we are not yet good at relying on: ourselves.

In a way this is what religion is all about.

It is the tragedy of Western religion that it was separated from science during and after the Renaissance, each going their separate way. Perhaps it was at this point that religion became the perceived political entity it became, whilst spirituality trod a lonely path upon the fringes of science and religion. Each has derided the other over the centuries and, whilst there have been fine examples of scientists as Churchmen and vice versa, they have had to tread a cautious path.

The persecution of science by the Church in the run up to and during the Age of Reason, has seen the triumph of empirical scientific values in our own world – and the diminishment of the Church: to the detriment of both. Science accuses the Church of peddling a myth, but without necessarily understanding exactly what myth truly is, whilst the Church cannot accept the criticism because in its attempt to remain cogent it has abandoned its mysteries in order to become purely exoteric. It cannot see its own scientific origins; it cannot see that the real tech is us.

Yet both are, in their idiosyncratic way, trying to answer the ultimate question of the meaning of human existence: and, scientifically speaking, this was never more so than in the growing scientific enquiry into the nature of consciousness.

In the mythologies associated with these sites, it is the hero who brings consciousness, who brings self-awareness by his heroic actions on behalf of humanity: because the hero is humanity, he is humanity as self-aware. His is the journey to the dark heart of wisdom: dark in the sense that wisdom is about seeing both sides of the argument in order to reach the higher good.

And indeed, on the morning of the Winter Solstice, the sacred places are equally dark as their resonant frequencies take effect. In this way they acted as chambers of initiation wherein the hierophant would undergo spiritual death in order to become the hero. Quite often this hierophant was the King – and the duty of the King was his duty to his people.

Thus, the beauty of the sacred space was as a touchpaper whose fires were lit by the presence of the enquiring mind: Ars sine scientia nihil est – the practice of an art without proper knowledge accomplishes nothing.

It is my belief that it was at the sacred site where knowledge first emerged.

Today we use and abuse script as brought by the hero, almost devoid of any awareness of its inherent rhythmic meaning and power. This was the reason why the priests held onto the meaning of script as an elite teaching for so long – it was soon to become sundered from the place of its emergence, of its birth, as science and religion were equally sundered from each other.

The Prologue of St John’s Gospel is the great ‘I am’ – the author is saying in the Prologue that the hero is The Word, that it is the greatest of all modes of self-expression, that to be it is to be at once both man and God. This is a statement to the effect that the very name of the hero, in whatever culture he appears in whether Christian or pagan, is a word of healing and marks a continuing act of Creation, the high point of human consciousness.

Sound becomes ritual.

However, another letter, Ephesians 1:22-23, describes the Church as the Body of Christ: it is also to be found in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church: is this a metaphoric: The Church in its destruction of the opposition has preserved their secrets as its own.

Once you have reached the culmination of the journey you will be pleasantly surprised by the answer. It is truly revelatory. For the hero in his birth pose is still present to offer us insight in these troubled times. It is just a matter of looking.

 

The Neb Edjer. Photo Credit: David Elkington


1 Prof Robert G Jahn, Paul Devereux and Michael Ibison, ‘Acoustical Resonances of Assorted Ancient Structures’, Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, School of Engineering and Applied Science, Princeton University, USA, March 1995

2 Ibid.

8 thoughts on “The Ancient Language of Sacred Sound”

  1. Casual Visitor says:

    If I may ask, which hieroglyph emerged by cymatics in the Great pyramid ?

  2. Sam Pitzalis says:

    Pieces are falling together. Visiting ancient Sardinian sites. A multitude, mysteriously waiting, by the thousands, in a world unique density per square km. Using them for personal development, wisdom, in a way heroically. The urge to sing & resound and come out sound (!) there is so strong! An artist placed sound stones in many Sardinian villages. Reconnecting to that ancient energy, blowing off the dust, is a great honour too, feeling the appreciation of ancestors while I write this too. Blessing. Thank you for adding to that process with this article and book and exciting inquisitiveness. Rediscovery is speeding up, we can be hopeful and positive, and perhaps in fact… heroes. Rediscovery is in full process!

  3. Bill says:

    Hmm- what’s this? The harmony of the spheres? Sounds a bit hippyish to me…

    1. Diane Michel says:

      I’ve used sound vibrations to heal myself, and places that have had traumatic events happen. It really is effective and has brought great peace to those who needed it. I totally believe in this as I’ve seen it happen for myself.

  4. Séamus+Casey says:

    Excellent article, hip-‘pi’-ish or not. I am curious as to what effect & how the cor-belled column of stones above the inner chamber of Newgrange fits into the acoustical picture.

  5. Leigh Nelson says:

    Fascinating read. Thanks for posting, Graham!

  6. David Elkington says:

    Hi Casual Visitor,

    in short the answer to your question is: The circle with a dot for the great god, RA; the Ee of Horus (left and right); the Djed pillar, and others,

    Best Wishes,

    David

  7. David Elkington says:

    Hi Bill,

    I can assure you that there is nothing ‘hippyish’ in any of this. Just good old hard science!

    Best Wishes,

    David

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some basic HTML is allowed.