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The Sacred Science Translation Society began in 2004 as a project to translate a collection of the most important and rare works on Cosmology & Esoteric Science into English. Through Angel DonorsSubscribtion Contributions we raised over $40,000 to translate famous foreign masterpieces from French & German on critical subjects in Harmonics, Geometry, Esoteric Mathematics, & Ancient Cosmology.
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OrpheusINtroduction & Table of Contents

Translated by Ariel Godwin

By Hans Kayser

Table of Contents

  • Preface, Introduction.
  • First chapter. The lambdoma and its relation to the problem of the overtones and undertones.
  • Second chapter. On the sound in the stone. Crystallography.
  • Third chapter. The Oth-Aleph and the star of the pleroma. The formulae of harmonics.
  • Fourth chapter. Number and sound. Mathematics.
  • Fifth chapter. On the sound in the microcosm. Atomic theory.
  • Sixth chapter. Doctrine of color. Physics, optics.
  • Seventh chapter. On the sound in the macrocosm. Astronomy.
  • Eighth chapter. Sound and growth. Geology, botany, zoology.
  • Ninth chapter. Sound and form. Architecture, art.
  • Tenth chapter. Doctrine of harmony. Tonal system, music theory.
  • Eleventh chapter. Man, tone, and rhythm. Anthropology, history, periodicity.
  • Twelfth chapter. On intuition. Philosophy, language, psychology, ethics.
  • Finale. View of past and future.

Translator’s Introduction

The Sacred Science Institute’s Hans Kayser project, which has so far issued English translations of Harmonia Plantarum (first published 1943), A Harmonic Division Canon (1946), Textbook of Harmonics (1950), and Paestum (1958), now presents Kayser’s first and least known book: Orpheus I. Morphologische Fragmente einer allgemeinen Harmonik, erste Lieferung (1926).

The nature and circumstances of these “Morphological Fragments of a Universal Harmonics” are nothing short of extraordinary. Under the prophetic name of Orpheus, Kayser (1891-1964) intended to erect a monument to rival Albert von Thimus (1806-1878), whose Harmonic Symbolism of Antiquity (Die harmonikale Symbolik des Alterthums, Cologne, 1868, 1876) had opened his imagination to harmonics as the universal key. Thimus had addressed it only as a historical phenomenon, concentrating on ancient Greece, Egypt, and China. Kayser intended his Orphic project to bring harmonics into the modern world by showing its application to the sciences and humanities, and its spiritual value for the present and the future.

Kayser’s grand plan was to cover the entire field of arts and sciences, harmonically treated, in twelve “chapters.” The present work was only the “first instalment” (Erste Lieferung), comprising the general introduction and chapters 1 and 2. A prospectus inserted in the book outlines the complete plan, followed by a laudatory essay and inviting subscribers. It suggests that future chapters are well underway by reproducing two diagrams from them: “Harmonic analysis of the hydrogen spectrum,” from the fifth chapter, and, in four colors, “The diatonic circles of the combination types,” being table 8, figure 9 of chapter 3. According to Rudolf Haase, from whose biography (Hans Kayser. Ein Leben für die Harmonik der Welt, Basel: Schwabe, 1968) most of this information is taken, Kayser did complete the third chapter in manuscript. He awaited a favorable response from critics and subscribers, but was disappointed. The scientific and musicological press took almost no notice of the work, and what they did say was discouraging: Kayser’s addressing the reader with the informal du was inappropriate for an academic work; the presentation was too flamboyant, etc. Besides, after 1926 Kayser’s personal finances took a turn for the worse. For several years he supported his family by playing the cello in a nightly cinema orchestra. The political horizons darkened for liberals like himself. Only after his timely move to Switzerland in 1932 under the patronage of a far-sighted businessman, Gustav Fueter, was he able to resume, in the words of Haase’s title, “a life for the harmony of the world.”

The high-flown rhetoric of the prospectus matches the extravagance of Kayser’s ambition and of this lone completed monument. It speaks of the aspirations after Germany’s defeat to revive the best of its prior culture. For Kayser this included the Rhineland mystics of the late medieval period (Meister Eckhart, Tauler, Ruysbroeck,); the blending of science, alchemy, and occultism in Paracelsus; the mystical theosopher Jacob Boehme and his followers; the philosopher-scientists Kepler and Leibniz; and Goethe’s synthesis of a poet’s eye with a new scientific outlook, leading to the Naturphilosophie (philosophy of nature) of the Romantic period. Before specializing in harmonics, Kayser had studied all of these and edited two series of mystical writings: the popular series Der Dom (the cathedral) and his own Chorus mysticus (mystical chorus). Somehow he found time to write a dissertation, too, on “Literary Parallels between Fra Angelico’s Representation of the Last Judgment and the Writings of Antoninus Florentinus” (Erlangen, 1925).

As the overture to a work of Wagnerian ambitions, the present volume sets the tone of what is to follow, then exemplifies the themes and methods that will be used henceforth. The tone of the Introduction is earnest and we might say religious, only it is subservient to no particular religion but rather to the metaphysical principles behind them all. Readers familiar with the modern “Traditionalist” current identified with René Guénon will recognize the impersonal application of universal principles—in Guénon’s case, geometric (as in The Symbolism of the Cross); in Kayser’s, harmonic. Those more familiar with the work of C. G. Jung will recognize Kayser’s distinction of the ego, with all its problems, from the impersonal Self. Anthroposophists, about whom Kayser was at first scathing but later more sympathetic, will notice similarities to Steiner’s instructions for a higher perception of the natural world. All four—Kayser, Guénon, Jung, and Steiner—were concerned to give meaning to a postwar world in which materialism was asserting its claim as the only viable philosophy.

Following this introduction, Kayser explains the lambdoma, the diagram named from the Greek letter Lambda, Λ, which encompasses the integer series and its reciprocal fractions. The two large folding plates of a triangular and a square lambdoma (Tables I and II), enlarging on  prototypes in Thimus’s work, are a marvel of typographical intricacy. All of Kayser’s harmonic writings presuppose an understanding of this diagram and some sense of its musical nature. The ability to hear tones in one’s imagination has nothing to do with “perfect pitch,” but it does require familiarity with the basic intervals, so that when a perfect fifth is mentioned, the inner ear responds. Some time spent experimenting with a string—a cello or guitar string will serve in lieu of a monochord—will go far to clarify the Pythagorean insight into the link between tone and number, on which all harmonics rests.

The second chapter plunges us into the realm of crystallography, a territory as unknown to many readers as it was to the translator. In the spirit of Naturphilosophie, and of esoteric philosophies in general, it sees all of nature as alive and to some degree conscious. For Kayser, this life and consciousness are proven by the presence of harmonics as determinants of crystal growth and geometry. All his evidence and its illustrations come from the researches of Victor Goldschmidt (1853-1933), the founder of modern crystallography, who presumably consented to this extensive borrowing from his works. Because crystal formation relates closely to solid geometry, Kayser reprints a rare article by Christian Samuel Weiss (1780-1856) on the proportions of the Platonic and other regular solids, these also favoring harmonically significant numbers. The widow of Hans Hauswaldt (1851-1909) allowed Kayser to enhance his work with her husband’s photographs of polarized light through crystals.

Kayser’s lavish use of material by these specialists explains, to some degree, how at the age of 33 he could confidently promise to cover all the disciplines listed in Orpheus’s twelve chapters. Although the original research was not his own, his omnivorous mind enabled him to absorb it and fit it into his global vision. This he would pursue against all odds and the indifference of the academic world, right up to his metaphysical masterwork Orphikon, issued posthumously (1973) by his faithful Basel publisher, Julius Schwabe. Although Orpheus went off like a solitary rocket, by the end of his life Kayser had fulfilled its promise, and more.

If the reviewers thought Orpheus’s presentation too extravagant for a musicological textbook, they were right. The book comes in a green clothbound slipcase with a discreet label: Orpheus. Erste Lieferung, and measures 18½ by 12¼ inches (47 x 31 cms.). When the three-colored folding plates are opened, it spans 4ft. 2ins. (127 cms.). The paper is handmade, the margins wide, and the fonts are roman and italic, rather than the Fraktur, so offputting to non-German readers. The endpapers are solid scarlet facing metallic gold. The sixteen cyanotypes of crystal radiances are individually glued in. In short, it is a bibliophile’s treasure for its size, its quality, and its rarity, since no more than 200 copies were printed and there has never been a reissue. No American library claims to own one.

Although Orpheus was copyrighted in 1926, Kayser always dated it to 1924. That was the year in which he published a pair of modest “Papers around Orpheus” and issued prospectuses that invited subscribers to the central work, promising the first instalment for December 1925. He intended to print and publish it himself. In 1922, during the German monetary crisis, he had sold his private library to a Dutch dealer for hard currency, and invested it in printing equipment. He set up his printshop in a disused Berlin bathhouse and for a few years produced finely printed editions of his own and others’ writings, some as jobbing work, some under his own imprint of “Kunst und Technik” (Art and Technology).

Further information on the printing history of Orpheus comes from a Hamburg auction house, which in 2019 offered a separate publication of the 27-page Introduction (Einleitung) on handmade paper, full format, and paper covers, remarking that “The work appeared in 1924 from the Kunst und Technik press, but remained unfinished after only one instalment. Gustav Kiepenheuer took over the remainder and printed a new title page.”  The Kiepenheuer Verlag in Potsdam specialized in art books and bibliophile editions. It did indeed publish and copyright Orpheus in 1926, but apparently Kayser had already printed the Introduction, if not the whole book, on his private press.

For the bibliographic record I will add that in both copies to which I have had access, Table III is lacking. It was reassuring to find in a bookdealer’s catalogue the statement that “According to the publisher, the missing Table 3 would be included in the final instalment, which never appeared.”  Evidently some copies of Orpheus contained an apology to that effect. Moreover, our two copies have a significant difference. In one, the first chapter opens with the quotation from Iamblichus on Nicomachus (p.19, below) and continues through the quotation from the Tao Te King. There follows a rather pedestrian explanation of overtones, undertones, and the universal law of polarity, with a long footnote dissenting from Helmholtz’s theory of overtones and rejecting equal temperament. The text resumes with the analyses of the lambdoma at the bottom of p. 20, below. The other copy, which I translate from here, opens the chapter with the passage evoking Northern Light, quoting Goethe, and intimately addressing the reader. The explanation of overtones is cut by a half and enlivened by mention of Schoenberg, bells, organ stops, the clarinet, and an experiment with the piano. Kayser cleverly managed these improvements by reprinting only a single folio sheet comprising pages 1-4. He must have kept some copies of the first state, for he inscribed this one to “Herrn F. Charbonnet, in memory of his Berlin sojourn, August 1929.”

There follows a translation of Kiepenhauer’s prospectus, with a reproduction of its modernistic cover which may or may not contain some harmonic-geometric secret.

Joscelyn Godwin
Hamilton, New York, 2020

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