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Monday, March 18, 2013

Music, Magick and Murder!

My new occult mystery novel, Murderous Requiem, was inspired by a fascination I developed as a music major in college with music from the Renaissance and the intricate connection that Renaissance scholars saw between music and alchemy.  One of the most prominent of these scholars was Marsilio Ficino, who was the first European to translate the complete works of Plato from ancient Greek into Latin, and who also founded a college of neo-Platonism in Florence, Italy, through the patronage of Cosimo de Medici. 

As Jeremy tells his boyfriend, Bowyn, in one scene, “Ficino and other neo-Platonists believed that there is a perfect form of the body residing in the spirit world—the Anima Mundi—or if you prefer, in the mind of God. Healing occurs when the physical body is synchronized with the true image of the body. And this is done by balancing the bodily humors to bring the body in alignment with its perfect, fully functioning form.”

One of the methods Ficino believed in for balancing the humors was listening to musical harmonies.  He believed music resonated within the spirit and could strengthen or weaken the body’s connection to its platonic “true form” in the Anima Mundi, which in turn caused the body to become more like this perfect image of itself (healthy and perfectly functioning) or to drift away from it and become ill.

In the novel, the occult order Bowyn belongs to has uncovered an original manuscript by Ficino which may hold the culmination of his work, encapsulated in a musical mass.  Jeremy is a college professor who specializes in Renaissance music and Bowyn recruits him to transcribe the mass into modern musical notation, so that it can be performed.

But there is something in the music that hints at great power—passages buried in cryptic symbols, with a libretto written in an unknown language.  At the first performance of the mass, Jeremy listens to a solo by Christopher, an abused teenager who looks and sings like an angel:

With the chorus supporting him, and likewise bolstered by the magnificent acoustics in the chapel, Christopher’s voice achieved a new level of beauty and power that touched upon the sublime. All those present in the audience were clearly riveted, unmoving, their eyes fixed upon Christopher. I was enthralled as well, but part of me was anxious now that I knew something—but not nearly enough—about the magickal intent of the music. I was watching the audience as much as the choir, aware of a strong visceral sensation building up in my body as the core of my being seemed to resonate with the music.

Something fluttered past my ear, and my eyes darted after it. As I followed its erratic path upward, I became aware that the shadows high up in the dome of the chapel seemed to be writhing and swirling. Something was obscuring the painting on the inside of the dome and the moonlight coming in through the stained-glass windows—something with a thousand fluttering wings.


I couldn’t tell how many bats were up there, but it was far more than I had ever seen before. I’d never been afraid of them, until that moment, but there is something primordially frightening about enormous swarms of small creatures, and I felt the hair on the back of my neck pricking up at the sight. I watched them, entranced by their frenetic swirling and fluttering high above me and the unearthly spell Christopher was weaving with his voice, until at long last the final note swelled throughout the chapel and slowly faded.

There was a long silence, during which nobody appeared to be breathing.

Then Marianne screamed.

Jeremy soon discovers that someone else in the occult order not only believes the mass to hold great power, but he or she is willing to kill for it.

Jeremy Spencer never imagined the occult order he and his boyfriend, Bowyn, started as a joke in college would become an international organization with hundreds of followers. Now a professor with expertise in Renaissance music, Jeremy finds himself drawn back into the world of free love and ceremonial magick he’d left behind, and the old jealousies and hurt that separated him from Bowyn eight years ago seem almost insignificant.

Then Jeremy begins to wonder if the centuries-old score he’s been asked to transcribe hides something sinister. With each stanza, local birds flock to the old mansion, a mysterious fog descends upon the grounds, and bats swarm the temple dome. During a séance, the group receives a cryptic warning from the spirit realm. And as the music’s performance draws nearer, Jeremy realizes it may hold the key to incredible power—power somebody is willing to kill for.

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