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An Ancient Tradition: The Healing Power of the Flute

By: Maria Kostelas

These CD's by Maria Kostelas are available in Shirley's World online store:

Ancient Voices from Within

A Time for Peace

Imagine yourself living some 40,000 years ago. You are sitting in a cave. As you glance at those seated next to you, you see you are part of a circle. Filled with feelings of reverence in your collective union with the Divine, you are here for a special purpose. The ceremony begins. Someone takes out what appears to be a simple piece of bone and puts it to their lips. Lifting one finger at a time, a haunting melody pours forth. This sacred song, played on a primitive flute, takes on the voice of the All Knowing. Those who hear its powerful sound are transported, connected to something greater than themselves. Wisdom is shared. Decisions are made. Prayers are answered.

Centuries ago almost every world culture used the flute for ritual, healing, education and entertainment. One of the most ancient of instruments, its evocative sound was so powerful the Spaniards forbade the indigenous peoples of South America to play it lest it hinder the conquest of their land.

The flute has motivated, inspired and uplifted. It has built community, honored beginnings and endings and sent prayers to the Gods. Plato taught his students about its healing power, and the ancient Toltecs had university classes devoted to the study of this instrument's sounds. Historians tell us particular attention was given to specific scales, as well as the intervals between each note. The combinations of specific notes or frequencies, especially that of the pentatonic (five-note) scale, were cited as being especially powerful. These findings have provided a theoretical basis from which many of today's sound healing and music therapy practices have been devised.

What makes this particular instrument so powerful, so moving? Some say the sound of the flute is closest to that of the human voice, that it bypasses the conscious mind more effectively than other instruments. This factor may account for its popularity and for what is often witnessed as an immediate positive response on mental, emotional, physical and spiritual levels. It induces a deep state of relaxation, and the results documented include: a decrease in stress, anxiety, pain, insomnia, and depression, as well as an increase in vitality, clarity and a strengthening of one's connection to the Divine.

Whether wood, reed, clay or bamboo, the energy of the material with which the flute is made is an important factor. We also know from ancient visual depictions of flutes and flute players, flute lore and legends, these instruments were regarded as powerful sacred tools. Thus, the power associated with the flute's particular ritualistic use is a significant contribution.

The personal energy of the flute maker as well as that of the flute player must also be taken into account. It is through the breath that the life force energy is most purely transcribed, powerfully benefiting both player and listener. In many tribes, the shaman or medicine man was also a musician. Treatment remedies included the playing of traditional songs as well as those "channeled" or intuited for the particular mental, physical, emotional or spiritual ailment.

Virtually every country and culture has one or more indigenous flutes. Today, we still see flutes made in the tradition of these ancient instruments. The original notes, designs, and beautiful carvings and colors have remained. The individual voices of each flute are a passport and connection to the soul of a culture. We are truly fortunate to have so many opportunities to experience the benefits inherent in the legacy of such a powerful healing tradition.

You can bring the healing power of the flute into your life now. We are in the middle of a resurgence of this ancient healing art and resources abound. Internet and library searches will provide you with several good recordings, articles, books, videos, workshops and conferences. Consider going on your own listening tour. Survey the flute recordings available and note which you are most responsive to. Pay particular attention to the effect on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual states. You might also consider learning to play the instrument yourself. It's fun and easy and you will be able to experience additional healing benefits, on more levels. A quick way to get started is to begin with a Native North or South American flute, or try an Eastern Indian end-blown flute. They are all readily available, nominally priced and fairly easy to play. Enjoy the journey!

My Personal Journey with Flutes of the World.

Though I trained for a career as a classical flautist I have always loved world cultures and began to search out all the voices of the flute from around the world. I now have over 100 flutes. The first was from South America. It was a small investment and I decided, "Why not? Maybe a simple piece of carved bamboo could sound halfway decent." Well, it didn't sound great, but the way it was made, its detailed carving and the color it was painted captivated me. Who made this flute? Why did they make it in this manner? Why does almost every culture have a flute? These questions started my journey into a whole other world that has deeply affected me, personally and professionally. The experiences I had with these world flutes were about to change my life.

I started earnestly collecting indigenous flutes and introduced world music into my concert repertoire. Audiences were quite responsive to this music and wanted to know where these flutes were from and if they could actually learn to play them. Their responses encouraged me to expand my work. I wanted to share the benefits these wonderful flutes had brought into my life. I knew the ease with which many of these flutes could be played could provide people with a positive introduction to learning to play the flute and I began giving workshops. I love providing people with the opportunity to experience the power of their own creativity, to give them a tool they can use to express the voice within. Playing these instruments is not about playing the notes. It's about putting your heart and soul into the playing. It's about connecting to something greater than your self, and letting the power of that Divine source come through the flute.

About 15 years ago, a close relative went into a coma after a severe car accident. Shortly thereafter, while I was in meditation, she came to me and asked me to go into her body to see what was wrong with her. And when I did, I knew I had to honor her request and reply honestly. I saw that she might die, and that there didn't seem to be any life energy below her neck. I felt guided to compose a song of healing for her. So I opened my heart and soul and did just that. While I was composing her song, I could feel her all around me, and at a certain point, it became less about the music and more about the sound, and about connecting deeply with her. There were many miracles that happened in her hospital room. She made a decision to come back and has continued to be a light in my life.

That moment changed the way I composed and performed music. One of the hardest parts, though, was that in order to do this, I had to let go of my ego. If I was going to do be able to do this new kind of composing and performing, I needed to shift my focus from the technical aspects of my classical training, to my ability to intuit the needs of the people for whom I was composing and performing. When I did let go of my ego, the results were very inspiring, and encouraged me to continue in this process.

Native American shaman and musicians and East Indian gurus provided me with experiences that developed my ability to use the power of all my energy bodies in the creation of this music. A door was opened. I was given deeper access to my empathic and intuitive abilities. My primary focus became honoring and acknowledging each person's inner voice, their heart, and their spirit, and to provide them with guidance they could use to help them live with their soul, "on purpose."

My life has changed from that time long age when my focus was on training to be a classical flutist. A mentor friend once shared that she had come to an understanding that the only way for her to live was to "listen to life and not force it." I have taken her guidance to heart and her statement has become a mantra. My priority is to remain open, to see where this work takes me, even if it moves into a direction I don't quite understand right away.

A woman once asked, "Of all the beautiful places you've worked, which one was your favorite?" My reply came instantaneously, "In union with another person." "It doesn't matter where we are," I continued, "it's the connection to the Divine in one another that really counts."

Composer, flutist and intuitive Maria Kostelas has been described as a "pied piper of the soul." Her work has been lauded by many renowned professionals including Judith Orloff, M.D. and Joan Borysenko, Ph.D. Maria has given performances and workshops worldwide at concert venues, universities, hospitals, museums, spas, cruises and schools. She has released five solo recordings through her indie recording label Flutes of the World and recorded "Aligning the Chakras" a meditation CD with Shirley MacLaine. Maria has composed several commissioned works including a CD commission for the World Presidents Organization's Mind/Body Health conference. For more information please visit:

Copyright 2004 Maria Kostelas



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