Pan, personification of the pastoral life, who from his half-human, half-animal origins became god of woods and caverns, is supposed to have invented the pipe, and with it to have delighted gods, men and beasts. The pipe also conjures up the legend of Hyagnis and, on a more homely level, that of the Pied Piper.
The Chinese legend of Suo Che and Lon Yu also invokes the supernatural properties of the sound of the pipe (cheng). The latter summoned gentle breezes, painted clouds and, above all, phoenixes which guided the pair to the Paradise of the Immortals.
In the same way the Pied Piper's tune opened a cavern in the mountain-side into which he led the children. Both stories represent reintegration into a paradisal state. The sound of the pipe is heavenly music, the voice of angels. It should also be observed, as is so often the case in Chinese legend, that the pair were carried into a state of bliss by birds, playing the same symbolic role as that of angels.
Another Taoist musical instrument was the Pipe of Iron which ‘cut the roots of the clouds’ and ‘split rocks’ which might well seem to relate it to thunderbolts and rain and make it a fertility symbol.
The reed pipe (ney) played by Dervishes during their ritual sessions (dhikr), and especially used by the Mevlevi Order (Whirling Dervishes) as an accompaniment to the chants sung to their dances, is a symbol of the soul separated from its Divine Source and yearning to return to it. This is why it mourns. Thus Jalal-al-Din Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi Order, addresses God: ‘We are the pipe, the music comes from You’ (Mathnavi 1: 599). Sufis say that the pipe and the man of God are one and the same thing.
Rumi tells the story of how the Prophet confided secrets to his son-in-law, Ali, forbidding him to tell anyone else. For forty days Ali succeeded in keeping his promise, but then, overcome, he went into the desert and, thrusting his head down a well, began to repeat these hidden truths. They provoked him to a state of ecstasy in which some of his spittle fell into the water. A little later a reed grew from the well. It was cut by a shepherd who bored holes in it and played it as a pipe. The tunes he played became famous and ecstatic crowds came to listen to his playing. Even camels formed circles round him to listen (see orpheus). The news reached the Prophet, who summoned the shepherd and asked him to play. All those who listened fell into an ecstasy. ‘These tunes’, the Prophet then said, ‘are commentaries upon the mysteries which I imparted secretly to Ali. However, if one of the pure loses his purity, he cannot hear the secrets contained in the tune played upon the pipe nor enjoy them, since the complete Faith is pleasure and passion’.