Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

There are two groups in Freemasonry, the so-called “Esoterics” and “Non-Esoterics,” who too often do not get along. They should. After all, they need each other.

This, to my mind, is best illustrated by an image I have observed floating around the Internet for a decade. It’s the High Priestess card in the Rider Waite tarot deck with the Kabbalistic “Eitz haChayim” (עץ החיים) or, in English, The Tree of Life, superimposed upon it.

My own version of it is pictured above, along with a box of cigars. Because, as in the statement often is attributed to famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It does not really matter if Freud ever said or wrote that. The point is that things are not always metaphors or symbols for something else.

That said, I think it’s equally possible for them to be and not to be – all at the same time.

My observation of the High Priestess Card and Tree of Life pairing is that individuals, especially those esoterically inclined, who see the connection for the first time, generally experience a kōan moment. That is to say that their minds are completely blown. There is a good deal to be gained in such a moment, i.e. when the mind is absolutely blank. That seems to be the aim of a good portion of esoteric study, inside Freemasonry and out. The aim being to assist the neophyte in unraveling hidden or higher truths deep within themselves and stretching outward to farthest reaches of the Universe.

The image itself supposedly originated with an unknown individual, possibly the late Paul Foster Case, who noted that if you draw circles around the pomegranates on the card and then draw lines between them the image drawn resembles the Tree of Life. The problem is that the tree of life cannot actually be constructed through the process. As is the case with many of these studies, this exercise breaks down under non-esoteric scrutiny.

There are no pomegranates on the card to represent the lower Sephirot, namely Yesod and Malkuth. Thus, the High Priestess’ knees and toes, along with one end of the crescent moon, must be pressed into service. A circle around the cross at the center of her chest also is required. Without those pomegranate-free circles, there is no Tree of Life on the card. The decision to accept any part of the picture, in an exercise to connect an image, leaves us open to circles, squares, and other doodles on the card.

Tree of Life

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life

In my observation, the esoterically inclined Brother may declare that, simply by making that perfectly reasonable observation, the non-esoterically inclined Brother is just not open to the experience and not worthy of the special knowledge imparted. The non-esoterically inclined Brother may reply that the whole thing is nonsense and then try to turn the subject toward something practical, such as an upcoming fundraiser.

That, in turn, frustrates the esoterically inclined Brother, who sees the upcoming fundraiser as meaningless compared to the exploration in search of answers about life, the universe, etc. The Brothers with opposing viewpoints might even start squabbling at this point, each implying that the other should be more like themselves.

That argument generally leaves those individuals in the middle thinking both of the original points is valid and worth considering. They may wonder why those on either side cannot get along.

To be clear, as a historian in Freemasonry I have endured my own share of being annoyed with esoterically inclined writers who, to my mind, flippantly make up historical events to bolster their own writings. Quite recently, I heard an operative alchemist claim that medieval architecture originated with the Templars, stating it as a fact without supporting documentation, something more academically minded Templar scholars would have no trouble refuting.

Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, who were big deals when I came into Freemasonry about a decade ago, have been seen by some to invent things to bolster the message and lessons they want to get across.

Which, I think, is the point. For esoteric writers, the focus is on the message or lesson they are trying to teach not necessarily about the complete historical accuracy of the facts underlying their arguments.  They may ignore some historical data or information if it is seen as cumbersome, irrelevant, or diminishing to their argument. 

Non-esoteric writers may prefer to establish their messages and lessons in well-documented and verifiable historical analysis. To do otherwise, may seem to these writers as “making up history.” They also might express a certain irritation that esoteric books far outsell non-esoteric tomes.

Both points of view are valid, but both sides also often also forget to take a hard look at themselves.

I suppose it might be helpful, even this late in the blog, to define the term “esoteric”, which is no easy thing. Merriam-Webster lists the popularity of the word “esotericism“as being in the bottom 30 percent of popular words and defines it as “the quality or state of being esoteric.”

Spheres Dante

The Concentric Spheres of “The Key to Dante’s Divine Comedy,” by Augustus Knapp

The same source defines “esoteric” as pursuing something “designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone” (my emphasis) or “requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group.”

To be “non-esoteric,” in Freemasonry and without, would be not to be part of that specially initiated group or to not have that knowledge restricted to the small group. Or, I suppose, to reject all that.

Brothers on both sides live in the same place. They really do, but they fail to recognize the concentric spheres spheres that share the same center – which make up that place. In Freemasonry, there are those who labor in the Inner Order, they who keep the Light; and those who labor in the Outer Order, they who keep the lights on.

There is no point in making sure the power bill is paid to keep the lights on if there is no Light to keep; and the Light cannot very well be kept if the power bill is not paid to keep the lights on.

There are Brothers who prefer the Outer Order. They enjoy the sumptuous banquets, the social functions, and getting out into the world to show how good Freemasons can be. The Outer Order excels at financial planning, in setting aside trusts for the future, for that is where the Outer Order lives. They are careful to remember the past and plan for the future.

The Brothers of the Inner Order live in the Now. They see Freemasonry as a body of individual seekers of Light, an heir to the ancient mystery schools, and a system to impart morality, ethics, and the benefits of mutual service. The Inner Order tends to dismiss the past as unimportant and reckons the future will take care of itself. For them, clarity and correctness about the past and future is a secondary concern to the now.

Ancient Mysteries

Ancient Mystery School Symbolism

Then there are those achingly tolerant Brethren, “hybrids,” who can pass between the spheres and see value in both. They historically have been in the minority in Freemasonry but, in my observation, their numbers are increasing. I see them as Brothers deeply rooted in the center. I wish there were more of them.

I am not the first to observe this disharmony between the spheres. Bro. Robert Davis, in his 2010 paper “The Path of the Esotericists Among Us,” pointed out that “no sincere adept’ would force truth on someone not prepared to contemplate it. “We all know Masons who believe with all their heart there is nothing spiritual about the rituals of Masonry,” Bro. Davis wrote. 

There are those who claim there is nothing to learn beyond the ritual words. There are even more who are appalled when it is suggested that Kabbalistic, Alchemical, or Hermetic associations might be made from a study of the Degrees of Masonry. Never mind that every aspirant is told before he receives the very first Degree that Masonry is a course of hieroglyphic instruction taught by allegories. Oh well. As obvious as this may seem to the esoteric minded among us, there is little to be gained by arguing with those who aren’t listening.

I would add to Davis’ point that there *is* a middle path. It is worth seeking, and Esoterics and Non-Esoterics need to tolerate, if not respect, each other.

Until we can all be there, I continue to hope that Brothers of the Inner and Outer orders will learn to respect and tolerate each other. I hope that they will try – please try – not to encroach too much into the opposite sphere. At least not until they are ready to do so harmoniously and fully recognizing that the Brother in the opposite sphere who does not get you and who is not open to your experience is the Brother who makes sure that you do and are.

Masonic Ritual: Living Myth, Ritual Magic, or Both?

Masonic Ritual: Living Myth, Ritual Magic, or Both?

When participating in Masonic Ritual, it’s clear that there is a mysterious significance to every aspect of the heavily structured procedure. Like clockwork, all is orderly, and layered with symbolic meaning. As we become more and more aware of the meanings of the various aspects of it, it becomes clear that the ritual is like a fractal representation of both the cosmos and the individual.

What exactly are we doing when we participate in masonic ritual? Are we living out a myth, reprogramming our own minds, conducting a magical ceremony, maintaining an ancient institution, or all of the above? What is the relationship of masonic ritual to concepts of myth and magic? Without revealing any particular aspect of the ritual, let us consider the import of masonic ritual, and reveal what we may.

As always, this writing is not representative of any official statement or position of Universal Co-Masonry, but is merely the reflections of one Co-Mason.

A Veil Within a Veil

masonic ritualMasonic Ritual’s origins, of course, may be found in the confluence of medieval operative masonry, which, much as a builder’s guild, concerned itself primarily with the literal building of sacred and often monolithic structures and maintaining the arcane knowledge thereof, with the various occult and esoteric traditions of Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Astrology, and others considered heretical by the church, and therefore persecuted and suppressed. The marriage of these two traditions resulted in a transformation from Operative (purely practical) to Speculative (philosophical) Freemasonry.

What seems most clear is that the temple itself and the rituals which take place within it contain enormous symbolism, which exist in layers which are continuously revealed in degrees as one progresses through the Masonic path and hierarchy. Freemasonry describes itself as a “Peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” To any practicing Freemason, it should become apparent that the symbols, movements, pronouncements, and elements of the temple itself can be understood on many symbolic levels.

In his book The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell wrote:

“It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

masonic mythWhat lies between us and transcendent Truth? Joseph Campbell would likely say Myth or symbolism, and a knowledgeable Mason would likely agree. There is tremendous advantage in passing down timeless truths in the form of allegory, ritual, stories, and symbolic objects. An odd thing happens when we put Truth into words, particularly static doctrines: it becomes frozen, solidified, and thereby incapable of changing, evolving, and growing with those who read, speak, and understand it. Any change is perceived as a challenge to the old. On the other hand, embodying Truth in symbolism, even those which are locked into a certain form which is maintained down through many generations, can be continually renewed and understood in new ways, because its true meaning is inherently subjective, being unspoken.

As to what, specifically, the symbols of the Lodge and Rituals mean, this is something best preserved for the initiated, for the simple reason that coming into a Masonic understanding of these things can be tainted by being revealed prematurely. Also, they will mean different things to different Masons, and at different degrees. Suffice it to say, the many symbols of Freemasonry carry import ranging from the physical, to the metaphysical, to the cosmic, for “those who have eyes to see.”

Oh, Oh, Oh, It’s Magic?

freemasonry magicUndoubtedly, for many it is a leap to go from passing down symbolic knowledge to practicing ritual magic. Yet some posit that at the foundations of every great religion and tradition, there is a magical thread. To bridge the philosophical materialism (or physicalism) so prevalent today, among the modern intelligentsia and conventional mainstream culture alike, with the magical worldview is a task for another writing, but certainly many of the traditions which transformed ancient operative masonry into modern Speculative Freemasonry shared some version of this worldview, whatever differences they may have had. What role, then, does magic play in Freemasonry’s Rituals? Is the average Freemason practicing magic, perhaps without even knowing it?

If we accept or entertain the idea that the world is magical, that the fundamental tenets of magic are real, then it becomes clear that any institution and ceremony which conjures and directs human belief, emotion, and intention must necessarily have an element of magic to it. If this be the case, then all religions are inherently magical, the chief difference from other forms of magical practice being perhaps merely the format, wherein the power and intent of the many is directed and conducted by the magical elite, in the form of priests or ministers, although most members and clergy alike would probably be incensed at the re-definition.

We can also reasonably suppose, then, that the Craft which is practiced in Freemasonry may have an equally magical significance and purpose, again supposing that the magical view of reality is true. However, (perhaps) unlike most religions, it seems far more likely that this more esoteric understanding of Masonry may be explicitly passed down or taught, at some point along one’s journey through the Masonic hierarchy, especially in a more mystically oriented body of Masonry. This is not by any means ubiquitous, with many Masonic Lodges, particularly in mainstream masculine Masonry, being focused primarily on simple fraternity and charity.

However, this aspect of masonry is both subjective, and subject to all sorts of misinterpretations and misunderstandings, particularly by the uninitiated. Indeed, the chief accusation of many anti-masonic conspiracy theories is that they are secretly practicing “black magic” and satanism.  Perhaps this is one reason why the more magical side of Masonry is not often openly discussed, even among the initiated. After all, the reason that purveyors of the magical worldview sought refuge in operative masonry in the first place was because of such accusations and misunderstandings, which although less consequential today, still are with us.masonic egregor

A Magical Myth Which Lives

My conclusion to the title question of this post is that Freemasonry seems to be both, or neither. In the end, Freemasonry is what you make of it. Yet, nevertheless, regardless of how various individuals may conceptualize it, Freemasonry itself does seem to have a certain presence, almost a consciousness of its own. I find that the occult concept of the Egregor is useful to me, in understanding what this might be. Whatever the explanation, it seems apparent to me at least that Freemasonry contains an element which goes beyond the physical and intellectual, into the realm of the magical, though not all Masons may recognize it as such.

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Poet, politician, and playwright, Victor Marie Hugo [1802 – 1885] believed in the inherit beauty and worth of all mankind. He sought to lift the masses out of the darkness of ignorance and vanquish injustice by promoting the virtues of liberty, equality, and fraternity. As the leader of the Romantic literary movement, Mr. Hugo crafted a lasting legacy as one of the most influential and beloved writers of his day.

A humanitarian who utilized the written word to influence hearts and minds, Victor supported social causes to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, including ending social injustice and abolishing capital punishment.

Hugo wrote:

“There is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables; whose fault is it? And then, is it not when the fall is lowest that charity ought to be the greatest?”

As key components to liberating the masses, Mr. Hugo advocated for freedom of the press and self-governance by the people. Every individual was worth saving and their salvation was a possibility, in his opinion, as long as the entire society reformed. What did he request for these individuals foundering in darkness? Light. Hugo stated:

“They seem not men, but forms fashioned of the living dark… What is required to exorcise these goblins? Light. Light in floods. No bat resists the dawn. Illuminate the bottom of society.”

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason? There seems to be conflicting information as to his involvement in Freemasonry. Some writers claim he was a Mason, while others write that he was a Rosicrucian or a Martinist. Despite a lack of written record establishing his status as a Mason, Hugo’s writings contain numerous references to Freemasonry and its philosophies. “God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art,” wrote Hugo. Victor Hugo was reported to support one of Universal Co-Masonry’s founders, Brother Marie Deraismes, stating:

“Carry on the Holy work, Honest people honour you and admire you and it is only right and fair to say so.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Misérables, and The Legend of the Ages all contain Masonic ideals, concepts, and principles. The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s Quasimodo character may have been based on an operative Mason who worked on the Cathedral, as recently discovered documents reveal evidence of a hunchbacked sculptor who worked on Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral in the 1820s, while Hugo was writing the book. Legend is a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, conceived as an immense depiction of the history and evolution of humanity – from darkness into Light.

Hugo’s characters aspire towards the ideal of perfection, a seemingly impossible dream is given wings through his masterful writings. Jean Valjean’s fortitude against almost insurmountable odds, Javert’s justice, or Cosette’s enduring faith, each is an example of a Masonic virtue personified. Soldiers of the revolution, Hugo’s characters march diligently towards that glorious victory – overthrowing tyrants, trampling evil, developing virtues, and discarding vice. These legendary stories populated with archetypal figures are Hugo’s immortal gift to humanity, providing examples of divine virtues for mankind’s enrichment and emulation.

Hugo was so beloved by the people that when he died – in 1885 at the age of 83 – forty thousand people spent the night on Paris streets and accompanied his casket, from Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon. It is estimated that more than two million individuals came to pay their respects to the departed writer as part of the funeral procession.


Famous Works: Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Contemplations, The Legend of the Ages

Quotes:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” 

“From remotest antiquity, the human race has employed architecture as its chief means of writing.” 

“From a political point of view, there is but one principle, the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of myself over myself is called Liberty.” 

 “God is behind everything, but everything hides God. Things are black, creatures are opaque. To love a being is to render that being transparent.” 

“History has its truth, and so has legend. Legendary truth is of another nature than historical truth. Legendary truth is invention whose result is reality. Furthermore, history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath momentary man.” 

 

The Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

The Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

In our previous discussion in Part 1, we began an examination of the elements as symbols, and we will continue with that here.

We covered the first two elements, Earth and Water, and discussed their essential qualities, and symbolic correlates in mind or consciousness. As we continue with Air and Fire, the reader will do well to recall the importance of structure and fluidity, as well as inertia and change. 


 

Air

The element Air is a step up in dynamic quality from Water, yet not quite like Fire. In many ways, Air is different and yet not so different from Water. Like Water, it rises when heated, and falls when cooled. Like Water, it flows around the globe, in the form of wind. Yet, unlike Water it has a quality of expansiveness, there is more outward pressure, and less downward pressure, as it doesn’t fall or flow in a liquid form. One critical aspect of Air in our own experience is that it is the most immediately necessary element to our biology, we can go much longer without food (Earth) or drink (Water), than we can without Air. Air is an essential ingredient of Fire, and without it, Fire will immediatelyelement air die. Air has a spacious quality to it, it offers very little resistance to movement, and anything light enough can actually float or fly, which is essentially like swimming in the ocean of Air.

So, what is Air within us? As with the previous elements, clues lay in our direct experience of it. When we are in the Air, we can see clearly the furthest, like the eagle flying high above, yet able to see the smallest mouse. We refer to the most intellectual human endeavors as the “Ivory Tower,” which is of course high above and far removed from the rest of human life, able to see it all through the Air. The same could be said of mountains, which are also where saints and great teachers are often said to be found, those who are wise and “see” the true perspective of life. Air also resonates with the concept of freedom, precisely because of the lack of obstruction, and freedom is often embodied symbolically as flying – like a bird. Therefore, Air is freer and less inert than the previous three elements, and corresponds to aspects of our mind and experience which are most free and clear. Part of what Air represents is pure mind, or intellect, it is the mental space within which clear images, thoughts, and conceptual models can be formed. 

Fire

In many ways, the element Fire seems to be separate from the other three elements. Rather than being a something, a substance, fire is more of a process, a change. Fire transforms one thing into another, and also separates one thing from another. The simplest example is the separation of the gases trapped within a log from the inert earth that is left over in the form of ashes, after the burning of that log. Additionally, it involves radiation, the freeing of not just gas, but also energy which was latent within the element firesubstance that burned, giving off both light and heat. Thus, in a way it can be viewed as a transformation of that which is bound into that which is free, of matter into energy.

We can say that the essential qualities of fire are dynamism, change, transformation, and purification. In a sense, although it appears separate, fire is also the source of all other elements, for it is only by the fire of the sun that all things have motion and existence. Without Fire, all would be motionless darkness.

For these reasons, it can also be difficult to pin down the exact symbolic meaning of Fire within us, although it clearly seems significant. Certainly, Fire dwells within us, in the form of energy produced by the slow chemical “fire” of the gut, and without the Fires of our various biochemical processes, including neural Firing, we would die even more quickly than we would without Air. In terms of our consciousness, represented by light, since Fire emits light, perhaps Fire represents that which creates or liberates consciousness from matter?

In myth, Fire is featured as the gift which Prometheus stole from the Gods to give to man, which allowed humanity to have knowledge and civilization. Certainly, the discovery of Fire and how to use it is often regarded as the beginning of true Human existence, and also technology. Even those Human cultures which we regard as most primitive still possess and utilize Fire. In terms of the gradient from inertia to dynamism, certainly Fire is at the farthest dynamic end of the spectrum; representing a release of energy, it is even more “free” than Air. Fire, in a way, represents pure change, pure dynamism.

The Elements in Perspective

What is this universe? One way to answer is to say that it consists of these elements, but what does that really tell us? Another compatible perspective is the one given in the perennial philosophy, the philosophy of the Vedas and the Idealists, that this reality is most fundamentally consciousness, or mind. This is a concept being re-visited by many modern philosophers as panpsychism, due to various shortcomings in our attempts to explain the universe purely in materialistic terms. This is also the perspective generallypanpsychism four elements accepted within the occult traditions, and in fact the wisdom traditions of most cultures, if you dig deeply enough. That all is ultimately mind is also described in the Principle of Mentalism, from the Kybalion.

If all of the universe contains elements of mind or consciousness, then perhaps the dichotomy between viewing the elements symbolically vs. literally is unnecessary. If all is mind, which is tantamount to saying that all is a dream, perhaps these are simply different iterations of the same essential dynamic or pattern, at different levels of the dream; as above, so below; as within, so without. If the different elements are different forms of the same fundamental mind-stuff, whatever that fundamental substance might be. It seems to me that these elements represent a process which begins being bound by inertia, of which Earth would be the extreme, being gradually subjected to change, until it eventually becomes more and more free, of which Fire is the extreme.

This whole process could be viewed as a transmutation from matter into energy or light, just as the Fire is matter being transformed, to light the darkness. Of course, as without, so within, and some version of this same process is going on within all of us. The most matter-bound aspects of us are gradually being acted upon and transformed by the forces of change, whether from within, or from without. Every experience is to some greater or lesser degree a catalyst within this process, and causes “movement upon the waters of the deep”. Eventually, this process culminates in the ignition of Fire within us, of the inner Light.

alchemy four elementsOur pains and our pleasures, our highs and our lows ultimately give birth to the dawn of true Awareness, what some might call Gnosis. Why? Because just as the light which is emitted by Fire was previously trapped within the matter of the fuel, that Divine Spark has always been latent within us, watching, waiting for its moment to arise. 

Now, we come full circle to Freemasonry, and the significance of the elements symbolically to the Craft. What are we doing as masons, if not kindling, stoking, and maintaining a light in the darkness – a Fire in the denseness and confusion of material existence? Every element plays its part, and exists within all of us; the culmination of the interplay of those elements, when utilized skillfully, is the igniting of that Promethean Light, within the self and within the world. What nobler endeavor could one set oneself to, than that of bringing light to the darkness within oneself, and within all of humanity?

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Freemasons are taught that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Recently, I was faced with the unexpected death of a dear brother in my Lodge which left me feeling hopeless for a time. And so, the virtue of hope became an object of philosophical inquiry for me. How does hope fit in to cultivating a virtuous life? Is it really the best medicine for crushing grief and despair? If so, how does it work? Why are Freemasons encouraged to have hope?

Once I started observing what people would say about hope, when they experienced it, and when they reared back from it, I began to think there was a healthy amount of confusion about it.

Defined in a modern sense, hope is a belief in a positive outcome relating to events and circumstances in life. It is the desire that something will turn out for the best. In Freemasonry, hope is considered a virtue, often associated with the verities of immortality. The craft advocates two different types of virtues. The first are called the “Cardinal Virtues” of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. The second are called the “Theological Virtues,” of Faith, Hope and Charity (love).

In his theological discussions about hope, philosopher Thomas Aquinas notes that he considers hope to be a virtue because it provides the possibility for attaining difficult things. In the Western world, in general, there is an overwhelming sense of hope being something good and desirable. For some, it may even be an uncontroversial good. But is it?

Is it possible that hope could be something, well… not so good?

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which acquiring hope would not be desirable – until we look at the myth of Pandora’s Box.

The Mythology of Hope – Pandora’s Box

The ancient Greeks were not inspired at all with the concept of hope. Hope was not even considered a virtue. It was belittled as a trait defined as not being realistic about life orStory-Pandora-Opening-Box-Greek-Mythology burying your head in the sand. The cardinal virtues, such as justice or fortitude were the ones that the Greeks contemplated and strove to achieve. Hope was even in some myths possibly considered evil.

For example, the Greek myth of Pandora raises many philosophical questions about hope. As the story goes, when she married Epimetheus, she was given many seductive gifts. The God Zeus, being full of mischief, gives Pandora a large jar instructing her to keep it forever closed. But regardless of the warning from Zeus, her curiosity prevailed and she opened the box.

The list of items released from Pandora’s box are a handful: illness, disease, poverty, sadness… basically any horrible thing you could think of. They flew out of the box like tiny buzzing moths, and Pandora tried to shut it back up as quickly as she could. She did, according to some of the versions of her myth, manage to trap one important thing inside… hope.

It is disputed and there is much speculation as to why Zeus would even put hope in a vessel of evils. Regardless of why it was there, the myth of Pandora raises a really good question. Does hope deserve a different reputation?

It’s not optimism. It’s definitely not pessimism. And if it has a realism, what is it ultimately? Where does it come from? How does a Freemason reconcile these seeming paradoxes?

The Freemason’s Ladder – The Hope of Immortality

In the symbols of masonry, the virtue of hope is said to be located on the middle rung of 35584597545_8b99784836_bthe theological ladder of Jacob from the Book of Genesis. A Freemason ascends, climbing the steps of faith and hope which in turn lead to the summit of charity (love). These virtues are often portrayed on the ladder by the cross, anchor and heart, respectively.

Brother Albert Mackey gives us a clue in his Encyclopedia to Freemasonry:

“Having attained the first rung of the ladder, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation.”

Mackey speaks of a “hope of immortality.” He explains that the cultivation of the virtues of faith and hope is not necessarily based on things going well for us. Freemasonry and its teachings face you with many challenges to explore to knock off the rough edges of imperfection. The craft, for example, is thoroughly rooted in the earth or the service and labor that the mason can offer. It is also entirely bent on moving toward the Heavenly Divine. Managing the two extremes (earth and heaven) is a dynamic balance.

In our climb, all of us have an important, even crucial, task to aid the world. We are prepared in so many ways, yet, still often fail at hope. Why?

In his book, “Art as a Factor in the Soul’s Evolution,” the Freemason Brother C. Jinarajadasa gives us further insight:

“At the very base of your nature, you will find faith, hope, and love. He that chooses evil refuses to look within himself, shuts his ears to the melody of his heart, as he blinds his eyes to the light of his soul. He does this because he finds it easier to live in desires. But underneath all life is the strong current that cannot be checked.”

Cutting straight through the many reasons for failing at hope that may be built upon individual traits, I would say that our hopelessness, when it occurs, is based upon the lack of true courage.

RainbowEnd2All this is to say that the only true and worthy source of absolute courage is the belief in the Immortality of the Self, the One that is Infinite, Changeless and Eternal. The virtue of hope leaps far beyond all the many valuable things, places, family and friends which we have come to rely upon…or may be grieving for.

Brother H.P. Blavatsky stressed there were two kinds of people – those who simply live their lives by the standards of the world, and those who become neophytes and students of the eternal wisdom.  Perhaps the virtue of hope is what is required for those who follow the path of the second group. Yes?

“There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore.”  – Brother Helena Blavatsky

The Four Elements: What Do They Mean in Freemasonry? [Part 1]

The Four Elements: What Do They Mean in Freemasonry? [Part 1]

Part of the journey of a Mason is to familiarize yourself with the concepts presented in lodge, and to discover their meaning for oneself. While there are, of course, interpretations shared and passed down through the generations between masons, part of what makes Masonry so unique among teachings and spiritual practices of the world is that the kernel of what is preserved is fundamentally symbolic, and ultimately each brother’s understanding of the symbols are his or her own. There is no explicit, concrete orthodox doctrine regarding the meaning of any particular symbols, and thus the craft is free to evolve and learn as a collective, while also preserving something ancient and unspoken, but embodied and felt.

Among the symbols of the lodge and masonic rituals are the elements, being the four classical elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. Various Orders, Jurisdictions, and Lodges place more or less emphasis on the elements and discuss them in different ways. Without revealing any aspects of the rituals themselves, we can say that in spite of not being universally emphasized throughout all of Freemasonry, the elements are nevertheless important to any thorough study of esotericism and the mysteries. In fact, the more esoteric a particular branch of Freemasonry is, the more emphasis it is likely to place on them, which can perhaps explain why in Universal Co-Masonry, they are significant from the very beginning of one’s masonic journey.  So, how can we view the elements with a Masonic eye, and understand their significance for our lives and our Craft?

Elements as Symbols

four elements symbolsWhile the literal or scientific aspects of elements are a part of the puzzle, alone they are insufficient to understand why the elements are so important to Freemasonry. The significance of the elements in masonry are as symbols, and symbolism is a language of its own. This is also the language with which we interpret dreams or literature, it is the language of direct experience, the forms of experience, and how they represent to the unfolding of consciousness. 

What is the purpose of looking at the elements symbolically? The first clue we may find here is that the elements are, by definition, what make up the World, and also us. This is traditionally why the elements are regarded as significant, in the first place. Therefore, we can look at the elements as essential components of the World, and since World and Self are ultimately one, essential components of the human experience, as well. Just as we can also think of the elements as corresponding to different states of matter, in chemistry/physics the states of solid (Earth), liquid (Water), gas (Air), and energy (Fire), we can also think of them as representing states of experience, mind, or consciousness.

Earth

four elements earthThe element Earth is the most solid and stable of the four, with the least dynamic or changeable qualities. Rather than being a source of energy, or particularly subject to energetic changes, it tends to absorb energy, and diffuse it without much actual change to the element itself. A great example is the grounding of a lightning rod; although an enormous amount of energy is going into the Earth, the energy is quickly diffused, without much change to the Earth itself. Fire is another example, because while water is often the most effective method of extinguishing a fire, due to its other qualities which make it easy to blast from a hose, technically pouring Earth on Fire would always be the most effective method of extinguishing the Fire’s dynamic energetic consumption. Unlike the water, the Earth is also not evaporated by the Fire.  

In terms of form and change, Earth has the highest degree of inertia, it is the least susceptible or slowest to change. It also has the greatest structural integrity, as buildings constructed from stones, a type of Earth, can last for centuries or even millenia. It also literally forms the ground upon which we stand, and upon which all structures are built, so in that sense Earth is also the archetypal essence of basis, foundation, stability. As such, we may see the corresponding aspects of consciousness, mind, and experience to be those which share these qualities: survival, stability, being grounded in physical reality, in bodily experience; also any state of mind which involves a high degree of inertia, whether that is viewed as a positive, as in mental and emotional stability, or a negative, as in stubbornness.

Water

four elements waterThe element Water is a bit less solid and stable than Earth, but still less dynamic and changing than Air or Fire. Unlike Air, it is more obviously bound by gravity, and unlike Fire, it does not emit energy. Water is an element which flows, always finds the path of least resistance, and takes on the form of whatever container or environment it comes into. Because it is more susceptible to the changing influence of energy than Earth, it is able to be evaporated, from the lowest and warmest places, and then to be placed down again, especially in the highest or coolest places. Because of this dynamic, as we all know, it creates a cycle which flows over and nourishes the Earth, and makes Life possible. If Water were a bit more inert, it would simply stay in the ocean and be a giant pool; if it were a bit less inert, it would stay above the Earth in the form of clouds, and never come back down. As such, water holds a special place among the elements, as it touches and travels between all of them, as is in alignment with its essential quality of flow.

In terms of symbolism, we typically view Water as representing emotion, but why? Again, as with Earth, its mostly because of the experiential similarity of water’s essential qualities to those of our emotions. Like Water, our emotions simply flow through us, based on whatever occurs in our experience, in relation to the relative energetic dynamism of change. For instance, an excess of Fire or energetic change in our lives will heat our Water, which we usually experience as anger or passion. In such cases, we may say that things are getting “steamy,” or we were “piping hot” with anger. On the other hand, if there is a relative lack of dynamic, energetic change, our emotions may become totally solid, like ice, and people in such a state we refer to as cold, or frigid, because their emotion/Water has stopped flowing, has become like Earth. When our emotions are in their normal liquid state of flow, we experience them as simply coming of their own accord, not particularly within our control, and they “wash over” us, or hit us “like waves.” Hence, Water generally represents emotion.

The Inert Half of the Elemental Spectrum

elements earth and water

As we examine the first two elements, it becomes obvious that they represent different points along a spectrum. What is the nature of that spectrum, what is the primary variable? The spectrum seems to range from the most inert elements, which is also to say those most bound by the force of gravity or inertia, and least susceptible to the force of energetic change and motion, or perhaps freedom of motion. In astrology, these would correspond to the qualities of being mutable or fixed. Just as we view the elements as representing aspects of one’s self, they are also seen to be parts or states of mind and experience which are more or less susceptible to inertia and change, stillness and dynamism, and perhaps, Order and Chaos

Within these two elements alone, we can see this spectrum begin to emerge, as Earth is most bound and least susceptible to energetic change, and Water a bit less so, with its ability to change, become like solid Earth or gaseous Air temporarily, while its most essential quality is to flow between them. Herein lie many clues to the mystery of the elements, and as we continue our journey in the next post, we will see even more meaning, and gain a greater understanding of what the elements are within ourselves.

To Be Continued…

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part 2]

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part 2]

Freemasonry reveres the Light, which illuminates and chases away the darkness of ignorance. As a “bringer of light,” Lucifer can be a touchy subject, particularly in relation to Freemasonry, because Masons have been accused of devil worship by various groups, including conspiracy theorists. What follows is Part II of the post on the Archetypal Lucifer. [Part One can be read here.]


Where else does the Lucifer archetype manifest in humanity, both within and without, in culture and in self? From this point forward, I go beyond the factual, historical roots of Lucifer, and explore the concept more speculatively. Because Lucifer and Satan have been so conflated throughout history, I will refer to the merged concept as Lucifer-Satan. As always, this post is only the reflections of one mason, and does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry

Lucifer: Shadow and Light

As the Lucifer-Satan archetype is partly personified by a glorification of the intellect, I believe that one manifestation of it is the worldview of philosophical materialism, or scientism, the belief that all that is real are the phenomena we can measure and study with science. This worldview is personified by regarding only the the mental and the animal aspects of human existence as real, viewing humans as essentially a clever monkey ultimately made of meaningless space dust, and a corresponding rejection of spirit or immaterial aspects to reality or humanity. This fits quite well with the Lucifer-Satan archetype’s association with knowledge, moral relativist, or even nihilistic point of view, and position of opposition to religious authority. 

However, I believe that to stop here would be a mistake; the purely objective intellect, regarding the world outside the finite self/mind as solely made up of dead and unconscious matter to be controlled for the perpetuation of mind and hedonisticlucifer-painting-lucife pleasure is only one embodiment of this archetype. I believe that it exists beyond the boundaries of the materialists’ denial of all things “supernatural,” it is something more universal.

In fact, one of the places that the Lucifer-Satan archetype is alive and well most openly is within certain of the “dark” magical arts and practices, where Lucifer-Satan as a deity figure may at times be seen as an underdog of personal power and liberty, rejected by a spiritual authority seeking always to subjugate its creation. This loosely correlates also to a view shared by some branches of Gnosticism. All of these represent a view of Lucifer-Satan which goes beyond scientific materialism, clearly indicating that the archetype is more broad than that particular manifestation.

Masonic Interpretations of Lucifer 

What about a masonic view of Lucifer? Manly P. Hall, famously wrote in his book The Lost Keys of Freemasonry:

When the Mason learns that the key to the warrior on the block is the proper application of the dynamo of living power, he has learned the mystery of his Craft. The seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands, and before he may step onward and upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy. He must follow in the footsteps of his forefather…. who with the mighty strength of the war god hammered his sword into a plowshare.

This passage has often been used as evidence by some to say that Freemasons are secretly a bunch of devil-worshipping satanists. It might even be enough to give a mason unfamiliar with it some pause; what exactly did Brother Hall mean by the “seething energies of Lucifer”?To an uninformed reader, and taken out of context, this statement might sound a bit nefarious, especially given the cultural context of the conflation of Lucifer and Satan, as an embodiment of evil. 

More likely, Brother Hall is drawing upon a more Gnostic perspective on Lucifer, such as that it represents the latent life-force energy, described in the East as Kundalini, dwelling “underground” and in the “darkness” of lower aspects of the self (literally in the lower body), which can be stirred and lifted by certain practices to travel through the various energy centers. Another facet of some Gnostic views is that Lucifer is the other side of brightandmorningstarthe Christ aspect of the self, which rings true based on the origins of the archetype. If Lucifer/Satan is the primary antagonist of the story from which the archetype originates, we shouldn’t ignore the role of the protagonist, and all that he represents, as well. So, how does Lucifer relate to Christ, in the self?

This Gnostic account of Lucifer is as both carrier of the light, and tempter of the divine self represented by Christ; indeed, Satan (the “adversary” angel, in Hebrew) did tempt Christ during his fast in the forest, in the biblical account. This view posits that Lucifer represents both the energy within the self, and the temptation to waste that energy, working together with Christ in an antagonistic interplay within the self, to raise up and purify the fundamental raw potency contained in the lower half of the person, the generative organs and the gut. This paints an image of Lucifer as a force which ensures purity in the self, just as he was the prosecutor of Job to test his faith, in the old testament.

Alchemically, we could say perhaps that this is like an acid or solvent, which eats away all that is not gold. As such, this idea of Lucifer is as a force which guarantees that the self has evolved beyond the desires and temptations of the lower aspects of our animal nature before allowing it to become possessed of divine radiance, by tempting it at every turn. This includes the temptations which come at the highest levels of development. 

Satan as Lucifer’s Folly?

Some masonic authors have extended an explanation that Lucifer and Satan are not the same, but are two very different ideas which have been conflated due to translation errors and historical inaccuracies, as alluded to earlier in this post. By this account, the term Lucifer is exactly what the etymology of the word implies: an archetypal Light Bearer, a bearer of spiritual Light, which would be represented by any of the known Light Bearers of history, including Jesus Christ himself, and is what each Freemasonchristos luficer aspires to be. Essentially, it is the idea that a person can serve as a bridge between the divine and man, that an individual can be the bearer of God’s Light for the world, perhaps after undergoing the temptation/purification process described by the Gnostics. 

I find this to be an inherently satisfying and rational explanation, but I also find myself feeling the need to take pause, before becoming too complacent with this particular understanding. Reflecting upon all that has happened with the idea of Lucifer, chiefly becoming conflated with the embodiment of all evil, one has to wonder: perhaps the archetype of Lucifer-Satan is more meaningful than simply being a human error in the interpretation of scriptures and other texts? Perhaps Lucifer-Satan is, indeed, an archetype of a fallen Light Bearer?

Warning from the Sutras

One embodiment of this which I believe may lend some clarity is in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A particular description is given of those advanced Yogis who attained abilities which we would identify as psychic powers, or siddhis in Sanskrit, through the practice of extreme concentration, or Samadhi, but without overcoming the personal attachments of their baser nature and desires. Having not given proper attention to the taming of the lower self before attaining Samadhi, the selfish and attached mind that had achieved the prometheus bound to mattersiddhis became lost in the fulfillment of their desires. In other words, they learned to use their inherent divine capabilities, without attaining true wisdom. Ultimately, this results in their merging with the object of their desires at the end of their mortal life, and being locked into the material world itself as a kind of elemental spirit, rather than achieving liberation. This is also very similar to the dark shaman

I think that this idea encapsulates the essence of the Lucifer-Satan archetype quite well, even resonating with the theme of his being cast down and bound to matter. Just like Prometheus being bound to the stone, or Lucifer-Satan being cast into Hell, this fall from grace of the Light Bearer could be an archetypal warning against the perils of succumbing to one’s own ego-based attachments and lower nature, as one advances along the spiritual path. This would include the desire for and fixation on sense pleasures, power, control, and positions of superiority. 

If I attempt to distill this idea down to its essence, it might be something like: “The limited self attempting to become God, without realizing that it already is.” It’s the attempt of the finite self to have God-like perception and power, but without sacrificing all of the entrapments of the finite self’s desires, attachments, and need for control. This is the desire to be the ultimate divinely ordained King, Ruler of the Universe, and to think that one knows better than the silent, seemingly passive transcendent God. As pointed out by Manly P. Hall, mythically, this transition occurred the moment when Lucifer thought that he knew better than God how to operate creation, and that he should take over. On the other hand, in the story of Christ, it was surpassed the moment that Christ was offered this position, but turned it down.

Lucifer and the Temptation of Christ

One symbolic representation of Lucifer-Satan could be the crowned animal, the combination of the dynamo of the unrefined lower self with the mind awoken to its true potential, without the crucial mediating and transforming influence of the Heart. Afterlucifer temptation of christ all, Lucifer/Satan has been depicted as cunning, seductive, powerful, brilliant, and intriguing, but there is one quality that Lucifer-Satan rarely embodies in any depiction of him with which I’m familiar, and that is selfless Love. Loving kindness, compassion, humility, and surrender to the greater Self of which the finite self is merely an extension, is the one critical quality which Lucifer-Satan seems to lack, and which is ultimately what binds him and all who embody him to being King of This World, as he is sometimes referred to in the Bible. At the same time, it is the quality most essential to Christ. Does that make Christ the true Lucifer, the true Light Bearer?

Perhaps this is also the ultimate temptation with which we are presented, at our highest stages of spiritual development. Because when one does truly become a Light Bearer, and become possessed of corresponding expanded awareness and capabilities, the temptation to use it for selfish ends has to be one of the single greatest obstacles imaginable. We can see this manifesting in many forms, such as using the light of the intellect to build technological methods to control and manipulate nature and other people, the exertion of the light of magical will to satisfy one’s own self-centered desires, spiritually exalting one’s own ego in spiritual materialism, or in gaining material wealth and power over others.

In the end, all are the attempts of the finite self or ego to become God-like, or rather, to become like a false notion of God, as a King or Ruler on a throne, a finite entity with infinite capabilities. It’s fundamentally a refusal to realize and accept one’s place as an illusory appendage of the Infinite One, meant to act in harmony with all of Creation, and to utilize one’s gifts as a self-less Light Bearer in service to humanity. At whatever level it occurs in our development, we always have the temptation to place the will of the self over the will and well-being of others, this being perhaps the fundamental essence of evil, which ultimately culminates in the utilization of others as extensions of the self to fulfill one’s own desires.

Would You Pass? 

Here’s an interesting question: If you were to be granted all the Power of This World today, would you pass The Test? Would you be able to resist the temptation to use your control over the illusory world to endlessly fulfill your own desires? Would you choose to surrender to the larger plan, which even with all your knowledge you can never fullylucifer comprehend, and to use your abilities only to heal and enlighten others, never to control them or inflict harm, or even your own brand of justice? Would you, in spite of all your power, forgive the ignorant even as they nailed your hands to the cross, rendering your Heart wide open and undefended?

The great Light Bearers of history have given us examples for how to walk the tightrope forward, to resist the temptations of power, and become the selfless servants that humanity needs. Nobody said it would be easy; in fact, its probably the most difficult thing that anyone can do. Perhaps this is why the ability to die and be reborn is such a critical component of freemasonry, as well as mythology in general. We must be able to die to the false self, and all of its desires and fears, if we ever wish to be worthy Bearers of the Light.

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part I]

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part I]

Freemasonry reveres the Light, which illuminates and chases away the darkness of ignorance. As a “bringer of light,” Lucifer can be a touchy subject, particularly in relation to Freemasonry, because Masons have been erroneously accused of devil worship by various groups including conspiracy theorists. Brothers come from a variety of backgrounds, in many cases religious, and there is no official Masonic position on the existence or non-existence of Lucifer, angels, or any other theological particularity. The only commonly-held theological concept in Freemasonry is a belief in a higher power – God.

Freemasonry does have some historical crossover with individuals and groups who had various beliefs and attitudes about the idea of Lucifer. Many, perhaps most, have been religious, specifically Christian, and therefore have likely held some version of the view represented in the Bible. Others, like Manly P. Hall, seem to have viewed Lucifer more symbolically, or perhaps in a gnostic way. What can we gain from contemplating the concept of Lucifer, and its relationship to our world views? 

Whence Come Ye, Lucifer?

fall of luciferIt would serve us to briefly examine the origins of the concept of Lucifer. While many or most ancient religions had some type of “devil” or antagonistic embodiment of evil, Lucifer is most commonly referenced from the Abrahamic lineage, mostly via the Christian tradition. The name “Lucifer” is derived from the Latin “Lucem Ferre” meaning “Light Bearer.”

It is also a translation from the original Hebrew הילל [Heylel”] in a frequently misinterpreted passage from the Torah or Old Testament of the Bibleהילל is more accurately translated as “the morning star,” or, as an adjective, “light-bringing.”

In the King James Version (KJV) of Isaiah 14:12, Lucifer appears for the first and only time in the Bible. Here, the prophet Isaiah condemns the conqueror of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar II, comparing him to the “Morning Star” or  “Venus,” which at the time was regarded by the Babylonians as having some significance in the Babylonian pantheon. The passage from Isaiah reads:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! [Isaiah 14:12 KJV]

When viewed in context, it seems pretty straightforward that Isaiah was using a metaphor to rebuke a fallen enemy of Israel. Throughout history, however, the verse has been taken out of context, and connected to other references in the Bible to the idea of Satan, which is a word in Hebrew that derives from “adversary.”

The Adversary

Who is Satan? In Hebrew, Satan is שָׂטָן , which is clearly different from Lucifer [ הילל ]In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is first mentioned in the Torah, as a reference to a supernatural being who opposes.800px-Gustav_Jaeger_Bileam_Engel

This passage is found in the Book of Numbers and is depicted in this painting, Balaam and the Angel (1836) by Gustav Jäger, describes Satan as an Angel of God who confronts a man named Balaam, while riding on his donkey: “Balaam‘s departure aroused the wrath of Elohim, and the Angel of Yahweh stood in the road as a satan against him.”  [Numbers 22:2] 

Furthermore, in the Hebrew book, the Tanakh. Satan is referenced as a heavenly prosecutor and a member of the sons of God subordinate to Yahweh. Satan is here described as an agent of God who prosecutes the nation of Judah in heavenly court; he also tests the loyalty of Yahweh’s followers by forcing them to suffer. 

Thus, Lucifer and Satan have become confused and connected in the minds of most people, due in part to a misunderstanding of the passage from Isaiah, and also connecting this passage to the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:2, although it is debatable whether these “nephilim” were truly fallen angels. Another contributor to this idea’s popularity is to John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost, which described the mythical event of Lucifer’s angelic rebellion. Later, the idea of the rebellion and fall of a portion of the angels as a much older concept in the Hebrew traditions was given some further support by the discovery of the Book of Enoch, in the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. 

The religious concept of the now conflated Lucifer/Satan in wider culture has undergone changes since the enlightenment period, with many people rejecting it outright, alongside God and all other things supernatural. Others have embraced the idea of Lucifer as a figure of knowledge and rebellion. In popular culture such as film and music, Lucifer has been portrayed variously as anything ranging from the typical adversary and embodiment of evil to a misunderstood, somewhat alluring demi-God figure.

Investigating the Lucifer Archetype

What is far more interesting than dwelling on whether or not the literal, supernatural figures of Lucifer or Satan exist, to me at least, is examining the archetype which Lucifer represents. After all, in the case that he does exist, he would merely be an embodiment of the archetype, and in the case that he does not exist, there are still humans and perhaps aspects of ourselves which do embody the archetype. Either way, the archetype or idea of Lucifer is more significant than any particular embodiment of it, and is worth reflecting upon.

prometheus luciferWhat can we say about Lucifer, as an archetype? As with understanding any archetype, we must derive its traits from its various embodiments or manifestations, which are the only ways in which we can know it.

One of the more benevolent versions is the Greek Titan, Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods to give it to man. Prometheus was punished in the end by being tied to a stone and having his liver perpetually eaten by a bird. The myth of Icarus also comes to mind, who flew too close to the sun, only to fall into the sea. The Sumerian god Enki represents another similar figure, in his rebellion against the authority of his brother Enlil and the other gods. Enki helped to lift mankind up to a higher status, which resonates with the serpent in the Garden of Eden embodiment, as well. Furthermore, being condemned by an authority figure to be bound in darkness could also be said to be a key element.

As all archetypes represent some aspect of ourselves, what does Lucifer represent? It seems obvious that it is some type of shadow figure, as he represents something that is rejected by the highest authority, literally cast into the darkness; if we were to see such a thing in a dream, then the interpretation would be rather straightforward, something bright and brilliant, yet because of pride is rejected from consciousness, and hidden from the waking or collective self. As such, he represents an aspect of the self that is not endorsed by certain authorities.

luciferWhat other qualities may be clues to Lucifer’s archetype? He is also typically depicted as highly intelligent, and even the source of knowledge, having convinced Eve to partake of the Tree of Knowledge, which falls more into alignment with his “light-bearer” aspect, as the etymology of the name indicates. Related to knowledge, he is also characterized by doubt, and even deception. 

Finally, Lucifer can be related to the moral stance of relativism or nihilism, such as the idea that all that truly matters is freedom to “Do as thou wilt.” In other words, the world through the eyes of the Lucifer archetype, at least as its depicted in modern culture, is inherently meaningless and morally neutral. Therefore, the best qualities to have are intelligence and power, which grants the ability to influence the external world for various reasons. Any authority outside of the finite self, which might seek to mitigate the fulfillment of desires, is to be doubted or rebelled against.

Continue to Part 2


 

[Note: This article, and other articles published on this blog, represent the reflections of individual writers and do not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry.]

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

Symbols can often have double or multiple interpretations, ranging from the obvious exoteric meanings to the more esoteric ideas understood by a few. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes can be found the hidden knowledge.  Symbols conceal as much, or more, than they reveal.

Where does the masonic cube fall on this continuum? How did the hidden knowledge of the mystical qabalah influence its use in Freemasonry?

To start with, what is Qabalah? It’s difficult to define with a phrase. Even after a few decades of study I don’t think I can come up with a definition. How can you describe the indescribable?

Perhaps one could say the Qabalah is a mystical symbolic system of looking at the microcosm and macrocosm from the standpoint of the Creator. For a qabalist, there is nothing in life that is not interesting; the speck of dust on the ground, the glowing nebulas in the heavens, and the tiny living cell — all these have their message and tell a story of the Creator.

Can masons relate to this? Of course. That is why most of the early 18th century English ritualists were acquainted with the qabalistic teachings. Since many of them studied the qabalah while the masonic rituals were being written, it was likely a source for many of the signs, symbols and allegories of Freemasonry. Brother Albert Pike 33° indexed over seventy entries to the subject of qabalah in his book Morals and Dogmacabala21

The book indicates that the more you study the hidden meanings (or occult), it becomes clearer and clearer that everywhere in the universe, at every conceivable point in space, there is a Consciousness, which expresses through what is visible and invisible.

Pike tells us that:

“Qabalah is the key of the occult sciences.”

The qabalists used models such as the Tree of Life, The 32 Paths of Wisdom and the Cube of Space to describe the plan and processes of creation. The cube is especially significant to the themes of freemasonry. How, so?

The Qabalist’s Cube of Formation

Perhaps a good place to start is the Book of Formation or Sefer Yetzirah. It is one of the oldest treatises on qabalistic philosophy that concerns itself with the Divine creative process. It describes how the Creator literally thought and spoke everything into existence, and continues to do so. The type of creation that it shows proceeds through manipulation of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

I am always in awe of the Sefer Yetzirah whose short verses can easily conceal its depth and complexity. The seeming simplicity is only a taste of its mystery. The premise is that everything in the universe is directed by intelligence. The scheme of life and activity that we call evolution is in accordance with a Plan made by a Master Mind or Great Architect. Final Cube Sepher Yetzirah

Everything is considered to be constructed of the Hebrew letters, or at least the forces they represent. The three Hebrew Mother letters (Aleph, Mem, Shin) corresponded to the three simple letters to form the name Jah (IHV).

From Verse II of The Sepher Yetzirah:

He looked above, and sealed the Height with (IHV)
He looked below and sealed the Depth with (IVH)
He looked forward, and sealed the east with (HIV)
He looked backward, and sealed the west with (HVI)
He looked to the right, and sealed the south with (VIH)
He looked to the left and sealed the north with (VHI)

Brother Paul Foster Case, scholar and Freemason, popularized the Sepher Yetzirah through his concept of the Cube of Space using the verses in Chapters IV and V to add the tarot keys and astrological correspondences. It alludes to defining the boundaries of our perceptions. Quite a remarkable diagram, indeed!

The Divine Mind conceives the archetypal form, and then it exists in the world of ideas. A long process of human evolution has to take place before the ideal can be manifested in form, and the soul in full consciousness can achieve the archetypal form.

Some might look at the diagram and say, “so what!” Why does it matter for a Freemasonblack-background-1468370534d5s_1 (1) work with these archetypal ideas, specifically the cube?

The Freemason’s Perfect Stone 

One possible reason is that archetypal themes underlie many of the masonic rituals. It is no coincidence that the form of a masonic lodge is a symbolic cube.

Freemason Albert G. Mackey writes:

“The lodge or collected assemblage of masons, is adopted as a symbol of the world. The solid contents of the earth below and the expanse of the heavens above give the outlines of the cube, and the whole created universe will be included within the symbolic limits of a mason’s lodge.”

In Revelation Chapter 21, the new Jerusalem is described as a perfect cube: “The plan of the city is perfectly square, its length the same as its breadth.” Also, the room known as the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed in the shape of a cube. In the center of the room was the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Scroll of the Law.

The candidate in a masonic lodge symbolically represents one of the stones used in the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. The ritual portrays the shaping, testing and laying of that stone. Ultimately, the moral and spiritual preparation that he must undergo is to become a “living stone” in the heavenly temple.

Brother Manly Hall says:

“The perfect cube represents the personality that has had all the unevenness, roughness, and inequality polished away by experience. Such a stone is ready to become a block in the Everlasting House not built by hands but eternal in the heavens.”

If left to our own devices, our evolution and progress would be infinitesimal. But fortunately, we have teachers and perfected individuals of past ages to guide us to be perfect stones. Instead of using the working tools to build a physical structure out of stone and mortar, a speculative mason uses these same tools symbolically for spiritual, moral and intellectual development. finaltumblr_inline_nxatcedBV71riiuei_500_1 (2)

In the end, what does the symbol of the cube offer? I believe it is archetypal concepts that help all of us connect with something larger. Are we not all just sculptors? Writing our own books of creation? “Becoming” perfect cubes?

“A block of marble, deep within the quarry lies. Hidden within it lies likewise a form of beauty rare. The sculptor works, patterning true to that which lies revealed unto the inner sight. He patterns true and beauty comes to life.”

– Brother Alice Bailey

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

If you investigate freemasonry and religion, among the first things you will find are various iterations of the following message:

Freemasonry is not a religion, and is not intended to be a replacement for religion. Within the ranks of the brotherhood are many people of varying backgrounds and faiths. Lodges in one part of the world may have more members of a particular faith than those in other parts, but regardless of this, believers of all faiths are welcome. The teachings and rituals of freemasonry are intended to be acceptable to all religious traditions, and the organization encourages its members to practice their chosen faith, and to serve God above all man-made institutions.

While this is true, the relationship of freemasonry to various religions has gone through phases, and evolved over time. Some religions or sects have regarded freemasonry with suspicion, or in some cases, outright condemnation. Meanwhile, some of the rituals and symbolism used in Lodge clearly are traceable to particular religions, such as the Judeo/Christian. Does this mean that freemasonry is particularly Christian or Jewish, as opposed to any other faith? What is its compatibility with other, non-Christian faiths?

Freemasonry’s Historical Relationship with Christianity

freemasonry and christianityComing, most recently, from Europe in the first and second millennia C.E., it should not surprise us that freemasonry has been influenced by religion, specifically Christianity. While the York Rite has many Christian elements, this is only an appendant body, whose degrees are not essential to being a Mason. Beyond this, the common use of the Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) in the rituals is more-or-less the extent of specifically Christian symbolism in freemasonry, and even that is not ubiquitous among lodges and orders.

On the other hand, from a historical perspective, many believe that speculative (philosophical) Freemasonry might not exist today, if not for Christianity. This is due to the fact that much of what makes freemasonry so unique and valuable is to some extent the result of Christian oppression. In this sense, religion in the form of Christianity may have shaped Freemasonry far more from the outside than from the inside, at least according to many masonic historians, such as the masonic history described by Manly P. Hall.

During what we normally call the Dark Ages, various Western wisdom traditions, tracing their origins to the mystery schools of the ancient world, found refuge in the the ranks of operative masonry, among those who were truly stonemasons by trade. The operative masons’ democratic organizational structures, political independence, and secretive nature made this guild-like organization an appealing place for those who were considered heretics under the rule of the Catholic church. Within its ranks, they could practice and carry on their traditions in safety, and freely exchange ideas, blending the ancient wisdom teachings with the more literal craft of the masonic trade.

hermeticism alchemy and freemasonryThe fusion of these refugee practitioners of gnosticism, hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, and related systems with the operative builders of old is the origin of speculative freemasonry, as we know it today, and it all happened in part because of the religious tyranny of the church. Not only did freemasonry as we now know it come into existence partly to conceal themselves from the persecution of the church, but also subverted it in some ways, such as by being heavily involved in the secret colleges which ultimately culminated in the scientific revolution, and scientific enlightenment, displacing the Catholic church as a monopoly on truth. Yet, does this mean that Freemasonry was inherently anti-catholic, or anti-christian?

Freemasonry is primarily a collection of traditions and rituals, none of which are explicitly against any religion, but in fact are supportive of religion. What Freemasons generally are opposed to are tyranny over the minds and lives of people. Freemasons have been, throughout history, proponents and defenders of personal liberty, including the freedom to think, believe, speak, and worship as each person sees fit, as well as the ideal of self-rule and democratic forms of government. In fact, many masonic historians claim that our organization was instrumental in the democratic uprisings of the 18th century, including both the French and American revolutions.

In this light, we can safely say that freemasonry’s rocky historical relationship with Catholicism had less to do with their beliefs, and more to do with their imperial and dogmatic rule, which persisted even after the fall of the Roman Empire. Since the fall of that empire, freemasonry’s relationship to Catholicism and protestant Christianity has been much more congenial, even symbiotic, with many Masons also being members of various churches and clergy.

Conservative or Fundamentalist Religions

While much of freemasonry’s historical context is in relation to Catholicism, it has of course interacted with many other religions, as well. It might be safe to say that the theme is not so much variation in freemasonry’s attitude towards the various religions, antimasonryas we believe in freedom of individual worship, but rather in those other religions’ attitudes towards freemasonry. Often, the most conservative of these religions have a strong aversion to the theologically liberal nature of masonry.

The Muslim world is an excellent example. For various reasons, the Islamic peoples of the world have not generally had a very favorable view of Freemasonry, with it being totally banned in some Muslim countries. This seems to be due primarily to the Judeo-Christian flavor, symbolism, and historical lore of some aspects of freemasonry.

On the other hand, one appendant body of Freemasonry, the Shriners, clearly has Islamic symbolism, and some even trace their history to the first followers of Mohammed. Writers on the subject tie the Islamic opposition to freemasonry mostly to their political opposition to Judaism, and the long-standing rivalry between these two branches of the Abrahamic faiths.

Another group with a strongly antipathetic view on Freemasonry are some modern evangelical Christian sects, as well as some other protestant bodies. The details of their various stances are too great to go into, but generally they tend to associate Freemasonry with the occult, and therefore satanism, witchcraft, etc. Another common thread among both Evangelicals and Islamic people is the idea that Freemasonry is a Jewish conspiracy, mostly based on the prominent symbolism of Solomon’s Temple.

In general, those religious groups most opposed to Freemasonry are also those who are most opposed to freedom of religious thought, and those which are friendliest towards it are the most religiously liberal. Regardless of this, Freemasonry itself welcomes people of any particular faith.

Freemasonry and Non-Abrahamic Faiths

The relationship of Freemasonry to other belief systems outside the domain of hinduism and freemasonryAbrahamic religions follows the same aforementioned pattern; however, since non-Abrahamic religions tend to be less restrictive on personal freedom of thought, the relationship tends to be more often positive or neutral.

Hinduism in India, for instance, is generally accepting of all forms of worship as being within the myriad ways in which one can come to know God, Brahman or the absolute, and as such, freemasonry is usually regarded as another one of those ways, albeit one from a totally different cultural context, the West. Just as Hindus can accept Christ as a great saint, so they can usually accept freemasonry as a spiritual practice. Because of the British imperial rule, Freemasonry has had a presence there, and some believe that freemasonry has played some part in merging of East and West in India.

Likewise, there is not much in Buddhism which is opposed to masonic ideals and practices, and many masons practice some form of it. Today, some orders of freemasonry, most notably Universal Co-Masonry, are particularly friendly towards Eastern philosophy in general, even sometimes using the Vedas or I-Ching as our volumes of sacred lore. This is due in part to our historical ties to Theosophy, and consideration of the Eastern origins of much of Western esoteric tradition.

Lastly, what about Interfaith, Wiccan, Neo-shamanic, Pagan, New Age, and similar non-denominational, eclectic forms of spirituality? As with every other belief system, these should be welcome in freemasonry, so long as they believe in a singular, primary Higher Power, regardless of various sub-deities which may also be worshiped.

hermeticism and freemasonryAs far as which Order of Freemasonry this type of person might find most compatible, the main thing to consider is the culture of the brothers in the lodge; the more liberal and universal, the better. Membership in a primarily Christian or Muslim lodge may be possible, but might still feel out-of-place.

In that sense, Universal Co-Masonry, which is generally more religiously liberal as well as more mystically or spiritually oriented, is likely to be a more comfortable community for anyone on this type of path, the difference being primarily not in the rituals themselves, which are much the same as masculine masonry, but in the culture of the membership, and of course the lack of segregation by gender, race, or any other attributes.

Freemasonry and Geometry: What are the Symbolic Meanings of the Most Basic Geometric Forms?

Freemasonry and Geometry: What are the Symbolic Meanings of the Most Basic Geometric Forms?

The more abstract a concept is, the more meaning that we can find in it. Is this because the meaning is all projected from within our minds, or because there is something objectively real there to be found? Plato or Pythagoras certainly believed the latter, as did Jung with his archetypes, and certainly the abstraction of mathematics has enabled much of our modern scientific grasp of the workings of the world around us.

In Freemasonry, we deal in symbols constantly. The Temple itself is a symbol, as are all the rituals which take place within, and there are layers of meaning which are only revealed as one progresses through the degrees. Geometry, in particular, is very significant to Freemasonry. This stems not only from the practical geometrical knowledge that was required to build grand cathedrals and other structures by operative masonry, but also from the Western wisdom teachings stemming from Pythagoras, Plato, and others, often referred to as Sacred Geometry, which sees a greater symbolic significance in geometrical forms.

While its common to find interpretations of more complex forms like the Flower of Life, or Metatron’s Cube, some of the geometric forms I find most fascinating are the simplest. This is because the simpler a form is, the more universal it is. In the simplest forms, I see the very foundations of all creation. So, what is the symbolic significance of a few of these simple geometric forms?

What follows are not in any sense “official” masonic interpretations of these forms, but merely one mason’s reflections on them. Books can and have been written to interpret these and other geometric forms, so here we will just be sampling a few.

The Point

pointThe point is the beginning of all forms, and all finite things. In that sense, it is the most abstract representation of finity, of a finite form. It does not even have definitions, specific boundaries, size, or dimensions, and therefore is the most abstract finite thing that can emerge from the formless infinity. It is also the beginning of duality, because in the point, you have one thing which is separated from everything else, the thing and its surrounding context, self and world. Yet, without a clear boundary, it still contains an element of infinity within it. The point can be viewed as infinitely small, or infinitely large. Without boundaries and other objects to be compared to, it has no reference.

In the point, we can see the fundamental essence of all finite entities, including each person: the Self, consciousness, existence.

The Line

HorizThe line is the first movement of the point, the first dimension of form. As such, it represents the most basic possible expression of time and motion. In the line, we can see the progression from moment to moment of what was first seen in the point. While the point is motionless and still, the line implies a trajectory, and a continuity. It is also the first impression of a space in which motion and change can take place. Yet, the line is only the simplest, most primal of forms with a boundary, and does not yet demonstrate a space in which objects may exist, although it begins to imply them.

In the line, we can see the fundamental essence of all motion and change, linearity, past progressing into future, and memory.

The Cross

sacred geometryThe cross is where two lines meet at a perfect right angle, and the simplest indication of the second dimension. In the cross, we can see the implied 2-dimensional plane stretching out in four directions. Also within the cross, we can see both the singular point, and the line doubled. Like every new form, it is the expansion of what came before it. The cross is where two intersect to become one; two planes, two people, two forces, and the point at which they meet is also their origin.

In the cross, we can see the fundamental essence of all duality, multiplicity, and complexity. It is the simplest possible mandala, and also represents the multiple dimensions of self, whether masculine/feminine, thinking/feeling, or ordered/chaotic, intersecting at the central point of consciousness or spirit.

The Circle

infinity circleThe circle is the perfect return of the trajectory of the point traveling in a line back to its origin. Simultaneously, it is an enlarged and expanded representation of the point, being equidistant in all directions from the center point. In the circle, the completeness and perfection of the process of the formless point expanding into form can be seen. Within the circle, we can fit any number of mandalic or sacred forms, such as the pantagram, the hexagram, the cross, or the equilateral triangle. It contains all of these in essence, and yet is beyond all of them.

In the circle, we can see the totality of form, the Ouroboros, the nearest form to infinity.

The Circumpunct

circumpunct freemasonryThe circumpunct is the completion of the journey from finite point to infinite circle. In the circumpunct, all of the dimensions of self which have progressed outward into form are in complete and total balance and alignment with their formless origin. In the mind, it is the personality in complete harmony with its essence and origin. It also represents the essential boundary of the self. While the point had a finite existence, it still had a certain infinite quality, in it’s lack of defined boundaries. In the circumpunct, we have both the boundary-less point of origin, and the boundary, with self on the inside, and world on the outside.

In the circumpunct, we can see the completion of all existence, the simultaneity of infinity and finite form, the perfection of self, world, and the relationship between the two.

Further Reflections

expanding dimensionsThe truth is that neither you nor I have ever really seen a point or a line, only things that are shaped like them, usually drawings on paper. But the truest sense in which a point and a line exist is in the abstract realm of ideas, yet they are clearly significant. We could not build anything without them, and this is true of mathematical abstractions, in general: they are ephemeral, yet essential. But can they be regarded as the true foundations of all creation, of reality itself?

What I am struck most by these simple forms is how each dimension, and the basic geometric form it represents, implies and transcends the next. The moment you create a point, it imples that that point could transcend the 0 dimension, and be a line, if only it moved beyond that 0 dimension. The moment you create a line, it implies that that line could move in a different direction, transcending that 1st dimensional existence, creating a plane. The moment you create a plane, it implies that that plane could be bent or folded, and that therefore a third dimension must exist. The moment you have a 3-dimensional object, it implies that that object can shift and change across time, thus implying a fourth dimension, transcendent from 3-dimensional space.

This seems to me to imply that the world in which we find ourselves is in fact a manifestation from the infinite 0 dimension, into the four dimensions where we currently find ourselves. Its almost as if a divine infinite mind, in similar manner to an architect, charted out and traced the fundamental principles of reality by which a creation could manifest.

But is that really where it ends? For us, the 4 dimensions are the extent of dimensionality we can see and understand, with even the 4th being somewhat mysterious to us. But what if this is merely because of our position along the spectrum of dimensions, and in actuality, this process of one dimension implying the next goes on infinitely, with the 4th implying and creating the 5th, the 5th the 6th, ad infinitum?

String theorists and various other kinds of physicists currently posit some number of dimensions, often 11 or higher, but what if there is no ceiling to the dimensional hierarchy extending into the unseen, unknown realms of possibility? In that case, we truly could be said to be dwelling in an infinite creation.

infinite dimensions

The Masonic Letter G stands for…?

The Masonic Letter G stands for…?

To what does the symbol allude? Doubtless there are many answers to this question. Depending on what country, what masonic group, or what Lodge you’ll get different answers. All are interesting, and some are actually a bit astonishing. It has been said to represent ideas such as God, Geometry, Generation, Gnosis, Great Architect, Gamma, Goodness, Gimel, Goat, and more.

When did the letter G first appear in Freemasonry? It is hard to say for sure. One theory is that the symbol could have been brought in by Rosicrucians and Qabalists who became Masons the last part of the 17th century.

Another theory is that it was introduced some time subsequent to 1717 by the members of the Grand Lodge of England. We are told in the early masonic lectures that G signifies “Geometry, the Root and Foundation of all Sciences.” 

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the letter G, was said to have a symbolic meaning of God as synonymous with Geometry. It was sometimes displayed in the center of the Lodge and other times hung in the East. The G represented both “God” as the supreme being and “Geometry” which is imagined as a means of seeing the perfect ordering of the universe. Temple G

Over time, it became identified with many other things. Why? That is exactly the topic of a debate that has been raging for centuries. The Masonic letter G is one of those aspects of masonic history that seems to follow an unpredictable path.

Masonic Scholar Albert G. Mackey goes so far as to say he feels Masonic symbolism has been hurt rather than helped by the adoption of the letter G. He writes:

“It is to be regretted that the letter G. as a symbol, was ever admitted into the Masonic system. The use of it as an initial would necessarily confine it to the English language and to modern times. It wants therefore, as a symbol, the necessary characteristics of both universality and antiquity.”

Is Mackey correct? Does the letter G lack universality? Has it hurt Freemasonry? How Gimel or Camelshould it be dealt with?

G is for Gimel

An interesting justification for the symbol’s importance can be found in a ground- breaking book by Brother Paul Foster Case called the Masonic Letter G. I read this work years ago when I was studying qabalah. Using the Hebrew Gematria as a tool, he defends the G symbol as not only universal but honorable. One of the arguments he gives is that the letter G corresponds to the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet or Gimel. He gives two ways this Hebrew G could be acknowledged as universal:

  1. Hebrew letters are unique in that each one has a name that represents a familiar object. Objects are universally understood, unlike English letters.
  2. The Hebrew letter G or Gimel represents a camel. Camels, to ancient Hebrews, represented journeying to places far off, and the like. The camel symbolizes a mason’s travel in search of light and his quest to learn the hidden secrets of nature.

There is not enough space (or time) here to explain fully the argument which contains a load of Hebrew Gematria and interesting juggling with numbers but I recommend it if you like that sort of thing.

After his proof, Case remarks:

“Were nothing else to be said for it, it seems to us these facts would make the letter G a sufficiently universal, as well as sufficiently ancient, symbol of the Grand Architect.”

He explains in the various degree lessons of the craft that the idea of travel is significant.  By travel, the mason is able to trace nature through her various windings to her most final filosofia medievalconcealed recesses. Precisely the same thought is expressed in what many of the Masonic lectures tell us concerning God as He “Geometrizes.”

What does Geometry have to do with Freemasonry? How does God “Geometrize?”

God as the Geometrician

Geometry is taught to a Freemason, as he progresses in the science. As soon a one enters upon the world of geometry, symbolic and philosophical, the mind is opened to new influences that stimulate and refine it. 

From the standpoint of science, geometry and its offshoots are vital sciences of measurement. Often, nature conforms to simple patterns with symmetry and structure. For example, the pentagon lies behind a five-petaled rose, or a dandelion is a sphere. Honeybees build their hives in hexagons.

Today, the study of fractals can explain some other seemingly chaotic systems in nature. That is why the craft as it relates to geometry is called a progressive science in the broadest sense. In the search for knowledge, there is much that we do not know and discoveries constantly being yudrevealed.

Freemasonry is filled with practices that shift us to new perspectives. The contemplation of the vastness of time. The mysterious inevitability of death. The unlimited bounds of love. The power of symbols. 

For example, a Divine symbol that is both universal and ancient is the Yod, the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It symbolizes that all created things are modifications of the one primal Spirit. It is the masonic “G”, at least according to some authorities. W.L. Wilmshurst writes:

“The Yod is the emblem of the Divine Presence in the Lodge; it is also the emblem of that Presence at the spiritual centre of the individual Mason.”

There’s always more to learn. Another veil to lift. 

Cosmology and all of the associated sciences have not been able to definitely know the source and ultimate purpose of life. This strongly suggests that there must be some hidden purpose in the geometry of creation that is beyond the present scope of human knowledge and comprehension.

In masonic lectures, we read:

“By contemplation of the Divine we may discover his power, wisdom, and goodness and view with amazing delight the beautiful proportions which connect and grace this vast machine.”

And so, it is.

The procession of divine events and patterns which happens in the Divine realms are in Universal Co-Masonrysome manner mysteriously reflected in our human world, if we have eyes to see.

What, finally, is the message of the Masonic letter G? 

Perhaps it is that each of us must ponder the Divine, to be a geometrician, working according to his ability. Beyond the obvious pleasure of contemplating the glorious works of nature – there is delight that comes when beholding the “true” Masonic letter G, whatever symbolic form it takes.

“When the Lodge is opened, the mind and heart of every Brother composing it should be deemed as also being opened to the “G” and all that it implies, to the intent that those implications may eventually become realized facts of experience. When the Lodge is closed, the memory of the “G” symbol and its implications should be the chief one to be retained and pondered over in the repository of the heart.”  

~ W.L. Wilmshurst

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

As Freemasons, the concept of the Word is very important to us, both in ritual, as well as in daily life. The Word represents the medium through which truth is transmitted, it’s how we express ourselves, and ultimately is the essence of the creative principle of the universe. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One interpretation is that the Word represents the abstract essence of the ideal structures of information which form reality itself, the thoughts of the G.A.O.T.U., perhaps.

On a more practical level, in day-to-day life in civil society, how we communicate with one another via language can determine our success in life, the harmony of our social environment, and in some cases can be a matter of life and death. Some would even argue that language is the primary differentiator which makes us human and places us in a category above the animals. The importance of language to human life truly cannot be overstated, but exactly how we communicate with one another is also a subject of much debate and controversy, currently.

It seems to be exceedingly difficult these days to communicate with those we disagree with in any meaningful way, and almost every discussion, particularly on the internet, tends to devolve into divisiveness and anger. This is partly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and partly because of the filter bubble or echo chamber effect, which occurs when either we or the algorithms that control what we see in social media cause us to only hear or communicate with those with whom we agree. These factors, thereby, contribute to increasingly polarized and radical views, and the atrophy of our capacity to tolerate opposing views.

Civil Discourse and Free Speech

What seems to be lacking in modern times is civil discourse. Civility, or Civil Discourse, is a long tradition of philosophy and communication, and throughout history, itFree Speech has undergone various transformations, or has at times been rejected. So, what is civility, and how should we use it in our approach to communicating on subjects where there is so much disagreement?

The root of the word civility is the same as the root for citizen, and civilization, the latin “civilis.” In the larger sphere of human life beyond communication alone, it means “working together productively to reach a common goal, often with beneficent purposes.” In other words, civility is cooperation towards a shared goal, which is the basis of civilization – hence the words’ etymological relatedness.

In communication specifically, we refer to this as civil discourse. Just like the definition of civility more generally, civil discourse is when we communicate together towards a common goal. This concept is most important, naturally, when there is a disagreement of some kind, for it’s easy to be civil when we agree. According to the principle of civil discourse, we should do everything in our capability to communicate with those we disagree with in a manner which allows us to work together towards a common goal: namely finding or approximating truth together. Alternatively, in some cases, it is simply coming to some level of mutual agreement or common ground.

The tricky part comes when civility sometimes might require us to restrict our sense of freedom of expression.

Alongside this principle of civility, we also have the concept of free speech, or freedom of expression, which, as we all know, is written into the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental right, at least insomuch as the government should not be able to prohibit it. Many people go a step further and believe that not only should we have the right not to have our speech censored by the government, but also that this should be a more broad cultural ideal; so that, in general, people are able to speak their mind without fear of retribution, ostracization, or termination from their job.

Compelled Civility and Free Speech

Today, speech and its regulation are yet another highly polarized and debated topic, to a compelled speechlarge extent along political party lines. On one side, we have those who wish to utilize authority to limit certain kinds of speech which are deemed to be harmful, such as hate speech, racism, mis-gendering, and “fake news.” On the other, we have those who believe in a fundamental concept of free speech, so that anyone should be able to speak their own opinion, regardless of the effects it might have, as long as actual threats are not being made. This includes opinions that many would find extremely offensive, perhaps even harmful in some ways, such as inciting violence.

This polarity is an interesting one and is reminiscent of many other polarities we may take notice of in nature and in human life: Chaos and Order, Progress and Conservatism, Intellect and Feeling; in a way, I can see all of these dichotomies at play in this singular issue. At times, it seems as if everything we do is some sort of interplay of opposites, and which side we identify with crosses over into other spectra of life, which might otherwise seem unrelated.

While I fall firmly onto the side of free speech as far as the government is concerned, how to approach the dichotomy of civility and free speech on a personal level is much more interesting and also relevant to the Masonic life.

To Be a Level in a World Askew

As Freemasons, we are simultaneously compelled to seek and speak truth, as well as, to unite humanity, which can seem paradoxical given all of the divisions over what is true. We are expected to tolerate differences of opinion and worldview. In our speech, as in many other aspects of our lives, we are encouraged to seek balance: the middle way. Not only that, but we also aim to serve as a balancing force on the world around us, for we believe that the truth is in the center point.

When we are able to balance free speech and civility in ourselves and when we are able to speak in a way that is not hateful or divisive without avoiding speaking our truths, webalance can act as a balancing force to the polarized culture of the day, around whatever topic of discussion we come into contact with. Part of the work we must do in the world is to be the level which brings balance to that which is askew.

In a world where polarized opinions seem to perpetuate themselves in an endless feedback loop, how do we do this? I think the answer has to be that we first seek balance in ourselves and then seek it in others. Every radical on one side has a nascent version of the opposite view and traits buried deep within them, somewhere. As in Jungian psychology, every introvert has an unconscious extrovert, or vice versa; whatever we identify with consciously, the opposite dwells in darkness within us, and it is our job to bring light to it – both in ourselves and in others.

How do we do that? We ask probing and thought provoking questions, rather than tell people what to think. We notice the imbalances in ourselves and others and seek out their counterbalance. We act as moderators, bridge builders, and help people find common ground. Perhaps most difficult of all, we maintain respect for the inner light that dwells within each individual, however concealed with the muck of dogma it might be.

What Can The Egyptian Book of the Dead Teach Us About The Masonic Life?

What Can The Egyptian Book of the Dead Teach Us About The Masonic Life?

While Freemasonry is known for secrecy, it’s no secret that we trace the origins of our rituals and teachings to the ancient mystery schools of Egypt; many masonic writers, such as Manly P. Hall, have publicly stated this. While there is disagreement among academic historians about the true origins of the Order, Freemasons do tend to believe in this ancient source of the mystic teachings, and we can also be relatively certain that the esoteric wisdom traditions which are the antecedents to speculative masonry, such as Hermeticism and Alchemy, are connected to the ancient Egyptian mystery schools.

This means that, in  my opinion, anytime we look at something from Egypt, we should try to look at it masonically; that is, we should try to interpret the inner meaning of it, to see the truth behind the symbols.

One of the most fascinating writings we have from the ancient Egyptian traditions is known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Alternatively translated as The Book of Emerging Forth Into the Light, or The Book of Becoming Light, this book of “spells” is thought to have been written by many priests over a period of perhaps 1,000 years, as a guide for death, to be read aloud to the dying. There are different versions, with different combinations of spells, and 192 total spells are known, from all versions.

A Guide to the Initiation Beyond Death

Egyptian AfterlifeWhile having a guidebook to read to a dying person to lead them through the afterlife is an interesting concept in itself, what may be more profound is to examine the book and what it might tell us about life, and perhaps even the masonic life.

It may help here to have some context of the Egyptian conception of life, the universe, and magic. To the ancient Egyptians, magic permeated the world, and words in themselves were inherently magical. Consequently, to the Egyptians, there was little difference between written/spoken words and magic. All writings were essentially magical. Likewise, knowing the name of something was thought to give power over it. There was not such a stark line, in Egyptian thought, between the ordinary world we experience with our senses, and the invisible worlds of spirit. All the layers of existence were thought to overlap, and interweave.

The story of the Book of the Dead is that of a soul passing through death, into eternal life. To do so, he must pass through the underworld, or Duat, and overcome various supernatural creatures by charming them with magic incantations, in a sort of trial of initiation into the afterlife. At the end of the trial, if the soul hadn’t first been consumed by one of the creatures, or destroyed by Osiris’s minions, then he would be weighed by Osiris against the Goddess of Truth and Justice, Maat. In other words, the soul was a candidate and had to pass tests and trials in order to prove him/herself worthy to live among the immortals.

The Initiatory Model for Life, Death, and Beyond

Egyptian Book of the DeadMuch of this should sound familiar to any Freemason, and it seems clear that there is an element of this Egyptian ritual in those which are preserved in Freemasonry, at least in their essence. Clearly there is an allusion to death and immortality in both, but how does this “model” of initiation, so-to-speak, relate to what Masonry teaches us about life?

Essentially, life is a series of initiations, or one large initiation with phases, if you will. We are perpetually confronted with situations which challenge our integrity, our determination, our wisdom, and our compassion. Virtue is not magically granted from the sky, it is honed, it is earned, it is built from the ground up. Becoming the best man or woman that we can be is hard work, and requires sacrifice and difficulty. Particularly when we choose to follow the path of the initiate, life has a way of throwing even more trials our way, because karmically (many believe), we have chosen an accelerated path, by seeking initiation.

Throughout life, much like the soul entering the Egyptian underworld, we are faced with various situations, most of which are actually in our minds. Of course, the outer circumstances must serve as props, but the real monsters to be charmed and pacified are within us, they are the baser aspects of our own nature, and a large part of masonry is indeed overcoming these creatures within us. There may even be something to be said about the Egyptian concept of using the magic of words to charm these creatures, especially considering the insights of NLP, hypnosis, and similar methodologies, but that’s a subject for another post. More symbolically, we can view the magic of the spoken word as the creative and expressive capacity within us.

Initiation as Evolution

burialegyptianmsoul11Does this also pertain literally to the afterlife? As someone who takes an interests in Near Death Experiences (NDEs), in my opinion, it is reasonable to think so. Based on what we have learned from NDE research, it does indeed seem that we may sometimes have to pass through a realm of astral darkness, which depending on our own state of mind may contain monstrous beings or obstacles, before arriving at the Light. When people get to the light, they almost invariably go through their entire life in a flash of holographic memory, where they experience everything they ever did, and also how it affected other people. Essentially, this is a weighing of the scales, a measurement of our life’s actions against justice, or what was right. In this way, I believe that there is an element of literal truth in the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth Into the Light.

The subtler truth, however, is even more interesting to me. Because, in a way, it is grander. Even if this process is literally what we experience when we die (approximately), what about when we are born again? Is the goal of the reincarnation process that our soul will one day weigh perfectly against the scales of justice, to avoid rebirth into the physical, i.e. to have no karma? If we take a Vedantic perspective, the answer would be yes. In that context, even multiple lives, much like the many experiences we have in one life, are really just phases of a larger initiation, into something even greater. Is there any end to this initiatory process?

I suppose it’s possible, but for my money, I would say probably not. I think the process of creation/initiation goes on indefinitely, infinitely, forever. We are always becoming something more, whether slowly or quickly. Essentially, this is the process of evolution. By choosing Freemasonry, we’ve simply opted for the catalyzed reaction – the accelerated evolution. As such, we must face each catalyst that comes our way with steadfastness, equanimity, willpower, compassion, and the magic of creativity, intuition, and divine communion, if we wish to be worthy of being freed from, or perhaps more accurately, to complete the initiation of the life/death cycle. 

 

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Like unto that of a man blindfolded and carried away by robbers from his own country is a man’s condition. The folds of cloth over his eyes being removed by a friend, he recovers the use of his eyes and slowly finds his way home, step by step, inquiring at each stage. So also, the good teacher instructs the seeker of Truth and helps him to unloose his bonds of desire. ~ From the Chandogya Upanishad 6:14:1/3

As a young seeker of Truth, I found the wisdom of the East long before I found the hidden wisdom of the West. After I had turned away from the exoteric religion of my upbringing, and briefly embraced the alternative orthodoxy of nihilistic materialist scientism, I began to seek truths beyond the tiresome antagonism of the “religion vs. science” debate, and it was not long before I discovered the Bhagavad Gita, Taoism, Buddhist teachings, and Western interpreters like Alan Watts and Ram Dass. Of all the Eastern traditions, Vedantic philosophy (rooted in the Vedas, Upanishads, and related texts) has influenced my worldview more than any other system of thought.

Now, as a newcomer to the Western wisdom tradition of Freemasonry, and to some extent also Theosophy, Alchemy, and Hermeticism, I am struck by the similarity in essence, but difference in expression between East and West. Although I still have much to learn, I sense that the one great Truth, described by Aldous Huxley as the Perennial Philosophy, is fundamentally the same in the Western traditions as in the East, but is clothed in secrecy and symbolism, and in some ways emphasizes certain values over others. The contrast between East and West is particularly interesting to me, as they are two halves of humanity’s collective mind, just as they represent two poles on our globe.

Torch Bearers from the East

eastern wisdomTo begin with, we can be fairly certain that the connection between East and West goes back at least as far as all of Western history, as we know it. The history of great Western philosophers is also in part a history of those who journeyed to the East, learned, and came back with new insights which had to be clothed and couched in the prevailing worldview of whatever Western culture they were returning to, in order to be understood and accepted; even then, they were often rejected, sometimes violently. Bearers of the torch carrying light from the East are notoriously persecuted upon their return to the West, and often meet a gruesome end.

Some think that none other than Jesus of Nazareth is one such example, although this is still a highly controversial theory, with inconclusive evidence that he visited the East during his “missing years.” Another is Pythagoras, who is thought to have traveled extensively in his youth, at least as far East as Persia, and who also was killed by the ignorant. One that is more recent, and therefore also more certain, is that of H. P. Blavatsky, one of the founders of Theosophy and originators of Victorian spiritualism, which also preceded and influenced much of what people consider to be “new age” or “new thought” ideas, today.

In general, I think that we underestimate the degree to which people traveled, and teachings were shared or spread via the Silk Road and other trade routes between East and West, throughout our history. It doesn’t help that our mainstream historians are hesitant to acknowledge Eastern influence on Western thought. So, with all this cross-pollination, why are the West and East not identical?

Wisdom in Contrast

east and westThe most striking difference to me between East and West, in terms of the mysteries, is that in the East they simply aren’t mysteries. There isn’t much secrecy in Vedantic, Buddhist, or Taoist traditions, teachers are prone to publicly say things like, “So long as God seems to be outside and far away, there is ignorance. But when God is realised within, that is true knowledge [Sri Ramakrishna].” The volumes of Vedantic and other Eastern teachings are filled with things like this, which in the West might be merely scoffed at today, but in the past, could have led to a burning at the stake or crucifixion, for speaking so blasphemously.

Here, we arrive at what seems to me to be the chief reason for the secrecy of the Western traditions, which is the millennium of history in which the desert religions of Abraham turned from their mystic origins to the darkness of fanaticism and ignorance, and dogma spread like a plague, reigning over the West with the fiery whip of religious persecution for roughly one thousand years. While our history lessons often breeze over this period as the “Dark Ages,” with some discussion of feudalism and monarchy, the harsh reality is that Western culture underwent an intellectual and religious cleansing, where all ideas that ran contrary to the dogmas of the church (or the mosque) were punished by torture, imprisonment, and gruesome death.

No wonder, then, that those who held the wisdom of the ancient traditions of the West were forced to seek shelter in organizations like operative freemasonry, which provided secrecy, as well as a highly effective organizational structure, and fertile ground for the symbolic coding of wisdom in the tools and principles of masonry. Meanwhile, our Eastern neighbors, safeguarded by distance, geographical features like the himalayas, and their own kingdoms and power structures, held the wisdom passed on from ancient times, and continued teaching it in a relatively open manner. This is an oversimplification, but is generally more accurate than not, I would say.

Aside from being hidden vs. open, what else separates West from East? Perhaps there is a more essential difference, due to differences in temperament and culture of the two peoples, shaped in part by their climates. I could make an argument that the harsh climates of Europe, mostly in the North, bred a spirituality more focused on action, intention, and the overcoming of obstacles, while mostly tropical Eastern environments, particularly in India, bred a spirituality with a more passive focus on meditation and surrender. This theory may have some merit, but ultimately we’ll never know for sure. It does seem to me that the West is more focused on building and actively working to perfect the human, while the East is more about dissolving, letting go, and becoming free from attachment.

At the risk being accused of over-simplifying neuroscience, the general dichotomy of the left and right sides of the brain could also be said to correspond to the same principle. In many ways, West and East are akin to the left and right. The West/Left is all about clearly defined logic, boundaries, and places a greater emphasis on intellect; the East/Right is more about direct perception, dissolving boundaries, and places greater emphasis on intuitive realizations. With all these differences, is there common ground? What is the corpus callosum of East and West?

The Bridge and the Stairway

philosophyI would say absolutely, and as the beginning of this post alludes to, there are striking similarities, at times, between the teachings of the Lodge or Western esotericism in general, and that of the Swamis. Both speak of the human condition as a state of darkness and ignorance striving for light; both design their sacred structures to resemble the human body; both tend towards idealism, or the belief that consciousness rather than matter is fundamental; both ultimately teach that God dwells within.

The commonalities are surely greater than the differences, and the essence, I believe, is one. In many ways, co-masonry in particular may be an excellent bridge between the two systems, with its close ties to theosophy, a much more Eastern tradition than many of the other Western systems, and its focus on adopting the feminine into the masculine lodge. Whatever the bridge we use, it seems clear to me that we must blend East and West, right and left, action and contemplation, intellect and intuition, if we are ever to rise above, and climb the stairway to a greater truth, some transcendent gnosis.

Ultimately, I believe that we are all approximating this same truth, like a middle point of a circle which both East and West circumambulate in their own ways. The classical human mystical experience, which all these traditions are ultimately based on, seems to be more-or-less universal across cultures, and to differ only in it’s interpretation post-experience, and the cultural context which either allows it to flourish, or forces it to hide and conceal itself. Either way, the truth will out, and the light will not be concealed for long, for it is what every human on this planet thirsts for, in the depths of their soul.

The Mystery: Why Does It Matter?

The Mystery: Why Does It Matter?

“Why do you care whether there is a God, or extraterrestrials, reincarnation, or any of that? What relevance does it have to your life?”

This is a question which I have often heard, in one form or another, when bringing up topics related to the mysteries of life, from those who are not typically inclined to ponder them. Personally, I have always found the mysteries irresistible, so this common refrain has always been somewhat baffling to me. How could you really not care whether there is a God, or extra-terrestrial life? Such apathy toward the ultimate questions of life seems unfathomable, to me.

Indeed, those who find themselves involved in Freemasonry are generally those who are inclined to explore these questions, and this is part of what draws us to the craft, esotericism in general, and what is often referred to literally as The Mysteries. This is also why the fellowship of a brotherhood of truth seekers is so precious to those who find it, because our kind so often feel alone in a world full of those who care more about their bank balance, newest electronic gadget, or mundane interpersonal dramas than the quest for ultimate reality.

So, like a fish trying to describe the ocean, for a long time it was difficult for me to articulate why these things matter to me so much when this question arose. However, I eventually did manage to create some semblance of an explanation, which I would like to share with you now. Perhaps by reading this, you will have a new answer in your repertoire the next time someone asks why you seek truth.

The short version is: I care about the mystery because the mystery is the ultimate context of my existence, and context is absolutely everything; the context of a thing defines that thing and gives it meaning. Allow me to explicate.

The Universal Existential Constant

VitruvianManThe human condition is defined by a finite or limited conscious existence, and a mystery beyond it. In fact, I believe that this is probably the condition of not just humans, but any entity, since any finite consciousness is always limited, by definition. If it had no limits, it would not be an “entity,” it would be infinite.

In other words, there are things you directly experience, and there are things beyond that, with a gradient boundary between them. Regardless of how far your awareness may expand, there is, a priori, always a boundary to it and always something beyond that boundary, which to you is a mystery.

The only possible exception to this would be if our awareness became infinite, perhaps, but we cannot really imagine that. Barring the hypothetical exception of infinity, there is always a boundary to conscious existence, and therefore, a mystery beyond it.

This would presumably also be true for any self-aware finite entity, from the lowliest worm to the most vast super-intelligent species, or even advanced spiritual beings. If they are not infinite, then it seems to me that their existence must have this structure: the known, the unknown, and the boundary between.

The Existential Island in an Ocean of Mind

9d5f825306d964f0b1fe99d921e05627One helpful metaphor is to think of our existence as a sphere, like a planet. That planet has its basic substance or ground, which for us is our direct sensory awareness. These are the things we are most certain of, because we directly experience them, and in this metaphor, they are our ground or earth, which also relates to our colloquial sayings about being “grounded” in reality. This is the reality to which we refer, our most certain, sensory reality, the bedrock of our experience.

Then, there is another layer which is beyond the ground of sensory experience, but which is near enough to be relatively certain; you can liken this to the atmosphere of our metaphorical “planet” of existence. For us, these would be facts outside of our senses, but nevertheless trustworthy, thanks to evidence and logic (to put it briefly).

For instance, I can be relatively certain that oxygen exists, a faraway country like Russia is really there, and that I have a liver, even though I’ve never truly seen or experienced any of those things. Thus, there are things I have not directly experienced, yet of which I am relatively certain. Here is where the boundary begins.

Finally, beyond that of which we are relatively certain, there is the larger Mystery, about which we ponder, and upon which we weave the fabric of our beliefs, by combining reason with imagination. To continue our planet metaphor, this would be the vast starry expanse in which our planet is suspended. Just as the cosmos is the context of a planet, whatever is beyond the boundaries of the ground and atmosphere of our existence forms the context of it.

Thus, the mystery is the context of our existence, and is experienced purely in the realm of imagination, hopefully tempered by reason. Regardless of what is actually “out there” beyond what we know with varying degrees of certainty, our experiential existence floats in a cosmos of mind and imagination because we can only imagine and reason about what is beyond the boundary of our experience and certainty.

Not only that, but no matter how far we expand our knowledge and experience, it always will float in an ocean of imagination and mystery, because that seems to be the inherent structure of any finite, experiential entity. How else could it be?

Context is Everything

a52f2b4eede4932789bf0d916be16850So, “Fine,” you might say, “the mystery is the context; why should the context matter to me?” My answer to this is that the meaning of anything essentially is derived from its context. Let’s take a very concrete example: a bar fight.

Let’s say that you witness a fight break out between two men in a bar. If you know absolutely nothing about the context of this fight, it will mean very little to you; perhaps you may have some thoughts about the volatility of alcohol and testosterone when combined in too great a quantity. In other words, to you, it is a relatively meaningless occurrence.

Let’s say that you now expand your knowledge, when someone tells you that the reason they fought is that one man was sleeping with the other’s wife. Now, to you, this is a very different bar fight, is it not? Yet, it is the same bar fight; it is the context of it in your own mind and imagination that has changed. Let’s say that you hear from yet another person that the reason the affair occurred in the first place is that the husband was abusing her; yet again, another vastly different bar fight.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that your spiritual “third eye” suddenly opened, and you were able to see that this was an unfolding of karmic patterns through time that had been in motion for thousands of years between these two souls, as they weave a pattern of flesh-bound experiences in and out of various bodies and lifetimes, trying to find a balance and transcend the illusory nature of this physical reality, for their ultimate mutual enlightenment. Yet again, a totally new bar fight, with a totally different meaning.

Why? Because with every expansion of your knowledge of the context of the fight, your experience of the fight transforms. The same is true of your entire experiential existence, the same principle is in operation every time you learn, and explore the mysteries.

That, my friends, is my answer to the question of why the mystery matters. To me, this is like something I had always subtly known but for the longest time had difficulty articulating. Perhaps it may strike you the same way, as almost obvious, yet novel in it’s explanation; or, perhaps you somehow disagree, in which case I would love to hear your perspective.

Either way, I hope that you have enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

The Sacred Tetractys: Why do Freemasons connect the dots?

The Sacred Tetractys: Why do Freemasons connect the dots?

If Pythagoras found himself transported to the modern world, he would have much to learn about technology, science, and human thought. But is there something Pythagoras can still teach us today in his symbol of the tetractys? What do the dots reveal? How is it significant to Freemasonry?

To start with, tetractys refers to a symbol of the Pythagoreans which consists of four rows of dots containing one, two, three, and four dots respectively which form an equilateral triangle. Many have found the tetractys full of sublime meaning.

When did the tetractys first come about? To answer this question may be more difficult. Very little is known about the real Pythagoras, or rather too much is “known” about him, but most of it is surely mistaken. The biographical trail is scattered with contradictions. It combines the sublime, the absurd, the inconceivable, and the just plain weird.

The teachings are elusive because he never wrote anything down. His treatises are only known to us through other Greek researchers. Consequently, it is up to present-day scholars (and there are many) to sift through these works in order to find a common thread that can be genuinely ascribed to Pythagoras. Jean Leblond I - 1605-1666

We do know that Pythagoras was born in Samos in the sixth century B.C.E. Pythagoras was both a mystic and a scientist, although some scholars tend to praise his mathematical prowess while looking away with embarrassment at his perceived “mysticism.” For Pythagoreans, they were one and the same.

The Science of Number was the cornerstone of the Pythagoreans. It describes, if not yet everything, at least something very important about physical reality, namely the sizes and shapes of the objects that inhabit it.

The Pythagoreans influenced the world by the simple expression:

“All is number.” – Pythagoras

What Did Pythagoras mean by this famous motto “All is Number?”

Is it possible to listen to this message today afresh, with Pythagorean ears? What teaching does the tetractys offer a Freemason?

The Tetractys: A Masonic Lecture by William Preston (1772)

FINAL Tetractys PrestonFreemasons in earlier times thought highly of Pythagorean philosophy. Brother Manly Palmer Hall, a 33° Mason dedicated an entire chapter in his work “The Secret Teachings of all Ages” to the both mystical and philosophical qualities of Pythagorean numbers.

Hall wrote:

“The ten dots, or Tetractys of Pythagoras, was a symbol of the greatest importance, for to the discerning mind it revealed the mystery of universal nature.”

Hall states that if one examines the tetractys symbolically a wealth of otherwise hidden wisdom begins to reveal itself.

The Prestonian Lectures (1772) give us further insight into some of the possible masonic thinking on the tetractys in the 1800’s.  It was the subject in one of the series of lectures written by Brother William Preston for instruction and education of the Lodge members.

An excerpt of the Lecture (1772) goes as follows:

“The Pythagorean philosophers and their ancestors considered a Tetractys or No. 4:

  • 1st as containing the decad;
  • 2nd as completing an entire and perfect triangle;
  • 3rd as comprising the 4 great principles of arithmetic and geometry;
  • 4th as representing in its several points the 4 elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth, and collectively the whole system of the universe;
  • Lastly as separately typifying the 4 external principles of existence, generation, emanation, creation and preservation, thence collectively denoting the Great Architect of the Universe Wherefore to swear by the Tetractys was their most sacred and inviolate oath.”

In other words, it is taught to Freemasons that a four-fold pattern permeates the natural world, examples of which are the point, line, surface and solid and the four elements earth, water, air and fire. Musically they represent the perfect consonants: the unison, the octave, the fifth and the fourth.

The Divine Creator in Freemasonry is sometimes referred to as The Great “Architect” or Grand “Geometrician” always building the universe through the creative tools of the geometer. Tetractys itself can be interpreted as a divine blueprint of creation. Grand Geometrician

Some say that Pythagoras and his successors had two ways of teaching, one for the profane, and one for the initiated. The first was clear and unveiled, the second was symbolic and enigmatic. In order to achieve mastery of this universe, a person has to discover the veiled meaning of numbers hidden in all things.

I have often wondered if we could hypothetically peer into the mind of the Grand Geometrician, and the veil was lifted, what design would we see?

The Grand Design

Perhaps we would see how the Master Builder has ordered all things by measure and number and weight. Throughout the structure of the universe the properties of number are manifested. Geometry is fundamental to the work of the masonic builders. It is engaged with the first configurations of the Plan upon which the form is erected and the idea materialized.

Examining numbers symbolically, they represent more than quantities; they also have qualities. Brother H. P. Blavatsky in the “Secret Doctrine” tells us the numbers are entities. They are mysterious. They are essential to all forms. They are to be found in the realm of essential consciousness. They are clues to our evolution.

Blavatsky emphasizes that the study of numbers is not only a way of understanding nature, but it is also a means of turning the mind away from the physical world which Pythagoras held to be transitory and unreal, leading to the contemplation of the “real.”

Personally, I find that the masonic teachings in all their many symbolic forms a good way to study numbers. The reason I continually come back to Pythagorean philosophy is the tradition of music theory. In music, the Divine patterns of the Grand Geometrician are expressed in musical ratios. Harmony through sound, therefore, can be applied to all phenomena of nature, even going so far as to demonstrate the harmonic relationship of the planets, constellations, elements and everything, really. The reason being that all life vibrates, like the string. Tetractys Portal

Why do Freemasons connect the dots? Like many symbols, the tetractys can lead a craftsman down a rabbit hole of self-discovery. By rabbit hole, I mean a portal into a mysterious and infinite wonderland of formulas filled with beauty, confusion and intrigue – a place to encounter all sorts of adventures with concepts beyond our wildest dreams that keeps us coming back for more.

“The more deeply we study the processes of nature the greater in every direction becomes our admiration for the wonderful work of Him who made it all.”

– C.W. Leadbeader


Note: The full Prestonian Lecture on the Tetractys and Masonic Geometry can be referenced in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Volume 83.

Service: Why Do We Help?

Service: Why Do We Help?

If you were to ask five different people of five different belief systems why it’s important to serve others, you’d probably get five somewhat different answers. For instance, a Hindu might say that it will accrue positive karma, a Christian that it’s to spread the love of Christ, and perhaps a scientific atheist might say that it simply reduces the amount of suffering in the world, and that is reason enough.

The teaching that we should serve others is almost universal in the various religions and wisdom teachings of mankind, although their stated reasons may vary, as one might expect. To most of us, it seems obvious that it is good to serve others, to help those in need. But as Freemasons, what is our explanation? Why do we help?

Freemasonry defines itself as an organization based on service to humanity, and masons throughout history have spoken on the subject of service to humanity extensively, and focused heavily on both charity and enlightenment. As with every other philosophy or belief system, our perspective on service is deeply rooted in the masonic perspective on humanity’s essential nature, and destiny.

An important caveat is necessary, here: technically, there is no single “masonic perspective,” because each mason chooses for him or herself how they think about any given topic. Freemasonry is a fellowship among truth-seekers, not an orthodox belief system. Therefore, the ideas presented here are in no sense meant to be understood as universally accepted by all masons.

The Vector of Human Evolution

888695607In Freemasonry, and the Western esoteric traditions in general, we do generally have a particular perspective on humanity’s purpose. We do not typically view it in the way that some religions might, which is often the idea that humanity was created merely to worship and please a deity, nor do we generally believe that humanity’s existence is randomly purposeless, a chance occurrence in an otherwise dead and meaningless universe, as might those skeptics who believe only what science can prove.

One of the most deeply-held core values of freemasonry is that humanity does in fact have a teleological vector, which is a fancy philosophical way of saying that we believe humanity has a purpose, a trajectory, an inherent potential which each and all of us are in the process of unfolding. We may have differing ideas about what that purpose entails, or what its ultimate goal is, but the common thread is that we believe a process is taking place which involves a perfecting or evolution of each person, so that we eventually become something more and better than what we were before, both individually and collectively.

In fact, it is this vector which underlies the current and overall purpose of Freemasonry. This is one understanding of what we term The Great Work, the progression towards the highest potential in the self, and in humanity as a whole.

Service in Context

So, what does all of this have to do with service, you might ask?

images-5If we believe that all people have this higher potential which is yet to be unfolded, then our chief task in this world must be to unfurl it in our self, as well as to do whatever possible to help the people we come into contact with to do the same. In other words, to catalyze and cultivate the process of human evolution towards our destiny. That is my attempt to encapsulate the essence of service, from the perspective of the esoteric wisdom teachings.

When most people think of service and charity, they probably wouldn’t think about contributing to our evolutionary process. We might simply think it’s the “right thing to do,” or that our compassion simply compels us to do so. People are suffering, so we do what we can to provide relief; many people are lacking in knowledge, so we do what we can to provide insight and enlightenment. If we are able, we help those who are not able. For many, it feels almost written into our DNA. Why do we need an explanation?

These reasons are good enough, insomuch as they spur us to action. However, in my opinion, the best possible understanding of the purpose of service must necessarily be embedded in, and in alignment with the purpose of our entire existence. To me, there is value in seeing things in the larger context of what we ultimately believe about ourselves, our species, and the universe itself.

Climbing the Pyramid

Any of us who are blessed enough to have found some measure of spiritual awakening in this life find ourselves in a peculiar situation, in respect to our relationship with the rest of humanity.

It is a fact of life, and has been for as long as there have been those who wake up to some degree, that the majority of humans exist in a state of confusion and suffering. This suffering is not purely economic, although poverty is a real problem. Those who have their basic needs taken care of, or even those who live in lavish luxury, can and do still suffer a great deal on an emotional, social, and soul level. And this is precisely the state which we ourselves seek to extricate ourselves from.

Yet, we know from the understandings handed down to us from various wisdom teachings that each of those confused and suffering people contains a divine spark, and the potential to ignite that spark, and transmute their suffering, thereby transforming into a vibrant, soulful, and purposeful human being. Whether we know it or not, I believe that this is the ultimate purpose of service, not simply to reduce suffering to reach some state of equilibrium, but to free up resources to realize a higher potential in each person.

1579917_origMany readers will be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, perhaps from Psychology 101. For those who aren’t familiar, it is a model of human needs which arranges them in a pyramidal structure, grouped into levels, each needing to be satisfied before the next level can be advanced. At the base are the most basic, biological needs, and they transition up the pyramid into emotional and social needs, with the capstone being self-realization, the fulfillment of some transcendent purpose that is beyond all the others below it. The key idea is that one must take care of the needs in sequence, from bottom to top. If the basic needs are not addressed, the higher needs will remain unfulfilled.

So, if the capstone of that pyramid is equivalent to the destiny towards which we are moving, and which we hope to assist all of humanity in achieving, then helping those around us means helping them move beyond the level where they currently exist. For those whose basic needs still are unsatisfied, we would not necessarily hand the deepest teachings of soul wisdom. It may simply be that they need food to eat or a roof over their head. For yet others, mental/emotional stability may be their current requirement. Yet, in all of these, the reason we help is the movement towards that capstone of ultimate good, even transcendence.

In this way, if we wish to be good servants to our Creator and our fellows, it’s helpful to first be able to recognize which service is required, depending on where that person is at, and how we are best equipped to provide it. This begins with a concrete conceptual model of the hierarchy of needs, as well as the ultimate goal.

Tending the Garden

400017260I find the garden to be a useful metaphor both in inner work, as well as work with other people. To me, the relationship between those who wish to serve a higher purpose and the rest of life and humanity is similar to the relationship of a gardener to a garden. In this vein, we are not the sole rescuers or providers of the essential life processes. Rather, we should best view ourselves as Life’s humble and equanimous attendants.

We cannot make the garden grow, the flowers blossom, or the vegetables ripen, but we can water them, prune them, prop them up when they have fallen, and dig out the weeds. If more of us are wise, conscientious, and faithful stewards, then the garden of human civilization will be more sweet with the scent of compassion, bright with the colors of inspired expression, and fulfilling with the fruits of human self-actualization.

 

The Freemason’s Words: Can the Secrets be Googled?

The Freemason’s Words: Can the Secrets be Googled?

In a discussion with a few masonic friends recently, someone asked the question:  Why are oral traditions fading away? One could dispute the premise. Still, I think the brother was onto something.  Are oral traditions still relevant? Are they slowly being replaced with technology?

In its plainest form, an oral tradition is information passed down through the generations by word of mouth that is not written.  Examples might be legends, stories, proverbs, riddles and so on. Certain modes of recognition, including masonic words and passwords are considered part of the oral tradition in Freemasonry.

Where did masonic customs originate?  The tradition becomes more understandable if we look back before the 1600’s. At that time, masonic lodges were stonemasons’ guilds of builders whose “secrets” concerned how to construct buildings. The hidden modes of1Modes of Recognition recognition, whether they were certain passwords or handshakes, were a way to identify an impostor passing himself off as the real thing. The “operative” masons were artisans that were the best at their craft. 

For reasons that are still not entirely clear, lodges evolved from “operative” to “speculative” builders. The “speculative” masons were different in that they became more interested in arcane studies. Their secrets were no longer building trade secrets but based on moral and philosophical concepts. When Masonry identified itself as a speculative craft, it placed the meanings of its allegories and symbols within a realm that is more esoteric.

Some say that these more esoteric secrets were inspired from ancient traditions – such as  Rosicrucianism, Gnosticism, or Hermeticism – however the theory is hotly debated. An opposite view is that the passwords in freemasonry are not meaningful at all.  They are not particularly earth-shattering, nor are they exactly secret. I have heard many times recently – “just google them.”

This current debate begs the question. When it comes to a mason’s words, are they a meaningless carry-over from former times? Or to the contrary, do they have some An_encyclopaedia_of_freemasonry_and_its_kindred_sciences_-_comprising_the_whole_range_of_arts,_sciences_and_literature_as_connected_with_the_institution_(1887)_(14762810774)deeper significance for masons today?

Definitions by Albert G. Mackey

Usually when I have a question or questions that I have been wondering about, I must confess I use any resource available, including the internet to research that topic and related topics. At the same time, I am very careful. There are many things that I will read “everyone knows” that are simply untrue. It is amazing how many things fit this category.

Often when confronted with some sort of puzzle in masonic research I go to Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. In this case, he lays out some very interesting distinctions between the various kinds of masonic words.

Mackey gives several different definitions – 

  1. Recognition Word: Identifies one brother to another as a means of recognition.
  2. Lost Word: Relates to the mythical history of a venerated lost word in which a temporary word was substituted.
  3. Sacred Word: Applies to the unique word of each degree, to indicate its peculiarly sacred character.
  4. Significant Word: Used as a word that is equivalent to a sign in each degree of the craft.
  5. True Word: Indicates a symbol of Divine Truth.

As you can easily see, he illustrates a hierarchy of words.  Some words, like recognition words, are more matter of fact, the ones that can be transmitted mouth to ear.  But other words, like the True Word are more mysterious. The True Word, he says, is the most philosophic and sublime.

The Word becomes the symbol of Divine Truth, the loss of which and the search for it constitute the whole system of Speculative Freemasonry.  ~ Bro. Albert Mackey 

Is it possible, then, that the real secrets of Masonry cannot be heard by the ear or uttered in words? If this is true, where are the secrets hidden?8097861684_b0d6213661_z

When faced with deep philosophical questions it’s sometimes nice to look at old allegories for wisdom. Here’s one of my favorites.

Man’s Divinity: Where to Hide the Stolen Jewel?

There was a time in the history of the race when the gods stole from man his divinity, and meeting in a high conclave, sought to decide where to hide that which they had stolen.

One god suggested that they hide it on another planet, for there man could not find it, but another god arose and said that man was innately a great traveler and they had no guarantee that, eventually, he might not find his way there. 

“Let us,” he said, “hide it in the depths of the sea, at the bottom of the ocean for there it will be safe.” 

But again, a dissenting voice was heart, and it was pointed out that man was great natural investigator, and that he might someday succeed in penetrating to the deepest depths, as well, as the greatest heights.

(As you might suspect, the problematic discussion ends with one member of the conclave suggesting as the final hiding place the following location…)

“Let us hide the stolen jewel of man’s divinity within himself, for there he will never look for it.”* 


The Secrets of True Masonry

Sometimes when we think of The Craft, we only think of meetings, dues, minutes, and rituals, etc. True Masonry, however, is a system of enlightenment. It is a quest for the hidden within us, the precious jewel. The Lodge is a bastion of virtue. Add to this the desire to live the high principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. Then add the passion for creativity to make the “builder’s art” truly artistic through the Arts and Sciences.

BEHOLD!  You have found the true secrets of Masonry.


Like all the things most worth knowing, no one can know it for another, and no one can 330px-Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatourknow it alone. It is known only in fellowship – by the touch of life upon life, hand to hand, breast to breast, spirit upon spirit.

The secrets are a way for Masons to bond with another. It’s something we all share together. Each person knows “The Word” according to his own quest and capacity.

Humanity has always been filled with curiosity about things unknown or unseen.  I like to think that oral traditions have not disappeared. Their settings may change, but their power and use remain.

Can the secrets be Googled? Sure, you may find some interesting facts about the Craft. In the end, however, the best hiding places for the mason’s mysteries are where we least expect them.

The attentive ear receives the sound from the instructive tongue, and the mysteries of Freemasonry are safely lodged in the repository of faithful breasts. ~ Masonic Monitor


*Note: The ancient allegory can be referenced in Foster Bailey’s Spirit of Masonry.

Can You Make the Climb?

Can You Make the Climb?

The Three Initiates, who authored the book The Kybalion, speak of seven Hermetic principles that guide the Universe. One of those principles is the Law of Polarity. In brief, this law says that qualities such as love and hate, fear and confusion, etc. are truly the same quality of life that differs only in gradient.

The Kybalion uses a great exemplar when it mentions hot and cold. There is no scientific line drawing thethe kybalion thermometer in half saying, “any object who measures above this number is hot and any that falls below is cold.”

There is no more a line for hot and cold as there is for any pair of opposites. This may be a strange thing, but try it for yourself. Take a particular vice and locate its virtue. Now try to see if you can find a concrete division between the two. When does the vice become a virtue? When does the virtue move into its vice? Finding the changing point is much harder than realized. It is much akin to trying draw a physical line on the ground for when you first clear the fog. Near impossible.

Now ask yourself what the “opposite” of Science is, and my bet is you will say Religion. Most do. Why? Because it seems that Religion is the other pole to a fundamental principle pendulum. These two are a particular expression of the greater idea of Knowledge.

Let’s us apply the Law of Polarity to Religion and Science. Imagine yourself on a small newton-s-cradle-balls-sphere-action-60582silver ball that is tied to a string and that string is swinging towards one pole, then the other, and then back again. Continually moving in this way. There is sort of an exhilaration to it, yes? Swinging back and forth hearing the cacophony of arguments rushing in our ears. The adrenaline of this rhythmic movement plays the background music of the constant Science-Religion debate, enticing us to stay; however, it is time we stand up to temptation.

There are several problems that plague this never-ending battle between Science and Religion. One of the problems (and there are many) is the great misunderstanding of the purpose of Science. There are those on both sides who claim that Science is in pursuit of Truth, but this is simply not so. Unfortunately, the philosophy of science is not a common topic at parties or dinner tables (or many science classrooms); so the masses are mostly unaware of the purpose of Science. Don’t worry such discussions didn’t exist at my dinner table either.

To be clear, Science is not in the pursuit of Truth, and true Science, unadulterated Science. will never be. The very foundational reasoning behind it precludes this possibility. Rather, Science is in the pursuit of understanding. It wants to understand how your genetic sequence works, the health affects of that coffee you are drinking, and how to make the plastic you use safer. Science is looking to improve its understanding with every new discovery, and it is rightfully unapologetic in doing so. The late Richard Feynman said Science can only tell you how a thing works, not why it works.

Truth requires more than just knowing the how. It requires so much more. There is a freedom to not being the custodian of Truth, and we should liberate our misconceptionsSimilarities-Between-Science-and-Religion of Science as that custodian.

The debate between Science and Religion will most likely never end. The pendulum will always swing; we cannot get off this particular ride. Hate won’t do it; apathy especially won’t. But that doesn’t mean we have to engage in the incivility that cloaks ignorance occurring on both sides.

Let us do what The Kybalion speaks to. Climb up. Climb the string so that we are swayed less by misquoted “facts” and down right mud-slinging. The climb isn’t difficult.

Pick up a book, read more than one article and from different points of view, but most of all ask questions and speak less. Science has ever been the observer, the person in the field looking up at the night sky asking why – not hollering the question at his neighbor. Human beings seek. We have all our existence, and what better place to best see the landscape than at the highest point of the pendulum? At the top of the string.

The Sun as a Symbol in Freemasonry: What is it trying to tell us?

The Sun as a Symbol in Freemasonry: What is it trying to tell us?

“There is nothing so indestructible as a symbol, but nothing is capable of so many interpretations.”  –  Count Goblet d’Alviella

What does a symbol have to do with you or me? Well, it’s possible that it doesn’t have anything to do with us.  On the other hand, the meaning behind a symbol just might be pretty significant. To know what a symbol means (or at least what we think they means) is one of the important speculative studies in Freemasonry. The teachings of the craft are said to be “illustrated by symbols.”

What are symbols? The definition of a symbol is something that represents something else through resemblance or association.  As the well-known saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words! There are everyday symbols and then there are the more universal and esoteric symbols which we are mainly concerned with as Freemasons.

Esoteric symbols are those with a hidden meaning. They have been used throughout time in the great spiritual traditions to guide seekers after truth. Esoteric symbols both conceal and reveal the truth.

For example, I consider myself to be a seeker of truth.  The other day, I chanced upon the following passage about the esoteric symbol of the sun.  It set me thinking on a number of different levels:

“The blazing star, or glory in the center, refers us to the sun, which enlightens the earth with its refulgent rays, dispensing its blessings to mankind at large and giving light and life to all things here below.” – Masonic Lectures

little23915567_706115002931639_2286788907160304511_nWhat are we to make of this statement? Why would the blazing star, usually depicted as a five-pointed star, be a symbol of a sun, too?  And if it is, what is different about this sun?

While the answers to these questions remain a mystery, some of us may know that the blazing star makes its appearance in several of the masonic degrees, and the pieces to the puzzle reveal more of the secrets at each stage.

How, then, do you study a symbol? How do you know if what you are interpreting is truth?

A Symbol: Exoteric, Conceptual, and Esoteric

I have found with symbols, it’s possible to go overboard with analysis.  Especially as Freemasons, we love to “speculate.”  We open the whole thing for scrutiny and dissect every little piece to see where it leads.  We use lots of words while trying to nail things down: “This means this” and “that means that.”

Unfortunately, in my opinion, when we over-analyze, especially early on, we may unintentionally rob the symbol of its power. In the end, we may have analyzed it to death.

The good news.

resizedimages (1)The process of symbolic analysis, while wrought with paradox, is actually doing something beneficial to the mind.  The best summary of this idea I found in a theosophical article of the Beacon Magazine (1939) written by Alice Bailey. The article details how the mind is actually being trained when we study symbolism.

Bailey gives three ways that a mind can analyze any symbol.

  1. Exoterically: This concerns the concrete or objective appearance, its form and structure.
  2. Conceptually: This concerns the concept or idea which the sign or symbol embodies.
  3. Esoterically: This concerns the energy or feeling that you register from the symbol.

Studying a symbol in three ways, she says, is activating the mental mechanism on all three levels: concrete mind (exoteric), higher mind or reasoning (conceptual) and the intuitional mind (esoteric). The goal is to arrive at a synthetic concept.

Why does the process matter?  Bailey says that practical work with symbols over time serves to bring a student closer to truth.  It lifts an individual out of their emotions; it develops clarity of perception; it energizes the mental life; it shifts the focus and attention and consciousness out of the world of illusion into the world of ideas.   How then could Freemasons apply this technique?

Let’s take an example.

Freemasonry: The Point within a Circle 

bigcircumpunct-symbolThe sun is often symbolized by a symbol called the circumpunct.  For those of you who’ve read the novel by Dan Brown called The Lost Symbol, you probably are familiar with what a circumpunct is.  For those who aren’t familiar, it’s simply a point within a circle.

There are hundreds of things the circumpunct can represent, anywhere from the “Eye of God” to the “Google Chrome” icon that I use to launch my search engine.  Using the Bailey technique, the circumpunct could be studied and reflected upon by an inquiring student and hopefully, after a little while, reveal a synthetic understanding of what it means.

Freemasons for centuries have taken a stab at analyzing the circumpunct.

W.L. Wilmshurst, for example, says this:

 “As the sun is the centre and life-giver of our solar system and controls and feeds with life the planets circling round it, so at the secret centre of individual human life exists a vital, immortal principle, the spirit and the spiritual will of man. This is the faculty, by using which (when we have found it) we can never err.”

In other words, Wilmshurst (and many other masonic scholars) see the point within a circle to be where we, as Freemasons, stand.  It is the point from which we cannot err. The point is timeless, eternal, subjective, immeasurable, invisible, absolute. For these reasons, it is often attributed to Deity and the Sun.

big Slades masonic manAs Freemasons, the study of symbols helps us to make sense of ourselves in relation to the universe. Planetary symbols such as the sun, moon, stars, and blazing stars inspire the contemplative mind to soar aloft and read the wisdom, strength and beauty of the Great Creator in the heavens. They challenge us to dig deeper on matters of eternal significance.

Sun or blazing star?  I’ve learned there seems to be a certain humility in recognizing that we may never fully understand a symbol in a complete way, one that allows us to cross it off the list and totally explain its meaning.

How do you know if what you interpret in symbols is true? Perhaps the better question might be:

Where is it true?

If I may,

“Truth is within ourselves. It takes no rise

From outward things, whate’er you may believe.

There is an inmost centre in ourselves,

Where truth abides in fullness…

– Robert Browning


Note: The last image is an engraving by Alexander Slade dated 1754,  titled “A Free Mason Form’d Out of the Material of his Lodge.” For further study, see the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.

 

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

The Socratic Method: Does It Lead A Mason From Darkness To Light?

“I can’t teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” 

So says Socrates, a great thinker of his time in Ancient Greece. He was known for educating his disciples by asking questions and thereby drawing out answers from them, called the Socratic method. The goal was to nudge people to examine their own beliefs, instead of unthinkingly inheriting opinions from others. The approach was a way for his students to find the truth of anything. Thinkers have venerated the method ever since. It really worked for the Greeks.

I have always had a fascination with Greek culture. I particularly enjoy studying Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. I also admit to getting lost in Greek mythology at times, enjoying Greek food, and have always secretly wished that I could dance like a Greek goddess.

Given the above, it seems only reasonable I should find myself honing in on Socrates. Mind you, I am no authority on the great ones of the ancient past, other than being humbled by their wisdom and insight. Socrates is for me the most interesting of the three: a perspective I am sure many might agree and equally as many might disagree.

There are two statements that Socrates made that I found particularly thought-provoking. 

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.”

The first quote that starts, “To know, is to know that you know nothing” is a paradox right off the bat. Yet, instinctively, somehow, I understand the entire point and it makes sense even while being a total paradox! And the second quote struck me as so linked and interrelated to the first one. One would be hard pressed to assert one carries more11873522964_9cb8eb5a44_b weight than the other or to even think about them separately. 

How can we know what we don’t know? Does the Socratic method offer us a technique to advance towards the light of true knowledge? 

Plato’s Dialogue: It’s About the Questioning

Socrates said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In other words, question everything. I recently read the statistic that children through the ages 2-5 ask roughly 40,000 questions. I have wondered why, as we go through into adulthood, the number of questions we ask drops significantly. 

We know through the writings of Plato, the student of Socrates, that he was often quizzed by his teacher about deeper realities. Red Rose in the GardenIn “Plato’s Dialogues,” we can read short works in which Plato recreates various conversations Socrates had with another student. And thus, we get a really good idea of the Socratic method. 

The style of a Platonic dialogue may go something like this:

Q: “What color is the rose in the garden?”
A: “The rose in the garden is red.”
Q:”Is this rose still red to a blind person?”
A: No.
Q: “So you are saying the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “What color would it be to a blind person? Would it be pink or white or some other color?”
A: (No answer – student is bewildered).
Q: “So the rose is red only to those who can see.”
A: Yes.
Q: “If the rose in the garden is where no one can see it, is it still red?”
A: (No answer – further bewilderment).

And so on. The questioner might end up forcing a realization in the student of how color only exists in a person’s mind as a result of their perception; it isn’t actually a property of the rose. In other words, the rose is not red.

Socrates believed there were two ways to come to knowledge: through discovery and by being taught. To be taught presupposes that someone else has discovered the truth for you. He thought for his disciples to really know a subject, they should form their own beliefs and experience their own blind alleys and realizations.tunnel-2033983_960_720

How does this idea of discovery relate to the path of a Freemason? 

From Darkness to Light

Every Freemason is on a quest to discover his “true self.”  He is taught the importance of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which logic is one of them. The study of critical thinking and reasoning allows the Freemason to look beyond mere perception and dogma in the search for truth. In this way, it is possible to forge a path to moral, scientific, and philosophical enlightenment. “To know nothing” is leaning into the next moment, wondering what you are going to find. It is a form of being blindfolded or hoodwinked, waiting for more light. 

It was in Freemasonry that I really learned to embrace the journey from darkness to light, to become a friend of the Socratic method, and learn to be humble in what I don’t know. When I first joined, a poor blind candidate, I was asked probing questions about the First Degree. Questions like, “What does it mean to know thyself?” and “Is truth absolute or relative?” I was asked to explore the relationships among concepts and ideas. For example, I had to compare two types of symbols and to explain how they are similar, how they are different, or evaluate the meanings of each. 

Over the many masonic degrees, my mentors have pointed me in the direction of truth only to glorify the beauty of the group vision and the image of enlightenment. 

The Freemason W.L. Wilmshurst said:

“Truth, whether as expressed in Masonry or otherwise, is at all times an open secret, but is as a pillar of light to those able to receive and profit by it, and to all others but one of darkness and unintelligibility.”

I think he is saying that truth is a mysterious something that is sensed, even though the truthrational mind may try to discredit it. The ability to sense this invitation to truth, even when the path is dark and hidden, is perhaps the most important lesson to consider here. “The future I do not see. One step enough for me.” 

My takeaway from the Socratic method is this: Remember how little you know, question everything, and keep your mind open to other possibilities. If all goes well, truth is our travel companion from darkness to light.  What do you ask for? 

Service: Who Do We Expect To Change The World?

Service: Who Do We Expect To Change The World?

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”  ~ Albert Einstein

How many of us have marveled at the courage and self-sacrifice made by a soldier saving comrades in battle or a rescue worker who has saved families from the peril of fire, flood and earthquakes. These brave souls run in to danger when all others run away from it. What is that special code of service that these rescuers live by?

I realize that firefighters, police and soldiers receive special training to face these perils, but there must also be a strong inner calling to serve humanity within these devoted360_sf_earthquake_1014 men and women, or they would have chosen other occupations. We have also heard stories of heroic behavior by ordinary citizens during catastrophes.

I recall after the earthquake in California on October 17, 1989 how the community I lived in became so cooperative and courteous with one another, looking out for each other’s welfare. “Life as usual” ended and many citizens were shocked out of their normal complacency. Instead, they moved to help others in greater danger, without thought of self.

Although life does not ask most of us to save lives from physical peril, we are all given opportunities every day to make a difference in the world. I constantly hear complaints about how the world is going in the wrong direction, politics is corrupt, food is poisoned, climate Running for Officechange is the fault of humanity, immigrants are being treated unfairly, etc.

Who is it that we expect will change the world?

We may not be able to change political corruption in an instant, but with patience and grooming future leaders, we could individually support new leaders who value the ideals that we hold dear. We could even groom ourselves as leaders for governmental office!

We may not be able to fight against the greed of corporations on our own, but we can support local organic farmers or grow our own gardens. We may not be able to combat all of climate change, but we can reduce our own carbon footprint and encourage others in our community to do the same.

Being an example to others seems to be the best way to teach. We can be a light of inspiration for those needing motivation and the light of tolerance for those feeling judged; we can offerBrother Winston Churchill our arms to hold another when they need comfort and solace; we can donate money, clothing, food, or employment to those in distress.

We can provide encouragement – to our brother who has fallen – that today is a new day. He or she can do better and even greater things starting right now; for whatever we sow today, we will reap tomorrow.

We may not be able to save the entire world. We can, however, start noticing what demands our attention during the day, and act when that still, small voice within says:

“It is your service that is urgently needed at this moment.”

 

Freemasonry: Is Architecture Frozen Music?

Freemasonry: Is Architecture Frozen Music?

At the end of a recent Scottish Rite workshop, and after one of the most incredible weeks of my life, I felt inspired and nourished with the treasures that only the craft of Freemasonry can offer. I jumped in the car and set off on my long drive home. My thoughts were tuned to philosophy, art, and music. I contemplated how a beautiful masonic temple is a work of art, a finely tuned instrument, a Stradivarius if you like. I had just been a part of something special; freemasonry, philosophy and art teaming up together in my world for the love of beauty.

So far so good.

But then the quote, supposedly of Goethe, crossed my mind, “Architecture is frozen music.”

Now, I like Goethe very much. He was certainly a profound thinker, contrasting the way architecture and music impact our minds. He gives you a sense of what is greater than ourselves, what transcends our lives. I appreciate the philosophical perspective. But, at the time I was thinking with my snobbish musical mind that he got this one terribly wrong.

What about the reverse? If architecture is frozen music, does that mean music is liquid architecture?

Tomar knights templarYou certainly wouldn’t say that musical notes written on a piece of paper is a complete definition of music. Of course not! A written melody is perhaps one of the necessary components for a musical experience. But we also need a musician who can read the notes and have the skill to perform on an instrument. We need an occasion for this music to be played. Don’t forget we need those listeners who can undergo the musical experience. All these factors come together in a synergistic manner to make up what we might call music.

Are you telling me that music is liquid architecture?

I don’t buy it. Music is a complicated affair needing a host of ingredients working merrily together to transport us into a state of musical rapture. Is Goethe telling me that architecture requires all this movement to be frozen still? How could Goethe be so wrong?

What Goethe really said

Well, as it turns out Goethe’s analogy between architecture and music actually extends much further. A little bit of research revealed to me that the popular cliché has become distorted over time.  “Frozen music” might even be the most misleading definition of architecture around.

Goethe definitely said this in Conversations with Eckermann:

“I have found a paper of mine among some others, in which I call architecture ‘petrified music.’ Really there is something in this; the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music.”

What I think is the most important part of this statement is that Goethe was suggesting that architecture produces the same “tone” or effect in your mind as music.  The point he is making is about the mind.

Let me expand on my interpretation of his philosophy.  If this is an act of arrogance then I apologize, but for all my love of Goethe, my loyalty is to truth and art.

1200px-Music_lesson_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2421Goethe’s idea suggests something about the creative process of the mind and the human need to express something.  What would a building sound like if the architect had been a composer?  He would be using vibrations as the medium of expression instead of lines and shapes. It could be said that the musician “composes” using vibrations, the scientist “invents” with formulas, the painter “paints” with color and design, and so on. A thought-form is created. There is a universal theme of mental expression underscoring all creative disciplines.

It is the special skill of the creative worker and the space in which they create that causes a living architecture.  These factors make the air molecules vibrate in such a way that this soup of pulsating molecules works upon our minds, even after the creative worker has completed his architecture.  We might call it a thought-form, a musical idea, that continues to exist.  

Freemasonry: The Creative Workshop

Freemasons are always looking for connections between music, architecture, geometry, proportion, and how such tools can be used to transform society. Music doesn’t use windows or columns and architecture doesn’t use melodies or notes. For most of us such obvious differences would seem to eliminate any possible similarity between them. But wait! If we use the idea that any artistic expression is a creative process of mind then we get a very different picture. 

St. Thomas Aquinas has said:

“Music is the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal, bursting forth in sound.”

finalstairway-to-heaven-chords (3)How can a Freemason achieve that exaltation of the mind? I have a couple thoughts on this. First, there is an acceptance of the possibility of a more evolved world, and second there is an experience of a change in our state of being as we become aware of that better world. 

Temples and buildings of great architecture are designed to build a bridge between this world and that. There is something musical that pulsates and glows inside them, inside the architecture, some dancing molecules that converge as a product of all the thoughtful labor that has been conducted until that point in time.

I should point out that in a masonic temple there are no blurred boundaries between participant and observer. Everyone has an active role in building the edifice. 

Architecture. Music. And the relationship between them is….? I’m not sure, but the obvious thing that springs into my mind is that the experience of a beautiful building might in some ways equate with the experience of a beautiful piece of music. The architecture inside the Lodge inspires the Freemason outside the lodge to become a better Master Craftsman in the mighty workshop of the Lord. 

Each Mason must be a builder; he is a workman under the direction of a Great Architect, who is planning a marvelous edifice, which is the Grand Lodge above, the perfect universe. To the building of this perfect edifice, each Mason must bring his stone, his perfect ashlar, perfect because it has been tested and proved true by the plumb, by the level and by the square.”

~ Brother C. Jinarajadasa, Ideals of Freemasonry

Censing in Freemasonry: Practical or Symbolic?

Censing in Freemasonry: Practical or Symbolic?

The act of censing has been said to create a pleasing and purified ritual space.  There is nothing quite as inspiring as walking in to a sacred place and being hit by the smell of lovely incense, which immediately transports us into a more reverent state of mind.  What are the reasons censing is important, or is it?

The Rite of Censing came before, most, if not all, the current concepts of religion. It is said to have originated from a distant past when men worshiped the sun and other fiery forces of nature. Most researchers agree that there is a connecting link between the use of incense in the ancient mysteries of the past, and the speculative Freemasonry of the present day, for those lodges who use incense. From what I have read, this connection can be fairly well traced by archaeologists.  However, there is less agreement on why it is important.

Is censing and the use of incense in ritual more practical or symbolic today?

I recently read an interesting book called “A history of the use of incense in divine worship” (1909) by Cuthbert Atchley.   It contains a rather unique and objective history of censing within ritual, both pre-Christian and Christian. I especially enjoyed the section explaining various Egyptian ceremonials.  However, I was somewhat disappointed when I finally arrived at the end of the book to hear researcher Atchley’s conclusions:

“The ultimate basis of all use of incense in the Church is its pleasant odour; that is, it is fumigatory.  The more superficial reasons are what are called ceremonial.”

In other words, he is saying that the main use of censing and incense is for “deodorant” purposes, to mask awful smells and the stink of decaying bodies, and so on. He says that any connection to ceremonial purposes is “superficial.” While I might be somewhat forgiving because the book was written over a century ago, the thinking underlying still seems flawed, in my mind at least.

If something did have a practical origin at some point in time, does that mean that any symbolic value is of no account? Following from that, should it be done away withNeff_Angel accordingly?  It seems to me that this fails to think deeply enough about the nature and function of ritual and ceremony – no matter what century we are talking about.

Practical Origins

It is true that many of the early uses of incense were practical and operative. For example, the fragrance obscured odors, and was aesthetically pleasing. There existed a mystical healing art hidden surrounding the use of certain incenses. Ancient Egyptians (3000 BC) practiced medicine with aromatic plants and even went so far as to establish astrological relationships for them.  There are many pictures that can be seen where a Pharaoh is depicted with a censer casting the incense. Each civilization, throughout the ages have all added their own contribution to this handed down practical knowledge. 

Over time, the burning of incense formed a link to spirituality in a speculative sense when it was offered to the gods alongside sacrifices and prayer. Incense is mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The psalmist expresses the symbolism of incense and prayer:

“Let my prayer rise like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:1)

What the ancients knew intuitively, science has verified today.  Of all of the five senses, the sense of smell is most strongly connected to the areas of the brain that process memory.  Even the smallest hint of a fragrance that you had previously associated with a certain place can bring you back to there in moments.  Incense, then, is a way to tap the mind quickly and with a great deal of exactitude.  Certain combinations of aromas can quickly adjust not only the atmosphere of the room but the atmosphere of the emotions Temple Censingand mind. Knowing all this, how, then, is censing significant in Freemasonry?

A Symbolic Perspective from C.W. Leadbeater

Freemason Charles W. Leadbeater placed a great deal of importance on the ceremonial value of censing in his book “The Hidden Life in Freemasonry.” He said that the entire process of censing in a Masonic Lodge is meant to prepare and purify. It provides an atmosphere of solemnity and due introspection. He explains that the ceremony of censing, being a vortical movement, is connected with the way in which the Great Architect has constructed the universe.

Leadbeater writes:

“In the movements made and in the plan of the Lodge were enshrined some of the great principles on which that universe had been built.”

He thought the censing ritual to be significant giving four main reasons:

  1. Raises the vibration of the lodge.
  2. Unifies the lodge members in thought.
  3. Bridges the inner worlds with the outer.
  4. Lifts and aids the candidate.Buddha censing

Leadbeater’s premise is that the basis of any ritual is intent. The intentional thoughts of the members set the purpose and vision for the ritual. The lodge work concerns lifting and raising humanity from the human to the spiritual kingdom. The Craft performed is therefore applied to the mastery of the forces of one’s own nature, whereby “that which is below” may become truly and accurately aligned with “that which is above.”

He says:

“The time has come when men are beginning to see that life is full of invisible influences, whose value can be recognized by sensitive people. The effect of incense is an instance of this class of phenomena… each of which vibrates at its own rate and has its own value.”

Any of us who has experienced censing may have a different opinion of what it means. Practical or symbolic? Perhaps both?  For myself, censing kindles a wonderment at the eternal mystery of an all-knowing Deity, whom we have not seen and cannot yet see clearly. Our human vision is not suited to that. The smoke obscures the air briefly. It is salutary for us to be reminded every now and again that our concept of the Most High is always incomplete, inadequate; that he is other, transcendent, and holy.

The Masonic Pursuit of Freedom

The Masonic Pursuit of Freedom

What makes a Freemason free? I started brooding over this question one day when wondering which word is better to use, “Freemason” or “mason.” Is one term more correct? Historically, the distinction is said to be a carry-over from the medieval period of the stone masons. In a grammatical sense, both terms are used interchangeably today. Like any word, I guess you can speculate more about their deeper meanings, if you are so inspired.

Anyway, as sometimes happens, a smaller question led to bigger ones. 

What is freedom? How is it important to a Freemason?

The concept of freedom is difficult to understand because it can work in mysterious ways from within out; it is not imposed from the outside. Rosa Parks was not protesting so that she could be free, nor was Mahatma Gandhi in prison waiting for someone to anoint him with an elixir of freedom. In their hearts and minds. they were already free!

Freedom means many things to different people. Some philosophers call freedom a principle, a law, or a right. It can be defined from various perspectives like economic, social, political or religious. Freedom has also been said to be a state of mind or even a state of being when a person is liberated from the “tomb of matter.” There are a select few who don’t believe it exists at all.

Regardless of how we define it, most would agree that freedom is part of our approach to life. The very ideas such as freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and freedom of choice all have become the very water and air of our societies. These freedoms are highly prized.

The American Declaration of Independence tells us:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Is, then, the instinctual striving toward freedom and the pursuit of happiness inherent in all human beings?

The Pursuit of Happiness by Aristotle
man-1207687_960_720

The great philosophers in earlier centuries had a huge impact about how we think about these types of questions today. More than anyone else, Aristotle enshrined happiness as a central purpose of human life and a goal in itself. I read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics years ago before becoming a Freemason and adopted it as much of my own personal philosophy. In the lectures he presents a theory of happiness that has carried through all my years as a mason which says a lot.

Aristotle sought to answer the most fundamental questions you can ask yourself. What is the highest good of human existence? What is the highest good achievable by action?

Aristotle suggests that human existence is an activity of soul in accordance with virtue. To understand the nature of happiness or “eudaimonia,” as he called it, we must investigate the nature of virtue.

As Aristotle puts it:

“If happiness is in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us.”

Now, I thought the conclusion that Aristotle comes to after his lecture on virtue is very interesting. He says that none of the moral virtues are inherent in human nature. For example, the moral virtues, such as fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence, can only be attained through practice and habitual action. Essentially, his line of thinking is that happiness comes from virtue, and then virtue comes from  freedom of choice. He says that “to entrust to chance what is greatest and most noble would be a very defective arrangement.”

statue-of-liberty-1746808_960_720Choices, as he defines them, are the things that can be brought about by one’s own efforts. Responsible choices are the ones that provide the greatest good for the greatest number. The freedom of choice is an essential component in the formula to happiness and consequently to becoming more “free.”

Which aspects, then, of freedom are most immediately identifiable to a freemason?

The “Free” Mason

In the writings of Manly P. Hall, we find many ideas that are in sync with Aristotle. When a mason passes through the door of the Temple and takes his seat, he has made a choice to let his entire nature be subjected to a drastic discipline of ethical training. By development of virtues, he advances in the Craft.

Manly Hall writes in The Candidate:

“There comes a time in the growth of every living individual thing when it realizes with dawning consciousness that it is a prisoner. It is at this point that man cries out with greater insistence to be liberated from the binding ties which, though invisible to mortal eyes, still chain him with bonds far more terrible than those of any physical prison.”

soul-2698886_960_720One can only speculate what Hall meant by the binding ties that chain him. 

What is the candidate being liberated from? Perhaps it could be said that the candidate is a slave to his dogmas and ideologies. He may be further tainted by the dynamics of power and profit. When a person is liberated from the prisons of ignorance and vice, then the attainment of greater freedom is automatic. There’s a greater purpose to life than the egotistic individual who is running the show.

Hall writes again:

“The eternal prisoner awaits the day when, standing upon the rocks that now form His shapeless tomb, He may raise His arms to heaven, bathed in the sunlight of spiritual freedom, free to join the sparkling atoms and dancing light-beings released from the bonds of prison wall and tomb.”

As Hall expresses, to be released from the bonds of prison wall is not a simple task. As Aristotle emphasized, it is easier to miss the mark than to hit it. For this reason, “right conduct is rare and praiseworthy and noble.” Freedom comes from examining everything in the light of whether it comes from an inner truth, or from a reaction to outer things.

In the end, why is it so hard to align with that inner truth? I say that maybe it’s much harder to hold out against it.

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”  ~ George Washington

As Above, So Below: What Does it Mean to a Freemason?

As Above, So Below: What Does it Mean to a Freemason?

From the teachings of Hermes comes the well-known maxim, “as above, so below.” Those four words have become a sacred phrase, an adage of wisdom, an underlying principle, an ancient aphorism, and a mystic saying. The dramatic opening lines of the Emerald Tablet read as follows: 

“Tis true without lying, certain and most true. That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.”  – The Emerald Tablet (Isaac Newton Translation)

Over the centuries almost every organization and religion has loosely put their own spin on the formula. Many philosophical schools believe “as above, so below” is the same thing as the Principle of Correspondence. In other words, everything above (spiritual) corresponds to something material (below). Nothing exists in isolation. Matter contains spirit, and vice versa.

More often today, I think the phrase is carelessly bandied about. For some thinkers, the spiritual dimensions are dismissed as unverifiable or inadequate to explain how and what life is. Some say modern man’s understanding of the entire Hermetic chain has been flattened over time. I hope not.

Of interest to me, however, is how deeply and how widely that maxim is embedded into the teachings of freemasonry. 

How is the Hermetic principle applied to a Freemason? Or is it?

I may be mistaken, but “as above, so below” is not a masonic phrase, per say. If used in any way shape or form, it did not have its origins as words in ritual. I can only remember the phrase mentioned one time in conjunction with a lecture on astronomy. Even so, Freemasonry has some roots in the Hermetic tradition of Western occultism and so the philosophy is heavily embedded in the teachings. And it is here we begin the introspection and speculative discussion of the phrase itself.

The Masonic Ladder according to W.L. Wilmshurst

It is clear that a serious study of words and symbols can bring anyone quite far afieldJacob's labber blog into the poetic lens of metaphor. Sometimes, before venturing into my own fantasy land, I like to read what the masonic scholars say. 

There is one symbol in particular that W.L. Wilmshurst writes about in his book Masonic Initiations that struck me as a good example of the maxim “as above, so below.”

That symbol is Jacob’s Ladder. It is also called the Masonic Ladder and is said to reveal a connection between heaven and earth with God at the top of the ladder. Angels are seen ascending and descending. Some say the ladder shows a hierarchical ordering of the Universe, a great chain of being, a principle of correspondence.

Wilmshurst tells us:

“Indeed Life, and the ladder it climbs, are one and indissociable. The summit of both reaches to and disappears out of ken into the heavens; the base of both rests upon the earth; but these two terminals – that of spirit and that of matter – are but opposite poles of a single reality.”

If you think you can spot Plato in this, you are quite correct. Plato offered theories of knowledge that were also illustrated by ladders. Those who climb the ladder advance from one step to the next and build on the knowledge gained from the one below.

Now, there is something that Wilmshurst writes later on that I found interesting. He believes that this cosmological truth, the Principle of Correspondence, is one that Masons should all know. Yet, he claims that most Freemasons have “hazy notions on the subject.” And I quote: “The modern mason is not interested or treats the information as not credible.”

This line of thought left me with a question. Where does the modern Mason learn about cosmology?

The Great Chain of Being – Veiled in Allegory

Of course, there are always books and study papers to read to gain knowledge. But I am wondering if the true cosmological truths that Wilmshurst speaks of are kept alive in Allegory of Arithmeticthe masonic rituals and allegories. Each masonic ceremony speaks to the unconscious mind, slipping past the usual dogma and conscious defense mechanisms. 

If I can use a masonic metaphor for a moment; in the Mind of The Great Architect it has been written that there is a ritual taking place all the time. It is a divine drama with the building theme of making perfection out of imperfection. When, therefore, here upon earth, a ritual is enacted, symbolizing that eternal process, then some of the spiritual realms above are brought down to earth. It is this mysterious unity of thought, synchronizing above to below which gives Freemasonry its magic and eternal purpose.

In the book Spirit of Masonry, Foster Bailey writes:

“A symbol is an outer, visible, and tangible sign of an inner spiritual reality. If this is admitted, then behind all the outer forms of the Masonic work, latent in its rituals, and hidden behind the entire system of symbols, is some spiritual value and some definite and intended teaching which can be discovered by those whose vision can be awakened.”

Perhaps the “biggie” truth is this. The “inner spiritual reality” that Bailey writes about isHour Glass an inner state of being. For Freemasons, each of us is a builder, working with the hierarchical order of things, according to his ability. Each must not only contribute his work, he must also grow to be capable of greater work.

I believe that when the two realms of spirit and matter unite, the Lodge on High sends its spiritualizing forces of life to the humble lodge below. Yet, the idea is greater than just what can be experienced in a ceremony. I think Freemasonry is an exposition of Life itself – the creative life we all have to live. 

Certain and most true.

“Ascend with the greatest sagacity from earth to heaven and unite together the power of things inferior and superior; thus, you will possess the light of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly away from you. This thing has more fortitude than fortitude itself because it will overcome every subtle thing and penetrate every solid thing. By it the world was formed.”  – (H.P. Blavatsky Translation)

 

The Power of the Spoken Word in Freemasonry

The Power of the Spoken Word in Freemasonry

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”  — Lao Tzu 

According to Tzu, the very essence of what it means to become a consciously creative person begins with examining the content of thoughts and words. How does speech have the power to shape our inner and outer universe? How is the spoken word significant to a Freemason?

In the ancient mystery schools, speech and sound were considered divine energy in motion and a type of vibration that could be harnessed in creative work. The entire Universe was understood to be under the control of men and gods who knew the power of sacred speech and how to harmonize the ideal and the material worlds in accordance with the divine plan.

Somewhere along the way the teaching about the magical force of words has been lost. And yes, we have been lost ever since.

It was felt in those earlier times that it was the initiates’ duty to restore the lost language. Just as Masons are in search of the “Lost Word” and have found it not, initiates also used a substitute language, until this inner Word could be reestablished. It may well be said that the knowledge of words, of speech and of sound is perhaps the most carefully guarded secrets of all the ancient mysteries.

Do words have a far greater implication than normally conceived?

A Perspective from Albert Pike

In Albert Pike’s, Morals and Dogma, he has volumes to say on this subject. There is nogod-large doubt the book is dense with wisdom; so much so, I find myself studying a paragraph for hours on end to fully grasp it. It’s almost as if you have to look at Pike’s writings as if the ancients looked upon cryptic messages. 

Recently, I read a chapter where Bro. Pike was examining the following passage from scripture:

“In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God, and the WORD was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”  John 1:1-3 (KJV)

I realized how casually I had looked at this well-known Bible verse before and how much more could be revealed. Looking beyond the religious overtones, there is a great mystery of “the WORD” (all caps) that Pike explains. It’s something out of a deep esoteric playbook. “The WORD” did not cease at the single act of Creation but set in motion the absolute potential for man to become a divine creator in his own life circumstances. Could this passage be a formula for creative work? 

Pike says:

“The WORD conducts and controls the Universe, all spheres, all worlds, all actions of mankind, and of every animate and inanimate creature.”

In short, the goal of “the WORD” is to “become flesh and dwell among men.” God and “the WORD” are one and the same. They are WITH each other. All good stuff.

Now, I realized that the theological distinction between “the WORD” and “a word” had always escaped me. The words we speak are not “the WORD.” But it is possible that EVERY word spoken has the potential to align with “the WORD.” Speech carries intention, force and information. We long for words like Love, Truth, Beauty, Strength and Justice to become flesh and dwell among us. Words and speech are the initiating forces behind all things. What can a Freemason learn from this idea? How are words and action related?

A Freemason Suits Action to Word

In Masonic circles, we hear the phrase “suiting action to word” which can mean that a Masonic-Image-HD-1person will do what he claims and deliver on his promises and obligations. Masons are charged to make a conscious effort to integrate masonic philosophies into daily behavior, appearance, and words to others.

In the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, “Right Speech” appears in third place preceded only by “Right Belief” and “Right Intentions,” and immediately followed by “Right Actions.” Thus, the way we speak is of vital importance, not just for moral reasons, but also because communication is one of the most powerful means whereby we can intelligently change the world around us.

Spoken words are especially significant to anyone who has undergone a ceremony blindfolded.  For me, it was only through intense listening to the words of the masonic officers that I knew what was happening.  Even decades after some degree work, entire lines from the ritual are still memorable.  I remember vividly the sacredness of words that have been laid upon my heart.  

Right speech, when properly executed, is one of the most powerful and mysterious activities.

An example of what it can mean to “suit action to word” can be seen in the life of the immortal Goethe: poet and Freemason.   He changed inquiring minds around him by breathing enlightened ideas into many of his writings. With his last breath, Bro. Goethe cried the immortal phrase:

“Light, more Light!”

These words for a Freemason are powerful!  Worthy of opening and inspiring a life as well as closing it in death.  There is no doubt to me that beyond the confines of his dark room his invocation was answered and there showered upon him a brilliance of light such as no mortal could see.  Some accounts of Goethe’s last moments say that when he spoke his last words a ray of light shot through the shutters of the window.  

“Light!” Goethe’s spoken word of power and His service to mankind. In the end, light was all he craved, symbolically, the highest of blessings. Not money or fame, but a glimpse of the1_spZ_EN5KfcjgZSbiVQl_zQ treasures of eternity. 

Maybe the real secret of right speech is to truly recognize and respect the authority that words carry. As we have seen with the writings of Pike, there is more to language than meets the eye, or ear. To delve into its mysteries just might reveal some extraordinary truths about the world we live in.

“Here Masonry pauses and leaves its initiates to carry out and develop these great Truths in such manner as to each may seem most accordant with reason, philosophy, truth, and his religious faith.”  — Albert Pike

The Secret Life of the Masonic Beehive

The Secret Life of the Masonic Beehive

“Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.” ~ (Secret Life of Bees)

We don’t have to look far from this quote to find an analogy in Freemasonry. The beehive has been said to be a metaphor for the working lodge with seven bees flying around the hive, making a perfect lodge.  Bees are thought to be exceptionally auspicious throughout the world. They have played an important part in symbolism since ancient times. Turns out, a valuable teacher in mother nature has been with us all along.

Is there anything that can be learned from our buzzing friends? What do they symbolize in Freemasonry?

In ages past, people believed that bees were prophetic – that their actions were messages not to be ignored. Bees were regarded by some as an example of a divine intellect woven through nature.  In medieval times, one could find many farms that kept beehives and collected honey. In a wonderful text called the Geoponika, the beekeepers would praise the creatures, even read to them.

One of the chapters says:

The bee is the wisest and cleverest of all animals and the closest to man in intelligence; its works is truly divine and of the greatest use to mankind. 

I loved reading this.  The writing portrayed a scene that I imagine has been played in countless bee farms, between untold numbers of masters and their hives. The work of the beekeeper seems so magical and yet so commonplace. It was all about the watching, the learning, the reverence, and the abiding trust. The desire of looking to nature as teacher seems to me to be one of the elements that is missing from our culture.Annotazioni...reading to the bees

Could it be the bees are trying to tell us something, but we’re just not listening?

It is said that Albert Einstein once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared. Pretty chilling to think about.

Why? Because there exists a global phenomenon today of bees disappearing. Many say that the mystery of the bees disappearing is a warning to all of us.  If something is wrong in beehives it means something is wrong everywhere.

Andrew Gough, an expert bee researcher says:

I’ve labelled the three eras of the Bee; Beedazzled, Beewildered and Beegotten for good reason. The question remains, will there be a fourth era, and if so will it be called Beegone?

Sadly, Gough states that modern humanity has become notorious spoilers of nature’s divine harmony. The concept of nature being something “out there” is largely what is amiss with our view of it.  Likewise, the bees also seem to be disappearing from masonic workings and in many places today is considered a lost symbol.

beehiveartIs a lost symbol in Freemasonry something to be concerned about?

Masonic Speculative Meanings

The early Freemasons incorporated bee symbolism heavily into its philosophy and regalia. It was especially pervasive in masonic drawings and documents of the 18th and 19th centuries. At the heart of its message even today are the concepts of industry and stability, harmony and cooperation, virtues that the craft values highly.  The masonic symbol of the bee does not stand alone.  It also includes the beehive and the honey.

The following is taken from the monitor of the lodge.

As Masons, we must imitate the bee, be industrious, work with others and for others, take pride in our vocations, obey the rules of our society, and strive to add to our body of knowledge and understanding. Otherwise we are useless members of society.

Other monitors and masonic books give the same type of explanation. Some longer and some shorter but all what I consider somewhat along the lines of virtue and morality.

I believe we are now in an era where it is vital that we take a deeper look at the secrets of the bee symbol.  What might those be?

History, Culture and Myth

In the myths and histories of ancient times is where I found some possible avenues for further inquiry. Looking back to various mythologies, bees revealed elements of the mysteries of initiation.  In Egyptian mythology, bees were considered tears of the sun-god RA. The sun has been thought by some to be a very mysterious concept in freemasonry related to the initiatory process.  For example, the sun’s daily “rising” in the East is the image of rebirth and new beginnings, just as its setting in the West is the image of decay and death leading to transformation. indian-bee-goddess goddess Bhramari Devi

One of the most interesting mythologies is the Egyptian Goddess of Neith who lived in the House of Bees. Neith was primarily an Egyptian goddess of wisdom, often given the title “Opener of the Ways.” Neith would say to the initiate, “Come look beneath my veil.” Her call was both a summons and a challenge.  By the blessing of the goddess, the veil would be lifted. Only then would the initiate perceive the secret workings and patterns of nature.  At that moment, when the veil is rent asunder, he can consciously participate in those mysteries, thus becoming a human administrator of the will of the God.

In fact, the initiate at this point fully sees his own inner divinity and the service duties to humanity that such recognition brings.  He has become something more than human. To be initiate, one must take nature as his master.

This every Freemason knows. Becoming an initiate is to investigate the hidden mysteries of nature and science.  This could mean ruling and governing the hidden forces of one’s own nature accordingly. It can be hard, sometimes embarrassing, to “look beyond the veil,” to admit we do not have all the answers.

I still ponder what aspect of the bee first inspired man to consider it as special and sacred, all those thousands of years ago. Where does the true secret lie?  Is it something as simple as a bee’s sting? Is it the honey?  Is it the buzzing sound? Is it the honeycomb? It’s impossible to know really, for any one of those traits could easily make it exalted.

“The bee has insights into the secrets of nature, the secrets of creation, and a special connection therefore to the Creator.” ~ (Koran)

 

The Tracing Boards of John Harris: A Masonic Legacy

The Tracing Boards of John Harris: A Masonic Legacy

When I joined Freemasonry, I realized the ceremonies were full of symbols meant to allude to greater meanings. One of the items that caught my attention during my initiation was the tracing board or picture in the Lodge room which displays the symbols for the degree. Later I learned that artist John Harris (1791- 1873) was responsible for creating the design that I saw displayed. My curiosity was forever peaked to better understand John Harris and his symbolic art.  Although John Harris was well-respected during his life, I soon discovered that in recent times he has been labeled “a forgotten artist.” As an advocate for the arts, I immediately felt a resonance with this hard-working Freemason who seemingly never got his due.

What can we learn from his life story?  Is he really a forgotten artist?

Harris joined Freemasonry in 1818 during a time of exciting cultural developments. As part of the new organization of the United Grand Lodge of England (U.G.L.E.) in 1813, British Freemasons were moving away from tavern culture. The masons, now owners of beautiful massive buildings, were able to contemplate adorning them with permanent furnishings such as antique art or elaborate pipe organs.

Part of the standardization occurring in the furnishings of new buildings was that each of the Lodges were to own a set of tracing boards. Upon entering the Lodge, Harris very quickly became fascinated with the concept of the tracing boards and started drawing designs almost immediately. His talents, as a painter, facsimilist, and architectural draughtsman, fitted him perfectly for the task.

1809 Microcosm_of_London_Plate_038_-_Freemasons'_Hall

1809 London Freemason’s Hall

In 1823, Harris dedicated a set to Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.  The Grand Master immediately recognized Harris as a very talented young man. It is assumed that he commissioned Harris to make a standard official model for each degree.

These developments helped to standardize the designs. Until that point, there had been no consistency in the way the boards were painted.  It was not unusual for individual Lodges to have a variety of symbols and designs and employ their own artists.

 Why are symbols on the tracing boards important to the Freemason?

Albert Mackey, in his book on the Symbolism of Freemasonry, suggests that the symbols that are illustrated for each degree are a key to its mystery.

He writes:

To study the symbolism of Masonry is the only way to investigate its philosophy.

In the masonic teaching, symbols are a way to investigate the deeper meanings because they speak to the whole human being, not only the limited waking intelligence. It is said that a symbol will communicate its “message” even if the conscious mind remains unaware of the fact. The power of the symbol does not depend on it being understood.

Harris spent his whole life painting and studying the symbols of the Craft. As he furthered his masonic career, his designs evolved accordingly.  His life was his art.

Studying the boards of Harris really made me think about the question:

Can you separate the artist from the art? 

1825_tb_harris_fc_500_860 (1)

1825 Second Degree

Some say art and an artist’s biography are not so easily separated.  What I found striking about the Harris boards is how much his art did reflect his life. The first designs he created in 1820, just two years after he joined, were very simple.  I imagine he was still unraveling all the deep teachings of Freemasonry.

The 1825 designs convey more depth of experience. His life at that time truly reflected a fruitful craftsman. He was forging his fraternal ties with the Grand Master, a relationship which seemed to blossom and mature over time. The Grand Master loved the “Harris Boards,” and every Lodge wanted a set of the “approved” designs. Harris could hardly keep up with the orders from the Lodges and also kept very busy as a facsimilist at the British Museum.  His client list consisted of some of the major collectors in rare books in England, many often royalty.

A 1846 advertisement praises the skill of Harris:

The Craft Tracing Boards have been of essential service in promoting instruction among the Society at large; they are eagerly sought after every place where Freemasonry is cherished.

Relentless demands and grueling labor ensued for the next couple of decades.

John_Harris_3rd_1850

1850  “Open Grave” Third Degree

In those days, there were no photocopy machines so each one of the boards for each of the lodges had to be hand painted.  It was not unusual for a lodge to wait longer than a year once they ordered a set from Harris.

The last board he designed was in 1850 for the third degree, referred to as the “open grave” design.  This was a period in his life he found himself reduced to the lowest state of poverty and distress due to partial blindness. In 1856, he went completely blind and was paralyzed from a stroke the same year. The darkness of the 1850 painting gives a feeling of emotional starkness not experienced in any of his earlier designs.  Although seemingly dismal, the sheer intensity of the painting does suggest something exceptional.

One of his friends comments:

At the age of sixty-six, he is deprived of the only means he possessed of supporting himself and an invalid wife.

In 1860, Harris moved with his wife to a masonic home in East Croyton for aged Freemasons and their widows. In earlier times it was named “The Asylum for Worthy, Aged, and Decayed Freemasons” but known today as “The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (R.M.B.I.).” Harris found an outlet for his art in the East Croyton home and used his remaining years there to write poetry to raise money for the R.M.B.I. He answered his summons to the Grand Lodge Eternal on December 28, 1873.

From my research, I believe that Harris in the truest sense embodied the teachings of Freemasonry. His strength sustained him to endure in spite of overwhelming circumstances of unforeseen misfortune. He persevered until the end, laboring ceaselessly in the tasks that the Master had confided to his care. In my opinion, he is far from being a “forgotten artist.” His light continues to shine in one of the most treasured of all lodge furnishings.

In the words of Beethoven:

Art demands of us that we shall not stand still.


Note: Images for Harris Tracing Boards were retrieved on the website of Harmonie Lodge No. 66.

Brotherly Love: The Heart of a Mason’s Work

Brotherly Love: The Heart of a Mason’s Work

Whether the subject of heart is mulled over by the philosopher or analyzed by the scientist, one thing is for certain — the heart is one of life’s most important mysteries.

Freemasonry reflects this idea, when it instructs that every mason is made ready first in his heart, and at the close of our Masonic quest, it is the purified heart which we consecrate to serving Humanity. Among all the masonic teachings, none is more important than brotherly love, relief, and truth.

It is a familiar aphorism of Vincent van Gogh, and I think a true one, that which undertaken for the cause of love is well accomplished. Van Gogh wrote:

It is good to love many things, for therein, lies the true strength. Whosoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much….What is done, in love, is well done.

Unfortunately, in the world today, it seems like the practice of brotherly love falls short of the ideal. Peace and harmony do not rule the day. There is conflict here and around the world. Our very home, this tiny little planet, is in real crisis. The disconnect between the ideal and the reality bewilders and baffles me. As a humanity, we are just not very good at the practice of brotherly love. Perhaps it is because we don’t really know what it is.

Are we all just looking for love in all the wrong places?

W.L. Wilmshurst in Meaning of Masonry tells us:

The very essence of the Masonic doctrine is that all men in this world are in search of something in their own nature which they have lost, but that with proper instruction and by their own patience and industry they may hope to find.

Could this “something” be love? BIG LOVE? I have always felt that love is an elusive516664c4a9229fc49ad64039ebb378e1.jpeg subject. We know that it is often driven by a range of factors. To feel love is one thing but to define it is quite another. Brotherly love is not a thing that one can hold in the hand or see with the eye.

Many masonic writers define Brotherly Love as Tolerance. Although, tolerance is admirable among virtues, I have always felt that it not a very lofty concept. Sure, if we compare it with outright bigotry, tolerance is indeed a virtue. But dig a little deeper, and behind tolerance is a concept a few steps removed from our loftiest ideals. “I tolerate you” is a far cry from “I love you.” 

What is the loftiest expression of brotherly love? If not tolerance, what? How do we find it?

Pantajali’s Raincloud of Knowable Things

Perhaps we need a nice metaphor to get us thinking at a higher elevation. How about a magical raincloud? Maybe it rains millions of lofty ideas from heaven. No one gets wet.

An old Hindu seer named Pantajali was the first to brand the metaphor of the “raincloud of knowable things,” which he said stands for a reservoir of divine Ideas. These “knowable things” or thoughts of the creator can “rain” into the mind of a man’s nature. Patanjali wrote about the process of tapping the “raincloud” in his famous Yoga Sutras 3638958116_125c024a31_zwhich were his working tools that he claimed lead a student to wisdom. This cloud hovers over humanity, ready to precipitate the wonders which deity holds in store for mankind.

We would all agree that clouds, even the ones in the web, get attention as metaphors because they are literally shape-shifters. Clouds as metaphors adorn our language; a cloud is on the horizon, he’s on cloud nine, every cloud has a silver lining, it’s cloudy in the east, etc. Clouds are meaningful symbols on the tracing boards of freemasonry.

In the mind of the Great Architect of the Universe, there are ideas and concepts that are group ideas; they are greater than our individual raincloud.

Pantajali says:

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

The point that Pantajali makes is that we can synchronize our labors on earth with those patterns laid in the heavens by mere contemplation. For every upward striving of our thoughts, we become better caretakers of this beautiful planet earth. Better Freemasons.

Building the Holy Temple in Freemasonry

I have always felt that Freemasonry was developed for a great purpose, one that is of pure heart and of great import. But many times, I find myself at a loss for words to describe this purpose in an integrated, comprehensive fashion.

In the book Spirit of Masonry, Foster Bailey writes about the eternal purpose of theHeart image mason’s task of building the holy temple. He says this temple is not just a pile of bricks but it can also represent the unseen holy temple, the symbolic inner temple inside of each brother.

He describes one of the key pillars of this holy temple as the Law of Love. While assembled for labor, the lodge assumes the ideal of this eternal purpose. The Law of Love is expressed as a living ethic of fellowship, brotherly understanding, mutual assistance, charity, and morality.

In Foster Bailey’s words:

Love is the cement that holds the entire divine structure together, and which cements the stones of the temple, producing coherence, support and strength.

To cement the stones of the temple takes an inner attitude of mind and a subjective orientation of heart. The vision he writes about is that someday the symbolic relationship in lodge will be reflected in the world outside the lodge. The ancient practice of the mystic chain, holding hands in a circle, is perhaps the most striking symbol to me of the eternal bonds of brotherhood that unite.

I marvel in this moment at the possibilities of a world built on the tenets of brotherly love. The magnificence of the glory outside. The vastness of the glory inside the human.

May we mark well! May Brotherly Love Prevail!

 

The Mason’s Sword: Emblem of the Mind

The Mason’s Sword: Emblem of the Mind

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” I’ve heard this proverb many times over the years. Nobody seems to know who wrote it or what it actually means. Most contrast the joy and beauty of dancing to the brutality and violence of the sword. But why are swords always getting such a bad rap?

Being an important ritual implement in Freemasonry, I pondered what the phrase would mean to a Freemason. The sword is a familiar tool, not only preserved in the blue lodge rituals, but in some of the higher degrees and degrees of chivalry.

Could it be that the link between dancing and sword bearing has to do with skill? I am not so sure. This mysterious little phrase got me to wonder what the sword might represent as a symbol?505297957_082c9164b2_o

We are taught, objects of ritual usually symbolize a truth. What would that truth be?

The sword has been known to symbolize strength, authority, protection, and courage. It is also a symbol of knighthood and chivalry. There are numerous biblical accounts of angels with swords; swords that were used in spiritual warfare, and swords drawn as military weapons.

The history of the sword is full of contradictions. It has a classic duality to it. On the one hand, a sword was used to destroy and kill and represented battle and destruction. On the other hand, a sword was used to protect and was seen a sacred symbol of chivalry.

In many Deity art images, the sword represents wisdom cutting through ignorance. Simply, the word sword means to cut at a foe. Just like a physical sword can kill or maim your opponents, wise words can act like a sword to slay ignorance.

This made me think, is there anything significant that can be learned from warriors who wielded their swords truly, as weapons?

The Unfettered Mind of the Samurai Warrior

I started reading a book called The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645). Soho was a great philosopher, artist, and teacher of the famous samurai warriors. He had several samurai students who he was teaching the craft of swordsmanship to, but through the means of mindful meditation. His mind was so still that he could bring a swordsman into an entirely different mental state, where time was slowed down so kerala-1639325_960_720much that the student could respond with absolute precision.

It was perplexing to me what a Buddhist monk, who has vowed to bring about enlightenment and salvation to all sentient beings, was doing writing about sword fighting. The answer lies in Japanese culture. In their history, the sword is a symbol of life and death, of purity and honor, of authority and divinity. All these in some respect relate to enlightenment.

Soho says to his students:

Completely forget about the mind and you will do all things well. The unfettered mind is like cutting through the breeze that blows across the spring day.

To achieve an enlightened state, Soho suggests that the mind must remain forever free. The thing that detains the mind most of all is the ego or self-importance. As soon as we get caught and fixated on any type of emotional charge — we’re lost. When the ego is subdued, there is nothing to bind the pure awareness of our creative potential.

The Virtuous Mind of the Freemason

The training of the mind is also important in making progress in the masonic science. For masons, the cultivation of virtue is said to give that steady purpose of the mind, or courage in the face of pain or adversity. We are all driven in life. I wonder what drives us? Is it greed? Anger? Desire? Beauty? Love? Peace?

W.L. Wilmshurst writes in his book Meaning of Masonry:

Advancement to Light and Wisdom is gradual, orderly, progressive. The sense-nature must be brought into subjection and the practice of virtue be acquired before the mind can be educated; the mind, in turn, must be disciplined and controlled before truths that transcend the mind can be perceived.

What Wilmshurst is revealing is that the real measure of power is not about savage force, not about Olympic weight lifting, but rather the ability to restrain one’s own mind and thought impulses. Perhaps “restrain” is not the right word. Restrain implies tooSt. Michael much repression, containment, and pushing down. The idea is more like skillfully transforming one’s vices.

Some say the worst enemy we fight is the darkness in our own nature — the ego or selfish self. The ego is real. The ego claims all, clings to all, wants all, and demands all. It is the Gollum character in the fictional movie Lord of the Rings. There can be no peace, no unity, no justice, no virtue until the selfishness is purged, burned away.

The darkness in us is why there is always a Tyler (or tiler) outside the door of the Lodge with a drawn sword to defend his post. None may pass the Tyler who have big egos or selfish motivations.

Carl Claudy in his Introduction to Freemasonry remarks that we are all Tyler’s of our own life.

Let us all wear a Tiler’s sword in our hearts; let us set the seal of silence and circumspection upon our tongues; let us guard the West Gate from the cowan as loyally as the Tiler guards his door.

Only by such use of the sword do we carry out its symbolism.

How excellent a thought to wear the Tyler’s sword in our heart. Possibly the greatest symbolic message the sword offers is about death. Facing death teaches us important lessons. A knight in battle knows, perhaps as well as anyone, the immediacy and preciousness of life. And, after he is gone, did he live well?

As masons, we learn to treat each day as if it is our last.  If we do. When we do. We will be fully perfected. And then, just maybe, we can truly dance.

 

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

What if perfection isn’t what you think it is? It is a term that every Freemason can relate to as part of their understanding. The zeal to achieve perfection is a core value of the masonic practice. Many instances of the word turn up in masonic language.

In the Scottish Rite, the combined degrees of 4 to 14 are called the “Lodge of Perfection.” In the Egyptian Rite, we find the “Rite of Perfect Initiates.” When we think of perfection, the idea has positive connotations. Achievement, completeness, evolution, excellence, fulfillment, integrity, and so on. People sometimes wear the title of perfection as a badge of honor.

What does perfection mean, really?

When I was younger and taking piano lessons, my music teacher’s studio wall was framed with a picture that said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” That was a tall order! Later, I discovered the view is very different. The merit of perfectionism is called seriously into question outside the music studio. For example, in the book Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Fritz Perls writes that if you are “cursed with perfectionism, you are absolutely sunk.”

This contrast of views can be quite perplexing, since there appears to be truth on both sides of the equation. Perfectionism can apparently be a destructive trait or a good trait. The danger with using the word perfect is that it seems to imply completeness. One of the meanings of the word perfect is “absolute and unequivocal.” There’s a certain arrogance built into the word.

IMG00025-20100812-1145Trying to be perfect assumes that you know what perfect would be.

What if perfection is more like a verb? Is perfection a means to an end or the end itself? How is the idea of perfection portrayed in Freemasonry?

The Seed of Perfection

Man has always been fascinated by the mysterious perception of life and its purpose. As the hunt for the truth advances, more individuals are starting to focus on perfection of mind, body, and soul.

Manly Hall writes:

All humans have within them the seed of their own perfection. It is not bestowed; it is revealed. Man is a god in the making, and as in the mystic myths of Egypt, on the potter’s wheel he is being molded.

Manly Hall suggests that the perfection of potential is within us. We, of ourselves, are not that perfect, but there’s something within us that is. The true seeker on his journey ever strives for that hidden secret lost within — that seed of perfection.

The Buddha named Six Perfections to work on before illumination will manifest through us: 1) magnanimity, 2) selflessness, 3) patience, 4) fiery striving, 5) meditative quiescence, and 6) wisdom. The perfection of wisdom arises when the first five perfections have been attained. The masonic teaching focuses on the development of character and virtue as part of the training. Attention is given to “building in” certain patterns of right living, thinking and conduct. The Greeks, Persians, and Indians all had narratives of how to perfect the individual. These are ancient paths — tried, tested and proven.

statue-1593706_960_720Therefore, it appears that the divine plan for man can be both perfect and imperfect. The divine impulse that moves us all on the great Way through life, might be considered a perfect process. However, the product of this perfect system is yet to be fully manifested. It is truly a “work in progress.” It is a piece of labor that we must work on continually.

Annie Besant in her book Outer Court calls the process “spiritual alchemy.” She says:

Imagine the spiritual alchemist as taking all these forces of his nature, recognizing them as forces, and therefore as useful and necessary, but deliberately changing, purifying, and refining them.

It is so interesting to reflect on what it might mean to purify each of our faculties. What would it mean to guide others through this process of spiritual alchemy; to educate, to nurture, to listen and not always get the last word in? I walk with you, my friend, on this path of love and light back to the divine.

When the service for the divine spills over into assisting the perfection of humanity, it could be so uniquely lovely.

Service: The Highest Ideal

What is service? The word service is somehow elusive to me because it evokes different personal ideas in each of us. But anyone involved in a true service activity knows it is far from personal. It is about others and the grand design. It is not about “what’s in it for me” or the separate self. When we see everything in relation to ourselves, so will our spiritual vision be limited, isolated, and narrow.

Service is when our heart begins to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine plan, the divine tracing board, not our separatist mind.the_rough_ashlar_2

I ponder these obligations every time I think about the allegory of King Solomon’s Temple. I recently read a wonderful article about the legend here. The symbolism suggests that true perfection can never end with physical perfection. It is only the means to the end which is spiritual perfection.

The Temple must not only be built, but it must also be spiritualized, often described as “a Temple not made with hands.”

Albert Mackey tells us:

The speculative mason is engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple in his heart, pure and spotless, fit for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity.

When we look at each other through this glance, we hear an echo of a heavenly realm. All here and now. I wonder about what it would be like to build and live in such a sacred community.

Too often the outer court, with its distractions and fleeting pleasures, demands our attention in ways that leave us enthralled within the walls of ourselves, and the veils of the mundane, forgetting our true perfect master. A call, if not responded to, a knock if ignored, causes the doors of inner perception to close, at least for a time.

What would it be like to see the deepest jewel in one another’s soul? What would it mean for divine faculties to come and take over, replacing all that is egotistic with all that is eternal? Will the perfection of humanity always be a work in progress?

A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with an idea of a cathedral in mind.   

—   Antoine De Saint-Exupery

 

Mozart: A Freemason Inspired by the Craft

Mozart: A Freemason Inspired by the Craft

A few years ago, I spent a great deal of time researching Mozart’s life and especially his affiliations with Freemasonry. We know much about Mozart because there are many letters that have been preserved in the archives. As I poured over these amazing documents, I learned a lot about history. But it especially got me thinking about how the themes of freemasonry affected his musical style. After he became a Freemason, his tools of making music evolved into something completely different.

Do the ideals of Freemasonry inspire an artist?

We know the craft attracts many men and women from all walks of life. They not only change and shape their Lodge but the world around them. Mozart, a prolific musician and a Freemason was a mover and shaker of his time. He left his mark on the world with more than 600 works in a great range of genres. There are so many timeless lessons from his character, his creative process and his music that we can learn from.

At around five years old, he wrote his first composition, a Minuet and Trio in G major, listed as K 1. He eventually made it all the way up to K 626, his Requiem.  Mozart possessed the outstanding ability for “photographing” everything that he heard. He could attend a concert and later write down the full composition of the concert. In one of Mozart’s letters to his father about Prelude and Fugue in C (K 394), Mozart writes:

6062034280_3a832f5073_zI composed the fugue first and wrote it down while I was thinking out the prelude.

His genius was unquestionable.  However, we don’t really know what inspired him. Where did his inspiration come from? What is inspiration, anyway?  When we break apart the word “inspired,” we find it comes from two words “in” and “spirit.” The word literally means “in spirit.” In other words, when you are inspired by something, it means that you are living in spirit or in more masonic terms, “on the plumb.”

Just how important was the tie to freemasonry with his inspiration?

The Fraternity

Mozart knocked on the door of Freemasonry in 1784. Being twenty-eight years old, the enlightenment was a glorious time for this young lad. The setting was revolutionary. Humanity stood on the threshold of a new era. Composers and musicians would no longer be viewed as mere servants, but as craftsmen in their own right.

In an excellent book by Paul Nettl called Mozart and Masonry, he remarks:

What led him to Masonry was the reflection and self- contemplation which followed his extensive wandering, and this also brought about the creation of his unique style.

Mozart_in_lodge,_ViennaMembership in the Royal Art for Mozart was not an impulsive act. He attended his Lodge regularly, advanced in the degrees and had many friends through his connections with the Lodge.

There is something very crucial to understand that relates to all this. Years and years of hard labor gave him a solid foundation to take his music to the next level. He labored incredibly hard, up at 5 am in the morning and often burned the midnight oil. He always pushed for something unique as a true gift to humanity, introducing his own shade of meaning into whatever he touched.

It would seem that the disciplines of Freemasonry inspired him greatly.  No?

Masonic Music

Mozart wrote a staggering amount of music considering his short years. It must be acknowledged that being controversial didn’t stop him. His music wasn’t appreciated by everyone – not even close. He was willing to put himself out there, especially with his masonic music. What exactly constitutes Mozart’s masonic music?

Music scholars say that Mozart’s “masonic” music generally falls into three categories.

  1. Masonic in nature, obviously written for Lodge occasions.
  2. Masonic in spirit, but not written specifically to be performed in a lodge.
  3. Written for other purposes, but adapted for use in lodge.

For example, the famous Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K 622) falls into the third category.  Although not written for a Lodge occasion, he composed it for Anton Stadler, a member of his Lodge, who he shared the utmost of fidelity. Whenever he wrote as a token of friendship, he would add a different nuance depending on what the music was for. It was his gift. His wide circle of Lodge brothers inspired him greatly. 3353349312_d6aa1254bc_z (1)

Most artists have admitted that they require the aid of inspiration to accomplish their work. Etienne Gibson, French philosopher,  in Choir of Muses tells how music composer Sibelius describes an inspired experience:

When the final shape of our work depends on forces more powerful than ourselves, we can later give reasons for this passage or that, but taking it as a whole one is merely an instrument. The power driving us is that marvelous logic which governs a work of art. Let us call it God.

I believe that Sibelius is speaking of a different kind of inspiration, one that comes from still Higher Sources, the Great Architect of the Universe.  Music is so abstract at times it gives you infinite ways to contact the Divine.

After his death, the Freemasons held a Lodge of Sorrows in Mozart’s memory, and the oration there delivered was printed by Ignez Alberti, a member of Mozart’s own Lodge.

An excerpt follows:

Though it is proper to recall his achievements as an artist, let us not forget to honor his noble heart.  He was a zealous member of our order.  His love for his brothers, his cooperative and affirmative nature, his charity, his deep joy whenever he could serve one of his brethren with special talents, these were his great qualities.  He was a husband and father, a friend to his friends and a brother to his brothers…

Every so often when I’m lazing about, it makes me incredibly motivated to think about these histories from classical composers like Mozart.  Sadly, we may never know what inspired Mozart. The composer’s intentions remain unknowable. I have to say the sheer intensity of his life does suggest something exceptional. Something inspired by the craft.

Crossing the Language Barrier to Make that Daily Progress in Freemasonry

Crossing the Language Barrier to Make that Daily Progress in Freemasonry

When I was a very new Freemason, I unintentionally allowed the language barrier to create errors in two of my early papers.

In one paper, I referred to the “broached thurnel” as “Freemasonry’s lost immovable jewel.” In the other paper, I referred to the “fulminate,” used to create a bright flash during a crucial point in an initiation, as “an old Freemasonic tradition,” strongly implying – because I believed it was – that it was no longer used in Freemasonry anywhere.

I was wrong on both counts. I’ve seen the broached thurnel is almost every French Lodge I’ve visited. While I’ve never seen a fulminate used in a French Lodge, I did see one in a store room there and was assured that some Lodges in Paris do still include it in their work.

It really doesn’t matter that other largely-English language scholars have made the same mistake about both of these items, that I could cite their works and still turn out quite a thorough paper. That I was wrong because I didn’t know I was wrong doesn’t explain it away.

Ignorance not only is no excuse; it’s dangerous. Freemasons are the shock troops in the war against ignorance. It is not a good thing for a Freemason to spread ignorance rather than fight it.

Neither paper ever was published. I doubt they ever will be, and with these errors born of ignorance, that’s a good thing.

I’m not aware of any Masonic tradition that does not direct Freemasons to make a daily progress in Masonry, which generally is reckoned as spending part of each day learning something about the Craft that the Freemason didn’t know before. In addition to the seven liberal arts, early 20th Century Masonic scholar Roscoe Pound, in the April 1915 edition of The Builder, identified five areas appropriate for Masonic Study: Ritual, History, Philosophy, Symbolism, and Jurisprudence.

Certainly, for Freemasons in Anglo-centric countries, it’s no real problem to find Masonic works in English. However, making that daily progress only in one’s mother tongue, cuts a Freemason off from progress to be gained in other parts of the world, and necessarily, renders their efforts in isolation to become isolated, provincial even. That leaves the Freemason open to the sorts of errors that I made and, worse, stunts that progress.

I believe it is incumbent upon Freemasons to open their daily progress enough to include works from other languages.

My observation is that English-only Masonic readers seem to be OK with pictures sourced from other language cultures. Images based on engravings by Louis Travenol, better known as “Léonard Gabanon,” of French Blue Lodge Masonry long have been popular illustrations in English-language Masonic books and papers, particularly in general works about the first three degrees. Daniel Beresniak’s very popular Masonic picture book “Symbols of Freemasonry” was first published in 2000 but clearly uses delightful images sourced from French Freemasonry.

Images, it seems, don’t become trapped behind the language barriers but words do.

And yet, there’s plenty in French Masonic scholarship in particular to motivate an otherwise English-only reader to blow the dust off a French-to-English dictionary or keep a browser window open to Google Translator. When I realized my errors in those two papers were caused by my ignorance of French Masonry, it didn’t take me long to find the works of Swiss occultist Joseph Paul Oswald Wirth, who wrote extensively about the Blue Lodge. More recently, I’ve been studying Philippe Langlet’s 2009 “Les sources chrétiennes de la légende d’Hiram” (comes with a very cool CD) and Joseph Castelli’s 2006 “Le Nouveau Regulateur du Macon – Rite Français 1801.”

One of my personal favorite works in French Masonic scholarship is Maurice Bouchard and Philippe Michel’s “Le Rit Français d’origine 1785,” published this past July. That was a follow up to Michel’s “Genèse du Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté,” the most recent edition of which was published in February and also resides on one of my shelves.

Michel’s most recent work details what also is known as the “Primordial of France” (Rit Primordial de France) or even “canonical” (canonique) French Rite so widely worked in France today. It isn’t often a Masonic reader can read which paragraphs of a rite are connected to what passage or receive an explanation of how any rite was reconstituted, complete with columns, tables, symbols. And if the English reader allows the French language of the work to be a barrier, then the reader won’t get any of that at all.

I’m not suggesting that no efforts have been made at cross-cultural/language research in Freemasonry, because there has been a limited – though notable – amount of that. Lilith Mahmud’s “The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters,” about gender history in Italian Freemasonry, was published by University of Chicago Press in 2014.

A very good sequel to Margaret Jacob’s 1991 “Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe” and the UCLA History Department Professor’s 2006 “The Radical Enlightenment – Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans” is her 2011 “Les Premières franc-maçonnes au siècle des Lumières.” That book, co-authored in French with Arizona State University’s Janet Burke, was published in French by the Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, prefaced by noted French Masonic scholars Cécile Révauger, Jean-Pierre Bacot, and Laure Caille.

Masonic works in languages other than English certainly are readily available, especially online. Detrad offers the very best in French language Masonic work, I’ve had delightfully opportunities to drool over books in their brick-and-mortar location next door to the Grand Orient de France in Rue Cadet, Paris. An entire paper was written in 2008 about Spanish-language Masonic books printed in the U.S. The Spanish language Masonic research journal “Revista de Estudios Históricos de la Masonería” actively produces Masonic works in that language.

The tools are there to do this work, the individual Freemason just needs to do it.

Yes, overcoming the language barrier as part of one’s daily progress in Freemasonry is work, and it’s far from easy. However, no one who is work shy should become a Freemasonry – no more than anyone who becomes a Freemason should become lazy. The results are worth it but actually doing that work is its own reward. The work is, after all, the thing.

 

 

 

Neil Morse and the Lost Knoop Paper

Neil Morse and the Lost Knoop Paper

Neil Wynes Morse has been looking for a missing paper written by a giant in Masonic scholarship during the first half of the 20th Century but that was, nonetheless, rejected for publication shortly before the author’s death.

He’s not the only one looking. However, Morse is one of the world’s leading experts in Masonic ritual development, President of the Australia and New Zealand Masonic Research Council and is scarily good at finding things others likely give up for lost. If he can’t find it, the paper likely won’t turn up in any obvious place.

The paper’s title is known, “Dr. Anderson and the Charges of a Freemason,” and it was written by noted economist and Masonic scholar Douglas Knoop. It was rejected for publication after receiving a thumbs down by a high ranking officer of the United Grand Lodge of England shortly before Knoop died in the fall of 1948.

Knoop

Douglas Knoop, from the frontispiece  of vol 48 of Ars Quatuor Coronaturum

Among the last people, then, to know where the paper was were members of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research (MAMR). “It sounds as if the chaps in Manchester know about the document,” Morse told me during an online interview. “And with the number of people who’ve looked at the Knoop papers over the years, I’m surprised it hasn’t seen the light of day, assuming that it exists.”

Like any wise Masonic scholar, Knoop had a good day job. He was an economist by profession, being appointed an assistant lecturer at Manchester University shortly after he graduated there and in 1910 he was put in charge of the Economics department at the at The University of Sheffield, where he became a professor in 1920 and worked until shortly before he died in 1948. He also served on various trade boards and, during World War II, he worked at the Ministry of Munitions. He wrote extensively about his field in economics. The annual “Knoop Lecture,” “Knoop Prize” and the “Knoop Centre” in the Economics Department at The University of Sheffield are named after him.

He became a Freemason in December 1921 when he joined University Lodge No. 3911 at Sheffield and for almost three decades pursued an impressive Masonic career, during one period simultaneously occupying the chair in five different Masonic bodies. As a scholar, he was a regular contributor to Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076’s annual Ars Quatuor Coronaturum (AQC), the world’s longest continuously running and arguably most prestigious Masonic research journal.

He was a Prestonian Lecturer who at times teamed up with fellow scholar G.P. Jones to produce a fairly vast number of papers and books. The best known of his books in Masonic scholars include “The Genesis of Freemasonry,” “Early Masonic Pamphlets,” “Early Masonic Catechisms” and “The Medieval Mason: An Economic History of English Stone Building in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern Times.” One would be very hard pressed to find a good modern work on Masonic scholarship that doesn’t include Knoop’s work in its bibliography.

He certainly was influential in Masonic research circles during his time, so it’s a bit surprising to turn up the story about his final paper, as Morse did earlier this year when he came upon a mention of it in the MAMR Transactions for 1948[1]. Further information came to light about the paper when a later published history of MAMR was consulted and there Morse came upon what little is definitively known about Knoop’s final paper[2]:

“An unusual fate befell one paper this year. WBro Professor Douglas Knoop PAGDC paid what proved to be his farewell visit to Manchester, when he read a paper entitled ‘Dr. Anderson and the Charges of a Freemason’. His paper was controversial and he submitted a copy to the Grand Secretary [of the UGLE], who requested that it not be published.”

That’s all, no explanation of why it was controversial and why the Grand Secretary of the UGLE, Sir Sidney White, asked for it not to be published. The paper’s name doesn’t sound especially controversial, so the idea that it was is quite intriguing, no less so considering Knoop died at age 65 on 21 October 1948, shortly after his last paper was rejected.

Morse went on a search to find the paper, searching for clues in such places as Knoop’s obituary in the AQC and in Colin Dyer’s “History of the First 100 years of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076,” as well as online searches and queries to other scholars.

Morse soon discovered that R.A. Gilbert, co-author with John Hamill of “World Freemasonry: And Illustrated History” and other significant works, had made an attempt to find the paper but had not succeeded. Gilbert did, however, turn up the additional tidbit that “only his death shortly afterwards prevented a first class row”[3].

Morse also contacted the UGLE’s Museum and Library in London as the Grand Secretary in 1948 did have a copy and the library still holds some correspondence about the paper[4]. Unfortunately, the staff reported there was no copy of the paper there, though they wish there was; that searches have been made in the past but those searches were not successful.

The library does have Knoop’s letter to the Grand Secretary, dated 21 June 1948, with a penciled note by QC member John Dashwood stapled to the back, and White’s reply dated the following 26 July[5].

Knoop’s letter indicates the MAMR had a copy of the paper but that he, Knoop, wanted it back if it could not be published. It was, after all, the era before word processors and printers, when full manuscripts were very precious things, so Knoop’s paper might have been returned to him. There also is the very real possibility that, because the paper was controversial, it was destroyed.

The trail of the paper goes cold from there and Morse presently knows of nowhere else to look. “That’s not to say that a copy exist doesn’t somewhere,” Morse said. “It seems to me possible that a copy may be included in a file of various bits and bobs called ‘Knoop papers NES’ or similar – and not necessarily in either London or Manchester.”

“I remain optimistic that the paper will surface at some stage. But I won’t be holding my breath.”


[1] MAMR Transactions, Vol XXXVIII, state on page 161 ‘Unfortunately, this is unavailable for publication in the Transaction’.

[2] Specifically, “More Masonry Into Men: the Story of Manchester Lodge and Association for Masonic Research With Suggestion for a Course of Masonic Reading and An Index to the First Forty Volumes of the Transactions (1909-1950)” by Fred L Pick, printed for the MAMR in 1951 (page 56).

[3] (AQC 107, 1995, p.4)

[4] AQC v107, p4 and fn 28 on p7. The material is not catalogued online.

[5] All of which is under copyright, so anyone who wants to see it has to visit the library and inquire.

Under the Banner of Universal Co-Masonry: The Institution of Polaris Lodge

Under the Banner of Universal Co-Masonry: The Institution of Polaris Lodge

It is the custom of Freemasons to gather to lay the foundation stone or dedicate and consecrate certain places in time-honored ceremonies. For example, on September 18, 1793, President George Washington, a Freemason, laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol and was assisted by the Grand Master of Maryland Joseph Clark, in a Masonic ritual.

The newspaper of the day reported: “On Wednesday, one of the grandest Masonic processions took place, for the purpose of laying the corner-stone of the Capitol of the United States, which, perhaps, was ever exhibited on the like important occasion.” george-washington-cornerstone-laying

Following Masonic tradition, such sacred work was accomplished on September 23, 2017, when Universal Co-Masonry instituted Polaris Lodge in Dallas, Texas. The ceremony was conducted on that Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m.

The Most Sovereign Grand Commander Magdalena I. Cumsille presided and granted Dispensation to the Dallas brethren to form Polaris Lodge. Addressing those assembled, the M.S.G.C. stated:

Since time immemorial, it has been custom among Freemasons to dedicate certain places, persons, or things to Divinity, in order to prepare them for a specific role and purpose. Today, honoring that ancient tradition, we are assembled here to birth Polaris Lodge: the first of many Lodges to be instituted under the banner of Universal Co-Masonry.

Brothers from all orients of Universal Co-Masonry united fraternally to dedicate the Lodge that arose from the continued labors of so many. The name Polaris PolarisInstitutionwas chosen by the Brothers of the new Lodge, which is the name of the celestial body also referred to as the North Star or Pole Star.

Polaris is famous for remaining virtually still in the sky while the entire northern sky moves around it. That is because of its location which is nearly at the north celestial pole, the point around which the entire northern sky turns.

As Freemasonry is an ancient craft of Builders, Polaris has long been an important point of orientation. Before the invention of the compass, builders laid out the north and south lines of their foundations by observing the heavens. Of particular usefulness was Polaris, which allowed for the alignment of a perfect North and South line. Freemasonry venerates the great builder, King Solomon of Israel, who raised a sublime Temple, which he dedicated to God. During the ceremony, the M.S.G.C. explained: 

It is important to remember that true enlightenment can never be achieved except in the Spirit of Brotherhood, based on unity in Spirit. King Solomon is one of the main characters in the annuals of Freemasonry, and he had this in mind when he concentrated the attention of the whole nation in building his Temple….

When the Temple was finished, the King said: “I have surely built Thee a house of habitation, a place for Thee to dwell forever.” (I Kings 8:13)

Statehouse Time CapsuleFollowing the tradition of the Ancient Israelites, the Temple was consecrated with corn, wine, oil, and salt to launch a new unit of brotherhood into the United Federation of Lodges.

In addition to its usefulness to the Craft in building, Polaris has long been regarded as a guide and orientation point to travelers across the globe. Brother Albert Mackey, expounded on the importance of Polaris in his book, “An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry,” by stating:

The North Star is the Pole Star, the Polaris of the mariner, the Cynosaura, that guides Freemasons over the stormy seas of time.

For two thousand years, sailors and travelers have used this star as a means of navigation. Brother P.D. Newman, in his work, “Freemasonry and the Art of Moral Navigation,” wrote: 

The North Star then, both literally and symbolically, is that guiding light by which a traveling man may find his way back home, that is, back to the center.

With the institution of this new body completed, the Brethren assembled then celebrated the occasion with a festive banquet. 

Congratulations to all of the Brothers who have dedicated their time and efforts in the formation of the new Lodge. May the light of Polaris shine forever as a guide for the builders of the Temple of Humanity.   

A United Endeavor: Universal Co-Masonry’s Five-Year Plan

A United Endeavor: Universal Co-Masonry’s Five-Year Plan

Robert Kennedy once stated, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence, but it is the one essential quality to change the world.”  We, as Freemasons, know something about changing the world, but how serious are we about completing the work we are called to do? Do we possess that “moral courage” necessary to stand up to ignorance and change the world?

Universal Co-Masonry is taking the steps to create a better world through the implementation of an innovative Five-Year Plan. The plan was released during the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry’s Annual Summer Workshop at its headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado held from August 5th through August 12th of this year. Brothers arrived from Lodges throughout the Americas to attend the workshop, a semi-regular tradition in the Order for more than a century. 

Universal Co-Masonry’s Most Sovereign Grand Commander, Brother Magdalena I. Cumsille announced an ambitious and detailed Five-Year Plan to accomplish the task at hand. Speaking to those assembled, she stated, “It is our duty as Masons to make a better world for, not only ourselves, but for those that come after us.” In his address which followed, President Matias Cumsille issued this call to action: “Let it be a united endeavor: a place where Freemasons toil together in the great work.”

The work of the Five Year Plan is separated into seven divisions of labor, including: 1) Expand the Masonic Philosophical Society, 2) Establish the Masonic Publishing Company, 3) Institute the Masonic College of Arts and Sciences, 4) Found the Masonic Order of Service, 5) Implement the Order’s Energy Initiative, 6) Finalize the Order’s Technology Initiative, and 7) Commence the Order’s Historical Document Preservation Program.MPS Logo

The Masonic Philosophical Society

The first step in the Five-Year Plan is to expand the reach of the existing Masonic Philosophical Society  (M.P.S.) to include additional online platforms. The mission of the M.P.S. is to destroy ignorance through the advancement of research and understanding of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Utilizing online video conferencing technology, the M.P.S. will be better equipped to fulfill its mission across the globe. Since the commencement of the first online study center, individuals from around the world have been able to participate in the educational opportunities, including men and women from India, Madagascar, Germany, Spain, England, and Canada. “We are planning on establishing a European online M.P.S. study center, as well as a new physically-located M.P.S. Study Center in Asia,” explained President Matias Cumsille. 

The Masonic Philosophical Society was founded in January of 2009 to provide interactive educational opportunities for adults beyond the nationally required post-secondary schooling.  Since 2009, the M.P.S. has expanded its operation to include 25 centers in North and South America. With more than 60,000 members, the M.P.S. has created a worldwide movement and community. To learn more about the Society, follow the online M.P.S. Journal, interact with the global community, or inquire about membership, visit the M.P.S. website or the M.P.S. Facebook page.  

The Masonic Publishing Company

Another ongoing project expected to get an evolutionary boost in the next five years is The Masonic Publishing Company: an innovative and independent publisher of books. MPC Meme“Its objective is to publish rare, esoteric, occult and philosophical books,” President Matias Cumsille added. 

Created to bring new light to the great enigmatic works of the past, M.P.C. books include new material added by Freemasons to inspire modern inquiry. The M.P.C. is the proud publisher of a selection of books which have been handpicked to inspire our readers to reach their fullest potential. One might call it a Must-Read List for Seekers of Wisdom, including members of the Brotherhood of Freemasonry, which encircles the globe. 

The Masonic College of Arts and Sciences

Another step in the Five Year Plan is the formation of a Masonic College to provide education for seekers throughout the world. The Masonic College of Arts and Sciences (M.C.A.S.) is a private liberal arts college which will offer educational courses based on the synthesis of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science.

The College is oriented specifically for those individuals in search of higher understanding beyond that found in traditional universities and dogmatic institutions. M.C.A.S. endorses the Integrated Approach to its studies and discourages Reductionism – the approach used in an overwhelming majority of higher educational institutions.

“Initially, courses will be online, and we will offer two undergraduate degrees, both founded on the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences,” President Matias Cumsille stated. “We will be working to ensure the accreditation of the college through the Colorado Department of Higher Education in the next five years.”

Further Steps in the Five-Year Plan

Other initiatives in the Five-Year Plan include the formation of the Masonic Order of Service, detailed in an earlier blog, an Energy Initiative to make the Order’s headquarters more self-sustaining through the installation of solar and wind power, and a Technology Initiative to update the structure of the Order for dissemination of Masonic studies. The final step of the Order’s plan is to preserve historical documents as part of the Order’s Historical Document Preservation Program.


 “Let us begin the Work. We cannot wait, for time is a gift rarely used wisely.” 

— Most Sovereign Grand Commander, Magdalena I. Cumsille

Marie Bourgeois Goaziou and North American Co-Freemasonry

Marie Bourgeois Goaziou and North American Co-Freemasonry

The woman to whom Co-Freemasonry in North America arguably owes a great debt of thanks, Marie Bourgeois Goaziou, died 100 years ago this year.

It’s doubtful that North American Co-Freemasonry would have survived if not for her. And, yet, there is not one comment, letter, paper, or quotation of hers that is known. She had to have been an interesting lady. For now, we have to take that on faith.

Like many women in history, what we think we know about Marie Goaziou is based on the men in her life, though we don’t know that much about even them. Her father’s name was John Bourgeois, but we know little more about him than his name. The same can be said for her mother, Marie Lepis[1]. She was born 24 July 1866[2] in Namur, the capital city of Wallonia in Belgium, where the Meuse and Sambre rivers meet.

Nothing is know about her childhood, even if she had siblings, though we do know she could read and write as she later helped in her husband’s newspaper business. Literacy alone would have set her apart from a lot of contemporary working class girls in her time.

We also don’t know what her parents did for a living but we do know that the family arrive to Pennsylvania, via Canada, when she was six years old. By 1883, they were living in the mining town of Houtzdale[3]. Shortly after her 17th birthday, Marie Bourgeois saved Co-Freemasonry in North American almost two decades before it was founded by convincing a young Louis Goaziou, future Grand Commander of the Order, not to return to his home in France.

Goaziou had arrived in Houtzdale from a fairly comfortable life in Brittany and spent the next two years mining coal and hating it. He was the best educated coal miner in the region, but it didn’t help. In midsummer of 1883, 19-year-old Goaziou sold his mining tools and announced to his friends that he was going home on a Monday.

“On Saturday, we had a farewell party at the boarding house with music and dancing,” Louis Goaziou later recalled[4].

Louis Goaziou also recalled meeting Marie at that party, but that seems unlikely. Houtzdale was a small community, and it seems impossible this could have been their first meeting. What seems more likely is that he noticed her for the first time. In the more than two years he’d lived there, Marie had blossomed into an attractive young woman. He was badly smitten.

He walked her home from the party and, that same night, discussed marriage with her and her parents. Marie Bourgeois was firm. She was willing to marry him, but she didn’t want to leave her parents. Louis Goaziou had to choose between going home or remaining in the United States to marry Marie Bourgeois and return to the coal mines he hated. He chose to remain.

They were married in Houtzdale on the 28th of August in 1883.

She could not have known that by convincing Goaziou to remain, Marie Bourgeois also insured that he was around during the chaotic period in 1908 when Goaziou effectively saved Co-Freemasonry in North America. She likely did know that she was entering the hard working world of a late 19th Century coal miner’s wife. The couple had eight children together – half of whom died in infancy and only three of whom made it to adulthood[5]. Of those three, one, their oldest daughter Clemence, died only days shy of her 18th birthday.

Life as a western Pennsylvania coal miner’s wife had a certain predictability to it, but Louis Goaziou was no ordinary coal miner, so Marie Goaziou could have been no ordinary miner’s wife. Goaziou became embroiled in union activism, as well as Anarchist and then Socialist politics, as together the two embarked upon a peripatetic life. By 1885, they were in MacDonald, where he worked loading coal machine and whispered “union” to his co-workers.

He did that too much and lost his job in MacDonald the following spring, sending the Goazious back to Houtzdale. Two years later, they were in Hastings in neighboring Cambria County before returning again to Houtzdale two years after that. Louis Goaziou also joined the Knights of Labor and became active in other radical workers groups.

Louis Goaziou’s health began to fail. He suffered at least one bout of measles and developed lung ailments that would plague him much of the rest of his life. Marie Goaziou presumable nursed him through much of that. It didn’t stop him from fighting for union representation among the miners of western Pennsylvania, despite the efforts of mine owners to starve the family out.

While the family was in Hastings, Louis Goaziou obtained a small Kelso printing press and started the first of a series of newspaper. The earliest were small, little more than leaflets, but they culminated in Union des Travailleurs, published in Charleroi. Goaziou family tradition states that Marie Goaziou kept the books for the newspapers and that the remaining ledgers are in her hand.

In 1902, Union des Travailleurs came to the attention of Antoine Muzzarelli, a French Freemason who was trying to found Co-Freemasonry in North America and was looking for the first Master of the new Order’s first Lodge. After corresponding with Louis Goaziou for about a year, Muzzarelli arrive in Charleroi on the 17th of October in 1903. There he met with more than a dozen men who crowded into the living room of the Goaziou home at 730 Washington Avenue.

That same evening, Louis Goaziou asked his wife if she’d like to become a Freemason. She said, “Yes.”

Two days later, Marie Goaziou became one of the first women Co-Masons in North America when she was Initiated, Passed, and Raised into Alpha Lodge No. 301 in Charleroi, becoming a Charter member of the Lodge. Louis Goaziou probably was in the East that day, only one day after his own Initiation, Passing and Raising. Alpha Lodge’s record is not complete, but Marie Goaziou appears to have remained active in Alpha Lodge, as well as, acting as hostess to a number of Co-Masonic leaders. These leaders included Muzzarelli and later members of the National Council, who often stayed at the Goaziou home when they were in town. In this way, she likely exercised influence, though she lacked authority, so long as her health remained good.

Unfortunately, in about 1906, Marie Goaziou’s health began to fail[6]. She had developed what her death certificate later described as “biliary cirrhosis of [the] liver,” which may have been caused by a severe case of hepatitis: an illness that was at epidemic proportions in the early 20th Century Western Pennsylvania coal fields. In late 1906 into the following spring, Marie Goaziou spent months in hospital and ever underwent surgery, which seems to have brought only little relief. Over the next decade, she was ill more often than she was well and her husband, whom she’d nursed through years of his own illnesses and whose own health remained precarious, now nursed her.

Marie Goaziou died on April 5, 1917 in the family’s apartment over their print shop in Charleroi. She was 50 years old. Her death was reported on the front page of the local newspaper.

It can be difficult at times to nail down one Brother’s contribution to any Masonic Order, but the debt Co-Freemasonry owes to Marie Bourgeois Goaziou is clear enough, even if her own words and ideas haven’t survived. Thanks to her, North American Co-Freemasonry did survive.

[1] Her parents’ names are listed on Marie Goaziou’s death certificate, preserved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. I have found those names nowhere else, so additional research is needed.

[2] Ibid and her Memory Card, preserved in the Archives of the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights.

[3] From Louis Goaziou’s dictated brief autobiography, “Written enroute to and at El Paso for Initiation Ceremonies”, also preserved in the Order’s archives.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See page 3 of eulogy delivered at Louis Goaziou’s funeral in 1937, preserved in the Order’s archives.

[6] See Andrée Prat’s “Louis Goaziou (1864-1937)”, published in Cahiers de la Commission d’Histoire, Fédération française du Droit Humain, n°9 /février 2004.

 

The Real Origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry

The Real Origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry

A paradox in Freemasonry, where Brothers are supposed to have a high regard for truth, is that the same Brothers have been known to downplay, ignore, and suppress truth that is found to be inconvenient.

The so-called “clandestine” roots of Prince Hall Freemasonry is one inconvenient truth that author and researcher E. Oscar Alleyne, a member of Wappingers No. 671, which labors under the Grand Lodge of New York, wasn’t afraid to talk about during a recent conference. Specifically (*SPOILERS*), that the first Prince Hall lodge, African Lodge No. 1, wasn’t founded on March 6, 1775 with assistance from a so-called “regular” military lodge. Instead, the date likely was in 1778 and assistance came from a degree peddler (*END SPOILERS*).

It was not unusual in the 18th Century for lodges to independently form on their own and then go looking for a Grand Lodge to provide them with a charter or warrant. In that context, African Lodge’s true origins are nothing to be concerned about. Brothers have been anyway, Alleyne said during an all-too-brief presentation of his paper at the International Conference of Masonic Research Lodges, the ICOM, this past May in Toulon, France.

“Some people don’t like the truth of this story because they think it means that Prince Hall was clandestine or was irregularly made,” Alleyne said.

Getting stuck on that notion misses the greater point: that African Lodge overcame racism, the then current enslavement of most peoples of color in North American, and the war-encroaching international politics to come into being, Alleyne said. “They were able to accomplish something that didn’t seen accomplishable,” he said.

I strongly recommend reading the online version of Alleyne’s paper, including maps and documents I’ve never seen before, because a brief summary is all I can offer here. Alleyne cites as his text John L. Hairston’s “Landmarks of our Fathers: A Critical Analysis of the Start and Origin of African Lodge No. 1,” edited by Alleyne. Hairston, a publisher, author, and researcher, is a demitted member of Harmony Lodge No. 2, which labors under the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, and a member of University Lodge 141, which labors under the Grand Lodge of Washington.

Alleyne started where most Masonic scholars and casual readers start, with the legend that Bostonian caterer and leather dresser Prince Hall. Hall, a free man of color, along with other free men of color in the same city, decided to form their own lodge after being turned away from existing lodges. According to that legend, Hall and 14 others were initiated into Freemasonry by Irish Military Lodge No. 441, under the direction of WM Sergeant John Batt, on March 6, 1775. By July of the following year, African Lodge was organized under a limited permit from Batt, and by 1779, thirty-three Brothers were listed on the rolls of the Lodge. Prince Hall later petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant or charter, which was granted June 30th, 1784.

That story, told and retold for generations and included on a number of Prince Hall websites, was written in the early 20th Century – not Freemasonry’s shiny era of accurately written histories – by William H. Grimshaw, most noted for his “Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People” published in 1903.

“Grimshaw probably was the person who caused the most problems with this story,” Alleyne said. “Grimshaw made up stories about things that didn’t happen.”

Scholars then repeated those stories, which then took on other inaccuracies, others believed it all and, in that “Who Shot Liberty Valance” (When the legend becomes fact, print the legend) way, became perpetuated. Documentation that suggested otherwise was downplayed, ignored and suppressed, all in service to the legend.

Hairston’s extensive research makes a convincing case that the truth isn’t so simple as Grimshaw would have anyone believe and piecing all that together is made difficult because records are lacking, Alleyne said. The true story appears to be that neither Hall nor any of the other 14 Brothers of what would be African Lodge were made Master Masons in 1775 and Irish Military Lodge No. 441 had nothing to do with their initiations or the foundation of African Lodge No. 1.

The Lodge certainly sought assistance more locally. My ears perked up when I heard Alleyne mention Hall’s connection to the Revolutionary War hero Gen. Joseph Warren, who then was Provincial Grand Master of Freemasons in Massachusetts. After all, I’ve long been convinced that Warren was behind the consecration of St. Anne’s Lodge, a female-only Lodge of Adoption in Boston, and the making of Masons in that Lodge. But that’s another paper, expected next year.

Hall approached Warren for a warrant in March of 1775, at the same time Grimshaw alleged the Lodge was founded with help from the Irish military lodge. Warren’s death June 17 of that year during the battle of Bunker Hill shut Hall off from that opportunity, Alleyne said. Hall also sought out several other options, including connections in France.

African Lodge finally made some headway toward organization through Batt, who provided a “permit” to bury their dead and march in processions as Freemasons. However, contrary to what Grimshaw wrote, Batt had no known associations with Military Lodge No. 441 and appears to have been something of a degree seller, a common thing over the centuries. Hall likely understood the truth about Batt at the time but he continued to seek out a way for African Lodge to be “regularized”, which happened with its recognition by the Grand Lodge of England in 1784.

“This is the correct story,” Alleyne said.

 

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

H.P. Lovecraft and Freemasonry. Yes, I’m going there.

A long-serving Brother in Universal Co-Masonry has been known to observe that the stars are always where they are but can be seen only against the dark night sky; and he points out that all light is worth seeking. Lovecraft is some pretty dark stuff and it could be that only the most intrepid will seek the light revealed there.

“H.P. Lovecraft, Providence and Freemasonry” is the title of The H.P. Lovecraft Archive webmaster Donovan K. Loucks’ planned paper during the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual meeting over the weekend of September 28 in Providence, Rhode Island.

As the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon points out on its website, Lovecraft is best known as “a writer of weird fiction,” which is true enough. His medium isn’t exactly horror, though it can be pretty scary. It isn’t exactly science fiction, though it can be geeky and, at times, intangibly technical.

However it’s defined, Lovecraft’s work beckons to the reader’s darkest, most deeply veiled interior places and lays bare what’s really there. If there happens to be light there, it is worth seeking.

LovecraftBirthPlace

H.P. Lovecraft’s Childhood Home

Depending on how “success” is defined, Lovecraft could be said to have had little of it. Born August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, his work was published only in pulp magazines, not much respected at the time. His father died in the psychiatric institution of Butler Hospital in Providence a month shy of H.P.’s 8th Birthday. His mother also died in Butler in 1921.

A pale, gaunt, brooding fellow with a piercing stare and deep, dark eyes, Lovecraft seldom went out before nightfall, suffered what he called “Night Gaunts” when he slept, never graduated from high school and failed a National Guard physical. He at times went without food to pay the postage on his voluminous private correspondence with contemporary literary ne’er-do-wells such as Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith.

Beyond his innate ability to write and edit, Lovecraft had few marketable skills, generally rubbed employers and co-workers the wrong way and seldom had any so-called “regular jobs.” He died in poverty and obscurity, as do many painfully brilliant artists, at age 46 on March 15, 1937.

His work received little notoriety in his lifetime and a decade would pass before it started to be recognized for its literary importance and to be collected into posthumous volumes. In my opinion, some of his best works include “The Outsider,“”Haunter of the Dark,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Alchemist” and, of course, the Cthulhu Mythos stories.

VITRIOL

V.I.T.R.I.O.L

In my observation, Lovecraft’s work is wildly popular among some of the more intense Freemasons most interested in all that V.I.T.R.I.O.L. stuff, but the author’s own brushes with Craft are hard to pin down. Lovecraft wasn’t a Freemason and neither was his father. However, his maternal grandfather, who by all accounts was the lone father figure in H.P.’s youth, the businessman Whipple Van Buren Phillips, was in 1870 a founding member of Ionic Lodge No. 28 in Greene, Rhode Island and was reckoned to be a very active Freemason.

LovecraftGrandFather

H.P. Lovecraft’s Grandfather: Brother Whipple Van Buren Phillips

Lovecraft’s work stands on its own, it doesn’t have to be read as an exercise in self-reflection but, for the Freemason willing to go there, it’s quite an exercise. The Philosopher Graham Harman, in his 2013 “Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy” describes Lovecraft’s work as having a unique, if veiled, anti-reductionalist ontology. “No other writer is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess,” Harman says.

Yes, Lovecraft was a bit of a racist and he had other personal flaws, as do we all, but I learned long ago not to seek perfection in any artist. The work is the thing and art never apologizes.

I have a preference for the dark stuff, a great appreciation for emblems of mortality and and no real hesitance to reflect upon mortality with an eye toward living life while there’s life to live. That, for me, is the light worth seeking as revealed against the darkness; and why I read Lovecraft.

Loucks’ paper isn’t the only thing going on at the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual conference this year. I’ve been a member for years, and I’ve always wanted to go. I can, however, never seem to get the highly complicated, multi-level math to work. However, it’s a very good, if quiet, conference aimed not so much at research but in facilitating research and applying professional library sciences to Masonic libraries. The conference is open to all.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a bit of Lovecraft, from his 1921, “The Defence Remains Open!“:

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”


“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”


 

Ask Not What Masonry Can Do For You: Universal Co-Masonry’s Call for Greater Service

Ask Not What Masonry Can Do For You: Universal Co-Masonry’s Call for Greater Service

A call to greater service is part of the vision for the next five years detailed during the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry’s Annual Summer Workshop at its headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado earlier this month.

The annual address by the Order’s Most Sovereign Grand Commander (M.S.G.C.), The Very Ills..... Bro... Magdalena I. Cumsille 33o, announced the call to action – illustrating the Order’s unwavering dedication to serve and assist all of Humanity. In a nod to the late President John F. Kennedy, the M.S.G.C. inspired the assembly with the following message: 

“Ask not what Freemasonry can do for you. Ask what you can do for Freemasonry.”

As part of the M.S.G.C.’s plan, the Institution of a Masonic Order of Service is a vital component of the Order’s Strategic Plan for the next five years.  The details of the plan were included in a letter from the Order’s President Matias Cumsille, issued to the Brethren of Universal Co-Masonry during the workshop.

“It has been a long-held sentiment of Masonry throughout the ages that the responsibility of service does not rely on the depth of our pockets but on the working of our hands,” Cumsille said in his letter. “The institution of the Masonic Order of Service is being established to serve our various communities in the physical world,” Cumsille wrote in his letter.

HQ office building

Headquarters of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry in Larkspur, Colorado.

The new service order will be available to the larger community outside of Universal Co-Masonry to request assistance, Cumsille said. “The needs of our communities are vast, and we are a source of giving hearts and giving hands,” he said.

“Masters of Lodges can work through the Masonic Order of Service to find Lodge activities of this nature as well as individual Brothers who have a passion for this type of service who wish to sign up on their own. Volunteers are required who can supply the hands through which the Masonic Order of Service will work.”

The announcement was part of a larger vision of and for the Order as it heads into the third decade of the 21st Century, a plan for the next five years announced during summer workshop on the campus in the small central Colorado town August 5th – 12th. Brothers arrived from Lodges throughout the Americas to attend the workshop, a semi-regular tradition in the Order for more than a century.

Other announcements during the workshop included the ongoing formation of a Masonic College of Art and Science to provide education for seekers throughout the world and an energy initiative for the headquarters’ campus. On the later, plans were announced to make headquarters 100% sustainable through renewable energy installation, as an example to other organizations to protect the environment, as well as reducing utility costs.

Larkspur

Aerial View of the Headquarters of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry

Service, as a Masonic ideal, is nothing new in the Order but external service has been less heard of in Universal Co-Masonry since its origins in the late 19th Century, though there examples, instigated mostly by individual lodges, can be recalled in the Order’s history.

For instance, in 1923, a Lodge of the Order in California joined with male-only Orders to build a facility at Berkeley University to provide a facility for the use of children of Masons attending that state university. Over the years, Brothers have participated in local causes, such of food and clothing drives, have funded scholarships and participated in other community efforts. Most recently, individual lodges in the Order have been patrons of the arts and provided money and hands for concerns nearest their premises.

ME Building HQ

Headquarters of the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry

The new Masonic Order of Service will provide the means to better organize those formerly informal and local efforts. Moreover, the new initiative will improve ongoing efforts through a more centralized process, as well as, work with other ongoing initiatives in the Order, Cumsille said in his letter.

“As a United Federation of Lodges, we have an enormous synergy to draw from and, as such, there is a place for every Brother in these institutions, programs and improvements,” Cumsille’s letter stated.

Cumsille urged no Brother to “stand on the sidelines.”

“The members who have joined in the efforts for promote the Great Work in these areas need more Brothers to work alongside them. Those who want to see the world we all envision made manifest, to make perfecting humanity a reality rather than a beautiful sentiment, are asked to join in these efforts.”

Do you think Freemasonry started in 1717? Think again.

Do you think Freemasonry started in 1717? Think again.

There’s been a roiling controversy in Freemasonry for almost a year but unless you’re a Masonic scholar, you may not know about it.

It has to do with the year in which modern Freemasonry, “the revival,” began. Traditionally, that watershed year has been 1717 and the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London. That would mean this year is the 300th anniversary of Freemasonry in the modern era.

Now comes Dr. Susan Mitchell Sommers, professor of history at Saint Vincent College and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism, and Dr. Andrew Prescott (pictured above), FSA, FRHistS, Professor of Digital Humanities, AHRC Theme Leader Fellow for Digital Transformations, University of Glasgow, to tell us that isn’t the right date. We are, Sommers and Prescott tell us, about four years off, that the actual date is 1721.

Prescott dropped that little tidbit during the Tercentenary Conference Celebrating 300 Years of Freemasonry this past September at Cambridge University. He was the last key-note speaker of that conference. Obviously, I wasn’t there but I’ve heard Dr. Prescott caused quite a stir when he effectively blew away the whole purpose of that conference. Oh, to have been a mouse under the podium in that moment.

Sommers gave a version of the paper during the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History in Paris this past May.

Prescott’s talk at the Tercentenary Conference are similar to those given during the Dr. Charles A. Sankey Lecture Series in Masonic Studies the previous June. In his talk then, Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?, Prescott said the difficulty with the date lays in the account by James Anderson, author and editor of the Constitutions of the Free-Masons.

Anderson claimed that in 1716 four Masonic lodges from London met together at the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, close to the centre of Covent Garden, and agreed to revive the annual feast. The following year, says Anderson, on 24 June 1717, those lodge met again at the Goose and Gridiron and there elected a grand master.

“The traditional and accepted story of the foundation of the grand lodge comes entirely from Anderson,” Dr. Prescott said during his Sankey lecture. “It appears for the first time in the second edition of the Book of Constitutions, published in 1738, 20 years after the event it describes and shortly before Anderson’s death.”

Anderson didn’t mention this story in his 1723 edition and no other publication mentions the event at all, despite the fascination the popular press had for Freemasonry, Dr. Prescott said. “It comes out of the blue in 1738,” Prescott said.

Not everything that Anderson wrote about was undocumented, exactly, Sommers said during her talk in Paris. “We can trace some of the sources Anderson used to write his history and they are all problematic,” he said.

Anderson did his best, she said. “Unfortunately, he also takes liberties when writing his history,” she said.

Which leads to one inevitable conclusion. “Without corroborating evidence, we must discard the canonical story,” Sommers said.

Sommers and Prescott then give, at length, their reasons why 1717 isn’t the correct date and that 1721 more likely is. One detail he points out is the 1721 Initiation of William Stukeley in London, at a tavern called “The Salutation”, which Stukeley later said had been the first initiation in the city in many years and that it had been complicated by the difficulty in finding enough Freemasons in the work the ceremony. “The claim that it had been difficult to find members to attend this lodge to initiate Stuckeley is very surprising if Grand Lodge had been founded four years previously in a tavern that is only two or three minutes walk from The Salutation,” Dr. Prescott observed.

Anyone who wants to read the Sommers-Prescott paper will find it in the newly release QCC publication “Reflections on 300 Years of Freemasonry” newly published by Lewis Masonic.

Dr. Prescott’s observations has Masonic scholars, the world over, all a flutter but most Freemasons are blissfully unaware.

The good news is that, if Sommers and Prescott are right, then we have four more years to plan a celebration of the real 300th Anniversary.

 

Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries?

Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries?

When I turned that corner in the Paris Catacombs this past May, having already crossed the stone portal into the massive ossuary and read its famous warning, “ARRÊTE! C’EST İCİ L’EMPİRE DE LA MORT (“Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead”), I came into first contact with the remains of the estimated 6 and 7 million people stored there. My mind went entirely blank.

My next thought was recollection of a conversation I had with a California male-only Mason years ago when I still was a Fellowcraft. He was a member of a traditional observance lodge – still quite rare in the U.S. – that wanted to restore traditions removed by a grand lodge that no longer wanted to scare anybody. “Karen,” he said. “I want my skulls back.”

I come from a Masonic tradition that never lost its skulls and other emblems of mortality. So it was and has been difficult for me to more than pity his poverty. Masonically, I was like some folks who scribble out a donation to help starving children in far-off lands they themselves never expect to visit.

In the catacombs, I came to better understand that far-off land and to more fully grok what the skulls are for:

20170530_132133_HDR

“Stop traveler and cast an eye,

As you are now so once was I,

Prepare in time make no delay

For youth and time will pass away.”

Many of the more esoteric Masonic writers doubt little at all that Freemasonry is a direct descendant of the ancient mystery schools. It is the same class of writers who will tolerate no challenge, no questions, and no suggestions that they might be mistaken and will dismiss those who bring those challenges, questions, and suggestions as just not being open to the experience. I observe that the majority of their readers are quite satisfied with what light those unchallenged assertions provide.

There are, of course, other writers of sterner academic metal who doubt, with justification, Freemasonry’s direct connection to the ancient mystery schools. These prefer to recognize those ancient mystery schools as metaphysical traditions that were harmonious with other contemporary and so-called “mysteries” but no later than that. Auguste and Alphonse Mariette, wrote in their “Monuments of Upper Egypt“, published in 1890, that ancient Egyptian mystery schools hinted to neophytes their own hidden spark of the divine.

“To the initiated of the sanctuary, no doubt, was reserved the knowledge of the god in the abstract, the god concealed in the unfathomable depths of his own essence. But for the less refined adoration of the people were presented the endless images of deities sculptured on the walls of temples.”

However, even the Mariettes were not fully convinced about that. “Unfortunately, the more one studies the Egyptian religion, the greater becomes the doubt as to the character which must definitely be ascribed to it,” they wrote in the following paragraph on the same page.

Many a neophyte, in as many traditions, have mistaken the symbol for the thing. They as often mistake similarity for proof of connection. Apples and oranges have many points of comparison, being fruits that are roughly round, can be peeled and grow on trees, but they are not genetically connected. Apples and oranges do, however, remain what they are.

Fully understanding the lessons of any mystery school, regardless of its origin, means barriers must be passed. The official website of the Paris catacombs warns that folks with heart or respiratory problems, who suffer from a “nervous disposition” or who are young children, should not make the visit. Clearly, one must be a fit and proper person. Neither the rash nor fearful to apply.

Those who qualify too often face other barriers. Bringing the ancient mystery schools, such as those of Isis and at Eleusis, into full focus can be difficult for those who see everything through Judeo-Christian-Muslim lenses. The mystery school promises nothing about the divine and provides no universal absolutes or pathways to heaven or hell. They tell no one what to believe.

For those who make it past all those barriers, the mystery school does its best to quicken a personal evolution in each individual, to awaken in them a knowledge of themselves, and to prepare them for the more personal lessons will spring up in their everyday lives from places where those lessons had always been; but they’d never noticed before. The mystery school does that, in large part, through symbol and near-dream-imagery ritual to trigger in the neophyte a stark recognition of who they already are, will be and where they were headed.

That’s what the skulls are for.

The idea is that if you know where you’re headed, the end that awaits us all, then you’ll better appreciate and actually live the life you will have and will not be too terrified when it is over. You will have actually lived while you could and will not be plagued in the end by regrets.

The greatest students in those schools become wise through a series of shared experiences but they also recognize in other students a lack of full understanding. It doesn’t seem to matter. Even those who don’t quite get it can still work the same ritual and still pass on the same ideas. It’s quite possible to transmit on wisdom without understanding it.

I’m not convinced that Freemasonry has a direct connection to those ancient mystery schools. However, it is quite clear to me that traditional and orthodox Freemasonry is a mystery school. Among its lessons is the idea, which would have been familiar in those ancient mystery schools, that man is mortal and the more enlightened should, for their own sake, meditate upon their own personal mortality while they still possess the vigor to do so.

Freemasonry does not monolithically teach that. There are those in the Craft who would root out “any form of esotericism” and maintain that Freemasonry “certainly does not deal in spirituality.” And that’s OK, Freemasonry is large enough even for those who don’t want those lessons.

For those who do, the lessons remain, though there may be a struggle to even learn them. My male-only friend and the brothers in his traditional observance lodge did, eventually, get their skulls back after their grand lodge decided it was all part and parcel with “pre-ritual education.” And so it goes.

 

 

20170530_133139_HDR

“Memento Creatoris tui in diebus juventulis . . . “

 

 

The Wisconsin Persecution

The Wisconsin Persecution

It isn’t every day that a criminal investigator turns up at the door, any door. When the investigator turns up and wants to see – and then confiscates – a Masonic Lodge’s charter, that’s rarer still.

That happened the evening of Friday, 20 August 1943, at the home of 60-year-old widow Annette Schmitt and her grown daughter, Marcella, on North Franklin Place in Milwaukee. They were far too intimidated by the grizzled detective from the city’s police department to object too much when he took the charter, and them, downtown.

As with most modern examples of persecution against Co-Freemasonry by male-only Masons in North America, no one was physically harmed, and it largely was words, most of them polite. The incident in no way resembled flame wars on Internet Masonic forums and elsewhere online today. Anyone expecting brass knuckles and drive-by shootings will be disappointed, but we are, after all, talking about Freemasons. It simply won’t get that ugly.

However, the Wisconsin persecution of 1943/44, or “the Wisconsin situation” as it was known among Co-Masons at the time, is unique in that the police, a county district attorney, and the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office were involved. Persecution of Co-Masons under the color of Profane law is, thankfully, quite rare. This is how one of those incidents happened.

It began a few weeks earlier when the Brothers of Lodge Amen-Ra No. 584, who’d been meeting less formally in Milwaukee for a while, decided they’d grown numerous enough to justify meeting in an actual lodge setting. Annette Schmitt, Amen-Ra’s Senior Warden, and her daughter Marcella, Amen-Ra’s Secretary and coordinator for a local vocational school, were designated to find a good place. They shopped around and soon found a space in the Milwaukee Odd Fellows Temple.

The room had raised platforms and, though it was more square than oblong, it was generally arranged enough to be adapted for a meeting of Freemasons and “the carrying out of the ceremonial in a dignified and beautiful manner.” That is how North American Co-Freemasonry’s Grand Treasurer and District Deputy of the Great Lakes District, Sidney Cook, described it.[1] The Brothers had to have been impressed by the floor: terrazzo stone in concrete.

Cook gave formal approval of the room and suggested the Brothers of Amen-Ra secure a two-year lease. The Odd Fellows rental agent accepted a check for the first month’s rent and all seemed to be arranged, nothing appeared amiss.

Perhaps the first clue should have been comments by the rental agent, a “Miss Purdy,” who was a member of the Order of Eastern Star in Wisconsin. It also turned out that the Chairman of the Odd Fellows Board was a past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin.

It isn’t clear how trouble began but someone was interested in making it.

A few days after arranging for the lease, Miss Purdy let Annette Schmitt know that they needed more details about the nature of the work. Annette Schmitt gave Purdy a brochure about Co-Freemasonry, the type of brochure that Co-Masons are known to carry around. Shortly after that, Annette Schmitt said she got a call from a “Mr. Rumple” from the Better Business Bureau who wanted her to come see him. “He is also a Mason,” Annette Schmitt said.[2]

A week after that, on 19 August, William F. Weiler, Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin[3] arrived unannounced at the Schmitt home.

“During the conversation, he informed us that we were infringing upon the rights of their Order, that we were a spurious and clandestine organization, that we could not call our organization Masonry, and that we could not work under the lodge system,” Annette Schmitt said in her subsequent letter to Cook. Weiler also named a Wisconsin statute he said Amen-Ra was violating but didn’t provide a copy.

Weiler seemed to think that was that, though it’s hard to imagine why he thought saying it made it all so. Perhaps he felt emboldened by the Schmitt’s response, which was to be thoroughly gobsmacked and to let him know that speaking for their Order, let alone all of Co-Freemasonry, was well above their pay grade. Which, as a Freemason, Past Grand Master and a current Grand Secretary, he should have known.

Perhaps it suddenly occurred to him. Weiler then demanded a meeting between “our Grand Officers,” and told the Schmitts he could set up a meeting with the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin Grand Master Louis D. Potter.

For their part, the Schmitts assumed Weiler wanted to set up that meeting between and their own Order’s Grand Commander, Edith Armour, and they wrote that same day to Cook, following protocol, to see what could be arranged. However, this seems not to have been the case. The male-only Freemasons involved in this episode, as we’ll see, largely ignored Armour and, instead, continued to harass the Schmitts and developed a bit of a fixation on Cook.

Granted, Cook was a Past Grand Senior Warden in Co-Freemasonry and was then Grand Treasurer, but he certainly wasn’t the highest ranking Co-Mason in North America. He also appears to have worked very hard to avoid even the appearance of usurping Armour’s Masonic authority in North America, which explains at least part of the communications issues that were coming.

The Schmitts, possibly to get Weiler out of their home, apparently at least mentioned Cook to Weiler. They may have even provided Cook’s address in Wheaton, Illinois, because Weiler fired off a letter to Cook postmarked 8:30 p.m. the same day. “I have information that your organization, under the name ‘Co-Masonry’ is entering Wisconsin with the intention of establishing lodges or local units,” his letter to Cook said. Weiler asked for pamphlets explaining Co-Freemasonry, as well as copies of the Order’s bylaws, petitions for membership, “and other literature that may be available.” He stated, “it is quite imperative that we have this information at once.”

Cook, when he received Weiler’s letter, immediately complied, sending out the requested literature. He also wrote the Amen-Ra’s Master and the Order’s future Grand Commander, Helen Wycherley, about what was going on. Given the speed at which things were moving, Wycherley may not yet have heard what was going on.

In any case, Cook was more perplexed than concerned. “I suppose we will talk this all over at the end of the week,” he said in his next letter to Armour. “You have had experiences just like this before and know exactly what should be done about them.”

Meanwhile, as Weiler’s and Schmitt’s snail mail inched their way to Cook. Back on August 20th, at the Schmitts home that night, there was a knock at the door.

“Events took shape rapidly, and the police were on our trail even before we had the opportunity to contact you,” Annette Schmitt said in her letter to Cook the following day. “We told Mr. Weiler that we were going to write you immediately.”

Either “immediately” had not been good enough for Weiler or the fellow at the door was acting on his own. The latter seems unlikely but the remaining record doesn’t make it entirely clear.

If he wasn’t acting on his own, Detective Lt. Joseph A. Schalla, then a 32° Mason under the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, seems an interesting choice to send after the Schmitts on the evening 20 August 1943. Then 43, he was a World War I veteran severely wounded in action in December of 1918[4] and became a police officer in 1928, joining the Old North Milwaukee Police Department. He established his law enforcement cred working in the department’s hold up and burglary squad. He soon moved on to dealing with more hardened criminals, thieves, rapists and murderers, as attested by dozens of news clippings remaining from the period.

In 1952, Schalla would be reprimanded by his superiors for threatening a local news reporter who wanted to publish a story about a local politician that Schalla did not want published.[5] Whatever else could be said about him, Schalla was no one to cross.

The widow Schmitt and her daughter clearly found him intimidating. “We showed him the Charter,” Annette Schmitt said in her next letter to Cook. The Schmitts might have used Amen-Ra’s charter as something of a shield,and it clearly got the police detective’s attention. Schalla also wanted to know how many members the Order had, the amount expected in dues, initiation fees and other information, not all of which the Schmitts could have told him. They recommended Schalla get information from higher ranking Brothers than themselves.

Not getting all his questions answered, Schalla took the Schmitts and Amen-Ra’s charter to the police department. It isn’t certain the Schmitts actually were arrested but it is clear they didn’t feel they could refuse to go. There they were introduced to another male-only Freemason, Chief of Police Joseph Kluchesky[6], who took a good look at the charter but said he didn’t have time to read the brochures on Co-Freemasonry that the Schmitts offered.

The police apparently thought Amen-Ra was a swindling operation, which could possibly explain, more than their Masonic ties, why the two officers had taken an interested. “It was evident that when the complaint was made to the Police Department, it was on that of soliciting, for that seemed to be the basis upon which the investigation was made,” Annette Schmitt said in her letter to Cook.

The police made a photostat copy of the charter but backed down shortly after closely examining it. Either Schalla or Kluchesky commented: “Well, we can’t stop you. Whoever drew up that charter knew what they were doing.[7]” The Milwaukee police exit the story at this point.

Finding themselves free to go, the Schmitts went to a Western Union office and sent a telegram to Cook, letting him know to expect another snail mail to follow-up on the one already on its way. A flurry of mail, much of it crossing enroute, followed but everyone seemed to be caught up by the middle of the following week, during which Armour sent a four-page letter to Weiler describing Co-Freemasonry’s long history in North American and the larger world and describing other cases in which male-only Masons tried to interfere with Co-Freemasonry and failed.

If Weiler answered that letter, there’s no evidence of it and quite a few references in what record does remain suggests that Armour never received a reply.

Despite the police involvement, Cook still was not very alarmed. “Bro. Cook feels that there is no cause for alarm and that the matter will be straightened out satisfactorily in due course,” Ann Werth, a member Amen-Ra Lodge then in Wheaton, wrote to Annette Schmitt on 23 August. “I can imagine that you might have been a bit surprise to have the police visit you!” 

Cook’s own advice to the Schmitts, as well as other Amen-Ra members was:

Should you be questioned further, just give such information as seems pertinent to the case and necessary, using your own good judgment in the matter, as you have been doing.

He also stalled for time, telling the male-only Masons who wanted to talk to him that it would have to wait until the middle of September[8].

While his tone in that letter was soothing enough, Cook was more firm in his next letter to Weiler. Cook wrote:

I question very much whether the establishment of a lodge of The American Federation of Human Rights in the city of Milwaukee would in any way come within the jurisdiction of or conflict with the activities of organizations already established there. However, if  you will be good enough to give me full data as to the basis of your questioning, I shall be glad to cooperate in arriving at an understanding.

If Weiler answered that letter, the location of the reply currently is unknown.

Wycherley wrote to Cook on 31 August, wondering whether Amen-Ra should proceed with its next scheduled meeting on 12 September. “It seems to me that to hold a meeting while the legality is in question would get us in more trouble,” Wycherley wrote. “And since it is little over a week till [sic] the scheduled meeting, I ought to do something at once if it is to be postponed.”

Cook replied that Amen-Ra should tough it out, still speaking with reassurance that little was likely to happen.

Cook also contacted the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office asking about the statute Weiler claimed existed and that the Milwaukee Co-Masons allegedly were violating. Cook also asked if there were any laws in the state pertaining to meetings by small  groups of men and women for study and ceremony.

Wisconsin Secretary of State, and former Governor, Fred R. Zimmerman replied the following day that he knew of none.

It was during this time that Armour, her first letter apparently ignored, wrote another letter to Weiler. Armour wrote:

Since writing you on August 23, in reply to your inquiry of August 20 regarding the Co-Masonic Order, it has been brought to my attention that you have made claims to our members in Milwaukee as to the prerogatives of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, attempting to interfere with their legitimate activities, and have made unwarranted statements as to the character of our organization.

Armour again provided a brief history of Co-Freemasonry in North America and pointed out that just because the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin  didn’t – as it doesn’t today – recognize Co-Freemasonry doesn’t mean Co-Masons aren’t Freemasons and certainly doesn’t negate the legal rights of  Co-Masons in Wisconsin. She again pointed to similar cases over the previous half century in which male-only Masons tried to interfere with  Co-Freemasonry in North America and failed, including a 1907 incident in which male-only Masons maneuvered the arrest of two Co-masons. In that case, the male-only Masons’ efforts failed in the courts, setting some interesting precedents.

The entire effort in Wisconsin was equally pointless, Armour wrote:

Our organization could not possibly harm or damage the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. Our influence is neither demoralizing nor contaminating. We teach and practice good citizenship. We prohibit soliciting members and we do not permit applicants to join under the impression that they will gain any social prestige or commercial advantages. On the contrary, they are told of the hardship and disadvantages of pioneer work.

Male-only Masons who’ve tried to affiliate with Co-Masonic Lodges have been turned away, “explaining our situation and telling these applicants to remain in their own Lodges,” Armour wrote.

Armour’s 4 September letter, like her first letter, apparently was ignored.

Meanwhile, the check for the lodge’s first month rent for the room that the Odd Fellows decided the Co-Masons couldn’t use had been cashed and there was no getting those funds back. “Looks like we are just out that amount,” Wycherley wrote to Cook on 8 September.

There was no further word that week from the male-only Masons and the Milwaukee Co-Masons seem to have settled down as their 12 September meeting date approached. The unpleasantness appeared to have blow over.

It hadn’t.

The Schmitts received a letter, postmarked on 10 September, from the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney James J. Kerwin, ordering them to a  meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, 16 September, “without fail” with Second Deputy District Attorney Charles J. Kersten. It was at this time that Co-Masons found out what Wisconsin statute Weiler had been talking about all along.

Wisconsin statute 343.251, long since repealed, made it illegal to “willfully wear the insignia, rosette, or badge or any imitation thereof” of various groups and orders, including “Free Masons [sic].” However, the statute did not define who “Free Masons” are, a topic any Masonic grand officer would be unwise to let Profane courts sort out.

That notwithstanding, the Schmitts were summoned to the District Attorney’s office, which prompted Werth to write a hasty note to Cook alerting him to the latest development. The Schmitts, Werth said, had had about as much of the Wisconsin Situation as they could stand and “they are quite concerned” about being summoned to the district attorney’s office.

Marcella Schmitt called the district attorney’s office in an attempt to put off the appointment so that someone else – anyone else – could represent the Order. It was during that call that Marcella Schmitt received some stunning news. “She said that they [Marcella Schmitt and her mother] had been told they should not hold any meetings and she didn’t know what they should do about the one scheduled for Sunday – tomorrow,” Werth wrote to Cook.

Werth then asked a question that had gone unasked for weeks: Why were the male-only Masons of Wisconsin and Profane law enforcement harassing a widow and her daughter who had no authority to speak for the Order? “Isn’t there some way that Marcella and her mother can get the authorities to work through the Grand Officers instead of riding them about it?” Werth asked in her note. “Marcella was afraid that if they held the meeting tomorrow someone would interrupt them with a search warrant.”

While the record remains incomplete, it seems the Brothers of Amen-Ra did quietly meet in a location other than the Odd Fellows Hall on 12 September 1943 without “someone” showing up “with a search warrant.” Meeting elsewhere might be, at least in part, why that didn’t happen. It could also be that the proponents of this legal action didn’t want to go that far.

When the Schmitts, with great trepidation, turned up for the demanded appointment at the county’s district attorney’s office, they found the deputy district attorney had flaked out on them. The Schmitts were told the deputy district attorney was “in court on an important case.”

“We called again today and the operator said that the case would not be closed before Saturday of this week, which means that we might be able to see him the early part of next week,” Marcella Schmitt wrote to Cook on 23 September, 1943.

The Brothers of Amen-Ra also received a veiled threat from “one of the investigators” to hold no more meetings because “it would be best not to aggravate the situation just at this time.”[9]

The County Deputy District Attorney, Kersten, didn’t become available to meet with the Schmitts until 29 September, almost two weeks after the date he’s originally demanded, and even that meeting was “for a very short time,” Marcella Schmitt said in her letter to Cook the same day. Kersten for the first time made formal what Milwaukee Co-Masons had been scrambling to find out on their own, that a complaint had been made against them by the Weiler as Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin and Potter, its Grand Master.

Schmitt noted that Kersten said he wasn’t a Freemason, “was not well-informed on the Masonic Order” and observed that he had trouble remembering the Wisconsin Grand Master’s name.

It was at this point that it was revealed Kersten had been present back in August when Detective Shalla had hauled the Schmitts and the Amen-Ra’s charter to the police department and that Kersten had examined the charter at that time.

That seems to have been all that came out of the 29 September meeting with Kersten as Kersten decided then he would rather “the grand officers”  be present. Perhaps it occurred to him, as it seemed to not be occurring to others, that the Schmitts were not qualified to speak for all of North  American Co-Freemasonry, but it also seems that no one from the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin was at the meeting either. So, he pointedly instructed the Schmitts to contact Cook to see when he could be available for a meeting, which is odd because Cook still wasn’t a high ranking grand officer. Armour, again, was ignored.

Kersten also declined a copy of Armour’s letter to Weiler.

Though he wasn’t present, Cook might have noticed something in Kersten’s realization about the Schmitts. There might be something to gain should Kersten observe the male-only Masons were acting like bullies in their treatment of the Schmitts.

Or, perhaps, Cook just wanted little as possible to do with “the Wisconsin Situation.”

For whatever reason, Cook suddenly was more interested in the Schmitts taking the lead on behalf of their Lodge and the Order. In his 1 October letter to Marcella Schmitt, Cook said he would be too busy to make an appointment with Kersten. Cook wrote:

I suggest, therefore, that you proceed, having no fear whatever of the outcome. One suggestion that I would make to you is that you make for yourself another copy of the Ills. Bro. Armour’s[10] letter to Mr. Weiler, so that if you hand one to Mr. Kersten you will still have one to use in the  discussion.

Miss Armour’s letter answers very satisfactorily the suggestion of ‘borrowed insignia, titles, etc.’ – borrowed from whom and when? All of these  were regularly conferred at the inception of the Order, handed down from the same sources as those from which Mr. Weiler’s organization claims descent and authority.

It’s easy to imagine what the timid and stressed Schmitts thought of that. Probably Cook imagined it, too, which might be why he sent instructions to Wycherley to help steel Amen-Ra’s Secretary and Senior Warden. He also signaled to Wycherley that it was time to be far less passive.

“I was willing that we should temporarily delay our activities to give an opportunity for inquiry, but Mr. Weiler has not seen fit to reply to the letter [from  Armour] of full information given to him, and a good deal of time has passed,” Cook wrote. “I therefore recommend that we proceed with our work and let the inquiry take its course.”

In other words, the October meeting of Amen-Ra should go ahead as planned.

Meanwhile, Armour apparently had a chance to speak with real legal counsel on the matter, which made her even more confident that the Order would prevail in this case as they had in all others previous. “It would seem they do not have a leg to stand on in the matter of Masonic emblems and no legal-minded committee of enquiry could uphold their claim to the exclusive right to such emblems,” Armour said in her 5 October letter to Cook.[11]

The follow-up meeting with Kersten occurred on 6 October lasted about two hours and followed a one-hour meeting between the Schmitts and Weiler. Potter did not attend, which means Kersten didn’t get the grand officers he’d asked for. Both meetings apparently took place in Kersten’s office, which suggests he was interested in the three Freemasons coming to some sort of amicable, not to mention Masonic, agreement.

Kersten challenged the Schmitts to prove that the origins of Co-Freemasonry are the same as those claimed by the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. The Schmitts, naturally, had no trouble documenting that and again offered up a copy of Armour’s long, detailed letter.

In her letter to Cook a few days later, Marcella Schmitt reported that Kersten seemed to at times to favor the male-only Masons of Wisconsin’s and, at times, the Co-Masons. She also said that Weiler claimed that Co-Freemasonry was being “thoroughly investigated” by the Northern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Marcella recalled:

He said that the literature he had received proved nothing to him as to our validity and constantly he insisted that we were not entitled to use terminology. When we pointed out that any further questions should rightly be directed to the Very Ills.·.·. Bro.·. Armour, Mr. Weiler said that he would have the courtesy to answer her letter of September 5.

That sudden willingness on Weiler’s part to at least acknowledge a communication from the Grand Commander of North American Co-Freemasonry was an important concession and indicates he realized his position was crumbling. His next move was aimed at getting, likewise, at least one concession from the Co-Masons. Marcella Schmitt recalled in the same letter to Cook:

After we dispersed, Mr. Weiler walked out of the building with us. Although previously he spoke of the many attorneys in his Order, he said that he did not want to prosecute us, that it would be bad if Masonry were to be tried in the courts for too much about it would have to be revealed, that if we proved ourselves regular that would be a deciding factor, but we could not do so because of irregularity at its very inception – admitting women.

The Schmitts certainly had heard that canard before. Timid though they were, they could not have been impressed.

Weiler then hopped on a suggestion he and Kersten apparently made during the meeting, “that we retain the principles of our Order but  change the titles, insignia, etc. – this was their solution,” Marcella Schmitt wrote.

That was not going to happen anymore than the Grand Lodge was going to retain the principles of their Order but change the titles, insignia, etc. It was grasping for straws that Co-Masons were never going to offer.

The Schmitts walked away from the meeting with a dubious victory: “permission” from Kersten that the meetings of Amen-Ra could continue. Kersten also, finally, accepted that extra copy of Armour’s letter that Cook had the Schmitts take with them.

Neither side got everything that they wanted but the rights Co-Masons in Milwaukee had been recognized and preserved. In his letter to Armour on 18 October, Cook said the entire storm might blow over if “the Masons will just quite down.”

Amen-Ra met in October and November without issue and almost another month passed with no update from anyone, including Kersten. Marcella Schmitt wrote to the Deputy District Attorney on 13 December seeking his “assurances that we will encounter no further difficulties.”

The Schmitts received no reply from Kersten and, with Cook’s nod, decided to try again to rent the Odd Fellows Hall for future meetings. However, the rental agent for the hall informed the Schmitts that “the case has not been dropped” and the hall, for which the Co-Masons had already paid still would be denied them.[12]

That didn’t last. There is a gap in the remaining record, we can’t be sure what happened but the Milwaukee Co-Masons were eventually allowed to rent the Odd Fellows Hall for their meeting, starting in February of 1944[13].

Part of Cook’s remarks to the Brothers of Amen-Ra at their January meeting, which he attended, remain. Cook said in his 2 February 1944 letter to Armour:

I reminded them that in a sense they had run up against opposition and resentment not unlike that confronting the founders of the Order who sought to promote the interests and place of women in the affairs of Masonry and the  world. That is was in fact the same intolerance and sex discrimination that was rooted in the attitude of opposition that had temporarily stood in their way in their efforts to establish themselves in a lodge hall. That they were to be  congratulated upon having overcome the difficulty thus far, but that they should continue a vigorous fight for their rights as citizens and as Masons, if such were necessary, for they must continue to emulate the pioneers who sought to establish human freedom without distinction

As for Lodge Amen-Ra No. 584, it continues to labor in Milwaukee.

[1] See Cook’s 2 February letter to Edith Armour, then Grand Commander of North American Co-Freemasonry. Unless otherwise noted, all documents cited in this paper are preserved in the archives of the Honorable Order of Universal Freemasonry, the American Federation of Human Rights

[2] See Annette Schmitt’s 20 August 1943 letter to Cook.

[3] For Weiler’s Masonic credentials, see page 138 of “Official Proceedings of the Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons of Wisconsin, 2008”, available online here.

[4] Chicago Daily Tribune 10 December 1918 page 14 and his record with Milwaukee County Chaper of War Mothers of America, available online here.

[5] See editorial page of 9 September 1952 Waukesha Daily Freeman.

[6] He was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason 12 December, 1921 in Henry L. Palmer Lodge No. 301, according to the October 2010 edition of Templegram, a publication of the Northwest Masonic Center in Wauwotosa, Wisconsin, available online here. In the remaining record, his name sometimes is spelled “Kluchevsky” but Kluchesky appears to be the correct spelling.

[7] The comment is referred to in Wycherley’s 8 September letter to Cook, which does not specify which police officer made the remark.

[8] Annette Schmitt’s letter to Ann Werth 23 August 1943.

[9] Armour’s 26 September 1943 letter to Cook.

[10] “The Very Illustrious Bro” would have been correct, which proves that even the most experienced  Freemason doesn’t always bother with minutia.

[11] This letter seems to no longer exist or at least it has not yet turned up in the archives in Larkspur. The archive does include an excerpt from that letter, which includes this reference.

[12] See 10 January 1944 letter of Odd Fellows Temple Renting Agent to Annette Schmitt.

[13] See cook’s 2 February 1944 letter to Armour.

 

 

2017 World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History (WCFFH)

2017 World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History (WCFFH)

More international Masonic conferences should start with a round table of the world’s best and brightest scholars of the craft talking. Just talking. Shop, mostly.

Which is how the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France kicked off in May, with what was billed as a “pre-conference workshop.” Several dozen scholars of the Craft met around a huge table in a meeting room in the Grand Orient de France headquarters in Rue Cadet in Paris with GOdF Library, Archives and Museum Director Pierre Mollier heading it all up.

It was an afternoon of something that doesn’t happen very much: scholars of Freemasonry talking across borders. In fact, this could well have been the first time it has happened with so many scholars representing so many parts of the world. More usually, scholars of the Craft concentrate on studies within their own language, often only within their own countries and their resulting work is narrow, as if other studies in other languages and countries don’t exist at all.

“We talk about Freemasonry,” said María Eugenia Vázquez Semadeni, who later in the conference participated in panels and chaired one. “We should be talking about Freemasonries.”

That nod toward the independent and yet concurrent evolution of Freemasonry on different continents and in different countries was in the background as the conference considered it’s topic, which was the influence of Andrew Michael Ramsay, commonly referred to as the “Chevalier Ramsay.” If you’re a Freemason and you don’t know who he is, chances are good you don’t live in France.

“He had a profound influence,” Paul Rich, who along with Mollier was one of he WCFFH conference chairs and is president of the Policy Studies Organization Westphalia Press, said during the round table discussion.

However, the influence Ramsey had was more deeply felt in France, where Ramsey’s work helped create a Freemasonry more romantic and less dogmatic than that which developed in English-speaking parts of the world, Rich conceded. “He has long been unreported upon in America,” Rich said.

However, few in those Freemasonries are schooled well enough about scholarship being done in other parts of the world to even notice that divergence. Which means English-speaking Masonic scholars especially are missing quite a lot, folks at the roundtable seemed to agree. “The finest research being done today is being done in France,” said UCLA’s Margaret Jacob, another Masonic scholar of great note who participated in the conference.

So far as that went, the message that came out of the round table discussion could have been a repeat of the call issued the previous weekend in Toulon from the International Meeting of Masonic Research Lodges, the ICOM: Let there be greater international cooperation in Freemasonic scholarship.

However, the round table discussion just couldn’t end with that conclusion. Instead, the conversation went off in an odd direction. Perhaps it was out of respect for our hosts or perhaps it was because, well, Paris. It was less about international cooperation between Masonic scholars and more about how French Masonic scholarship can save the Masonic scholarly world.

It was one of a number of examples that illustrates how disjointed parts of the rest of the conference became. While the better-organized ICOM was able take the message of dozens of scholars from across the world and develop one single call to action, the WCFFH really didn’t. Of course, there’s no reason why it had to.

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers

Paul Rich and Susan Sommers Photo Credit: Olimpia Sandoval

Some of the heavier hitters had not yet arrived the on the day of the round table. Susan Mitchell Sommers arrived the following day and delivered one of the highlights of the WCFFH, a version of the paper she developed with Andrew Prescott, “Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?” In that paper, Sommers and Prescott present their evidence that questions the traditional 1717 origin date for modern Freemasonry, making a good case that the real date probably was closer to 1721.

Another important panel during the conference examined the current state of women in Freemasonry in Europe and the United States, chaired by Drake University’s Natalie Bayer. This panel simply would not have happened, even in France, ten years ago.

While touching on topics such as comparing women and Freemasonry in 18th Century France, England, and Germany, the panel really lit up Cécile Révauger of Université Bordeaux Montaigne gave a very good break down of how the Grand Orient de France decided to allow its lodges to determine whether to accept women, now more than eight years ago.

That was quite a change for an Orient that once explicitly barred women from membership and may indicate how other male-only Masonic supreme bodies could relax its belligerence against other bodies that do accept women, Révauger said.

“It seems that more and more grand lodges are less willing to hold dogmatic views,” she said. “And more and more of them are willing to allow for inclusion and tolerance.”

I think that piece of hope is as good as any to take away from the WCFFH. If no unified call for action came out of the conference, it certainly was a good opportunity for many of the greatest Masonic scholars in the world to come together and pause long enough to review the history of the Freemasonry as they currently are researching it. “And 2017 is an appropriate time to review how that history has been received,” Jacob said near the conclusion of the round table discussion.

Another opportunity for such a pause is scheduled for May 17-18 in 2018 when a sort of mini-WCFFH is planned at the Historic Whittemore House in Washington D.C. The topic of that conference will be “Not Men Only: Sisters, Sororities, and Ritualistic Societies.” I will blog more about then when I know more about that.

 

Success and the Crafty Freemason

Success and the Crafty Freemason

The Crafty Freemason in Durham, a city in northeast England, gets orders from around the world and is thriving as a real shop in a market that now is dominated by online sellers.

“What makes my business stand out from other regalia businesses is that it is local,” said owner and Freemason Susan Blackett. “People can call in and view products before purchase. I can make things bespoke.”

It’s that personal touch that Blackett says makers her business, which had an open day in March, a standout. Located at 41 Quebec Street, Langley Park, in Durham, The Crafty Freemason offers handmade Masonic products, regalia, accessories and hand-crafted items.

Blackett said the business began when she became a Freemason. She was initiated in October of 2013 in Lodge City of Durham No. 105, which labors under the Order of Women Freemasons. “I was passed and raised by April 2014 and this has been very much instrumental in forming my business idea,” Blackett said.

More recently, Blackett has received the Mark, Royal Ark Mariner and ‘Chapter’ Royal Arch, the latter on Feb. 22.

Already a skilled embroiderer and fabric artist, it was natural that the symbols of Freemasonry began to appear in her art, particularly after she became a Master Mason. In April of 2015, she made a cushion bearing the square and compasses for herself and posted photos to a Masonic group active on Facebook. The response was overwhelming, she said.

“I received a multitude of orders and lots of encouragement to develop this into a business,” Blackett recalled. “I attended a small business course and then set myself up as a sole trader making an array of Masonic related hand crafted items.” The Crafty Freemason opened for business that following August.

That was the birth of The Crafty Freemason, which started life in a small room of Blackett’s home. It was not an easy market to break into and regalia sellers aren’t generally succeeding in brick and mortar shops anymore. Toye & Co. had closed its own shop on London’s Great Queen Street, across from Freemasons Hall, in January of that year.

It was her peculiar skill set in art, ease with her clientele and ferreting out merchandise that has helped her succeed in a difficult market, Blackett said. “As my business progressed rapidly, I listened to my customers and it is they who re-defined the structure and purpose of the business through the requests they made, i.e. for ties, gloves, regalia and all manner of Masonic necessities,” she said. “I sourced items, found suppliers who would offer me quality items to retail and my work space advanced to a larger room in my house.”

When her entire house was taken up in the venture, word of The Craft Freemason spread outside the northeast of England and large orders starting coming in from Israel and Kenya, Blackett said she “realized I had to professionalize my business.”

“I likened it to a plant in a pot,” she said. “It can only grow so far in a certain sized pot if you want it to become bigger you have to plant it in a larger pot.”

The larger pot turned out to be the shop in Durham but there may yet be a need for an even larger pot. “I am gradually building up my products in variety and number to cover all Masonic orders although I’m not quite there yet,” Blackett said.

Photo: Susan Blackett with one of her displays at her shop, The Crafty Freemason, in Durham a city in northeast England.

August in Athens: Summer International Masonic Workshop in Greece