When a new brother is in the beginning stages of his masonic journey, he is asked what I believe to be one of the most profound questions of all: “Where were you first prepared to be made a mason?”
As those of us in the fraternity know, the usual response is “my heart.” This turning of the heart is often said to be the beginning of the initiation process. But, why? What does the heart symbolize that is so important?
Plato spoke of the pumping of the valves of the heart as the origin of human passions. Aristotle offered a somewhat different explanation, claiming that it is not only the organ of passions but the resting place of the soul’s vital spirit. Freemasonry mirrors this philosophy attributing the heart as the sacred abode of the Inner Ruler Immortal.
In our modern world, the word “heart” is often downplayed to have to do with the feelings or temperament. We might hear of a heart that is stony, heavy, broken, foolish, warm, cold or bleeding. In the middle of February, the retail stores make a fortune on the heart motif.
Brother Manly Hall in “The Secret Teaching of All Ages” suggests that the common reference to the emotions when it comes to the heart is a blind. He says:
“While all the Mysteries recognized the heart as the center of spiritual consciousness, they often purposely ignored this concept and used the heart in its exoteric sense as the symbol of the emotional nature. The student of esotericism discovers ere long that the ancients often resorted to various blinds to conceal the true interpretations of their Mysteries.”
Blinds can no doubt lead a person astray. Brother Helena Blavatsky, for example, in the “Secret Doctrine” continually used enigmas, cryptograms, and other devices intended to conceal the real esoteric meaning from uninitiated readers. Never does she actually lie, but I have noticed when a topic seems too clear-cut, then I should be suspect.
So, what about the heart? Has our society oversimplified the concept only to conceal a blind? If so, what is the nature of that blind? Is it possible to grasp a glimpse of the heart’s mystery?
A journey through a number of the Volumes of Sacred Lore is as a way of exploring just a few of the many deeper meanings of this symbol.
In Buddhism, the heart is considered the center of enlightenment. The word “bodhicitta” translates to the pure awakened heart and mind within each person. Within “bodhicitta” is the aspiration for service to all beings as the longing to heal the sufferings of the world.
In Christianity, the Grail stories describe the human heart as a container of the heart of Christ whose life/blood grants nourishment to the soul. In the Bible, it is the heart to which Christ referred when he said “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
In Hinduism, the Upanishads speak of what is known as the hridaya guha, or the cave of the heart, in which resides the Supreme Reality. In the eighth chapter it says to “Go into the cave and you find the treasures of heaven.”
In Islam, the basic Arabic word for heart is galb meaning change or transformation. It is considered the meeting place between the human and the celestial realms where spirit resides. The heart of the faithful is the “Throne (al-‘Arsh) of God the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman)”
In Judaism, the heart is the seat of wisdom, as the Psalmist wrote, “Teach us to number our days that we may attain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90) The Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem is considered to be a heart as was Jerusalem itself.
In Taoism, the heart is a vehicle of eternity, love, and divinity. Hazrat Inayat Khan says: “Realizing that love is a divine spark in one’s heart, one keeps blowing on that spark until a flame rises to illuminate the path of one’s life.”
In the Cosmology of Memphis, the heart was understood as a repository of the good deeds in a person’s life. If the heart was light as a feather, you passed the test of the Goddess Maat and were able to enter the afterlife.
One could go on almost indefinitely. In just a short survey, the heart symbol is seen as an important spiritual center, an inner shrine, a place that reflects the life and deeds of each person. It is often depicted with a flame.
Can any of these sacred teachings apply to a mason’s life?
In Freemasonry, we learn about brotherly love which inflames the hearts of all true Masons. With that understanding comes the responsibility to lift and aid the downtrodden and to battle against the forces of fanaticism, ignorance, and tyranny. It is our duty to bring light to darkness.
A flaming heart is a symbol of this task and makes its appearance in more than one of the Scottish Rite Degrees. It represents a zeal for truth and doing what is right, even if it means self-sacrifice. Moving toward the fire of knowledge, of both ourselves and the world, is the path of every Mason whose heart burns within him. The whole degree system of freemasonry echoes the imagery of a fiery striving.
In the Agni Yoga book “Fiery Worlds” we read:
“A striving will, emanating from the fiery heart, creates a karmic wave which produces a vortex drawing in the corresponding energies.”
As the writings suggest, the striving fiery heart becomes magnetic. It then can bring into manifestation that which is willed. The highest striving originates not from the separate self, but from the divine. When our hearts begin to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine, we naturally enter into and become a part of the spiritual striving of the world.
A Freemason’s “first preparation” could definitely stand for a state of the emotions like zeal, aspiration, passion, motivation, etc. All well and good. In my mind, however, I envision that a flaming heart symbolizes something far more mysterious. It connects us to the spark of the sacred Fire within us. As the door is opened and expands, “the heart can conceive what the eyes could not behold.” We are truly enveloped with revelation, the beauty and splendor of which is beyond description. This is the perhaps when we truly realize the mystic tie that binds us all together.
“That which is a mystery shall no longer be so, and that which has been veiled will now be revealed: that which has been withdrawn will emerge into the light, and all men shall see and together they shall rejoice.” – Brother Alice Bailey