A Stupid Atheist?

A Stupid Atheist?

THE first of the Old Charges, “Concerning God and Religion” begins:

“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and, if he rightly understands the art, will never be a stupid atheist….”

That all petitioners for the degrees express a belief in Deity is a fundamental requirement. That all elected candidates who receive the entered Apprentice degree publicly express a belief in deity is a fundamental requirement. No lodge would accept the petition of any man unwilling to profess his faith in Deity.

We are taught that no atheist can be made a Mason, and the reason usually assigned is that, lacking a belief in Deity, no obligation can be considered binding. The real reasons for the non-acceptance of atheists into the Fraternity goes much deeper. We are not entirely accurate when we say that no obligation can be binding without taking an oath. Our courts of law permit a Quaker to “affirm” instead of taking an oath to tell the truth, inasmuch as a Quaker’s religious belief does not permit him to swear.

Yet, a Quaker who tells an untruth after his affirmation is as subject to the penalty for perjury as the devout believer in God who first swears to tell the truth, and then fails to do so. The law holds a man truthful who affirms, as well as one who swears to tell the truth.

No atheist can be made a Mason, far less from lack of binding power of the obligation taken by such a disbeliever, than from Freemasonry’s knowledge that an atheist can never be a Mason “in his heart.” Our whole symbolism is founded on the erection of a Temple to the Most High. Our teachings are of the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man founded on that fatherhood, and the immortality of the soul in a life to come. A disbeliever in all these could by no possible chance be happy or contented in our organization.

WHAT IS AN ATHEIST?

IT is possible to spin long-winded theories about the word, draw fine distinctions, quote learned encyclopedias and produce a fog of uncertainty as to the meaning of “atheist” as hopeless as it is stupid, From Freemasonry’s standpoint an atheist is a man who does not believe in Deity. Which immediately brings out the far more perplexing question:

THE question has plagued many a Masonic scholar and thousands of men less wise. It is still a matter of perplexity to many a man who fears that the friend who has asked him to sign his petition is an atheist.

“What is this Deity in which a man must believe?”

Such an anthropomorphic God, derived from descriptive passages in the Bible, added to by the drawings of artists and crystallized in an age of simple faith, have given such a conception to many who find it adequate.

Here is where all the trouble and the worry comes on the scene. Man’s idea of God differs with the man, his education, his early religious training. To some, the mental picture of God is that of a commanding, venerable figure with flowing white hair and beard – the great artist Dore so pictured God in his marvelous illustrated Bible. Such a conception fits naturally in a heaven of golden streets, flowing with milk and honey. White clothed angels make heavenly music on golden harps, the while Deity judges between the good and the evil.

Others conceive of Deity as a Bright Spirit, who moves through the universe with the speed of light, who is “without form” because without body, yet who is all love, intelligence, mercy and understanding. The man who believes in the anthropomorphic God describes his conception, then asks the brother who believes in a Bright Spirit:

“Do you believe in my God?”

If the answer is in the negative, the questioner may honestly believe him who answers to be an atheist. The Deity of a scientist, a mathematician, a student of the cosmos via the telescope and the testimony of geology, may be neither anthropomorphic nor Bright Spirit, but a universally pervading power which some call Nature; others Great First Cause; still others Cosmic Urge.

Such a man believes not in the anthropomorphic God, not in God as a Bright Spirit. Shall he call his brethren who do so believe, atheists? Have they the right so to denominate him?

CAN GOD BE DEFINED?

TO the Geologist, the very handwriting of God is in the rocks and earth. To the fundamentalist, the only handwriting of God is in the Bible. Inasmuch as the geologist does not believe in the chronology of the life of the earth as set forth in the Bible, the fundamentalist may call the geologist an atheist. Per contra, the geologist, certain that God has written the story of the earth in the rocks, not in the Book, may call the fundamentalist an atheist because he denies the plain testimony of science.

One is a right, and each is as wrong, as the other! Neither is an atheist, “because each believes in the God which satisfies him!”

You shall search Freemasonry from Regius Poem, our oldest document, to the most recent pronouncement of the youngest Grand Lodge; you shall read every decision, every law, every edict of every Grand Master who ever occupied the Exalted East, and nowhere find an ukase that any brother must believe in the God of some other man. Nowhere in Freemasonry in England, its Provinces, or the United States and its dependent Jurisdictions, will you find any God described, cataloged, limited in which a petitioner must express a belief before his petition may be accepted.

For Masonry is very wise, she is old, old and wisdom comes with age! She knows, as few religions and no other Fraternity has ever known, of the power of the bond which lies in the conception of an unlimited God.

A witty Frenchman was asked once: “Do you believe in God?” He answered:

“What do you mean by God? Nay, do not answer. For if you answer, you define God. A God defined is a God limited, and a limited God is no God!”

From Freemasonry’s gentle standpoint, a God defined and limited is not the Great Architect of the Universe. Only God unlimited by definition; God without meets and bounds; God under any name, by any conception, is the fundamental concept of the Fraternity, and to believe in Whom is the fundamental requirement for membership.

LOGIC AND UNDERSTANDING

IN her Fellowcraft Degree, Freemasonry teaches of the importance of Logic. It is perfectly logical to say that the finite cannot comprehend the infinite; a truism as exact as to say that light and darkness cannot exist in the same place at the same time, or that sound and silence cannot be experienced at the same moment. A mind which can comprehend infinity is not finite. That which can be comprehended by a finite mind is not infinite. Therefore, it is logical to say that no man can comprehend God, since the only mind he has is finite.

But, if a man cannot comprehend the God in Whom he must express a belief in order to be a Freemason, it is obviously the very height of folly to judge his belief by any finite comprehension of Deity. Which is the best of reasons why Freemasonry makes no attempt at definition. She does not say: “Thus and such and this and that is my conception of God, do you believe in HIM?” She says nothing, allowing each petitioner to think of Him as finitely or as infinitely as he will.

The agnostic frankly says:

“I do not know in what God I believe, or how he may be formed or exist. I only know that I believe in something.”

Freemasonry does not ask him to describe his “something.” If it is to him that which may be named God, no matter how utterly different from the God of the man who hands him the petition, Freemasonry asks nothing more. He must “believe.” How he names his God, how he defines or limits Him, what powers he gives Him – Freemasonry cares not.

It is probable that the majority of those who profess atheism are mistaken in their reading of their own thoughts. An atheist may be an honest man, a good husband and father, a law abiding, charitable, upstanding citizen. If so, his whole life contradicts what his lips say. In the words of the poet:

“He lives by the faith his lips deny, God knoweth why!”

Many a man has reasoned about faith, heaven, infinity, and God until his brain reeled at the impossibility of comprehending the infinite with the finite, and ended by saying in despair: “I cannot believe in God!” Then he has taken his wife or his child in his arms and there found happiness, completely oblivious to the most profound, as the most simple fact of all faiths and all religions; where love is, there is also God!

DECLARATION OF BELIEF

BUT, Freemasonry does not go behind the spoken or written word. With a full understanding that many a man who defiantly denies the existence of God is actually not an atheist “in his heart” our Order nevertheless insists upon a plain declaration of belief. There is no compromise in Freemasonry;1 her requirement are neither many nor difficult, but they are strict.

Having accepted the declaration, however, Freemasonry asks no qualifying phrases “Nor should any of us question a declaration.” It is not for us to let our hearts be troubled, because a petitioner’s conception of Deity is not ours. It is not for us to worry because he thinks of his God in a way which would not satisfy us. Freemasonry asks only for a belief in a Deity unqualified, unlimited, undefined. Her sons cannot, Fraternally, do less.

When the great schism in Freemasonry ended in 1813, and the two rival Grand Lodges, the Moderns (who were the older) and the Antients (who were the younger, Schismatic body) came together on St. John’s Day to form the United Grand Lodge, they laid down a firm foundation on this point for all time to come. It was later declared to all by this, the primary, Mother Grand Lodge of all the Masonic World:

“Let any man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the Order, provided he believes in the glorious Architect of Heaven and Earth, and practices the sacred duties of morality.”

What a Mason thinks about the glorious Architect, by what name he calls Him. how he defines or conceives of Him, so far as Freemasonry is concerned may be a secret between Deity and brother, kept forever, “in his heart!”2


1 While traditionally this is the case, some Masonic Obediences do not require candidates to profess a belief in God.

2 Originally published, SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol. X   April, 1932 No.4

3 Ways to Improve the Civility of Our Conversations Online

3 Ways to Improve the Civility of Our Conversations Online

IS it possible to have civil discourse online today regarding a controversial topic? I have to say, there are times that I feel it is not, or at least it’s extremely challenging. This is particularly true of online discussions via social media, which make up more and more of the political conversations going on these days. In fact, this is an understatement; the truth is that I often feel like the world has gone totally insane.

Why is this the case? There are various ideas floating around in the ether about why it’s gotten tough to talk to each other politely, mostly having to do with the lack of face-to-face interaction and the empathy that entails while interacting online, plus the echo-chamber effect of surrounding ourselves with only those who see the world as we do. I would even add certain cultural developments, particularly the idea that we are actually obligated to be outraged by certain ideas. This seems related to the idea of taboo, that some topics or opinions are simply forbidden, a pattern that has existed in virtually all human societies, although what is taboo in those various societies may be very different.

However, the current climate might be explained, what can each of us do to increase the civility of our own interactions? These are a few of my thoughts on what each of us can do to make our discussions more civil and ultimately more rewarding.

Recognize Civil Discourse as a Skill

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is anger.jpgIt’s not easy to keep your cool when someone disagrees with you. Much of our identities are tied up in our opinions and worldviews, and when someone questions that, it can sometimes feel like shaking our foundations. Of course, beneath every angry response is the hidden fear that we may actually be wrong, may have not properly thought something out, and might end up looking like a fool. It’s happened to us all at least once, and it could certainly happen again.

It’s important to recognize that overcoming this inner “trigger mechanism” is essentially a skill, one that has to be practiced and honed; in Freemasonry, this references the work of subduing one’s passions and is a key step in progressing in the Craft. Self-control, restraint from excess, and moderation in all things are some of skills which should distinguish a Freemason.

We all know that children lack the self-control necessary to always regulate their emotional outbursts, and so, those who are able to do it must have learned it along the way. Ideally, this would be a part of our standard education, at least at the college level, but sadly, many college students and graduates are still lacking in this department, especially since college campuses are increasingly becoming “safe spaces” where disagreement on some topics is not permitted. 

Therefore, if you find yourself getting angry when you encounter those who disagree with you, be aware of what is unfolding within you, take a step back, and understand that you are practicing a skill, as you choose to respond more skillfully. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail, as some failure is required in the learning process of every skill. 

Recognize Civil Discourse as Desirable

This might seem like a no-brainer, but oddly enough, in many cases it isn’t. There are various cultural movements which are almost opposed to the very idea of civil discourse, or at least have come to think that one should not be calm in discussing some “sacred cows.” My experience has been that this is true on both sides of the aisle. 

A great example of how this is the case is the classic divisive political issue: abortion. On both sides of this issue, there is a general sense that you should be outraged at the other side. If you’re “pro-life,” then you believe people are murdering babies, and what sort of monster would be able to calmly discuss that? If you’re “pro-choice,” you believe that religious zealots are attempting to control people’s medical choices about their own bodies, and so what kind of psychopath could see that as justifiable?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is candidate-lincoln-photographed-by-preston-brooks-in-1860.-library-of-congress.jpg

I’m actually somewhat on the fence on this issue, which may be why it’s so apparent to me that these two camps are both being so unreasonable. The point here is not the ethical dilemma of abortion, but the fact that we can hardly seem to have a civil discussion about it. Insert any similarly divisive issue, and it’s more-or-less the same story. 

This is why we absolutely must learn the skill of civil discourse. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided cannot stand.” If we are ever to make progress and have any semblance of harmony and peace in society among various groups of people who see the world so differently, it will only be if we are able to communicate and see one another’s point of view. The only way that will happen is by civil discourse. [Image: Lincoln photographed by Preston Brooks in 1860. Library of Congress Collection.]

Learn to Be Comfortable With Uncertainty

One of my favorite quotes is from Robert Anton Wilson, when he said, “The totally convinced and the totally stupid have too much in common for the resemblance to be accidental.” This is not to accuse anyone of being stupid, but rather, to make us aware that our absolute conviction about certain things is very frequently a less intelligent way of operating. Even if we feel relatively sure about something, we should always understand that the information we have at our disposal is incomplete, and therefore leave a little room for doubt. 

One pattern that I have observed, and luckily managed to avoid more often than not, is the swinging pendulum effect. Essentially, someone is very adamant about a topic, and then someone argues them well enough into the ground to make them feel foolish, and they swap positions, becoming even more adamant against those who hold their previous views. I speculate that this antagonism after a paradigm shift towards those who hold one’s old paradigm is a neurotic expression of one’s own shame at having been revealed as (apparently) foolish.

The key idea here is that if we never learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, then we tend to swing from dogmatism to dogmatism, waging ideological war against anyone we disagree with, perhaps subconsciously motivated by our shame at having had to admit we were wrong in our previous dogmatism.

Unity, Equality, and Temperance

Freemasonry upholds the virtues of Temperance and Equality; its principles remind us of the inherent Unity of all of Humanity: One Brotherhood of Mankind united under God. The Craft instructs its initiates to avoid extremes by finding a middle path and to practice the Golden Rule with our fellows. All of this rage is really, I believe, misplaced fear of uncertainty, and our own fundamental discomfort at being a tiny human in the vast universe that can never know reality completely. That is an essential truth of our existence which we must be aware of enough to grow accustomed. 

With that, let us conclude with these relevant words from a former U.S. Congressman and Freemason:

“We are one people with one family. We all live in the same house… and through books, through information, we must find a way to say to people that we must lay down the burden of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.”

– The V. Ills. Bro. John Lewis 33°


* Above Image: Bro. John Lewis – U.S. Capitol Rotunda October 2019 [Image Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo]

* Brother Lewis was a Scottish Rite Mason in Atlanta Consistory No. 24-A, Orient of Georgia (PHA). He was coroneted a 33° SGIG in 2011 at the United Supreme Council Session in Atlanta. And he was a Shriner in the Prince Hall-associated Khedive Temple No. 16, and later in Mecca Temple No. 10, in the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.

Conduits

Conduits

A CONDUIT is a tube that runs from one place to another, to channel water or other fluid, or electrical wires, or wires that connect ‘things.’ Think, a farm to a water supply, or power lines buried underground, going to homes. Conduits provide not only a safe enclosure to run these essential elements but they also contain them. Without this containment, they would disperse. Their energy would be diffuse and fall toward entropy, only to have to regenerate somewhere else anew. Likewise, the conduit protects these elements from being corrupted by outside forces.

Let’s take this a step further: a conduit must be kept in excellent condition in order for it to perform its function. It has to be free from the things that corrode it or threaten to break it. It must be kept in the proper shape and alignment, in order to conduct the elements to their proper locations. It also must be made out of the proper materials to support and safely deliver their goods. You do not run water through cardboard or lead conduits, as one breaks down and loses its form and the other poisons the water.

RIGHT FORM, RIGHT MIND, & RIGHT SPIRIT

IN a recent group presentation, a fellow Brother stated that the human body needed to be able to be in top physical condition in order for it to be a conduit for the most effective spiritual work. This was part of a larger discussion regarding martial arts and the physical form, linking the whole to the work of the Freemason. Many martial arts are built on the totality of the human form – mental, spiritual, physical – moving in alignment with the will of the Divine. The masters of martial arts are the synthesis of Right Form, Right Mind, and Right Spirit. So, too, is the Freemason admonished to take care of his body, his senses, his mind, and his spirit, caring for each to the best of his abilities and offering the proper amount of focus to each. This means getting enough sleep and exercise, meditation and study, action and work.

During the course of the conversation noted above, it was indicated the flow of energy was coming from the Divine to the Human, the connection running both ways but the energy itself running only one, like water running in a pipe to a cistern. This would indicate to me that the energy is converted by the human into useful creations; ideas or dreams, revelations, and intuition are flowing all the time into our lives, 24×7. We would then have the ability to turn on the “faucet” so to speak, and have a ready supply of Divinity. Every single moment. The human form, being itself of a honed, pristine nature, is then able to use this energy consciously toward a higher purpose, toward the evolution of humanity.

If only this were so.

FREEMASONS & THE HUMAN STRUGGLE

FOR the Freemason, and any ritualist, it should be the first thing we wrangle. Oh, but we humans struggle. We struggle to control our desires and wants, from temperature to the hardness of chairs or the stiffness of our clothing. We are hungry; we are cold; we are sleepy. We lack the exercise our bodies need, the quality of food our cells require, and the mental stimulation of an excellent book or enlivening debate. We do not look for the work that challenges us to change and grow but to the work that is just a little easier on our bodies. Even those of us who are the most disciplined struggle to maintain this homeostasis in a world filled with temptations. We could ask the question, “If I were God, would I channel through me?”

But, here’s the rub, I think: God, in whatever form you imagine it to be, does channel though us. Like a TV with an antenna that isn’t quite in tune with a signal, the Divine does make its way to us, through us maybe a little scrambled and yet still escapes in what we do. The signal is always there. The light that pours through the flawed prism is pure light – it is the imperfections in the glass that stunt the beauty. The Sun is always shining, regardless of our ability to see it. The God-Human-Connection not an all or nothing situation. It’s an always-on condition. The question is, with our earthly shackles, can we hear It?

And, can It hear us?

It’s said that ritual is the interface between human and God. That interface, I believe, runs both ways. Like a conduit of fiber-optic cable connects us to the cyber world, we are an energy source for the Divine. Upload and Download. Many believe that

“…the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”

[Ecclesiastes 12:7]

That being the case, it seems to me that we come back to the Divine, luggage in hand, ready to unpack our lifetime of learning. Again, much like the internet, we take bits of energy from the greater bucket of knowledge and in turn, upload some of the same. We contribute, mindfully or not, to the consciousness of the Divine. This Universal Consciousness doesn’t just pick up the perfect signals, the light from the perfect prism. The Divine picks up the flaws and corruption, the occlusions and excrescences that cause variations in the communication.

UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS & THE PERFECTING OF HUMANITY

I AM even going to stretch this further and say that the Divine, in concept, might be Universal Consciousness, which is the unfoldment of the universe. In metaphysical circles, this universal mind is “a metaphysical concept suggesting an underlying essence of all being and becoming in the universe.” This concept was first brought out by Anaxagoras, an early 5c B.C.E. philosopher who believe that the growth of all living things only comes about by the mind within the organism, being part of a larger conceptual “Mind.” Indeed, modern philosopher Philip Goff has coined the term “panpsychism” as an all-pervasive consciousness. In his terms, consciousness is “experience” and all forms of matter have experiences, regardless of the complex or simple structure of the being. The rock, the sun, the moon, the human, and the mouse all have experiences unique to their being, all contributing to what we might call Universal Mind, or perhaps God.

Therefore, we may be conduits of the Divine, with the goal of It, Divinity or the Universe, becoming manifest in this reality. However, it is not unreasonable to assume that we too are conduits of experience filling the pool of the Universal Mind. And what if, simply, we contribute to the betterment of humanity by the pure act of filling the pool with the best we have to offer? In other words, the quality of our conduit equates to the quality of our experiences, and those experiences are ultimately adding to the “Perfecting of Humanity.” In actuality, they add to the perfection of all of the universe if matter is all-connected. This may be the legacy we leave to those who follow us, and perhaps to ourselves, if we return again. If we truly want to work toward the perfection of Humanity, then it begins, as always, with our own self – body, mind and spirit. It means becoming the best versions of ourselves, whoever we are and whatever we may be, living our dharma.

The Sun, Moon, and Stars

The Sun, Moon, and Stars

WE have more right to be astonished that the astronomical references are so few, rather than to be surprised that there are so many!  We are taught that geometry and Masonry were originally synonymous terms and geometry, fifth of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, is given more prominence in our Fellowcraft degree than the seventh, Astronomy. Yet, the beginnings of astronomy far antedate the earliest geometrician. Indeed, geometry came into existence to answer the ceaseless questionings of man as to the “why” of celestial phenomena. 

In these modern days, it is difficult to visualize the vital importance of the heavens generally, to early man. We can hardly conceive of their terror of the eclipse and the comet or sense their veneration for the Sun and his bride, the Moon. We are too well educated. We know too much about “the proportions which connect this vast machine.”  

ANCIENT IMPORT OF THE HEAVENS

THE astronomer has pushed back the frontiers of his science beyond the inquiries of most of us; the questions which occur as a result of unaided visual observations have all been answered.  We have substituted facts for fancies regarding the sun, the moon, the solar system, the comet, and the eclipse.  

Albert Pike, the great Masonic student “who found Masonry in a hovel and left her in a palace” says:

WE cannot, even in the remotest degree, feel, though we may partially and imperfectly imagine, how those great, primitive, simple-hearted children of Nature, felt in regard to the Starry Hosts, thereupon the slopes of the Himalayas, on the Chaldean plains, in the Persian and Median deserts, and upon the banks of the great, strange River, the Nile. To them the universe was alive – instinct with forces and powers, mysterious and beyond their comprehension. To them it was no machine, no great system of clockwork; but a great live creature, in sympathy with or inimical to man. To them, all was a mystery and a miracle, and the stars flashing overhead spoke to their hearts almost in an audible language. Jupiter, with its kingly splendors, was the Emperor of the starry legions. Venus looked lovingly on the earth and blessed it; Mars with his crimson fires threatened war and misfortune; and Saturn, cold and grave, chilled and repelled them. The ever-changing moon, faithful companion of the sun, was a constant miracle and wonder; the Sun himself the visible emblem of the creative and generative power. To them, the earth was a great plain, over which the sun, the moon, and the planets revolved, its servants, framed to give it light.

Of the stars, some were beneficent existences that brought with them Spring-time and fruits and flowers – some, faithful, sentinels, advising them of coming inundations, of the season of storm and of deadly winds some heralds of evil, which, steadily foretelling. they seemed to cause. To them, the eclipses were portents of evil, and their causes hidden in mystery, and supernatural.  The regular returns of the stars, the comings of Arcturus, Orion, Sirius, the Pleides, and Aldebaran; and the journeyings of the Sun, were voluntary and not mechanical to them. What wonder that astronomy became to them the most important of sciences; that those who learned it became rulers; and that vast edifices, the pyramids, the tower or Temple of Bel, and other like erections elsewhere in the East, were builded for astronomical purposes? – and what wonder that, in their great childlike simplicity, they worshipped the Light, the Sun, the Planets, and the stars; and personified them, and eagerly believed in the histories invented for them; in that age when the capacity for belief was infinite; as indeed, if we but reflect, it still is and ever will be?

– Bro. Albert Pike

Anglo-Saxons usually consider history as their history; science as their science; religion as their religion. This somewhat naive viewpoint is hardly substantiated by a less egoistic survey of knowledge. Columbus’s sailors believed they would “fall off the edge” of a flat world, yet Pythagoras knew the earth to be a ball.  The ecliptic was known before Solomon’s Temple was built.  The Chinese predicted eclipses long, long before the Europeans of the middle age quit regarding them as portents of doom!

FREEMASONRY’S ANCIENT ASTRONOMICAL LORE

THE Astronomical lore of Freemasonry is very old. The foundations of our degrees are far more ancient than we can prove by documentary evidence. It is surely not stretching credulity to believe that the study which antedates “Geometry, the first and noblest of sciences,” must have been impressed on our Order, its ceremonies and its symbols, long before Preston and Webb worked their ingenious revolutions in our rituals and gave us the system of degrees we use – in one form or another – today.

The astronomical references in our degrees begin with the points of the compass; East, West, and South; and the place of darkness, the North.  We are taught the reason why the North is a place of darkness by the position of Solomon’s Temple with reference to the ecliptic, a most important astronomical conception.  The Sun is the Past Master’s own symbol; our Masters rule their lodges – or are supposed to! – with the same regularity with the Sun rules the day and the Moon governs the night.  Our explanation of our Lesser Lights is obviously an adaption of a concept which dates back to the earliest of religions; specifically, to the Egyptian Isis, Osiris, and Horus; represented by the Sun, Moon, and Venus.

Circumambulation about the Altar is in imitation of the course of the Sun.  We traverse our lodges from East to West by way of the South, as did the Sun Worshipers who thus imitated the daily passage of their deity through the heavens. Measures of time are wholly a matter of astronomy. Days and nights were before man, and consequently before astronomy, but hours and minutes, high twelve and low twelve, are inventions of the mind, depending upon the astronomical observation of the Sun at Meridian to determine noon, and consequently all other periods of time.  Indeed, we are taught this in the Middle Chamber work, in which we give to Geometry the premier place as a means by which the astronomer may “fix the duration of time and seasons, years and cycles.”

PILLARS AND GLOBES OF THE LODGE

Porch of King Solomon’s Temple

ATOP the Pillars, representing those in the porch of King Solomon’s Temple, appear the terrestrial and celestial globes. In the Fellowcraft degree, we are told in beautiful and poetic language that “numberless worlds are around us, all framed by the same Divine Artist, which roll through the vast expanse and are all conducted by the same unerring law of nature.”

Our Ancient Brethren, observing that the sun rose and set, easily determining East and West in a general way. As the rises and sets through a variation of 47 degrees north and south during a six-month period the determination were not exact. The earliest Chaldean stargazers, progenitors of the astronomers of later ages, saw that the apparently revolving heavens pivoted on a point nearly coincident with a certain star.  We know that the true north diverges about from the North Star one and one-half degrees, but their observations were sufficiently accurate to determine a North – and consequently East, West, and South. The reference to the ecliptic in the Sublime Degree has puzzled many a brother who has not studied the elements of astronomy. The earliest astronomers defined the ecliptic as the hypothetical “circular” plane of the earth’s path about the sun, with the sun in the “center.”

As a matter of fact, the sun is not in the center and the earth’s path about the sun is not circular. The earth travels once about the sun in three hundred and sixty-five days, and a fraction, on an “elliptic” path; the sun is at one of the foci of that ellipse. The axis of the earth, about which it turns once in twenty-four hours, thus making a night and a day, is inclined to this hypothetical plane by 23 and one-half degrees.  At one point in its yearly path, the north pole of the earth is inclined towards the sun by this amount. Halfway further around in its path the north pole is inclined away from the sun by this angle. The longest day in the northern hemisphere – June 21st – occurs when the north pole is most inclined toward the sun.

Ant building situated between latitudes 23 and one-half north and 23 and one-half south of the equator, will receive the rays of the sun at meridian (high twelve, or noon) from the north at some time during the year.  King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem, being in latitude 31 degrees 47 seconds north, lay beyond this limit.  At no time in the year, therefore, did the sun or moon at meridian “darts its rays into the northerly portion thereof.”

As astronomy in Europe is comparatively modern, some have argued that this reason for considering the North, Masonically, as a place of darkness, must also be comparatively modern. This is wholly mistaken – Pythagoras (to go further back) recognized the obliquity of the world’s axis to the ecliptic, as well as that the earth was a sphere suspended in space.  While Pythagoras (510 B.C.) is much younger than Solomon’s Temple, he is almost two thousand years older than the beginnings of astronomy in Europe.

UNIVERSALITY AND SYMBOLISM

THE “world celestial and terrestrial” on the brazen pillars were added by modern ritual makers.  Solomon knew them not, but contemporaries of Solomon believed the heavens to be a sphere revolving around the earth.  To them the earth stood still; a hollow sphere with its inner surface dotted with stars.  The slowly turning “celestial sphere” is as old as mankind’s observations of the “starry decked heavens.”

It is to be noted that terrestrial and celestial spheres are both used as emblems of universality.  They are not mere duplications for emphasis; they teach their own individual part of “universality.”  What is “universal” on the earth – as for instance, the necessity of mankind to breathe, drink water, and eat in order to live – is not necessarily “universal” in all the universe.  We have no knowledge that any other planet in our solar system is inhabited – what evidence there is, is rather to the contrary.  

We have no knowledge that any other sun has any inhabited planets in its system.  Neither have we any knowledge that they have not.  If life does exist in some other, to us unknown world, it may be entirely different from life on this planet. Hence, a symbol of universality, which applied only to earth would be a self-contradiction.

Real Universality means what it says. It appertains to the whole universe. While a Mason’s Charity, considered as giving relief to the poor and distressed, must obviously be confined to this particular planet, his charity of thought may, so we are taught, extend “through the boundless realms of eternity.” Hence “the world terrestrial” and “the world celestial” on our representations of the pillars, in denoting universality means that the principles of our Order are not founded upon mere earthly conditions and transient truths, but rest upon Divine and limitless foundations, coexistent with the whole cosmos and its creator.

We are taught of the “All-Seeing Eye whom the Sun, Moon, and Stars obey and under whose watchful care even comets perform their stupendous revolutions.” In this astronomical reference is, oddly enough, a potent argument, both for the extreme care in the transmission of ritual unchanged from mouth to ear, and the urgent necessity of curbing well-intentioned brethren who wish to “improve” the ritual.

The word “revolution” in this paragraph (it is so printed in the earliest Webb monitors) fixes it as a comparatively modern conception.  Tycho Brahe, progenitor of the modern maker and user of fine instruments among astronomers, whose discoveries have left an indelible impression on astronomy, made no attempt to consider comets as orbital bodies.  Galileo thought them “emanations of the atmosphere.”  Not until the seventeenth century was well underway did a few daring spirits suggest that these celestial portents of evil, these terribly heavenly demons which had inspired terror in the hearts of men for uncounted generations, were actually parts of the solar system and that many if not most of them were periodic, actually returning again and again; in other words, that they revolved about the sun.

Obviously, then, this passage of our ritual cannot have come down to us by a “word of mouth” transmission from an epoch earlier than that in which men first commenced to believe that a comet was not an augury of evil but a part of the solar system.  The so-called “lunar lodges” have far more a practical than an astronomical basis.  

The Milky Way Credit: 9NewsDenver

In the early days of Masonry, both in England and in this country, many if not most lodges, met on dates fixed in advance, but according to the time when the moon was full; not because the moon “Governed” the night, but because it illuminated the traveler’s path! In days when roads were but muddy paths between town and hamlet, when any journey was hazardous and on black nights dangerous in the extreme, the natural illumination of the moon, making the road easy to find and the depredations of highwaymen the more difficult, was a matter of some moment!  One final curious derivation of a Masonic symbol from the heavens and we are through.  The symbol universally associated with the Stewards of a Masonic lodge is the cornucopia.

According to the mythology of the Greeks, which goes back to the very dawn of civilization, the God Zeus was nourished in infancy from the milk of a goat, Amalthea. In gratitude, the God placed Amalthea forever in the heavens as a constellation, but first gave one of Amalthea’s horns to his nurses with the assurance that it would forever pour for them whatever they desired!  The “horn of plenty,” or the cornucopia, is thus a symbol of abundance.  The goat from which it came may be found by the curious among the constellations under the name of Capricorn.  The “Tropic of Capricorn” of our school days is the southern limit of the swing of the sun on the path which marks the ecliptic, on which it inclines first its north and then its south pole towards our luminary.  Hence there is a connection, not the less direct for being tenuous, between out Stewards, their symbol, the lights in the lodge, the “place of darkness” and Solomon’s Temple.

Of such curious links and interesting bypaths is the study of astronomy and its connection with Freemasonry, the more beautiful when we see eye to eye with the Psalmist in the Great Light:

“The Heavens Declare the Glory of God and the Firmament Sheweth His Handiwork.”


* Originally Published: SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol.VIII, March 1930, No.3.

The Masculine of Freemasonry

The Masculine of Freemasonry

IF someone had asked me 30 years ago if Freemasonry was masculine, I would have said: “Is there anything else?” I’m speaking of course about the mainstream idea, over the past three hundred years or so, that all Freemasons must be masculine. I was not erudite enough to realize that there were far, far more meanings to “masculine” and “feminine” than I believed, as there are far more than “just” masculine Freemasons. I was learned in some esoteric traditions but found out that I had a long, lifetime journey in front of me.

To what I am referencing are the many traditions that transcend gender as a sexual, physical attribution. As I noted earlier in another essay, gender is referenced here as specific to virtues and attributes that transcend the physical. Why do we call something masculine? Why do we call it feminine?

In this essay, I will be focusing on the masculine attributes, aspects, and virtues of Freemasonry – not the gender of its adherents. Remember that true Freemasonry seeks to unite, not divide; it seeks to create order out of chaos, harmony from cacophony, and solidarity amongst all creatures.

That said, why do we call some aspects of Masonry feminine and masculine. I think in order to dissect this, you may see that the core of Freemasonry comes out of the ancient mystery schools and has roots in Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Stoicism, Neo-platonism. It is a mixture of philosophy and wisdom born of the needs of its human wielders. It is ritual and word that are combined to bring about the evolution of humanity. It is no mere repetition of plays from medieval stone worker guilds; that said, even these medieval stonemasons play a part in the gender of the ritual and philosophy of Freemasonry. Let’s explore…

GENDER IN THE RITUAL AND PHILOSOPHY OF FREEMASONRY

MANY of us are trapped in the idea of gender as given to us in our media, by our families and friends, and even taught in schools. We see gender as a division, one or the other. Gender, in the hands of the wise philosopher, is fluid and non-physical. There is a divine masculine just as there is a divine feminine, and it is as important as the feminine. Where the feminine is receptive and gives form, the masculine is forceful, outward, and expansive, as well as liberating, freeing. It is giving and generous; think of The Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. That is masculine. In Kabbalah, the masculine is the Pillar of Mercy – not because it is merciful but because of its liberating nature. The Pillar of Severity, the feminine, is labeled severe because of its constrained and passive nature. Because of these natures, one might see the masculine as unrestrained chaos, and indeed, they might be right.

When we think of the Masonic ritual, the one bit of chaos that is consistent is the human initiate, the neophyte. The neophyte is all “outside world,” bringing with them the unrestrained passions, emotions, and physicalness that the non-Masonic world has to offer. They come to be changed, to find balance – yet we must always retain our humanity. Our chaos. Anyone who has sat in any Lodge meeting will understand whence this chaos comes, and how it can expand. In this way, the masculine seems most evident in the Apprentice; all that human chaos has come to be subdued. Not subjugated, not eliminated – subdued. We come to be refined, not erased. Our modern world tends to be masculine in nature; it resonates with masculine, unrestrained energy, and growth. Freemasonry is a sanctuary to explore the balance that we humans were mean to embrace.

The exercise of ritual in Freemasonry also generates gender qualities in its energies. When we think of the masculine or feminine, we must consider the movements made during a ceremony, or even during the opening and closing of ritual. How do our officers move and what are they doing when they perform specific actions? Do they use a right hand? Do they use the right foot? What side of their bodies are being affected? What side of their minds? These are questions to which gender qualities can be applied – are they being expansive, assertive, forceful, outward, or giving? If so, these would be masculine qualities. I would challenge the Freemason to always look for the corresponding feminine action or officers. Freemasonry is overt in its display of polarity, gender, and unity if one keeps looking.

When it comes to the symbols of Freemasonry, what might act as masculine at one point becomes feminine in another. Degrees, with their different stories and lessons, shows us this over and over again. In this, we have to look at how each is employed and by which hand, or which side of the body. Wands or swords, anything carried in the right hand is masculine, expansive, or triggering growth. What side is put forward at what time? This not only triggers the masculine energy but alerts our whole body and mind to balance. Freemasonry seeks balance, harmony, and unity. Whatever is done by the left will eventually be balanced on the right. It is inevitable.

Some symbols are displayed consistently and should be of consideration so as to give us clues about the actions of officers, neophytes, and in Ceremony. We know that Freemasonry is a Western esoteric tradition, built on many different Western philosophies. For example, for the majority of Western cultures, the Sun has a masculine, forceful connotation while the Moon is feminine, displaying its reflective nature. Stars tend toward neutrality. Think of the languages of the Western world and you will see some of these gender qualities reflected in the culture. While this is not always the case, language can tell us a great deal about our own paradigms. The vigilant Freemason will realize that there are some symbols that are fairly constant in Lodge. Those constant symbols tend to be those of the celestial nature; the symbols that change their gender qualities tend to be those in which a human is involved – either in their creation or their use.

THE HERMETIC PRINCIPLE OF GENDER

MANY volumes of sacred writings discuss the masculine and feminine working together to achieve this balance. The Kybalion talks at length about the Hermetic Principle of Gender.

Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.~ The Kybalion

The Masculine is seen as will or strength the actual force to move matter, thoughts, or ideas. In Freemasonry, this is evident in the catechism of part of the Apprentice degree: while the heart may come up with a plan (feminine), or the brain scheme (neutrality), we need the force of work, using our hands, to actually create and execute the desired action (masculine): be it physical, mental, or spiritual. If we take the Hermetic principles together, as discussed gnostically in the Kybalion, these gender principles existing on all planes are, using the Mind (the first law – Mentalism), the source of all creation. Indeed, the root of the word gender, as spoken about previously, means generation, creation, or regeneration. Humans are, on all levels and on all planes, meant to create.

THE BALANCE OF GENDERS IN TAOISM AND HINDUISM

four elements masonic

TAOISM is gender-neutral but emphasizes the equality and need of having a balance of genders, of masculine and feminine. In fact, the qualities of Yin Qi and Yang Qi are necessary to be in balance in order for creation to actually happen. In the cosmology of the Tao, the dual natures are necessary to create the Five Elements and indeed, the Ten Thousand Things. In Hinduism, the same concepts exist; the feminine power resides in all beings but it requires the masculine spark of force to trigger creation. The Vedas speak about the Absolute (The One) being genderless, and physical gender necessary for the smooth function of society; the masculine and feminine have complementary roles to play in the physical world. All of this mimics the human creation experience physically, and as I believe, Freemasonry is emphasizing, mentally, and spiritually as well.

KING SOLOMON, WISDOM, AND CREATION

KING Solomon considered Wisdom to be feminine and a part of the divine’s ability to create the universe. The “I” in the following passage is “Wisdom,” as defined in Chapter 8, Verse 22 of Proverbs: “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.” Wisdom goes on to say:


The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.

When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary,
So that the water would not transgress His command.

When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men.

~ New American Standard Bible, Proverbs 8:22-29


I take this to mean that the idea of “wisdom” here is also the idea of concept, idea, vision. The force of creation (masculine) requires that wisdom (feminine) to create something which continues; this harkens back to the concept in the Kybalion in the natural law that requires the force, or will, to bring forth the vision of beauty. In a Freemason’s ritual, this might be explained as wisdom needing strength, to bring forth beauty. The feminine requires the masculine to become manifest – to be created.

While we continue to struggle with the ideas of human (physical) gender, perhaps we can explore the idea of gender, the creative principle, within a more philosophical state, and perhaps, find a measure of equality in all aspects of our lives. To me, a Freemason, that seems like a worthy goal – one that could benefit all of Humanity.

The Lesser of Two Evils: A Masonic Perspective

The Lesser of Two Evils: A Masonic Perspective

Written by Bro... Marcus Radiant


I WRITE not to persuade anyone to vote one way or another, nor to condemn or venerate one’s decisions in life, but to examine the reason why we choose. In my Masonic circle of friends, there are those that lean conservative and those that lean liberal, and every four years, I hear the same argument from both sides:

“We must choose the candidate that is least evil.”

Nobody ever seems satisfied with the choices, so they opt for the age-old logical fallacy, choosing the lesser of two evils. No doubt, this supposed logical decision is the source of comfort for many. The problem with this line of logic is that the choice between the lesser evil and greater evil is still evil. This type of decision making is an abdication of choice. It forces a person into a conundrum of choosing between two options are neither desirable.

We certainly do not apply this logic (I hope) to choosing a relationship, a spouse, a friend, or even a career. Do we raise our children to seek the least bad or the greatest good? 

In Masonry, we are directed to follow the “undeviating line of righteousness.” Aided by the Level, Plumb, and Square, we are always to make choices that are morally correct, ones that measure up and conform to the system of morality which we ascribe.

More to the point, every crime against Humanity was justified by this argument of choice. Genocide, slavery, conquest, and every form of coercion is firmly planted on the argument that the oppressor represents the lesser evil, fighting the greater evil. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all used this line of thinking to align their people into the path of destruction.

THE APPLICATION OF MASONIC VIRTUES

A person who chooses the lesser of two evils forfeits the Masonic Virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. These cardinal ideas mark the path of every Freemason throughout the world being the foundation of a Masonic system of Morality and cannot be ignored in times of ease or trouble. When we make choices out of fear, we fail to live up to our Masonic obligations.

Prudence is ignored when we make decisions on fear, rather than wisdom. Fortitude is lost when we make the easiest decisions. Temperance is neglected when we make decisions without moderation. Finally, Justice can never be achieved while we choose the lesser of two evils.

In this final virtue, there is no compromise, for if the rights of one person are violated, then the rights of all are violated. Anything less than perfect justice is tyranny, and this notion should be repugnant to any Freemason. This choice, though it may seem obvious, is indeed the root of all evil. For in any choice that one pardons ill based on the frailty of human perspective, evil has advanced.

In our delusion, we believe that we have not compromised our values, our morality, that by taking the “lesser” road we have done good and promoted righteousness. 

Yet, for all the power of justification, we have surrendered the only power that each of us truly possesses, our moral rectitude. With every compromise, the integrity of the Temple of Humanity is degraded; every time we look the other way we debase the fabric of society. How can the perfection of Humanity ever be achieved with such inferior logic? 

Machiavelli wrote in his famous book The Prince:

“Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.”

Not only is this quote insidious; it is immoral in light of Humanity’s achievements. It is a description of the impulse of our reptilian mind, of our primitive self, once needed to navigate the tumultuous landscape of the wilderness, but now an obstacle to overcome. We have evolved in cooperation and mutual support. We have grown and prospered by the moral imperative of noble thoughts and courageous actions. If we are deserving of the title human, then we should act like one, choosing only that which follows the plumbline of our moral values. If the choice requires us to deviate from what is right, then we have marked ill. 

TAKING THE HIGHER ROAD: THE DUTY OF A MASON

Before the balloting of a candidate into Freemasonry, we are told by the Master of the Lodge to vote our conscience.

Ballot Box

This simple truth should be the guiding star of our political decisions. Each must vote according to their moral compass, choosing leaders and policies that appear good, not a compromise of values, but as a choice of what is right. 

Do your duty, no matter the consequences. These sweet words of Freemasonry still fill my mind every time I am confronted with a hard decision. Choosing the lesser of two evils is half a choice, or at worst, no choice at all. Always vote your conscience. And if the right choice does not appear, continue to look, for in the search you may find exactly that which you seek. 

As Masons, we are directed to take the higher road, always and everywhere. It is a fallacy that there only exist: two choices, two destinations, two forces. The insidious powers of duality are always narrowing our senses into two opposite and extreme choices. But isn’t choice a spectrum rather than a fork in the road? Did not our ancient Brethren, whether Alchemist, Hermeticist, or Gnostic, teach us that life is a mosaic pavement of options? The material world is a trap of choices, always leading downward into the cynical abyss of “forced” choice.

Ancient Free and Accepted Masons

Ancient Free and Accepted Masons

THE word “Mason” has been defined in many fanciful ways, as when one writer derives it from a Greek word meaning “in the midst of heaven,” and another finds in it an ancient Egyptian expression meaning “children of the sun”; but it is almost certain that the term came into existence during the Middle Ages to signify a man engaged in the occupation of building. Originally it had merely this trade significance; it was only after Masonry became a secret society that it took on a wider significance. Of course, there were builders long before the Middle Ages, but they went by other names, just as today we often speak of them as “architects,” a term that came into use in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

Builders of the Middle Ages, like all other workmen, were organized into societies, somewhat similar to, but by no means to be identified with, our trade unions, known as guilds. These guilds were permitted to make their own rules, and they were given a monopoly of the work done inside their own territory. The builder guilds were usually more important than others because their work was more difficult and required a high degree of skill and intelligence; such of them as had in hand the erection of the great cathedrals possessed among their membership the outstanding geniuses of the times and wrought such works as to this day remain our wonder and despair.

The art of building was, according to the customs of the time, held as a trade secret. Therefore the young men entering a guild of builders were solemnly obligated to divulge no secrets of the craft. Inasmuch as the work was difficult, these young men were given a long course of education under the direction of a Master Mason, in which, so it is believed. The tools and processes of Building were used symbolically and to impress certain truths on the mind of the member. In this way, and because the builders were in close touch with the church, which employed systems of symbolism as today we use books (the people could not read, but they could understand pictures), the builder guilds came in time to accumulate a great wealth of symbolic teaching and an elaborate ritual. In the eighteenth century, this symbolical element completely displaced the original craft of actual building, and Masonry became “speculative,” as we know it now, so that we are Masons only in a symbolical sense.

We are called Masons therefore because we are members of an organization that harks back to the time when builders and architects were bound together in closely guarded guilds. But why are we called “Free” Masons? This is a more difficult question to answer, as all our Masonic scholars have discovered, for in spite of a great amount of careful research, they have never vet agreed among themselves as to how the question should be answered. We have records of the word as having been used six hundred years ago, but it is evident that even then, “freemason” was a term of long-standing, so that its origin fades away into the dimness of a very remote past.

One of the commonest theories is that the freemason was originally the mason who worked in “free-stone,” that is, stone ready to be hewn and shaped for the building in contrast to the stone lying unmined. Such a mason was superior in skill to the quarrymen who dug the stone from the quarry, and this is in harmony with the fact that in early days freemasons were deemed a superior kind of workmen and received higher wages than “the rough masons”; but it does not explain why carpenters, tailors, and other workmen were also called “free.”

Another common theory has it that the early Masons came to be called “free” because they were exempted from many of the tiresome duties that hemmed in the laborer of the Middle Ages and enjoyed liberties such as the right to travel about (forbidden to most workmen of that period) and exemption from military service, etc. It is held by some writers that the early Popes granted bulls to Masons that freed them from church restrictions, but no amount of search in all the libraries of Europe, or in the records of the Roman Church (that church did not issue bulls against Freemasonry until 1738 and afterward). Has ever succeeded in unearthing a single such bull or any record thereof.

There are other theories. One has it that a Mason was free when out of the bonds of apprenticeship and ready to enjoy the full privileges of membership in his guild. Another, that there were grades of workmen inside building guilds and only the highest type were permitted all such privileges, and that these were called “free” in contrast to their less advanced brethren.

One of the most acceptable of all these theories is that so brilliantly advanced by G. W. Speth in the past century, in which that learned brother held that in the Middle Ages, there were two types of builders’ guilds, those that were stationary in each town and those that were employed in the cathedrals and were therefore permitted to move about from place to place, or wherever cathedrals might be in course of construction. Inasmuch as cathedrals represented the highwater mark of skill and learning in that day, such workmen were very superior to those that were employed on the humbler structures in the community, such as dwellings, warehouses, docks, roads, etc. so that Freemasonry descended from the aristocracy of medieval labor.

I have never been able to make up my mind between these various theories, except that it appears to me that Speth’s is the most plausible. It may be that several of them are true at one and the same time; such a thing would not be impossible because Freemasonry developed over a large stretch of territory and through a long period of time.

There is no doubt that, in some cases, this word has its face meaning and serves to remind us that our Craft is very old. The first Grand Lodge of Speculative Masons was established in London in 1717, but Masonry, even of the Speculative variety, was very old by that date. Boswell was accepted into the Craft in 1600, Moray in 1641, and Ashmole in 1646. Our oldest manuscript, usually dated at about 1390, looks backward to times long anterior to itself. There is no telling how old Masonry is; perhaps they are not so far wrong after all who date it in antiquity. In any event, it is “ancient” and has every right to the use of that word.

But in the majority of cases, this word doubtless refers to the Grand Lodge that came to be organized in England shortly after 1750. When the first Grand Lodge (that of 1717) was formed, it was planned that it should have jurisdiction only over a few lodges in London; but as these lodges increased in number, it extended its territory to include the county, and later on to include the whole country. A large number of lodges remained independent – they were often called St. John’s lodges – many in the north of England, and others in Scotland and Ireland. As time went on there grew up a feeling among the brethren of several of these independent lodges that the new Grand Lodge was becoming guilty of making innovations in the body of Masonry; therefore, after a deal of agitation had been made, a rival Grand Lodge was formed, and because its older sister Grand Lodge had made changes they dubbed it “Modern,” and because they themselves claimed to preserve the work according to its original form, they called themselves “Ancient.” This Ancient Grand Lodge was fortunate in securing as its Grand Secretary Laurence Dermott, who had such a genius for organizing that in the course of time, this newer lodge began to overshadow the older. The rivalry, often bitter enough to be described as a feud, lasted until 1813 when the first step toward a union was effected; out of this effort at reconciliation, there came at last “The United Grand Lodge of England.”

Meanwhile, the Ancients had chartered a great many lodges in the colonies of America. These, a large number of them, carried on the name long after American lodges had severed all relations with the Grand Lodges across the sea. In this wise, the word “Ancient” came into general use and remains today imbedded in the official titles of about half the Grand Lodges in this land.

Much mystery still hangs about the word “Accepted,” but in a general way, we may feel pretty safe in thinking that it refers to the fact that after the ancient builders’ guilds began to break up and to lose their monopoly of the trade, they began to “accept” into their membership men who had no intention of engaging in the actual building, but who sought membership for social purposes, or in order to have the advantage of the rich symbolism, the ritual and the philosophy of the Order. Thus, the first man admitted of whom we have a record is Boswell, who was made a Mason in 1600, as already noted, but it is fairly certain that others had been similarly accepted long before. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that non-operatives had been taken into membership from the earliest times. It is possible that the word was also applied to those members who devoted themselves to superintending and planning, but not to physical work. Throughout the seventeenth century, the number of accepted increased until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Many lodges were almost wholly made up of such members, and in 1717 the whole Craft was transformed into. A speculative science, though it is true that many operative lodges remained in existence, and some are still functioning and claiming for themselves the ancient lineage.

We shall have to wait with patience until all problems concerning these various words are cleared up, but meanwhile, we can use them with a satisfactory degree of certainty as connecting us historically with a process of growth and development that began far back in the Middle Ages, or earlier, and has continued until now. Verily it has been a history filled with wonders, and even now, there are few who have a full appreciation of the height and depth and length and breadth and exceeding riches of Freemasonry.
 


* Originally published, “What means Free and Accepted Masons? in THE BUILDER, 1923.

What is the Truth behind the 47th Problem of Euclid?

What is the Truth behind the 47th Problem of Euclid?

Containing more real food for thought, and impressing on the receptive mind a greater truth than any other of the emblems in the lecture of the Sublime Degree, the 47th problem of Euclid generally gets less attention, and certainly less than all the rest. Just why this grand exception should receive so little explanation in our lecture; just how it has happened, that, although the Fellowcraft’s degree makes so much of Geometry, Geometry’s right hand should be so cavalierly treated, is not for the present inquiry to settle. We all know that the single paragraph of our lecture devoted to Pythagoras and his work is passed over with no more emphasis than that given to the Bee Hive of the Book of Constitutions. More’s the pity; you may ask many a Mason to explain the 47th problem, or even the meaning of the word “hecatomb,” and receive only an evasive answer, or a frank “I don’t know – why don’t you ask the Deputy?”

The Masonic legend of Euclid is very old – just how old we do not know, but it long antedates our present Master Mason’s Degree.  The paragraph relating to Pythagoras in our lecture we take wholly from Thomas Smith Webb, whose first Monitor appeared at the close of the eighteenth century. It is repeated here to refresh the memory of those many brethren who usually leave before the lecture:

The 47th problem of Euclid was an invention of our ancient friend and brother, the great Pythagoras, who, in his travels through Asia, Africa and Europe was initiated into several orders of Priesthood, and was also Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. This wise philosopher enriched his mind abundantly in a general knowledge of things, and more especially in Geometry. On this subject he drew out many problems and theorems, and, among the most distinguished, he erected this, when, in the joy of his heart, he exclaimed Eureka, in the Greek Language signifying “I have found it,” and upon the discovery of which he is said to have sacrificed a hecatomb. It teaches Masons to be general lovers of the arts and sciences.

Some of facts here stated are historically true; those which are only fanciful at least bear out the symbolism of the conception. In the sense that Pythagoras was a learned man, a leader, a teacher, a founder of a school, a wise man who saw God in nature and in number; and he was a “friend and brother.” That he was “initiated into several orders of Priesthood” is a matter of history.  

That he was “Raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason” is of course poetic license and an impossibility, as the “Sublime Degree” as we know it is only a few hundred years old – not more than three at the very outside. Pythagoras is known to have traveled, but the probabilities are that his wanderings were confined to the countries bordering the Mediterranean. He did go to Egypt, but it is at least problematical that he got much further into Asia than Asia Minor.

He did indeed “enrich his mind abundantly” in many matters, and particularly in mathematics. That he was the first to “erect” the 47th problem is possible, but not proved; at least he worked with it so much that it is sometimes called “The Pythagorean problem.” If he did discover it he might have exclaimed “Eureka” but he sacrificed a hecatomb – a hundred head of cattle – is entirely out of character, since the Pythagoreans were vegetarians and reverenced all animal life.

Pythagoras was probably born on the island of Samos, and from contemporary Grecian accounts was a studious lad whose manhood was spent in the emphasis of mind as opposed to the body, although he was trained as an athlete. He was antipathetic to the licentiousness of the aristocratic life of his time and he and his followers were persecuted by those who did not understand them. Aristotle wrote of him: “The Pythagoreans first applied themselves to mathematics, a science which they improved; and penetrated with it, they fancied that the principles of mathematics were the principles of all things.”

It was written by Eudemus that:  “Pythagoreans changed geometry into the form of a liberal science, regarding its principles in a purely abstract manner and investigated its theorems from the immaterial and intellectual point of view,” a statement which rings with familiar music in the ears of Masons.

Diogenes said “It was Pythagoras who carried Geometry to perfection,” also “He discovered the numerical relations of the musical scale.” Proclus states: “The word Mathematics originated with the Pythagoreans!”

The sacrifice of the hecatomb apparently rests on a statement of Plutarch, who probably took it from Apollodorus, that “Pythagoras sacrificed an ox on finding a geometrical diagram.”  As the Pythagoreans originated the doctrine of Metempsychosis which predicates that all souls live first in animals and then in man – the same doctrine of reincarnation held so generally in the East from whence Pythagoras might have heard it – the philosopher and his followers were vegetarians and reverenced all animal life, so the “sacrifice” is probably mythical.

Certainly, there is nothing in contemporary accounts of Pythagoras to lead us to think that he was either sufficiently wealthy or silly enough to slaughter a hundred valuable cattle to express his delight at learning to prove what was later to be the 47th problem of Euclid.

In Pythagoras’ day (582 B.C.), of course, the “47th problem” was not called that.

It remained for Euclid, of Alexandria, several hundred years later, to write his books of Geometry, of which the 47th and 48th problems form the end of the first book. It is generally conceded either that Pythagoras did indeed discover the Pythagorean problem, or that it was known prior to his time, and used by him; and that Euclid, recording in writing the science of Geometry as it was known then, merely availed himself of the mathematical knowledge of his era.

It is probably the most extraordinary of all scientific matters that the books of Euclid, written three hundred years or more before the Christian era, should still be used in schools. While a hundred different geometries have been invented or discovered since his day, Euclid’s “Elements” are still the foundation of that science which is the first step beyond the common mathematics of every day. In spite of the emphasis placed upon geometry in our Fellowcrafts degree our insistence that it is of a divine and moral nature, and that by its study we are enabled not only to prove the wonderful properties of nature but to demonstrate the more important truths of morality, it is common knowledge that most men know nothing of the science which they studied – and most despised – in their school days.

If one man in ten in any lodge can demonstrate the 47th problem of Euclid, the lodge is above the common run in educational standards!

And yet the 47th problem is at the root not only of geometry, but of most applied mathematics; certainly, of all which are essential in engineering, in astronomy, in surveying, and in that wide expanse of problems concerned with finding one unknown from two known factors.  At the close of the first book Euclid states the 47th problem – and its correlative 48th – as follows:

47th – In every right angle triangle the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. 

48th – If the square described of one of the sides of a triangle be equal to the squares described of the other two sides, then the angle contained by these two is a right angle.

This sounds more complicated than it is. Of all people, Masons should know what a square is!  As our ritual teaches us, a square is a right angle or the fourth part of a circle, or an angle of ninety degrees.  For the benefit of those who have forgotten their school days, the “hypotenuse” is the line which makes a right angle (a square) into a triangle, by connecting the ends of the two lines which from the right angle.

For illustrative purposes let us consider that the familiar Masonic square has one arm six inches long and one arm eight inches long.  If a square be erected on the six-inch arm, that square will contain square inches to the number of six times six, or thirty-six square inches.  The square erected on the eight-inch arm will contain square inches to the number of eight times eight, or sixty-four square inches. The sum of sixty-four and thirty-six square inches is one hundred square inches.

According to the 47th problem the square which can be erected upon the hypotenuse, or line adjoining the six and eight-inch arms of the square should contain one hundred square inches. The only square which can contain one hundred square inches has ten-inch sides, since ten, and no other number is the square root of one hundred. This is provable mathematically, but it is also demonstrable with an actual square. The curious only need lay off a line six inches long, at right angles to a line eight inches long; connect the free ends by a line (the Hypotenuse) and measure the length of that line to be convinced – it is, indeed, ten inches long.

This simple matter then is the famous 47th problem.  But while it is simple in conception it is complicated with innumerable ramifications in use.

It is the root of all geometry. It is behind the discovery of every unknown from two known factors. It is the very cornerstone of mathematics. The engineer who tunnels from either side through a mountain uses it to get his two shafts to meet in the center. The surveyor who wants to know how high a mountain may be ascertains the answer through the 47th problem.

The astronomer who calculates the distance of the sun, the moon, the planets, and who fixes “the duration of time and seasons, years and cycles,” depends upon the 47th problem for his results.  The navigator traveling the trackless seas uses the 47th problem in determining his latitude, his longitude, and his true time.  Eclipses are predicted; tides are specified as to height and time of occurrence, land is surveyed, roads run, shafts dug, and bridges built because of the 47th problem of Euclid – probably discovered by Pythagoras – shows the way.

It is difficult to show “why” it is true; easy to demonstrate that it is true. If you ask why the reason for its truth is difficult to demonstrate, let us reduce the search for “why” to a fundamental and ask “why” is two added to two always four, and never five or three?” We answer “because we call the product of two added to two by the name of four.” If we express the conception of “fourness” by some other name, then two plus two would be that other name. But the truth would be the same, regardless of the name.  So it is with the 47th problem of Euclid. The sum of the squares of the sides of any right-angled triangle – no matter what their dimensions – always exactly equals the square of the line connecting their ends (the hypotenuse). One line may be a few 10’s of an inch long – the other several miles long; the problem invariably works out, both by actual measurement upon the earth and by mathematical demonstration. [Image Credit: 47th Problem of Euclid by Peter Savant]

It is impossible for us to conceive of a place in the universe where two added to two produces five, and not four (in our language). We cannot conceive of a world, no matter how far distant among the stars, where the 47th problem is not true. For “true” means absolute – not dependent upon time, or space, or place, or world or even universe. Truth, we are taught, is a divine attribute and as such is coincident with Divinity, omnipresent.

It is in this sense that the 47th problem “teaches Masons to be general lovers of the art and sciences.” The universality of this strange and important mathematical principle must impress the thoughtful with the immutability of the laws of nature. The third of the movable jewels of the Entered Apprentice Degree reminds us that “so should we, both operative and speculative, endeavor to erect our spiritual building (house) in accordance with the rules laid down by the Supreme Architect of the Universe, in the great books of nature and revelation, which are our spiritual, moral and Masonic Trestleboard.”

Greatest among “the rules laid down by the Supreme Architect of the Universe,” in His great book of nature, is this of the 47th problem; this rule that, given a right angle triangle, we may find the length of any side if we know the other two; or, given the squares of all three, we may learn whether the angle is a “Right” angle, or not. With the 47th problem, man reaches out into the universe and produces the science of astronomy.  

With it, he measures the most infinite of distances.  With it, he describes the whole framework and the handiwork of nature.  With it, he calculates the orbits and the positions of those “numberless worlds about us.” With it, he reduces the chaos of ignorance to the law and order of intelligent appreciation of the cosmos.  With it, he instructs his fellow-Masons that “God is always geometrizing” and that the “great book of Nature” is to be read through a square.

Considered thus, the “invention of our ancient friend and brother, the great Pythagoras,” becomes one of the most impressive, as it is one of the most important, of the emblems of all Freemasonry, since to the initiate it is a symbol of the power, the wisdom and the goodness of the Great Artificer of the Universe.  It is the plainer for its mystery – the more mysterious because it is so easy to comprehend.

Not for nothing does the Fellowcraft’s degree beg our attention to the study of the seven liberal arts and sciences, especially the science of geometry, or Masonry. Here, in the Third Degree, is the very heart of Geometry, and a close and vital connection between it and the greatest of all Freemasonry’s teachings – the knowledge of the “All-Seeing Eye.”

He that hath ears to hear – let him hear – and he that hath eyes to see – let him look!  When he has both listened and looked, and understood the truth behind the 47th problem he will see a new meaning to the reception of a Fellowcraft, understand better that a square teaches morality, and comprehend why the “angle of 90 degrees, or the fourth part of a circle” is dedicated to the Master!


~  From, SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol.VIII, October 1930, No.10.

The Feminine of Freemasonry

The Feminine of Freemasonry

There are many, many Freemasons who would note that there is nothing about Freemasonry that is feminine. It is a masculine fraternity in their eyes, where men get together to make “good men better,” and the term “fraternity” itself indicates, to them, a wholly male organization.* While that might be true for some Masonic Orders, it is certainly not true for all.

As we’ve previously discussed, Freemasons are men and women, of all races, creeds, and religious backgrounds. As we’ve also noted in the earlier article on Gender and Freemasonry, gender has far more to do with the essence of “things” than it does with sexual aspects of humanity. Let’s lift the idea of Freemasonry as being purely masculine, and look the world of Hermetic principles and gender. Where does the Feminine find itself within Freemasonry?

We are speaking here beyond titles. Masonic titles are in most languages gendered. There is “Brother” and “Sister” both of which have a gendered connotation. However, they are titles, and while there may be the open division between physical gender in some Masonic Orders, in at least one order, all members are designated “Brother.” Why? First, we have to remember that a title is nothing more than an honorific designation – in this case, it designates a member of a Freemasonic order. It is not a designation of gender any more than “Doctor” is a designation of gender. There is baggage we all have around titles that have gender associations; there is a reason most people never refer to stewardesses any longer on flights. Actors are actors, not actors and actresses, as waiters are waiters, not waiters and waitresses. We have begun tearing down the divisions of gender and working toward the idea of unity. We designate each other with the best word we can for Freemasons – Brother.

However, as I noted, this discovery goes beyond title. If we view the Lodge Room, the Temple, as a receptive place, it is a container and vessel for creation. Ergo, the Temple is feminine. It is receiving humanity, the Brothers (masculine energy), to build something. Masculine is outgoing and active. It requires a balance to hold its nature to form. It requires a Temple that can handle that energy and transform it. Is there any doubt why the Masonic Temple and its accoutrement should not be in its best upkeep and fitness? We want a healthy mother to be able to birth a healthy child. Is this not the same?

As the Lodge is feminine, so to I believe, is the ritual. The ritual form, written and memorized, requires action to give it life. It requires an active, outward principal to give it life. Here to again, the Brothers of the Lodge are the masculine principle, taking thoughtforms and words and creating intended action in three dimensional space. Ritual requires proper and strong expression (masculine) of imagination (feminine); both are necessary to enact a whole ceremony.

At many times during different rituals, an officer changes polarity from masculine to feminine. There is a shifting flow to Masonic ritual that encourages its adherents to explore the energies of both active and passive principles. There is also a neutrality in the Lodge that is carried by significant officers; the balance is required to ensure one gender does not dominate. There is always, like the Sefirot of the Kabbalah, a middle path, a neutral state in Freemasonry that guides the poles and the swing of the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical pendulum. That is, for every pair of floor officers, there is a neutral body to perhaps bring balance to the erratic nature of the human embodying the office. Let me explain.

The officer that receives a candidate, a guide if you will, is always in the masculine aspect of their office. They need to care for and have regard for their charge. They are the voice of the neophyte when they cannot speak. The candidate is feminine – they are receiving the gift of the ritual, and incorporating it into their person. They must use imagination to connect to the offering. Here, again, it is of no consequence what the physical gender of a person may be; we all must learn to tap into our receptive nature to be a vessel for creation of any kind. After the candidate has completed their ritual, the officer in question will fall back to their intended place in the structure of the Lodge. That may be a receptive principle, feminine, to their counterpart’s masculine, directive role. The moon with its rays of reflected sunlight guides the night but eventually, the sun, the primary assertive principle, returns to assume its directive place in the heavens.

It is important to note here that the Sun has not always assumed the mantle of masculine and the Moon has not always been feminine. In order, pre-Sanskrit-based language, the denomination was reversed; we find this in Babylonian, early Egyptian, and earlier mythologies where the Sun was represented by feminine avatars. This subject is far too dense to dive into here; suffice to say that in the most recent times, the gender of these celestial bodies has changed and it might be worth noting that the attributes of feminine are found in the Sun, while attributes of the masculine may be found in the Moon.

Returning to the officers, we find the masculine, feminine, and neutral manifested in the three main officers of a Lodge. The W.J.W. is indicative of mid-day, when the sun is at its highest. This speaks of the dominant and assertive nature of that office; whereas, the W.S.W. is the sun as it recedes into darkness, It is the coolness of the moon, of night, of dreams and reception. One might dismiss their attribute, will or strength, as being a purely masculine trait but this is not the case. The feminine here is about transparency and about seeing the Other; the W.S.W. sees the entirety of the Lodge and is responsible for its voice. There is a calm confidence in their presentations to the Lodge – here is what has been made and it is of us.

It is clear that one cannot speak of the aspects of gender in a vacuum. We must reference one or the other to illustrate the differences and provide opportunities to think about principles which are not easily familiar to us in our common lives. In the next part, we’ll discuss the Masculine aspects of Freemasonry in more detail, in balance with the neutral lines that demark the place of balance, the center point were perhaps a greater vision of unity may be achieved.


* However, this commonly held belief, ie. that fraternities are wholly male organizations is erroneous. Though many people use their term “fraternity” to refer exclusively to men’s groups, many women’s groups officially call themselves fraternities. For example, the earliest chartered collegiate female fraternal organizations:

1. Kappa Alpha Theta 2. Kappa Kappa Gamma [Both Fraternities were founded in 1870], 3. Alpha Phi Fraternity [1872], 4. Delta Gamma [1873], 5. Gamma Phi Beta and 6. Sigma Kappa [Both founded in 1874], etc., as well as other mixed Fraternities, which admit both men and women at such colleges as Wesleyan and UMASS.

Gamma Phi Beta was the first collegiate women’s organization to be called a “sorority,” a term coined by Latin professor Dr. Frank Smalley at Syracuse University. The terms “sorority” and women’s “fraternity” have since been used interchangeably.

Burns’ Farewell to Masons

Burns’ Farewell to Masons

Written by Bro. Rob Morris, originally published in “Light and Shadows of Freemasonry”


IT was in the latter part of the gloomy 1786, that Robert Burns, the poet, and the Mason, gathered up his thoughts. He had but little else to gather up, preparatory to leaving Scotland forever. Forever! Terrible word to the expatriated, terrible to the poor exile, who turns toward his country as the Jews turned themselves three times a day praying with their faces toward Jerusalem. Terrible in the highest degree to such a man as Burns, who to the most exalted patriotism added the keenest appreciation of home joys and social pleasures.

Disappointment had set its mark upon Robert Burns. The indulgence of passions that raged within him as the pent-up fires rage beneath the sealed crater of the volcano, had brought to him its legitimate consequences in the upbraidings of conscience, the forfeiture of friendship, and, worst of all, the loss of self-respect.

The restraints of Freemasonry had been neglected, while its social joys were most keenly relished; in other words, our tenets had been faithfully sustained, while our cardinal virtues were neglected. The use of the Compasses had never blessed his hands.  The subtle genius, the unequaled gifts that enabled Robert Burns to conceive and execute The Cotter’s Saturday Night, could not confine him into the ordinary channels of prudence, and even then, he was a doomed man.  

BURNS’ TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

HEAVY debts had accumulated upon him, such as in that barren, unenterprising country, there was but little chance of his ever being able to cancel. He had been summoned to find security for the maintenance of two children, of whom he was forbidden to legitimate by lawful marriage.

As he disdained to ask or tried in vain to find pecuniary assistance in this his hour of need, there was no other alternative remaining for him but a Scottish jail or a flight from Scotland. He had chosen the latter. After much trouble, the situation of assistant overseer on an estate in Jamaica had been secured for him, by one of his few remaining friends. In his own bitter language:

He saw misfortune’s cauld nor’west  
Lang mustering up a bitter blast;  
A jillet brak his heart at last  
Ill may she be!  
So, took a birth afore the mast
An awre tne sea.

He had said farewell to all the friends, they were not many, and to the scenes very many and very dear to their poet’s heart. This he did while skulking from covert to covert under all the terrors of a Scottish jail. His chest was on the road to Greenock. He had composed the last song he should ever measure in Caledonia. It is fraught with solemn thoughts and words, as the reader will see:  

The gloomy night is gathering fast,  
Loud roars the wild inconstant blast,  
You murky cloud is foul with rain,
I see it driving o’er the plain;  
The hunter now has left the moor,  
The scattered coveys meet secure,  
While here I wander, prest with care,  
Along the lonely banks of Ayr.  

The autumn mourns her ripening corn,  
By early winter’s ravage torn;  
Across her placid azure sky,  
She sees the scowling tempest fly:  
Chill runs my blood to hear it rave,  
I think upon the stormy wave,  
Where many a danger I must dare,  
Far from the bonny banks of Ayr.  

‘Tis not the surging billows’ roar,  
‘Tis not that fatal deadly shore;  
Tho’ death in every shape appear,  
The wretched have no more to fear:  
But round my heart the ties are bound,  
That heart transpierced with many a wound;  
These bleed afresh, those ties I tear,  
To leave the bonny banks of Ayr.  

Farewell old Coila’s hills and dales,  
Her heathy moors and winding vales,  
The scene where wretched fancy roves,  
Pursuing past, unhappy loves!  
Farewell my friends, farewell my foes,  
My peace with these, my love with those;  
The bursting tears my heart declare;  
Farewell the bonnie banks of Ayr.

A TRAVELER ON THE ROAD TO GREENOCK

NOW, all other remembered subjects having been marked by the tears of the poet, the poet himself being on the road to the port of Greenock to the ship that should witness his last glance at his native land, his heart turned lovingly, involuntarily, towards Masonry, for Robert Burns was a Freemason, prepared first in his heart.

In none of the vast folios, where stands the vast catalog of our brethren, ancient or modern, is there a character shaped more truly by Masonic skill than his? Nowhere one, who in the expressive language of the Ancient Constitutions would “afford succor to the distressed, divide bread with the industrious poor, and put the misguided traveler into the way,” more cheerfully than Burns.  

He understood right well, “that whoever from love of knowledge, interest, or curiosity desires to be a Mason, is to know that as his foundation and great cornerstone, he is firmly to believe in the eternal God, and to pay that worship which is due to him as the great Architect and Governor of the Universe.”

Robert Burns, thus, governed himself accordingly. There is many a record in the Lodge books of Scotland that gives prominence to his Masonic virtues, and in the higher Lodge, the Grand Lodge of heaven, we have reason to hope the Grand Secretary’s books also bear his name. None lament the weaknesses in his character more than his brethren, but be those defects in number and, in extent, what they may, his brethren protest in the name of their common humanity, against the inhuman judgments that have been pronounced against him.

If the royal dignity, the divine partiality, the unlimited wisdom of Solomon, First Grand Master of Speculative Masonry, could not preserve that Prince of Peace from the errors of the passions, who shall dare too cruelly to judge the son of an Ayrshire cotter, nurtured in penury and debarred the most ordinary relaxations of his age. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall.”  

THE HEART TURNED TOWARD FREEMASONRY

LOVINGLY, then turned the heart of Brother Burns towards Freemasonry. The happy hours, the honest friends, the instructive lessons, the lofty desires! Let the brother who reads this sketch endeavor to place himself in the condition of the poor exile, self-expatriated and almost friendless, and he will understand the keenness of his pangs! There came up a vision of his last Masonic night.

The presence of the Grand Master and his noble Deputy; of a gallant array of gentlemen, the chief-est in all the land; and himself with the first among the equals of those who “meet upon the level” to “part upon the square.” There was the cue, it was enough; sitting down by the roadside, he penciled upon the back of an old letter his Masonic farewell. How many a remembrance of Grand Lodges and Subordinate Lodges and social meetings among Masons is attached to these well-known lines:  

Adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu!  
Dear Brothers of the mystic tie!  
Ye favored, ye enlightened few,  
Companions of my social joy!  
Though I to foreign lands must hie  
Pursuing fortune’s sliddry ba’,  
With melting heart and brimful eye  
I’ll mind you still though far awa’.  

Oft have I met your social band  
And spent the cheerful festive night;  
Oft honored with supreme command  
Presided o’er the sons of light;  
And by that hieroglyphic bright,  
Which none but craftsmen ever saw!  
Strong memory on my heart shall write.  
These happy scenes though far awa’!  

May freedom, harmony, and love  
Unite you in the grand design  
Beneath the Omniscient eye above,  
The glorious Architect divine!  
That you may keep the unerring line  
Still rising by the plummet’s law  
Till order bright completely shine –  
Shall be my prayer when far awa’.  

And you farewell! whose merits claim  
Justly that highest badge to wear!  
Heaven bless your honored, noble name,  
To Masonry and Scotia dear!  
A last request permit me here,  
When yearly ye assemble a’,  
One round, I ask it with a tear,  
To him, the bard, that’s far awa’ ! *  

It pleased God at this crisis to turn the destination of Robert Burns and to spare to Scotland and the world, this affectionate heart. By a train of circumstances, almost miraculous, certainly unprecedented, he was brought unexpectedly to the notice of the literary circles of Edinburgh, then as now, the most classic and critical in the world, and with one consent that society placed him foremost in the ranks of his country’s poets.

CALEDONIA’S BARD

FAME and profit then flowed nightly unto him. His pen was put into constant requisition, his company everywhere sought after, and his talents met with their due appreciation. The Masonic Order added its judgment to that of an approving nation.

The Most Worshipful Grand Master Charters, with every member of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, visiting a Lodge in which Burns happened to be present, graciously gave as a toast:

Caledonia, and Caledonia’s Bard, Brother Burns!

Such rang through the whole assembly with multiplied honors and repeated acclamations.  

But he is gone. On the 21st of July, 1796, Robert Burns died. More than ten thousand persons accompanied his remains to the grave, where a spectator observed:

It was an impressive and mournful sight, to see men of all ranks and persuasions, and opinions, mingling as brothers, and stepping side by side down the streets of Dumfries, with the remains of him who had sung of their loves and joys, and domestic endearments, with a truth and tenderness which none perhaps have since equaled.

He is gone, and here in a distant land, a humble admirer of his genius, addresses his memory in the following lines:  

AMERICA’S MASONS TO ROBERT BURNS

The sun is uprising on Scotia’s far hills  
Day’s labor is opening, the Grand Master wills,  
But Lodge-lights are gleaming in cheerfulness yet,  
Afar in the west where we Masons have met.  

There’s song for the tuneful, kind words for the kind,  
There’s cheer for the social, and light for the blind:  
But when we uprising, prepare us to go,  
With one heart and feeling, we’ll sing thy Adieu.  

A melting farewell, to the favored and bright,  
A sorrowful thought, for the sun set in night,  
A round to the bard whom misfortunes befell, 
A prayer that thy spirit with Masons may dwell.  

When freedom and harmony bless our design,  
We’ll think of thee, Brother, who loved every line:  
And when gloomy clouds shall our Temple surround  
Thy brave heart shall cheer us where virtues were found.  

Across the broad ocean two hands shall unite,  
Columbia, Scotia, the symbol is bright!  
The world one Grand Lodge, and the heaven above.  
Shall witness the triumph of Faith, Hope and Love,  

And thou sweetest Bard, when our gems we enshrine,  
Thou jewel the brightest, most precious, shalt shine,  
Shall gleam from the East, to the far distant west,  
While morning shall call us, or evening shall rest.**


~ Article originally published, LIGHT AND SHADOWS OF FREEMASONRY, in 1852.

* The fifth verse unworthy of the connection and highly un-masonic, which is appended to the above in some of our American Manuals, was not written by Buras.  

** AIR “Flow gently, Sweet Aston.”

*** Main Image: The Inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet-Laureate of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge

Image 1: Bro. Robert Burn’s House

Image 2: Bro. Robert Burns in Masonic Regalia

Image 3: Burn’s Mausoleum in St. Michael’s Churchyard, Completed in 1815


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