Freemasonry has various mottoes, which represent the principles of our great tradition. Among these is Deus Meumque Jus, which often appears prominently on Masonic Regalia, most notably that of the 32nd and 33rd degrees. A phrase being featured so prominently on Regalia for the highest degrees implies tremendous significance, but what does it mean?
Let’s explore the possible meanings of this motto, and the role it plays in the Masonic life.
The latin phrase Deus Meumque Jus roughly translates to “God and My Right”, or as some have put forward, a more accurate translation might be “God and My Moral Rightness.” Deus is simple enough to translate, a familiar Latin word for God, as we often hear in Catholic recitations of Latin translations of the Bible. Jus has the same Latin root as Justice and relates to law, and Memque is a form of Meus, which is the adjective “my.”
The actual history of the phrase is rather long and complex, and won’t be the focus of this article. Suffice it to say, in the words of one Masonic writer:
…the motto is the Latin version of a French phrase that originated in England and used in a Masonic degree system named after Scotland that descended from French sources by way of Haiti with the help of a Dutch trader through Jamaica and eventually almost completely redefined in the United States.
It’s also associated with the number 33, as it is usually featured on the 33rd Degree’s Regalia, and the inside of the ring worn by 33rd Degree Masons. Significance is ascribed to the number 33 in a variety of ways, it being sacred in religions ranging from Christianity to Hinduism, and there being 33 vertebrae in the spinal column, to name a couple. However, today we’re focusing on the phrase itself.
Everything in Freemasonry, especially in the more mystical Universal Co-Masonry, carries significance beyond its literal or historical definitions, or translations. There are many possible interpretations of the meaning behind Deus Meumque Jus; historically, it has some connection to the concept of the Divine Right of Kings, in which case it would mean “my right to rule is derived from God.” However, given the role of Freemasons in the institution of democracy in the Western world, it seems hard to believe that it’s meaning in the fraternity has much connection to justification for monarchy.
The interpretation “God and my moral rightness” is more in alignment with the origin of the latin translation, and would mean the interpretation would be more along the lines of connecting one’s relationship to the Creator to moral uprightness. However, this concept alone is unsatisfying; after all, don’t all people who believe in a higher power connect their morality to that concept, in some way or another? Why would this then be a special phrase reserved for the highest degrees of Freemasonry?
Perhaps a more profound interpretation of this phrase might be that it represents an inner reign of the divine, within each individual Mason. Aspects of the structure of Masonic Ritual indicate an outer mirroring of inner elements of one’s being, and a very clear hierarchy and order to them. Without spoiling too much for the as-yet uninitiated, the gist of this concept is that the functioning of the Lodge and Masonic ritual lays out a blueprint by which the various aspects of the self may be “put to order” so that the lower aspects of self are made to be the servants of the divine within.
Viewed through this lens, Deus Meumque Jus would be inward law and order (Jus) established within the self (Meumque), by the divine self (Deus) as the Sovereign.
Yet another interpretation would be something more along gnostic lines, and given gnosticism’s role in the Esoteric traditions informing Freemasonry, it’s not such a stretch to apply this lens, as well. From a gnostic perspective, Deus could pertain not only the inner divine spark, but also to the demiurge which gnostic thinking generally believes to be the creator of the material world in which we find ourselves. In this interpretation, perhaps the Right being referred to may be less about divine authority within the self, and more about one’s Right to transcend the trappings of this flawed material creation of the demi-urge, to realize the potential contained in one’s divine spark, via gnosis.
Actually, these two more mystical interpretations are not entirely incompatible. One could say that the inner sovereignty over one’s own lower nature, and the right to transcend a demiurge-designed reality are one and the same. After all, the primary way in which we are ensnared in the physical world, according to gnosticism, is via these bodies and their lower natures. To be Sovereign over them would mean to transcend them.
While the phrase Deus Meumque Jus has a complex history and is embedded in a long tradition relating to monarchy and various esoteric societies, it also has tremendous symbolic significance. We could even relate it to the Yogic concept of gaining complete control of all the lower aspects of the self, even the nerve centers which control breathing and the heartbeat, as part of the process of one’s advancement towards Liberation. Perhaps there are correlations between the Western Gnostic concept of inner sovereignty, and this Eastern correlate.
What is the true meaning of this Masonic motto? The only way to find out is to become a Freemason, and progress through the degrees, for only in the Masonic ritual is the true meaning revealed.
By The V. Ills. Bro. George S. Arundale 33o
I said that I would tell you something of the truths I hold, not of all the truths I hold, but of those which are at the foundation—my ultimate truths. There is, I feel, one truth of truths, one truth which includes all others—the Unity of All Life. We know science has demonstrated that life is everywhere, though the word ”life” is not so easy to define; shall we say ‘’growth,” “unfoldment”?
In every kingdom of Nature, life is all-pervading. Even that which we call death is only change. We know that not only do our individualities persist after death, but also that the physical body, whence the individuality has departed, is not in itself dead, though it disintegrates.
Every particle of nature is life, whether, for purposes of our own, we call it “dead” or “alive.” But what is more, is that this all-pervading life is essentially one, whatever its form—the same fundamental characteristics everywhere, as science again knows. Here these characteristics sharper, keener, more definite, more sensitive, more complex; there these characteristics duller, simpler, vaguer. But the same vital principles, the same type of reaction to external stimulus.
THE KINGDOM OF NATURE
In every kingdom of Nature, there is some kind of feeling or sensation, some kind of happiness, some kind of fear, some kind of disease or illness, some kind of death. It sounds too strange to be true, yet science asserts these facts. They can be demonstrated by physical experiments.
We do not generally associate these conditions either with the mineral, the vegetable, or the animal kingdom; but that is our ignorance. We must readjust ourselves to the fact of the Unity of all Life, which means the Brotherhood of all Life, and when we say Brotherhood we contact the second great truth, the logical sequence from the first. It is that life grows, evolves. No stopping still. And we begin to talk of a ladder of this growing, of a ladder of evolution, with rung upon rung marking the different stages of growth, or of expansion.
Hence, each kingdom of Nature represents a stage of growth or unfoldment. Dull characteristics of life in the mineral kingdom. Less dull characteristics, increasing sensitiveness, in the vegetable kingdom. Still greater sensitiveness in the animal, greater definiteness, more power of movement, increased complexity of unfoldment. And then the human kingdom in which you and I are.
We probably know more or less what it is that makes us different from animals mind, for one thing, conscience for another, bigger purpose for a third, and so on. But the same life, just as there is the same life in the acorn as in the oak. Nourishment may be derived from outside, but it would be of little use unless the acorn could take it in, had the sagacity to assimilate it.
What do we conclude from all this? Surely that the human kingdom is not the final stage of growth. If kingdoms below us, why not kingdoms beyond us? Do we know nothing of them? No, nor do most animals know aught of the human kingdom. But some animals do, and I claim that some humans know of kingdoms beyond the human. Perhaps Angels belong to one of these. Perhaps the great Teachers and Saviors of the world belong to one of these.
THE BROTHERHOOD OF MANKIND
“Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”
Ought we not to try to understand a little more what this brotherhood means—brothers younger than ourselves, our brothers the animals, as Saint Francis so beautifully realized and practiced; our brothers the trees, the flower, the shrub, the grass, yes, and the weeds, and the prickly pear; our brothers the stones, the humble youngest brother stones and the flower of the mineral kingdom—the diamond, the ruby, the sapphire, the emerald. Read what Ruskin says about the lives of these beautiful brothers in his “Ethics of the Dust.” But all this is about younger brothers.
There are our equal brothers, our human brothers, some, perhaps, not quite so old as others, but less distance between them than between us and our animal, vegetable and mineral brothers. No distinctions of race, or creed, or caste, or sex, or color, make any difference. These are all superficial.
Sometimes in our pride, we like to think ourselves superior. Sometimes we think people inferior because they look different from ourselves, eat differently, dress differently, sleep differently, live differently, feel and think and speak differently. That is merely a passing phase of self-preservation. What we are and have we like best; it is largely habit, and no doubt it is, to a certain extent, though not merely as much as we think, best for us. But then we begin to make the fatal mistake of imagining that it is therefore best for everybody else, and that people who have different things have worse things—a different religion, therefore a worse religion; different customs, therefore worse customs, a different nationality; therefore, a worse nationality. Very childish, and very untrue, of course; but not unnatural at a certain stage, though by this time the world ought to be quitting some of its childish ways.
ASCENDING THE LADDER
Now, if there are our younger brothers and our equal brothers, logic demands that there shall be elder brothers, some a little older but not much, some considerably older, some far older, so much older that we cannot imagine their human origin, it is so far back. The Great Saviors are our Eldest Brethren.
The life so perfect and magnificent in Them has been on every rung of the great ladder of life, and now has reached, well, I dare not say the topmost rung—who shall set a limit to God’s omnipotence—but on a rung far removed from our own, so far removed that for us it is the top: we can see and dream no further. And, yet, mark you, there are the two great lines that hold the rungs together, stretching from the bottom, as we must call it, to the top as we must equally call it—one ladder, one path, one origin, one goal. We look beneath us and see where our footsteps have been placed. We gaze above us and perceive the places on which our feet have yet to stand. And on each rung we see the clinging life, stretching ever upwards to the rung above.
I do not think I want or need any more truths. This unity, this evolution, this immeasurable and transcendent brotherhood, this certainty, this purpose, this power—what more do I need to make life intelligible and wonderfully worth living?
WHAT IS GOD?
Do I need God? All is God. I have been speaking of God all the time. I am God. You are God. The animal is God. The vegetable is God. The mineral is God. God is the ladder, God the rung, God the growth, God the origin and end, if end there be.
What do I mean by God? I mean Life. Is there a Person God? I do not know, nor need I care, for there are Those on rungs above me Who are enough Gods to give me all that God could give. Perhaps the sun, the Giver of Life, perhaps He is God; but who shall say He is God the ultimate? And who need care. His sunshine is our growth, come that sunshine whence it may.
Do I need to say that God is Love? When I know the brotherhood, I know love. Only as I am ignorant of the brotherhood of life are my eyes blinded to the all-pervading love. Love is everywhere. Life disproves this, you say. I say to you:
“Know the brotherhood of life, and you shall perceive the Love of God.“
Do I need to say that God is justice? When I know the brotherhood of life I know His justice. Only ignorance blinds me to His justice.
TO KNOW TRUTH
Hard to believe? Hard to understand? Truth needs ardent wooing, my brothers, relentless pursuit, tireless search, unfaltering desire.
“To know Truth, you must unflinchingly examine your beliefs, your opinions, your conception, your prejudices, and your orthodoxies in the clear light of your most exalted self, your highest self.“
When you are at your noblest, how do all these things strike you? When you merge your lower self in the greater self under the transmuting magic of wondrous music, of noble utterance, of soul-stirring landscape, of sight or hearing of fine heroism, do you not for a moment, even if only for a moment, feel one with all the world? Do you not feel your brotherhood with all? Do you not feel as if you could do anything for anybody? Do you not see ns petty much that in the lower self you thought as right and proper? Do you not feel, just for the moment, as if you could do great things, were dedicated to a noble mission and exalted purposes?
Such, my friends, is the real you, the you that can climb, must and snail climb, rung after rung beyond the one on which you stand. In such a self, not only do you know these truths of which I have been speaking, you have become these truths; you are these truths. And you perceive how gloriously worthwhile it is to climb, if such are the heights which shall be reached, if such the glory into which you enter. The vision fades, perchance, as the magic ceases. But, nevermore, can you stay where you are.
ONWARD AND FORWARD
Evermore must you climb, and you know that the Truth of truths—the Unity of Life—means that we climb together, that we cannot climb alone, and that, therefore, there is no climbing save as we aid others to climb. We climb as we seek the feet of Those who are stretched on the Cross of Loving Sacrifice.
May each one of us become a Cross of Loving Sacrifice! For the Way of the Cross is the hope of the world!
What is the purpose of life, or perhaps beyond life, or existence itself? How one answers this question will depend on one’s beliefs, ranging from nihilism to religious concepts of salvation and the afterlife. In Freemasonry, we don’t impose or require any particular belief regarding the purpose of life on the grandest scale, although we do focus heavily on the improvement of each individual, what some might call personal evolution. Ultimately, each Mason has his or her own beliefs, and come from a variety of religious backgrounds.
What is the relationship of this focus on personal development to various possible higher, metaphysical concepts of life’s purpose, or the soul’s trajectory?
It’s very interesting the ways that a concept of a higher power are connected to personal betterment and evolution. This is one of the reasons for the requirement of a belief in a higher power for entry into Freemasonry, because the opposite of this belief, materialism or physicalism is also intrinsically nihilistic, though some may feebly attempt to deny it. To believe in God or the Divine is to believe in a purpose to Creation, a concept known in philosophy and theology as teleology, from the Greek word telos, meaning “reason, purpose, or end.”
If we, and the universe we emerged from, simply happened and were not somehow created as the modern materialist orthodoxy insists, this means that we and the world are essentially an accidental, pointless mess of dust blowing in the cosmic wind, meaninglessly. This is a particularly bleak worldview, which in spite of its many philosophical problems, has risen to prominence in the academic and intellectual culture of the West. Freemasonry is diametrically opposed to this view, in that one of the very few beliefs our diverse group does share is the belief in a higher power, and the Telos which that belief implies.
While we may all share a belief in God (or something like it) and Telos, the individual and sectarian concepts among various Brothers of what exactly that teleological purpose of our existence is can vary widely. This will depend on how we conceptualize God or the Divine, and the purpose for which we were created. Some of the most common teleological differences are between Abrahamic religions, those of the East, and more nature-based spiritual traditions.
Abrahamic faiths like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, for instance, tend to focus on some sublime end, usually an afterlife, or a time in the future when the dead will be raised and live in a more Earthly paradise. In either case, it’s generally believed that our purpose is to serve and worship God, and to eventually enjoy the heavenly state individuals have earned by having chosen to live for their Creator. Usually, they believe we live only one life, and then proceed to eternal reward or punishment.
Eastern religions, on the other hand, such as Buddhism or Hinduism, tend to believe that our souls evolve over many, many lifetimes and eons, perhaps even existences on other worlds, or in other dimensions. While they generally believe in heavens or hells, these are all temporary states which a soul may pass through. The ultimate goal is to be completely free of our illusions, and to realize our unity with God, or the Ultimate Reality.
Nature religions such as Shamanism, Taoism, or Paganism are an interesting case, as they focus more on our position in relation to the natural world, usually conceived as a grand living entity, and the various spirits and ancestors which inhabit the non-physical realm. Still, there is often a sense of Telos, if not in a trajectory towards an end, at least towards some idea of balance or harmony.
One of the chief benefits of Co-Masonry is its adaptability and applicability to life, regardless of what faith and individual Telos a person adopts. The virtues which are taught in Masonry, such as personal discipline, honor, universal brotherhood, truth, equality, and justice are all qualities which contribute to any concept of Telos that one might identify with. Whether you believe that your destiny is heaven, enlightenment, nirvana, or simply cosmic harmony, the qualities and skills which Freemasonry encourages are pragmatic and conducive to those ends.
It’s truly a magnificent feat which our Brothers before us achieved, by combining the common elements of moral philosophy and sacred teachings from so many traditions, to create a common path which could encompass all believers and seekers, to work together in Brotherhood towards the betterment of the human race.
(Photo source: Ian Schneider via Unsplash.com)
Such, my brethren, is the subject on which I have been requested to address you. Some who have the interests of Masonry at heart, have thought it was possible to say something upon this subject that might tend to remove erroneous impressions, to increase union and harmony among Masons, and to persuade society at large that its well-being and progress are, to some extent, involved in the advancement and prosperity of Masonry. They have demanded that I should say that something; and, though unaffectedly reluctant to do it, my obligation as a Mason bars against me all the avenues of escape, and compels disinclination to yield to the imperative mandate of duty.
It would need no argument to show that to the Masonic Order itself, as to any other order or association, however unpretending and unimportant, intestine dissentions, struggles for the possession of power, jealousies and heart-burnings must necessarily be harmful, retard its growth and progress, repel those who, if it were at peace with itself, would seek to approach its doors; and at first diminish and ultimately destroy its capacity for usefulness. If this were all that I desired to establish, I might say so much and at once conclude.
But we, my brethren, do not believe that this is all. We think that the highest interests of Society, and of the community in which we live, and, perhaps, even interests wider and more general still, those of the Nation, and of humanity at large, are affected and injured, in that which affects and does harm to Masonry. We think that the world without our Temples is deeply interested in the continuance or restoration of peace and harmony within; and that every Mason who encourages or by apathy permits dissentions within the walls that veil our mysteries from the world’s eyes, is an enemy, not of Masonry only, but of that world’s advancement and prosperity.
It is indeed true that the world at large, the statesmen and the men of business, are not in the habit of attaching much importance to the peaceful operations, the active efforts and silent influences of Masonry. Some even think evil of the order; to others its pretensions are the subject of mirth and food for ridicule; while probably the general impression is that it is a harmless and inoffensive association, rather laudable for its benevolent propensities, its charities, and the assistance its members mutually lend each other; but one in which the world at large is in no wise interested, one whose ceremonies are frivolous, its secrets mere pretense, its titles and dignities absurd, and its dissentions mere childish disputes for barren honors and an empty precedency, fit only to excite the pitying smiles of the grave and the sarcastic laughter of the ill-natured.
Nor is it to be denied, that there is warrant for this, in the unfortunate proclivity of over-zealous and injudicious brethren to make the history of Masonry remount to the time when Adam, in the Garden of Eden, was Grand Master; to invent fables and manufacture traditions; to invest with a mysterious sanctity the trite commonplaces that all the world is at liberty to know; to give interpretations of symbols that every scholar knows to be untrue and every man of sense knows to be vapid and trivial; in the vain parade of sounding titles and glittering decorations; and more than all, in the angry disputes which rend the bosom of the Order, accompanied with bitter words, harsh epithets and loud denunciations, that give the lie to the combatants’ claim of brotherhood, in regard to questions that to the world seem trifling and unreal.
Is society really interested in the peace and progress of Masonry? Has the world a moral right to demand that harmony shall govern in our Temples? Is that a matter which at all concerns the community? How grave and important are the interests that by our mad dissentions we recklessly put at hazard? And by what means are peace and harmony to be restored and maintained?
Such are the questions which it is demanded of me to consider. To do so, it is evidently necessary first to settle what Masonry is, and what its objects are, and by what means and appliances it proposes to effect those objects.
The well-being of any nation, like that of every individual, is threefold, — physical, moral and intellectual. Neither physically, morally, or intellectually is a people ever stationary. Always it either advances or retrogrades; and, as when one climbs a hill of ice, to advance requires continual effort and exertion, while to slide downward one needs but to halt.
The happiness and prosperity of a people consist in advancing on each of the three lines, physical, moral and intellectual, at once; for the day of its downfall draws nearer, even when its intellect is more developed and the works of its genius are more illustrious, and while its physical comforts increase, if its moral progress does not keep pace with its physical and intellectual; and yet without the last, the two first do not mark the loftiest condition of a great people.
That institution deserves the title of “public benefactor,” which by a system of judicious charities and mutual assistance diminishes the sum total of haggard want and destitution, and relieves the public of a portion of a burden which the necessities of the poor and shelterless impose upon it; for it thus aids the physical advancement of the people.
It still more deserves the title, if in addition, it imperatively requires of its members the strict and faithful performance of all those duties towards their fellow-men as individuals, which the loftiest and purest morality enjoins; and so is the potent auxiliary of the laws, and the enforcer of the moral precepts of the great Teacher who preached the Sermon on the Mount: for thus it labors for the moral elevation of the people.
And still more, if its initiates are also, and of necessity, devoted to the true interests of the people; if they are the soldiery of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood, and at the same time of good government, of good order, and of the laws, that made by the representatives of all, for the general good of all, must be implicitly obeyed by all: for thus again it aids in elevating still higher the moral character of the people.
And most of all, in addition to all this, it strives to elevate the people intellectually, by teaching those who enter its portals the profoundest truths of Philosophy, and the wisdom of the Sages of every age; a rational conception of the Deity; of the universe that He has made, and of the laws that govern it; a true estimate of Man himself, of his freedom to act, of his dignity and his destiny.
I mean to speak only of what Masonry teaches; and to set up no extravagant pretensions on its behalf. that its precepts are not fully obeyed by its initiates, in no wise detracts from their value or excellence; any more than the imperfect performance if its votaries detracts from the excellence of religion. The theory and the intentions of every man that lives are better and purer than his practice, – I do not say they are unfortunately so; for it is one of the great kindnesses of Providence, and a most conclusive proof of God’s existence and infinite benevolence, that the worst as well as the purest of men has ever which he must perforce always struggle to reach, an ideal and exemplar of a rarer excellence than he can ever attain to, strive and struggle as he may. It has been well and truly said, that even Hypocrisy is the involuntary homage which vice pays to virtue.
That Masons do not live up to the teachings of their Order proves only that they are men; that, like other men, they are weak with the frailties of feeble human nature; and that in the never-ceasing struggle with their passions and the mighty circumstances that environ us all, it is often their lot to be discomfited. If the doctrines of Masonry are good, they of necessity have their effect, and are never taught in vain. For not in vain are the winged seeds of Truth ever sown; and if committed to the winds, God sees to it that they take root somewhere and grow.
A Lecture on the Evil Consequences of Schisms and Disputes for Power in Masonry, and of Jealousies and Dissensions Between Masonic Rites by Bro. Albert Pike
Provided Courtesy of www.phoenixmasonry.org
As the Christmas season draws to a close and we get ready for New Year’s parties and countdowns, yet another tradition comes to the forefront of our minds: New Years Resolutions. These yearly promises from ourselves to ourselves are taken more seriously by some than others, and we may make jokes about how they only last so long, perhaps only a week. Yet, the idea that we should set goals for ourselves, whether to take on new endeavors or remove unnecessary or unhealthy aspects of our lives is something which we should make last all year, much like the love and generosity of Christmas.
In Freemasonry, the symbol of the chisel represents discipline and education. Just as the chisel removes unneeded stone to reveal the jewel, form, or sculpture within, so can personal discipline remove those things which tarnish and distort our latent potential, and education can likewise chisel away our own ignorance, and reveal our inherent virtues.
The journey of a Mason is often compared to the creation of a perfect from a rough ashlar, a polished stone from a rough and imperfect one. The chisel is the primary symbolic tool in that endeavor, in that it is what removes the excess stone until the surface is smooth. An ashlar is a rectangular stone used in walls with a flush face. Just as we are said to be making ourselves into stones in the temple of God, so is the smoothing of the self meant to make those stones that we are fit perfectly, and serve their purpose in the temple.
The removal of excess stone is the purpose of the chisel, and the removal of excess aspects of ourselves forms a major part of the personal discipline required to excel at life, to fulfill our personal destiny and serve our purpose. The uncivilized or ineffective person is much like the rough stone, with various unnecessary protrusions, such as a tendency to anger, drink to excess, speak with too loose a tongue, or engage in sloth activities such as watching television or scrolling social media for hours.
As we hopefully see from the 24-inch gauge, we have only a certain number of hours in the day, and to fritter them away on excess activities that contribute little to nothing to the labor of our evolution is a waste. Likewise, if we speak or behave in ways that are inappropriate, out of anger or even simple gossiping, excess aspects of our being spill over into the lives and minds of others, leading to unnecessary problems, and more waste of time. These are examples of the kinds of rough, protruding aspects of the self we are meant to chisel away from our lives, through discipline and self-control.
Informing ourselves with knowledge is likewise an important aspect of our development, yet how does this correspond to the chisel? If we reflect on it a bit, we can see that every piece of knowledge learned is the removal of some ignorance. After all, if we do not know certain things for certain, our minds will surely fill in the blanks, even if only with guesses or superstitions. We cannot help imagining what might be true until we know what is true, and so it is these baseless stray imaginings that are eliminated with the chisel of Masonic education.
We should also find that these two aspects of the chisel go hand in hand, for surely as we educate ourselves, our behaviors will also change. In a sense, it is always the darkness of ignorance which leads us to engage in lazy behaviors, for instance, even if on some level we know we shouldn’t. At that moment, at least, we forget or neglect, and simply indulge our baser nature’s desire to be stimulated and inert. Likewise for inappropriate anger, gossiping, and similar things. So, going beyond education, it is knowledge and remembrance which are truly required to eliminate these aspects of ourselves.
Why do we choose to make declarations of improvement only once a year? While it’s fine to have a day to remind us all of the importance of this practice, we really should be tweaking and making changes to our lives every single day. Such is the evolutionary process, the way to change ourselves into something better than we have been, day by day. In Universal Freemasonry, we are taught to do precisely this, using the working tools as symbolic reminders of what it takes to become our ideal self, or as near to it as can be managed in this life.
What is your New Year’s Resolution?
Today, on the Eve of this great holiday of Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of our current age of history, the beginning of a new year, the return of the solar light, and the birth of the most influential figure in modern history, Jesus of Nazareth. In Part 1 of A Very Esoteric Christmas, we examined the roots and archetypal origins of the Christmas story, as well as other various pre-Christmas traditions in paganism and ancient mythology. We have seen that Christmas in its entirety is a patchwork of ancient and mythical ideas and celebrations.
The dissolution of our beliefs and assumptions about Christmas may be disconcerting to some, but like the caterpillar which must liquify within its cocoon in order to become a butterfly, it is a necessary component of initiation into new knowledge to leave inaccurate ideas behind. So, now, while our conception of Christmas is likewise in its liquid state, let’s see what colorful wings our cherished holiday may yet don, and what sweet flowers of spiritual life they may carry us to.
In the first chapter of John, the most mystical chapter of the most mystical gospel, it is said that that Word which became Jesus of Nazareth is also that Word of God which shone in the darkness at the dawn of Creation and made all things, and which is also the Light and Life of humanity. In the original Greek, this Word is actually Logos, a concept borrowed from Greek Stoic and Neoplatonist philosophers which describes the creative force which gives order to the dark chaos of the universe. So, this Light of Logos shone in the darkness, and the darkness knew it not; it was the Light of humanity, and became flesh that humanity might know it better.
If there were a single motif that could be attributed to the aesthetic and mythical theme of Christmas, it would be that of light shining in the darkness. From the illuminated Christ child at the center of our nativities to the Christmas lights with which we decorate our trees and homes, to the light of the quintessential hearth upon which stockings are hung, Christmas is archetypally a light in the darkness, a warmth in the cold, even order in the chaos. It is salvation by Divine Light, at the darkest hour.
The birth of the Sun Gods throughout ancient mythology, many of whom share common elements with the story of Jesus and his birth, were often celebrated at the time of the Winter Solstice because this is the point at which the sun begins it’s slow return after reaching it’s darkest point, ultimately culminating in Spring and Summer. Midwinter, therefore, marks the birth of a new solar cycle, which has always governed the activities of mankind, and to a large extent still does. It is the point at which the Sun of God “dies,” and is born anew, what in Rome was known as the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”
While some may scoff at the ancient sun-worship, as the giver of light and life, what better symbol for God or the Divine might there be than that without which all we know would perish? Much like the Logos of John 1, the Light of the sun shines into matter, and turns the darkness of mud and stone into the beautiful complexities of Life. Since most people need the incomprehensibility of God to be represented by some tangible figure, both the sun and it’s idealized representatives in their various anthropomorphized forms, Father and Sun, can serve to embody and inform humanity about the nature of the spiritual Light which gives true Life.
In The Mystical Interpretation of Christmas, Rosicrucian Max Heindel describes the times at which the physical and spiritual energies received from the sun as being reversed, so that the time of greatest physical energy correlates to the weakest spiritual energy, and vice versa. Interestingly enough, this also corresponds to the times at which the sun’s light is striking the Earth at a more right angle, during Summer Solstice, representative of the square of physical existence, as opposed to when it is striking the Earth at a more perpendicular angle at Winter Solstice, roughly corresponding to the triangle, representing spiritual existence.
This also means that this Winter Solstice, day of spiritual maximum, is the day at which the physical minimum turns, and begins to grow towards the physical robustness of Summer, and so represents the beginning of the descent of spirit into matter. This descent, too often depicted as a “fall”, is fundamentally an act of giving, sacrifice, service, and creation, for the Light’s descent into darkness is that by which all new forms are created, maintained, and the grace by which they may someday ascend and evolve to a higher state. Without the selfless pouring of light from the sun into the darkness of the Earth, and the divine birth of crop and creature, where might we be?
So it is that at the time where the physical light is at its weakest, the spiritual Light of Love and generosity reaches its peak. Throughout history, as the darkness of Winter set in, the necessity for giving and sharing also reached its highest, and were it not for the reminder of Love and generosity of these Winter celebrations, how many may have perished in the bitter cold of Winter, and the frigid self-concern of their neighbors? Here, we likewise find the importance of giving, being both symbolic of the fundamental gift of Light and Life from God and the sun, as well as being a practical aspect of our survival and thriving as a people. We are reminded to become sun-like in our generosity when the sun itself is the least present.
Perverted and commercialized though it may now be, our ability at our darkest hour to allow the inner sun of our Love to shine and provide for one another is the origin of our gift-giving traditions of Christmas, and the dominant theme of many Christmas stories, from the willingness of a wealthy miser to give to those in need in A Christmas Carol, to the willingness of a poor community to support a family in need, in It’s a Wonderful Life. Even the original Christmas story of a desperate refugee family, mother heavy with child, finding shelter in the generosity of others resonates with this theme. All of these are outer reflections of our Light shining in the darkness of ignorance, fear, hatred, and greed.
Like the Christ child in the story of Jesus, the Christ which is the inner Light of all people, of every atom, and which shines in our sun and every star beyond is a divine gift born of grace, whose destiny is written into the fabric of Creation itself. Into the deepest depths of darkness, born into a galactic stable and a planetary manger made of water, dust, and gases, the physical light of the sun shines down, and the divine Light of consciousness miraculously emerges and ascends towards its source in every form of Life. As the Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi wrote, “God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man.”
The secret of this Sun of God in humanity is hidden in the characters of the Christmas nativity. The virgin mother Mary is the purity of the open heart, unmolested by the base desires of lower human nature, receiving that which was never born and never dies. The father Joseph is the servant of strength and will, who watches over the divine incarnation, in obedience to the heavenly decree. The wise men and shepherds drawn by the star are the higher and lower aspects of the mind, called by the mysterious celestial intuition from their typical worldly activities. The stable, manger, and the animals all around are the dim and lowly terrestrial vessel into which the Christ Light is born, or descends, in each of us, the physical body.
All these aspects of the self are gathered like a mandala around the central figure, who is placed into a manger which by normal logic should simply be food for the animals, but has been replaced by this divine Light and salvation from the fearful darkness of entanglement in the world of matter. So it is that this Light takes the place of the mere material “bread alone” which feeds only our bodies and their desires. So it is that body, heart, willpower, and mind bow down and revolve like satellites around the radiant Light which transcends and illuminates all these lesser aspects of the Self. This Light does not emerge from them, just as the baby Jesus is not a naturally conceived child; it is not a sum of their parts, but rather a grace descending to them, giving them meaning and purpose beyond their transitory forms and lower existence, which are otherwise merely eddies of darkness.
Near-death experiencers almost universally describe encountering a Light which they know to be God, whose shining effulgence is the essence of Unconditional Love, Knowledge, Life, and Consciousness. Mystics the world over likewise experience God as an infinite Light which is both transcendent and immanent in all of Creation. This loving Light is also understood to be what we experience in our hearts as love, and in our minds as consciousness, albeit in limited forms. It shines in us most brightly in unconditional Love, when freed from the constraints of desire and conditioning that conceal it in the muck and mire of our lower natures.
It is this Love Light that shines from the manger, and it comes to us appropriately in the story-form of a babe, a new and pure form of Life. It is various shades of this Light which we know throughout life, first in our purity as babes ourselves, then in the loving union which brings new life into the world, and once again when we gaze upon our newborn children, reflecting our own pure essential nature back to us. This inner sun child which we glimpse in many ways is our core, beneath and beyond all aspects of mind and body, it is our Soul, our consciousness itself, both the Light of awareness and the fountain of Love which shines when we surrender to the Divine.
When we achieve the purity and surrender of Mary, the strength and devotion of Joseph, and the orientation of all aspects of mind, from shepherds to wisemen, towards this star of intuition, then the radiance of the unconquered inner sun shines in us as an inexhaustible joy, love, wisdom, creativity, and peace, illuminating every aspect of our relationships, thoughts, and actions in the world. This is the culmination of the spiritual journey, and the world itself becomes illuminated when we bear this Light by releasing all impurities which obstruct it within ourselves.
While our individual completion is a day yet to come, at Christmas, our stories and songs, decorations and celebrations, the hour of the season and position of heavenly bodies themselves all convene to remind us of that infinite Light of Love which dwells within us, which we glimpse in our brightest moments, and which awaits our devoted purification to shine from the manger of our hearts, making us a fully divine incarnation of the Logos of Loving Light.
This illumination is a gradual process, and the bellows of our Christmas stories, songs, and symbols blow into us every Midwinter and renew the warm hearth of Love within us. This helps us to march forward into the darkness, hand-in-hand and Lit from Within, to face a new cyclical round of our spiral journey upward towards ultimate completion, and to bring Light into this world in whatever imperfect ways we are able to, along the way.
Know this Christmas that the Light of Christ Consciousness is not a faraway or ancient thing, nor is it limited to any sect, temple, or holy book, but it lives in every gaze you meet, in every word of love, in every act of giving, and in your very own heart, if you release the fearful confusion which conceals it, and recognize it to be the core of your being, merely hidden in darkness, waiting to be revealed. A very merry, warm, and bright Christmas to you, from the Universal Co-Masonry community.
As always, this writing does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.
As Christmas swiftly approaches, parts of the world with Christian roots are becoming enchanted with various traditions centered around the story of Christ’s humble birth, as well as secular and non-Christian related Winter Solstice traditions. Whatever one’s faith or lack thereof, it’s hard to ignore this festive time of year, and the dominant story of the world’s largest religion, woven into the carols, ornaments, and decorations it’s strewn with.
Yes, twinkling lights, glittering decor, and snowy landscapes saturate the collective psyche, in a celebration that blends themes of warmth, love, hope, forgiveness, destiny, generosity, and a central event with such significance that we use it as the demarcation point of our entire calendar.
Not only is Christmas the end of every year, but also the yearly anniversary of the end of the old world Before Christ, and the birth of the new Anno Domini phase of the human story. The axis of Western history literally rests on this event which we celebrate every December 25th.
Yet there is much more to this story than the surface images of Winter festivity and the stable-born divine son, surrounded by star-struck wise men and poor shepherds. Indeed, virtually every aspect of Christmas has deep roots in traditions which preceded their adoption into Christianity and it’s birth story; even aspects of the Christmas story itself may be more mythical than historical. Even Santa Claus, sometimes criticized as a fanciful creation of Coca-Cola, has his roots as Sinterklaas (St. Nicolas), dating back to the Middle Ages, or arguably even pre-Christian European traditions.
So, what exactly are the roots of the Christmas story, and what should we make of them? Do they invalidate our beloved holiday, or is it possible they might give it even deeper meaning?
Perhaps most famously “exposed” in the First portion of the Zeitgeist film, it’s long been known among scholars that elements of the story of Christ’s life told in the bible exist in many pre-existing traditions, and that certainly includes the circumstances of his birth. It’s virtually undeniable that aspects of the Christmas story are mythological and astrological. Biblical literalists may argue that these stories were created by demons to trick mankind, but to most rational people unwilling to make such leaps to preserve their beliefs, the realization of Christmas’s mythology is unavoidable.
Religious history is littered with Christ and Christmas prototypes. Of the many Gods or demi-Gods said to be born on December 25th, some of the most famous are Mithras, Apollo, Horus, Osiris, Heracles, Dionysus, and Adonis. Those whose births were foretold by heavenly phenomena like stars or comets include Yu, Lao Tse, Buddha, Mithra, and Osiris. Those who were said to have been born by divine conception, often to a virgin, include Pharaoh Amenkept III, the sun god Ra, Horus, Atis, Dionysus, Perseus, Helen of Troy, Buddha, Mithra, and even Ghengis Khan. The study of Jesus in comparative mythology is an area continually explored by historians and scholars.
The figure which probably has the most similarity to the Jesus story is Hinduism’s Lord Krishna, who is said to be: God in the form of a man, the second person of a divine trinity, prophesied by wise men and stars to be born of divine conception to a (possibly virginal) member of a royal lineage (and the prophecy was fulfilled), one who performed miracles, cast out demons, was killed by being hung on a tree, then died and descended to Hell before rising again to visit disciples and ascend to heaven, as witnessed by many followers, and was also referred to as a “lion” of his tribe, plus many other correlations. Their biggest difference, perhaps, is that Krishna’s life is believed to have taken place anywhere from 200-3,200 years before Christ’s.
However, this doesn’t mean that Christ was never born, or never existed. Indeed, there is some historical evidence that Jesus existed, and even if it’s not strong enough to convince some skeptics, “The majority of New Testament scholars and historians of the ancient Near East agree that Jesus existed as a historical figure. [wikipedia]” The existence of mythological elements of Christ’s story are too often used inappropriately as evidence that he never existed, while they are merely evidence that his story was mythologized in the process of Christianity’s spread into pagan Europe, at the most.
While the story of Jesus’s birth can be traced to the religious mythologies of various ancient civilizations, much of the traditions of Christmas have their roots in more rural pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, particularly from Northern Europe.
Yule or Yuletide was the Norse/Germanic tradition of cutting down and burning a large log, known as the Yule Log, while feasting for however long it took the log to burn, which could be up to 12 days around the Solstice. Many believe this to be the origin of the 12 days of Christmas. The related Midwinter (Winter Solstice) was also considered to be a time, like Halloween, in which the veil between the spiritual and natural world was thinner, and thus carried religious and supernatural significance.
The lives of ancient Pagan people are believed to have revolved mostly around the agricultural significance of the seasons’ changes in the Northern hemisphere, and the supernatural significance they also took on, being literally matters of life and death. Winter Solstice was a time where preparations for the coming Winter “famine months” of January and February came to a climax, with the slaughter of livestock that could not be fed through the Winter, as well as excess food which could not be properly stored. It also so happened to be the time of year when the wine and beer made from crops grown during the Summer months was sufficiently fermented to be drank and enjoyed.
So, due to the presence of excess food, meat, and libations, Christmas traditions that likely sprang in part from Yule/Midwinter include feasting and caroling, the Christmas ham/turkey, gifts, and general fire-side festivity. Even the use of evergreen trees and branches as decorations, revered for their ability to thrive and remain green in the depths of Winter, pre-dates the advent of the Christmas tree in early medieval Germany, with the pagans bringing evergreens into their homes as early as 400 A.D. It seems that what Christmas traditions didn’t come from Egyptian, Greek, Roman, or even Indian mythologies have been inherited from pre-Christian, pagan Europe.
The similar equivalent of Saturnalia existed in Rome, which was spread to most of Europe during the Roman empire; in this case, elements of social chaos and merriment were also added to the general feasting, gladiator fights, gambling, gift-giving, an early form of greeting cards, and general dis-inhibition. The Roman Saturnalia was not unlike an ancient Mardis Gras on steroids, with people wearing costumes and reversing social roles, allowing slaves to become masters and vice versa, and allowing peasants to rule the cities for the week. The feasting and indulgence is also said to have included orgiastic elements, as well, meaning gluttony may not have been the only vice that was indulged.
While these revelations may be troubling to some, the truth is that all of these various traditions were incorporated into Christmas for a reason or a variety of reasons. All of them were tremendously meaningful to the people from whom they were received, and like mythology itself, carry symbolic significance. So, perhaps rather than being disheartened that Christmas isn’t what we thought it was, we should be intrigued to discover what greater meanings might be hidden in this patchwork tradition.
In Universal Co-Masonry, we strive to seek the Light of Knowledge wherever it may lead us, however uncomfortable it may be. So, where might the illumination of Christmas’s symbolism take us? More on that in Part 2, coming soon…
As always, this writing does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.
Featured Image: “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1622), Gerard van Honthorst. Modern secular historians regard the birth narrative in the Gospel of Luke as a legend invented by early Christians based on Old Testament predecessors.
While we make no bones about the esoteric nature of our beliefs and interests in Universal Co-Masonry, what may be missed by many is the connection which this esotericism, in general, has to a historical divide within perhaps all religions. While we may know the history of religion or at least the religious tradition(s) we’ve been closest to in our lives, do we know their esoteric history? Do they all have an esoteric history? What is the purpose of this split between the esoteric (inner) and exoteric (outer) teachings?
The word occult means hidden, and can be used interchangeably with esoteric, but what is it hiding from? Did this secretiveness arise simply to avoid the persecution of the church in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as we’re often led to believe, or has concealment always been in its nature?
It would be absurd to attempt to tell any sort of true history of religion in the context of a single blog post, but I do want to highlight what is most relevant to the topic. In doing so, I think it’s useful to return to the beginning.
Where did religion begin? Archaeologically, we see the dim traces of the beginnings of religion as signified by cave paintings and burial sites, the point at which humans began honoring and burying our dead. In truth, we know very little about this twilight of belief.
The first instance of religion which we have more direct experience and knowledge of is that which occurs in tribes, which has come to be referred to by anthropologists as Shamanism. We see shamans in the indigenous tribes we encounter and study in modern times, and we assume that this system must have been present from our own beginnings and that these people serve as a glimpse into our past; for the moment, I’ll work with this assumption without question.
Shamanism involves a minority of the tribe, often only a single shaman and one or more apprentices, serving as the interface between the spiritual realms and the tribe. What makes the shaman unique is that he or she is able to communicate with the world beyond the senses in a way that most aren’t, whether through natural capacities, or the use of psychoactive plants. In the case of Shamanism, we can clearly see the beginnings of a “mystical minority” of the population, who are acknowledged and even vital to the tribe.
As we move forward through the progressive trajectory of civilization, we see the same pattern but with changes over time. As people developed kingdoms and larger civilizations, they also began to build separate structures within each city, and temples emerged as spaces uniquely devoted to interfacing with the divine. It’s interesting to note that, just as the various buildings physically cordoned off each “area” of life, with the government here, the market there, etc., so too did religion begin to be separated. It became less and less woven into the whole of life, as was more-so the case in the tribe, and became something you do “there” specifically.
Furthermore, we might even say that this, in fact, was the beginning of religion, inasmuch as religion describes a specific, separate domain of human activity; if this be the case, then we can recognize that the emergence of religion was a product of the divvying up of life into categories, and simultaneously, a continuation of the shamanic tradition. All of the above was also mostly relevant in cities, while the people living in villages still relied on shamanic figures for much of the time, until the priesthood of the city began to replace the shamans and druids with priests.
As far as we know, the esoteric side of religion also emerged during this time. Greece and Rome had their mystery schools, the Hindu kingdoms had their Brahmins and Yogis, Israel their prophets and later their Kabbalists, etc.
However, this mysticism wasn’t necessarily separated from the priesthood. In ancient Greece, for instance, it was expected or even required to undergo the initiations, in order to be a priest, or for that matter, any other prominent and influential member of society. Since these things weren’t always recorded, we may never fully know just how connected the various esoteric traditions and their correlating priesthoods were.
A question that I find very interesting is: Why has this mystical minority seemingly always existed? Are they simply those which are smarter, less “neurotypical”, more prone to transition between different states of consciousness, or more likely to experiment with psychoactive drugs? Or could it be some combination of all these things?
It’s commonly understood that many things, including human traits like height, IQ, blood pressure, and salaries, occur in the form of a normal distribution, or bell curve. This just means that when you plot them on a graph, the majority are “normal” and so the middle of the graph is the largest, and the further from normal you get in either direction, the more it slopes off, like the edges of a bell, with fewer people being abnormal.
Could it be that whatever trait or collection of traits contributes to someone being open to, and capable of embracing the mystical side of life more completely is simply always a minority of people out at the edges of the bell? And what about the rest of the people, who live in the middle of that bell curve, who are normal? Why must they be separated?
For most of us who find ourselves at the mystical end of the curve, life experience has taught us that those who dwell within the realm of normality are often not willing or able to understand many of the more profound concepts, for whatever reasons. It often seems that what they need is exactly what exoteric religion provides, simplified stories and concepts which can give meaning and purpose to their lives, but which the more mystically inclined would find lacking. Perhaps that is exactly why exoteric religion was created; at some point, the inheritors of the shamanic thread understood what Jesus expressed, when his disciples asked why he must speak in parables to the masses: because having ears, they cannot hear, and having eyes, they cannot see.
Of the many esoteric traditions, Freemasonry has served as an ideal refuge and vehicle for the mystically inclined. This is primarily because of its level of organization and practicality, which has facilitated its membership not just studying high concepts behind closed doors, but having a major influence on society at large, as well as a highly functional internal structure that allows us to be effective at getting things done. While the milk of parables is enough for most, for those who seek more solid food, we welcome sincere truth-seekers of every kind.
As always, this writing does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.
Contemporarily known as a time of fright, mystery, darkness, and macabre gaiety, most of us are at least cursorily aware that Halloween has its origins in ancient pagan tradition, and that it is the beginning of a three-day sacred festival later adapted by the church, as part of it’s strategy of absorption and re-branding of pagan traditions to adopt Northern Europeans into the fold. Let’s dive in and take a look at the history of the three-day festival of Allhallowtide, and it’s possible connection to the goals and principles of Freemasonry.
To pre-Christian Europeans like the Celts and various Germanic and Scandinavian tribes, our modern November 1st marked the beginning of the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the new year. Also representing the onset of darkness as the season shifted to shorter and shorter days, particularly the eve of the new year, Samhain (pronounced sow-in, old-Irish for “Summer’s end”) or modern Halloween, was seen as a time when the veils between the spiritual and mundane world are particularly thin, allowing for spirit contact, haunting, as well as enhanced divination and oracular opportunities among the priest-like druids.
It’s worth noting that this tradition, particularly as it relates to the return of the spirits of the dead during this time, is not exclusively European; in fact, Halloween exists in various forms around the world. The belief that the spirits must be appeased in some way is also common.
For instance, Día de Muertos in Mexico actually doesn’t stem purely from it’s Catholic conquerors, but actually has origins in the pre-Columbian Aztec and other cultures. The Hungry Ghost Festival of China is also a correlate, with people believing that the spirits of the dead grow hungry and must be fed offerings, during this time of year.
Particularly in the Anglo-Celtic world in ancient Britain, activities related to divination formed a major part of the celebrations, probably owing to it’s druidic origins. These included various kinds of scrying, dream interpretation, and also rituals of protection and purification. The early origins of trick-or-treating were also practiced, with celebrators dressing up as the dead, symbolically going house to house and collecting offerings on their behalf.
The following days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Nov 1st-2nd) were a wholly Christian addition, although they did have pagan correlates, simply not on these particular days. The pagan festival which correlates to All Souls Day, for instance, originally took place in early May. These were days for feasting and celebrating the saints and traditions of the Catholic church.
As you may know, the Roman Catholic church often coexisted with pagan traditions, and even adopted elements of them in order to appeal to and convert the pagan residents of any given region. The festival of Samhain is no exception, and in the Christian world it became the eve of the 3-day feasts of Allhallowtide. Some of the Samhain traditions were adopted with new Christian meanings, such as offering proto-trick-or-treaters “soulcakes”, meant to celebrate the christened dead, or also praying and leaving offerings at the graves of the dead.
It’s impossible to consider the symbolic meaning of Halloween without associating it with the shadow, the aspects of the self which have been rejected from the light of consciousness, and thus dwell in the darkness of the unconscious, taking on a life of their own and occasionally coming to haunt us. As the ancient traditions focused on the dead gradually transformed over time into various witches, vampires, and other monsters, the prominent figures and symbols of Halloween have come to be various manifestations of shadow aspects of the psyche.
The werewolf, for instance, is a representation of our wild and beastly selves, particularly those aspects which are hidden during the day, but emerge at night. The witch is naturally the feminine powers of intuition and magic, twisted and gnarled in it’s rejection from the masculine-dominated consensus world of daylight. Vampires are the parasitic and predatory aspects of the self, particularly when it is disconnected from its own natural life-force, which of course burns if it is touched by the light of day. Frankenstein can be seen symbolically as the monstrous alter-ego created by the intellect in it’s rejection of the mysteries of femininity, spirit, emotion, and the need for human relating.
Our willingness to celebrate, dress up as, and thus embody these shadow elements, then, can be seen as a way of facing and embracing these various neglected or rejected aspects of ourselves, and thus transforming them with the Light of consciousness. Understanding their symbolic meaning is the next step, beyond simply reveling in their spooky stories and ghoulish aesthetic. Thus, although the two are not often connected, we can find in Halloween the sacred Masonic principle, from darkness to Light.