Halloween: Origins, Traditions, and Masonry?

Halloween: Origins, Traditions, and Masonry?

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

Winter is Coming

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.

Samhain the Gaelic festival that became Halloween

Gaelic festival of Samhain

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 Christianization

Way-of-salvation-church-militant-triumphant-andrea-di-bonaiuto-1365

Allhallowtide Scene – Andrea di Bonaiuto (1365)

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.

Meanings Beneath the Surface

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.

Halloween


As always, this writing is not representative of the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Who Is the Widow’s Son?

Who Is the Widow’s Son?

Perhaps most well known as a Masonic Biker organization, the origin of the term Widow’s Son is actually quite old and deep in Masonic Lore. What is the significance of this term, why is every Mason considered to be a Widow’s Son? As with so many other aspects of Freemasonry, the mystery of the Widow’s Son is part of a multi-layered living tapestry of myth which is both investigated, discovered, passed on, and reconstructed over time by each Mason individually, and all Masons collectively.

As always, this writing is not an expression of the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but simply the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Biblical Lineage?

As even non-Masons may be aware, Freemasonry takes as its primary mythological framework various aspects of Biblical history, particularly King Solomon, and of course the central figure of the architect which he chose to build the Temple of God during his reign, Hiram Abiff. One line of investigation into the term Widow’s Sons speculates that the title refers to a literal genealogical lineage, a vine whose fruits include Jesus, Solomon, David, all the way back to Enoch, and Adam, the biblical first human. As you might imagine, Masonic Grail Bloodline theorists have a heyday with this interpretation.

The reason this lineage is referred to as Widow’s Son is that one of it’s early maternal ancestors is the biblical character of Ruth. She was a Moabite, a people descended from the incestuous episode with Lot and his daughters after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. However, Moab was also a nephew of Abraham. Therefore, Ruth was a member of this somewhat “tainted” yet still royal branch of the Israelite family, and was particularly righteous because of her loyalty to her husband (from Judah), even after death. For this, she was eventually blessed by becoming husband of another Judean, Boaz, and eventually, Great Great Great… (30 generations’ worth) Grandma to Jesus.

Does being a Widow’s Son, in the sense of being a Mason, have some connection to biblical genealogy? Given that there’s no particular genealogical or genetic analysis when you become a Mason, this is doubtful, although we can’t say there’s not some way in which it might be relevant. I can’t even begin to touch any sort of thorough investigation of this topic within the span of this short article, but the above links and some related Googling can no-doubt lead you down a deep rabbit hole, if your heart so desires.

On the other hand, it’s probably more likely that the meaning is more symbolic, perhaps having to do with bringing Lost Children of God back into the fold, or in an internal sense, aspects of the self which have gone astray back into alignment with the internal divinity. As with just about anything, you can also interpret it in a Jungian fashion. In that vein, another line of reasoning says that the Widow’s Sons are actually the children of matter who are separated from the spiritual paternity of God the Father, with the Widow, in this case, being the feminine aspect of God, as manifested in the material world.

This would make the “Widow’s Sons” those who have lost their connection to their divine origin, God the Father, resulting in a clinging to Mother Nature, but seeking to find that paternal divine connection again. Interestingly enough, one etymological interpretation of Hiram Abiff means “the king that was lost.” Of course, this also has relevance to the Egyptian origins of the story, and the mythical deceased God-King.

The Orphan Hero Archetype

One archetype you may have noticed about the various stories that have captured the popular imagination is that of the Orphan Hero. If you’ve never thought about it, take a moment to consider how many heroes and villains of fiction are orphans of one kind or another, a list which includes notables ranging from some the most popular superheroes like Superman, Batman, or Spiderman, to various fantasy protagonists like Frodo Baggins or Harry Potter himself. What is it about the Orphan Hero that speaks so strongly to the collective mind?

It’s a well-known psychological fact that fatherless children are at greater risk of a variety of mental health issues, and general life problems, and this may be why many villains are also orphans. However, as we see played out in our fictional orphan heroes ad infinitum, that risk may actually represent merely one half of a potential to go farther in either direction than an otherwise normal person would, simply by virtue of facing the harsh truths of life so early on. Perhaps there is a reason that Freemasonry is known for caring for widows and orphans, and taking the literal widows’ sons under their wing in traditional male Freemasonry. Certainly widows and their sons are some of those most in need, but perhaps are also known to possess some unique potential, due to the psychological consequences of their situation?

It doesn’t require much imagination to see how such an event as the early loss of one or more parents might jump-start the consideration of the larger questions in life, a dark night of the soul long before most people ever have to confront such things, at the very least. An analysis of the orphan archetype reveals that it contains both perils and potential. However, given that actual orphans are relatively few and far between, compared to the vast majority of relatively normal family situations, why does the orphan hero play such a prominent role in popular mythology?

Diamond in the Rough Ashlar?

Indeed, if we look carefully at the orphan hero archetype, the personality traits the characters  exhibit are often those of the type of person drawn to Masonry. Think about the common orphan heroes: Harry Potter, Peter Parker, the young Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, or even Cinderella. Their dire situations in life set them apart from the herd, and make them more reflective, serious, and possessing some extra quality, which may be fictionally manifested as intelligence or some kind of magic, edge, or latent superpower; however, they are also often lacking in certain key skills like confidence, decision-making, discipline, and leadership, things ideally learned from a father. The hero’s journey they undergo is typically about learning these aspects by facing their fears and embarking on a quest of facing the darkness of life, at first with some assistance from wise helpers, but ultimately on their own.

Why this “something extra?” In the realm of personality, what you do is what you become. If an early major crisis prevents you from easily relating with your peers, and also compels you to seek greater meaning in life, then much of the energy that would normally be spent on “normal” socially-driven activities will be spent on something else, and what often manifests from this is an increase in other skill-sets mostly unrelated to social activity, such as creativity, rationality, philosophy, and insight. By virtue of being somewhat detached from the primate dynamics of normal human social hierarchies, such people are more likely to develop things like wisdom and intellect early-on.

The Widow’s Son is ultimately something we all find relatable and significant, whether or not destiny has literally foisted an early dark night of the soul upon us.

On a more symbolic level, from Horus to Luke Skywalker, we can all see a bit of ourselves in the many iterations of the Orphan Hero, perhaps because of the symbolic disconnect from the mundane world, and sense of some higher purpose to be discovered. The challenge which is faced by us all is to learn the inner tools necessary to manifest the potential within us, and that is exactly what Freemasonry is designed to do. The end result, when properly executed, is leaders or “Kings” in society who are not simply common, beastly people playing the dominance hierarchy games of human society purely to fulfill their own base desires, but thoughtful and wise leaders, who may have otherwise never risen to the occasion, had they not undergone the learning, healing, and strengthening necessary to play the role.

 

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

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

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

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

Elements as Symbols

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

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

Earth

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

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

Water

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

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

The Inert Half of the Elemental Spectrum

elements earth and water

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

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

To Be Continued…

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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