The Serpent in Myth, Antiquity, and Freemasonry

The Serpent in Myth, Antiquity, and Freemasonry

The serpent is one of mankind’s most significant symbols, showing up prominently our myths, stories, and dreams. What is it about the slithering snake which speaks to us on such a deep level, that resonates with some archetypal force in our inner depths? Furthermore, what role does the snake play in esoteric philosophy? 

The language of symbolism is built on a structural syntax of similarity of forms. Two otherwise disparate things are connected, because they bear some likeness to one another, and through this principle of sympathetic resonance, all things are connected. So, what likeness does the snake owe it’s archetypal resonance?

Serpent in Myth and Legend

The serpent plays a role of some kind in most mythological systems, and is one of the most common elements to appear in individuals’ dreams. Dreams are still a mystery to science, but those who delve into their analysis can see that they speak a language which stretches beyond our nightly sojourns, into the dream of this waking life, as well. So, the serpent, too, spans the gulf between personal sleep, and waking collective myth.

Serpent in the Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – Lucas Cranach (1531) 

Perhaps the most famous snake in the Western world was that which tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Whether this Knowledge purveyor was truly a deceptive villain depends on the interpreter of the story, but certainly the mainstream of Christianity sees the it as such, even the devil himself. A Gnostic view, on the other hand, portrays the Edenic serpent as the Luciferian liberator of mankind from Jehova’s captivity.  

In other myths and traditions, the serpent is seen as less nefarious, and often as a symbol of wisdom, perhaps because of its apparent stillness, self-control, and single-pointed precision when attacking. It plays the role of guardian of the center of the world in Greek mythology, twin encirclers of the world in Chinese mythology, intermediary to the Gods and bringer of wisdom and culture by the Aztecs, and initiator of manhood by the Australian Aborigines, just to name a few. 

Perhaps most significantly to Freemasons, the Egyptians saw the serpent as one of the primary forms of the Sun God Amun-Ra, the divine inseminator of the cosmic egg from which sprung all of Creation. As we’ve all seen, the Pharaohs were also represented with serpents emerging from their forehead, and many have speculated that this relates to the “third eye,” the psychic or spiritual eye which is said to see all.

Last, but not least, the Vedantic teachings of the East also use the serpent as the representation of one of the most important forces in the universe, that coiled-up latent power which dwells in the gut and lower regions of the Human being, known as kundalini. It’s said that as one progresses along the yogic path, this serpentine life-force energy will be roused from its sleep, and climb up through the chakras, to finally arrive at the third eye, and provide complete illumination to the enlightened individual. 

The Serpentine Universe

Beyond the investigation of the serpent’s mythological roles throughout history, another connection interests me, and that is the serpent’s form as an apt representation of both dimensionality, and the central nervous system.

280px-Serpent_Nebula

Serpent Nebula: Found in the western region of the Milky Way

As you may recall, the progression through the dimensions begins with the zero-dimensional point, proceeds to the one-dimensional line, the two-dimensional plane, three-dimensional space, and perhaps beyond into higher dimensions. And this dimensional framework makes up the basic structure or matrix of our reality. 

If you consider the head of the snake to be the zero-dimensional point, which leads the motion of the snake creating a one-dimensional line, then this motion slithering in an S-form also reveals the two-dimensional plane; finally, when the king of snakes, the cobra, stands upright and erect, it reveals three-dimensional space. Thus the serpent can be seen to represent the most basic form of any entity existing in the matrix of space-time. 

Furthermore, as illustrated in this video, the possibility of higher dimensions implies that our entire 3D physical universe may be a single point, like the original zero, in yet higher dimensions, moving through hyperspace to leave behind a snake-like timeline which makes up the past, a process which repeats to create higher and higher dimensional spaces until, perhaps, the tenth dimension of infinity.

The Serpent of Man

Lastly, you can take everything just said about the serpent and apply it to our own form,

brain-cord-central-nervous-system

Central Nervous System of Man

The Central Nervous System that of an upright central nervous system. Have you ever looked at an image of our nervous system removed from the body?

We are like serpents who grew limbs, hair, and skin. The central intelligence of our body/mind is a serpentine brain and spinal cord, with various smaller branches protruding out into the rest of the body. So, perhaps in the end, we are the serpent.


As always, the thoughts expressed in this writing are not the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but just the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Where is a Freemason first prepared? And why?

Where is a Freemason first prepared? And why?

When a new brother is in the beginning stages of his masonic journey, he is asked what I believe to be one of the most profound questions of all: “Where were you first prepared to be made a mason?”

As those of us in the fraternity know, the usual response is “my heart.” This turning of the heart is often said to be the beginning of the initiation process. But, why? What does the heart symbolize that is so important?

Plato spoke of the pumping of the valves of the heart as the origin of human passions. Aristotle offered a somewhat different explanation, claiming that it is not only the organ of passions but the resting place of the soul’s vital spirit. Freemasonry mirrors this philosophy attributing the heart as the sacred abode of the Inner Ruler Immortal.

In our modern world, the word “heart” is often downplayed to have to do with the feelings or temperament. We might hear of a heart that is stony, heavy, broken, foolish, warm, cold or bleeding. In the middle of February, the retail stores make a fortune on the heart motif.

Brother Manly Hall in “The Secret Teaching of All Ages” suggests that the common reference to the emotions when it comes to the heart is a blind. He says:

“While all the Mysteries recognized the heart as the center of spiritual consciousness, they often purposely ignored this concept and used the heart in its exoteric sense as the symbol of the emotional nature. The student of esotericism discovers ere long that the ancients often resorted to various blinds to conceal the true interpretations of their Mysteries.”

Blinds can no doubt lead a person astray. Brother Helena Blavatsky, for example, in the “Secret Doctrine” continually used enigmas, cryptograms, and other devices intended to conceal the real esoteric meaning from uninitiated readers. Never does she actually lie, but I have noticed when a topic seems too clear-cut, then I should be suspect.

So, what about the heart? Has our society oversimplified the concept only to conceal a blind? If so, what is the nature of that blind? Is it possible to grasp a glimpse of the heart’s mystery?

The Heart Symbol – Universally Understood

A journey through a number of the Volumes of Sacred Lore is as a way of exploring just a few of the many deeper meanings of this symbol.Flaming Heart on Apron Scottish Rite

In Buddhism, the heart is considered the center of enlightenment. The word “bodhicitta” translates to the pure awakened heart and mind within each person. Within “bodhicitta” is the aspiration for service to all beings as the longing to heal the sufferings of the world.

In Christianity, the Grail stories describe the human heart as a container of the heart of Christ whose life/blood grants nourishment to the soul. In the Bible, it is the heart to which Christ referred when he said “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

In Hinduism, the Upanishads speak of what is known as the hridaya guha, or the cave of the heart, in which resides the Supreme Reality. In the eighth chapter it says to “Go into the cave and you find the treasures of heaven.”

In Islam, the basic Arabic word for heart is galb meaning change or transformation. It is considered the meeting place between the human and the celestial realms where spirit resides. The heart of the faithful is the “Throne (al-‘Arsh) of God the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman)”

In Judaism, the heart is the seat of wisdom, as the Psalmist wrote, “Teach us to number our days that we may attain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90) The Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem is considered to be a heart as was Jerusalem itself.

In Taoism, the heart is a vehicle of eternity, love, and divinity. Hazrat Inayat Khan says: “Realizing that love is a divine spark in one’s heart, one keeps blowing on that spark until a flame rises to illuminate the path of one’s life.”

In the Cosmology of Memphis, the heart was understood as a repository of the good deeds in a person’s life. If the heart was light as a feather, you passed the test of the Goddess Maat and were able to enter the afterlife.

One could go on almost indefinitely. In just a short survey, the heart symbol is seen as an important spiritual center, an inner shrine, a place that reflects the life and deeds of each person. It is often depicted with a flame.

Can any of these sacred teachings apply to a mason’s life?

The Masonic Heart on Fire

In Freemasonry, we learn about brotherly love which inflames the hearts of all true Masons. With that understanding comes the responsibility to lift and aid the downtrodden and to battle against the forces of fanaticism, ignorance, and tyranny. It is our duty to bring light to darkness.

A flaming heart is a symbol of this task and makes its appearance in more than one of the Scottish Rite Degrees. It represents a zeal for truth and doing what is right, even if it means self-sacrifice. Moving toward the fire of knowledge, of both ourselves and the world, is the path of every Mason whose heart burns within him. The whole degree system of freemasonry echoes the imagery of a fiery striving.

In the Agni Yoga book “Fiery Worlds” we read:

“A striving will, emanating from the fiery heart, creates a karmic wave which produces a vortex drawing in the corresponding energies.”

As the writings suggest, the striving fiery heart becomes magnetic. It then can bring into manifestation that which is willed. The highest striving originates not from the separate self, but from the divine. When our hearts begin to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine, we naturally enter into and become a part of the spiritual striving of the finalmasonsheart-2017972_960_720world.

A Freemason’s “first preparation” could definitely stand for a state of the emotions like zeal, aspiration, passion, motivation, etc. All well and good. In my mind, however, I envision that a flaming heart symbolizes something far more mysterious. It connects us to the spark of the sacred Fire within us. As the door is opened and expands, “the heart can conceive what the eyes could not behold.” We are truly enveloped with revelation, the beauty and splendor of which is beyond description. This is the perhaps when we truly realize the mystic tie that binds us all together.

“That which is a mystery shall no longer be so, and that which has been veiled will now be revealed: that which has been withdrawn will emerge into the light, and all men shall see and together they shall rejoice.” – Brother Alice Bailey

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? – A Masonic Interpretation

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? – A Masonic Interpretation

In Freemasonry, the term “brother” is used to demonstrate a closeness of relationship that is not necessarily based on blood ties. It is formed from a common bond, shared obligations and experiences. In addition, being a child of the Divine Father (or Great Architect) accounts for a sacred cemented kinship with each other.

Lately, the question, “am I my brother’s keeper?” has been echoing in my mind in terms of my own masonic obligations.  This question goes to the foundation of what it means to be of service in the Great Work. The ultimate aim in masonic teachings is the mastery of self, through reflection, actions and acceptance of the sublime lessons of immortality. The student is encouraged to temper their emotions and control their vices and practice the tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth.

This line of thinking led me to revisit the story of Cain and Abel, and the actual source of the “brother’s keeper” phrase. As in any holy book like the bible, there is fair debate whether passages should be treated literally or as a malleable allegory. The seeming contradictions are common for writings that span over centuries. Each individual’s faith, academic viewpoint, view of religion, or personal worldview certainly comes into play in interpreting the text. I was hoping to find some masonic insight in this age- old bible story.

Basically, the passages from Genesis 4:1-16 can be summarized like this:

cainkillshisbrotherabelCain was the first son of Adam and Eve and Abel was the second son. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. When it came time to bring an offering to the Lord, Cain offered fruit and Abel offered a slain lamb. The Lord was satisfied with Abel’s offering, but unsatisfied in Cain’s. Cain, filled with jealousy, killed his brother.

After the murder, we read in Genesis 4:9:

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Things did not go well for Cain.

Translated from the original Hebrew, the word “keeper” refers to someone who “watches over,” or “guards.”

What is the symbolic meaning of these two characters? Could they relate to the quest of a Freemason?

Cain and Abel – From Darkness to Light

Some theories say that Cain and Abel were twins and each twin could represent our higher and lower natures. This speaks to the heart of the masonic work which is learning to navigate the duality of our existence. For example, there would be no light without darkness, no good without evil, no love without hate and so on.

Comparing light vs. darkness is an important study. However, what’s curious about the subject of light is that everyone knows what it is until you ask them. In the Bible we read that “God is light.” This quotation evokes a mystery. It suggests there is a deeper connection to the subject of light than meets the eye. It seems unlikely that when you go into a room and flip a switch, you are turning on God. Equally mysterious is the concept of darkness. cain and abel

Recently, in a Lodge meeting we studied Brother Leonard Bosman’s work, “The Light of a Master Mason.” Bosman proposes that the myth of Cain and Abel is about the Freemason’s battle between two opposite aspects of mind. The grand struggle deals with the incompatibility of these two natures, especially when the ego is in control.

From “Light of a Master Mason” we read:

“Abel is the Love-Mind, Cain the Head or brain mind; Abel is the heart or spirit, Cain the earthly mentality. Hence it is that, symbolically as well as in actuality, Cain kills his brother Abel, that is to say, the hard Cain-like mind kills the pure love nature (Abel) when preventing it functioning.”

Bosman makes a good point that Abel is not the one struggling. The struggle is about Cain because the ego is always in a constant struggle to kill off the higher nature. The ego wants total control because to sacrifice the ego is to die to self and let the Light nature live through you. No easy task.

Both aspects of the mind have a function. Cain, according to the inner meaning of its etymology represents the hard, pointed weapon of the mind. Cain is the selfish, acquisitive mind, the “getter,” the “centralizer,” whilst Abel is the yielding one, the “giver.”

If this is all true, then how do we “master” these two aspects of our nature?

Tubal Cain – The Sharpener of Mentality

tubal cainThe symbolic key may lie in Tubal-Cain, a blacksmith character in the bible who was the son of Lamech, a descendant of Cain. He was known as an artificer in metals of brass and iron. In the legend, there is a biological connection as well as a symbolic one. Bosman writes that Freemasonry may be “thought of as an alchemical experiment, the Lodge in this sense being the Great Alchemist’s cauldron in which the base metal of the lower nature will be changed into the gold of the spiritual.”

Further on, in “Light of a Master Mason” we read:

“In all this the student of Freemasonry will see the inner and secret meaning of Tubal-Cain, the yielding of the central might or egoistic mind, the letting-go, as it were, of the personal self as it spreads out to become a greater self, the ONE that is in all.”

In other words, the more we cling to self-importance and ego, the more we are undoubtedly living in darkness.

The mystical worker will often cry, “When I’m nothing, I’m everything!” This might possibly be why so few people truly seek an authentic path to enlightenment. Who wants to be nothing? We’ve all been told the whole purpose is to be somebody.

brothers keeper 2We could draw two conclusions from all this. We could decide that the Cain and Abel legend is simply a good story — an illusory tale to tell our children. Or we can assume that it does have some merit in its symbolic import. I prefer the second option myself, if only because it jibes with my own intuition as a masonic worker that we can learn about ourselves from symbols.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? Indeed, I try. “To make daily progress in masonic light” sounds simple, but it’s probably the hardest concept a Freemason has to learn. That’s OK, because it also offers a lifetime of value.

“What the sad world needs – what each of us needs – is more light, more love, more clarity of mind and more charity of heart; and this in copious measure is what Free Masonry gives us – if only we let the light of love enter the dark recesses of our hearts.”   — Bro. Jyothindra Kumar

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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