The Meaning of Solidarity

The Meaning of Solidarity

Every civilization is infused with the idea, myth, or story of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the only multi-cultural folklore that has a consistent meaning regardless of ethos or time period. In these stories, the tree is the bringer of Wisdom, and all living creatures – divine and mortal – rest in its branches and leaves. In some cases, as in Ancient Persia, human beings are the structure of the Tree, providing love and wisdom for all humanity and life. In some traditions, the Tree represents the pathways to God or is the manifestation of the divine love of which we are all a part. Life entwines with itself, regardless of species or form, creating a living, breathing connection of all physical manifestation of the universe.

This is solidarity.

From the Secret Life of Trees, we now know that trees –

“of the same species are communal and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence, like an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their out spreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet. All trees are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, as well as communication. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.”[i]

This is solidarity.

I do not think it is a coincidence that trees are representative of brotherhood and solidarity. We seem to be familiar with the idea of brotherhood but not of solidarity. Solidarity wasn’t an official word until the early 19th century, when Napoleon used it in his Civil Code. The idea of solidarity, however, has been around since there have been human beings. Solidarity is the unity, or agreement of feeling or action, amongst individuals with a common interest. It is mutual support within a group, whatever that group may be. It derives from the Latin word solidus meaning “the whole sum.” The sum of all the parts.

I’ve been examining the word Charity and the word Solidarity, and in many Masonic rituals, the words are used in the same ritual passages but evoke very different meanings. Charity, in our modern mindset, has the overtones of pity and lack; it implies the helpless in need, the weak needing strength, and the silent needing a voice. Charity is from a perspective of superiority, of have versus have not. For better or worse, our North American culture has turned charity into a near-dirty word. Solidarity, on the other hand, reminds us that action and equality are the motivations toward helping one another.

universeAs the trees have informed us, solidarity is “the brotherhood of deeds not the brotherhood of words.”[ii]

We have far forgotten that the human race is the only “race” to which we belong. Unity. We have forgotten that the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. Service. We have forgotten that through all the esoteric teachings, through all the world’s religions and philosophies, there stands one truth: we are all one. Humanity.

Humans, being human, have learned segregate and discriminate. We discriminate which clothes should stay in our closet, which friends are good for us, which foods go into our bodies. We segregate our clothes closet by color or function, we segregate our libraries by subject, and we can’t help but judge and segregate those around us. Does a baby not discriminate the non-mother from the mother? Does the herd of cows segregate themselves from the hunters? Humans. Animals. We judge and discriminate and segregate every single day. These words are not evil words. Like the gun or the sword, they are tools to be used precisely and thoughtfully.

We fail in our humanity when we fail to recognize that we discriminate against our fellow human beings with a mindset of fear and hate. There are myriad ways to segregate ourselves, and we do so without asking ourselves why or if it is even in our nature. We might reflect that we were once primitives who needed to band together against nature’s harshest enemies to ensure our survival; and banding together against “other” was necessary. When we banded against other humans, we began a downward spiral that we have been fighting against ever since. And yet, we also realize that the spirit of cooperation can live within us and provide us a better way of life. Albert Schweitzer said, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”

We divide ourselves by age, gender, class, religion, culture, geography, nation, and race. We divide by hair color, eye color, clothing, schooling and hobbies. Someone is either of “us” or “not us.” We do this for many, many reasons – none of which seems valid to me. We see the differences but rather than celebrate them, we choose to fear. We choose fear because we do not see that humanity is one race, one being, one egregore.

We know that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Logos, the breath of life in the divine universe, is God made manifest. The original translation of Sahidic Coptic, the saying here is actually “In the beginning existed the Word, and the Word existed with God, and God was the Word.” This Word, Logos, is the exhalation of breath, which is the spirit of animus, the divine will, the supreme knowledge.

According to Rudolf Steiner, once primitive man evolved, he began to utter articulate sounds — the words of speech. This great transformation, of learning to breathe and speak, was of cardinal importance to man. In Genesis (II.7), we read:

“And the Lord God… breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

This passage describes the period when the gills once possessed by man changed into lungs and he began to breathe the outer air. Simultaneously with the power to breathe, he acquired an inner soul and with this soul, the possibility of inner consciousness, of becoming aware of the self-living within the soul.

“When man began to breathe air through the lungs, his blood was invigorated and it was then that a soul higher than the group-soul of the animals, a soul individualized by the Ego-principle, could incarnate in him to carry evolution forward to its fully human and then divine phases. Before the body breathed air, the soul of man could not descend to incarnation, for air is an element enfilled [sic] with soul. At that time, therefore, man actually inbreathed [sic] the divine soul which came from the heavens. The words of Genesis, in their evolutionary sense, are to be taken quite literally. To breathe is to be permeated with Spirit…When we breathe, we commune with the world-soul. The inbreathed [sic] air is the bodily vesture of this higher soul, just as the flesh is the vesture of man’s lower being.” [iii]

1200px-Logos.svgHumans breathe in spirit. All humans were born to achieve the same purpose – being conscious together. There was no differentiation when we became ensouled – all matter is one – everything that has breath has soul. Who is even to say that rocks do not breathe in their own way? I digress… All living creatures serve the same purpose, as Steiner said, and that is to be permeated by Soul. No race, gender, or any other segregating characteristic were used to determine who would get a soul and who would not. If all are the Word, the divine Logos, then all are one.

For every Freemason, the call of unification is strong. It is challenging. It is like breathing new air. It is our purpose to erase the lines that divide – in all things. There is one humanity, one country, one earth, one everything. If it is all made of one Logos, it is one. Single. The sum of all the parts. Solidarity.

From an 1888 edition of “The Esoteric” magazine, we find the following paragraph from another book titled “Mysteries of Magic,” by Eliphas Levi.

“According to the Kabbalists, God creates eternally the great Adam, the universal and perfect man who contains in a single spirit. All spirits and all souls Intelligences therefore live two lives at once; one general which is common to them all and the other special and individual. Solidarity and reversibility among spirits depend therefore on their living really in one another -all being illuminated by the radiance of the one, all afflicted by the darkness of the one. The great Adam was represented by the tree of life which extends above and below the earth, by roots and branches. The trunk is humanity at large, the various races are the branches and the innumerable individuals are the leaves. Each leaf has its own form, its special life and its share of the sap but it lives by means of the branch alone as the life of the branch itself depends on the trunk.

The wicked are the dry leaves and dead bark of the tree. They fall, decay, and are transformed into manure which returns to the tree through the roots. The Kabbalists also compare the wicked or reprobate to the excrement of the great body of humanity. These excretions serve as manure to the earth which brings forth fruits to nourish the body thus death returns always to life and evil itself serves for the renewal and nourishment of good.

Death thus has no existence and man never departs from the universal life. Those whom we call dead still survive in us and we subsist in them; they are on the earth because we are here, and we are in heaven because they are located there. The more we live in others, the less need we fear to die.”

A Freemason will find these words intimately familiar. To live in Service, to humanity, not in subjugation, is our purpose. The more we live in others, the more we live in Solidarity, the perfecting of humanity continues. What can be more perfect than becoming the One we were meant to be? This quote above implies that Solidarity extends to not only the living on Earth but to those that have passed to another realm, whether we call it heaven, Nirvana, or even Hell. We are all connected, and life is never ceasing. We take our influence, in some measure, from them – by legacy or intuition – and continue to make them manifest in this realm.

“We are all members of one body and the man who endeavors to supplant and destroy another man is like the right hand seeking to cut off the left through jealousy. He who kills another slays himself, he who steals from another defrauds himself, he who wounds another maims himself; for others exist in us and we in them.”[iv]

Earthise_Apollo8We must, as a species, learn to place ourselves within the life of others else we cease to grow. This work is not for any form of personal gain, no glory, no splendor.

It is truly for in the service of all human beings – what we were, we are, and we will be. If everyone isn’t beautiful, then no one is… Beauty is a way to see the world, not to judge it.[v]

Finally, from Joni Mitchell:

“In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the Earth
Taken Coming back from the Moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all[vi]

This is solidarity.


[i] Hidden Life of Trees, Wohlleben, Peter, March 2018
[ii] Transnational Solidarity: Concept, Challenges, and Opportunity, Helle Krunke, ‎Hanne Petersen, ‎Ian Manners – 2020, from a 2012 article, referenced on June 6, 2020
[iii] Rudolf Steiner, The Logos and The Word, from The Essential Rudolf Steiner, Google Books, accessed June 1, 2020
[iv] Solidarity, The Esoteric, “Mysteries of Magic by Eliphas Levi,” September 1888.
[v] Andy Warhol, Quote
[vi] Joni Mitchell from the song “Refuge of the Roads”

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

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Why Must a Freemason Ever Have Hope?

Freemasons are taught that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Recently, I was faced with the unexpected death of a dear brother in my Lodge which left me feeling hopeless for a time. And so, the virtue of hope became an object of philosophical inquiry for me. How does hope fit in to cultivating a virtuous life? Is it really the best medicine for crushing grief and despair? If so, how does it work? Why are Freemasons encouraged to have hope?

Once I started observing what people would say about hope, when they experienced it, and when they reared back from it, I began to think there was a healthy amount of confusion about it.

Defined in a modern sense, hope is a belief in a positive outcome relating to events and circumstances in life. It is the desire that something will turn out for the best. In Freemasonry, hope is considered a virtue, often associated with the verities of immortality. The craft advocates two different types of virtues. The first are called the “Cardinal Virtues” of Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice. The second are called the “Theological Virtues,” of Faith, Hope and Charity (love).

In his theological discussions about hope, philosopher Thomas Aquinas notes that he considers hope to be a virtue because it provides the possibility for attaining difficult things. In the Western world, in general, there is an overwhelming sense of hope being something good and desirable. For some, it may even be an uncontroversial good. But is it?

Is it possible that hope could be something, well… not so good?

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which acquiring hope would not be desirable – until we look at the myth of Pandora’s Box.

The Mythology of Hope – Pandora’s Box

The ancient Greeks were not inspired at all with the concept of hope. Hope was not even considered a virtue. It was belittled as a trait defined as not being realistic about life orStory-Pandora-Opening-Box-Greek-Mythology burying your head in the sand. The cardinal virtues, such as justice or fortitude were the ones that the Greeks contemplated and strove to achieve. Hope was even in some myths possibly considered evil.

For example, the Greek myth of Pandora raises many philosophical questions about hope. As the story goes, when she married Epimetheus, she was given many seductive gifts. The God Zeus, being full of mischief, gives Pandora a large jar instructing her to keep it forever closed. But regardless of the warning from Zeus, her curiosity prevailed and she opened the box.

The list of items released from Pandora’s box are a handful: illness, disease, poverty, sadness… basically any horrible thing you could think of. They flew out of the box like tiny buzzing moths, and Pandora tried to shut it back up as quickly as she could. She did, according to some of the versions of her myth, manage to trap one important thing inside… hope.

It is disputed and there is much speculation as to why Zeus would even put hope in a vessel of evils. Regardless of why it was there, the myth of Pandora raises a really good question. Does hope deserve a different reputation?

It’s not optimism. It’s definitely not pessimism. And if it has a realism, what is it ultimately? Where does it come from? How does a Freemason reconcile these seeming paradoxes?

The Freemason’s Ladder – The Hope of Immortality

In the symbols of masonry, the virtue of hope is said to be located on the middle rung of 35584597545_8b99784836_bthe theological ladder of Jacob from the Book of Genesis. A Freemason ascends, climbing the steps of faith and hope which in turn lead to the summit of charity (love). These virtues are often portrayed on the ladder by the cross, anchor and heart, respectively.

Brother Albert Mackey gives us a clue in his Encyclopedia to Freemasonry:

“Having attained the first rung of the ladder, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation.”

Mackey speaks of a “hope of immortality.” He explains that the cultivation of the virtues of faith and hope is not necessarily based on things going well for us. Freemasonry and its teachings face you with many challenges to explore to knock off the rough edges of imperfection. The craft, for example, is thoroughly rooted in the earth or the service and labor that the mason can offer. It is also entirely bent on moving toward the Heavenly Divine. Managing the two extremes (earth and heaven) is a dynamic balance.

In our climb, all of us have an important, even crucial, task to aid the world. We are prepared in so many ways, yet, still often fail at hope. Why?

In his book, “Art as a Factor in the Soul’s Evolution,” the Freemason Brother C. Jinarajadasa gives us further insight:

“At the very base of your nature, you will find faith, hope, and love. He that chooses evil refuses to look within himself, shuts his ears to the melody of his heart, as he blinds his eyes to the light of his soul. He does this because he finds it easier to live in desires. But underneath all life is the strong current that cannot be checked.”

Cutting straight through the many reasons for failing at hope that may be built upon individual traits, I would say that our hopelessness, when it occurs, is based upon the lack of true courage.

RainbowEnd2All this is to say that the only true and worthy source of absolute courage is the belief in the Immortality of the Self, the One that is Infinite, Changeless and Eternal. The virtue of hope leaps far beyond all the many valuable things, places, family and friends which we have come to rely upon…or may be grieving for.

Brother H.P. Blavatsky stressed there were two kinds of people – those who simply live their lives by the standards of the world, and those who become neophytes and students of the eternal wisdom.  Perhaps the virtue of hope is what is required for those who follow the path of the second group. Yes?

“There is a road, steep and thorny, beset with perils of every kind, but yet a road, and it leads to the very heart of the Universe: I can tell you how to find those who will show you the secret gateway that opens inward only, and closes fast behind the neophyte for evermore.”  – Brother Helena Blavatsky

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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