The Masonic Noah’s Ark: Navigating a Great Deluge

The Masonic Noah’s Ark: Navigating a Great Deluge

During a recent commute back from a Lodge meeting, as my car crawled along the road in horrendous torrential rain, I watched a grey heron stalk the banks of a flooding Arkansas River. The magnificent bird was a timely reminder that beauty and nature can be seen in the most devastating of circumstances.

And yet, even for optimists like me, it is getting more difficult to feel encouraged about the future of our planet. Bleak news about climate change is nothing new, but in recent months there has been a deluge of it.

Are we living in a pivotal moment that is of environmental and ecological importance?

My thoughts turned to the ancient legend of Noah’s Ark. Can it provide us any insight into the world today? The masonic allegory tells of the rescue of Noah and his family, who were the progenitors of humanity, and survived the deluge which overtook the whole world. In the rituals, our thoughts are turned toward those great truths which were typified in the great flood.

Brother Albert Mackey writes:

“The influence of Noah upon Masonic doctrine is to be traced to the almost universal belief of men in the events of the deluge.”

Brother Mackey claims that if we examine the ancient writers, there is plenty of evidence that at some remote period, a flood did really overwhelm the earth. However, what we know today is colored by each perceiver, whether it be the scientist, philosopher, religious scholar or average person. There are several variants to the legend; the Biblical version is the most famous, a beloved tale told to children. Probably the most absurd account is a Chinese legend that tells of a great flood caused by an argument between a crab and a bird.

Is the story more than a tale for toddlers? How is it important to a Freemason?

The Masonic Ark Symbolism

Freemasonry itself teaches of three significant arks of importance; 1) Noah’s Ark which was built by Japhet, Ham and Shem, and their co-workers, under the oversight of Noah, by divine direction; 2) The Ark of the Covenant, also by divine command, constructed by Moses, and 3) the Substitute Ark, or the Ark of Zerubbabel.

The word, “ark”, is rooted in the Latin “arca,” which is a chest or coffer for storing valuables. The English word “arcane,” has the same root meaning hidden, concealed and secret. So, basically an ark may be considered to be a box or chest in which a valuable secret is contained, hidden and concealed.

The ark is also akin to the Chaldean “argha” which means the womb of nature. In a lecture by Brother Rudolf Steiner, he suggests that the ark is a metaphor for the womb of humanity. It symbolizes a receptacle wherein are preserved the seeds of a new birth.

Ark of Noah_Gnosticteachings.org_final

The ratio of the dimensions of Noah’s Ark as given in the Bible, exactly corresponds to the ratio of dimensions of the human physical form – 30:5:3 in length, width and depth. God was specifying the physical dimensions of the ark to carry the consciousness of humankind into the Post-Deluvian stage.

The ark also resembles a tomb. The masonic lessons speak of the themes of death, rebirth, and resurrection. In this respect, every circumstance of distress takes on deeper meaning; nothing is destroyed utterly or finally.

Ignorance is the precursor to truth; death is the precursor to rebirth. To die is but the dissolution of a temporary form. The essence of a person is preserved to be the seed of a future re-creation.

Likewise, the essence of  humanity is preserved to be the seed of a future re-creation of culture and civilization. Commander Noah, the lineage holder of the sacred laws of geometry, art and science, was the keeper of the mysteries in the ark. His mission was to pass on this knowledge to future mankind.

Was he successful? Do these teachings apply today?

Sons of Noah

After the flood, the holders of the hidden mysteries of nature and science, according to the ancient legend, were named Noachidae or Sons of Noah. Everywhere they lived they were known as magi, sages, philosophers and wise men for their learning which was a blessing to civilization. The Mysteries were transmitted to each succeeding generation. Some of the most profound truths came from the lineage holders in Egypt.

Temple of Seti I AbydosThe Egyptians held that the divine power can be found at the heart of every person, even the lowest and most degraded. It was called the “The Hidden Light.” Through that light, all people could always be reached and helped. It was the task of the keeper, to find that illumination within himself and others, however unpromising, and to strengthen it.

The initiate of today partakes of that radiance when he seeks the path which leads to the gateway of initiation, the portal to the secret Temple of the Most High. The ultimate purpose is always to bring the hidden divinity into fuller manifestation.

We are told that few may discover the treasures of the symbolic ark but we do know they are concealed within the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry. A mason’s aim is to ignite the flame within and thus conquer the storms of his own nature. In this respect, he can truly become a “Son of Noah.”

The Ark reminds us both of the difficulties and dangers that we encounter, and of the refuge which we may find from them. It is all part of a plan of evolution, a tracing board, for humanity. We are but a little speck within the current of life, evolving and cooperating with the big scheme.

The flood allegory teaches us to find perseverance in a right course of action, all dangers notwithstanding, and assures us that if we do so, all shall be well. We will weather every crisis, and find ourselves, after all, in a sanctuary of peace and rest.

In current times, what will be our deluge? In my opinion, the challenges of today, environmental or otherwise, offer all of us the chance to navigate through what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing… a generational mission… to discover beauty and nature in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Noah SOF_Flickr_ Free to UseAmidst a great deluge, a well-built ship rides securely into a peaceful harbor. May we anchor our planet together in Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. 

“Man has acquired delusions of grandeur regarding his mind and has become arrogant in his new sense of power over the forces of Nature. This could lead to complete destruction were it not for the few, comparatively, who know that man is a divine being and that his destiny is to cause that divine spark to grow into a mighty flame of spiritual illumination.”   —Brother Walter Leslie Wilmshurst

What do Masons’ Marks reveal?

What do Masons’ Marks reveal?

The subject of marks forms an interesting study in the history of Freemasonry that begins in much earlier times with the ancient cathedrals. In the days of operative builders, a mason’s mark was defined as a figure, an emblem, or some other arbitrary symbol chiseled on the surface of a stone for the purpose of identifying his own work and distinguishing it from that of other workmen.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the cathedral site of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, built-in the mid-15th century. Looking closely at the walls, carefully inscribed masons’ marks can be seen. These were made by the stonemasons who cut the blocks that make up the columns, piers, windows and arches of the chapel. The masons’ marks at Rosslyn Chapel stood out to me as strikingly well crafted. That much was clear.

What wasn’t clear to me is why did these stonemasons leave these marks? Was there hidden meaning in their unique symbols or were they drawn for practical purposes?

In the everyday world “making your mark” is a phrase that means you have created a lasting impression on someone or mankind itself. You have added something positive that will be remembered after you pass to the Grand Lodge Eternal above. We all want to make our mark on this world, a legacy—to know that our life mattered.

Often, however, “making a mark” has become diluted as a common household phrase. Has it has lost its deeper import? What purpose do masonic marks serve, or do they?

Past Theories, Speculations and Thoughts

The purpose of masons’ marks in medieval buildings, especially churches and cathedrals, is not entirely known. Researchers have offered many hypotheses, but the problem is not easy to unravel. In time and place, marks had several different uses.

Free to use EB1911_Rome_-_Masons'_Marks

Many scholars think that marks were placed on stones for solely practical reasons. It was much like a signature. The mason, would either be assigned or choose a mark, and that would be his professional symbol. He would chisel his mark into each stone he worked on and this allowed an accurate account of his work and payment.

Others believe that there may be more to these marks than mere signatures; they believe that the masons were trying to carve their messages into stone so that they could not be lost to future generations and those who came after them. Given that many of the masons’ marks may be repeated, and not related to an individual, there may be some truth to this claim. However, no one has managed to decipher what those messages might mean.

One hypothesis about Rosslyn Chapel is that the hanging cubes were designed to compose a musical score. The patterns reveal a piece of music waiting to be played and a musical code. Tommy and Stuart Mitchell, both musicians, wrote a book called “The Rosslyn Motet” and they claim that actual sounds are carved into the stones. This particular theory created some controversy and has been debunked by many writers who think there is no pattern, musical or otherwise. Thought – provoking, nevertheless.

As you can imagine, there is no shortage of theories as to the meaning that may be embedded within the enigmatic symbols.

How does a Freemason today apply these ancient methods?

Leaving a Mark and To Mark Well

In current times, a Freemason who has advanced through the degrees of York Rite learns the significant purpose behind a masons’ mark and to mark well. What does it mean to mark well? Probably, the most stunning symbol encountered in these rites is that of the Keystone, which is a symbol of completion.

KeystoneThe teaching of the Keystone forms an interesting link to the cathedral builders of ancient times.

Brother Albert G. Mackey writes:

“The stone placed in the center of an arch which preserves the others in their places, and secures firmness and stability to the arch. As it was formerly the custom of Operative Masons to place a peculiar mark on each stone of a building to designate the workman by whom it had been adjusted, so the Keystone was most likely to receive the most prominent mark, that of the Superintendent of the structure.”

The Keystone in the symbolic arch, signifies the completion of the individual Temple which each craftsman is erecting. It is the Temple not made with hands. With the keystone, we see that “leaving a mark” means putting a stamp on the future, and making a lasting contribution to coming generations.

In symbolic terms, there are many examples in the world of people who have left a mark on a beautifully wrought stone. The life works of Brother Annie Besant, a woman instrumental in founding Co-masonry, comes to mind. Her contributions display masterly skill in execution, and creating something useful and important for humanity.

How does a Freemason make such a mark in the world? In other words, what is the service that is beckoning? How does an individual handle the resistance to following that impulse? What happens when we say yes? What happens when we say no?

I have found the answers to these questions are not simple, only slightly less arduous that deciphering the Voynich Manuscript. Cracking the code requires discernment which will occasionally have you up nights. Perhaps you have seen the design of something and try to shape your service from that thought or memory. And then you fail when trying to follow it through. Or more often, the truth is inconvenient and so you don’t even pursue it. Discernment is demanding work. It’s also prone to error and imperfect.

Fortunately, the Craftsman learns that all “true” service, no matter how imperfect, is acceptable. He learns the lessons of patience, endurance, faithful service and perfect humility. The reward of true merit for the workman comes when egoism and pride fall away.

The Freemason marks well when he aligns with the plan and purpose of the Great Architect who has a greater design or pattern. The chisel is used as an instrument of refinement to further shape and polish that stone to fit into the Temple’s Plan with right exactitude.

What were the ancient builders of old thinking when they carved their marks on beautiful temples and cathedral buildings? And today? What do masons’ marks reveal?

Only each craftsman can know the mystery for himself –  his true legacy –  before reaching that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.

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

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

Symbols can often have double or multiple interpretations, ranging from the obvious exoteric meanings to the more esoteric ideas understood by a few. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes can be found the hidden knowledge.  Symbols conceal as much, or more, than they reveal.

Where does the masonic cube fall on this continuum? How did the hidden knowledge of the mystical qabalah influence its use in Freemasonry?

To start with, what is Qabalah? It’s difficult to define with a phrase. Even after a few decades of study I don’t think I can come up with a definition. How can you describe the indescribable?

Perhaps one could say the Qabalah is a mystical symbolic system of looking at the microcosm and macrocosm from the standpoint of the Creator. For a qabalist, there is nothing in life that is not interesting; the speck of dust on the ground, the glowing nebulas in the heavens, and the tiny living cell — all these have their message and tell a story of the Creator.

Can masons relate to this? Of course. That is why most of the early 18th century English ritualists were acquainted with the qabalistic teachings. Since many of them studied the qabalah while the masonic rituals were being written, it was likely a source for many of the signs, symbols and allegories of Freemasonry. Brother Albert Pike 33° indexed over seventy entries to the subject of qabalah in his book Morals and Dogmacabala21

The book indicates that the more you study the hidden meanings (or occult), it becomes clearer and clearer that everywhere in the universe, at every conceivable point in space, there is a Consciousness, which expresses through what is visible and invisible.

Pike tells us that:

“Qabalah is the key of the occult sciences.”

The qabalists used models such as the Tree of Life, The 32 Paths of Wisdom and the Cube of Space to describe the plan and processes of creation. The cube is especially significant to the themes of freemasonry. How, so?

The Qabalist’s Cube of Formation

Perhaps a good place to start is the Book of Formation or Sefer Yetzirah. It is one of the oldest treatises on qabalistic philosophy that concerns itself with the Divine creative process. It describes how the Creator literally thought and spoke everything into existence, and continues to do so. The type of creation that it shows proceeds through manipulation of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

I am always in awe of the Sefer Yetzirah whose short verses can easily conceal its depth and complexity. The seeming simplicity is only a taste of its mystery. The premise is that everything in the universe is directed by intelligence. The scheme of life and activity that we call evolution is in accordance with a Plan made by a Master Mind or Great Architect. Final Cube Sepher Yetzirah

Everything is considered to be constructed of the Hebrew letters, or at least the forces they represent. The three Hebrew Mother letters (Aleph, Mem, Shin) corresponded to the three simple letters to form the name Jah (IHV).

From Verse II of The Sepher Yetzirah:

He looked above, and sealed the Height with (IHV)
He looked below and sealed the Depth with (IVH)
He looked forward, and sealed the east with (HIV)
He looked backward, and sealed the west with (HVI)
He looked to the right, and sealed the south with (VIH)
He looked to the left and sealed the north with (VHI)

Brother Paul Foster Case, scholar and Freemason, popularized the Sepher Yetzirah through his concept of the Cube of Space using the verses in Chapters IV and V to add the tarot keys and astrological correspondences. It alludes to defining the boundaries of our perceptions. Quite a remarkable diagram, indeed!

The Divine Mind conceives the archetypal form, and then it exists in the world of ideas. A long process of human evolution has to take place before the ideal can be manifested in form, and the soul in full consciousness can achieve the archetypal form.

Some might look at the diagram and say, “so what!” Why does it matter for a Freemasonblack-background-1468370534d5s_1 (1) work with these archetypal ideas, specifically the cube?

The Freemason’s Perfect Stone 

One possible reason is that archetypal themes underlie many of the masonic rituals. It is no coincidence that the form of a masonic lodge is a symbolic cube.

Freemason Albert G. Mackey writes:

“The lodge or collected assemblage of masons, is adopted as a symbol of the world. The solid contents of the earth below and the expanse of the heavens above give the outlines of the cube, and the whole created universe will be included within the symbolic limits of a mason’s lodge.”

In Revelation Chapter 21, the new Jerusalem is described as a perfect cube: “The plan of the city is perfectly square, its length the same as its breadth.” Also, the room known as the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed in the shape of a cube. In the center of the room was the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Scroll of the Law.

The candidate in a masonic lodge symbolically represents one of the stones used in the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. The ritual portrays the shaping, testing and laying of that stone. Ultimately, the moral and spiritual preparation that he must undergo is to become a “living stone” in the heavenly temple.

Brother Manly Hall says:

“The perfect cube represents the personality that has had all the unevenness, roughness, and inequality polished away by experience. Such a stone is ready to become a block in the Everlasting House not built by hands but eternal in the heavens.”

If left to our own devices, our evolution and progress would be infinitesimal. But fortunately, we have teachers and perfected individuals of past ages to guide us to be perfect stones. Instead of using the working tools to build a physical structure out of stone and mortar, a speculative mason uses these same tools symbolically for spiritual, moral and intellectual development. finaltumblr_inline_nxatcedBV71riiuei_500_1 (2)

In the end, what does the symbol of the cube offer? I believe it is archetypal concepts that help all of us connect with something larger. Are we not all just sculptors? Writing our own books of creation? “Becoming” perfect cubes?

“A block of marble, deep within the quarry lies. Hidden within it lies likewise a form of beauty rare. The sculptor works, patterning true to that which lies revealed unto the inner sight. He patterns true and beauty comes to life.”

– Brother Alice Bailey

The Masonic Letter G stands for…?

The Masonic Letter G stands for…?

To what does the symbol allude? Doubtless there are many answers to this question. Depending on what country, what masonic group, or what Lodge you’ll get different answers. All are interesting, and some are actually a bit astonishing. It has been said to represent ideas such as God, Geometry, Generation, Gnosis, Great Architect, Gamma, Goodness, Gimel, Goat, and more.

When did the letter G first appear in Freemasonry? It is hard to say for sure. One theory is that the symbol could have been brought in by Rosicrucians and Qabalists who became Masons the last part of the 17th century.

Another theory is that it was introduced some time subsequent to 1717 by the members of the Grand Lodge of England. We are told in the early masonic lectures that G signifies “Geometry, the Root and Foundation of all Sciences.” 

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the letter G, was said to have a symbolic meaning of God as synonymous with Geometry. It was sometimes displayed in the center of the Lodge and other times hung in the East. The G represented both “God” as the supreme being and “Geometry” which is imagined as a means of seeing the perfect ordering of the universe. Temple G

Over time, it became identified with many other things. Why? That is exactly the topic of a debate that has been raging for centuries. The Masonic letter G is one of those aspects of masonic history that seems to follow an unpredictable path.

Masonic Scholar Albert G. Mackey goes so far as to say he feels Masonic symbolism has been hurt rather than helped by the adoption of the letter G. He writes:

“It is to be regretted that the letter G. as a symbol, was ever admitted into the Masonic system. The use of it as an initial would necessarily confine it to the English language and to modern times. It wants therefore, as a symbol, the necessary characteristics of both universality and antiquity.”

Is Mackey correct? Does the letter G lack universality? Has it hurt Freemasonry? How Gimel or Camelshould it be dealt with?

G is for Gimel

An interesting justification for the symbol’s importance can be found in a ground- breaking book by Brother Paul Foster Case called the Masonic Letter G. I read this work years ago when I was studying qabalah. Using the Hebrew Gematria as a tool, he defends the G symbol as not only universal but honorable. One of the arguments he gives is that the letter G corresponds to the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet or Gimel. He gives two ways this Hebrew G could be acknowledged as universal:

  1. Hebrew letters are unique in that each one has a name that represents a familiar object. Objects are universally understood, unlike English letters.
  2. The Hebrew letter G or Gimel represents a camel. Camels, to ancient Hebrews, represented journeying to places far off, and the like. The camel symbolizes a mason’s travel in search of light and his quest to learn the hidden secrets of nature.

There is not enough space (or time) here to explain fully the argument which contains a load of Hebrew Gematria and interesting juggling with numbers but I recommend it if you like that sort of thing.

After his proof, Case remarks:

“Were nothing else to be said for it, it seems to us these facts would make the letter G a sufficiently universal, as well as sufficiently ancient, symbol of the Grand Architect.”

He explains in the various degree lessons of the craft that the idea of travel is significant.  By travel, the mason is able to trace nature through her various windings to her most final filosofia medievalconcealed recesses. Precisely the same thought is expressed in what many of the Masonic lectures tell us concerning God as He “Geometrizes.”

What does Geometry have to do with Freemasonry? How does God “Geometrize?”

God as the Geometrician

Geometry is taught to a Freemason, as he progresses in the science. As soon a one enters upon the world of geometry, symbolic and philosophical, the mind is opened to new influences that stimulate and refine it. 

From the standpoint of science, geometry and its offshoots are vital sciences of measurement. Often, nature conforms to simple patterns with symmetry and structure. For example, the pentagon lies behind a five-petaled rose, or a dandelion is a sphere. Honeybees build their hives in hexagons.

Today, the study of fractals can explain some other seemingly chaotic systems in nature. That is why the craft as it relates to geometry is called a progressive science in the broadest sense. In the search for knowledge, there is much that we do not know and discoveries constantly being yudrevealed.

Freemasonry is filled with practices that shift us to new perspectives. The contemplation of the vastness of time. The mysterious inevitability of death. The unlimited bounds of love. The power of symbols. 

For example, a Divine symbol that is both universal and ancient is the Yod, the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It symbolizes that all created things are modifications of the one primal Spirit. It is the masonic “G”, at least according to some authorities. W.L. Wilmshurst writes:

“The Yod is the emblem of the Divine Presence in the Lodge; it is also the emblem of that Presence at the spiritual centre of the individual Mason.”

There’s always more to learn. Another veil to lift. 

Cosmology and all of the associated sciences have not been able to definitely know the source and ultimate purpose of life. This strongly suggests that there must be some hidden purpose in the geometry of creation that is beyond the present scope of human knowledge and comprehension.

In masonic lectures, we read:

“By contemplation of the Divine we may discover his power, wisdom, and goodness and view with amazing delight the beautiful proportions which connect and grace this vast machine.”

And so, it is.

The procession of divine events and patterns which happens in the Divine realms are in Universal Co-Masonrysome manner mysteriously reflected in our human world, if we have eyes to see.

What, finally, is the message of the Masonic letter G? 

Perhaps it is that each of us must ponder the Divine, to be a geometrician, working according to his ability. Beyond the obvious pleasure of contemplating the glorious works of nature – there is delight that comes when beholding the “true” Masonic letter G, whatever symbolic form it takes.

“When the Lodge is opened, the mind and heart of every Brother composing it should be deemed as also being opened to the “G” and all that it implies, to the intent that those implications may eventually become realized facts of experience. When the Lodge is closed, the memory of the “G” symbol and its implications should be the chief one to be retained and pondered over in the repository of the heart.”  

~ W.L. Wilmshurst

The Tracing Boards of John Harris: A Masonic Legacy

The Tracing Boards of John Harris: A Masonic Legacy

When I joined Freemasonry, I realized the ceremonies were full of symbols meant to allude to greater meanings. One of the items that caught my attention during my initiation was the tracing board or picture in the Lodge room which displays the symbols for the degree. Later I learned that artist John Harris (1791- 1873) was responsible for creating the design that I saw displayed. My curiosity was forever peaked to better understand John Harris and his symbolic art.  Although John Harris was well-respected during his life, I soon discovered that in recent times he has been labeled “a forgotten artist.” As an advocate for the arts, I immediately felt a resonance with this hard-working Freemason who seemingly never got his due.

What can we learn from his life story?  Is he really a forgotten artist?

Harris joined Freemasonry in 1818 during a time of exciting cultural developments. As part of the new organization of the United Grand Lodge of England (U.G.L.E.) in 1813, British Freemasons were moving away from tavern culture. The masons, now owners of beautiful massive buildings, were able to contemplate adorning them with permanent furnishings such as antique art or elaborate pipe organs.

Part of the standardization occurring in the furnishings of new buildings was that each of the Lodges were to own a set of tracing boards. Upon entering the Lodge, Harris very quickly became fascinated with the concept of the tracing boards and started drawing designs almost immediately. His talents, as a painter, facsimilist, and architectural draughtsman, fitted him perfectly for the task.

1809 Microcosm_of_London_Plate_038_-_Freemasons'_Hall

1809 London Freemason’s Hall

In 1823, Harris dedicated a set to Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.  The Grand Master immediately recognized Harris as a very talented young man. It is assumed that he commissioned Harris to make a standard official model for each degree.

These developments helped to standardize the designs. Until that point, there had been no consistency in the way the boards were painted.  It was not unusual for individual Lodges to have a variety of symbols and designs and employ their own artists.

 Why are symbols on the tracing boards important to the Freemason?

Albert Mackey, in his book on the Symbolism of Freemasonry, suggests that the symbols that are illustrated for each degree are a key to its mystery.

He writes:

To study the symbolism of Masonry is the only way to investigate its philosophy.

In the masonic teaching, symbols are a way to investigate the deeper meanings because they speak to the whole human being, not only the limited waking intelligence. It is said that a symbol will communicate its “message” even if the conscious mind remains unaware of the fact. The power of the symbol does not depend on it being understood.

Harris spent his whole life painting and studying the symbols of the Craft. As he furthered his masonic career, his designs evolved accordingly.  His life was his art.

Studying the boards of Harris really made me think about the question:

Can you separate the artist from the art? 

1825_tb_harris_fc_500_860 (1)

1825 Second Degree

Some say art and an artist’s biography are not so easily separated.  What I found striking about the Harris boards is how much his art did reflect his life. The first designs he created in 1820, just two years after he joined, were very simple.  I imagine he was still unraveling all the deep teachings of Freemasonry.

The 1825 designs convey more depth of experience. His life at that time truly reflected a fruitful craftsman. He was forging his fraternal ties with the Grand Master, a relationship which seemed to blossom and mature over time. The Grand Master loved the “Harris Boards,” and every Lodge wanted a set of the “approved” designs. Harris could hardly keep up with the orders from the Lodges and also kept very busy as a facsimilist at the British Museum.  His client list consisted of some of the major collectors in rare books in England, many often royalty.

A 1846 advertisement praises the skill of Harris:

The Craft Tracing Boards have been of essential service in promoting instruction among the Society at large; they are eagerly sought after every place where Freemasonry is cherished.

Relentless demands and grueling labor ensued for the next couple of decades.

John_Harris_3rd_1850

1850  “Open Grave” Third Degree

In those days, there were no photocopy machines so each one of the boards for each of the lodges had to be hand painted.  It was not unusual for a lodge to wait longer than a year once they ordered a set from Harris.

The last board he designed was in 1850 for the third degree, referred to as the “open grave” design.  This was a period in his life he found himself reduced to the lowest state of poverty and distress due to partial blindness. In 1856, he went completely blind and was paralyzed from a stroke the same year. The darkness of the 1850 painting gives a feeling of emotional starkness not experienced in any of his earlier designs.  Although seemingly dismal, the sheer intensity of the painting does suggest something exceptional.

One of his friends comments:

At the age of sixty-six, he is deprived of the only means he possessed of supporting himself and an invalid wife.

In 1860, Harris moved with his wife to a masonic home in East Croyton for aged Freemasons and their widows. In earlier times it was named “The Asylum for Worthy, Aged, and Decayed Freemasons” but known today as “The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (R.M.B.I.).” Harris found an outlet for his art in the East Croyton home and used his remaining years there to write poetry to raise money for the R.M.B.I. He answered his summons to the Grand Lodge Eternal on December 28, 1873.

From my research, I believe that Harris in the truest sense embodied the teachings of Freemasonry. His strength sustained him to endure in spite of overwhelming circumstances of unforeseen misfortune. He persevered until the end, laboring ceaselessly in the tasks that the Master had confided to his care. In my opinion, he is far from being a “forgotten artist.” His light continues to shine in one of the most treasured of all lodge furnishings.

In the words of Beethoven:

Art demands of us that we shall not stand still.


Note: Images for Harris Tracing Boards were retrieved on the website of Harmonie Lodge No. 66.

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

What if perfection isn’t what you think it is? It is a term that every Freemason can relate to as part of their understanding. The zeal to achieve perfection is a core value of the masonic practice. Many instances of the word turn up in masonic language.

In the Scottish Rite, the combined degrees of 4 to 14 are called the “Lodge of Perfection.” In the Egyptian Rite, we find the “Rite of Perfect Initiates.” When we think of perfection, the idea has positive connotations. Achievement, completeness, evolution, excellence, fulfillment, integrity, and so on. People sometimes wear the title of perfection as a badge of honor.

What does perfection mean, really?

When I was younger and taking piano lessons, my music teacher’s studio wall was framed with a picture that said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” That was a tall order! Later, I discovered the view is very different. The merit of perfectionism is called seriously into question outside the music studio. For example, in the book Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Fritz Perls writes that if you are “cursed with perfectionism, you are absolutely sunk.”

This contrast of views can be quite perplexing, since there appears to be truth on both sides of the equation. Perfectionism can apparently be a destructive trait or a good trait. The danger with using the word perfect is that it seems to imply completeness. One of the meanings of the word perfect is “absolute and unequivocal.” There’s a certain arrogance built into the word.

IMG00025-20100812-1145Trying to be perfect assumes that you know what perfect would be.

What if perfection is more like a verb? Is perfection a means to an end or the end itself? How is the idea of perfection portrayed in Freemasonry?

The Seed of Perfection

Man has always been fascinated by the mysterious perception of life and its purpose. As the hunt for the truth advances, more individuals are starting to focus on perfection of mind, body, and soul.

Manly Hall writes:

All humans have within them the seed of their own perfection. It is not bestowed; it is revealed. Man is a god in the making, and as in the mystic myths of Egypt, on the potter’s wheel he is being molded.

Manly Hall suggests that the perfection of potential is within us. We, of ourselves, are not that perfect, but there’s something within us that is. The true seeker on his journey ever strives for that hidden secret lost within — that seed of perfection.

The Buddha named Six Perfections to work on before illumination will manifest through us: 1) magnanimity, 2) selflessness, 3) patience, 4) fiery striving, 5) meditative quiescence, and 6) wisdom. The perfection of wisdom arises when the first five perfections have been attained. The masonic teaching focuses on the development of character and virtue as part of the training. Attention is given to “building in” certain patterns of right living, thinking and conduct. The Greeks, Persians, and Indians all had narratives of how to perfect the individual. These are ancient paths — tried, tested and proven.

statue-1593706_960_720Therefore, it appears that the divine plan for man can be both perfect and imperfect. The divine impulse that moves us all on the great Way through life, might be considered a perfect process. However, the product of this perfect system is yet to be fully manifested. It is truly a “work in progress.” It is a piece of labor that we must work on continually.

Annie Besant in her book Outer Court calls the process “spiritual alchemy.” She says:

Imagine the spiritual alchemist as taking all these forces of his nature, recognizing them as forces, and therefore as useful and necessary, but deliberately changing, purifying, and refining them.

It is so interesting to reflect on what it might mean to purify each of our faculties. What would it mean to guide others through this process of spiritual alchemy; to educate, to nurture, to listen and not always get the last word in? I walk with you, my friend, on this path of love and light back to the divine.

When the service for the divine spills over into assisting the perfection of humanity, it could be so uniquely lovely.

Service: The Highest Ideal

What is service? The word service is somehow elusive to me because it evokes different personal ideas in each of us. But anyone involved in a true service activity knows it is far from personal. It is about others and the grand design. It is not about “what’s in it for me” or the separate self. When we see everything in relation to ourselves, so will our spiritual vision be limited, isolated, and narrow.

Service is when our heart begins to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine plan, the divine tracing board, not our separatist mind.the_rough_ashlar_2

I ponder these obligations every time I think about the allegory of King Solomon’s Temple. I recently read a wonderful article about the legend here. The symbolism suggests that true perfection can never end with physical perfection. It is only the means to the end which is spiritual perfection.

The Temple must not only be built, but it must also be spiritualized, often described as “a Temple not made with hands.”

Albert Mackey tells us:

The speculative mason is engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple in his heart, pure and spotless, fit for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity.

When we look at each other through this glance, we hear an echo of a heavenly realm. All here and now. I wonder about what it would be like to build and live in such a sacred community.

Too often the outer court, with its distractions and fleeting pleasures, demands our attention in ways that leave us enthralled within the walls of ourselves, and the veils of the mundane, forgetting our true perfect master. A call, if not responded to, a knock if ignored, causes the doors of inner perception to close, at least for a time.

What would it be like to see the deepest jewel in one another’s soul? What would it mean for divine faculties to come and take over, replacing all that is egotistic with all that is eternal? Will the perfection of humanity always be a work in progress?

A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with an idea of a cathedral in mind.   

—   Antoine De Saint-Exupery

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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