Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

While we make no bones about the esoteric nature of our beliefs and interests in Universal Co-Masonry, what may be missed by many is the connection which this esotericism, in general, has to a historical divide within perhaps all religions. While we may know the history of religion or at least the religious tradition(s) we’ve been closest to in our lives, do we know their esoteric history? Do they all have an esoteric history? What is the purpose of this split between the esoteric (inner) and exoteric (outer) teachings?

The word occult means hidden, and can be used interchangeably with esoteric, but what is it hiding from? Did this secretiveness arise simply to avoid the persecution of the church in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as we’re often led to believe, or has concealment always been in its nature?

The Shamanic Thread in Religions

It would be absurd to attempt to tell any sort of true history of religion in the context of a single blog post, but I do want to highlight what is most relevant to the topic. In doing so, I think it’s useful to return to the beginning.

Where did religion begin? Archaeologically, we see the dim traces of the beginnings of religion as signified by cave paintings and burial sites, the point at which humans began honoring and burying our dead. In truth, we know very little about this twilight of belief.

Female Shaman Khakas 1908
Female Shaman (Khakas 1908)

The first instance of religion which we have more direct experience and knowledge of is that which occurs in tribes, which has come to be referred to by anthropologists as Shamanism. We see shamans in the indigenous tribes we encounter and study in modern times, and we assume that this system must have been present from our own beginnings and that these people serve as a glimpse into our past; for the moment, I’ll work with this assumption without question. 

Shamanism involves a minority of the tribe, often only a single shaman and one or more apprentices, serving as the interface between the spiritual realms and the tribe. What makes the shaman unique is that he or she is able to communicate with the world beyond the senses in a way that most aren’t, whether through natural capacities, or the use of psychoactive plants. In the case of Shamanism, we can clearly see the beginnings of a “mystical minority” of the population, who are acknowledged and even vital to the tribe. 

Growth, Monopoly, and Compartmentalization

As we move forward through the progressive trajectory of civilization, we see the same pattern but with changes over time. As people developed kingdoms and larger civilizations, they also began to build separate structures within each city, and temples emerged as spaces uniquely devoted to interfacing with the divine. It’s interesting to note that, just as the various buildings physically cordoned off each “area” of life, with the government here, the market there, etc., so too did religion begin to be separated. It became less and less woven into the whole of life, as was more-so the case in the tribe, and became something you do “there” specifically.

egyptians and acacia
Egyptian Tree of Life

Furthermore, we might even say that this, in fact, was the beginning of religion, inasmuch as religion describes a specific, separate domain of human activity; if this be the case, then we can recognize that the emergence of religion was a product of the divvying up of life into categories, and simultaneously, a continuation of the shamanic tradition. All of the above was also mostly relevant in cities, while the people living in villages still relied on shamanic figures for much of the time, until the priesthood of the city began to replace the shamans and druids with priests.

As far as we know, the esoteric side of religion also emerged during this time. Greece and Rome had their mystery schools, the Hindu kingdoms had their Brahmins and Yogis, Israel their prophets and later their Kabbalists, etc.

However, this mysticism wasn’t necessarily separated from the priesthood. In ancient Greece, for instance, it was expected or even required to undergo the initiations, in order to be a priest, or for that matter, any other prominent and influential member of society. Since these things weren’t always recorded, we may never fully know just how connected the various esoteric traditions and their correlating priesthoods were. 

The Standard Deviation from the Mundane

A question that I find very interesting is: Why has this mystical minority seemingly always existed? Are they simply those which are smarter, less “neurotypical”, more prone to transition between different states of consciousness, or more likely to experiment with psychoactive drugs? Or could it be some combination of all these things?

It’s commonly understood that many things, including human traits like height, IQ, blood pressure, and salaries, occur in the form of a normal distribution, or bell curve. This just means that when you plot them on a graph, the majority are “normal” and so the middle of the graph is the largest, and the further from normal you get in either direction, the more it slopes off, like the edges of a bell, with fewer people being abnormal.

IQ Bell Curve

IQ Bell Curve

Could it be that whatever trait or collection of traits contributes to someone being open to, and capable of embracing the mystical side of life more completely is simply always a minority of people out at the edges of the bell? And what about the rest of the people, who live in the middle of that bell curve, who are normal? Why must they be separated?

Will That Be Milk, or Solids?

For most of us who find ourselves at the mystical end of the curve, life experience has taught us that those who dwell within the realm of normality are often not willing or able to understand many of the more profound concepts, for whatever reasons. It often seems that what they need is exactly what exoteric religion provides, simplified stories and concepts which can give meaning and purpose to their lives, but which the more mystically inclined would find lacking. Perhaps that is exactly why exoteric religion was created; at some point, the inheritors of the shamanic thread understood what Jesus expressed, when his disciples asked why he must speak in parables to the masses: because having ears, they cannot hear, and having eyes, they cannot see. 

IMG_3216

Masonic Symbolism

Of the many esoteric traditions, Freemasonry has served as an ideal refuge and vehicle for the mystically inclined. This is primarily because of its level of organization and practicality, which has facilitated its membership not just studying high concepts behind closed doors, but having a major influence on society at large, as well as a highly functional internal structure that allows us to be effective at getting things done. While the milk of parables is enough for most, for those who seek more solid food, we welcome sincere truth-seekers of every kind


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

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 Freemasons Imagine?

What do Freemasons Imagine?

I grew up listening to the Beatles. John Lennon was one of my favorite musicians. Recently I was listening to his song “Imagine.” As music sometimes does, it triggered a whole chain reaction of questions.

What does it mean to imagine, really? How is imagination related to creativity? Does it guide the Freemason? Is there a masonic message underneath the song’s lyrics for those who have the “seeing eye”?

At first listen, it’s easy to think of the song “Imagine” as a simple tune: a ballad, a vision of peace, a piano-driven melody. But at second listen,  I began to wonder, deep down, if what Lennon describes will really happen. Will the world have a happy ending?  To imagine all people living in peace asks for the giving up of what we often cling to most frantically.

Consider the third verse:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Possible, really? Imagine a life without material possessions. What are possessions? Well, pretty much everything that we love and cherish and cannot do without. Can we imagine a life without our smart devices? Probably, we cannot. And that’s why John Lennon questions if we are capable of such a triumph.

Even so, I subscribe to the theory that we are poised for a great leap forward in our evolution as humans. This turning point in our history is propelled by technology which is fundamentally transforming not only how we live as a species, but also how we see ourselves at our core. IMG_3216

And, in order to journey into this uncharted new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever. Why? Because behind all the Masonic work and underlying all its rituals and symbolism there can be found the prophetic vision of a new world. It frames a code and system of moral imagination for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, and their world.

Brother Foster Bailey writes in “Spirit of Masonry”:

“The prophet of old has told us that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’ In Masonry the vision blazes forth in the East, and towards the materializing of that vision all good Masons work.”

This begs the question: how do all “good masons” work at imagining?

Imagination: From “Ideas” to “Ideals” to “Idols

The scholar Wendy Wright describes the imagination as:

“the crucial capacity of the human person to create a world – either the familiar world of the everyday or a world not yet visible. Our relentless human search for new ways of being and relating, our dreams of beauty, our longings for mercy and justice.”

Wright claims that imagination is the heart of all creative work, allowing us to imagine the unseen and give form to the new. It is essential to all human activity. It gives us the power to recall the past, and to predict possibilities for the future.

1024px-Inside_the_Temple_of_Aboo-symbol-David_RobertsToday, the job of remembering the past has been well documented by research scholars. In our schools and in our lodges, we study the traditional history as it has unfolded down the centuries. But do we spend as much time attempting to imagine a clear picture of the future? Is there a method whereby ideas can be developed?

In the writings of Brother Alice Bailey, she gives an outline broadly speaking of how ideas pass through three stages.

  1. The idea – based on intuitive perception
  2. The ideal – based on mental formulation and distribution.
  3. The idol – based on the materializing tendency of physical manifestation. (This is when the sensed idea unfortunately becomes dogma).

Bailey says that “once an idea becomes an ideal, humanity can freely reject or accept it, but ideas come from a higher source and are imposed upon the racial mind, whether men want them or not.”

Interesting to consider? Not sure I agree with all of that sentence, especially the word “imposed,” but let us see how this method might work.

Imagine: “A Brotherhood of Man”

Take for example the idea of “brotherhood.” Most would say that in its pure state, the idea itself is from a higher source (Divine). In Early America, the impressed idea took flight as a radical thought movement in surprising ways. Brother George Washington and other early American Freemasons abandoned a European past in which an overbearing authority controlled the flow of ideas. A sense of something new was being imagined and being born in America. St._Paul's_Chapel_Great_Seal_Painting

The early masons “worked” to actualize this masonic ideal. They imagined a liberty from the imprisoning conditions of an oppressive class-ridden society. They imagined equality of society based upon universal education and combating ignorance. They imagined a fraternity, where all men are brothers.

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! These three words were the outcry and ideals of the best minds of the time.

As such, through the imaginative process, the founders of America began to materialize a sensed idea of brotherhood, even if still a rough stone.

Brother Albert Pike writes in Morals and Dogma (1872):

“He who would become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear, or even to understand, the lectures; he must, aided by them, and they having, as it were, marked out the way for him, study, interpret, and develop these symbols for himself.”

Pike stresses that the lectures and teachings must mark out a way. To develop the symbols is to “mark well,” making them manifest in the everyday world.

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svgA case in point is The Great Seal, which was designed under the direction of accomplished masons such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The Latin motto that is displayed on the unfinished pyramid — Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum — can be approximately, if poetically, translated as: “God Smiles on Our New Order of the Ages.” It expresses Masonic philosophy at its heart.

Thus, in the founding of America we see the three stages of the imagination process that Brother Alice Bailey describes.

And today? What do Freemasons imagine? Perhaps a better question is: How do Freemasons imagine? Sure, the world is not a Utopia yet.  But I have come to realize that the process of imagination can be a path to discovering what is good, true, and beautiful.  And in the words of John Lennon, “it’s easy if you try.” 

“The heart of human identity is the capacity and desire for birthing. To be is to become creative and bring forth the beautiful.” — John O’Donohue

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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