The Secret Life of the Masonic Beehive

The Secret Life of the Masonic Beehive

“Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.” ~ (Secret Life of Bees)

We don’t have to look far from this quote to find an analogy in Freemasonry. The beehive has been said to be a metaphor for the working lodge with seven bees flying around the hive, making a perfect lodge.  Bees are thought to be exceptionally auspicious throughout the world. They have played an important part in symbolism since ancient times. Turns out, a valuable teacher in mother nature has been with us all along.

Is there anything that can be learned from our buzzing friends? What do they symbolize in Freemasonry?

In ages past, people believed that bees were prophetic – that their actions were messages not to be ignored. Bees were regarded by some as an example of a divine intellect woven through nature.  In medieval times, one could find many farms that kept beehives and collected honey. In a wonderful text called the Geoponika, the beekeepers would praise the creatures, even read to them.

One of the chapters says:

The bee is the wisest and cleverest of all animals and the closest to man in intelligence; its works is truly divine and of the greatest use to mankind. 

I loved reading this.  The writing portrayed a scene that I imagine has been played in countless bee farms, between untold numbers of masters and their hives. The work of the beekeeper seems so magical and yet so commonplace. It was all about the watching, the learning, the reverence, and the abiding trust. The desire of looking to nature as teacher seems to me to be one of the elements that is missing from our culture.Annotazioni...reading to the bees

Could it be the bees are trying to tell us something, but we’re just not listening?

It is said that Albert Einstein once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared. Pretty chilling to think about.

Why? Because there exists a global phenomenon today of bees disappearing. Many say that the mystery of the bees disappearing is a warning to all of us.  If something is wrong in beehives it means something is wrong everywhere.

Andrew Gough, an expert bee researcher says:

I’ve labelled the three eras of the Bee; Beedazzled, Beewildered and Beegotten for good reason. The question remains, will there be a fourth era, and if so will it be called Beegone?

Sadly, Gough states that modern humanity has become notorious spoilers of nature’s divine harmony. The concept of nature being something “out there” is largely what is amiss with our view of it.  Likewise, the bees also seem to be disappearing from masonic workings and in many places today is considered a lost symbol.

beehiveartIs a lost symbol in Freemasonry something to be concerned about?

Masonic Speculative Meanings

The early Freemasons incorporated bee symbolism heavily into its philosophy and regalia. It was especially pervasive in masonic drawings and documents of the 18th and 19th centuries. At the heart of its message even today are the concepts of industry and stability, harmony and cooperation, virtues that the craft values highly.  The masonic symbol of the bee does not stand alone.  It also includes the beehive and the honey.

The following is taken from the monitor of the lodge.

As Masons, we must imitate the bee, be industrious, work with others and for others, take pride in our vocations, obey the rules of our society, and strive to add to our body of knowledge and understanding. Otherwise we are useless members of society.

Other monitors and masonic books give the same type of explanation. Some longer and some shorter but all what I consider somewhat along the lines of virtue and morality.

I believe we are now in an era where it is vital that we take a deeper look at the secrets of the bee symbol.  What might those be?

History, Culture and Myth

In the myths and histories of ancient times is where I found some possible avenues for further inquiry. Looking back to various mythologies, bees revealed elements of the mysteries of initiation.  In Egyptian mythology, bees were considered tears of the sun-god RA. The sun has been thought by some to be a very mysterious concept in freemasonry related to the initiatory process.  For example, the sun’s daily “rising” in the East is the image of rebirth and new beginnings, just as its setting in the West is the image of decay and death leading to transformation. indian-bee-goddess goddess Bhramari Devi

One of the most interesting mythologies is the Egyptian Goddess of Neith who lived in the House of Bees. Neith was primarily an Egyptian goddess of wisdom, often given the title “Opener of the Ways.” Neith would say to the initiate, “Come look beneath my veil.” Her call was both a summons and a challenge.  By the blessing of the goddess, the veil would be lifted. Only then would the initiate perceive the secret workings and patterns of nature.  At that moment, when the veil is rent asunder, he can consciously participate in those mysteries, thus becoming a human administrator of the will of the God.

In fact, the initiate at this point fully sees his own inner divinity and the service duties to humanity that such recognition brings.  He has become something more than human. To be initiate, one must take nature as his master.

This every Freemason knows. Becoming an initiate is to investigate the hidden mysteries of nature and science.  This could mean ruling and governing the hidden forces of one’s own nature accordingly. It can be hard, sometimes embarrassing, to “look beyond the veil,” to admit we do not have all the answers.

I still ponder what aspect of the bee first inspired man to consider it as special and sacred, all those thousands of years ago. Where does the true secret lie?  Is it something as simple as a bee’s sting? Is it the honey?  Is it the buzzing sound? Is it the honeycomb? It’s impossible to know really, for any one of those traits could easily make it exalted.

“The bee has insights into the secrets of nature, the secrets of creation, and a special connection therefore to the Creator.” ~ (Koran)

 

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.

Masonic Fortitude: A Hero’s Journey

Masonic Fortitude: A Hero’s Journey

The great spiritual teachers, culture bringers, warriors, Freemasons and saints are living examples of the virtue of fortitude. Whether they fight the dragon or obtain the great treasure it guards, those with fortitude are people who deliver on their promises. They are people who do what is right, who take on any trial or opposition and see it through to the end. The importance of fortitude is truly significant in the masonic teachings such as are found in the Blue Lodge, the Scottish Rite, and in the York and English Rite.

Have you ever stopped to think how much fortitude you have?   Why does it matter?

I know I am correct in saying that we live in a time of great opportunity.  All progressive groups in the world are being called to accountability. The demand is under way that we actually, factually accomplish. I am also fairly certain that most golden opportunities go unfulfilled because people are hoodwinked to the presence of the opportunity. People are afraid to act.

Fortitude is defined in the Mason’s Manual as:

 That noble and steady purpose of mind, whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudentially deemed expedient.

It is the virtue of courage and much more.  Fortitude gives us strength to act.  Ethics without the component of fortitude to act keeps it in the realm of heady philosophy.  As it is said by the mystical teacher Morpheus in the movie The Matrix: 

Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking it.

Fortitude is bringing both halves together, the knowing and the doing.

Human frailty tells us that if we do nothing about immoral behavior it will continue or 14595755_516608225215652_6008544087224846220_nget worse. Allowing ethics to “slide” will eventually take everything else for the same ride.

I ponder sometimes the amount of fortitude around me: leaders, scholars, scientists, legislators, religious guides, Freemasons— myself. I ponder how often we betray our morals and principles on every topic.  On the other hand, we admire people who have voluntarily or forcibly departed from the status quo, faced great challenges, and saved themselves and others.  Possibly we want to believe that we, too, can go on an incredible journey and come back transformed for the better.

How do we acquire more fortitude? How do heroes do it?

The Path of the Hero

As most know, the phrase “hero’s journey” or Monomyth was made popular by Joseph Campbell in his book Hero with a Thousand Faces.  It’s the idea that one single protagonist undergoes a life-changing journey to come out the other side wiser than they began. The Monomyth has been a pretty stunning formula in movies and books such as 330px-Vasnetsov_samoletThe Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  It is also the allegorical pattern in many of the masonic rituals.

The hero is often faced with questions about himself. What kind of person should I be?  What is the best way to live? How do I attain excellence? What should I aim for? What training must I do to achieve those aims?  Many of us eat, sleep, and breathe the ideals of the hero.

Joseph Campbell says:

The All is everywhere, and anywhere may become the seat of power. Any blade of grass may assume, in myth, the figure of the savior and conduct the questing wanderer into the sanctum sanctorum of his own heart.

The monomyth idea suggests that, given the call to adventure and favorable circumstances, we might be able to advance beyond our current limitations and unearth, if not exactly superpowers, at least latent virtues that we can use to serve the greater good.

At the onset, the hero isn’t a hero. At the onset the hero does not have fortitude.

Fortitude is instilled when one desires something so intensely or values that something so highly that he will settle for nothing else, and is willing to sacrifice many things.  It is17499398_595913547285119_2024712522915719750_n the virtue that gives a hero a willingness to die and stand by his principles to the very end.

The Masonic Quest

In an article published in Vol. 2, Issue 8 of Living Stones Magazine, author Jason Marshall suggests that the rituals of Freemasonry set a high bar for the hero, especially in the Hiramic Legend of the Third Degree.

He writes:

The Hero’s journey provides a powerful blue print for transformation, and it is no coincidence that the ritual experience of the craft follows this timeless formula. Just as the hero’s quest calls seemingly ordinary men to undertake feats of greatness, which have far-reaching impacts, the masonic fraternity calls men of all backgrounds to undertake their own hero’s journey, to not only transform themselves, but the world around them.

Marshall explains that a Freemason transforms humanity through modeling the process of an initiatory experience. He finds something underneath life that gives it purpose; that works, and has a sublime lesson. Marshall says that the ultimate hero is one who is resurrected from his world of adventure to immortality.

To transform the world around us might mean that today we are looking beyond the individual hero to a collective hero – one in which a society changes itself for the better by seeking answers en masse. It might mean there is one brotherhood fighting battles for human kind and not only individuals fighting their own monsters.

In the end, what is it that allows a courageous individual to tolerate the loss of life, that which the great majority of humanity cherish so highly? In my opinion, fortitude is ultimately based upon identification as the immortal, invincible Self.  In short, it is based upon the realization of one’s true Identity. Who can lose the immortal Self?

In 1 Corinthians 15:51, Saint Paul talks about the immortal Self when he says:

Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.

Cowardice crops up from the overwhelming feeling that something of rare value will be lost. The truly courageous person is not only able, but eager to give up all things short of the Self, for the sake of the greater realization.

For he knows that the further he journeys, the vaster the perspective, and the more humbling the realization.20375805_658664157676724_3202398839325588042_n

Lead me from darkness to Light.

Lead me from the unreal to the Real.

Lead me from death to Immortality.

 

 

 

Brotherly Love: The Heart of a Mason’s Work

Brotherly Love: The Heart of a Mason’s Work

Whether the subject of heart is mulled over by the philosopher or analyzed by the scientist, one thing is for certain — the heart is one of life’s most important mysteries.

Freemasonry reflects this idea, when it instructs that every mason is made ready first in his heart, and at the close of our Masonic quest, it is the purified heart which we consecrate to serving Humanity. Among all the masonic teachings, none is more important than brotherly love, relief, and truth.

It is a familiar aphorism of Vincent van Gogh, and I think a true one, that which undertaken for the cause of love is well accomplished. Van Gogh wrote:

It is good to love many things, for therein, lies the true strength. Whosoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much….What is done, in love, is well done.

Unfortunately, in the world today, it seems like the practice of brotherly love falls short of the ideal. Peace and harmony do not rule the day. There is conflict here and around the world. Our very home, this tiny little planet, is in real crisis. The disconnect between the ideal and the reality bewilders and baffles me. As a humanity, we are just not very good at the practice of brotherly love. Perhaps it is because we don’t really know what it is.

Are we all just looking for love in all the wrong places?

W.L. Wilmshurst in Meaning of Masonry tells us:

The very essence of the Masonic doctrine is that all men in this world are in search of something in their own nature which they have lost, but that with proper instruction and by their own patience and industry they may hope to find.

Could this “something” be love? BIG LOVE? I have always felt that love is an elusive516664c4a9229fc49ad64039ebb378e1.jpeg subject. We know that it is often driven by a range of factors. To feel love is one thing but to define it is quite another. Brotherly love is not a thing that one can hold in the hand or see with the eye.

Many masonic writers define Brotherly Love as Tolerance. Although, tolerance is admirable among virtues, I have always felt that it not a very lofty concept. Sure, if we compare it with outright bigotry, tolerance is indeed a virtue. But dig a little deeper, and behind tolerance is a concept a few steps removed from our loftiest ideals. “I tolerate you” is a far cry from “I love you.” 

What is the loftiest expression of brotherly love? If not tolerance, what? How do we find it?

Pantajali’s Raincloud of Knowable Things

Perhaps we need a nice metaphor to get us thinking at a higher elevation. How about a magical raincloud? Maybe it rains millions of lofty ideas from heaven. No one gets wet.

An old Hindu seer named Pantajali was the first to brand the metaphor of the “raincloud of knowable things,” which he said stands for a reservoir of divine Ideas. These “knowable things” or thoughts of the creator can “rain” into the mind of a man’s nature. Patanjali wrote about the process of tapping the “raincloud” in his famous Yoga Sutras 3638958116_125c024a31_zwhich were his working tools that he claimed lead a student to wisdom. This cloud hovers over humanity, ready to precipitate the wonders which deity holds in store for mankind.

We would all agree that clouds, even the ones in the web, get attention as metaphors because they are literally shape-shifters. Clouds as metaphors adorn our language; a cloud is on the horizon, he’s on cloud nine, every cloud has a silver lining, it’s cloudy in the east, etc. Clouds are meaningful symbols on the tracing boards of freemasonry.

In the mind of the Great Architect of the Universe, there are ideas and concepts that are group ideas; they are greater than our individual raincloud.

Pantajali says:

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

The point that Pantajali makes is that we can synchronize our labors on earth with those patterns laid in the heavens by mere contemplation. For every upward striving of our thoughts, we become better caretakers of this beautiful planet earth. Better Freemasons.

Building the Holy Temple in Freemasonry

I have always felt that Freemasonry was developed for a great purpose, one that is of pure heart and of great import. But many times, I find myself at a loss for words to describe this purpose in an integrated, comprehensive fashion.

In the book Spirit of Masonry, Foster Bailey writes about the eternal purpose of theHeart image mason’s task of building the holy temple. He says this temple is not just a pile of bricks but it can also represent the unseen holy temple, the symbolic inner temple inside of each brother.

He describes one of the key pillars of this holy temple as the Law of Love. While assembled for labor, the lodge assumes the ideal of this eternal purpose. The Law of Love is expressed as a living ethic of fellowship, brotherly understanding, mutual assistance, charity, and morality.

In Foster Bailey’s words:

Love is the cement that holds the entire divine structure together, and which cements the stones of the temple, producing coherence, support and strength.

To cement the stones of the temple takes an inner attitude of mind and a subjective orientation of heart. The vision he writes about is that someday the symbolic relationship in lodge will be reflected in the world outside the lodge. The ancient practice of the mystic chain, holding hands in a circle, is perhaps the most striking symbol to me of the eternal bonds of brotherhood that unite.

I marvel in this moment at the possibilities of a world built on the tenets of brotherly love. The magnificence of the glory outside. The vastness of the glory inside the human.

May we mark well! May Brotherly Love Prevail!

 

The Mason’s Sword: Emblem of the Mind

The Mason’s Sword: Emblem of the Mind

“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” I’ve heard this proverb many times over the years. Nobody seems to know who wrote it or what it actually means. Most contrast the joy and beauty of dancing to the brutality and violence of the sword. But why are swords always getting such a bad rap?

Being an important ritual implement in Freemasonry, I pondered what the phrase would mean to a Freemason. The sword is a familiar tool, not only preserved in the blue lodge rituals, but in some of the higher degrees and degrees of chivalry.

Could it be that the link between dancing and sword bearing has to do with skill? I am not so sure. This mysterious little phrase got me to wonder what the sword might represent as a symbol?505297957_082c9164b2_o

We are taught, objects of ritual usually symbolize a truth. What would that truth be?

The sword has been known to symbolize strength, authority, protection, and courage. It is also a symbol of knighthood and chivalry. There are numerous biblical accounts of angels with swords; swords that were used in spiritual warfare, and swords drawn as military weapons.

The history of the sword is full of contradictions. It has a classic duality to it. On the one hand, a sword was used to destroy and kill and represented battle and destruction. On the other hand, a sword was used to protect and was seen a sacred symbol of chivalry.

In many Deity art images, the sword represents wisdom cutting through ignorance. Simply, the word sword means to cut at a foe. Just like a physical sword can kill or maim your opponents, wise words can act like a sword to slay ignorance.

This made me think, is there anything significant that can be learned from warriors who wielded their swords truly, as weapons?

The Unfettered Mind of the Samurai Warrior

I started reading a book called The Unfettered Mind by Takuan Sōhō (1573-1645). Soho was a great philosopher, artist, and teacher of the famous samurai warriors. He had several samurai students who he was teaching the craft of swordsmanship to, but through the means of mindful meditation. His mind was so still that he could bring a swordsman into an entirely different mental state, where time was slowed down so kerala-1639325_960_720much that the student could respond with absolute precision.

It was perplexing to me what a Buddhist monk, who has vowed to bring about enlightenment and salvation to all sentient beings, was doing writing about sword fighting. The answer lies in Japanese culture. In their history, the sword is a symbol of life and death, of purity and honor, of authority and divinity. All these in some respect relate to enlightenment.

Soho says to his students:

Completely forget about the mind and you will do all things well. The unfettered mind is like cutting through the breeze that blows across the spring day.

To achieve an enlightened state, Soho suggests that the mind must remain forever free. The thing that detains the mind most of all is the ego or self-importance. As soon as we get caught and fixated on any type of emotional charge — we’re lost. When the ego is subdued, there is nothing to bind the pure awareness of our creative potential.

The Virtuous Mind of the Freemason

The training of the mind is also important in making progress in the masonic science. For masons, the cultivation of virtue is said to give that steady purpose of the mind, or courage in the face of pain or adversity. We are all driven in life. I wonder what drives us? Is it greed? Anger? Desire? Beauty? Love? Peace?

W.L. Wilmshurst writes in his book Meaning of Masonry:

Advancement to Light and Wisdom is gradual, orderly, progressive. The sense-nature must be brought into subjection and the practice of virtue be acquired before the mind can be educated; the mind, in turn, must be disciplined and controlled before truths that transcend the mind can be perceived.

What Wilmshurst is revealing is that the real measure of power is not about savage force, not about Olympic weight lifting, but rather the ability to restrain one’s own mind and thought impulses. Perhaps “restrain” is not the right word. Restrain implies tooSt. Michael much repression, containment, and pushing down. The idea is more like skillfully transforming one’s vices.

Some say the worst enemy we fight is the darkness in our own nature — the ego or selfish self. The ego is real. The ego claims all, clings to all, wants all, and demands all. It is the Gollum character in the fictional movie Lord of the Rings. There can be no peace, no unity, no justice, no virtue until the selfishness is purged, burned away.

The darkness in us is why there is always a Tyler (or tiler) outside the door of the Lodge with a drawn sword to defend his post. None may pass the Tyler who have big egos or selfish motivations.

Carl Claudy in his Introduction to Freemasonry remarks that we are all Tyler’s of our own life.

Let us all wear a Tiler’s sword in our hearts; let us set the seal of silence and circumspection upon our tongues; let us guard the West Gate from the cowan as loyally as the Tiler guards his door.

Only by such use of the sword do we carry out its symbolism.

How excellent a thought to wear the Tyler’s sword in our heart. Possibly the greatest symbolic message the sword offers is about death. Facing death teaches us important lessons. A knight in battle knows, perhaps as well as anyone, the immediacy and preciousness of life. And, after he is gone, did he live well?

As masons, we learn to treat each day as if it is our last.  If we do. When we do. We will be fully perfected. And then, just maybe, we can truly dance.

 

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

 

Crossing the Language Barrier to Make that Daily Progress in Freemasonry

Crossing the Language Barrier to Make that Daily Progress in Freemasonry

When I was a very new Freemason, I unintentionally allowed the language barrier to create errors in two of my early papers.

In one paper, I referred to the “broached thurnel” as “Freemasonry’s lost immovable jewel.” In the other paper, I referred to the “fulminate,” used to create a bright flash during a crucial point in an initiation, as “an old Freemasonic tradition,” strongly implying – because I believed it was – that it was no longer used in Freemasonry anywhere.

I was wrong on both counts. I’ve seen the broached thurnel is almost every French Lodge I’ve visited. While I’ve never seen a fulminate used in a French Lodge, I did see one in a store room there and was assured that some Lodges in Paris do still include it in their work.

It really doesn’t matter that other largely-English language scholars have made the same mistake about both of these items, that I could cite their works and still turn out quite a thorough paper. That I was wrong because I didn’t know I was wrong doesn’t explain it away.

Ignorance not only is no excuse; it’s dangerous. Freemasons are the shock troops in the war against ignorance. It is not a good thing for a Freemason to spread ignorance rather than fight it.

Neither paper ever was published. I doubt they ever will be, and with these errors born of ignorance, that’s a good thing.

I’m not aware of any Masonic tradition that does not direct Freemasons to make a daily progress in Masonry, which generally is reckoned as spending part of each day learning something about the Craft that the Freemason didn’t know before. In addition to the seven liberal arts, early 20th Century Masonic scholar Roscoe Pound, in the April 1915 edition of The Builder, identified five areas appropriate for Masonic Study: Ritual, History, Philosophy, Symbolism, and Jurisprudence.

Certainly, for Freemasons in Anglo-centric countries, it’s no real problem to find Masonic works in English. However, making that daily progress only in one’s mother tongue, cuts a Freemason off from progress to be gained in other parts of the world, and necessarily, renders their efforts in isolation to become isolated, provincial even. That leaves the Freemason open to the sorts of errors that I made and, worse, stunts that progress.

I believe it is incumbent upon Freemasons to open their daily progress enough to include works from other languages.

My observation is that English-only Masonic readers seem to be OK with pictures sourced from other language cultures. Images based on engravings by Louis Travenol, better known as “Léonard Gabanon,” of French Blue Lodge Masonry long have been popular illustrations in English-language Masonic books and papers, particularly in general works about the first three degrees. Daniel Beresniak’s very popular Masonic picture book “Symbols of Freemasonry” was first published in 2000 but clearly uses delightful images sourced from French Freemasonry.

Images, it seems, don’t become trapped behind the language barriers but words do.

And yet, there’s plenty in French Masonic scholarship in particular to motivate an otherwise English-only reader to blow the dust off a French-to-English dictionary or keep a browser window open to Google Translator. When I realized my errors in those two papers were caused by my ignorance of French Masonry, it didn’t take me long to find the works of Swiss occultist Joseph Paul Oswald Wirth, who wrote extensively about the Blue Lodge. More recently, I’ve been studying Philippe Langlet’s 2009 “Les sources chrétiennes de la légende d’Hiram” (comes with a very cool CD) and Joseph Castelli’s 2006 “Le Nouveau Regulateur du Macon – Rite Français 1801.”

One of my personal favorite works in French Masonic scholarship is Maurice Bouchard and Philippe Michel’s “Le Rit Français d’origine 1785,” published this past July. That was a follow up to Michel’s “Genèse du Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté,” the most recent edition of which was published in February and also resides on one of my shelves.

Michel’s most recent work details what also is known as the “Primordial of France” (Rit Primordial de France) or even “canonical” (canonique) French Rite so widely worked in France today. It isn’t often a Masonic reader can read which paragraphs of a rite are connected to what passage or receive an explanation of how any rite was reconstituted, complete with columns, tables, symbols. And if the English reader allows the French language of the work to be a barrier, then the reader won’t get any of that at all.

I’m not suggesting that no efforts have been made at cross-cultural/language research in Freemasonry, because there has been a limited – though notable – amount of that. Lilith Mahmud’s “The Brotherhood of Freemason Sisters,” about gender history in Italian Freemasonry, was published by University of Chicago Press in 2014.

A very good sequel to Margaret Jacob’s 1991 “Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe” and the UCLA History Department Professor’s 2006 “The Radical Enlightenment – Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans” is her 2011 “Les Premières franc-maçonnes au siècle des Lumières.” That book, co-authored in French with Arizona State University’s Janet Burke, was published in French by the Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, prefaced by noted French Masonic scholars Cécile Révauger, Jean-Pierre Bacot, and Laure Caille.

Masonic works in languages other than English certainly are readily available, especially online. Detrad offers the very best in French language Masonic work, I’ve had delightfully opportunities to drool over books in their brick-and-mortar location next door to the Grand Orient de France in Rue Cadet, Paris. An entire paper was written in 2008 about Spanish-language Masonic books printed in the U.S. The Spanish language Masonic research journal “Revista de Estudios Históricos de la Masonería” actively produces Masonic works in that language.

The tools are there to do this work, the individual Freemason just needs to do it.

Yes, overcoming the language barrier as part of one’s daily progress in Freemasonry is work, and it’s far from easy. However, no one who is work shy should become a Freemasonry – no more than anyone who becomes a Freemason should become lazy. The results are worth it but actually doing that work is its own reward. The work is, after all, the thing.