Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Of the many symbols and phrases of Freemasonry, a few mottoes are important enough to be prominently, and sometimes publicly displayed on flags, seals, or regalia. The phrase “Ordo Ab Chao,” is the motto of the 33rd degree, which can be found on the grand decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, one of the highest honors and roles which can be bestowed upon a Mason. It is also featured on other seals and flags representing various Orders.

This phrase being depicted so prominently, particularly in relation to the 33rd degree, indicates a tremendous importance to Freemasonry. Indeed, Ordo Ab Chao, translated to “Order from Chaos,” is also associated with another latin phrase, Lux In Tenebris, which translates to “Light from Darkness.” Why is the idea of Order from Chaos or Light from darkness so significant to Freemasonry? Let’s explore this question together.

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

Historical Artifact, or Essence of the Craft?

One theory about the origin and significance of this phrase has mostly to do with Masonic history in the United States. In the early 1800s, there was some division and conflict between the Northern and Southern jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite, in the US. According to this theory, when the Rite being practiced in the North was found to be aorder from chaos fraud, and the conflict resolved in the restoration of the original Rite, this was where the original use of the phrase emerged.

Perhaps the most dismissive theory, in this case the “Order from Chaos” was simply the order restored from the chaos of the schism between jurisdictions, and all other meanings commonly attributed to it are purely speculative.

While it’s important not to rule out such an explanation simply because it’s only historically interesting, it’s hard to believe that the motto would be considered so significant if it didn’t have a deeper symbolic meaning. What are some other possible meanings?

The Universal Phoenix?

The first clue to the more profound meaning and significance of this phrase is the origin of it’s correlate, Lux in Tenebris. This phrase comes to us from the Latin translation of the Gospel of John, in which it is said “The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” While Ordo Ab Chao can be traced to the early 19th century, this other phrase is obviously much older, and carries similar meaning.

What is meant when we say to bring Light from darkness, or Order from chaos? Much as the operative Masons of old took the rough stone of the natural world and hewed and smoothed it in such a way as to be fit for the construction of elaborate and pristine structures such as cathedrals, so the speculative Masons of today apply the same discipline, and even the metaphor of the builder’s tools, to draw forth Order from the Chaos of their own lives and minds. Just as God is said to have made a Light to shine in the darkness which comprehended it not, so are we to be as Lights of knowledge and integrity in the darkness and ignorance of the world, even when it does not understand that Light.

On an even deeper level, what is this universe made of? There are many ways to answer that, and one of them is that it is made of gradients of Order and Chaos. We can see in history and in our own lives that these are not two separate things, but are both a continuum, and a dynamic process of change. As Chaos ensues, old orders are broken down to allow new ones to emerge. Like Ying and Yang, death and rebirth, Order and Chaos follow from and give birth to one another, in an ever-renewing cycle of creation and evolution.

Where is a Freemason first prepared? And why?

Where is a Freemason first prepared? And why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart Symbol – Universally Understood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Masonic Heart on Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things did not go well for Cain.

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

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

Cain and Abel – From Darkness to Light

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

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

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

From “Light of a Master Mason” we read:

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

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

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

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

Tubal Cain – The Sharpener of Mentality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Masonic Lesson of Subduing One’s Passions

The Masonic Lesson of Subduing One’s Passions

One of the primary lessons of Freemasonry is to learn to subdue your passions. On the surface, some might think this means to dampen and reduce your emotions – to become a kind of automaton. Quite the opposite is the case, however.

As you proceed down your spiritual growth path, your emotions become more intense and poignant in response to external events. The difference, by result of proper training, is that, on the surface, you appear calmer and in perfect control of your emotions, regardless the circumstance. 

An examination of the word Subdue supports this contention. The dictionary definition of subdue is to “bring under mental or emotional control, as by persuasion or intimidation; render submissive.” The Latin derivation of the word is of even more interest as subdue originates from subdūcere, which translates into “to withdraw.” An inference here is that you are withdrawing your emotions from external view.

On the inside, your emotional reactions to external circumstances become more intense – you are able to pick up more subtle nuances in your personal interactions.Controlled Emotional Response On the outside, your demeanor is that of a placid lake in terms of facial expressions and both body and eye language.

In a certain sense, you become detached from your emotions. You are better able to identify your emotional response to situations, analyze that response, and respond in specific, measured ways without bias. It becomes an internal feedback loop that allows you to improve yourself and learn to subdue your passions. Over time, the situations presented become more intense and you find yourself gracefully addressing situations you would not have imagined just months before. One thing is certain; you will continue to be presented ever increasing challenges throughout your life.

Externally, your measured response to situations helps to accomplish very specific goals of which you may not always be aware. Passions or emotions are a universal language conveyed through body language, eye contact, and the timbre of your voice. You continually affect others through that language, provoking them to specific and systematic response. Your emotions, then, afford a tool for assisting humankind in its endeavors.

As you progress through life and the degrees of Freemasonry, your ability to use your emotions as a tool for good grows. Your ability to turn your externally displayed emotions on and off is enhanced, to the point that you react instinctively to situations presented in life. Often, you do not recognize the purpose of your reaction to specific events until after the fact and sometimes not even then.

The Gospel of Matthew 5:39 states, in part: “…whosoever shall smite thee on thy right vslcheek, turn to him the other also…” This biblical passage has, in my opinion, at least three levels of interpretation.

The first, most basic level, encourages the recipient of the smite to ignore the offender. The second, more popular perception inspires the recipient to forgive the offender. The third and most sublime interpretation exhorts the recipient, in the most loving manner possible, to deliberately provoke the offender to hit the other cheek so that the offender might someday come to subdue his own passions. 

Is Freemasonry a Sigil?

Is Freemasonry a Sigil?

The connection between Freemasonry and ritual magic is something which might be controversial to some brothers. The organization has intentionally de-emphasized such esoteric aspects of the Craft, at least in mainstream male-only Masonry, to focus instead on charity and fraternity. Universal Freemasonry for Men and Women, on the other hand, chooses to embrace the less mundane aspects of our tradition, so an idea like the one discussed in this writing is much less controversial among our Order.

As Masons, we enact rituals which change little over time, carry layers of philosophical significance and symbolism, and are meant to teach and transform each Brother. What is the magical significance, if any, of these rituals? Continuing with the theme of examining Masonry through various lenses, today we’ll inquire: Is Freemasonry a sigil?

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

Sigils, Symbols, and Sympathetic Magic

sigilWhat is a sigil? Sigils have been used throughout the history of magic, as a symbolic means by which to execute some magical action. This application has ranged from the sigil representing the name of supernatural entities, and therefore the power to summon them, to the more modern applications of Chaos Magic, which view them as symbolic representations of the magician’s intent.

In his excellent book Real Magic, Dr. Dean Radin discusses the scientific reality of what ancients called magic, and researchers today tend to call psi phenomena. Taking the more modern scientific view on magic, he includes a section about sigils in which it is explained that sigils use the law of correspondence, or sympathetic magic, to influence the world in some way and achieve a desired goal. While the mechanism by which this allegedly occurs is still unknown, many speculate that symbols or information may be fundamental to the fabric of reality itself. This is one way to explain why symbols, plus human intention, are able to affect changes in some mysterious, non-local way.

In the book, he recommends a simple sigil that illustrates the concept: take the letters of an acronym representing what it is you want to achieve, then rearrange and blend the letters together, to create a symbol. The main thing is that this symbol represents the desired goal to you, and gives it a graphic form, which you can then charge with intention, via a ritual, meditation, or method of your choosing. The combination of your intention and this symbol is supposed to literally reach out non-locally, to effect change toward achieving your goal in a magical or synchromystic sense. This is a basic illustration of the principle of sigils. 

Sigils, Sigils Everywhere

sigils symbolsIf one considers magic to be real, as current psi research indicates, and sigils to have a true effect by somehow utilizing nonlocality to extend human intention into the world, this brings up a possible re-interpretation of not only Freemasonry, but many other aspects of human culture, in general. If the sigil-effect is real, for instance, then how might that re-shape our view of art, corporate logos, architecture, city planning, and media in general?

While symbols are everywhere, the degree to which they have a magical effect is supposed to be determined by various factors, like how much human intention they’re being “charged” with, how often the ritual is performed, how many people are involved, etc., at least according to those who feel they’ve gained some understanding of this mysterious phenomenon. This means that symbols employed in a highly focused and regularly performed ritual would carry a great deal more power than a corporate logo, for instance.

Crafting a Spell of Awakening?

masonic symbolThus we arrive at the consideration of Freemasonry’s symbols and rituals, in a magical context. The origins of the Speculative aspects of Masonry came from traditions such as Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, Alchemy, and Astrology, all of which were at least somewhat magical in nature. Therefore, its reasonable to suppose that those who originated the Craft were aware of, or believed in the power of symbol and ritual.

Considering the highly focused and disciplined nature of Masonic ritual, as well as the Fidelity and intention with which they are performed, it stands to reason that if the sigil-effect is in fact real, Masonic rituals performed regularly throughout the world must be performing a type of magic which reaches far and wide. While sigils in the traditional sense are a graphical symbolic representation, of which the Lodge and rituals contain plenty, it’s also interesting to consider that the rituals themselves may be a sort of 4-dimensional sigil, written into both 3D space, and the 4th dimension of time.

If Masonic Ritual is a sigil, what is the intention behind it? For most Brothers familiar with the Rituals, the answer would seem to be the uplifting and perfection of humanity, the bringing forth of Light from the Darkness, and the subduing of passion for the sake of Service to the Divine. What does Masonic Ritual mean to you?

Is Freemasonry a Time Capsule?

Is Freemasonry a Time Capsule?

Freemasonry can be and is many things to many people. Some see it as a conspiracy to take over the world; others, an ancient method to guide and improve humanity; yet others still, an old boys club with funny rituals and charitable activities. Following on the perspective theme of last week’s blog Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?, I’m going to explore yet another lens on Masonry: the possibility that it may be a kind of time capsule.

This may seem an odd take on our proud tradition at first glance, but bear with me. Without a doubt, Freemasonry is an institution passing down rituals often believed to be ancient in origin, with layers of meaning which are revealed as one progresses through the degrees. Great emphasis is placed on the idea that Masonic Ritual is passed on with regularity, with major changes typically requiring approval through the hierarchy.

This is not to say that Masonry never changes, nor that there are never outliers in terms of individual Lodges deviating from the norm, but rather that the ratio of tradition preservation to novel permutation is relatively high. So, if Freemasonry can be seen as a time capsule, what is it preserving?

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

Ancient Origins?

masonic ritualSome debate goes on both within and outside of Masonic circles over the true age and origins of Masonic Ritual. More conservative and scholarly historians have settled on the Middle Ages as the coming together of operative masonry (builder’s guild) with it’s Speculative components (philosophy and esotericism), and the Renaissance founding of the Grand Lodge in England in 1717 demarcates the official culmination point of modern Freemasonry into what it is today. However, it’s possible that this is merely when Freemasonry came into its modern form, and began leaving a neat paper trail.

On the other hand, more speculative Brothers have traced its origins to the ancient mystery traditions of old, supposing it to trace back as far as ancient Israel, Egypt, even Atlantis. Certainly the Speculative Masonic elements which joined and transformed Masonry from an architectural guild into the modern spiritual tradition it is today were inspired by, if not actually directly descended from, those ancient mystical traditions.

In a way, the question we’re asking is two-fold, because it depends on what we’re referring to when we say “Freemasonry.” If, by that term, we mean the unified Fraternity we know today, under the auspices of Grand Lodges, combining the symbolism of Masonic Builders with the teachings of the ancient Mysteries, then the conservative historians are probably correct. On the other hand, if we are referring to the origin of the Mysteries it preserves, which are the Speculative elements that have made it significant enough to be preserved when all other such organizations from medieval times faded away, then we must look much further back into the past.

A Mystery Within a Secret Hidden in Plain Sight

masonic traditionWhat is a time capsule? It is a container in which is placed one or more items of significance which one wishes to preserve through the process of time. If those same items had not been placed in the capsule, they would likely have succumb to the inevitable forces of entropy and change. They would have been thrown away, fallen apart, or given away and forgotten about. The central intention of creating a time capsule is to preserve something so that it may be rediscovered at a later time.

You might be thinking that the comparison of Freemasonry to a time capsule seems a bit of a stretch, and in some ways, I’m inclined to agree. It is not merely a time capsule; but can we think of that as one of the purposes it serves?

Freemasonry in its modern form comes to us from a time when certain freedoms such as democratic government, open philosophical discourse, and personal spirituality had all but been eradicated from the Western world by means of despotism, mass psychological manipulation, torture, and genocide. Is it any wonder that those passing along these ancient virtues converged and found an adequate container in which to place them? Operative masonry, with its democratic hierarchical structure, secret terminology and tokens, and international nomadic mode of existence particularly lent itself to being an ideal container for these timeless Truths, to preserve them against decay and tyranny.

That being said, Freemasonry is also different from a time capsule in many ways. It does not simply sit there, buried somewhere, to be found at a later time; it lives on and raises men and women to higher stages of their own evolution, contributes to the world charitably, and attempts to steer humanity towards freedom and enlightenment. Yet, it would not be capable of doing so if it weren’t maintaining the ancient Mysteries within the container of symbolism and fraternal organization.

What do you think? Do you find this to be a useful perspective of the Craft?

The Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

The Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

In our previous discussion in Part 1, we began an examination of the elements as symbols, and we will continue with that here.

We covered the first two elements, Earth and Water, and discussed their essential qualities, and symbolic correlates in mind or consciousness. As we continue with Air and Fire, the reader will do well to recall the importance of structure and fluidity, as well as inertia and change. 


 

Air

The element Air is a step up in dynamic quality from Water, yet not quite like Fire. In many ways, Air is different and yet not so different from Water. Like Water, it rises when heated, and falls when cooled. Like Water, it flows around the globe, in the form of wind. Yet, unlike Water it has a quality of expansiveness, there is more outward pressure, and less downward pressure, as it doesn’t fall or flow in a liquid form. One critical aspect of Air in our own experience is that it is the most immediately necessary element to our biology, we can go much longer without food (Earth) or drink (Water), than we can without Air. Air is an essential ingredient of Fire, and without it, Fire will immediatelyelement air die. Air has a spacious quality to it, it offers very little resistance to movement, and anything light enough can actually float or fly, which is essentially like swimming in the ocean of Air.

So, what is Air within us? As with the previous elements, clues lay in our direct experience of it. When we are in the Air, we can see clearly the furthest, like the eagle flying high above, yet able to see the smallest mouse. We refer to the most intellectual human endeavors as the “Ivory Tower,” which is of course high above and far removed from the rest of human life, able to see it all through the Air. The same could be said of mountains, which are also where saints and great teachers are often said to be found, those who are wise and “see” the true perspective of life. Air also resonates with the concept of freedom, precisely because of the lack of obstruction, and freedom is often embodied symbolically as flying – like a bird. Therefore, Air is freer and less inert than the previous three elements, and corresponds to aspects of our mind and experience which are most free and clear. Part of what Air represents is pure mind, or intellect, it is the mental space within which clear images, thoughts, and conceptual models can be formed. 

Fire

In many ways, the element Fire seems to be separate from the other three elements. Rather than being a something, a substance, fire is more of a process, a change. Fire transforms one thing into another, and also separates one thing from another. The simplest example is the separation of the gases trapped within a log from the inert earth that is left over in the form of ashes, after the burning of that log. Additionally, it involves radiation, the freeing of not just gas, but also energy which was latent within the element firesubstance that burned, giving off both light and heat. Thus, in a way it can be viewed as a transformation of that which is bound into that which is free, of matter into energy.

We can say that the essential qualities of fire are dynamism, change, transformation, and purification. In a sense, although it appears separate, fire is also the source of all other elements, for it is only by the fire of the sun that all things have motion and existence. Without Fire, all would be motionless darkness.

For these reasons, it can also be difficult to pin down the exact symbolic meaning of Fire within us, although it clearly seems significant. Certainly, Fire dwells within us, in the form of energy produced by the slow chemical “fire” of the gut, and without the Fires of our various biochemical processes, including neural Firing, we would die even more quickly than we would without Air. In terms of our consciousness, represented by light, since Fire emits light, perhaps Fire represents that which creates or liberates consciousness from matter?

In myth, Fire is featured as the gift which Prometheus stole from the Gods to give to man, which allowed humanity to have knowledge and civilization. Certainly, the discovery of Fire and how to use it is often regarded as the beginning of true Human existence, and also technology. Even those Human cultures which we regard as most primitive still possess and utilize Fire. In terms of the gradient from inertia to dynamism, certainly Fire is at the farthest dynamic end of the spectrum; representing a release of energy, it is even more “free” than Air. Fire, in a way, represents pure change, pure dynamism.

The Elements in Perspective

What is this universe? One way to answer is to say that it consists of these elements, but what does that really tell us? Another compatible perspective is the one given in the perennial philosophy, the philosophy of the Vedas and the Idealists, that this reality is most fundamentally consciousness, or mind. This is a concept being re-visited by many modern philosophers as panpsychism, due to various shortcomings in our attempts to explain the universe purely in materialistic terms. This is also the perspective generallypanpsychism four elements accepted within the occult traditions, and in fact the wisdom traditions of most cultures, if you dig deeply enough. That all is ultimately mind is also described in the Principle of Mentalism, from the Kybalion.

If all of the universe contains elements of mind or consciousness, then perhaps the dichotomy between viewing the elements symbolically vs. literally is unnecessary. If all is mind, which is tantamount to saying that all is a dream, perhaps these are simply different iterations of the same essential dynamic or pattern, at different levels of the dream; as above, so below; as within, so without. If the different elements are different forms of the same fundamental mind-stuff, whatever that fundamental substance might be. It seems to me that these elements represent a process which begins being bound by inertia, of which Earth would be the extreme, being gradually subjected to change, until it eventually becomes more and more free, of which Fire is the extreme.

This whole process could be viewed as a transmutation from matter into energy or light, just as the Fire is matter being transformed, to light the darkness. Of course, as without, so within, and some version of this same process is going on within all of us. The most matter-bound aspects of us are gradually being acted upon and transformed by the forces of change, whether from within, or from without. Every experience is to some greater or lesser degree a catalyst within this process, and causes “movement upon the waters of the deep”. Eventually, this process culminates in the ignition of Fire within us, of the inner Light.

alchemy four elementsOur pains and our pleasures, our highs and our lows ultimately give birth to the dawn of true Awareness, what some might call Gnosis. Why? Because just as the light which is emitted by Fire was previously trapped within the matter of the fuel, that Divine Spark has always been latent within us, watching, waiting for its moment to arise. 

Now, we come full circle to Freemasonry, and the significance of the elements symbolically to the Craft. What are we doing as masons, if not kindling, stoking, and maintaining a light in the darkness – a Fire in the denseness and confusion of material existence? Every element plays its part, and exists within all of us; the culmination of the interplay of those elements, when utilized skillfully, is the igniting of that Promethean Light, within the self and within the world. What nobler endeavor could one set oneself to, than that of bringing light to the darkness within oneself, and within all of humanity?