What Esoteric Knowledge lies veiled in Classical Art?

What Esoteric Knowledge lies veiled in Classical Art?

AN enduring cornerstone of Western Civilization, Classical Art builds on the cultural ideals of Ancient Greece and Rome, as demonstrated in painting, sculpture, and architecture. Founded upon the virtues of harmony and divine proportion, these artists sought to elevate the human form by adorning it with the highest, illuminating humanity’s evolution, and depicting man’s relationship with the Divine. For more than a Millenia, classical artistic expression has been shaped by the reverence of the virtuous, the good, and the beautiful. In Manly P. Hall’s work, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, we learn:


Symbolism is the language of the Mysteries; in fact, it is the language not only of mysticism and philosophy but of all Nature, for every law and power active in universal procedure is manifested to the limited sense perceptions of man through the medium of symbol… By symbols men have ever sought to communicate to each other those thoughts which transcend the limitations of language.”

~ Manly P. Hall

Does symbolism transcend the limitations of language? Is a picture worth a thousand words?

CRYPTIC, ABSTRUSE, MYSTERIOUS: WHAT DOES “ESOTERIC” REALLY MEAN?

THE term, Esoteric, has been defined as “known only to the few,” and is derived from the Greek root Esō, meaning “within.” To study Esotericism, often requires communing with a small inner circle of learned fellows in order to embark on a journey of self-discovery. The opposite of esoteric is exoteric, meaning “suitable to be imparted to the public,” and historically linked to the ancient philosopher Aristotle. Those deemed worthy to attend Aristotle’s private discussions were known as his “esoterics,” or confidants.

Whereas, the “exoterics” were individuals who only attended Aristotle’s popular evening lectures. Because such information is largely incomprehensible to the general population, esoteric is sometimes erroneously equated with that which is difficult to understand. Instead, esoteric scholars are typically empowered by exceptional methods of education, such as hyper-specialized training, private tutoring, intensive study, or initiation.

Most religions provide exoteric or fundamental teachings, as well as, a path of esoteric study for those who seek it. Perhaps it could be said that once a fundamental understanding of the tenants of a religion is obtained, a door swings open providing the seeker a deeper level of wisdom and understanding. In Christianity, the Apostle Paul wrote:


And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”

~ 1 Corinthians 3: 1-2

This dichotomy of basic and advanced study exists within other religions such as Islam, where Sufism serves as the esoteric branch of the religion. Freemasonry provides similar esoteric instruction to members of all religious faiths. What is the difference between esoteric and exoteric knowledge? Does one need to be an initiate to study esotericism?

WHAT LIES HIDDEN? VIEWING ART THROUGH AN ESOTERIC LENS

IN this series, we seek to uncover the hidden meaning found in the artistic works of numerous Masters, including Michelangelo, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, William Blake, Georges de La Tour, and Raphael. Let us begin the discussion by outlining a basic structure for analyzing art through an esoteric lens; thereby, we will utilize both observation and intuition, symbolically represented by the concrete and abstract minds.


OBSERVATION: Observe the work of art and search for the following:

  • Inconsistencies
  • Patterns
  • Clues

INTUTION: What does your intuition tell us about this art?


Many people think of intuition as instinctual or even magical. Our intuitive hunches, however, are assumptions formed based on experience and cumulative knowledge. They tend to arise holistically and quickly, without conscious awareness of the underlying mental process of information. Intuition is nonconscious thinking; essentially, the brain on autopilot. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated how information can register on the brain without conscious awareness and positively influence decision-making. How are observation and intuition different? Does each correspond to a different hemisphere of the brain?

THE CREATION OF ADAM BY MICHELANGELO

To begin, The Creation of Adam has long been recognized as one of the world’s great art treasures. From 1508 to 1512, the Italian Renaissance Master, Michelangelo Buonarroti, painted glorious frescoes, including The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, as commissioned by Pope Julius II. Michelangelo wrote the following describing the artistic process:


After the divine part has well-conceived,

Man’s face and gesture, soon both mind and hand,

With a cheap model, first, at their command,

Give life to stone, but this is not achieved

By skill. In painting, too, this is perceived:

Only after the intellect has planned

The best and highest, can the ready hand

Take up the brush and try all things received.”

~ Michelangelo

What can be unveiled regarding The Creation of Adam through observation and intuition?

To be continued in Part II….

The Sun as a Symbol in Freemasonry: What is it trying to tell us?

The Sun as a Symbol in Freemasonry: What is it trying to tell us?

“There is nothing so indestructible as a symbol, but nothing is capable of so many interpretations.”  –  Count Goblet d’Alviella

What does a symbol have to do with you or me? Well, it’s possible that it doesn’t have anything to do with us.  On the other hand, the meaning behind a symbol just might be pretty significant. To know what a symbol means (or at least what we think they means) is one of the important speculative studies in Freemasonry. The teachings of the craft are said to be “illustrated by symbols.”

What are symbols? The definition of a symbol is something that represents something else through resemblance or association.  As the well-known saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words! There are everyday symbols and then there are the more universal and esoteric symbols which we are mainly concerned with as Freemasons.

Esoteric symbols are those with a hidden meaning. They have been used throughout time in the great spiritual traditions to guide seekers after truth. Esoteric symbols both conceal and reveal the truth.

For example, I consider myself to be a seeker of truth.  The other day, I chanced upon the following passage about the esoteric symbol of the sun.  It set me thinking on a number of different levels:

“The blazing star, or glory in the center, refers us to the sun, which enlightens the earth with its refulgent rays, dispensing its blessings to mankind at large and giving light and life to all things here below.” – Masonic Lectures

little23915567_706115002931639_2286788907160304511_nWhat are we to make of this statement? Why would the blazing star, usually depicted as a five-pointed star, be a symbol of a sun, too?  And if it is, what is different about this sun?

While the answers to these questions remain a mystery, some of us may know that the blazing star makes its appearance in several of the masonic degrees, and the pieces to the puzzle reveal more of the secrets at each stage.

How, then, do you study a symbol? How do you know if what you are interpreting is truth?

A Symbol: Exoteric, Conceptual, and Esoteric

I have found with symbols, it’s possible to go overboard with analysis.  Especially as Freemasons, we love to “speculate.”  We open the whole thing for scrutiny and dissect every little piece to see where it leads.  We use lots of words while trying to nail things down: “This means this” and “that means that.”

Unfortunately, in my opinion, when we over-analyze, especially early on, we may unintentionally rob the symbol of its power. In the end, we may have analyzed it to death.

The good news.

resizedimages (1)The process of symbolic analysis, while wrought with paradox, is actually doing something beneficial to the mind.  The best summary of this idea I found in a theosophical article of the Beacon Magazine (1939) written by Alice Bailey. The article details how the mind is actually being trained when we study symbolism.

Bailey gives three ways that a mind can analyze any symbol.

  1. Exoterically: This concerns the concrete or objective appearance, its form and structure.
  2. Conceptually: This concerns the concept or idea which the sign or symbol embodies.
  3. Esoterically: This concerns the energy or feeling that you register from the symbol.

Studying a symbol in three ways, she says, is activating the mental mechanism on all three levels: concrete mind (exoteric), higher mind or reasoning (conceptual) and the intuitional mind (esoteric). The goal is to arrive at a synthetic concept.

Why does the process matter?  Bailey says that practical work with symbols over time serves to bring a student closer to truth.  It lifts an individual out of their emotions; it develops clarity of perception; it energizes the mental life; it shifts the focus and attention and consciousness out of the world of illusion into the world of ideas.   How then could Freemasons apply this technique?

Let’s take an example.

Freemasonry: The Point within a Circle 

bigcircumpunct-symbolThe sun is often symbolized by a symbol called the circumpunct.  For those of you who’ve read the novel by Dan Brown called The Lost Symbol, you probably are familiar with what a circumpunct is.  For those who aren’t familiar, it’s simply a point within a circle.

There are hundreds of things the circumpunct can represent, anywhere from the “Eye of God” to the “Google Chrome” icon that I use to launch my search engine.  Using the Bailey technique, the circumpunct could be studied and reflected upon by an inquiring student and hopefully, after a little while, reveal a synthetic understanding of what it means.

Freemasons for centuries have taken a stab at analyzing the circumpunct.

W.L. Wilmshurst, for example, says this:

 “As the sun is the centre and life-giver of our solar system and controls and feeds with life the planets circling round it, so at the secret centre of individual human life exists a vital, immortal principle, the spirit and the spiritual will of man. This is the faculty, by using which (when we have found it) we can never err.”

In other words, Wilmshurst (and many other masonic scholars) see the point within a circle to be where we, as Freemasons, stand.  It is the point from which we cannot err. The point is timeless, eternal, subjective, immeasurable, invisible, absolute. For these reasons, it is often attributed to Deity and the Sun.

big Slades masonic manAs Freemasons, the study of symbols helps us to make sense of ourselves in relation to the universe. Planetary symbols such as the sun, moon, stars, and blazing stars inspire the contemplative mind to soar aloft and read the wisdom, strength and beauty of the Great Creator in the heavens. They challenge us to dig deeper on matters of eternal significance.

Sun or blazing star?  I’ve learned there seems to be a certain humility in recognizing that we may never fully understand a symbol in a complete way, one that allows us to cross it off the list and totally explain its meaning.

How do you know if what you interpret in symbols is true? Perhaps the better question might be:

Where is it true?

If I may,

“Truth is within ourselves. It takes no rise

From outward things, whate’er you may believe.

There is an inmost centre in ourselves,

Where truth abides in fullness…

– Robert Browning


Note: The last image is an engraving by Alexander Slade dated 1754,  titled “A Free Mason Form’d Out of the Material of his Lodge.” For further study, see the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.