Masonic Mottoes: Deus Meumque Jus

Masonic Mottoes: Deus Meumque Jus

Freemasonry has various mottoes, which represent the principles of our great tradition. Among these is Deus Meumque Jus, which often appears prominently on Masonic Regalia, most notably that of the 32nd and 33rd degrees. A phrase being featured so prominently on Regalia for the highest degrees implies tremendous significance, but what does it mean?

Let’s explore the possible meanings of this motto, and the role it plays in the Masonic life. 

God and My Right

The latin phrase Deus Meumque Jus roughly translates to “God and My Right”, or as some have put forward, a more accurate translation might be “God and My Moral Rightness.” Deus is simple enough to translate, a familiar Latin word for God, as we often hear in Catholic recitations of Latin translations of the Bible. Jus has the same Latin root as Justice and relates to law, and Memque is a form of Meus, which is the adjective “my.” 

The actual history of the phrase is rather long and complex, and won’t be the focus of this article. Suffice it to say, in the words of one Masonic writer:

…the motto is the Latin version of a French phrase that originated in England and used in a Masonic degree system named after Scotland that descended from French sources by way of Haiti with the help of a Dutch trader through Jamaica and eventually almost completely redefined in the United States. 

It’s also associated with the number 33, as it is usually featured on the 33rd Degree’s Regalia, and the inside of the ring worn by 33rd Degree Masons. Significance is ascribed to the number 33 in a variety of ways, it being sacred in religions ranging from Christianity to Hinduism, and there being 33 vertebrae in the spinal column, to name a couple. However, today we’re focusing on the phrase itself.

What Is This Right?

Everything in Freemasonry, especially in the more mystical Universal Co-Masonry, carries significance beyond its literal or historical definitions, or translations. There are many possible interpretations of the meaning behind Deus Meumque Jus; historically, it has some connection to the concept of the Divine Right of Kings, in which case it would mean “my right to rule is derived from God.” However, given the role of Freemasons in the institution of democracy in the Western world, it seems hard to believe that it’s meaning in the fraternity has much connection to justification for monarchy.

The interpretation “God and my moral rightness” is more in alignment with the origin of the latin translation, and would mean the interpretation would be more along the lines of connecting one’s relationship to the Creator to moral uprightness. However, this concept alone is unsatisfying; after all, don’t all people who believe in a higher power connect their morality to that concept, in some way or another? Why would this then be a special phrase reserved for the highest degrees of Freemasonry?

Divine Right to Rule the Inner Kingdom?

Perhaps a more profound interpretation of this phrase might be that it represents an inner reign of the divine, within each individual Mason. Aspects of the structure of Masonic Ritual indicate an outer mirroring of inner elements of one’s being, and a very clear hierarchy and order to them. Without spoiling too much for the as-yet uninitiated, the gist of this concept is that the functioning of the Lodge and Masonic ritual lays out a blueprint by which the various aspects of the self may be “put to order” so that the lower aspects of self are made to be the servants of the divine within.

Viewed through this lens, Deus Meumque Jus would be inward law and order (Jus) established within the self (Meumque), by the divine self (Deus) as the Sovereign. 

Yet another interpretation would be something more along gnostic lines, and given gnosticism’s role in the Esoteric traditions informing Freemasonry, it’s not such a stretch to apply this lens, as well. From a gnostic perspective, Deus could pertain not only the inner divine spark, but also to the demiurge which gnostic thinking generally believes to be the creator of the material world in which we find ourselves. In this interpretation, perhaps the Right being referred to may be less about divine authority within the self, and more about one’s Right to transcend the trappings of this flawed material creation of the demi-urge, to realize the potential contained in one’s divine spark, via gnosis. 

Actually, these two more mystical interpretations are not entirely incompatible. One could say that the inner sovereignty over one’s own lower nature, and the right to transcend a demiurge-designed reality are one and the same. After all, the primary way in which we are ensnared in the physical world, according to gnosticism, is via these bodies and their lower natures. To be Sovereign over them would mean to transcend them.

Tradition, Transcendence, or Both?

While the phrase Deus Meumque Jus has a complex history and is embedded in a long tradition relating to monarchy and various esoteric societies, it also has tremendous symbolic significance. We could even relate it to the Yogic concept of gaining complete control of all the lower aspects of the self, even the nerve centers which control breathing and the heartbeat, as part of the process of one’s advancement towards Liberation. Perhaps there are correlations between the Western Gnostic concept of inner sovereignty, and this Eastern correlate. 

What is the true meaning of this Masonic motto? The only way to find out is to become a Freemason, and progress through the degrees, for only in the Masonic ritual is the true meaning revealed.

A Very Esoteric Christmas [Part 2]

A Very Esoteric Christmas [Part 2]

Today, on the Eve of this great holiday of Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of our current age of history, the beginning of a new year, the return of the solar light, and the birth of the most influential figure in modern history, Jesus of Nazareth. In Part 1 of A Very Esoteric Christmas, we examined the roots and archetypal origins of the Christmas story, as well as other various pre-Christmas traditions in paganism and ancient mythology. We have seen that Christmas in its entirety is a patchwork of ancient and mythical ideas and celebrations.

The dissolution of our beliefs and assumptions about Christmas may be disconcerting to some, but like the caterpillar which must liquify within its cocoon in order to become a butterfly, it is a necessary component of initiation into new knowledge to leave inaccurate ideas behind. So, now, while our conception of Christmas is likewise in its liquid state, let’s see what colorful wings our cherished holiday may yet don, and what sweet flowers of spiritual life they may carry us to. 

Dawn of the Midnight Sun

In the first chapter of John, the most mystical chapter of the most mystical gospel, it is said that that Word which became Jesus of Nazareth is also that Word of God which shone in the darkness at the dawn of Creation and made all things, and which is also the Light and Life of humanity. In the original Greek, this Word is actually Logos, a concept borrowed from Greek Stoic and Neoplatonist philosophers which describes the creative force which gives order to the dark chaos of the universe. So, this Light of Logos shone in the darkness, and the darkness knew it not; it was the Light of humanity, and became flesh that humanity might know it better. 

If there were a single motif that could be attributed to the aesthetic and mythical theme of Christmas, it would be that of light shining in the darkness. From the illuminated Christ child at the center of our nativities to the Christmas lights with which we decorate our trees and homes, to the light of the quintessential hearth upon which stockings are hung, Christmas is archetypally a light in the darkness, a warmth in the cold, even order in the chaos. It is salvation by Divine Light, at the darkest hour.

The birth of the Sun Gods throughout ancient mythology, many of whom share common elements with the story of Jesus and his birth, were often celebrated at the time of the Winter Solstice because this is the point at which the sun begins it’s slow return after reaching it’s darkest point, ultimately culminating in Spring and Summer. Midwinter, therefore, marks the birth of a new solar cycle, which has always governed the activities of mankind, and to a large extent still does. It is the point at which the Sun of God “dies,” and is born anew, what in Rome was known as the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”

While some may scoff at the ancient sun-worship, as the giver of light and life, what better symbol for God or the Divine might there be than that without which all we know would perish? Much like the Logos of John 1, the Light of the sun shines into matter, and turns the darkness of mud and stone into the beautiful complexities of Life. Since most people need the incomprehensibility of God to be represented by some tangible figure, both the sun and it’s idealized representatives in their various anthropomorphized forms, Father and Sun, can serve to embody and inform humanity about the nature of the spiritual Light which gives true Life. 

As Above, So Below, So Within

In The Mystical Interpretation of Christmas, Rosicrucian Max Heindel describes the times at which the physical and spiritual energies received from the sun as being reversed, so that the time of greatest physical energy correlates to the weakest spiritual energy, and vice versa. Interestingly enough, this also corresponds to the times at which the sun’s light is striking the Earth at a more right angle, during Summer Solstice, representative of the square of physical existence, as opposed to when it is striking the Earth at a more perpendicular angle at Winter Solstice, roughly corresponding to the triangle, representing spiritual existence. 

This also means that this Winter Solstice, day of spiritual maximum, is the day at which the physical minimum turns, and begins to grow towards the physical robustness of Summer, and so represents the beginning of the descent of spirit into matter. This descent, too often depicted as a “fall”, is fundamentally an act of giving, sacrifice, service, and creation, for the Light’s descent into darkness is that by which all new forms are created, maintained, and the grace by which they may someday ascend and evolve to a higher state. Without the selfless pouring of light from the sun into the darkness of the Earth, and the divine birth of crop and creature, where might we be? 

So it is that at the time where the physical light is at its weakest, the spiritual Light of Love and generosity reaches its peak. Throughout history, as the darkness of Winter set in, the necessity for giving and sharing also reached its highest, and were it not for the reminder of Love and generosity of these Winter celebrations, how many may have perished in the bitter cold of Winter, and the frigid self-concern of their neighbors? Here, we likewise find the importance of giving, being both symbolic of the fundamental gift of Light and Life from God and the sun, as well as being a practical aspect of our survival and thriving as a people. We are reminded to become sun-like in our generosity when the sun itself is the least present.

Perverted and commercialized though it may now be, our ability at our darkest hour to allow the inner sun of our Love to shine and provide for one another is the origin of our gift-giving traditions of Christmas, and the dominant theme of many Christmas stories, from the willingness of a wealthy miser to give to those in need in A Christmas Carol, to the willingness of a poor community to support a family in need, in It’s a Wonderful Life. Even the original Christmas story of a desperate refugee family, mother heavy with child, finding shelter in the generosity of others resonates with this theme. All of these are outer reflections of our Light shining in the darkness of ignorance, fear, hatred, and greed. 

Love in the Cosmic Manger

“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds” by Thomas Cole.

Like the Christ child in the story of Jesus, the Christ which is the inner Light of all people, of every atom, and which shines in our sun and every star beyond is a divine gift born of grace, whose destiny is written into the fabric of Creation itself. Into the deepest depths of darkness, born into a galactic stable and a planetary manger made of water, dust, and gases, the physical light of the sun shines down, and the divine Light of consciousness miraculously emerges and ascends towards its source in every form of Life. As the Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi wrote, “God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man.”

The secret of this Sun of God in humanity is hidden in the characters of the Christmas nativity. The virgin mother Mary is the purity of the open heart, unmolested by the base desires of lower human nature, receiving that which was never born and never dies. The father Joseph is the servant of strength and will, who watches over the divine incarnation, in obedience to the heavenly decree. The wise men and shepherds drawn by the star are the higher and lower aspects of the mind, called by the mysterious celestial intuition from their typical worldly activities. The stable, manger, and the animals all around are the dim and lowly terrestrial vessel into which the Christ Light is born, or descends, in each of us, the physical body.

All these aspects of the self are gathered like a mandala around the central figure, who is placed into a manger which by normal logic should simply be food for the animals, but has been replaced by this divine Light and salvation from the fearful darkness of entanglement in the world of matter. So it is that this Light takes the place of the mere material “bread alone” which feeds only our bodies and their desires. So it is that body, heart, willpower, and mind bow down and revolve like satellites around the radiant Light which transcends and illuminates all these lesser aspects of the Self. This Light does not emerge from them, just as the baby Jesus is not a naturally conceived child; it is not a sum of their parts, but rather a grace descending to them, giving them meaning and purpose beyond their transitory forms and lower existence, which are otherwise merely eddies of darkness.

The Sun in Every One

Near-death experiencers almost universally describe encountering a Light which they know to be God, whose shining effulgence is the essence of Unconditional Love, Knowledge, Life, and Consciousness. Mystics the world over likewise experience God as an infinite Light which is both transcendent and immanent in all of Creation. This loving Light is also understood to be what we experience in our hearts as love, and in our minds as consciousness, albeit in limited forms. It shines in us most brightly in unconditional Love, when freed from the constraints of desire and conditioning that conceal it in the muck and mire of our lower natures.

It is this Love Light that shines from the manger, and it comes to us appropriately in the story-form of a babe, a new and pure form of Life. It is various shades of this Light which we know throughout life, first in our purity as babes ourselves, then in the loving union which brings new life into the world, and once again when we gaze upon our newborn children, reflecting our own pure essential nature back to us. This inner sun child which we glimpse in many ways is our core, beneath and beyond all aspects of mind and body, it is our Soul, our consciousness itself, both the Light of awareness and the fountain of Love which shines when we surrender to the Divine.

When we achieve the purity and surrender of Mary, the strength and devotion of Joseph, and the orientation of all aspects of mind, from shepherds to wisemen, towards this star of intuition, then the radiance of the unconquered inner sun shines in us as an inexhaustible joy, love, wisdom, creativity, and peace, illuminating every aspect of our relationships, thoughts, and actions in the world. This is the culmination of the spiritual journey, and the world itself becomes illuminated when we bear this Light by releasing all impurities which obstruct it within ourselves. 

The Rising Light

While our individual completion is a day yet to come, at Christmas, our stories and songs, decorations and celebrations, the hour of the season and position of heavenly bodies themselves all convene to remind us of that infinite Light of Love which dwells within us, which we glimpse in our brightest moments, and which awaits our devoted purification to shine from the manger of our hearts, making us a fully divine incarnation of the Logos of Loving Light.

This illumination is a gradual process, and the bellows of our Christmas stories, songs, and symbols blow into us every Midwinter and renew the warm hearth of Love within us. This helps us to march forward into the darkness, hand-in-hand and Lit from Within, to face a new cyclical round of our spiral journey upward towards ultimate completion, and to bring Light into this world in whatever imperfect ways we are able to, along the way.

Know this Christmas that the Light of Christ Consciousness is not a faraway or ancient thing, nor is it limited to any sect, temple, or holy book, but it lives in every gaze you meet, in every word of love, in every act of giving, and in your very own heart, if you release the fearful confusion which conceals it, and recognize it to be the core of your being, merely hidden in darkness, waiting to be revealed. A very merry, warm, and bright Christmas to you, from the Universal Co-Masonry community.


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

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

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

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

The Shamanic Thread in Religions

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

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

Female Shaman Khakas 1908
Female Shaman (Khakas 1908)

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

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

Growth, Monopoly, and Compartmentalization

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

egyptians and acacia
Egyptian Tree of Life

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

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

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

The Standard Deviation from the Mundane

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

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

IQ Bell Curve

IQ Bell Curve

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

Will That Be Milk, or Solids?

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

IMG_3216

Masonic Symbolism

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


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

The Serpent in Myth, Antiquity, and Freemasonry

The Serpent in Myth, Antiquity, and Freemasonry

The serpent is one of mankind’s most significant symbols, showing up prominently our myths, stories, and dreams. What is it about the slithering snake which speaks to us on such a deep level, that resonates with some archetypal force in our inner depths? Furthermore, what role does the snake play in esoteric philosophy? 

The language of symbolism is built on a structural syntax of similarity of forms. Two otherwise disparate things are connected, because they bear some likeness to one another, and through this principle of sympathetic resonance, all things are connected. So, what likeness does the snake owe it’s archetypal resonance?

Serpent in Myth and Legend

The serpent plays a role of some kind in most mythological systems, and is one of the most common elements to appear in individuals’ dreams. Dreams are still a mystery to science, but those who delve into their analysis can see that they speak a language which stretches beyond our nightly sojourns, into the dream of this waking life, as well. So, the serpent, too, spans the gulf between personal sleep, and waking collective myth.

Serpent in the Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – Lucas Cranach (1531) 

Perhaps the most famous snake in the Western world was that which tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Whether this Knowledge purveyor was truly a deceptive villain depends on the interpreter of the story, but certainly the mainstream of Christianity sees the it as such, even the devil himself. A Gnostic view, on the other hand, portrays the Edenic serpent as the Luciferian liberator of mankind from Jehova’s captivity.  

In other myths and traditions, the serpent is seen as less nefarious, and often as a symbol of wisdom, perhaps because of its apparent stillness, self-control, and single-pointed precision when attacking. It plays the role of guardian of the center of the world in Greek mythology, twin encirclers of the world in Chinese mythology, intermediary to the Gods and bringer of wisdom and culture by the Aztecs, and initiator of manhood by the Australian Aborigines, just to name a few. 

Perhaps most significantly to Freemasons, the Egyptians saw the serpent as one of the primary forms of the Sun God Amun-Ra, the divine inseminator of the cosmic egg from which sprung all of Creation. As we’ve all seen, the Pharaohs were also represented with serpents emerging from their forehead, and many have speculated that this relates to the “third eye,” the psychic or spiritual eye which is said to see all.

Last, but not least, the Vedantic teachings of the East also use the serpent as the representation of one of the most important forces in the universe, that coiled-up latent power which dwells in the gut and lower regions of the Human being, known as kundalini. It’s said that as one progresses along the yogic path, this serpentine life-force energy will be roused from its sleep, and climb up through the chakras, to finally arrive at the third eye, and provide complete illumination to the enlightened individual. 

The Serpentine Universe

Beyond the investigation of the serpent’s mythological roles throughout history, another connection interests me, and that is the serpent’s form as an apt representation of both dimensionality, and the central nervous system.

280px-Serpent_Nebula

Serpent Nebula: Found in the western region of the Milky Way

As you may recall, the progression through the dimensions begins with the zero-dimensional point, proceeds to the one-dimensional line, the two-dimensional plane, three-dimensional space, and perhaps beyond into higher dimensions. And this dimensional framework makes up the basic structure or matrix of our reality. 

If you consider the head of the snake to be the zero-dimensional point, which leads the motion of the snake creating a one-dimensional line, then this motion slithering in an S-form also reveals the two-dimensional plane; finally, when the king of snakes, the cobra, stands upright and erect, it reveals three-dimensional space. Thus the serpent can be seen to represent the most basic form of any entity existing in the matrix of space-time. 

Furthermore, as illustrated in this video, the possibility of higher dimensions implies that our entire 3D physical universe may be a single point, like the original zero, in yet higher dimensions, moving through hyperspace to leave behind a snake-like timeline which makes up the past, a process which repeats to create higher and higher dimensional spaces until, perhaps, the tenth dimension of infinity.

The Serpent of Man

Lastly, you can take everything just said about the serpent and apply it to our own form,

brain-cord-central-nervous-system

Central Nervous System of Man

The Central Nervous System that of an upright central nervous system. Have you ever looked at an image of our nervous system removed from the body?

We are like serpents who grew limbs, hair, and skin. The central intelligence of our body/mind is a serpentine brain and spinal cord, with various smaller branches protruding out into the rest of the body. So, perhaps in the end, we are the serpent.


As always, the thoughts expressed in this writing are not the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but just the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

There are two groups in Freemasonry, the so-called “Esoterics” and “Non-Esoterics,” who too often do not get along. They should. After all, they need each other.

This, to my mind, is best illustrated by an image I have observed floating around the Internet for a decade. It’s the High Priestess card in the Rider Waite tarot deck with the Kabbalistic “Eitz haChayim” (עץ החיים) or, in English, The Tree of Life, superimposed upon it.

My own version of it is pictured above, along with a box of cigars. Because, as in the statement often is attributed to famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It does not really matter if Freud ever said or wrote that. The point is that things are not always metaphors or symbols for something else.

That said, I think it’s equally possible for them to be and not to be – all at the same time.

My observation of the High Priestess Card and Tree of Life pairing is that individuals, especially those esoterically inclined, who see the connection for the first time, generally experience a kōan moment. That is to say that their minds are completely blown. There is a good deal to be gained in such a moment, i.e. when the mind is absolutely blank. That seems to be the aim of a good portion of esoteric study, inside Freemasonry and out. The aim being to assist the neophyte in unraveling hidden or higher truths deep within themselves and stretching outward to farthest reaches of the Universe.

The image itself supposedly originated with an unknown individual, possibly the late Paul Foster Case, who noted that if you draw circles around the pomegranates on the card and then draw lines between them the image drawn resembles the Tree of Life. The problem is that the tree of life cannot actually be constructed through the process. As is the case with many of these studies, this exercise breaks down under non-esoteric scrutiny.

There are no pomegranates on the card to represent the lower Sephirot, namely Yesod and Malkuth. Thus, the High Priestess’ knees and toes, along with one end of the crescent moon, must be pressed into service. A circle around the cross at the center of her chest also is required. Without those pomegranate-free circles, there is no Tree of Life on the card. The decision to accept any part of the picture, in an exercise to connect an image, leaves us open to circles, squares, and other doodles on the card.

Tree of Life

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life

In my observation, the esoterically inclined Brother may declare that, simply by making that perfectly reasonable observation, the non-esoterically inclined Brother is just not open to the experience and not worthy of the special knowledge imparted. The non-esoterically inclined Brother may reply that the whole thing is nonsense and then try to turn the subject toward something practical, such as an upcoming fundraiser.

That, in turn, frustrates the esoterically inclined Brother, who sees the upcoming fundraiser as meaningless compared to the exploration in search of answers about life, the universe, etc. The Brothers with opposing viewpoints might even start squabbling at this point, each implying that the other should be more like themselves.

That argument generally leaves those individuals in the middle thinking both of the original points is valid and worth considering. They may wonder why those on either side cannot get along.

To be clear, as a historian in Freemasonry I have endured my own share of being annoyed with esoterically inclined writers who, to my mind, flippantly make up historical events to bolster their own writings. Quite recently, I heard an operative alchemist claim that medieval architecture originated with the Templars, stating it as a fact without supporting documentation, something more academically minded Templar scholars would have no trouble refuting.

Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, who were big deals when I came into Freemasonry about a decade ago, have been seen by some to invent things to bolster the message and lessons they want to get across.

Which, I think, is the point. For esoteric writers, the focus is on the message or lesson they are trying to teach not necessarily about the complete historical accuracy of the facts underlying their arguments.  They may ignore some historical data or information if it is seen as cumbersome, irrelevant, or diminishing to their argument. 

Non-esoteric writers may prefer to establish their messages and lessons in well-documented and verifiable historical analysis. To do otherwise, may seem to these writers as “making up history.” They also might express a certain irritation that esoteric books far outsell non-esoteric tomes.

Both points of view are valid, but both sides also often also forget to take a hard look at themselves.

I suppose it might be helpful, even this late in the blog, to define the term “esoteric”, which is no easy thing. Merriam-Webster lists the popularity of the word “esotericism“as being in the bottom 30 percent of popular words and defines it as “the quality or state of being esoteric.”

Spheres Dante

The Concentric Spheres of “The Key to Dante’s Divine Comedy,” by Augustus Knapp

The same source defines “esoteric” as pursuing something “designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone” (my emphasis) or “requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group.”

To be “non-esoteric,” in Freemasonry and without, would be not to be part of that specially initiated group or to not have that knowledge restricted to the small group. Or, I suppose, to reject all that.

Brothers on both sides live in the same place. They really do, but they fail to recognize the concentric spheres spheres that share the same center – which make up that place. In Freemasonry, there are those who labor in the Inner Order, they who keep the Light; and those who labor in the Outer Order, they who keep the lights on.

There is no point in making sure the power bill is paid to keep the lights on if there is no Light to keep; and the Light cannot very well be kept if the power bill is not paid to keep the lights on.

There are Brothers who prefer the Outer Order. They enjoy the sumptuous banquets, the social functions, and getting out into the world to show how good Freemasons can be. The Outer Order excels at financial planning, in setting aside trusts for the future, for that is where the Outer Order lives. They are careful to remember the past and plan for the future.

The Brothers of the Inner Order live in the Now. They see Freemasonry as a body of individual seekers of Light, an heir to the ancient mystery schools, and a system to impart morality, ethics, and the benefits of mutual service. The Inner Order tends to dismiss the past as unimportant and reckons the future will take care of itself. For them, clarity and correctness about the past and future is a secondary concern to the now.

Ancient Mysteries

Ancient Mystery School Symbolism

Then there are those achingly tolerant Brethren, “hybrids,” who can pass between the spheres and see value in both. They historically have been in the minority in Freemasonry but, in my observation, their numbers are increasing. I see them as Brothers deeply rooted in the center. I wish there were more of them.

I am not the first to observe this disharmony between the spheres. Bro. Robert Davis, in his 2010 paper “The Path of the Esotericists Among Us,” pointed out that “no sincere adept’ would force truth on someone not prepared to contemplate it. “We all know Masons who believe with all their heart there is nothing spiritual about the rituals of Masonry,” Bro. Davis wrote. 

There are those who claim there is nothing to learn beyond the ritual words. There are even more who are appalled when it is suggested that Kabbalistic, Alchemical, or Hermetic associations might be made from a study of the Degrees of Masonry. Never mind that every aspirant is told before he receives the very first Degree that Masonry is a course of hieroglyphic instruction taught by allegories. Oh well. As obvious as this may seem to the esoteric minded among us, there is little to be gained by arguing with those who aren’t listening.

I would add to Davis’ point that there *is* a middle path. It is worth seeking, and Esoterics and Non-Esoterics need to tolerate, if not respect, each other.

Until we can all be there, I continue to hope that Brothers of the Inner and Outer orders will learn to respect and tolerate each other. I hope that they will try – please try – not to encroach too much into the opposite sphere. At least not until they are ready to do so harmoniously and fully recognizing that the Brother in the opposite sphere who does not get you and who is not open to your experience is the Brother who makes sure that you do and are.

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Poet, politician, and playwright, Victor Marie Hugo [1802 – 1885] believed in the inherit beauty and worth of all mankind. He sought to lift the masses out of the darkness of ignorance and vanquish injustice by promoting the virtues of liberty, equality, and fraternity. As the leader of the Romantic literary movement, Mr. Hugo crafted a lasting legacy as one of the most influential and beloved writers of his day.

A humanitarian who utilized the written word to influence hearts and minds, Victor supported social causes to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, including ending social injustice and abolishing capital punishment.

Hugo wrote:

“There is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables; whose fault is it? And then, is it not when the fall is lowest that charity ought to be the greatest?”

As key components to liberating the masses, Mr. Hugo advocated for freedom of the press and self-governance by the people. Every individual was worth saving and their salvation was a possibility, in his opinion, as long as the entire society reformed. What did he request for these individuals foundering in darkness? Light. Hugo stated:

“They seem not men, but forms fashioned of the living dark… What is required to exorcise these goblins? Light. Light in floods. No bat resists the dawn. Illuminate the bottom of society.”

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason? There seems to be conflicting information as to his involvement in Freemasonry. Some writers claim he was a Mason, while others write that he was a Rosicrucian or a Martinist. Despite a lack of written record establishing his status as a Mason, Hugo’s writings contain numerous references to Freemasonry and its philosophies. “God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art,” wrote Hugo. Victor Hugo was reported to support one of Universal Co-Masonry’s founders, Brother Marie Deraismes, stating:

“Carry on the Holy work, Honest people honour you and admire you and it is only right and fair to say so.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Misérables, and The Legend of the Ages all contain Masonic ideals, concepts, and principles. The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s Quasimodo character may have been based on an operative Mason who worked on the Cathedral, as recently discovered documents reveal evidence of a hunchbacked sculptor who worked on Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral in the 1820s, while Hugo was writing the book. Legend is a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, conceived as an immense depiction of the history and evolution of humanity – from darkness into Light.

Hugo’s characters aspire towards the ideal of perfection, a seemingly impossible dream is given wings through his masterful writings. Jean Valjean’s fortitude against almost insurmountable odds, Javert’s justice, or Cosette’s enduring faith, each is an example of a Masonic virtue personified. Soldiers of the revolution, Hugo’s characters march diligently towards that glorious victory – overthrowing tyrants, trampling evil, developing virtues, and discarding vice. These legendary stories populated with archetypal figures are Hugo’s immortal gift to humanity, providing examples of divine virtues for mankind’s enrichment and emulation.

Hugo was so beloved by the people that when he died – in 1885 at the age of 83 – forty thousand people spent the night on Paris streets and accompanied his casket, from Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon. It is estimated that more than two million individuals came to pay their respects to the departed writer as part of the funeral procession.


Famous Works: Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Contemplations, The Legend of the Ages

Quotes:

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” 

“From remotest antiquity, the human race has employed architecture as its chief means of writing.” 

“From a political point of view, there is but one principle, the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of myself over myself is called Liberty.” 

 “God is behind everything, but everything hides God. Things are black, creatures are opaque. To love a being is to render that being transparent.” 

“History has its truth, and so has legend. Legendary truth is of another nature than historical truth. Legendary truth is invention whose result is reality. Furthermore, history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath momentary man.” 

 

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?

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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