IF someone had asked me 30 years ago if Freemasonry was masculine, I would have said: “Is there anything else?” I’m speaking of course about the mainstream idea, over the past three hundred years or so, that all Freemasons must be masculine. I was not erudite enough to realize that there were far, far more meanings to “masculine” and “feminine” than I believed, as there are far more than “just” masculine Freemasons. I was learned in some esoteric traditions but found out that I had a long, lifetime journey in front of me.
To what I am referencing are the many traditions that transcend gender as a sexual, physical attribution. As I noted earlier in another essay, gender is referenced here as specific to virtues and attributes that transcend the physical. Why do we call something masculine? Why do we call it feminine?
In this essay, I will be focusing on the masculine attributes, aspects, and virtues of Freemasonry – not the gender of its adherents. Remember that true Freemasonry seeks to unite, not divide; it seeks to create order out of chaos, harmony from cacophony, and solidarity amongst all creatures.
That said, why do we call some aspects of Masonry feminine and masculine. I think in order to dissect this, you may see that the core of Freemasonry comes out of the ancient mystery schools and has roots in Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Stoicism, Neo-platonism. It is a mixture of philosophy and wisdom born of the needs of its human wielders. It is ritual and word that are combined to bring about the evolution of humanity. It is no mere repetition of plays from medieval stone worker guilds; that said, even these medieval stonemasons play a part in the gender of the ritual and philosophy of Freemasonry. Let’s explore…
GENDER IN THE RITUAL AND PHILOSOPHY OF FREEMASONRY
MANY of us are trapped in the idea of gender as given to us in our media, by our families and friends, and even taught in schools. We see gender as a division, one or the other. Gender, in the hands of the wise philosopher, is fluid and non-physical. There is a divine masculine just as there is a divine feminine, and it is as important as the feminine. Where the feminine is receptive and gives form, the masculine is forceful, outward, and expansive, as well as liberating, freeing. It is giving and generous; think of The Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. That is masculine. In Kabbalah, the masculine is the Pillar of Mercy – not because it is merciful but because of its liberating nature. The Pillar of Severity, the feminine, is labeled severe because of its constrained and passive nature. Because of these natures, one might see the masculine as unrestrained chaos, and indeed, they might be right.
When we think of the Masonic ritual, the one bit of chaos that is consistent is the human initiate, the neophyte. The neophyte is all “outside world,” bringing with them the unrestrained passions, emotions, and physicalness that the non-Masonic world has to offer. They come to be changed, to find balance – yet we must always retain our humanity. Our chaos. Anyone who has sat in any Lodge meeting will understand whence this chaos comes, and how it can expand. In this way, the masculine seems most evident in the Apprentice; all that human chaos has come to be subdued. Not subjugated, not eliminated – subdued. We come to be refined, not erased. Our modern world tends to be masculine in nature; it resonates with masculine, unrestrained energy, and growth. Freemasonry is a sanctuary to explore the balance that we humans were mean to embrace.
The exercise of ritual in Freemasonry also generates gender qualities in its energies. When we think of the masculine or feminine, we must consider the movements made during a ceremony, or even during the opening and closing of ritual. How do our officers move and what are they doing when they perform specific actions? Do they use a right hand? Do they use the right foot? What side of their bodies are being affected? What side of their minds? These are questions to which gender qualities can be applied – are they being expansive, assertive, forceful, outward, or giving? If so, these would be masculine qualities. I would challenge the Freemason to always look for the corresponding feminine action or officers. Freemasonry is overt in its display of polarity, gender, and unity if one keeps looking.
When it comes to the symbols of Freemasonry, what might act as masculine at one point becomes feminine in another. Degrees, with their different stories and lessons, shows us this over and over again. In this, we have to look at how each is employed and by which hand, or which side of the body. Wands or swords, anything carried in the right hand is masculine, expansive, or triggering growth. What side is put forward at what time? This not only triggers the masculine energy but alerts our whole body and mind to balance. Freemasonry seeks balance, harmony, and unity. Whatever is done by the left will eventually be balanced on the right. It is inevitable.
Some symbols are displayed consistently and should be of consideration so as to give us clues about the actions of officers, neophytes, and in Ceremony. We know that Freemasonry is a Western esoteric tradition, built on many different Western philosophies. For example, for the majority of Western cultures, the Sun has a masculine, forceful connotation while the Moon is feminine, displaying its reflective nature. Stars tend toward neutrality. Think of the languages of the Western world and you will see some of these gender qualities reflected in the culture. While this is not always the case, language can tell us a great deal about our own paradigms. The vigilant Freemason will realize that there are some symbols that are fairly constant in Lodge. Those constant symbols tend to be those of the celestial nature; the symbols that change their gender qualities tend to be those in which a human is involved – either in their creation or their use.
THE HERMETIC PRINCIPLE OF GENDER
MANY volumes of sacred writings discuss the masculine and feminine working together to achieve this balance. The Kybalion talks at length about the Hermetic Principle of Gender.
“Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.” ~ The Kybalion
The Masculine is seen as will or strength the actual force to move matter, thoughts, or ideas. In Freemasonry, this is evident in the catechism of part of the Apprentice degree: while the heart may come up with a plan (feminine), or the brain scheme (neutrality), we need the force of work, using our hands, to actually create and execute the desired action (masculine): be it physical, mental, or spiritual. If we take the Hermetic principles together, as discussed gnostically in the Kybalion, these gender principles existing on all planes are, using the Mind (the first law – Mentalism), the source of all creation. Indeed, the root of the word gender, as spoken about previously, means generation, creation, or regeneration. Humans are, on all levels and on all planes, meant to create.
THE BALANCE OF GENDERS IN TAOISM AND HINDUISM
TAOISM is gender-neutral but emphasizes the equality and need of having a balance of genders, of masculine and feminine. In fact, the qualities of Yin Qi and Yang Qi are necessary to be in balance in order for creation to actually happen. In the cosmology of the Tao, the dual natures are necessary to create the Five Elements and indeed, the Ten Thousand Things. In Hinduism, the same concepts exist; the feminine power resides in all beings but it requires the masculine spark of force to trigger creation. The Vedas speak about the Absolute (The One) being genderless, and physical gender necessary for the smooth function of society; the masculine and feminine have complementary roles to play in the physical world. All of this mimics the human creation experience physically, and as I believe, Freemasonry is emphasizing, mentally, and spiritually as well.
KING SOLOMON, WISDOM, AND CREATION
KING Solomon considered Wisdom to be feminine and a part of the divine’s ability to create the universe. The “I” in the following passage is “Wisdom,” as defined in Chapter 8, Verse 22 of Proverbs: “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.” Wisdom goes on to say:
The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.
When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary,
So that the water would not transgress His command.
When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men.
~ New American Standard Bible, Proverbs 8:22-29
I take this to mean that the idea of “wisdom” here is also the idea of concept, idea, vision. The force of creation (masculine) requires that wisdom (feminine) to create something which continues; this harkens back to the concept in the Kybalion in the natural law that requires the force, or will, to bring forth the vision of beauty. In a Freemason’s ritual, this might be explained as wisdom needing strength, to bring forth beauty. The feminine requires the masculine to become manifest – to be created.
While we continue to struggle with the ideas of human (physical) gender, perhaps we can explore the idea of gender, the creative principle, within a more philosophical state, and perhaps, find a measure of equality in all aspects of our lives. To me, a Freemason, that seems like a worthy goal – one that could benefit all of Humanity.