Ancient Free and Accepted Masons

Ancient Free and Accepted Masons

THE word “Mason” has been defined in many fanciful ways, as when one writer derives it from a Greek word meaning “in the midst of heaven,” and another finds in it an ancient Egyptian expression meaning “children of the sun”; but it is almost certain that the term came into existence during the Middle Ages to signify a man engaged in the occupation of building. Originally it had merely this trade significance; it was only after Masonry became a secret society that it took on a wider significance. Of course, there were builders long before the Middle Ages, but they went by other names, just as today we often speak of them as “architects,” a term that came into use in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

Builders of the Middle Ages, like all other workmen, were organized into societies, somewhat similar to, but by no means to be identified with, our trade unions, known as guilds. These guilds were permitted to make their own rules, and they were given a monopoly of the work done inside their own territory. The builder guilds were usually more important than others because their work was more difficult and required a high degree of skill and intelligence; such of them as had in hand the erection of the great cathedrals possessed among their membership the outstanding geniuses of the times and wrought such works as to this day remain our wonder and despair.

The art of building was, according to the customs of the time, held as a trade secret. Therefore the young men entering a guild of builders were solemnly obligated to divulge no secrets of the craft. Inasmuch as the work was difficult, these young men were given a long course of education under the direction of a Master Mason, in which, so it is believed. The tools and processes of Building were used symbolically and to impress certain truths on the mind of the member. In this way, and because the builders were in close touch with the church, which employed systems of symbolism as today we use books (the people could not read, but they could understand pictures), the builder guilds came in time to accumulate a great wealth of symbolic teaching and an elaborate ritual. In the eighteenth century, this symbolical element completely displaced the original craft of actual building, and Masonry became “speculative,” as we know it now, so that we are Masons only in a symbolical sense.

We are called Masons therefore because we are members of an organization that harks back to the time when builders and architects were bound together in closely guarded guilds. But why are we called “Free” Masons? This is a more difficult question to answer, as all our Masonic scholars have discovered, for in spite of a great amount of careful research, they have never vet agreed among themselves as to how the question should be answered. We have records of the word as having been used six hundred years ago, but it is evident that even then, “freemason” was a term of long-standing, so that its origin fades away into the dimness of a very remote past.

One of the commonest theories is that the freemason was originally the mason who worked in “free-stone,” that is, stone ready to be hewn and shaped for the building in contrast to the stone lying unmined. Such a mason was superior in skill to the quarrymen who dug the stone from the quarry, and this is in harmony with the fact that in early days freemasons were deemed a superior kind of workmen and received higher wages than “the rough masons”; but it does not explain why carpenters, tailors, and other workmen were also called “free.”

Another common theory has it that the early Masons came to be called “free” because they were exempted from many of the tiresome duties that hemmed in the laborer of the Middle Ages and enjoyed liberties such as the right to travel about (forbidden to most workmen of that period) and exemption from military service, etc. It is held by some writers that the early Popes granted bulls to Masons that freed them from church restrictions, but no amount of search in all the libraries of Europe, or in the records of the Roman Church (that church did not issue bulls against Freemasonry until 1738 and afterward). Has ever succeeded in unearthing a single such bull or any record thereof.

There are other theories. One has it that a Mason was free when out of the bonds of apprenticeship and ready to enjoy the full privileges of membership in his guild. Another, that there were grades of workmen inside building guilds and only the highest type were permitted all such privileges, and that these were called “free” in contrast to their less advanced brethren.

One of the most acceptable of all these theories is that so brilliantly advanced by G. W. Speth in the past century, in which that learned brother held that in the Middle Ages, there were two types of builders’ guilds, those that were stationary in each town and those that were employed in the cathedrals and were therefore permitted to move about from place to place, or wherever cathedrals might be in course of construction. Inasmuch as cathedrals represented the highwater mark of skill and learning in that day, such workmen were very superior to those that were employed on the humbler structures in the community, such as dwellings, warehouses, docks, roads, etc. so that Freemasonry descended from the aristocracy of medieval labor.

I have never been able to make up my mind between these various theories, except that it appears to me that Speth’s is the most plausible. It may be that several of them are true at one and the same time; such a thing would not be impossible because Freemasonry developed over a large stretch of territory and through a long period of time.

There is no doubt that, in some cases, this word has its face meaning and serves to remind us that our Craft is very old. The first Grand Lodge of Speculative Masons was established in London in 1717, but Masonry, even of the Speculative variety, was very old by that date. Boswell was accepted into the Craft in 1600, Moray in 1641, and Ashmole in 1646. Our oldest manuscript, usually dated at about 1390, looks backward to times long anterior to itself. There is no telling how old Masonry is; perhaps they are not so far wrong after all who date it in antiquity. In any event, it is “ancient” and has every right to the use of that word.

But in the majority of cases, this word doubtless refers to the Grand Lodge that came to be organized in England shortly after 1750. When the first Grand Lodge (that of 1717) was formed, it was planned that it should have jurisdiction only over a few lodges in London; but as these lodges increased in number, it extended its territory to include the county, and later on to include the whole country. A large number of lodges remained independent – they were often called St. John’s lodges – many in the north of England, and others in Scotland and Ireland. As time went on there grew up a feeling among the brethren of several of these independent lodges that the new Grand Lodge was becoming guilty of making innovations in the body of Masonry; therefore, after a deal of agitation had been made, a rival Grand Lodge was formed, and because its older sister Grand Lodge had made changes they dubbed it “Modern,” and because they themselves claimed to preserve the work according to its original form, they called themselves “Ancient.” This Ancient Grand Lodge was fortunate in securing as its Grand Secretary Laurence Dermott, who had such a genius for organizing that in the course of time, this newer lodge began to overshadow the older. The rivalry, often bitter enough to be described as a feud, lasted until 1813 when the first step toward a union was effected; out of this effort at reconciliation, there came at last “The United Grand Lodge of England.”

Meanwhile, the Ancients had chartered a great many lodges in the colonies of America. These, a large number of them, carried on the name long after American lodges had severed all relations with the Grand Lodges across the sea. In this wise, the word “Ancient” came into general use and remains today imbedded in the official titles of about half the Grand Lodges in this land.

Much mystery still hangs about the word “Accepted,” but in a general way, we may feel pretty safe in thinking that it refers to the fact that after the ancient builders’ guilds began to break up and to lose their monopoly of the trade, they began to “accept” into their membership men who had no intention of engaging in the actual building, but who sought membership for social purposes, or in order to have the advantage of the rich symbolism, the ritual and the philosophy of the Order. Thus, the first man admitted of whom we have a record is Boswell, who was made a Mason in 1600, as already noted, but it is fairly certain that others had been similarly accepted long before. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that non-operatives had been taken into membership from the earliest times. It is possible that the word was also applied to those members who devoted themselves to superintending and planning, but not to physical work. Throughout the seventeenth century, the number of accepted increased until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Many lodges were almost wholly made up of such members, and in 1717 the whole Craft was transformed into. A speculative science, though it is true that many operative lodges remained in existence, and some are still functioning and claiming for themselves the ancient lineage.

We shall have to wait with patience until all problems concerning these various words are cleared up, but meanwhile, we can use them with a satisfactory degree of certainty as connecting us historically with a process of growth and development that began far back in the Middle Ages, or earlier, and has continued until now. Verily it has been a history filled with wonders, and even now, there are few who have a full appreciation of the height and depth and length and breadth and exceeding riches of Freemasonry.
 


* Originally published, “What means Free and Accepted Masons? in THE BUILDER, 1923.

Aphorisms of Freemasonry

Aphorisms of Freemasonry

Selected aphorisms from The Book of the Lodge by George Oliver (1782-1867)


I: Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

II: If you remain silent when Freemasonry is attacked, you condemn by your actions what your conscience approves.

III: As you are a Christian Mason, you must on all occasions study to perform the duties of Christian morality, which are comprehended under the triple category of God, your neighbour and yourself.

IV: The benefits to be derived from Masonry are well described by Ovid and Horace, when they say, “Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes emollit mores. Asperitatis et invidiae corrector et irae,” which may be translated thus: “To have learnt the liberal arts faithfully, softens the manners and operates as a fine corrector of ill-nature, envy, and anger.”

V: To subdue the passions has been the universal aim of all mankind. All have placed their hopes upon it; and hence sprang the first idea of the Γνωθι Σηαυτον,which was inscribed on the portal of heathen temples, that it might prove a stimulus to virtue, of which it was the first lesson, and lead to the desirable consummation, in which all excellence was blended, of subduing the passions.

VI: If you intend to pursue the study of Masonry to any beneficial result, it is indispensable that you attend the Lodge regularly. This is your apprenticeship, and without it, you will never become a bright Mason. There is no royal road to science. (Image: Oracle at Delphi – Temple of Apollo, which bears the inscription “Γνωθι Σηαυτον”)

VII: A Lodge is not to be understood simply as a place where Masons assemble for the dispatch of business, but of the aggregate body of its members. The latter is, strictly speaking, the Lodge; the former is only the Lodge-room.

VIII: An incompetent person in the chair of the Lodge, is like a hawk on the wing, from which all the inferior birds hasten to escape, and leave him the sole tenant of the sky. In the same manner, such a Master will cause the Lodge to be deserted by its best Members, and be left alone in his glory.

IX: If you mean to attend your Lodge, be there at the hour mentioned in the summons. Whoever is late, disturbs the Brethren, and interrupts the business of the Lodge.

X: When seated, recollect your situation. If you are an Officer, do your duty, and nothing more. If you are simply a Brother, your business is to hear, and not to speak. An officious interference is unbecoming in a Mason: it may do harm, and cannot, by any possibility, be productive of good.

XI: Be always obedient to the Chair. Obedience is a virtue of the greatest importance to your own character as a Mason and to the general welfare of the Lodge. Without obedience Wisdom would be inoperative, Strength would lose its power, and Beauty its grace; and confusion and discord would soon banish the occupants of the holy ground.

XII: Never by any chance or persuasion suffer yourself to be inveigled into a party hostile to the Officers in charge of the Lodge. If you do, you will be a marked man, and your progress in Masonry will be rendered doubtful, if not altogether prevented.

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XIII: During the period when serious business occupies the attention of the Brethren, you must not leave your seat, or engage in conversation with your neighbors, not even in whispers; neither should you move the chair or bench on which you are seated, or make any other noise to disturb the Master or his Officers in the orderly execution of their respective duties. Silence is the leading characteristic of a well-regulated Lodge. I have known many good Lodges spoiled for want of due attention to these trifling particulars.

XXV: Never enter into a dispute with a cowan. Like the deaf adder he will stop his ears, and refuse to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. No matter how clear are your facts, or how convincing your arguments, still he will turn an incredulous ear to your reasoning. Though you anxiously cry out, Oh… hear us, and even cut yourself with knives and lancets to bespeak his attention, there will be neither voice nor any answer, nor any that regardeth. You may as well endeavor to extinguish the sun by pelting it with snowballs or to cut rocks in pieces with a razor, as to make any genial impression on the mind of a professed cowan.

XXVI: What is the reason, Bro. ____ makes so little progress in Masonry? Indolence. Why did Bro. ____ fail to establish a good character as the Master of his Lodge? Because he was not an industrious person. Do you inquire why Bro. ____ never passed to the Second Degree? I answer because he was constitutionally idle. Indolence is the prolific parent of numerous other vices. Bad habits may be subdued, selfishness may be reformed, and passion held in check, but indolence is rarely if ever, conquered.

XXX. Silence, secrecy, and calmness of temper, are the unmistakable marks of a genuine Mason. If you hear anyone make an incessant boast of his knowledge, you may set him down as an empty chatterer. Noise is not wisdom. Those who ostentatiously proclaim their own merits may for a time enjoy the satisfaction of deceit, yet in the end, their pretensions are sure to be unmasked.

XXXII. Do you hear a man boast of his abilities, his attainments, his dignity, or his position in life? Intrust him not with your secrets.

XXXIV. When in the Lodge, beware of contentions brethren. Truth is as little an object with them as brotherly love. They will wrangle against truth as freely as against error, whether defeated or victorious, they will still argue and quarrel, question and dispute until they have banished every right-minded Brother from the Lodge.

LVII: How many disputes arise out of trifles! And how greatly would they be diminished if everyone would deliberately ask himself this question: whether is it better to sacrifice a point which is of no value, or to lose a friend more precious than rubies?

LIX: Before you pronounce a man to be a good Mason, let him pass the Chair. That is the test which will infallibly display both virtues and failing, mental imbecility and moral strength. If he passes through his year of apparent honor, but real trial, creditably, he will have nobly earned the character of a worthy and intelligent Mason.

LXII: When a cowan criticizes the science, answer him not but listen attentively to his words. They may perchance recall some point, part, or secret to your recollection, which has escaped your notice, for the castigations of the cowan are not without their use and benefit; “Like the toad, ugly and venomous, which wears a precious jewel in its head.”

LXV: Esteem the Brother who takes pleasure in acts of charity, and never babbles about it; take him to your bosom, and cherish him as a credit to Masonry and an honor to mankind.

LXIX: Be very cautious whom you recommend as a candidate for initiation; one false step on this point may be fatal. If you introduce a disputatious person, confusion will be produced, which may end in the dissolution of the Lodge. If you have a good Lodge, keep it select. Great numbers are not always beneficial.

LXXI: He is a wise Brother who knows how to conclude a speech when he has said all that is pertinent to the subject.

XCIII: The great secret for improving memory, may be found in exercise, practice, and labour. Nothing is so much improved by care, or injured by neglect, as the memory.

XCVII: As the Lodge is opened with the rising sun, in the name of T.G.A.O.T.U., and closed at its setting in peace, harmony, and brotherly love, so, if you have any animosity against a Brother Mason, let not the sun sink in the West without being witness to your reconciliation. Early explanations prevent long-continued enmities.


* “Know Thyself.”

Excerpt from: Oliver, George (1782-1867); The Book of the Lodge; reprint of the third edition by Aquarian Press (Masonic Classics Series), of Thorsons Publishing Group, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England.
 

The Edge of The Universe

The Edge of The Universe

In Freemasonry, it explained that the “extent of a Lodge” covers the whole of existence, rising to the heavens, to the depths of the earth, east and west to each horizon, and north and south the same. This is the width, breadth, and depth of a Masonic Lodge. This is emblematical of the Temple of Humanity, but truly not just humanity. The Lodge is all of creation, edge to edge. If this is so, then the whole of the entire universe is a Lodge, and all of the entirety of the universe are its officers and workers.

Everything? So it would seem.

We also know that a Lodge is not a Temple. The Temple is the place where the Freemasons meet, to perform ritual, enjoy brotherhood, and revel in sacred space. The Lodge is the body of Freemasons that make up the Fraternity. Plainly, it would seem that the Lodge is not just Freemasons but truly all life, organic, inorganic, and all matter within the known universe. Is it any wonder that the Freemason creed is to study the hidden mysteries of nature and science? Hidden, it seems, is the operative word. No pun intended, I assure you.

Yet, I think Freemasons may rarely study either. Many are content to execute ritual with good friends, and for many, that is the whole of Freemasonry. Some are involved in activities outside themselves, such as service to their Order and to other non-profit organizations, which are necessary activities. New Masons may observe and listen; yet, there are steps to real study that need to be followed to find understanding. This study and exploration continues well beyond the Third Degree. This is not meant as a condemnation of those good works; it is but a passionate appeal to seek for more.

A Freemason’s study entails curiosity, reading, experimenting, testing, theorizing, and play. It requires creativity and intuition to explore that creativity, looking for new ways to be in and of nature. It involves art, engineering, science, and math. It involves all the liberal arts. There is so much depth the foundational principles of Freemasonry and we only have to delve further to decant vast pools of mystery where we can drink direct understanding.

Indeed, most humans rarely look beyond their own bodies, and sometimes not even then, to study nature and science. We are accustomed to people telling us what to see, hear, and do. This is not to say their input is incorrect or malicious. It is their opinion based on evidence to their eyes. It is based on their own perception of the universe. Every perception, including our own, is only a shadow of perhaps all there is, and we need to remember that when listening and observing. The ideas we come up with from observing how nature works, by the vehicle of science, is a far better path towards wisdom. This is why ancient philosophers are so fascinating. It the not-so-distant past of humanity, a mere two thousand years, we were focused on the union of these two methods – observing nature and theorizing on its state – to understand life. Philosophers would not have separated the two ideas; nature taught, philosophers sought to understand, test, and validate their findings.

They were a curious lot, and for hundreds of years helped humanity steer itself toward a union between itself and the rest of the universe. They were often wrong; yet, even today we find them often right. Democritus, “Father of the Atom,” understood that “the world is made of up of granular particles.” Today, his work has informed Einstein as well as many modern quantum physicists. We recognize that the world is made up of grains, atoms, and their constituents are also granular.

These great thinkers are not limited to just the well-known philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. In fact, I do not believe we can truly understand these three unless we take steps to understand their predecessors and successors. Zeno of Citium, in 300 B.C.E. taught that universal reason, logic, is the foundation of all goodness in life and that living a life of reason was humanity’s purpose. Epicurus, with his principles of pleasure and happiness informed Lucretius’ work On the Nature of Things, which has also informed many modern scientists. Three hundred years earlier, Anaximander, a student of Thales of Miletus, became what we now believe to be the “first” philosopher, as Thales’ writings have ceased to survive.

“Anaximander invented the idea of models, drew the first map of the world in Greece, and is said to have been the first to write a book of prose. He traveled extensively and was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Among his major contributions to philosophical thought was his claim that the ‘basic stuff’ of the universe was the apeiron, the infinite and boundless, a philosophical and theological claim which is still debated among scholars today and which, some argue, provided Plato with the basis for his cosmology.”1

The past informs the future and sometimes, it informs the far future if we pay attention. Carlo Rovelli, in “Reality is Not What it Seems,” states:  “It is only in interactions that nature draws the world.” Or, “The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.” Rovelli sees the world as Anaximander did, as an eternal flow between events; these events may be the life of a human being or a rock, not as fleeting as that of the quantum processes of creation.

In Lucretius’ discussion about the existence and composition of space, he poses what we now know as the Javelin Argument:

“For whatever bounds it, that thing must itself be bounded likewise; and to this bounding thing there must be a bound again, and so on for ever and ever throughout all immensity. Suppose, however, for a moment, all existing space to be bounded, and that a man runs forward to the uttermost borders, and stands upon the last verge of things, and then hurls forward a winged javelin,— suppose you that the dart, when hurled by the vivid force, shall take its way to the point the darter aimed at, or that something will take its stand in the path of its flight, and arrest it? For one or other of these things must happen. There is a dilemma here that you never can escape from… Lastly, before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a wall between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air, land bounds the sea, and again sea bounds all lands; yet the universe in truth there is nothing to limit outside.”2

We now theorize that with Loop Quantum Gravity, a form of quantum theory about how the universe is constructed at the quantum level, spacetime is a network that creates itself, as the universe is expanding. While we may believe there is an edge to the universe, it is at the quantum level unbounded in that it has a constant creation. According to Claudia de Rham, theoretical physicist at Imperial College, “General relativity yields the predictions of black holes and the Big Bang at the origin of our universe. Yet the “singularities” in these places, mysterious points where the curvature of space-time seems to become infinite, act as flags that signal the breakdown of general relativity.”

Courtesy of NASA

Additionally, Juan Maldacena, a quantum gravity theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, has said, “In quantum gravity, space-time itself behaves in novel ways. Instead of the creation of particles, we have the creation of universes.”

If the foundation stones of Freemasonry are these ancient philosophers, it behooves us to understand them so we have a foundation to understand the nature of humanity in order to perfect it. In fact, we require their knowledge to understand the nature of all things, so that we may remember whence we came and that of which we are made. To understand a thing is to know it. Can we understand ourselves if we do not understand nature? We do not stand apart. We are the universe in all things. As NASA has said,

“The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life,”

and have come from exploding white dwarfs and massive stars.3

To the Freemason, then, there are ever things to explore and understand. In fact, we might even say that we are co-creators in the universe, as it constantly growing and developing. The breadth, depth, and width of our “Lodge” is on the move, and we have the past and the future to explore. Spacetime is inconstant, creative, and evolving, and there is a wonderful eternal now from which to draw our study of nature and science. Perhaps that is a subject for another time. Again.


Notes:
1 – August 21, 2020, https://www.ancient.eu/Anaximander/
2 – August 22, 2020, https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/carus-on-the-nature-of-things/simple#lf1496_endnote_nt239
3 – August 09, 2020, NASA https://ift.tt/2DCCwin

Thinking Better

Thinking Better

At work today, I was faced with the unfortunate episode that happens to everyone at least once. That unfortunate episode was misunderstanding – poor communication resulting in confusion. I had requested that a team alter the way they were performing an action. I made the mistake of requesting it of the entire team. It was taken as a mandate or edict, and one I had no right to make or demand. Having working with these people for years, I was taken aback. Neither was it my intention to demand or mandate. It was a shock to hear that my intentions had been so miscommunicated. What had I done wrong to be so misunderstood? 

In this way, I learned. I believe they had no bad intentions; this situation was just a missed opportunity for stronger bonds and communication between us. I could easily hold a grudge or condemn them for being childlike in their response. Yet, neither of those are appropriate actions to take, either for me, or against people who mean well at their core. And, naive as it may sound, I believe people will gravitate toward doing “right” or “positive” or even “good” in any given situation.

Thinking better

As part of a larger society, we all want to work toward being at peace with our neighbors and the world in general. No, not everyone but I choose to believe the positive in mankind.Regardless of the “what” of the request, I was disappointed that people chose to believe “bad” intention rather than a “good” intention. How could a plea for help turn into an edict? I looked to myself, to see if I could have worded my request better and it was clear, I could have done better.

I find that these challenging communication situations are easier for me to handle as a Freemason. When I wasn’t a Freemason and did not have that foundation, I struggled to find framework in how to move forward without being “hurt.” Now, I do my best to also see their response as positive rather than negative. Sometimes, it is still difficult. As Freemasons, we work hard to not believe ill or malintent of fellow Freemasons; that same thinking goes for the people in my life who are not Freemasons. I can’t conceive of thinking differently because the persons are or are not Freemasons. I treat all as equally as I am able, even with my inevitable biases. I think I hold my fellow Masons to a higher standard because they are Freemasons; in many ways, they really do know better.

Yet, we all have gaps in our education. It’s up to our fellow Freemasons to help us become the best version of ourselves and it’s our job as Freemasons to hold ourselves accountable. I am better for making mistakes and having my Brothers correct me, help me, assist me toward seeing situations and myself differently.

Self Improvement

Where this has led me is to really striving to think through my passionate first responses to being ‘wronged’ and take a different approach.

Freemasonry teaches that we should endeavor to never misjudge a brother or to willfully misunderstand him. I think, in Co-Masonry, where family members or friends may be fellow members, teaches us to not segregate that treatment to a single group. When your wife or husband is a fellow Freemason, you take these lessons from the Lodge into your home. They can’t help but spread beyond the border of your front door. When everyone “plays by the same rules,” it makes it easier to be truthful and authentic with your reactions. You grow because you are able to absorb the lesson, let go of the ego, and move into how you can communicate better.

When you do take these principles out into the world, it’s disappointing to be reminded that not everyone plays by those same rules. This lack of “thinking better” creates the nasty politics of business culture and the fear of political discussions with strangers. It twists us into politically correct pretzels, attempting to hide what we really think and feel, and never really communicating. We have seen this in our recent upheavals in the United States. It seems easier to hate than to understand, and easier to believe ill in people than to believe well of them. I think many people just want to be heard, and listening to them requires we check our personal agendas and self-importance at the door. The lack of “thinking better” brings us to being deadlocked in negotiation or discussion, rather than truly solving problems.

It’s difficult to think well of someone who is bringing up their “issues” about us or has difficulty with something we did. I find myself hurting at the thought of rejection and the idea of a personal attack. I can be emotionally roughed up by someone thinking poorly of me. I think most of us would be, if we know what we’ve done or said to be in the spirit of cooperation rather than being malicious.

Conversely, it’s also a challenge for me to not be a child in return, to lash out and hold that grudge like some four-year-old child. That is where I become grateful for Freemasonry and the challenge to reframe the situation into a learning experience for me. I can push through the grudge and bring it back to “thinking better.” It’s more peaceful for me and it certainly keeps the door open rather than slamming it shut in their face or to my future experiences with them.

Harmony, to this Freemason, is a shining goal, where the spirit of cooperation and unity produce amazing results in our rituals and in our lives. It seems to me that to focus on “thinking better” is what helps bring us into that harmony; not just in our Lodge rooms but in our lives. With a little intent, we can bring this consonance to all of the people we touch, a greater humanity. Imagine, a world of thinking better: makes you smile, doesn’t it? 

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

What Would Your Sentence Be?

What Would Your Sentence Be?

One dark, cold Winter night, in the pine forest near the foothills of the Rockies, a small rabbit runs across a snow-littered meadow. His small feet crunch the rocks as he makes a break for his warren. In the deep silence, a sudden flash and the night becomes day for a brief moment. Seconds tick by as the light rises and slowly fades, an eerie backdrop to the silence. Minutes later, a great tidal wave of energy flattens the forest, the rocks, the warrens, the sleeping life that will continue to sleep. Forever.

In the wake of this powerful destruction, debris falls from the sky, littering the once verdant land with the detritus of its previous inhabitants. Plastic, wood, ash – all drifting in the growing silence. A single white piece of paper, seemingly untouched by the devastation, floats down, swinging wide in the light wind until it reaches the ground. It has the scratches of some writing embedded in its fibers.

What does this writing say?

Feynman 1This is the question that Richard Feynman posed to his physics students on the first day of his new physics curriculum at CalTech in 1961. This question is highlighted in a recent Radiolab episode, entitled “The Cataclysm Sentence” as well as in his collected lectures, called “The Feynman Lectures on Physics.” Rather than teaching his students the history of physics, he wanted them to think critically, creatively, and for themselves.

He posited this question:

If, in some cataclysm, all of the scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence was passed onto the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words?

His own answer to that question is covered in both places; the twist that Radiolab put on this question was to ask writers, artists, musicians, and contemporary scientists –  what would your sentence say?

Feynman’s answer is at once interesting and a cultural legacy. Here is what he said:

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

We could take time to unpack his response, or we could delve into our own. Or, we could wander around the purpose of such a sentence, and how might a Freemason answer.

What would the purpose of such a sentence be? What sort of creatures would pick it up? I imagine that this thinking was once applied to the study of Lemuria or Atlantis, and what their civilizations had left for us. From Plato, we learn of Atlantis, which existing approximately 11,000 years ago. It is considered a myth, a metaphor, a fact, and all things in between. In truth, we have no writings existent from Atlantis, and only Plato (and his character’s word) that it existed. Lemuria, an even fainter impression of a culture and continent, is said to have existed up to 52,000 years ago, in the Indian Ocean, and fell to ruin by Nature’s hand around 16,000 B.C.E.. In this case, the Tamil’s claim that this land, Kumari Kandam, was the “cradle of civilization” and that it was, like Atlantis, a thriving civilization but to theosophists, it was the place where humanity took form. Again, we have Tamil folklore and speculation by both theosophists and 19th C.E. anthropologists but we have nothing written directly from this civilization.

Colors of Freemasonry Part IIIn both cases, no such miracle sentence was imparted to us, no wisdom floating to us through the ages. We might imagine that Plato was telling us that Atlantis’ sentence was “Don’t get greedy.” From Lemuria, it might be “Experience everything as human,” or perhaps “Become.” As their worlds were ending, did any of them think of another race of humans? Would we?

Feynman’s question was specific in that he didn’t specify “humans,” but creatures. Creatures. This presupposes they would understand whatever language was written down or that they would understand the reference. In the Radiolab episode, the answers that artists and philosophers provided were at once strange, funny, serious, and deep. The idea here is that the sentence “jump starts” the next “human” race, or race of advanced creatures, whatever that might be.

CAITLIN DOUGHTY: For me, it’s something like you will die, and that’s the most important thing.

ESPERANZA SPALDING: …The willingness to respond creatively to fear, without trying to eradicate the source of the fear.

CORD JEFFERSON: “The only things you’re innately afraid of are falling and loud noises. The rest of your fears are learned and mostly negligible.”

MERRILL GARBUS: [singing] Evolving over millennia. We learn to fly. We’re nourished by the fruits of the Earth. Inspired by each other’s music. But we failed as a species. Injured the very hands that fed us, when we chose fear as our ruler. When we could not grasp being mere fractals in one collective being. In the end there was no “we.”

JENNY ODELL:  All of human effort is meaningless, as he puts it. So he says humanity knows nothing at all. There’s no intrinsic value in anything and every action is a futile, meaningless effort. (Speaking of a Japanese farmer who created “Do Nothing Farming.”

ALISON GOPNICK: Why?

REBECCA SUGAR: …And maybe the ultimate goal would be to just devote oneself fully to creating the life that feels the best on this world in the time that we have.

JAMES GLEICK: The moon revolves around the Earth, which is not the center of the universe, far from it. But just one of many objects, large and small, that revolve around the sun which in turn, is one of countless stars mostly so far away that they’re invisible, even on the clearest night. All traveling through space on paths obeying simple laws of nature that can be expressed in terms of mathematics. Oh and by the way, there is no God.

JARON LANIER: I would give them nothing….It’s redundant. Like, all of that kind of information is just the stuff that’s out there waiting to be discovered in nature anyway, so we don’t have to do anything. If people apply themselves they’ll rediscover all that stuff. So it’s not like we’re special. Letting them get it in their own good time might be better for them, so what have we actually added? Perhaps we’ve only taken away.

Since I listened to this episode and looked into Feynman’s life, and subsequently, delved into Physics and thought experiments, and the meaning of humanity, the answer on the piece of paper that I write has to be something that would be unique to the creature reading it. In this, I think Freemasonry, and really mystery schools overall, has the far view. If we’re working to the perfecting of humanity, we know we have a long, long road ahead, and possibly many lifetimes. Freemasonry looks to the soul of humanity itself, and works to ascertain its perfection. What would we leave to the next generation of souls to inhabit the universe? Maybe we can’t even say until we’re at the end of our own existence. My hope is that is farther away than closer.

nosceMy thoughts stray to what I learned from long-dead philosophers in Greece, precursors to modernity, leftovers from Atlantis. They didn’t know me, and their civilization has perished. What did they leave me, to provide me hope to carry on? My sentence would be “nosce te ipsum.” It transcends everything.

I’m curious to know – what would your sentence be?

How did Freemasonry shape President Theodore Roosevelt?

How did Freemasonry shape President Theodore Roosevelt?

The man, the myth, and the legend: Theodore Roosevelt was a larger than life figure whose beneficent impact on the rights of humanity has continued long after his earthly demise. Few figures in American history can match Roosevelt’s archetypal status as a hero, adventurer, statesman, and visionary.


The Early Years: Gaining Strength Through Adversity

Born in New York City in 1858, the boy, named Theodore Roosevelt Jr., was a frail and asthmatic child. Yet, sharing in his Father’s belief that willpower and strenuous living could overcome all infirmities, Teddy transformed himself with discipline and determination into a strong, courageous individual.

His tenacity and idealism would later assist him in weathering dark storms of difficulty, particularly on Valentine’s Day of 1884, when Theodore lost both his mother and wife within a span of a few hours. His mother, Mittie Roosevelt, died of typhoid fever at age forty-eight, in the same house as his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, who at age twenty-three, died following the birth of their daughter, Alice.

TR Rough Rider

Theodore expressed his deep grief with a single, poignant sentence in his journal: “the light has gone out of my life.”

Searching for a way to transcend his personal tragedy, Roosevelt moved forward by working on a Cattle Ranch in the Dakotas. Then he served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy before attaining mythic war hero status for leading the Rough Riders’ charge of San Juan Hill in the Spanish–American War. (Image: Colonel Roosevelt of the Rough Riders, 1898).

Joining the soon-to-be President McKinley as his running mate, they won a landslide victory in 1900, based on a platform of peace, prosperity, and conservation.

Ascent to Power: Freemasonry and the U.S. Presidency

In 1901, Theodore followed in the steps of his hero, Brother George Washington, by knocking on the door of the Temple to become a Freemason. He was initiated on January 2nd in Matinecock Lodge No. 806 in Oyster Bay, New York.

VP TR Letter 3rd Degree

After taking office as Vice President of the United States in March of that year, Bro. Roosevelt was Passed on March 27th and Raised on April 24th. Only five months later, Brother Roosevelt became President of the United States at the age of 42, after the untimely death by assassination of McKinley in September of 1901. (Image: Letter written by U.S. Vice President Roosevelt before receiving the 3rd Degree).

As a progressive leader and political maverick, Brother Theodore instituted domestic policies, which uplifted the common people and removed the barriers to opportunity and prosperity. President Roosevelt titled his domestic program, The Square Deala subtle nod to his Masonic allegiance and education. As a demonstration of action echoing his espoused principles, he described his intentions:

“When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”

Roosevelt was an environmentalist who established national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources. His successful diplomatic efforts ended the Russo-Japanese War and won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Elected in 1904 to a full term, Roosevelt continued to promote progressive policies that promoted equality and justice for the common people.

Freemason_Theodore_Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt’s extensive list of achievements almost defies belief: Harvard University Honors Graduate, Youngest Elected Member of the New York State Assembly, Leader of an Amazon River Scientific Exploration, Famed Historian and Author, Spanish-American War Hero, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Governor of New York, President of the United States, as well as, famous Freemason.

During his Presidency, Brother Roosevelt combined his affinity for travel with his dedication to Masonry by visiting lodges across the nation and abroad. His words, written and spoken, reflected his Masonic ideals; he emphasized morality, duty, service, equality, charity, self-knowledge, justice, wisdom, merit, and ability.

In an address to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Bro. Theodore explained his reasons for joining the Fraternity:

“One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a Mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man.”

Equal Before the Law: Roosevelt’s Feminism

In addition to his other accolades, Roosevelt was a woman’s rights advocate, historian and writer, gifted orator, dedicated conservationist, skilled diplomat, avid outdoors-man, hunter, and mountain climber. Could he also be considered a Feminist? 

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Roosevelt’s belief in the principle of equality transcended gender promoting equal rights for women in employment, opportunity, and equal pay. In his essay, “Practicability of Giving Men and Women Equal Rights,” he argued:

“Viewed in the abstract, I think there can be no question that women should have equal rights with men…. I contend that, even as the world now is, it is not only feasible but advisable to make women equal to men before the law.”

PamphletFrontPageProgressivePartyPlatform1912

Brother Roosevelt later wrote that “women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man, it should be paid as highly.” Moreover, in his 1912 Presidential Campaign, Roosevelt took a revolutionary step for the rights of women in equal pay, labor protections, and universal suffrage.

Do these actions and beliefs qualify Roosevelt as a Feminist? By today’s definition and standard, I think it would be a stretch to call him as such, although he did advocate for equal pay for equal work.

However, considering Feminism during his era which is now described as the “first wave” of the larger movement, I would argue that Roosevelt’s stated beliefs and advancement of policies for equal treatment under the law (i.e., equal employment opportunity, equal pay, and equal voting rights) would qualify him as a Feminist. In fact, Bro. Roosevelt was the first major party candidate in U.S. history to campaign in favor of women’s suffrage, which brought the issue to national stage for the first time in 1912. 

Unafraid of Death: Brother Theodore’s Life of Service

Feminist or not, Theodore Roosevelt remained a faithful servant to Humanity till his death. In 1919, he died in his sleep and passed, at only 60 years old, to the Eternal Grand Lodge. Yet, his service and dedication to humanity continue on as examples of Masonic principles brought to life through action – immortal and true.  

“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.” Brother Theodore Roosevelt


Note: As always, this article does not reflect the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but is solely the opinion of the author. 

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.

As Above, So Below: The Soul’s Evolutionary Trajectory Reflected in Freemasonry

As Above, So Below: The Soul’s Evolutionary Trajectory Reflected in Freemasonry

What is the purpose of life, or perhaps beyond life, or existence itself? How one answers this question will depend on one’s beliefs, ranging from nihilism to religious concepts of salvation and the afterlife. In Freemasonry, we don’t impose or require any particular belief regarding the purpose of life on the grandest scale, although we do focus heavily on the improvement of each individual, what some might call personal evolution. Ultimately, each Mason has his or her own beliefs, and come from a variety of religious backgrounds.

What is the relationship of this focus on personal development to various possible higher, metaphysical concepts of life’s purpose, or the soul’s trajectory? 

God and Telos

It’s very interesting the ways that a concept of a higher power are connected to personal betterment and evolution. This is one of the reasons for the requirement of a belief in a higher power for entry into Freemasonry, because the opposite of this belief, materialism or physicalism is also intrinsically nihilistic, though some may feebly attempt to deny it. To believe in God or the Divine is to believe in a purpose to Creation, a concept known in philosophy and theology as teleology, from the Greek word telos, meaning “reason, purpose, or end.”

If we, and the universe we emerged from, simply happened and were not somehow created as the modern materialist orthodoxy insists, this means that we and the world are essentially an accidental, pointless mess of dust blowing in the cosmic wind, meaninglessly. This is a particularly bleak worldview, which in spite of its many philosophical problems, has risen to prominence in the academic and intellectual culture of the West. Freemasonry is diametrically opposed to this view, in that one of the very few beliefs our diverse group does share is the belief in a higher power, and the Telos which that belief implies. 

The Many Faces of Telos

While we may all share a belief in God (or something like it) and Telos, the individual and sectarian concepts among various Brothers of what exactly that teleological purpose of our existence is can vary widely. This will depend on how we conceptualize God or the Divine, and the purpose for which we were created. Some of the most common teleological differences are between Abrahamic religions, those of the East, and more nature-based spiritual traditions. 

Abrahamic faiths like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, for instance, tend to focus on some sublime end, usually an afterlife, or a time in the future when the dead will be raised and live in a more Earthly paradise. In either case, it’s generally believed that our purpose is to serve and worship God, and to eventually enjoy the heavenly state individuals have earned by having chosen to live for their Creator. Usually, they believe we live only one life, and then proceed to eternal reward or punishment. 

Eastern religions, on the other hand, such as Buddhism or Hinduism, tend to believe that our souls evolve over many, many lifetimes and eons, perhaps even existences on other worlds, or in other dimensions. While they generally believe in heavens or hells, these are all temporary states which a soul may pass through. The ultimate goal is to be completely free of our illusions, and to realize our unity with God, or the Ultimate Reality. 

Nature religions such as Shamanism, Taoism, or Paganism are an interesting case, as they focus more on our position in relation to the natural world, usually conceived as a grand living entity, and the various spirits and ancestors which inhabit the non-physical realm. Still, there is often a sense of Telos, if not in a trajectory towards an end, at least towards some idea of balance or harmony. 

Unity in Teleological Diversity

One of the chief benefits of Co-Masonry is its adaptability and applicability to life, regardless of what faith and individual Telos a person adopts. The virtues which are taught in Masonry, such as personal discipline, honor, universal brotherhood, truth, equality, and justice are all qualities which contribute to any concept of Telos that one might identify with. Whether you believe that your destiny is heaven, enlightenment, nirvana, or simply cosmic harmony, the qualities and skills which Freemasonry encourages are pragmatic and conducive to those ends. 

It’s truly a magnificent feat which our Brothers before us achieved, by combining the common elements of moral philosophy and sacred teachings from so many traditions, to create a common path which could encompass all believers and seekers, to work together in Brotherhood towards the betterment of the human race. 


(Photo source: Ian Schneider via Unsplash.com)

The Masonic Chisel: A Resolution Not Just for New Years

The Masonic Chisel: A Resolution Not Just for New Years

As the Christmas season draws to a close and we get ready for New Year’s parties and countdowns, yet another tradition comes to the forefront of our minds: New Years Resolutions. These yearly promises from ourselves to ourselves are taken more seriously by some than others, and we may make jokes about how they only last so long, perhaps only a week. Yet, the idea that we should set goals for ourselves, whether to take on new endeavors or remove unnecessary or unhealthy aspects of our lives is something which we should make last all year, much like the love and generosity of Christmas.

In Freemasonry, the symbol of the chisel represents discipline and education. Just as the chisel removes unneeded stone to reveal the jewel, form, or sculpture within, so can personal discipline remove those things which tarnish and distort our latent potential, and education can likewise chisel away our own ignorance, and reveal our inherent virtues.

Rough and Perfect Ashlars

Self-Made mnaThe journey of a Mason is often compared to the creation of a perfect from a rough ashlar, a polished stone from a rough and imperfect one. The chisel is the primary symbolic tool in that endeavor, in that it is what removes the excess stone until the surface is smooth. An ashlar is a rectangular stone used in walls with a flush face. Just as we are said to be making ourselves into stones in the temple of God, so is the smoothing of the self meant to make those stones that we are fit perfectly, and serve their purpose in the temple.

The removal of excess stone is the purpose of the chisel, and the removal of excess aspects of ourselves forms a major part of the personal discipline required to excel at life, to fulfill our personal destiny and serve our purpose. The uncivilized or ineffective person is much like the rough stone, with various unnecessary protrusions, such as a tendency to anger, drink to excess, speak with too loose a tongue, or engage in sloth activities such as watching television or scrolling social media for hours. 

As we hopefully see from the 24-inch gauge, we have only a certain number of hours in the day, and to fritter them away on excess activities that contribute little to nothing to the labor of our evolution is a waste. Likewise, if we speak or behave in ways that are inappropriate, out of anger or even simple gossiping, excess aspects of our being spill over into the lives and minds of others, leading to unnecessary problems, and more waste of time. These are examples of the kinds of rough, protruding aspects of the self we are meant to chisel away from our lives, through discipline and self-control

Education Removes Erroneous Beliefs

Informing ourselves with knowledge is likewise an important aspect of our development, yet how does this correspond to the chisel? If we reflect on it a bit, we can see that every piece of knowledge learned is the removal of some ignorance. After all, if we do not know certain things for certain, our minds will surely fill in the blanks, even if only with guesses or superstitions. We cannot help imagining what might be true until we know what is true, and so it is these baseless stray imaginings that are eliminated with the chisel of Masonic education.Chisels

We should also find that these two aspects of the chisel go hand in hand, for surely as we educate ourselves, our behaviors will also change. In a sense, it is always the darkness of ignorance which leads us to engage in lazy behaviors, for instance, even if on some level we know we shouldn’t. At that moment, at least, we forget or neglect, and simply indulge our baser nature’s desire to be stimulated and inert. Likewise for inappropriate anger, gossiping, and similar things. So, going beyond education, it is knowledge and remembrance which are truly required to eliminate these aspects of ourselves.

From New Year to New Day

Why do we choose to make declarations of improvement only once a year? While it’s fine to have a day to remind us all of the importance of this practice, we really should be tweaking and making changes to our lives every single day. Such is the evolutionary process, the way to change ourselves into something better than we have been, day by day. In Universal Freemasonry, we are taught to do precisely this, using the working tools as symbolic reminders of what it takes to become our ideal self, or as near to it as can be managed in this life. 

What is your New Year’s Resolution?

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. 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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