Colors in Freemasonry: Part I

Colors in Freemasonry: Part I

Freemasonry is a system of age-old knowledge handed down primarily through the language of symbolism, and a part of the vocabulary of symbolism that is most significant is that of color. Color saturates our entire experience, and can be quite easy to take for granted, or simply see as a case of happenstance. This or that object simply “happens” to be this or that color, and while it certainly has aesthetic effects, this is more or less the scope of it’s significance, as people normally think.

Yet anyone who has spent time learning the language of symbolism, whether in the context of Masonry, the interpretation of dreams, or analysis of art and fiction will know that color carries enormous symbolic significance. To dream of a blue boat can be quite different in meaning than to dream of a red boat, and the same principle applies to any dream symbol and it’s color. As a body of knowledge communicated in the same language of symbol as dreams, the arts, or religious mythology, color in the Masonic Lodge is likewise an essential layer of meaning for the Initiate. 

So, what is the meaning of colors in the language of symbolism in general, and to Masons specifically?

Black

finaltumblr_inline_nxatcedBV71riiuei_500_1 (2)Color of darkness, the endless expanse of space, the depths of the Earth, and absence of light. Black is first and foremost the unknown, as it is literally what is dark, what is not illuminated. As such, it can also represent not just the unknown, but the hidden, and the act of concealing. 

Archetypally, we often associate black with evil, as we see evil as a kind of darkness, an existence not brightened by the light of love and knowledge. Black does not correspond to any standardly recognized chakra, however the absence of light from any given chakra can be said to be blackness, in effect.

In Freemasonry, black can represent grief, can be connected to Anubis the God of Death and all that he represents, as well as carrying all of the symbolism described above. The role of black in the Masonic mosaic pavement is a central element of the Lodge, and worth pondering. 

Red

Color of blood, fire, passion, gore, and anger. We say we “see red” when we are angry beyond maintaining composure; prostitution occurs in red light districts; we give red roses to those we are in love with, and “paint the town red” when we release all inhibitions and indulge our whims and passions. It can represent anything from war and bloodshed to health and vitality.

Tubal Cain

Red is also the color of Vulcan, or Tubal-Cain (see image), descendant of Cain, progenitor of civilization. It’s also noteworthy that the name Adam is akin to the word for red, and so the mythological first human is connected to the first chakra, and the first level of the hierarchy of needs.

The red chakra is usually associated with the most basic physical needs and drives, including money, sex, and health.In Masonry, red carries an association inherited from the ancient Egyptians, that of fire, which is the regenerator and purifier of souls.

Orange

Color of autumn, dawn and dusk, and bright flames. Orange is a color which tends to elicit strong reactions from people, whether positively or negatively; as the saying goes, either you love it or you hate it. Orange conjures feelings of vibrancy and energetic overflowing, perhaps due to its association with the sun and fire. The orange chakra is associated with both personal power as well as sexual the sex drive.  

Oddly, the color orange seems not to make many appearances in the Lodge. Perhaps it is lumped in with red in some cases, and yellow in others, but we can assume it carries much the same symbolism as above, when it does appear. 

Yellow/Gold

Color of the element of gold, the sun, sunflowers, and the happy face. Yellow is a color which has mostly positive symbolism, perhaps because of its association with gold, and is often also connected to the intellect, as well as radiance, as that of the sunflower, and happiness.Yellow Golden Wheat

We also use it to describe cowardice, but this is virtually the only negative association. The yellow chakra has to do with the intellect, and also social aspects of life, those having to do with society at large. 

Yellow appears on various regalia and aspects of the lodge, often in the form of metallic gold, and in addition to the inherent associations with the precious metal, was also the symbol of light in the ancient world. Thus, although it may not play a central role in the lodge, it nevertheless represents the goal of Light which the Mason seeks, including the radiant beams reaching out from the All-seeing Eye


Alright, we’ve made it halfway through the spectrum, we’ll continue our review of the symbolism of colors in Part II.

Masonic Ritual: The Intention [Part III]

Masonic Ritual: The Intention [Part III]

PART III: INTENTION OR EXOTERIC


By Very Ills..... Bro... Kristine Wilson-Slack 33o


The third installment in the series on the effects of Masonic ritual. Masonic Ritual is the play; it stresses the structure and foundation of the story while the thought form and creativity are in the hands of the individual actors in the ritual.


The intent of the Masonic ritual working is the fundamental basis for the first bubble’s skin.

Masonic rituals are an initiatory rite, one that marks the beginning, entrance, or acceptance into a different state of being. It is a transformation of one state of consciousness into another. This is true for every degree of Freemasonry. The story enacted may be one of birth, death, mental or ethical transformation. It may be teaching morality via a play; in essence, the transformation of the human state of consciousness is enacted upon the human by thought form creation of the other humans enacting the play.masonic ritual

Masonic Ritual is the play; it stresses the structure and foundation of the story while the thought form and creativity are in the hands of the individual actors in the ritual. Mircea Eliade discussed initiation as a principal religious act by classical or traditional societies.

He defined initiation as “a basic change in existential condition,” which liberates man from profane time and history. “Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew… [the initiate] can perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods.”

Eliade believed that the basis of religions were hierophanies. A hierophany is a manifestation of the sacred. The word is a formation of the Greek adjective hieros (sacred) and the verb phainein (to show). In other words, initiatory rites are those which transport the participants from profane (before the temple) time and space into sacred space and time.

Preparedness

When the intention is created, by the form of the Lodge, it will take the outward manifestation of “work to be performed.” This could be a ritual ceremony with the focus on an individual, a ceremony that invokes different energies for the accomplishment of some “thing,” or it may be the creation of ideas from an educational essay and discussion. The Lodge as a living entity in and of itself creates the intention by the will of its membership; a request for an increase of knowledge, a desire to discuss ideas, or the joy of simply performing a ceremonial service for the good of the world are the intentions of the members. The Master of the Lodge takes these intentions and solidifies them into a working plan for a period of time, intending each Lodge meeting to be an act on the will of the Whole.Mozart_in_lodge,_Vienna

The intention of the Lodge is first created through the sending of a Lodge summons to each of the members. By this act, the Work of the Lodge is planned, and a thought form begins for the individual Freemason. The Brother thinks about the ceremony to be performed, his physical part and actions in it, as well as preparing for the mental work to be accomplished. He thinks about who he will be working with, how he should move, and how his intention will meet its mark.

For those who cannot attend, their response helps the Master solidify the workers and their positions, thus ensuring that the work to be performed is focused towards the needs of the Lodge. Neither the acceptance or rejection of the summoning should be a matter of indifference to the Freemason, as their personal energies, ways of working, and thoughts are what build that first bubble once the gathering begins. The intent and preparation of the members of the Lodge are what form that first bubble of energy, surrounding the Lodge and Temple and securing the mindset for the work within.

While this bubble is the first to be created, it is the last to be discharged. Discharging comes at the end of the day, once the work has been completed. We will examine the dispersal of energies at the end of this essay.


This is Part III of a Five part series. You can find the previous installments here: Part I and Part II.

The Masonic Noah’s Ark: Navigating a Great Deluge

The Masonic Noah’s Ark: Navigating a Great Deluge

During a recent commute back from a Lodge meeting, as my car crawled along the road in horrendous torrential rain, I watched a grey heron stalk the banks of a flooding Arkansas River. The magnificent bird was a timely reminder that beauty and nature can be seen in the most devastating of circumstances.

And yet, even for optimists like me, it is getting more difficult to feel encouraged about the future of our planet. Bleak news about climate change is nothing new, but in recent months there has been a deluge of it.

Are we living in a pivotal moment that is of environmental and ecological importance?

My thoughts turned to the ancient legend of Noah’s Ark. Can it provide us any insight into the world today? The masonic allegory tells of the rescue of Noah and his family, who were the progenitors of humanity, and survived the deluge which overtook the whole world. In the rituals, our thoughts are turned toward those great truths which were typified in the great flood.

Brother Albert Mackey writes:

“The influence of Noah upon Masonic doctrine is to be traced to the almost universal belief of men in the events of the deluge.”

Brother Mackey claims that if we examine the ancient writers, there is plenty of evidence that at some remote period, a flood did really overwhelm the earth. However, what we know today is colored by each perceiver, whether it be the scientist, philosopher, religious scholar or average person. There are several variants to the legend; the Biblical version is the most famous, a beloved tale told to children. Probably the most absurd account is a Chinese legend that tells of a great flood caused by an argument between a crab and a bird.

Is the story more than a tale for toddlers? How is it important to a Freemason?

The Masonic Ark Symbolism

Freemasonry itself teaches of three significant arks of importance; 1) Noah’s Ark which was built by Japhet, Ham and Shem, and their co-workers, under the oversight of Noah, by divine direction; 2) The Ark of the Covenant, also by divine command, constructed by Moses, and 3) the Substitute Ark, or the Ark of Zerubbabel.

The word, “ark”, is rooted in the Latin “arca,” which is a chest or coffer for storing valuables. The English word “arcane,” has the same root meaning hidden, concealed and secret. So, basically an ark may be considered to be a box or chest in which a valuable secret is contained, hidden and concealed.

The ark is also akin to the Chaldean “argha” which means the womb of nature. In a lecture by Brother Rudolf Steiner, he suggests that the ark is a metaphor for the womb of humanity. It symbolizes a receptacle wherein are preserved the seeds of a new birth.

Ark of Noah_Gnosticteachings.org_final

The ratio of the dimensions of Noah’s Ark as given in the Bible, exactly corresponds to the ratio of dimensions of the human physical form – 30:5:3 in length, width and depth. God was specifying the physical dimensions of the ark to carry the consciousness of humankind into the Post-Deluvian stage.

The ark also resembles a tomb. The masonic lessons speak of the themes of death, rebirth, and resurrection. In this respect, every circumstance of distress takes on deeper meaning; nothing is destroyed utterly or finally.

Ignorance is the precursor to truth; death is the precursor to rebirth. To die is but the dissolution of a temporary form. The essence of a person is preserved to be the seed of a future re-creation.

Likewise, the essence of  humanity is preserved to be the seed of a future re-creation of culture and civilization. Commander Noah, the lineage holder of the sacred laws of geometry, art and science, was the keeper of the mysteries in the ark. His mission was to pass on this knowledge to future mankind.

Was he successful? Do these teachings apply today?

Sons of Noah

After the flood, the holders of the hidden mysteries of nature and science, according to the ancient legend, were named Noachidae or Sons of Noah. Everywhere they lived they were known as magi, sages, philosophers and wise men for their learning which was a blessing to civilization. The Mysteries were transmitted to each succeeding generation. Some of the most profound truths came from the lineage holders in Egypt.

Temple of Seti I AbydosThe Egyptians held that the divine power can be found at the heart of every person, even the lowest and most degraded. It was called the “The Hidden Light.” Through that light, all people could always be reached and helped. It was the task of the keeper, to find that illumination within himself and others, however unpromising, and to strengthen it.

The initiate of today partakes of that radiance when he seeks the path which leads to the gateway of initiation, the portal to the secret Temple of the Most High. The ultimate purpose is always to bring the hidden divinity into fuller manifestation.

We are told that few may discover the treasures of the symbolic ark but we do know they are concealed within the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry. A mason’s aim is to ignite the flame within and thus conquer the storms of his own nature. In this respect, he can truly become a “Son of Noah.”

The Ark reminds us both of the difficulties and dangers that we encounter, and of the refuge which we may find from them. It is all part of a plan of evolution, a tracing board, for humanity. We are but a little speck within the current of life, evolving and cooperating with the big scheme.

The flood allegory teaches us to find perseverance in a right course of action, all dangers notwithstanding, and assures us that if we do so, all shall be well. We will weather every crisis, and find ourselves, after all, in a sanctuary of peace and rest.

In current times, what will be our deluge? In my opinion, the challenges of today, environmental or otherwise, offer all of us the chance to navigate through what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing… a generational mission… to discover beauty and nature in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Noah SOF_Flickr_ Free to UseAmidst a great deluge, a well-built ship rides securely into a peaceful harbor. May we anchor our planet together in Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. 

“Man has acquired delusions of grandeur regarding his mind and has become arrogant in his new sense of power over the forces of Nature. This could lead to complete destruction were it not for the few, comparatively, who know that man is a divine being and that his destiny is to cause that divine spark to grow into a mighty flame of spiritual illumination.”   —Brother Walter Leslie Wilmshurst

Baseball: America’s Esoteric Pastime?

Baseball: America’s Esoteric Pastime?

It’s difficult to deny America’s status as a state profoundly influenced by esotericism, and specifically Masonry, from it’s very inception. From the number of influential Masons in American history, to the Masonic design of Washington D.C. and many other capital monuments of individual states, and the blatant esoteric symbolism on the American dollar itself – not believing it is simply being either ignorant of the extent of the evidence, or in denial.

So, what else that is quintessentially American has mostly unseen esoteric, and perhaps Masonic significance? In recent articles I’ve discussed Masonic ties to jazz, said to be the only purely American genre of music, and today I’ll present the case that none other than the Great American Pastime, the sport of baseball, may have been influenced by Theosophists and Freemasons in it’s early history, and might carry esoteric symbolism throughout its structure and rules.

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

The Diamond and the Checkered Green

From the beginning, this all might sound a bit like frantic conspiracy theorizing, even if it’s not particularly conspiratorial per se, if we didn’t first acknowledge the well-known fact that one of the central figures of early baseball coming into its modern form, Abner Doubleday, was a Theosophist, and another important figure in it’s early days was a Freemason by the name of Alexander CartwrightWhether Abner or Alexander were truly the sole or primary progenitors of the game is heavily debated, but even if it arose as more of a gradual evolution from its recreational ancestor Rounders, the many esoteric symbols and numbers are difficult to explain away.

esoteric baseballFor starters, there’s the diamond shape of the baseball field itself. While most major sports are played in bipolar rectangles (think soccer, football, hockey, basketball, etc.), baseball is the only one to take place on a diamond, which strongly resembles a square and compass, especially when viewed from the perspective of behind second base, which would make home plate the circular apex of the compass. Whether inverted or not, there’s clearly a resemblance, and the fact that the square end is in dirt may also be related to the earthly qualities said to be represented by right angles.

To take it even further, many baseball fields have recently begun to be mowed in a checkerboard fashion, perhaps unwittingly adding to the Masonic overtones.

All Freemasons will also begin to recognize some similarities of the shape of the field, placement of the bases, and journey of the batter to elements of a Lodge, which I won’t allude to here very concretely. Many may also be surprised and interested to find that the journey of the batter around the bases, in the historical origins of the game, was in reverse of the direction it runs now. The shape of home plate, where the player both begins and ends, may strike a cord. 

A Game of Threes

Three is a number with mystical significance to many esoteric teachings, and Freemasonry is no exception. The 3° being the pivotal point at which a Mason becomes a Master Mason, and the 33° being the penultimate achievement of Masonry, and many other instances of 3 in Masonic Life and Lodge are themselves, of course, symbolic allusions to the deeper significance of the number three. As it so happens, baseball is a game entirely based on 3, and multiples thereof.

The scoring of baseball occurs in threes: 3 strikes, 3 outs, 9 innings, 9 positions, 27 total outs, and 81 each of either at home games or away games. Of course, 3 and 9 have quite interesting mathematical properties in and of themselves, which is partly why they are considered sacred by so many traditions. Nine times any other number equals something which is numerologically nine, and also which divides the ten fingers into it’s product, to name just a couple of it’s “mathemagical” properties

Take Me Out to the Soul Game

Some have also read even further symbolic significance into the nature of how baseball is played, as a metaphor for the soul’s gnostic journey. By such an account, the pitcher is seen as the demiurge throwing obstacles at the batter, who is the individual soul, who must use exact timing and precision to attempt to hit the ball out of the park, representing the soul leaving the limited world of physicality, and allowing the individual to run through the bases without obstruction, as well as allowing any others on the path to pass through as well, representing what happens when a soul becomes illumined, and is able to illumine others. On the other hand, if they “strike out” by not being successful at least 1/3 of the time, then they must go back into the ancestral realm until they’re “called up to bat” at another incarnation. 

Did baseball’s founders intend this extent of esoteric meaning? It’s difficult to say, perhaps we could expect something like that from Abner Doubleday, as a Theosophist, or Alexander Cartwright, a Freemason; but again, the claim of who originated the modern version of the game is hotly contested. If I’m being honest, aspects of it seem to me like a bit of a reach. It’s possible that the way baseball is played actually is a much more mundane metaphor of meeting life’s challenges. Perhaps it’s both.

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide what they think about all that, but it’s nevertheless interesting Masonic food for thought. 

Was Brother Theodore Roosevelt a Feminist?

Was Brother Theodore Roosevelt a Feminist?

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.

He was a many things in his life time, including a Freemason and President of the United States. Was Brother Theodore Roosevelt also a Feminist? 

 


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.

TR Rough Rider

Colonel Roosevelt of the Rough Riders, 1898

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. 

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.

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

V.P. Roosevelt’s Letter Before Receiving the 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.

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

Roosevelt in Masonic Regalia

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 outdoorsman, 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. 

Do the Shriners Connect Freemasonry to Islam?

Do the Shriners Connect Freemasonry to Islam?

Who are the Shriners? How are they related to Freemasonry, and do they connect Freemasonry to Islam in some way?

While most believe the Shriners, or the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, to be merely a Masonic club where Masons get together outside the regular Lodge, to have fun, and do some charity work, is there actually a more mysterious history to the organization, beneath the surface level? Today, we’ll learn a few things about the Shriners and their origins, and investigate whether they truly connect Freemasonry to Islam.

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

Partying for the Greater Good?

One of the things that Shriners are best known for is being an organization in which Freemasons cut loose a bit, engage in socializing, convene and organize for celebrations or pursuit of various hobbies. One does have to be a Master Mason (3°) to become a Shriner, although the Shrine itself does not represent a new or different degree within the Scottish Rite.

Each Shriner Temple, often decorated in middle-Eastern style, draws Masons from a wide area, as they are fewer and further-between than Masonic temples are. Thus, these buildings are places where Masons from the surrounding region convene and are somewhat more like convention centers than a typical Temple. Each contains clubs or units within it, which are related to various hobbies or activities that Masons may take an interest in: ranging from chess clubs to motorcycle groups. Shriners also engage in fundraising activities for charity and organizing lively parades.

Relatively Recent Origins

Formed in 1872, the Shriners are a self-described “spin-off” from Freemasonry, with an added element of fun and philanthropy. The conventional story of Shriner origins goes that the organization was created by Walter M. Fleming and William J. Florence. This was after Florence, an actor on tour, was initiated by an Arabian diplomat at a party in France by virtue of being a member of the audience of a performance the diplomat had organized. Later, Florence and Fleming combined elements they had learned from Masonry with what Florence had seen from the performance at the party and created the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. The organization grew from there, eventually becoming what it is today.

Of course, like anything connected to Freemasonry or any other “secret society,” there are Shriner conspiracy theorists, usually of the fundamentalist variety, which believe otherwise. These conspiracists based their arguments on the usual leaps to conclusions and sporadic dot-connecting we are accustomed to seeing from that crowd. They seem to think that the organization is connected to the religion of Islam, tracing back to the first millennium A.D.

While it is true that there is some Islam-related symbolism in Shriner regalia, not least of which some variations of their signature Fez including the word Mecca, there is no firmly established historical evidence tying the Shriners to Islam. Indeed, it would be difficult to adopt an Arabic aesthetic without some elements of Islam cropping up. The Fez itself long predates Shriners, originating in Morocco perhaps as far back as the 900s A.D., and was merely adopted by the Shriners.

Is It As Simple As It Seems?

However, as we saw in the standard origin narrative, it did begin with the initiation of two Masons into a secret society by an Arabian diplomat. Although this seemed to be a simple party initiation of not much consequence, something like “you’ve seen the play, now I declare you members,” at least from the story handed down to us. However, is that really the case? What was the organization they were initiated into that began this Fraternal spin-off?

I have not been able to find any information on the diplomat or even the name of the organization. However, some Shriner sources do mention that Bro. Florence got his inspiration for the Shriner aesthetic not just from that party in France but also from attending two more ceremonies, presumably of the same organization, in Algiers and Cairo.

I suppose we could speculate without much evidence, but what would be the point? There are no clear and concrete indications of the Shriner’s connection to Islam that I could find only conspiratorial suppositions based primarily on the icons they used and a mysterious question mark as to the organization that originally initiated them – via the Arabian diplomat. Is there more to be found here? Perhaps. But until then, I am not convinced that there is a connection. If anyone has more information on this topic, I would welcome it in the comments.

What do Masons’ Marks reveal?

What do Masons’ Marks reveal?

The subject of marks forms an interesting study in the history of Freemasonry that begins in much earlier times with the ancient cathedrals. In the days of operative builders, a mason’s mark was defined as a figure, an emblem, or some other arbitrary symbol chiseled on the surface of a stone for the purpose of identifying his own work and distinguishing it from that of other workmen.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the cathedral site of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, built-in the mid-15th century. Looking closely at the walls, carefully inscribed masons’ marks can be seen. These were made by the stonemasons who cut the blocks that make up the columns, piers, windows and arches of the chapel. The masons’ marks at Rosslyn Chapel stood out to me as strikingly well crafted. That much was clear.

What wasn’t clear to me is why did these stonemasons leave these marks? Was there hidden meaning in their unique symbols or were they drawn for practical purposes?

In the everyday world “making your mark” is a phrase that means you have created a lasting impression on someone or mankind itself. You have added something positive that will be remembered after you pass to the Grand Lodge Eternal above. We all want to make our mark on this world, a legacy—to know that our life mattered.

Often, however, “making a mark” has become diluted as a common household phrase. Has it has lost its deeper import? What purpose do masonic marks serve, or do they?

Past Theories, Speculations and Thoughts

The purpose of masons’ marks in medieval buildings, especially churches and cathedrals, is not entirely known. Researchers have offered many hypotheses, but the problem is not easy to unravel. In time and place, marks had several different uses.

Free to use EB1911_Rome_-_Masons'_Marks

Many scholars think that marks were placed on stones for solely practical reasons. It was much like a signature. The mason, would either be assigned or choose a mark, and that would be his professional symbol. He would chisel his mark into each stone he worked on and this allowed an accurate account of his work and payment.

Others believe that there may be more to these marks than mere signatures; they believe that the masons were trying to carve their messages into stone so that they could not be lost to future generations and those who came after them. Given that many of the masons’ marks may be repeated, and not related to an individual, there may be some truth to this claim. However, no one has managed to decipher what those messages might mean.

One hypothesis about Rosslyn Chapel is that the hanging cubes were designed to compose a musical score. The patterns reveal a piece of music waiting to be played and a musical code. Tommy and Stuart Mitchell, both musicians, wrote a book called “The Rosslyn Motet” and they claim that actual sounds are carved into the stones. This particular theory created some controversy and has been debunked by many writers who think there is no pattern, musical or otherwise. Thought – provoking, nevertheless.

As you can imagine, there is no shortage of theories as to the meaning that may be embedded within the enigmatic symbols.

How does a Freemason today apply these ancient methods?

Leaving a Mark and To Mark Well

In current times, a Freemason who has advanced through the degrees of York Rite learns the significant purpose behind a masons’ mark and to mark well. What does it mean to mark well? Probably, the most stunning symbol encountered in these rites is that of the Keystone, which is a symbol of completion.

KeystoneThe teaching of the Keystone forms an interesting link to the cathedral builders of ancient times.

Brother Albert G. Mackey writes:

“The stone placed in the center of an arch which preserves the others in their places, and secures firmness and stability to the arch. As it was formerly the custom of Operative Masons to place a peculiar mark on each stone of a building to designate the workman by whom it had been adjusted, so the Keystone was most likely to receive the most prominent mark, that of the Superintendent of the structure.”

The Keystone in the symbolic arch, signifies the completion of the individual Temple which each craftsman is erecting. It is the Temple not made with hands. With the keystone, we see that “leaving a mark” means putting a stamp on the future, and making a lasting contribution to coming generations.

In symbolic terms, there are many examples in the world of people who have left a mark on a beautifully wrought stone. The life works of Brother Annie Besant, a woman instrumental in founding Co-masonry, comes to mind. Her contributions display masterly skill in execution, and creating something useful and important for humanity.

How does a Freemason make such a mark in the world? In other words, what is the service that is beckoning? How does an individual handle the resistance to following that impulse? What happens when we say yes? What happens when we say no?

I have found the answers to these questions are not simple, only slightly less arduous that deciphering the Voynich Manuscript. Cracking the code requires discernment which will occasionally have you up nights. Perhaps you have seen the design of something and try to shape your service from that thought or memory. And then you fail when trying to follow it through. Or more often, the truth is inconvenient and so you don’t even pursue it. Discernment is demanding work. It’s also prone to error and imperfect.

Fortunately, the Craftsman learns that all “true” service, no matter how imperfect, is acceptable. He learns the lessons of patience, endurance, faithful service and perfect humility. The reward of true merit for the workman comes when egoism and pride fall away.

The Freemason marks well when he aligns with the plan and purpose of the Great Architect who has a greater design or pattern. The chisel is used as an instrument of refinement to further shape and polish that stone to fit into the Temple’s Plan with right exactitude.

What were the ancient builders of old thinking when they carved their marks on beautiful temples and cathedral buildings? And today? What do masons’ marks reveal?

Only each craftsman can know the mystery for himself –  his true legacy –  before reaching that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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