Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

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

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

Hugo wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Quotes:

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part 2]

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part 2]

Freemasonry reveres the Light, which illuminates and chases away the darkness of ignorance. As a “bringer of light,” Lucifer can be a touchy subject, particularly in relation to Freemasonry, because Masons have been accused of devil worship by various groups, including conspiracy theorists. What follows is Part II of the post on the Archetypal Lucifer. [Part One can be read here.]


Where else does the Lucifer archetype manifest in humanity, both within and without, in culture and in self? From this point forward, I go beyond the factual, historical roots of Lucifer, and explore the concept more speculatively. Because Lucifer and Satan have been so conflated throughout history, I will refer to the merged concept as Lucifer-Satan. As always, this post is only the reflections of one mason, and does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry

Lucifer: Shadow and Light

As the Lucifer-Satan archetype is partly personified by a glorification of the intellect, I believe that one manifestation of it is the worldview of philosophical materialism, or scientism, the belief that all that is real are the phenomena we can measure and study with science. This worldview is personified by regarding only the the mental and the animal aspects of human existence as real, viewing humans as essentially a clever monkey ultimately made of meaningless space dust, and a corresponding rejection of spirit or immaterial aspects to reality or humanity. This fits quite well with the Lucifer-Satan archetype’s association with knowledge, moral relativist, or even nihilistic point of view, and position of opposition to religious authority. 

However, I believe that to stop here would be a mistake; the purely objective intellect, regarding the world outside the finite self/mind as solely made up of dead and unconscious matter to be controlled for the perpetuation of mind and hedonisticlucifer-painting-lucife pleasure is only one embodiment of this archetype. I believe that it exists beyond the boundaries of the materialists’ denial of all things “supernatural,” it is something more universal.

In fact, one of the places that the Lucifer-Satan archetype is alive and well most openly is within certain of the “dark” magical arts and practices, where Lucifer-Satan as a deity figure may at times be seen as an underdog of personal power and liberty, rejected by a spiritual authority seeking always to subjugate its creation. This loosely correlates also to a view shared by some branches of Gnosticism. All of these represent a view of Lucifer-Satan which goes beyond scientific materialism, clearly indicating that the archetype is more broad than that particular manifestation.

Masonic Interpretations of Lucifer 

What about a masonic view of Lucifer? Manly P. Hall, famously wrote in his book The Lost Keys of Freemasonry:

When the Mason learns that the key to the warrior on the block is the proper application of the dynamo of living power, he has learned the mystery of his Craft. The seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands, and before he may step onward and upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy. He must follow in the footsteps of his forefather…. who with the mighty strength of the war god hammered his sword into a plowshare.

This passage has often been used as evidence by some to say that Freemasons are secretly a bunch of devil-worshipping satanists. It might even be enough to give a mason unfamiliar with it some pause; what exactly did Brother Hall mean by the “seething energies of Lucifer”?To an uninformed reader, and taken out of context, this statement might sound a bit nefarious, especially given the cultural context of the conflation of Lucifer and Satan, as an embodiment of evil. 

More likely, Brother Hall is drawing upon a more Gnostic perspective on Lucifer, such as that it represents the latent life-force energy, described in the East as Kundalini, dwelling “underground” and in the “darkness” of lower aspects of the self (literally in the lower body), which can be stirred and lifted by certain practices to travel through the various energy centers. Another facet of some Gnostic views is that Lucifer is the other side of brightandmorningstarthe Christ aspect of the self, which rings true based on the origins of the archetype. If Lucifer/Satan is the primary antagonist of the story from which the archetype originates, we shouldn’t ignore the role of the protagonist, and all that he represents, as well. So, how does Lucifer relate to Christ, in the self?

This Gnostic account of Lucifer is as both carrier of the light, and tempter of the divine self represented by Christ; indeed, Satan (the “adversary” angel, in Hebrew) did tempt Christ during his fast in the forest, in the biblical account. This view posits that Lucifer represents both the energy within the self, and the temptation to waste that energy, working together with Christ in an antagonistic interplay within the self, to raise up and purify the fundamental raw potency contained in the lower half of the person, the generative organs and the gut. This paints an image of Lucifer as a force which ensures purity in the self, just as he was the prosecutor of Job to test his faith, in the old testament.

Alchemically, we could say perhaps that this is like an acid or solvent, which eats away all that is not gold. As such, this idea of Lucifer is as a force which guarantees that the self has evolved beyond the desires and temptations of the lower aspects of our animal nature before allowing it to become possessed of divine radiance, by tempting it at every turn. This includes the temptations which come at the highest levels of development. 

Satan as Lucifer’s Folly?

Some masonic authors have extended an explanation that Lucifer and Satan are not the same, but are two very different ideas which have been conflated due to translation errors and historical inaccuracies, as alluded to earlier in this post. By this account, the term Lucifer is exactly what the etymology of the word implies: an archetypal Light Bearer, a bearer of spiritual Light, which would be represented by any of the known Light Bearers of history, including Jesus Christ himself, and is what each Freemasonchristos luficer aspires to be. Essentially, it is the idea that a person can serve as a bridge between the divine and man, that an individual can be the bearer of God’s Light for the world, perhaps after undergoing the temptation/purification process described by the Gnostics. 

I find this to be an inherently satisfying and rational explanation, but I also find myself feeling the need to take pause, before becoming too complacent with this particular understanding. Reflecting upon all that has happened with the idea of Lucifer, chiefly becoming conflated with the embodiment of all evil, one has to wonder: perhaps the archetype of Lucifer-Satan is more meaningful than simply being a human error in the interpretation of scriptures and other texts? Perhaps Lucifer-Satan is, indeed, an archetype of a fallen Light Bearer?

Warning from the Sutras

One embodiment of this which I believe may lend some clarity is in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A particular description is given of those advanced Yogis who attained abilities which we would identify as psychic powers, or siddhis in Sanskrit, through the practice of extreme concentration, or Samadhi, but without overcoming the personal attachments of their baser nature and desires. Having not given proper attention to the taming of the lower self before attaining Samadhi, the selfish and attached mind that had achieved the prometheus bound to mattersiddhis became lost in the fulfillment of their desires. In other words, they learned to use their inherent divine capabilities, without attaining true wisdom. Ultimately, this results in their merging with the object of their desires at the end of their mortal life, and being locked into the material world itself as a kind of elemental spirit, rather than achieving liberation. This is also very similar to the dark shaman

I think that this idea encapsulates the essence of the Lucifer-Satan archetype quite well, even resonating with the theme of his being cast down and bound to matter. Just like Prometheus being bound to the stone, or Lucifer-Satan being cast into Hell, this fall from grace of the Light Bearer could be an archetypal warning against the perils of succumbing to one’s own ego-based attachments and lower nature, as one advances along the spiritual path. This would include the desire for and fixation on sense pleasures, power, control, and positions of superiority. 

If I attempt to distill this idea down to its essence, it might be something like: “The limited self attempting to become God, without realizing that it already is.” It’s the attempt of the finite self to have God-like perception and power, but without sacrificing all of the entrapments of the finite self’s desires, attachments, and need for control. This is the desire to be the ultimate divinely ordained King, Ruler of the Universe, and to think that one knows better than the silent, seemingly passive transcendent God. As pointed out by Manly P. Hall, mythically, this transition occurred the moment when Lucifer thought that he knew better than God how to operate creation, and that he should take over. On the other hand, in the story of Christ, it was surpassed the moment that Christ was offered this position, but turned it down.

Lucifer and the Temptation of Christ

One symbolic representation of Lucifer-Satan could be the crowned animal, the combination of the dynamo of the unrefined lower self with the mind awoken to its true potential, without the crucial mediating and transforming influence of the Heart. Afterlucifer temptation of christ all, Lucifer/Satan has been depicted as cunning, seductive, powerful, brilliant, and intriguing, but there is one quality that Lucifer-Satan rarely embodies in any depiction of him with which I’m familiar, and that is selfless Love. Loving kindness, compassion, humility, and surrender to the greater Self of which the finite self is merely an extension, is the one critical quality which Lucifer-Satan seems to lack, and which is ultimately what binds him and all who embody him to being King of This World, as he is sometimes referred to in the Bible. At the same time, it is the quality most essential to Christ. Does that make Christ the true Lucifer, the true Light Bearer?

Perhaps this is also the ultimate temptation with which we are presented, at our highest stages of spiritual development. Because when one does truly become a Light Bearer, and become possessed of corresponding expanded awareness and capabilities, the temptation to use it for selfish ends has to be one of the single greatest obstacles imaginable. We can see this manifesting in many forms, such as using the light of the intellect to build technological methods to control and manipulate nature and other people, the exertion of the light of magical will to satisfy one’s own self-centered desires, spiritually exalting one’s own ego in spiritual materialism, or in gaining material wealth and power over others.

In the end, all are the attempts of the finite self or ego to become God-like, or rather, to become like a false notion of God, as a King or Ruler on a throne, a finite entity with infinite capabilities. It’s fundamentally a refusal to realize and accept one’s place as an illusory appendage of the Infinite One, meant to act in harmony with all of Creation, and to utilize one’s gifts as a self-less Light Bearer in service to humanity. At whatever level it occurs in our development, we always have the temptation to place the will of the self over the will and well-being of others, this being perhaps the fundamental essence of evil, which ultimately culminates in the utilization of others as extensions of the self to fulfill one’s own desires.

Would You Pass? 

Here’s an interesting question: If you were to be granted all the Power of This World today, would you pass The Test? Would you be able to resist the temptation to use your control over the illusory world to endlessly fulfill your own desires? Would you choose to surrender to the larger plan, which even with all your knowledge you can never fullylucifer comprehend, and to use your abilities only to heal and enlighten others, never to control them or inflict harm, or even your own brand of justice? Would you, in spite of all your power, forgive the ignorant even as they nailed your hands to the cross, rendering your Heart wide open and undefended?

The great Light Bearers of history have given us examples for how to walk the tightrope forward, to resist the temptations of power, and become the selfless servants that humanity needs. Nobody said it would be easy; in fact, its probably the most difficult thing that anyone can do. Perhaps this is why the ability to die and be reborn is such a critical component of freemasonry, as well as mythology in general. We must be able to die to the false self, and all of its desires and fears, if we ever wish to be worthy Bearers of the Light.

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part I]

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part I]

Freemasonry reveres the Light, which illuminates and chases away the darkness of ignorance. As a “bringer of light,” Lucifer can be a touchy subject, particularly in relation to Freemasonry, because Masons have been erroneously accused of devil worship by various groups including conspiracy theorists. Brothers come from a variety of backgrounds, in many cases religious, and there is no official Masonic position on the existence or non-existence of Lucifer, angels, or any other theological particularity. The only commonly-held theological concept in Freemasonry is a belief in a higher power – God.

Freemasonry does have some historical crossover with individuals and groups who had various beliefs and attitudes about the idea of Lucifer. Many, perhaps most, have been religious, specifically Christian, and therefore have likely held some version of the view represented in the Bible. Others, like Manly P. Hall, seem to have viewed Lucifer more symbolically, or perhaps in a gnostic way. What can we gain from contemplating the concept of Lucifer, and its relationship to our world views? 

Whence Come Ye, Lucifer?

fall of luciferIt would serve us to briefly examine the origins of the concept of Lucifer. While many or most ancient religions had some type of “devil” or antagonistic embodiment of evil, Lucifer is most commonly referenced from the Abrahamic lineage, mostly via the Christian tradition. The name “Lucifer” is derived from the Latin “Lucem Ferre” meaning “Light Bearer.”

It is also a translation from the original Hebrew הילל [Heylel”] in a frequently misinterpreted passage from the Torah or Old Testament of the Bibleהילל is more accurately translated as “the morning star,” or, as an adjective, “light-bringing.”

In the King James Version (KJV) of Isaiah 14:12, Lucifer appears for the first and only time in the Bible. Here, the prophet Isaiah condemns the conqueror of Israel, Nebuchadnezzar II, comparing him to the “Morning Star” or  “Venus,” which at the time was regarded by the Babylonians as having some significance in the Babylonian pantheon. The passage from Isaiah reads:

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! [Isaiah 14:12 KJV]

When viewed in context, it seems pretty straightforward that Isaiah was using a metaphor to rebuke a fallen enemy of Israel. Throughout history, however, the verse has been taken out of context, and connected to other references in the Bible to the idea of Satan, which is a word in Hebrew that derives from “adversary.”

The Adversary

Who is Satan? In Hebrew, Satan is שָׂטָן , which is clearly different from Lucifer [ הילל ]In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is first mentioned in the Torah, as a reference to a supernatural being who opposes.800px-Gustav_Jaeger_Bileam_Engel

This passage is found in the Book of Numbers and is depicted in this painting, Balaam and the Angel (1836) by Gustav Jäger, describes Satan as an Angel of God who confronts a man named Balaam, while riding on his donkey: “Balaam‘s departure aroused the wrath of Elohim, and the Angel of Yahweh stood in the road as a satan against him.”  [Numbers 22:2] 

Furthermore, in the Hebrew book, the Tanakh. Satan is referenced as a heavenly prosecutor and a member of the sons of God subordinate to Yahweh. Satan is here described as an agent of God who prosecutes the nation of Judah in heavenly court; he also tests the loyalty of Yahweh’s followers by forcing them to suffer. 

Thus, Lucifer and Satan have become confused and connected in the minds of most people, due in part to a misunderstanding of the passage from Isaiah, and also connecting this passage to the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6:2, although it is debatable whether these “nephilim” were truly fallen angels. Another contributor to this idea’s popularity is to John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost, which described the mythical event of Lucifer’s angelic rebellion. Later, the idea of the rebellion and fall of a portion of the angels as a much older concept in the Hebrew traditions was given some further support by the discovery of the Book of Enoch, in the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. 

The religious concept of the now conflated Lucifer/Satan in wider culture has undergone changes since the enlightenment period, with many people rejecting it outright, alongside God and all other things supernatural. Others have embraced the idea of Lucifer as a figure of knowledge and rebellion. In popular culture such as film and music, Lucifer has been portrayed variously as anything ranging from the typical adversary and embodiment of evil to a misunderstood, somewhat alluring demi-God figure.

Investigating the Lucifer Archetype

What is far more interesting than dwelling on whether or not the literal, supernatural figures of Lucifer or Satan exist, to me at least, is examining the archetype which Lucifer represents. After all, in the case that he does exist, he would merely be an embodiment of the archetype, and in the case that he does not exist, there are still humans and perhaps aspects of ourselves which do embody the archetype. Either way, the archetype or idea of Lucifer is more significant than any particular embodiment of it, and is worth reflecting upon.

prometheus luciferWhat can we say about Lucifer, as an archetype? As with understanding any archetype, we must derive its traits from its various embodiments or manifestations, which are the only ways in which we can know it.

One of the more benevolent versions is the Greek Titan, Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods to give it to man. Prometheus was punished in the end by being tied to a stone and having his liver perpetually eaten by a bird. The myth of Icarus also comes to mind, who flew too close to the sun, only to fall into the sea. The Sumerian god Enki represents another similar figure, in his rebellion against the authority of his brother Enlil and the other gods. Enki helped to lift mankind up to a higher status, which resonates with the serpent in the Garden of Eden embodiment, as well. Furthermore, being condemned by an authority figure to be bound in darkness could also be said to be a key element.

As all archetypes represent some aspect of ourselves, what does Lucifer represent? It seems obvious that it is some type of shadow figure, as he represents something that is rejected by the highest authority, literally cast into the darkness; if we were to see such a thing in a dream, then the interpretation would be rather straightforward, something bright and brilliant, yet because of pride is rejected from consciousness, and hidden from the waking or collective self. As such, he represents an aspect of the self that is not endorsed by certain authorities.

luciferWhat other qualities may be clues to Lucifer’s archetype? He is also typically depicted as highly intelligent, and even the source of knowledge, having convinced Eve to partake of the Tree of Knowledge, which falls more into alignment with his “light-bearer” aspect, as the etymology of the name indicates. Related to knowledge, he is also characterized by doubt, and even deception. 

Finally, Lucifer can be related to the moral stance of relativism or nihilism, such as the idea that all that truly matters is freedom to “Do as thou wilt.” In other words, the world through the eyes of the Lucifer archetype, at least as its depicted in modern culture, is inherently meaningless and morally neutral. Therefore, the best qualities to have are intelligence and power, which grants the ability to influence the external world for various reasons. Any authority outside of the finite self, which might seek to mitigate the fulfillment of desires, is to be doubted or rebelled against.

Continue to Part 2


 

[Note: This article, and other articles published on this blog, represent the reflections of individual writers and do not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry.]

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

If you investigate freemasonry and religion, among the first things you will find are various iterations of the following message:

Freemasonry is not a religion, and is not intended to be a replacement for religion. Within the ranks of the brotherhood are many people of varying backgrounds and faiths. Lodges in one part of the world may have more members of a particular faith than those in other parts, but regardless of this, believers of all faiths are welcome. The teachings and rituals of freemasonry are intended to be acceptable to all religious traditions, and the organization encourages its members to practice their chosen faith, and to serve God above all man-made institutions.

While this is true, the relationship of freemasonry to various religions has gone through phases, and evolved over time. Some religions or sects have regarded freemasonry with suspicion, or in some cases, outright condemnation. Meanwhile, some of the rituals and symbolism used in Lodge clearly are traceable to particular religions, such as the Judeo/Christian. Does this mean that freemasonry is particularly Christian or Jewish, as opposed to any other faith? What is its compatibility with other, non-Christian faiths?

Freemasonry’s Historical Relationship with Christianity

freemasonry and christianityComing, most recently, from Europe in the first and second millennia C.E., it should not surprise us that freemasonry has been influenced by religion, specifically Christianity. While the York Rite has many Christian elements, this is only an appendant body, whose degrees are not essential to being a Mason. Beyond this, the common use of the Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) in the rituals is more-or-less the extent of specifically Christian symbolism in freemasonry, and even that is not ubiquitous among lodges and orders.

On the other hand, from a historical perspective, many believe that speculative (philosophical) Freemasonry might not exist today, if not for Christianity. This is due to the fact that much of what makes freemasonry so unique and valuable is to some extent the result of Christian oppression. In this sense, religion in the form of Christianity may have shaped Freemasonry far more from the outside than from the inside, at least according to many masonic historians, such as the masonic history described by Manly P. Hall.

During what we normally call the Dark Ages, various Western wisdom traditions, tracing their origins to the mystery schools of the ancient world, found refuge in the the ranks of operative masonry, among those who were truly stonemasons by trade. The operative masons’ democratic organizational structures, political independence, and secretive nature made this guild-like organization an appealing place for those who were considered heretics under the rule of the Catholic church. Within its ranks, they could practice and carry on their traditions in safety, and freely exchange ideas, blending the ancient wisdom teachings with the more literal craft of the masonic trade.

hermeticism alchemy and freemasonryThe fusion of these refugee practitioners of gnosticism, hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, and related systems with the operative builders of old is the origin of speculative freemasonry, as we know it today, and it all happened in part because of the religious tyranny of the church. Not only did freemasonry as we now know it come into existence partly to conceal themselves from the persecution of the church, but also subverted it in some ways, such as by being heavily involved in the secret colleges which ultimately culminated in the scientific revolution, and scientific enlightenment, displacing the Catholic church as a monopoly on truth. Yet, does this mean that Freemasonry was inherently anti-catholic, or anti-christian?

Freemasonry is primarily a collection of traditions and rituals, none of which are explicitly against any religion, but in fact are supportive of religion. What Freemasons generally are opposed to are tyranny over the minds and lives of people. Freemasons have been, throughout history, proponents and defenders of personal liberty, including the freedom to think, believe, speak, and worship as each person sees fit, as well as the ideal of self-rule and democratic forms of government. In fact, many masonic historians claim that our organization was instrumental in the democratic uprisings of the 18th century, including both the French and American revolutions.

In this light, we can safely say that freemasonry’s rocky historical relationship with Catholicism had less to do with their beliefs, and more to do with their imperial and dogmatic rule, which persisted even after the fall of the Roman Empire. Since the fall of that empire, freemasonry’s relationship to Catholicism and protestant Christianity has been much more congenial, even symbiotic, with many Masons also being members of various churches and clergy.

Conservative or Fundamentalist Religions

While much of freemasonry’s historical context is in relation to Catholicism, it has of course interacted with many other religions, as well. It might be safe to say that the theme is not so much variation in freemasonry’s attitude towards the various religions, antimasonryas we believe in freedom of individual worship, but rather in those other religions’ attitudes towards freemasonry. Often, the most conservative of these religions have a strong aversion to the theologically liberal nature of masonry.

The Muslim world is an excellent example. For various reasons, the Islamic peoples of the world have not generally had a very favorable view of Freemasonry, with it being totally banned in some Muslim countries. This seems to be due primarily to the Judeo-Christian flavor, symbolism, and historical lore of some aspects of freemasonry.

On the other hand, one appendant body of Freemasonry, the Shriners, clearly has Islamic symbolism, and some even trace their history to the first followers of Mohammed. Writers on the subject tie the Islamic opposition to freemasonry mostly to their political opposition to Judaism, and the long-standing rivalry between these two branches of the Abrahamic faiths.

Another group with a strongly antipathetic view on Freemasonry are some modern evangelical Christian sects, as well as some other protestant bodies. The details of their various stances are too great to go into, but generally they tend to associate Freemasonry with the occult, and therefore satanism, witchcraft, etc. Another common thread among both Evangelicals and Islamic people is the idea that Freemasonry is a Jewish conspiracy, mostly based on the prominent symbolism of Solomon’s Temple.

In general, those religious groups most opposed to Freemasonry are also those who are most opposed to freedom of religious thought, and those which are friendliest towards it are the most religiously liberal. Regardless of this, Freemasonry itself welcomes people of any particular faith.

Freemasonry and Non-Abrahamic Faiths

The relationship of Freemasonry to other belief systems outside the domain of hinduism and freemasonryAbrahamic religions follows the same aforementioned pattern; however, since non-Abrahamic religions tend to be less restrictive on personal freedom of thought, the relationship tends to be more often positive or neutral.

Hinduism in India, for instance, is generally accepting of all forms of worship as being within the myriad ways in which one can come to know God, Brahman or the absolute, and as such, freemasonry is usually regarded as another one of those ways, albeit one from a totally different cultural context, the West. Just as Hindus can accept Christ as a great saint, so they can usually accept freemasonry as a spiritual practice. Because of the British imperial rule, Freemasonry has had a presence there, and some believe that freemasonry has played some part in merging of East and West in India.

Likewise, there is not much in Buddhism which is opposed to masonic ideals and practices, and many masons practice some form of it. Today, some orders of freemasonry, most notably Universal Co-Masonry, are particularly friendly towards Eastern philosophy in general, even sometimes using the Vedas or I-Ching as our volumes of sacred lore. This is due in part to our historical ties to Theosophy, and consideration of the Eastern origins of much of Western esoteric tradition.

Lastly, what about Interfaith, Wiccan, Neo-shamanic, Pagan, New Age, and similar non-denominational, eclectic forms of spirituality? As with every other belief system, these should be welcome in freemasonry, so long as they believe in a singular, primary Higher Power, regardless of various sub-deities which may also be worshiped.

hermeticism and freemasonryAs far as which Order of Freemasonry this type of person might find most compatible, the main thing to consider is the culture of the brothers in the lodge; the more liberal and universal, the better. Membership in a primarily Christian or Muslim lodge may be possible, but might still feel out-of-place.

In that sense, Universal Co-Masonry, which is generally more religiously liberal as well as more mystically or spiritually oriented, is likely to be a more comfortable community for anyone on this type of path, the difference being primarily not in the rituals themselves, which are much the same as masculine masonry, but in the culture of the membership, and of course the lack of segregation by gender, race, or any other attributes.

The Masonic Letter G stands for…?

The Masonic Letter G stands for…?

To what does the symbol allude? Doubtless there are many answers to this question. Depending on what country, what masonic group, or what Lodge you’ll get different answers. All are interesting, and some are actually a bit astonishing. It has been said to represent ideas such as God, Geometry, Generation, Gnosis, Great Architect, Gamma, Goodness, Gimel, Goat, and more.

When did the letter G first appear in Freemasonry? It is hard to say for sure. One theory is that the symbol could have been brought in by Rosicrucians and Qabalists who became Masons the last part of the 17th century.

Another theory is that it was introduced some time subsequent to 1717 by the members of the Grand Lodge of England. We are told in the early masonic lectures that G signifies “Geometry, the Root and Foundation of all Sciences.” 

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the letter G, was said to have a symbolic meaning of God as synonymous with Geometry. It was sometimes displayed in the center of the Lodge and other times hung in the East. The G represented both “God” as the supreme being and “Geometry” which is imagined as a means of seeing the perfect ordering of the universe. Temple G

Over time, it became identified with many other things. Why? That is exactly the topic of a debate that has been raging for centuries. The Masonic letter G is one of those aspects of masonic history that seems to follow an unpredictable path.

Masonic Scholar Albert G. Mackey goes so far as to say he feels Masonic symbolism has been hurt rather than helped by the adoption of the letter G. He writes:

“It is to be regretted that the letter G. as a symbol, was ever admitted into the Masonic system. The use of it as an initial would necessarily confine it to the English language and to modern times. It wants therefore, as a symbol, the necessary characteristics of both universality and antiquity.”

Is Mackey correct? Does the letter G lack universality? Has it hurt Freemasonry? How Gimel or Camelshould it be dealt with?

G is for Gimel

An interesting justification for the symbol’s importance can be found in a ground- breaking book by Brother Paul Foster Case called the Masonic Letter G. I read this work years ago when I was studying qabalah. Using the Hebrew Gematria as a tool, he defends the G symbol as not only universal but honorable. One of the arguments he gives is that the letter G corresponds to the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet or Gimel. He gives two ways this Hebrew G could be acknowledged as universal:

  1. Hebrew letters are unique in that each one has a name that represents a familiar object. Objects are universally understood, unlike English letters.
  2. The Hebrew letter G or Gimel represents a camel. Camels, to ancient Hebrews, represented journeying to places far off, and the like. The camel symbolizes a mason’s travel in search of light and his quest to learn the hidden secrets of nature.

There is not enough space (or time) here to explain fully the argument which contains a load of Hebrew Gematria and interesting juggling with numbers but I recommend it if you like that sort of thing.

After his proof, Case remarks:

“Were nothing else to be said for it, it seems to us these facts would make the letter G a sufficiently universal, as well as sufficiently ancient, symbol of the Grand Architect.”

He explains in the various degree lessons of the craft that the idea of travel is significant.  By travel, the mason is able to trace nature through her various windings to her most final filosofia medievalconcealed recesses. Precisely the same thought is expressed in what many of the Masonic lectures tell us concerning God as He “Geometrizes.”

What does Geometry have to do with Freemasonry? How does God “Geometrize?”

God as the Geometrician

Geometry is taught to a Freemason, as he progresses in the science. As soon a one enters upon the world of geometry, symbolic and philosophical, the mind is opened to new influences that stimulate and refine it. 

From the standpoint of science, geometry and its offshoots are vital sciences of measurement. Often, nature conforms to simple patterns with symmetry and structure. For example, the pentagon lies behind a five-petaled rose, or a dandelion is a sphere. Honeybees build their hives in hexagons.

Today, the study of fractals can explain some other seemingly chaotic systems in nature. That is why the craft as it relates to geometry is called a progressive science in the broadest sense. In the search for knowledge, there is much that we do not know and discoveries constantly being yudrevealed.

Freemasonry is filled with practices that shift us to new perspectives. The contemplation of the vastness of time. The mysterious inevitability of death. The unlimited bounds of love. The power of symbols. 

For example, a Divine symbol that is both universal and ancient is the Yod, the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It symbolizes that all created things are modifications of the one primal Spirit. It is the masonic “G”, at least according to some authorities. W.L. Wilmshurst writes:

“The Yod is the emblem of the Divine Presence in the Lodge; it is also the emblem of that Presence at the spiritual centre of the individual Mason.”

There’s always more to learn. Another veil to lift. 

Cosmology and all of the associated sciences have not been able to definitely know the source and ultimate purpose of life. This strongly suggests that there must be some hidden purpose in the geometry of creation that is beyond the present scope of human knowledge and comprehension.

In masonic lectures, we read:

“By contemplation of the Divine we may discover his power, wisdom, and goodness and view with amazing delight the beautiful proportions which connect and grace this vast machine.”

And so, it is.

The procession of divine events and patterns which happens in the Divine realms are in Universal Co-Masonrysome manner mysteriously reflected in our human world, if we have eyes to see.

What, finally, is the message of the Masonic letter G? 

Perhaps it is that each of us must ponder the Divine, to be a geometrician, working according to his ability. Beyond the obvious pleasure of contemplating the glorious works of nature – there is delight that comes when beholding the “true” Masonic letter G, whatever symbolic form it takes.

“When the Lodge is opened, the mind and heart of every Brother composing it should be deemed as also being opened to the “G” and all that it implies, to the intent that those implications may eventually become realized facts of experience. When the Lodge is closed, the memory of the “G” symbol and its implications should be the chief one to be retained and pondered over in the repository of the heart.”  

~ W.L. Wilmshurst

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

As Freemasons, the concept of the Word is very important to us, both in ritual, as well as in daily life. The Word represents the medium through which truth is transmitted, it’s how we express ourselves, and ultimately is the essence of the creative principle of the universe. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One interpretation is that the Word represents the abstract essence of the ideal structures of information which form reality itself, the thoughts of the G.A.O.T.U., perhaps.

On a more practical level, in day-to-day life in civil society, how we communicate with one another via language can determine our success in life, the harmony of our social environment, and in some cases can be a matter of life and death. Some would even argue that language is the primary differentiator which makes us human and places us in a category above the animals. The importance of language to human life truly cannot be overstated, but exactly how we communicate with one another is also a subject of much debate and controversy, currently.

It seems to be exceedingly difficult these days to communicate with those we disagree with in any meaningful way, and almost every discussion, particularly on the internet, tends to devolve into divisiveness and anger. This is partly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and partly because of the filter bubble or echo chamber effect, which occurs when either we or the algorithms that control what we see in social media cause us to only hear or communicate with those with whom we agree. These factors, thereby, contribute to increasingly polarized and radical views, and the atrophy of our capacity to tolerate opposing views.

Civil Discourse and Free Speech

What seems to be lacking in modern times is civil discourse. Civility, or Civil Discourse, is a long tradition of philosophy and communication, and throughout history, itFree Speech has undergone various transformations, or has at times been rejected. So, what is civility, and how should we use it in our approach to communicating on subjects where there is so much disagreement?

The root of the word civility is the same as the root for citizen, and civilization, the latin “civilis.” In the larger sphere of human life beyond communication alone, it means “working together productively to reach a common goal, often with beneficent purposes.” In other words, civility is cooperation towards a shared goal, which is the basis of civilization – hence the words’ etymological relatedness.

In communication specifically, we refer to this as civil discourse. Just like the definition of civility more generally, civil discourse is when we communicate together towards a common goal. This concept is most important, naturally, when there is a disagreement of some kind, for it’s easy to be civil when we agree. According to the principle of civil discourse, we should do everything in our capability to communicate with those we disagree with in a manner which allows us to work together towards a common goal: namely finding or approximating truth together. Alternatively, in some cases, it is simply coming to some level of mutual agreement or common ground.

The tricky part comes when civility sometimes might require us to restrict our sense of freedom of expression.

Alongside this principle of civility, we also have the concept of free speech, or freedom of expression, which, as we all know, is written into the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental right, at least insomuch as the government should not be able to prohibit it. Many people go a step further and believe that not only should we have the right not to have our speech censored by the government, but also that this should be a more broad cultural ideal; so that, in general, people are able to speak their mind without fear of retribution, ostracization, or termination from their job.

Compelled Civility and Free Speech

Today, speech and its regulation are yet another highly polarized and debated topic, to a compelled speechlarge extent along political party lines. On one side, we have those who wish to utilize authority to limit certain kinds of speech which are deemed to be harmful, such as hate speech, racism, mis-gendering, and “fake news.” On the other, we have those who believe in a fundamental concept of free speech, so that anyone should be able to speak their own opinion, regardless of the effects it might have, as long as actual threats are not being made. This includes opinions that many would find extremely offensive, perhaps even harmful in some ways, such as inciting violence.

This polarity is an interesting one and is reminiscent of many other polarities we may take notice of in nature and in human life: Chaos and Order, Progress and Conservatism, Intellect and Feeling; in a way, I can see all of these dichotomies at play in this singular issue. At times, it seems as if everything we do is some sort of interplay of opposites, and which side we identify with crosses over into other spectra of life, which might otherwise seem unrelated.

While I fall firmly onto the side of free speech as far as the government is concerned, how to approach the dichotomy of civility and free speech on a personal level is much more interesting and also relevant to the Masonic life.

To Be a Level in a World Askew

As Freemasons, we are simultaneously compelled to seek and speak truth, as well as, to unite humanity, which can seem paradoxical given all of the divisions over what is true. We are expected to tolerate differences of opinion and worldview. In our speech, as in many other aspects of our lives, we are encouraged to seek balance: the middle way. Not only that, but we also aim to serve as a balancing force on the world around us, for we believe that the truth is in the center point.

When we are able to balance free speech and civility in ourselves and when we are able to speak in a way that is not hateful or divisive without avoiding speaking our truths, webalance can act as a balancing force to the polarized culture of the day, around whatever topic of discussion we come into contact with. Part of the work we must do in the world is to be the level which brings balance to that which is askew.

In a world where polarized opinions seem to perpetuate themselves in an endless feedback loop, how do we do this? I think the answer has to be that we first seek balance in ourselves and then seek it in others. Every radical on one side has a nascent version of the opposite view and traits buried deep within them, somewhere. As in Jungian psychology, every introvert has an unconscious extrovert, or vice versa; whatever we identify with consciously, the opposite dwells in darkness within us, and it is our job to bring light to it – both in ourselves and in others.

How do we do that? We ask probing and thought provoking questions, rather than tell people what to think. We notice the imbalances in ourselves and others and seek out their counterbalance. We act as moderators, bridge builders, and help people find common ground. Perhaps most difficult of all, we maintain respect for the inner light that dwells within each individual, however concealed with the muck of dogma it might be.

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Like unto that of a man blindfolded and carried away by robbers from his own country is a man’s condition. The folds of cloth over his eyes being removed by a friend, he recovers the use of his eyes and slowly finds his way home, step by step, inquiring at each stage. So also, the good teacher instructs the seeker of Truth and helps him to unloose his bonds of desire. ~ From the Chandogya Upanishad 6:14:1/3

As a young seeker of Truth, I found the wisdom of the East long before I found the hidden wisdom of the West. After I had turned away from the exoteric religion of my upbringing, and briefly embraced the alternative orthodoxy of nihilistic materialist scientism, I began to seek truths beyond the tiresome antagonism of the “religion vs. science” debate, and it was not long before I discovered the Bhagavad Gita, Taoism, Buddhist teachings, and Western interpreters like Alan Watts and Ram Dass. Of all the Eastern traditions, Vedantic philosophy (rooted in the Vedas, Upanishads, and related texts) has influenced my worldview more than any other system of thought.

Now, as a newcomer to the Western wisdom tradition of Freemasonry, and to some extent also Theosophy, Alchemy, and Hermeticism, I am struck by the similarity in essence, but difference in expression between East and West. Although I still have much to learn, I sense that the one great Truth, described by Aldous Huxley as the Perennial Philosophy, is fundamentally the same in the Western traditions as in the East, but is clothed in secrecy and symbolism, and in some ways emphasizes certain values over others. The contrast between East and West is particularly interesting to me, as they are two halves of humanity’s collective mind, just as they represent two poles on our globe.

Torch Bearers from the East

eastern wisdomTo begin with, we can be fairly certain that the connection between East and West goes back at least as far as all of Western history, as we know it. The history of great Western philosophers is also in part a history of those who journeyed to the East, learned, and came back with new insights which had to be clothed and couched in the prevailing worldview of whatever Western culture they were returning to, in order to be understood and accepted; even then, they were often rejected, sometimes violently. Bearers of the torch carrying light from the East are notoriously persecuted upon their return to the West, and often meet a gruesome end.

Some think that none other than Jesus of Nazareth is one such example, although this is still a highly controversial theory, with inconclusive evidence that he visited the East during his “missing years.” Another is Pythagoras, who is thought to have traveled extensively in his youth, at least as far East as Persia, and who also was killed by the ignorant. One that is more recent, and therefore also more certain, is that of H. P. Blavatsky, one of the founders of Theosophy and originators of Victorian spiritualism, which also preceded and influenced much of what people consider to be “new age” or “new thought” ideas, today.

In general, I think that we underestimate the degree to which people traveled, and teachings were shared or spread via the Silk Road and other trade routes between East and West, throughout our history. It doesn’t help that our mainstream historians are hesitant to acknowledge Eastern influence on Western thought. So, with all this cross-pollination, why are the West and East not identical?

Wisdom in Contrast

east and westThe most striking difference to me between East and West, in terms of the mysteries, is that in the East they simply aren’t mysteries. There isn’t much secrecy in Vedantic, Buddhist, or Taoist traditions, teachers are prone to publicly say things like, “So long as God seems to be outside and far away, there is ignorance. But when God is realised within, that is true knowledge [Sri Ramakrishna].” The volumes of Vedantic and other Eastern teachings are filled with things like this, which in the West might be merely scoffed at today, but in the past, could have led to a burning at the stake or crucifixion, for speaking so blasphemously.

Here, we arrive at what seems to me to be the chief reason for the secrecy of the Western traditions, which is the millennium of history in which the desert religions of Abraham turned from their mystic origins to the darkness of fanaticism and ignorance, and dogma spread like a plague, reigning over the West with the fiery whip of religious persecution for roughly one thousand years. While our history lessons often breeze over this period as the “Dark Ages,” with some discussion of feudalism and monarchy, the harsh reality is that Western culture underwent an intellectual and religious cleansing, where all ideas that ran contrary to the dogmas of the church (or the mosque) were punished by torture, imprisonment, and gruesome death.

No wonder, then, that those who held the wisdom of the ancient traditions of the West were forced to seek shelter in organizations like operative freemasonry, which provided secrecy, as well as a highly effective organizational structure, and fertile ground for the symbolic coding of wisdom in the tools and principles of masonry. Meanwhile, our Eastern neighbors, safeguarded by distance, geographical features like the himalayas, and their own kingdoms and power structures, held the wisdom passed on from ancient times, and continued teaching it in a relatively open manner. This is an oversimplification, but is generally more accurate than not, I would say.

Aside from being hidden vs. open, what else separates West from East? Perhaps there is a more essential difference, due to differences in temperament and culture of the two peoples, shaped in part by their climates. I could make an argument that the harsh climates of Europe, mostly in the North, bred a spirituality more focused on action, intention, and the overcoming of obstacles, while mostly tropical Eastern environments, particularly in India, bred a spirituality with a more passive focus on meditation and surrender. This theory may have some merit, but ultimately we’ll never know for sure. It does seem to me that the West is more focused on building and actively working to perfect the human, while the East is more about dissolving, letting go, and becoming free from attachment.

At the risk being accused of over-simplifying neuroscience, the general dichotomy of the left and right sides of the brain could also be said to correspond to the same principle. In many ways, West and East are akin to the left and right. The West/Left is all about clearly defined logic, boundaries, and places a greater emphasis on intellect; the East/Right is more about direct perception, dissolving boundaries, and places greater emphasis on intuitive realizations. With all these differences, is there common ground? What is the corpus callosum of East and West?

The Bridge and the Stairway

philosophyI would say absolutely, and as the beginning of this post alludes to, there are striking similarities, at times, between the teachings of the Lodge or Western esotericism in general, and that of the Swamis. Both speak of the human condition as a state of darkness and ignorance striving for light; both design their sacred structures to resemble the human body; both tend towards idealism, or the belief that consciousness rather than matter is fundamental; both ultimately teach that God dwells within.

The commonalities are surely greater than the differences, and the essence, I believe, is one. In many ways, co-masonry in particular may be an excellent bridge between the two systems, with its close ties to theosophy, a much more Eastern tradition than many of the other Western systems, and its focus on adopting the feminine into the masculine lodge. Whatever the bridge we use, it seems clear to me that we must blend East and West, right and left, action and contemplation, intellect and intuition, if we are ever to rise above, and climb the stairway to a greater truth, some transcendent gnosis.

Ultimately, I believe that we are all approximating this same truth, like a middle point of a circle which both East and West circumambulate in their own ways. The classical human mystical experience, which all these traditions are ultimately based on, seems to be more-or-less universal across cultures, and to differ only in it’s interpretation post-experience, and the cultural context which either allows it to flourish, or forces it to hide and conceal itself. Either way, the truth will out, and the light will not be concealed for long, for it is what every human on this planet thirsts for, in the depths of their soul.