Masonic Ritual: Living Myth, Ritual Magic, or Both?

Masonic Ritual: Living Myth, Ritual Magic, or Both?

When participating in Masonic Ritual, it’s clear that there is a mysterious significance to every aspect of the heavily structured procedure. Like clockwork, all is orderly, and layered with symbolic meaning. As we become more and more aware of the meanings of the various aspects of it, it becomes clear that the ritual is like a fractal representation of both the cosmos and the individual.

What exactly are we doing when we participate in masonic ritual? Are we living out a myth, reprogramming our own minds, conducting a magical ceremony, maintaining an ancient institution, or all of the above? What is the relationship of masonic ritual to concepts of myth and magic? Without revealing any particular aspect of the ritual, let us consider the import of masonic ritual, and reveal what we may.

As always, this writing is not representative of any official statement or position of Universal Co-Masonry, but is merely the reflections of one Co-Mason.

A Veil Within a Veil

masonic ritualMasonic Ritual’s origins, of course, may be found in the confluence of medieval operative masonry, which, much as a builder’s guild, concerned itself primarily with the literal building of sacred and often monolithic structures and maintaining the arcane knowledge thereof, with the various occult and esoteric traditions of Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, Astrology, and others considered heretical by the church, and therefore persecuted and suppressed. The marriage of these two traditions resulted in a transformation from Operative (purely practical) to Speculative (philosophical) Freemasonry.

What seems most clear is that the temple itself and the rituals which take place within it contain enormous symbolism, which exist in layers which are continuously revealed in degrees as one progresses through the Masonic path and hierarchy. Freemasonry describes itself as a “Peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” To any practicing Freemason, it should become apparent that the symbols, movements, pronouncements, and elements of the temple itself can be understood on many symbolic levels.

In his book The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell wrote:

“It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”

masonic mythWhat lies between us and transcendent Truth? Joseph Campbell would likely say Myth or symbolism, and a knowledgeable Mason would likely agree. There is tremendous advantage in passing down timeless truths in the form of allegory, ritual, stories, and symbolic objects. An odd thing happens when we put Truth into words, particularly static doctrines: it becomes frozen, solidified, and thereby incapable of changing, evolving, and growing with those who read, speak, and understand it. Any change is perceived as a challenge to the old. On the other hand, embodying Truth in symbolism, even those which are locked into a certain form which is maintained down through many generations, can be continually renewed and understood in new ways, because its true meaning is inherently subjective, being unspoken.

As to what, specifically, the symbols of the Lodge and Rituals mean, this is something best preserved for the initiated, for the simple reason that coming into a Masonic understanding of these things can be tainted by being revealed prematurely. Also, they will mean different things to different Masons, and at different degrees. Suffice it to say, the many symbols of Freemasonry carry import ranging from the physical, to the metaphysical, to the cosmic, for “those who have eyes to see.”

Oh, Oh, Oh, It’s Magic?

freemasonry magicUndoubtedly, for many it is a leap to go from passing down symbolic knowledge to practicing ritual magic. Yet some posit that at the foundations of every great religion and tradition, there is a magical thread. To bridge the philosophical materialism (or physicalism) so prevalent today, among the modern intelligentsia and conventional mainstream culture alike, with the magical worldview is a task for another writing, but certainly many of the traditions which transformed ancient operative masonry into modern Speculative Freemasonry shared some version of this worldview, whatever differences they may have had. What role, then, does magic play in Freemasonry’s Rituals? Is the average Freemason practicing magic, perhaps without even knowing it?

If we accept or entertain the idea that the world is magical, that the fundamental tenets of magic are real, then it becomes clear that any institution and ceremony which conjures and directs human belief, emotion, and intention must necessarily have an element of magic to it. If this be the case, then all religions are inherently magical, the chief difference from other forms of magical practice being perhaps merely the format, wherein the power and intent of the many is directed and conducted by the magical elite, in the form of priests or ministers, although most members and clergy alike would probably be incensed at the re-definition.

We can also reasonably suppose, then, that the Craft which is practiced in Freemasonry may have an equally magical significance and purpose, again supposing that the magical view of reality is true. However, (perhaps) unlike most religions, it seems far more likely that this more esoteric understanding of Masonry may be explicitly passed down or taught, at some point along one’s journey through the Masonic hierarchy, especially in a more mystically oriented body of Masonry. This is not by any means ubiquitous, with many Masonic Lodges, particularly in mainstream masculine Masonry, being focused primarily on simple fraternity and charity.

However, this aspect of masonry is both subjective, and subject to all sorts of misinterpretations and misunderstandings, particularly by the uninitiated. Indeed, the chief accusation of many anti-masonic conspiracy theories is that they are secretly practicing “black magic” and satanism.  Perhaps this is one reason why the more magical side of Masonry is not often openly discussed, even among the initiated. After all, the reason that purveyors of the magical worldview sought refuge in operative masonry in the first place was because of such accusations and misunderstandings, which although less consequential today, still are with us.masonic egregor

A Magical Myth Which Lives

My conclusion to the title question of this post is that Freemasonry seems to be both, or neither. In the end, Freemasonry is what you make of it. Yet, nevertheless, regardless of how various individuals may conceptualize it, Freemasonry itself does seem to have a certain presence, almost a consciousness of its own. I find that the occult concept of the Egregor is useful to me, in understanding what this might be. Whatever the explanation, it seems apparent to me at least that Freemasonry contains an element which goes beyond the physical and intellectual, into the realm of the magical, though not all Masons may recognize it as such.

Masonic Fortitude: A Hero’s Journey

Masonic Fortitude: A Hero’s Journey

The great spiritual teachers, culture bringers, warriors, Freemasons and saints are living examples of the virtue of fortitude. Whether they fight the dragon or obtain the great treasure it guards, those with fortitude are people who deliver on their promises. They are people who do what is right, who take on any trial or opposition and see it through to the end. The importance of fortitude is truly significant in the masonic teachings such as are found in the Blue Lodge, the Scottish Rite, and in the York and English Rite.

Have you ever stopped to think how much fortitude you have?   Why does it matter?

I know I am correct in saying that we live in a time of great opportunity.  All progressive groups in the world are being called to accountability. The demand is under way that we actually, factually accomplish. I am also fairly certain that most golden opportunities go unfulfilled because people are hoodwinked to the presence of the opportunity. People are afraid to act.

Fortitude is defined in the Mason’s Manual as:

 That noble and steady purpose of mind, whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudentially deemed expedient.

It is the virtue of courage and much more.  Fortitude gives us strength to act.  Ethics without the component of fortitude to act keeps it in the realm of heady philosophy.  As it is said by the mystical teacher Morpheus in the movie The Matrix: 

Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking it.

Fortitude is bringing both halves together, the knowing and the doing.

Human frailty tells us that if we do nothing about immoral behavior it will continue or 14595755_516608225215652_6008544087224846220_nget worse. Allowing ethics to “slide” will eventually take everything else for the same ride.

I ponder sometimes the amount of fortitude around me: leaders, scholars, scientists, legislators, religious guides, Freemasons— myself. I ponder how often we betray our morals and principles on every topic.  On the other hand, we admire people who have voluntarily or forcibly departed from the status quo, faced great challenges, and saved themselves and others.  Possibly we want to believe that we, too, can go on an incredible journey and come back transformed for the better.

How do we acquire more fortitude? How do heroes do it?

The Path of the Hero

As most know, the phrase “hero’s journey” or Monomyth was made popular by Joseph Campbell in his book Hero with a Thousand Faces.  It’s the idea that one single protagonist undergoes a life-changing journey to come out the other side wiser than they began. The Monomyth has been a pretty stunning formula in movies and books such as 330px-Vasnetsov_samoletThe Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  It is also the allegorical pattern in many of the masonic rituals.

The hero is often faced with questions about himself. What kind of person should I be?  What is the best way to live? How do I attain excellence? What should I aim for? What training must I do to achieve those aims?  Many of us eat, sleep, and breathe the ideals of the hero.

Joseph Campbell says:

The All is everywhere, and anywhere may become the seat of power. Any blade of grass may assume, in myth, the figure of the savior and conduct the questing wanderer into the sanctum sanctorum of his own heart.

The monomyth idea suggests that, given the call to adventure and favorable circumstances, we might be able to advance beyond our current limitations and unearth, if not exactly superpowers, at least latent virtues that we can use to serve the greater good.

At the onset, the hero isn’t a hero. At the onset the hero does not have fortitude.

Fortitude is instilled when one desires something so intensely or values that something so highly that he will settle for nothing else, and is willing to sacrifice many things.  It is17499398_595913547285119_2024712522915719750_n the virtue that gives a hero a willingness to die and stand by his principles to the very end.

The Masonic Quest

In an article published in Vol. 2, Issue 8 of Living Stones Magazine, author Jason Marshall suggests that the rituals of Freemasonry set a high bar for the hero, especially in the Hiramic Legend of the Third Degree.

He writes:

The Hero’s journey provides a powerful blue print for transformation, and it is no coincidence that the ritual experience of the craft follows this timeless formula. Just as the hero’s quest calls seemingly ordinary men to undertake feats of greatness, which have far-reaching impacts, the masonic fraternity calls men of all backgrounds to undertake their own hero’s journey, to not only transform themselves, but the world around them.

Marshall explains that a Freemason transforms humanity through modeling the process of an initiatory experience. He finds something underneath life that gives it purpose; that works, and has a sublime lesson. Marshall says that the ultimate hero is one who is resurrected from his world of adventure to immortality.

To transform the world around us might mean that today we are looking beyond the individual hero to a collective hero – one in which a society changes itself for the better by seeking answers en masse. It might mean there is one brotherhood fighting battles for human kind and not only individuals fighting their own monsters.

In the end, what is it that allows a courageous individual to tolerate the loss of life, that which the great majority of humanity cherish so highly? In my opinion, fortitude is ultimately based upon identification as the immortal, invincible Self.  In short, it is based upon the realization of one’s true Identity. Who can lose the immortal Self?

In 1 Corinthians 15:51, Saint Paul talks about the immortal Self when he says:

Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.

Cowardice crops up from the overwhelming feeling that something of rare value will be lost. The truly courageous person is not only able, but eager to give up all things short of the Self, for the sake of the greater realization.

For he knows that the further he journeys, the vaster the perspective, and the more humbling the realization.20375805_658664157676724_3202398839325588042_n

Lead me from darkness to Light.

Lead me from the unreal to the Real.

Lead me from death to Immortality.