Freedom: An Illusion

Freedom: An Illusion

Do you think you are free? Why do you think this? Does this title anger you? Bother you? Not concern you at all? My contention is, as inflammatory as it may sound, the vast majority of us are not free.

We have rationalizations for why we disagree with this statement. Of course we’re free, of course I can move and think and say what I wish to, I have perfect freedom. Depending on the country in which we live, we might feel more or less of this type of freedom. In extreme situations, we may feel we only have freedom of thought. However, most persons from North America and Europe fall into the “I have freedom” category.

Let’s put these convictions to the test. How do you answer these questions, yes or no?

  • I can change my job / career at any time. I have the freedom to choose the work I desire. I never make the excuse of ignorance, limitations, or ability.
  • I can attend a meeting or visit with a friend or make time for a hobby any time I would like. I never use the excuse of “I’m too busy.”
  • I choose my own beliefs and my own thoughts about how I will act, think, or be from now on. I never use the excuse of “this happened to me in my past.”
  • I can speak whatever I’d like to speak, and voice that opinion publicly and to whom I choose. I never censor myself in front of others for any reason.

While not everyone has all of these float to their consciousness, I am guessing that at least one of these statements brought a rebuttal to your mind, if not lips. It’s easy to dismiss these statements in our own minds. I have children, and I can’t possibly make time for a hobby ahead of my children. I can’t change my manufacturing job into a tech job because I don’t know the first thing about computers. I am always afraid of water because I never learned to swim. I am nervous about flying because of airplane crashes. I have no money, so I cannot leave this town/home/relationship.

slave-to-your-emotionsWe move through our daily life wrapped in chains. These chains are mental, physical, and emotional chains; visible and invisible, they are equal in their grasp. This is one of the tenants of Freemasonry – that the applicant must be free of mind, body, and soul. But, really, who is free? It is because we can deceive ourselves that we might even apply to an organization that requires freedom. We believe ourselves to be totally and utterly free. However, if you rebutted any of the statements above, with a “well, but….” you are not free.

This might seem very black and white to some; I do not mean it to be so. I believe Freedom is a journey, and not too far off of the journey of our lifetimes. The search for that which is greater than ourselves is a journey of Freedom, is it not? Most of us live with those chains, in fear, without even thinking about it. We worry so much about the oppressor that we fail to see that the oppressor is ourselves, the things that truly hold us back. Perhaps we can look at the “oppressor” in another way.

I began doing Crossfit (a type of very intense physical weight, endurance, and cardio training) about thirteen years ago. I was not very active before that but I also prided myself on being able to ensure pain, push myself, and move forward through tough exercise and enjoy the success. I began doing the circuits and our trainer continued to increase the intensity. On one particularly gruelling day, we did a circuit of five activities, the last of which was rowing for 1500 meters. We did the circuit three times. Last circuit, last activity, rowing, I was exhausted. I kept telling myself in my head that I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t make the time. I remember gasping for air, pushing myself to the point of feeling like I was going to throw up right there all over the machine. About 2/3 of the way through, I realized that I had been telling myself that I couldn’t do it. I changed the dialogue, revised the message, telling myself that of course I could do it, that the pain was temporary, and that there wasn’t anything stopping me except my mind. I shifted gears in my brain. It felt almost like a literal shift of gears, as I pushed on to the end. I never threw up. I sweated like a pig, but I made it. I had achieved the goal.

I realized then and there that I was in chains. I was not free and that my own mind had created the illusion that chained me. I could choose differently, if I learned a different way. If I expanded my mind. If I opened to experience.

Choice. That is the activity which binds us. It is also an illusion.

We choose every day. We choose to get up, to go to work, to feed ourselves, to shower, to help our children, to educate ourselves: we choose to do everything we do. We choose to eat cereal when we know that an egg is better for us, because we chose an easier path. We didn’t want to dirty a pan. We didn’t want to take the time. This cereal is good enough. It will be fine. We humans are master rationalizers. We rationalize that we have a choice in the matter when, in fact, we’re really moving to the universal law of entropy. In 1803, Lazare Carnot said, “in any natural process there exists an inherent tendency towards the dissipation of useful energy.” Humans fit nicely into this category.

What we once call choice falls, eventually, to what we deem binding. I have heard the argument time and again that children preclude certain activities. Focusing on education precludes certain activities. “I can’t” is either the response of the enslaved individual or one who has forgotten that he or she has made the choice that put them on their path. What we put first in our lives is that which we deem important. Let’s face it – when you choose to be with one person and shun another, you deem the first person more important to you than the second. Choices involve priorities. There isn’t shame in it. Yet don’t deny it, either. Should your choices be to the exclusion of all else that makes up our lives? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Do you believe you have the freedom to decide? Can you make that choice? Can you live with it and embrace it, without shame or fear of judgment? Priorities change. Can you understand where the chains are, and free them?

freedom2I think humans believe that freedom and choice are linked, and that freedom equates to having a choice. Maybe this is true, and maybe it is not. Here I will contradict myself. I believe that in the paths of our lives, we choose different roads because of who we are at that time. That experience in and of itself forms our destiny. In this, when we choose, we really have no freedom because we are not free from ourselves. We are who we are. If we could do something differently, we would have. We would have chosen differently. We blame parents for not treating us a certain way or teaching us to be different in the world. Yet, they did what they were able to do. If they could have chosen differently, they would have. They are who they are because of their choices.

We are who we are, and when we come to the door of Freemasonry, at the porch with pillars and high, lofty virtues, we think we have made the choice to be there. We believe that when presented with the option of Freemasonry, we have decided to apply. I say that somewhere, the authors of the application process laugh. They know that the applicant is not truly free but that he has some inking and spark of what it means to be free, and perhaps the knowledge that he is not free but seeking. We are bound by who we are and who we are is a result of the choices we make. When you choose the path of your destiny, you’re all in. There is no turning back, no do-overs. As Joseph Campbell said, “Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative.” Freemasonry is an initiatory, life-changing path. When you arrive at the door, either you are ready or you’re not. The person that shows up is presented a new destiny, if they are ready to take it.

PolarityWe humans get very stressed over the “right” path to take. Do we step forward? Do we step sideways? The core of the decision lies within who we are. Do we know that person? Do I understand what motivates, inspires, and enlivens the inner me? Do I truly know myself? Most of us say yes, when the answer is really no. We do not have the courage to embrace our life path and shake off what isn’t us. We circle back, again, to small choices. Rationalizations. The truth that we are truly not free. Freedom really isn’t about choices, I think, but about knowing yourself and being honest with yourself. It is about allowing your choices to be sometimes incorrect, learning, adjusting, and succeeding in whatever you do. Freedom is knowing what you are, owning what you are, and knowing that you cannot be any different than you are. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Is the Freemason free? Yes, because he knows that he is not.

Reforming the Gods?

Reforming the Gods?

I was participating in an Esoteric Book study group last week when I heard the phrase, “reforming the gods.” I’ve heard, often, about how God reforms us, how theology can be reformed, but not about how humans reform the gods. It sounded like hubris, to me. What does one mean when they say, “we or he is attempting to reform the gods?”

To reform something is to take it apart, piece by piece, and use the material to create some new form, some new “thing” that is ostensibly better than the old “thing.” To reform the gods, in the simplest of terms, is to take what we know of our gods and create something new from their forms, from their essence. That sounds like no easy task. We are reshaping all that we understand about the gods, or God, and forming it into something we think best. Again, hubris.

The question is, how does the human being reform their gods? Perhaps simple devotion turns into radical fanaticism. Perhaps, they do it through their own misinterpretation of the mores, customs, and dogma of religion or society, forming the rules to bend to their will. Their desires. They mix the idea of the divine will with their own, seeking to meld them, or seeking to justify them?

Joseph Campbell, in The Hero with A Thousand Faces, in the section on Initiation, states:

Totem, tribal, racial, and aggressively missionizing cults represent only partial solutions to the psychological problem of subduing hate by love; they only partially initiate. Ego is not annihilated in them; rather it is enlarged; instead of thinking only of himself, the individual becomes dedicated to the whole of his society. The rest of the world…is left outside his sympathy and protection because (it is) outside the sphere and protection of his god. And there takes place, then, that dramatic divorce of the two principles of love and hate which the pages of history so bountifully illustrate. Instead of clearing his own heart the zealot tries to clear the world.

In thinking about this, I wonder if the way humans use language to express their thoughts affects our theology in much the same ways that language and biology and culture are inextricably linked. We may think there is evolution of biology but isn’t there evolution of culture as well? And if they are both evolving, we, as humans and as part of it, are evolving language to keep pace. It makes sense that our theology would evolve to survive. Surely it is adaptation that creates the lineage, not merely perseverance. Yet, evolution comes in many forms, and we know species have evolved themselves extinct: not their their own will but by the vehicles of adaptation to hostile and temporary environments. Extremes cannot last.

xSymbols_Masonic_collage_240x359.jpg.pagespeed.ic.ak16jJjibbFreemasonry, in some odd ways, has not yielded to that adaptation of culture and language; yet, in some ways, it has. We have the dusty Freemasonry of old which contains the ritual forms unchanged from time immemorial. It is the ritual kept pristine, trappings kept shiny, and only the briefest whiff of questioning outside of the aforementioned monitors and rituals. It is a Freemasonry that is solid in its roots but has nothing above ground where the Light can shine on it.

Then we have a Freemasonry that is on the cusp of something larger than its predecessors. Like evolution, institutions keep pace with culture. In this, Freemasonry is global. It is foundational that Freemasonry uses symbols to communicate – a global language. It has been carried to many places by traveling Freemasons, establishing Lodges wherever they rest. It cannot help but be global, and even the dusty “old” Freemasonry is global. This means it must evolve to the pressure from waves of global cultural epigenetics. If it does not, it goes the way of the dinosaur – remembered in tar pits and gasoline tanks, museums and historical sites. It will become the backbone of a new Freemasonry which seeks to live up to its lofty goals of tolerance, solidarity, equality, and liberty for all human beings. This includes people of all races, creeds, genders, sexual orientation, and ages. The basic virtues of Freemasonry hold to the quality of the person, not these divisive human characteristics. This is a Freemasonry that is building itself on the roots of the old, pushing up through the dirt, and beginning to grow in the sun.

Campbell, in the same chapter makes the case.

Once we have broken free of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes, it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense. The good news, which the World Redeemer brings and which so many have been glad to hear, zealots to preach, but reluctant apparently to demonstrate, is that God is love, that He can be, and is to be, loved, and that all without exception are his children.

The trappings of religious dogma are “pedantic snares” which need to be kept “ancillary” to the main virtues of the message. Yet, we humans struggle with this. We struggle every day to interpret and misinterpret the meaning of philosophical and religious text, holding onto what Dr. Wayne Dyer called “an erroneous zone” that inhibits how we function in life. We can’t think differently and when change does come, the adaptive change to flow with evolution, we balk.

language_evolutionSome of the Freemasonic Lodges, in the wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, altered their formats. Some shuttered and closed for the duration, their members being higher risk than the average population. Others went to doing online independent study sessions, one-offs, and some did podcasts. These are some good adaptations, evolution created by the younger and more tech-savvy population. Those that are in touch with cultural changes.

Other Masonic Lodges and Orders adapted even further. Short rituals have been created for some Lodge get-togethers that, while not regular meetings with ritual, gathered everyone together on a teleconference to discuss relevant essays and writings. It is “the short form” of a meeting that maintains consistency and yet adapts to the world needs. Brothers still share fraternal talk, brotherly love, and some relief from the ills that surround us all. Masonic philosophical talks, for one group, went from being in-person, to online, with an even greater attendance – up to 100% more individuals registered than in previous meetings. Discussion and debate are lively and energizing, allowing people to take away greater ideas than they had at the beginning of the meeting. This doesn’t supplant the ritual of Freemasonry nor the need for integration of mind, body and spirit into the form of Freemasonry. It is adaptation to survive, to thrive, in a world of fear and chaos and change.

I don’t see that a Freemasonry which adapts and flows with the world needs is a Freemasonry attempting to reform their gods. On the contrary; it is ensuring that Freemasonry isn’t dogma, that it’s not allowed to stall and collect dust, thereby ensuring its demise. We have to allow for change, for evolution, else we are destined to fall to an extreme, then wither and die. No. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to wake up, change the path we’re on, and try something new. It is thoughtful change, slow but progressive, which keeps the blood pumping and the cells growing. Perhaps it is the cells and blood that instigate the change, Darwinian-style, to create the new culture. It doesn’t take a Duchovnyian leap of logic to figure out that we need to adapt lest we die.

Freemasonry is dead. Long Live Freemasonry.

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.

 

 

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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