As Above, So Below: What Does it Mean to a Freemason?

As Above, So Below: What Does it Mean to a Freemason?

From the teachings of Hermes comes the well-known maxim, “as above, so below.” Those four words have become a sacred phrase, an adage of wisdom, an underlying principle, an ancient aphorism, and a mystic saying. The dramatic opening lines of the Emerald Tablet read as follows: 

“Tis true without lying, certain and most true. That which is below is like that which is above and that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing.”  – The Emerald Tablet (Isaac Newton Translation)

Over the centuries almost every organization and religion has loosely put their own spin on the formula. Many philosophical schools believe “as above, so below” is the same thing as the Principle of Correspondence. In other words, everything above (spiritual) corresponds to something material (below). Nothing exists in isolation. Matter contains spirit, and vice versa.

More often today, I think the phrase is carelessly bandied about. For some thinkers, the spiritual dimensions are dismissed as unverifiable or inadequate to explain how and what life is. Some say modern man’s understanding of the entire Hermetic chain has been flattened over time. I hope not.

Of interest to me, however, is how deeply and how widely that maxim is embedded into the teachings of freemasonry. 

How is the Hermetic principle applied to a Freemason? Or is it?

I may be mistaken, but “as above, so below” is not a masonic phrase, per say. If used in any way shape or form, it did not have its origins as words in ritual. I can only remember the phrase mentioned one time in conjunction with a lecture on astronomy. Even so, Freemasonry has some roots in the Hermetic tradition of Western occultism and so the philosophy is heavily embedded in the teachings. And it is here we begin the introspection and speculative discussion of the phrase itself.

The Masonic Ladder according to W.L. Wilmshurst

It is clear that a serious study of words and symbols can bring anyone quite far afieldJacob's labber blog into the poetic lens of metaphor. Sometimes, before venturing into my own fantasy land, I like to read what the masonic scholars say. 

There is one symbol in particular that W.L. Wilmshurst writes about in his book Masonic Initiations that struck me as a good example of the maxim “as above, so below.”

That symbol is Jacob’s Ladder. It is also called the Masonic Ladder and is said to reveal a connection between heaven and earth with God at the top of the ladder. Angels are seen ascending and descending. Some say the ladder shows a hierarchical ordering of the Universe, a great chain of being, a principle of correspondence.

Wilmshurst tells us:

“Indeed Life, and the ladder it climbs, are one and indissociable. The summit of both reaches to and disappears out of ken into the heavens; the base of both rests upon the earth; but these two terminals – that of spirit and that of matter – are but opposite poles of a single reality.”

If you think you can spot Plato in this, you are quite correct. Plato offered theories of knowledge that were also illustrated by ladders. Those who climb the ladder advance from one step to the next and build on the knowledge gained from the one below.

Now, there is something that Wilmshurst writes later on that I found interesting. He believes that this cosmological truth, the Principle of Correspondence, is one that Masons should all know. Yet, he claims that most Freemasons have “hazy notions on the subject.” And I quote: “The modern mason is not interested or treats the information as not credible.”

This line of thought left me with a question. Where does the modern Mason learn about cosmology?

The Great Chain of Being – Veiled in Allegory

Of course, there are always books and study papers to read to gain knowledge. But I am wondering if the true cosmological truths that Wilmshurst speaks of are kept alive in Allegory of Arithmeticthe masonic rituals and allegories. Each masonic ceremony speaks to the unconscious mind, slipping past the usual dogma and conscious defense mechanisms. 

If I can use a masonic metaphor for a moment; in the Mind of The Great Architect it has been written that there is a ritual taking place all the time. It is a divine drama with the building theme of making perfection out of imperfection. When, therefore, here upon earth, a ritual is enacted, symbolizing that eternal process, then some of the spiritual realms above are brought down to earth. It is this mysterious unity of thought, synchronizing above to below which gives Freemasonry its magic and eternal purpose.

In the book Spirit of Masonry, Foster Bailey writes:

“A symbol is an outer, visible, and tangible sign of an inner spiritual reality. If this is admitted, then behind all the outer forms of the Masonic work, latent in its rituals, and hidden behind the entire system of symbols, is some spiritual value and some definite and intended teaching which can be discovered by those whose vision can be awakened.”

Perhaps the “biggie” truth is this. The “inner spiritual reality” that Bailey writes about isHour Glass an inner state of being. For Freemasons, each of us is a builder, working with the hierarchical order of things, according to his ability. Each must not only contribute his work, he must also grow to be capable of greater work.

I believe that when the two realms of spirit and matter unite, the Lodge on High sends its spiritualizing forces of life to the humble lodge below. Yet, the idea is greater than just what can be experienced in a ceremony. I think Freemasonry is an exposition of Life itself – the creative life we all have to live. 

Certain and most true.

“Ascend with the greatest sagacity from earth to heaven and unite together the power of things inferior and superior; thus, you will possess the light of the whole world, and all obscurity will fly away from you. This thing has more fortitude than fortitude itself because it will overcome every subtle thing and penetrate every solid thing. By it the world was formed.”  – (H.P. Blavatsky Translation)


The Power of the Spoken Word in Freemasonry

The Power of the Spoken Word in Freemasonry

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”  — Lao Tzu 

According to Tzu, the very essence of what it means to become a consciously creative person begins with examining the content of thoughts and words. How does speech have the power to shape our inner and outer universe? How is the spoken word significant to a Freemason?

In the ancient mystery schools, speech and sound were considered divine energy in motion and a type of vibration that could be harnessed in creative work. The entire Universe was understood to be under the control of men and gods who knew the power of sacred speech and how to harmonize the ideal and the material worlds in accordance with the divine plan.

Somewhere along the way the teaching about the magical force of words has been lost. And yes, we have been lost ever since.

It was felt in those earlier times that it was the initiates’ duty to restore the lost language. Just as Masons are in search of the “Lost Word” and have found it not, initiates also used a substitute language, until this inner Word could be reestablished. It may well be said that the knowledge of words, of speech and of sound is perhaps the most carefully guarded secrets of all the ancient mysteries.

Do words have a far greater implication than normally conceived?

A Perspective from Albert Pike

In Albert Pike’s, Morals and Dogma, he has volumes to say on this subject. There is nogod-large doubt the book is dense with wisdom; so much so, I find myself studying a paragraph for hours on end to fully grasp it. It’s almost as if you have to look at Pike’s writings as if the ancients looked upon cryptic messages. 

Recently, I read a chapter where Bro. Pike was examining the following passage from scripture:

“In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was with God, and the WORD was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”  John 1:1-3 (KJV)

I realized how casually I had looked at this well-known Bible verse before and how much more could be revealed. Looking beyond the religious overtones, there is a great mystery of “the WORD” (all caps) that Pike explains. It’s something out of a deep esoteric playbook. “The WORD” did not cease at the single act of Creation but set in motion the absolute potential for man to become a divine creator in his own life circumstances. Could this passage be a formula for creative work? 

Pike says:

“The WORD conducts and controls the Universe, all spheres, all worlds, all actions of mankind, and of every animate and inanimate creature.”

In short, the goal of “the WORD” is to “become flesh and dwell among men.” God and “the WORD” are one and the same. They are WITH each other. All good stuff.

Now, I realized that the theological distinction between “the WORD” and “a word” had always escaped me. The words we speak are not “the WORD.” But it is possible that EVERY word spoken has the potential to align with “the WORD.” Speech carries intention, force and information. We long for words like Love, Truth, Beauty, Strength and Justice to become flesh and dwell among us. Words and speech are the initiating forces behind all things. What can a Freemason learn from this idea? How are words and action related?

A Freemason Suits Action to Word

In Masonic circles, we hear the phrase “suiting action to word” which can mean that a Masonic-Image-HD-1person will do what he claims and deliver on his promises and obligations. Masons are charged to make a conscious effort to integrate masonic philosophies into daily behavior, appearance, and words to others.

In the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, “Right Speech” appears in third place preceded only by “Right Belief” and “Right Intentions,” and immediately followed by “Right Actions.” Thus, the way we speak is of vital importance, not just for moral reasons, but also because communication is one of the most powerful means whereby we can intelligently change the world around us.

Spoken words are especially significant to anyone who has undergone a ceremony blindfolded.  For me, it was only through intense listening to the words of the masonic officers that I knew what was happening.  Even decades after some degree work, entire lines from the ritual are still memorable.  I remember vividly the sacredness of words that have been laid upon my heart.  

Right speech, when properly executed, is one of the most powerful and mysterious activities.

An example of what it can mean to “suit action to word” can be seen in the life of the immortal Goethe: poet and Freemason.   He changed inquiring minds around him by breathing enlightened ideas into many of his writings. With his last breath, Bro. Goethe cried the immortal phrase:

“Light, more Light!”

These words for a Freemason are powerful!  Worthy of opening and inspiring a life as well as closing it in death.  There is no doubt to me that beyond the confines of his dark room his invocation was answered and there showered upon him a brilliance of light such as no mortal could see.  Some accounts of Goethe’s last moments say that when he spoke his last words a ray of light shot through the shutters of the window.  

“Light!” Goethe’s spoken word of power and His service to mankind. In the end, light was all he craved, symbolically, the highest of blessings. Not money or fame, but a glimpse of the1_spZ_EN5KfcjgZSbiVQl_zQ treasures of eternity. 

Maybe the real secret of right speech is to truly recognize and respect the authority that words carry. As we have seen with the writings of Pike, there is more to language than meets the eye, or ear. To delve into its mysteries just might reveal some extraordinary truths about the world we live in.

“Here Masonry pauses and leaves its initiates to carry out and develop these great Truths in such manner as to each may seem most accordant with reason, philosophy, truth, and his religious faith.”  — Albert Pike