The Trestle Board

The Trestle Board

By Bro... Paul R. Clark


DR. CHARLES PARKHURST in saying “To call things by their right names is always a direct contribution to wholesome effects” should receive credit for enunciating a philosophical gem. When a manufacturer seeks an economical distribution of his products, he doesn’t call a spade a shovel or “pussyfoot” down some side alley, timidly and fearfully, trying to develop vital facts, lest he uncover unpleasant truths which might materially change his pre-conceived ideas or notions.

Economical merchandising on a national scale is a problem so complex we can’t afford to shrink from the broad highway, lead us where it may. Merchants willingly spend thousands of dollars in developing facts to secure a clear picture of conditions as they are, not as they would like to find them. “A fact is a fact, whether you like it or not.” Unbiased opinions are difficult to get, because “an opinion changes with what you had for dinner.” So, we find merchants seeking facts. When unpleasant truths stalk into the conference room, business men welcome them and call them by their full names, and consider themselves fortunate indeed if they clearly uncover weaknesses in their products or their merchandising plan.

Many successful business men are members of long standing in the Masonic Fraternity. I am persuaded that, if given an opportunity, they might apply some of their hard-earned experience towards the solution of our Masonic problems.

I HAVE a close friend, a Mason, who is a large manufacturer of pianos. He is not lulling himself to sleep with clever slogans or advertisements in nationally circulated publications, nor with prettily worded or high sounding phrases when discussing his problems with his directors or stockholders.

The radio, the automobile, and the moving pictures are great, gaunt realities which overturn old traditions or customs of the piano trade and demand recognition. Turning his back on them, “ostrichizing” them by sticking his head in the sand, or parking his intelligence outside will not get him to “first base.” The changing habits of the present generation, and the new problems of this wonderful, but complex, 20th century are introducing conditions which must be called by their right names.

When pointing out some of the shortcomings of the average Blue Lodge, I am reminded of the story of the boy, returning from college, who nervously says to his father, “Dad, after all, the real thing in college is the social atmosphere. The real values lie in the social opportunities and – “Dad impatiently interrupts him at this point with the rather caustic remark, ‘What did you flunk in this time?'”

Nothing can be gained by denying the fact that too large a percentage of our brothers flunk in Freemasonry, as far as the Blue Lodge is concerned. A pitifully small percentage of those brothers who are Masonically insolvent take sufficient interest constructively to criticize the Craft, let alone discuss and try to find a solution to many of our Masonic problems. Those who haven’t flunked, like Dad, shouldn’t be too severe on the “boys” who might be justly accused of not studying or taking interest in the Craft. The boy who flunks in college is not always entirely to blame. The teachers, the parents, the curriculum, the atmosphere in the home, and the conditions under which he studies, all are contributing factors in his failure.

If newly made Masons, whom I am calling “the boys,” do not attend lodge and therefore do not take a deep interest in Freemasonry, the inevitable conclusion must be that the Fraternity or the atmosphere in the Masonic classrooms may be partially at fault. Supposing we approach it from this angle, not that the fault lies entirely with the Craft, but possibly the major part of the responsibility may lie with our Masonic leaders who do not recognize that conditions have changed considerably in the last twenty years.

SOMEONE has said that the difference between a Mack truck and a 20-mule team is the difference between coordination and persuasion. Human groups, like mules, to produce the best results, have to be organized and coordinated, as well as persuaded. Individual Blue Lodges may be efficiently coordinated fifty years hence, but I have my grave doubts. It seems to me that it is going to be a long up-hill pull.

In the Masonic Fraternity we find that the Blue Lodge, maintaining a separate and distinct identity and organization, to a great extent is a law unto itself. It is susceptible to coordination, but not subject to it. The Master may accept suggestions from the Grand Lodge or be may not, but the line of demarcation between the Grand Lodge and the individual Blue Lodge is quite rigidly fixed. The Blue Lodge requires considerable persuasion, with the hope that eventually the lodges may be coordinated, but it is evident that the latter is not possible without the desire on the part of the individual Blue Lodges. The lack of a national Masonic policy is a great weakness, but the independence of the individual Blue Lodges is a calamity, if considered from the standpoint of coordinating the Blue Lodges in any one state of these United States.

Most of us will admit that the average Blue Lodge is without a safe, sane, and well planned “selling campaign.” Further, it is just as evident that the Master of any individual Blue Lodge, if he has succeeded in vitalizing the lodge, can leave no authorized machinery to carry the policy on into the succeeding years. So the Blue Lodge is like Grandmother’s crazy quilt – it is a patchwork of individual ideas, with no blending or continuity of policies from year to year. The Master can and often does “carry on,” “follow through,” “step on the gas or apply the brakes” at will. This would discourage one of those wooden Indians that stood outside of cigar stores when we were boys – let alone a clear thinking executive or leader who knows that “Rome was not built in a day,” and that the selling of ideas and persuading the Masonic Fraternity is a problem not of a few months but years.

WE MUST build the foundations now and not be discouraged if the temple is not completed within our lifetime. The habits of the crowd, mob psychology, when applied to our Masonic Institution, are rather mundane phrases – and to the Masonic idealist a little unpleasant, if not irritating. Many of our Masonic Daddies are not unlike some parelits, who refrain from discussing social problems with their children. We have a little false modesty, and we feel that there is something wrong with anyone who criticizes an institution as old as the Masonic Fraternity; but we men of lawful age who are well qualified should not shrink from “calling things by their right names.” If we haven’t the backbone to face an unpleasant truth, we are second cousins to a moral jellyfish – nor, then, can we expect to enlist the services of men of recognized leadership and executive ability to guide our lodges.

Historical review, symbolism, and ritualistic repetition have their place in every Masonic lodge; but, when these clog the wheels, even though they are absolutely essential in the initiations of the first three degrees, it is time to consider the psychological effect that these have on he “brothers on the right and left.” Our Masonic diet is unbalanced, and we devote too much time to symbolism and repeating rituals.

Some of our lodges would be better off if the Trestle Board could be misplaced for at least six months of the year. Many Masons, with whom I have discussed this, do not hesitate to face the truth and freely acknowledge the fact that a full Trestle Board is more often a menace than a blessing.

“Grinding out rubber-stamp-Masons” is not unlike letting down the gates at Ellis Island. We found that an unassimilated immigrant was a real menace. A brother who has been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, unless he absorbs Freemasonry, is far from being a tangible asset to the Fraternity. Yet, how many times we hear men in the ante-room and speakers in the Fast talk about the potential possibilities of these bankrupt Masons?

And, we go blithely on raising Masons and then watching them sink back into Masonic oblivion. This is the nearest thing to perpetual motion that any man ever conceived.

A COMMUNITY with five Masonic lodges of 150 members each is richer and better off Masonically than with one lodge of 750 members. If these five lodges select men because of their social likes or dislikes and then limit the memberships; I wonder if your imagination can grasp the possibilities! The personal touch, the opportunity for developing real Masonic brotherhood in a small lodge of 150 members, composed of brothers who have similar hopes and aspirations and who would mix more intimately, opens up new and unexplored possibilities; nor does this idea in any way violate the universality of Freemasonry. The Grand Lodge certainly does not object to forming new lodges; but, when the Master hugs to his breast the tradition that to be successful the lodge must be big, and that a full Trestle Board and a long waiting list are an indication of goodness and virtue, it seems to me that the Masonic Fraternity is chasing rainbows – and the pitiful part about this is that so few of us seem to realize it.

Can we not see the futility of striving for volume, for big crowds, for a large, unwieldy Masonic mass, few of which are able to appreciate what it is all about? If we padlocked the doors and put the Trestle Board on the shelf for a while and then attempted to draw those who profess to be Master Masons (and who are so technically) back into the lodge, we would get results that would surprise us.

THIS summer a derby was held in Kentucky, at which 80,000 people were present. At this event there were more airplanes than there were automobiles twenty years ago. The American people spend more than $1,000,000 a day on radio equipment and accessories, yet three years ago the radio was an experimental toy indulged in by few people. Can the Masonic Fraternity expect to continue with the same methods that were used successfully by our fathers, in view of the disturbing influences that are being recognized by our schools, colleges and churches from one end of the land to the other?

The average Mason may have a very high code of ethics, but his Masonic obligation to attend the meetings has been diluted by these distracting and disintegrating influences – and we are in competition with some very potent undercurrents which the Blue Lodge must acknowledge. If we stop “grinding out Masons on a tonnage basis,” which takes so much of our time, we can devote some attention to the real worth-while things and bring out the richness and depth of Freemasonry, which have never been really uncovered to the Masonic masses. A lodge with a limited membership would at least have time to develop Masters of Masonry instead of “grinding out half-baked Masons,” who become Masonically insolvent due to this moth-eaten tradition that seems to grip the average Masters to strive for bigness and volume continually.

If we limited our Blue Lodge membership and devoted some of the time now consumed in working the three degrees to selling Masonic ideas to the brothers on the right and left, those who profess Freemasonry might practice it more diligently. We need better Masons, not more Masons. We have every reason to be proud of our achievements, but we ought to be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge our faults and to try to correct them. Volume production, with no consistent policy to keep our brothers in Masonic intercourse, is a fault which we do not fully recognize; and our failure to accomplish results is blamed on general conditions.

IF THE Blue Lodge’s chief function is to graduate Masons to the so-called “higher degrees,” then I would say, “Let’s speed up the machinery, because it is very efficient and is producing results.” If, on the other hand, the attendance in the Blue Lodge is the barometer of its success, then it is quite evident that we have much to be concerned about. Limiting the Blue Lodge membership may not be the only remedy, but isn’t it reasonable to state that this would allow a lodge graciously to do what every Blue Lodge does to some extent? By following a policy of this kind, it seems reasonable to suppose that we would have greater opportunities for increasing the interest of those who have already joined the Craft and are wondering what it is all about.


– Originally published in THE MASTER MASON – MAY 1926

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.

Combating Ignorance

Combating Ignorance

It is only necessary to make war with five things; with the maladies of the body, the ignorances of the mind, with the passions of the body, with the seditions of the city and the discords of families.” – Pythagoras

Science is not a philosophy or a spiritual path; it’s a way of behaving in the world. It is a way of thinking that encourages logic, reason, information and communication in such a way as to explore the world in wonder and discovery.

It is unfortunate that polarization and nationalism, tribalism if you will, have made “fake news” and “alternative facts” part of our everyday life now. It is a reality with which we must learn how to navigate. It is not only learning to dig through facts and figures, research and media hype, but it is learning that we must, sometimes, unlearn. It begin with the idea of “we must know” is a fallacy. What we must do is begin to swim in our own ignorance and be cognizant of what we do not know.

To be blunt, if we want to fight ignorance, we must start with our own.

project_open-scienceWe listen every day to people who, by virtue of their self-appointed “knowledge,” without the science or experience to back it up, discard the rigorous work that scientists have done to establish or debunk our knowledge of nature. Chemists, astrophysicists, climatologists, oceanographers, biologists, geneticists, and nutritionists have all been sidelined when their messages did not fit the narrative of corporate interests or media hype. Those that seem to have the most money, most market share, or most “brand” have the last say. We separate the educated as elitists and the corporate interests as “the common man.” Who would have our best interests at heart?

To be very clear, expertise is not the same thing as elitism. A real expert and scientist knows where their knowledge boundaries lie. They know that they know less than they have researched, and are on a quest to explore. They are developing theories and testing them, asking what didn’t work and what did. They know that the fruits of their labors may take years, decades, to bear truth, and most likely lead to more questions.

Elitism, on the other hand, is “the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people with an intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience—are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others.” They are the self-appointed leaders or gurus that have the answers. A scientist may be an elitist, but that is not a reflection on science but on the character of the individual. Or lack thereof.

Having just finished the documentary, “Behind the Curve,” on Netflix, I found it extremely interesting to listen to both sides of the debate on “flat earth theory.” There are those in the Flat Earth community who truly believe what science has let them down, that they have the truth and the science to back it up. What was extremely interesting was to hear the scientist’s remarks about this group of contrary thinkers. There was no condescension or elitism of any of the scientists interviewed. There was no pity or condemnation. It was a true desire to not ignore or sideline the discussion but to engage in it; it was about bringing people together rather than considering it an “us” and “them” situation. This was not about belief and fact; it was about education. Knowledge. Combating ignorance.

Freemasonry has an interesting take on the ideas of nature and science as they are combined with philosophy and a search for Truth. It is one of the few places that it seems both can come together, to discuss and debate with a very open narrative. Science is valued as much as the experiential; physics and metaphysics co-exist in conversation and thought. Nothing is off limits. These conversations, whether in a Lodge meeting or in social gatherings, at study groups or philosophical study centers are the ways we fight ignorance, if we are willing to listen.

top-10-books-every-college-student-read-e1464023124869I recently attended a study group where the topic was considering whether or not humanity had an influence on climate change. I was dead certain that humans influenced nature’s cycles; how could it not? There are seven billion people in the world, occupying space, consuming resources, and polluting the world around them. It was a belief and I knew it. However, I challenged myself to come with an open mind and not not make a judgment before entering the room. I am not, by training, a climatologist, meteorologist, geologist, or any other kind of -ologist. I know high-school level geology, and freshman college science. Let’s face it, I know nothing. What I did was bring in my own attitude and readings from media and pseudo-science journals, aimed at producing a message swinging one way or another. Being out of school for many years, I also felt the pride of age – I knew something of the world, darn it. I really felt like “know thyself” was part of my vernacular.

I admit to the conversation bringing my opinion around to a more moderate view rather than to a specific “side” of the debate.  The presenter discussed scientific findings I had not considered, and geologic facts of which I had absolutely no knowledge. I learned about ice ages, findings in the melting of current glaciers, ice core samples, geologic time scales, and historical facts of global significance. I won’t say that my mind was changed; I will say that I walked out with a broader idea of questioning what I have been told, and learning the truth for myself. I learned that what I had was a belief, not evidence. If I was going to change my ignorance, I needed to do the work. Myself.

This is where, to me, the collision of science and Freemasonry are at their best. Freemasonry is a mystery school – an initiatory rite that brings about the idea that the human being is nature and the best way to understand nature and the mysteries of life and death, is to study nature. How to study nature? Ancient Greek mystery schools according to Blavatsky are “not a unique system but, based on the spiritual structure of the universe,” of which it is important to understand Nature. They are inextricably linked, the Spirit and Nature, perhaps even one in the same. Freemasonry, as a modern descendant of these mystery schools seeks to take the core of nature and spirit, and propel the human into learning that both reside within humanity, and it is the Freemason’s job to not only continue to seek truth but to also seek Truth. It is to always ask questions, from knowing yourself to knowing the world, and doubt everything. It is a respect for the scientific process as much as it is for our own process. We are seven billion experiences and all are equally valid. Else, why are we having them?

pythagorasFor the ancient philosophers, ignorance was the opposite of good. To both Aristotle and Plato, no one does wrong willingly but only out of ignorance. Socrates had his own methods for combating ignorance, and many of these principles can be found in Freemasonic ritual and education. From continuous learning and making a daily advancement in education to providing education rather than criticism, the Freemason becomes a scientist of the world. Freemasons build on Socrates idea that one should “know thyself” in that they are lacking in knowledge, and that we have no idea what is best for others. The center point is the key to balance in all things but especially to combating ignorance. A measured approach, curious yet mindful. Lastly, I think Socrates was most right when he said that ignorance is inevitable. When Socrates said “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance,” what he was saying was that he was not ignorant of all things but that he was aware that he was ignorant of all things. He knew that he would be forever ignorant and it was only through perseverance that he could become “good.”

Masonic Mottoes: Deus Meumque Jus

Masonic Mottoes: Deus Meumque Jus

Freemasonry has various mottoes, which represent the principles of our great tradition. Among these is Deus Meumque Jus, which often appears prominently on Masonic Regalia, most notably that of the 32nd and 33rd degrees. A phrase being featured so prominently on Regalia for the highest degrees implies tremendous significance, but what does it mean?

Let’s explore the possible meanings of this motto, and the role it plays in the Masonic life. 

God and My Right

The latin phrase Deus Meumque Jus roughly translates to “God and My Right”, or as some have put forward, a more accurate translation might be “God and My Moral Rightness.” Deus is simple enough to translate, a familiar Latin word for God, as we often hear in Catholic recitations of Latin translations of the Bible. Jus has the same Latin root as Justice and relates to law, and Memque is a form of Meus, which is the adjective “my.” 

The actual history of the phrase is rather long and complex, and won’t be the focus of this article. Suffice it to say, in the words of one Masonic writer:

…the motto is the Latin version of a French phrase that originated in England and used in a Masonic degree system named after Scotland that descended from French sources by way of Haiti with the help of a Dutch trader through Jamaica and eventually almost completely redefined in the United States. 

It’s also associated with the number 33, as it is usually featured on the 33rd Degree’s Regalia, and the inside of the ring worn by 33rd Degree Masons. Significance is ascribed to the number 33 in a variety of ways, it being sacred in religions ranging from Christianity to Hinduism, and there being 33 vertebrae in the spinal column, to name a couple. However, today we’re focusing on the phrase itself.

What Is This Right?

Everything in Freemasonry, especially in the more mystical Universal Co-Masonry, carries significance beyond its literal or historical definitions, or translations. There are many possible interpretations of the meaning behind Deus Meumque Jus; historically, it has some connection to the concept of the Divine Right of Kings, in which case it would mean “my right to rule is derived from God.” However, given the role of Freemasons in the institution of democracy in the Western world, it seems hard to believe that it’s meaning in the fraternity has much connection to justification for monarchy.

The interpretation “God and my moral rightness” is more in alignment with the origin of the latin translation, and would mean the interpretation would be more along the lines of connecting one’s relationship to the Creator to moral uprightness. However, this concept alone is unsatisfying; after all, don’t all people who believe in a higher power connect their morality to that concept, in some way or another? Why would this then be a special phrase reserved for the highest degrees of Freemasonry?

Divine Right to Rule the Inner Kingdom?

Perhaps a more profound interpretation of this phrase might be that it represents an inner reign of the divine, within each individual Mason. Aspects of the structure of Masonic Ritual indicate an outer mirroring of inner elements of one’s being, and a very clear hierarchy and order to them. Without spoiling too much for the as-yet uninitiated, the gist of this concept is that the functioning of the Lodge and Masonic ritual lays out a blueprint by which the various aspects of the self may be “put to order” so that the lower aspects of self are made to be the servants of the divine within.

Viewed through this lens, Deus Meumque Jus would be inward law and order (Jus) established within the self (Meumque), by the divine self (Deus) as the Sovereign. 

Yet another interpretation would be something more along gnostic lines, and given gnosticism’s role in the Esoteric traditions informing Freemasonry, it’s not such a stretch to apply this lens, as well. From a gnostic perspective, Deus could pertain not only the inner divine spark, but also to the demiurge which gnostic thinking generally believes to be the creator of the material world in which we find ourselves. In this interpretation, perhaps the Right being referred to may be less about divine authority within the self, and more about one’s Right to transcend the trappings of this flawed material creation of the demi-urge, to realize the potential contained in one’s divine spark, via gnosis. 

Actually, these two more mystical interpretations are not entirely incompatible. One could say that the inner sovereignty over one’s own lower nature, and the right to transcend a demiurge-designed reality are one and the same. After all, the primary way in which we are ensnared in the physical world, according to gnosticism, is via these bodies and their lower natures. To be Sovereign over them would mean to transcend them.

Tradition, Transcendence, or Both?

While the phrase Deus Meumque Jus has a complex history and is embedded in a long tradition relating to monarchy and various esoteric societies, it also has tremendous symbolic significance. We could even relate it to the Yogic concept of gaining complete control of all the lower aspects of the self, even the nerve centers which control breathing and the heartbeat, as part of the process of one’s advancement towards Liberation. Perhaps there are correlations between the Western Gnostic concept of inner sovereignty, and this Eastern correlate. 

What is the true meaning of this Masonic motto? The only way to find out is to become a Freemason, and progress through the degrees, for only in the Masonic ritual is the true meaning revealed.

As Above, So Below: The Soul’s Evolutionary Trajectory Reflected in Freemasonry

As Above, So Below: The Soul’s Evolutionary Trajectory Reflected in Freemasonry

What is the purpose of life, or perhaps beyond life, or existence itself? How one answers this question will depend on one’s beliefs, ranging from nihilism to religious concepts of salvation and the afterlife. In Freemasonry, we don’t impose or require any particular belief regarding the purpose of life on the grandest scale, although we do focus heavily on the improvement of each individual, what some might call personal evolution. Ultimately, each Mason has his or her own beliefs, and come from a variety of religious backgrounds.

What is the relationship of this focus on personal development to various possible higher, metaphysical concepts of life’s purpose, or the soul’s trajectory? 

God and Telos

It’s very interesting the ways that a concept of a higher power are connected to personal betterment and evolution. This is one of the reasons for the requirement of a belief in a higher power for entry into Freemasonry, because the opposite of this belief, materialism or physicalism is also intrinsically nihilistic, though some may feebly attempt to deny it. To believe in God or the Divine is to believe in a purpose to Creation, a concept known in philosophy and theology as teleology, from the Greek word telos, meaning “reason, purpose, or end.”

If we, and the universe we emerged from, simply happened and were not somehow created as the modern materialist orthodoxy insists, this means that we and the world are essentially an accidental, pointless mess of dust blowing in the cosmic wind, meaninglessly. This is a particularly bleak worldview, which in spite of its many philosophical problems, has risen to prominence in the academic and intellectual culture of the West. Freemasonry is diametrically opposed to this view, in that one of the very few beliefs our diverse group does share is the belief in a higher power, and the Telos which that belief implies. 

The Many Faces of Telos

While we may all share a belief in God (or something like it) and Telos, the individual and sectarian concepts among various Brothers of what exactly that teleological purpose of our existence is can vary widely. This will depend on how we conceptualize God or the Divine, and the purpose for which we were created. Some of the most common teleological differences are between Abrahamic religions, those of the East, and more nature-based spiritual traditions. 

Abrahamic faiths like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, for instance, tend to focus on some sublime end, usually an afterlife, or a time in the future when the dead will be raised and live in a more Earthly paradise. In either case, it’s generally believed that our purpose is to serve and worship God, and to eventually enjoy the heavenly state individuals have earned by having chosen to live for their Creator. Usually, they believe we live only one life, and then proceed to eternal reward or punishment. 

Eastern religions, on the other hand, such as Buddhism or Hinduism, tend to believe that our souls evolve over many, many lifetimes and eons, perhaps even existences on other worlds, or in other dimensions. While they generally believe in heavens or hells, these are all temporary states which a soul may pass through. The ultimate goal is to be completely free of our illusions, and to realize our unity with God, or the Ultimate Reality. 

Nature religions such as Shamanism, Taoism, or Paganism are an interesting case, as they focus more on our position in relation to the natural world, usually conceived as a grand living entity, and the various spirits and ancestors which inhabit the non-physical realm. Still, there is often a sense of Telos, if not in a trajectory towards an end, at least towards some idea of balance or harmony. 

Unity in Teleological Diversity

One of the chief benefits of Co-Masonry is its adaptability and applicability to life, regardless of what faith and individual Telos a person adopts. The virtues which are taught in Masonry, such as personal discipline, honor, universal brotherhood, truth, equality, and justice are all qualities which contribute to any concept of Telos that one might identify with. Whether you believe that your destiny is heaven, enlightenment, nirvana, or simply cosmic harmony, the qualities and skills which Freemasonry encourages are pragmatic and conducive to those ends. 

It’s truly a magnificent feat which our Brothers before us achieved, by combining the common elements of moral philosophy and sacred teachings from so many traditions, to create a common path which could encompass all believers and seekers, to work together in Brotherhood towards the betterment of the human race. 


(Photo source: Ian Schneider via Unsplash.com)

The Masonic Chisel: A Resolution Not Just for New Years

The Masonic Chisel: A Resolution Not Just for New Years

As the Christmas season draws to a close and we get ready for New Year’s parties and countdowns, yet another tradition comes to the forefront of our minds: New Years Resolutions. These yearly promises from ourselves to ourselves are taken more seriously by some than others, and we may make jokes about how they only last so long, perhaps only a week. Yet, the idea that we should set goals for ourselves, whether to take on new endeavors or remove unnecessary or unhealthy aspects of our lives is something which we should make last all year, much like the love and generosity of Christmas.

In Freemasonry, the symbol of the chisel represents discipline and education. Just as the chisel removes unneeded stone to reveal the jewel, form, or sculpture within, so can personal discipline remove those things which tarnish and distort our latent potential, and education can likewise chisel away our own ignorance, and reveal our inherent virtues.

Rough and Perfect Ashlars

Self-Made mnaThe journey of a Mason is often compared to the creation of a perfect from a rough ashlar, a polished stone from a rough and imperfect one. The chisel is the primary symbolic tool in that endeavor, in that it is what removes the excess stone until the surface is smooth. An ashlar is a rectangular stone used in walls with a flush face. Just as we are said to be making ourselves into stones in the temple of God, so is the smoothing of the self meant to make those stones that we are fit perfectly, and serve their purpose in the temple.

The removal of excess stone is the purpose of the chisel, and the removal of excess aspects of ourselves forms a major part of the personal discipline required to excel at life, to fulfill our personal destiny and serve our purpose. The uncivilized or ineffective person is much like the rough stone, with various unnecessary protrusions, such as a tendency to anger, drink to excess, speak with too loose a tongue, or engage in sloth activities such as watching television or scrolling social media for hours. 

As we hopefully see from the 24-inch gauge, we have only a certain number of hours in the day, and to fritter them away on excess activities that contribute little to nothing to the labor of our evolution is a waste. Likewise, if we speak or behave in ways that are inappropriate, out of anger or even simple gossiping, excess aspects of our being spill over into the lives and minds of others, leading to unnecessary problems, and more waste of time. These are examples of the kinds of rough, protruding aspects of the self we are meant to chisel away from our lives, through discipline and self-control

Education Removes Erroneous Beliefs

Informing ourselves with knowledge is likewise an important aspect of our development, yet how does this correspond to the chisel? If we reflect on it a bit, we can see that every piece of knowledge learned is the removal of some ignorance. After all, if we do not know certain things for certain, our minds will surely fill in the blanks, even if only with guesses or superstitions. We cannot help imagining what might be true until we know what is true, and so it is these baseless stray imaginings that are eliminated with the chisel of Masonic education.Chisels

We should also find that these two aspects of the chisel go hand in hand, for surely as we educate ourselves, our behaviors will also change. In a sense, it is always the darkness of ignorance which leads us to engage in lazy behaviors, for instance, even if on some level we know we shouldn’t. At that moment, at least, we forget or neglect, and simply indulge our baser nature’s desire to be stimulated and inert. Likewise for inappropriate anger, gossiping, and similar things. So, going beyond education, it is knowledge and remembrance which are truly required to eliminate these aspects of ourselves.

From New Year to New Day

Why do we choose to make declarations of improvement only once a year? While it’s fine to have a day to remind us all of the importance of this practice, we really should be tweaking and making changes to our lives every single day. Such is the evolutionary process, the way to change ourselves into something better than we have been, day by day. In Universal Freemasonry, we are taught to do precisely this, using the working tools as symbolic reminders of what it takes to become our ideal self, or as near to it as can be managed in this life. 

What is your New Year’s Resolution?

A Very Esoteric Christmas [Part 2]

A Very Esoteric Christmas [Part 2]

Today, on the Eve of this great holiday of Christmas, we celebrate the beginning of our current age of history, the beginning of a new year, the return of the solar light, and the birth of the most influential figure in modern history, Jesus of Nazareth. In Part 1 of A Very Esoteric Christmas, we examined the roots and archetypal origins of the Christmas story, as well as other various pre-Christmas traditions in paganism and ancient mythology. We have seen that Christmas in its entirety is a patchwork of ancient and mythical ideas and celebrations.

The dissolution of our beliefs and assumptions about Christmas may be disconcerting to some, but like the caterpillar which must liquify within its cocoon in order to become a butterfly, it is a necessary component of initiation into new knowledge to leave inaccurate ideas behind. So, now, while our conception of Christmas is likewise in its liquid state, let’s see what colorful wings our cherished holiday may yet don, and what sweet flowers of spiritual life they may carry us to. 

Dawn of the Midnight Sun

In the first chapter of John, the most mystical chapter of the most mystical gospel, it is said that that Word which became Jesus of Nazareth is also that Word of God which shone in the darkness at the dawn of Creation and made all things, and which is also the Light and Life of humanity. In the original Greek, this Word is actually Logos, a concept borrowed from Greek Stoic and Neoplatonist philosophers which describes the creative force which gives order to the dark chaos of the universe. So, this Light of Logos shone in the darkness, and the darkness knew it not; it was the Light of humanity, and became flesh that humanity might know it better. 

If there were a single motif that could be attributed to the aesthetic and mythical theme of Christmas, it would be that of light shining in the darkness. From the illuminated Christ child at the center of our nativities to the Christmas lights with which we decorate our trees and homes, to the light of the quintessential hearth upon which stockings are hung, Christmas is archetypally a light in the darkness, a warmth in the cold, even order in the chaos. It is salvation by Divine Light, at the darkest hour.

The birth of the Sun Gods throughout ancient mythology, many of whom share common elements with the story of Jesus and his birth, were often celebrated at the time of the Winter Solstice because this is the point at which the sun begins it’s slow return after reaching it’s darkest point, ultimately culminating in Spring and Summer. Midwinter, therefore, marks the birth of a new solar cycle, which has always governed the activities of mankind, and to a large extent still does. It is the point at which the Sun of God “dies,” and is born anew, what in Rome was known as the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.”

While some may scoff at the ancient sun-worship, as the giver of light and life, what better symbol for God or the Divine might there be than that without which all we know would perish? Much like the Logos of John 1, the Light of the sun shines into matter, and turns the darkness of mud and stone into the beautiful complexities of Life. Since most people need the incomprehensibility of God to be represented by some tangible figure, both the sun and it’s idealized representatives in their various anthropomorphized forms, Father and Sun, can serve to embody and inform humanity about the nature of the spiritual Light which gives true Life. 

As Above, So Below, So Within

In The Mystical Interpretation of Christmas, Rosicrucian Max Heindel describes the times at which the physical and spiritual energies received from the sun as being reversed, so that the time of greatest physical energy correlates to the weakest spiritual energy, and vice versa. Interestingly enough, this also corresponds to the times at which the sun’s light is striking the Earth at a more right angle, during Summer Solstice, representative of the square of physical existence, as opposed to when it is striking the Earth at a more perpendicular angle at Winter Solstice, roughly corresponding to the triangle, representing spiritual existence. 

This also means that this Winter Solstice, day of spiritual maximum, is the day at which the physical minimum turns, and begins to grow towards the physical robustness of Summer, and so represents the beginning of the descent of spirit into matter. This descent, too often depicted as a “fall”, is fundamentally an act of giving, sacrifice, service, and creation, for the Light’s descent into darkness is that by which all new forms are created, maintained, and the grace by which they may someday ascend and evolve to a higher state. Without the selfless pouring of light from the sun into the darkness of the Earth, and the divine birth of crop and creature, where might we be? 

So it is that at the time where the physical light is at its weakest, the spiritual Light of Love and generosity reaches its peak. Throughout history, as the darkness of Winter set in, the necessity for giving and sharing also reached its highest, and were it not for the reminder of Love and generosity of these Winter celebrations, how many may have perished in the bitter cold of Winter, and the frigid self-concern of their neighbors? Here, we likewise find the importance of giving, being both symbolic of the fundamental gift of Light and Life from God and the sun, as well as being a practical aspect of our survival and thriving as a people. We are reminded to become sun-like in our generosity when the sun itself is the least present.

Perverted and commercialized though it may now be, our ability at our darkest hour to allow the inner sun of our Love to shine and provide for one another is the origin of our gift-giving traditions of Christmas, and the dominant theme of many Christmas stories, from the willingness of a wealthy miser to give to those in need in A Christmas Carol, to the willingness of a poor community to support a family in need, in It’s a Wonderful Life. Even the original Christmas story of a desperate refugee family, mother heavy with child, finding shelter in the generosity of others resonates with this theme. All of these are outer reflections of our Light shining in the darkness of ignorance, fear, hatred, and greed. 

Love in the Cosmic Manger

“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds” by Thomas Cole.

Like the Christ child in the story of Jesus, the Christ which is the inner Light of all people, of every atom, and which shines in our sun and every star beyond is a divine gift born of grace, whose destiny is written into the fabric of Creation itself. Into the deepest depths of darkness, born into a galactic stable and a planetary manger made of water, dust, and gases, the physical light of the sun shines down, and the divine Light of consciousness miraculously emerges and ascends towards its source in every form of Life. As the Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi wrote, “God sleeps in the rock, dreams in the plant, stirs in the animal, and awakens in man.”

The secret of this Sun of God in humanity is hidden in the characters of the Christmas nativity. The virgin mother Mary is the purity of the open heart, unmolested by the base desires of lower human nature, receiving that which was never born and never dies. The father Joseph is the servant of strength and will, who watches over the divine incarnation, in obedience to the heavenly decree. The wise men and shepherds drawn by the star are the higher and lower aspects of the mind, called by the mysterious celestial intuition from their typical worldly activities. The stable, manger, and the animals all around are the dim and lowly terrestrial vessel into which the Christ Light is born, or descends, in each of us, the physical body.

All these aspects of the self are gathered like a mandala around the central figure, who is placed into a manger which by normal logic should simply be food for the animals, but has been replaced by this divine Light and salvation from the fearful darkness of entanglement in the world of matter. So it is that this Light takes the place of the mere material “bread alone” which feeds only our bodies and their desires. So it is that body, heart, willpower, and mind bow down and revolve like satellites around the radiant Light which transcends and illuminates all these lesser aspects of the Self. This Light does not emerge from them, just as the baby Jesus is not a naturally conceived child; it is not a sum of their parts, but rather a grace descending to them, giving them meaning and purpose beyond their transitory forms and lower existence, which are otherwise merely eddies of darkness.

The Sun in Every One

Near-death experiencers almost universally describe encountering a Light which they know to be God, whose shining effulgence is the essence of Unconditional Love, Knowledge, Life, and Consciousness. Mystics the world over likewise experience God as an infinite Light which is both transcendent and immanent in all of Creation. This loving Light is also understood to be what we experience in our hearts as love, and in our minds as consciousness, albeit in limited forms. It shines in us most brightly in unconditional Love, when freed from the constraints of desire and conditioning that conceal it in the muck and mire of our lower natures.

It is this Love Light that shines from the manger, and it comes to us appropriately in the story-form of a babe, a new and pure form of Life. It is various shades of this Light which we know throughout life, first in our purity as babes ourselves, then in the loving union which brings new life into the world, and once again when we gaze upon our newborn children, reflecting our own pure essential nature back to us. This inner sun child which we glimpse in many ways is our core, beneath and beyond all aspects of mind and body, it is our Soul, our consciousness itself, both the Light of awareness and the fountain of Love which shines when we surrender to the Divine.

When we achieve the purity and surrender of Mary, the strength and devotion of Joseph, and the orientation of all aspects of mind, from shepherds to wisemen, towards this star of intuition, then the radiance of the unconquered inner sun shines in us as an inexhaustible joy, love, wisdom, creativity, and peace, illuminating every aspect of our relationships, thoughts, and actions in the world. This is the culmination of the spiritual journey, and the world itself becomes illuminated when we bear this Light by releasing all impurities which obstruct it within ourselves. 

The Rising Light

While our individual completion is a day yet to come, at Christmas, our stories and songs, decorations and celebrations, the hour of the season and position of heavenly bodies themselves all convene to remind us of that infinite Light of Love which dwells within us, which we glimpse in our brightest moments, and which awaits our devoted purification to shine from the manger of our hearts, making us a fully divine incarnation of the Logos of Loving Light.

This illumination is a gradual process, and the bellows of our Christmas stories, songs, and symbols blow into us every Midwinter and renew the warm hearth of Love within us. This helps us to march forward into the darkness, hand-in-hand and Lit from Within, to face a new cyclical round of our spiral journey upward towards ultimate completion, and to bring Light into this world in whatever imperfect ways we are able to, along the way.

Know this Christmas that the Light of Christ Consciousness is not a faraway or ancient thing, nor is it limited to any sect, temple, or holy book, but it lives in every gaze you meet, in every word of love, in every act of giving, and in your very own heart, if you release the fearful confusion which conceals it, and recognize it to be the core of your being, merely hidden in darkness, waiting to be revealed. A very merry, warm, and bright Christmas to you, from the Universal Co-Masonry community.


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

[Part I] A Very Esoteric Christmas – The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

[Part I] A Very Esoteric Christmas – The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn

As Christmas swiftly approaches, parts of the world with Christian roots are becoming enchanted with various traditions centered around the story of Christ’s humble birth, as well as secular and non-Christian related Winter Solstice traditions. Whatever one’s faith or lack thereof, it’s hard to ignore this festive time of year, and the dominant story of the world’s largest religion, woven into the carols, ornaments, and decorations it’s strewn with. 

Yes, twinkling lights, glittering decor, and snowy landscapes saturate the collective psyche, in a celebration that blends themes of warmth, love, hope, forgiveness, destiny, generosity, and a central event with such significance that we use it as the demarcation point of our entire calendar.

Jaroslav_Čermák_(1831_-_1878)_-_Sv._Mikuláš
Saint Nicholas of Myra (270 – 343 AD)  by Jaroslav Cermák

Not only is Christmas the end of every year, but also the yearly anniversary of the end of the old world Before Christ, and the birth of the new Anno Domini phase of the human story. The axis of Western history literally rests on this event which we celebrate every December 25th. 

Yet there is much more to this story than the surface images of Winter festivity and the stable-born divine son, surrounded by star-struck wise men and poor shepherds. Indeed, virtually every aspect of Christmas has deep roots in traditions which preceded their adoption into Christianity and it’s birth story; even aspects of the Christmas story itself may be more mythical than historical. Even Santa Claus, sometimes criticized as a fanciful creation of Coca-Cola, has his roots as Sinterklaas (St. Nicolas), dating back to the Middle Ages, or arguably even pre-Christian European traditions. 

So, what exactly are the roots of the Christmas story, and what should we make of them? Do they invalidate our beloved holiday, or is it possible they might give it even deeper meaning?

Will the Real Sun of God Please Stand Up?

Perhaps most famously “exposed” in the First portion of the Zeitgeist film, it’s long been known among scholars that elements of the story of Christ’s life told in the bible exist in many pre-existing traditions, and that certainly includes the circumstances of his birth. It’s virtually undeniable that aspects of the Christmas story are mythological and astrological.  Biblical literalists may argue that these stories were created by demons to trick mankind, but to most rational people unwilling to make such leaps to preserve their beliefs, the realization of Christmas’s mythology is unavoidable.

Religious history is littered with Christ and Christmas prototypes. Of the many Gods or demi-Gods said to be born on December 25th, some of the most famous are Mithras, Apollo, Horus, Osiris, Heracles, Dionysus, and Adonis. Those whose births were foretold by heavenly phenomena like stars or comets include Yu, Lao Tse, Buddha, Mithra, and Osiris. Those who were said to have been born by divine conception, often to a virgin, include Pharaoh Amenkept III, the sun god Ra, Horus, Atis, Dionysus, Perseus, Helen of Troy, Buddha, Mithra, and even Ghengis Khan. The study of Jesus in comparative mythology is an area continually explored by historians and scholars. Son Gods: Horus, Mithra, Krishna, Dionysus

The figure which probably has the most similarity to the Jesus story is Hinduism’s Lord Krishna, who is said to be: God in the form of a man, the second person of a divine trinity, prophesied by wise men and stars to be born of divine conception to a (possibly virginal) member of a royal lineage (and the prophecy was fulfilled), one who performed miracles, cast out demons, was killed by being hung on a tree, then died and descended to Hell before rising again to visit disciples and ascend to heaven, as witnessed by many followers, and was also referred to as a “lion” of his tribe, plus many other correlations. Their biggest difference, perhaps, is that Krishna’s life is believed to have taken place anywhere from 200-3,200 years before Christ’s. 

However, this doesn’t mean that Christ was never born, or never existed. Indeed, there is some historical evidence that Jesus existed, and even if it’s not strong enough to convince some skeptics, “The majority of New Testament scholars and historians of the ancient Near East agree that Jesus existed as a historical figure. [wikipedia]” The existence of mythological elements of Christ’s story are too often used inappropriately as evidence that he never existed, while they are merely evidence that his story was mythologized in the process of Christianity’s spread into pagan Europe, at the most.

Yule Never Guess How Much of Christmas is Pagan

While the story of Jesus’s birth can be traced to the religious mythologies of various ancient civilizations, much of the traditions of Christmas have their roots in more rural pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, particularly from Northern Europe. 

Yule or Yuletide was the Norse/Germanic tradition of cutting down and burning a large log, known as the Yule Log, while feasting for however long it took the log to burn, which could be up to 12 days around the Solstice. Many believe this to be the origin of the 12 days of Christmas. The related Midwinter (Winter Solstice) was also considered to be a time, like Halloween, in which the veil between the spiritual and natural world was thinner, and thus carried religious and supernatural significance. 

The lives of ancient Pagan people are believed to have revolved mostly around the agricultural significance of the seasons’ changes in the Northern hemisphere, and the supernatural significance they also took on, being literally matters of life and death. Winter Solstice was a time where preparations for the coming Winter “famine months” of January and February came to a climax, with the slaughter of livestock that could not be fed through the Winter, as well as excess food which could not be properly stored. It also so happened to be the time of year when the wine and beer made from crops grown during the Summer months was sufficiently fermented to be drank and enjoyed.

The Druids Cutting Mistletoe Jacob Thompson
Jacob Thompson (1806-1879), “The Druids Cutting Mistletoe”

So, due to the presence of excess food, meat, and libations, Christmas traditions that likely sprang in part from Yule/Midwinter include feasting and caroling, the Christmas ham/turkey, gifts, and general fire-side festivity. Even the use of evergreen trees and branches as decorations, revered for their ability to thrive and remain green in the depths of Winter, pre-dates the advent of the Christmas tree in early medieval Germany, with the pagans bringing evergreens into their homes as early as 400 A.D. It seems that what Christmas traditions didn’t come from Egyptian, Greek, Roman, or even Indian mythologies have been inherited from pre-Christian, pagan Europe. 

The similar equivalent of Saturnalia existed in Rome, which was spread to most of Europe during the Roman empire; in this case, elements of social chaos and merriment were also added to the general feasting, gladiator fights, gambling, gift-giving, an early form of greeting cards, and general dis-inhibition. The Roman Saturnalia was not unlike an ancient Mardis Gras on steroids, with people wearing costumes and reversing social roles, allowing slaves to become masters and vice versa, and allowing peasants to rule the cities for the week. The feasting and indulgence is also said to have included orgiastic elements, as well, meaning gluttony may not have been the only vice that was indulged. 

Merry Amalgamation of World Myths and Traditions?

While these revelations may be troubling to some, the truth is that all of these various traditions were incorporated into Christmas for a reason or a variety of reasons. All of them were tremendously meaningful to the people from whom they were received, and like mythology itself, carry symbolic significance. So, perhaps rather than being disheartened that Christmas isn’t what we thought it was, we should be intrigued to discover what greater meanings might be hidden in this patchwork tradition. 

In Universal Co-Masonry, we strive to seek the Light of Knowledge wherever it may lead us, however uncomfortable it may be. So, where might the illumination of Christmas’s symbolism take us? More on that in Part 2, coming soon…


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


Featured Image: “Adoration of the Shepherds” (1622), Gerard van Honthorst. Modern secular historians regard the birth narrative in the Gospel of Luke as a legend invented by early Christians based on Old Testament predecessors.

In the Shadow of Jehovah: Is Religion’s Devil a Reflection of a Limited Concept of God?

In the Shadow of Jehovah: Is Religion’s Devil a Reflection of a Limited Concept of God?

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


The figure of the Devil is among the most prominent and significant religious figures in the world today, particularly in the Abrahamic family of religions that have come to dominate the globe. The contrast between God (or his representative) and the devil is taken to be one of the most fundamental dynamics of many religious worldviews, even to the point that Satan serves as a symbol for those who oppose or criticize religion. Even for the non-religious, it’s impossible to deny the significance of the devil as an archetype in our culture.

This good vs. evil, God vs. Devil idea is actually much older even than Abraham, and has its roots as far back as Zoroastrianism in ancient Babylon, and many scholars even believe that the Abrahamic faiths picked the devil up from the Babylonians during their capture in that civilization. Many interpretations of the devil have been made on a symbolic level, ranging from a representation of our own carnal nature, to a reincarnation of the nature-spirit Pan, to the light bringer known as Lucifer

Today, I’d like to take a slightly different approach: Is it possible that the entire concept of the devil emerges directly from a certain limited concept of God?

Our Father, Who Art In Heaven

Inasmuch as the Devil is a shadow figure, perhaps even the quintessential iconoclastic antithesis to all that is regarded as good or holy, it represents the unconscious “dark” elements that are regarded as the opposite of the divine. In other words, the devil becomes the shadow aspect of God, and within us, the shadow of our own divinity. Whether or not a literal, supernatural entity that we might identify as the devil exists, we can see this symbolic truth. We can also surmise that the most essential quality of the devil is rebellion or resistance to the divine will, for the sake of self-gratification, and so represents the temptation each of us feels to indulge in personal pleasure, at the expense of our moral principles or nobler priorities. 

All of this presupposes a divine ruler on high, sitting on a throne in heaven, issuing commands, directing angelic activities, hearing and responding to prayers, even feeling gratified or displeased with earthly events. This is the image of God described in the Abrahamic faiths, often taken quite literally by believers. Even less anthropomorphic concepts of a monotheistic God are generally finite, in this way. God is thought of as a being who is somewhere, perceiving events, doing things, even peering into our very hearts and whispering in our minds, a sort of ultimate person above all lesser people, or as the saying goes, “King of Kings, Lord of Lords.”

Given all of this, it seems inevitable that out of this supreme, uber-person-God’s many created lesser beings, one of them would eventually question his position and rebel, and as it so happens, Lucifer was the first angel created, and the leader of the rebellion not long after. The relatively recent origins of this idea can be picked apart at an academic level, but nevertheless, it is the dominant devil mythology of the dominant religion of our time, Christianity. 

Father and the Rebel

Rembrandt Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son

“Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt

Of course, if God is an authority figure, there has to be an anti-authority rebel. How else could it be? If the devil hadn’t gone rogue, a human surely would have. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: should we take either of these two concepts seriously?

It’s no secret that many intellectuals have been critical, if not outright rejecting of this traditional concept of God and the devil. It seems too obvious how this uber-person was simply created by human minds, attempting to imagine a divine authority based on earthly authorities, or perhaps being imposed upon them by those earthly authorities as a justification for their rule.

If you want your sovereignty supported by your subjects, be sure you have the endorsement of the highest authority. Even regular philosophers have increasingly questioned and rejected this idea, from the time they gained the right to do so without being tortured and killed. 

Likewise, it’s difficult not to see the utility of the penultimate bad boy devil as both a scapegoat for our human failings and a scare tactic to keep the pews filled. That’s not to say that this dynamic duo doesn’t have symbolic value and that these stories aren’t useful in helping to shape human behavior towards a better trajectory. This is especially true for those who have trouble understanding a more rational concept of God. But for the rest of us, how else might we understand God, and is the devil even necessary?

Light Casts No Shadow

If we look to the many religions of the world, there are some for whom the figure of penultimate evil is either nonexistent or has a much lesser emphasis. It’s no coincidence that these also have quite different views on the nature of God, as well. We can easily see in this comparison how it is precisely the authoritarian concept of God which produces our angelic rebel. After all, without heavenly authority, who would he have to rebel against?

In Buddhism, for instance, while some variations may carry over personifications of evil from their polytheistic precursors, in general, the only enemy of mankind is ignorance itself. Likewise in Hinduism, while various Gods and Goddesses represent manifestations of “aspects” of God, even the dark or destructive ones are seen as mere parts in the divine play or dance of creation. In Paganism, Taoism, and occult or esoteric traditions the world over, there is likewise little-to-no concept of an embodiment of all evil, or at least not one that carries the same cosmic significance and literal personification as the Abrahamic devil. 

What else do all of these various non-Abrahamic traditions have in common? You guessed it, a quite different concept of God, or the divine. While there are minor differences, they tend towards a view of God as a universal mind, or omnipresent, transcendent cosmic consciousness, like the Hindu Brahman. Even the mystical elements of Abrahamic faiths, such as Christian Mystics, Islamic Sufis, and Jewish Kabbalists have less anthropomorphic, more mystical concepts of God, and emphasize the devil less. 

Many thinkers have proposed that these varying views are merely stages in a linear evolutionary development of our understanding of God, and that each can serve various people, depending on their capability to comprehend. For many, perhaps the simpler stories and images can suffice. In Freemasonry, each Mason is entitled to his or her own religious belief and conception of God, however personal or mystical; only the belief in a higher power is required. 

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

While we make no bones about the esoteric nature of our beliefs and interests in Universal Co-Masonry, what may be missed by many is the connection which this esotericism, in general, has to a historical divide within perhaps all religions. While we may know the history of religion or at least the religious tradition(s) we’ve been closest to in our lives, do we know their esoteric history? Do they all have an esoteric history? What is the purpose of this split between the esoteric (inner) and exoteric (outer) teachings?

The word occult means hidden, and can be used interchangeably with esoteric, but what is it hiding from? Did this secretiveness arise simply to avoid the persecution of the church in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as we’re often led to believe, or has concealment always been in its nature?

The Shamanic Thread in Religions

It would be absurd to attempt to tell any sort of true history of religion in the context of a single blog post, but I do want to highlight what is most relevant to the topic. In doing so, I think it’s useful to return to the beginning.

Where did religion begin? Archaeologically, we see the dim traces of the beginnings of religion as signified by cave paintings and burial sites, the point at which humans began honoring and burying our dead. In truth, we know very little about this twilight of belief.

Female Shaman Khakas 1908
Female Shaman (Khakas 1908)

The first instance of religion which we have more direct experience and knowledge of is that which occurs in tribes, which has come to be referred to by anthropologists as Shamanism. We see shamans in the indigenous tribes we encounter and study in modern times, and we assume that this system must have been present from our own beginnings and that these people serve as a glimpse into our past; for the moment, I’ll work with this assumption without question. 

Shamanism involves a minority of the tribe, often only a single shaman and one or more apprentices, serving as the interface between the spiritual realms and the tribe. What makes the shaman unique is that he or she is able to communicate with the world beyond the senses in a way that most aren’t, whether through natural capacities, or the use of psychoactive plants. In the case of Shamanism, we can clearly see the beginnings of a “mystical minority” of the population, who are acknowledged and even vital to the tribe. 

Growth, Monopoly, and Compartmentalization

As we move forward through the progressive trajectory of civilization, we see the same pattern but with changes over time. As people developed kingdoms and larger civilizations, they also began to build separate structures within each city, and temples emerged as spaces uniquely devoted to interfacing with the divine. It’s interesting to note that, just as the various buildings physically cordoned off each “area” of life, with the government here, the market there, etc., so too did religion begin to be separated. It became less and less woven into the whole of life, as was more-so the case in the tribe, and became something you do “there” specifically.

egyptians and acacia
Egyptian Tree of Life

Furthermore, we might even say that this, in fact, was the beginning of religion, inasmuch as religion describes a specific, separate domain of human activity; if this be the case, then we can recognize that the emergence of religion was a product of the divvying up of life into categories, and simultaneously, a continuation of the shamanic tradition. All of the above was also mostly relevant in cities, while the people living in villages still relied on shamanic figures for much of the time, until the priesthood of the city began to replace the shamans and druids with priests.

As far as we know, the esoteric side of religion also emerged during this time. Greece and Rome had their mystery schools, the Hindu kingdoms had their Brahmins and Yogis, Israel their prophets and later their Kabbalists, etc.

However, this mysticism wasn’t necessarily separated from the priesthood. In ancient Greece, for instance, it was expected or even required to undergo the initiations, in order to be a priest, or for that matter, any other prominent and influential member of society. Since these things weren’t always recorded, we may never fully know just how connected the various esoteric traditions and their correlating priesthoods were. 

The Standard Deviation from the Mundane

A question that I find very interesting is: Why has this mystical minority seemingly always existed? Are they simply those which are smarter, less “neurotypical”, more prone to transition between different states of consciousness, or more likely to experiment with psychoactive drugs? Or could it be some combination of all these things?

It’s commonly understood that many things, including human traits like height, IQ, blood pressure, and salaries, occur in the form of a normal distribution, or bell curve. This just means that when you plot them on a graph, the majority are “normal” and so the middle of the graph is the largest, and the further from normal you get in either direction, the more it slopes off, like the edges of a bell, with fewer people being abnormal.

IQ Bell Curve

IQ Bell Curve

Could it be that whatever trait or collection of traits contributes to someone being open to, and capable of embracing the mystical side of life more completely is simply always a minority of people out at the edges of the bell? And what about the rest of the people, who live in the middle of that bell curve, who are normal? Why must they be separated?

Will That Be Milk, or Solids?

For most of us who find ourselves at the mystical end of the curve, life experience has taught us that those who dwell within the realm of normality are often not willing or able to understand many of the more profound concepts, for whatever reasons. It often seems that what they need is exactly what exoteric religion provides, simplified stories and concepts which can give meaning and purpose to their lives, but which the more mystically inclined would find lacking. Perhaps that is exactly why exoteric religion was created; at some point, the inheritors of the shamanic thread understood what Jesus expressed, when his disciples asked why he must speak in parables to the masses: because having ears, they cannot hear, and having eyes, they cannot see. 

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Masonic Symbolism

Of the many esoteric traditions, Freemasonry has served as an ideal refuge and vehicle for the mystically inclined. This is primarily because of its level of organization and practicality, which has facilitated its membership not just studying high concepts behind closed doors, but having a major influence on society at large, as well as a highly functional internal structure that allows us to be effective at getting things done. While the milk of parables is enough for most, for those who seek more solid food, we welcome sincere truth-seekers of every kind


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

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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