The Edge of The Universe

The Edge of The Universe

In Freemasonry, it explained that the “extent of a Lodge” covers the whole of existence, rising to the heavens, to the depths of the earth, east and west to each horizon, and north and south the same. This is the width, breadth, and depth of a Masonic Lodge. This is emblematical of the Temple of Humanity, but truly not just humanity. The Lodge is all of creation, edge to edge. If this is so, then the whole of the entire universe is a Lodge, and all of the entirety of the universe are its officers and workers.

Everything? So it would seem.

We also know that a Lodge is not a Temple. The Temple is the place where the Freemasons meet, to perform ritual, enjoy brotherhood, and revel in sacred space. The Lodge is the body of Freemasons that make up the Fraternity. Plainly, it would seem that the Lodge is not just Freemasons but truly all life, organic, inorganic, and all matter within the known universe. Is it any wonder that the Freemason creed is to study the hidden mysteries of nature and science? Hidden, it seems, is the operative word. No pun intended, I assure you.

Yet, I think Freemasons may rarely study either. Many are content to execute ritual with good friends, and for many, that is the whole of Freemasonry. Some are involved in activities outside themselves, such as service to their Order and to other non-profit organizations, which are necessary activities. New Masons may observe and listen; yet, there are steps to real study that need to be followed to find understanding. This study and exploration continues well beyond the Third Degree. This is not meant as a condemnation of those good works; it is but a passionate appeal to seek for more.

A Freemason’s study entails curiosity, reading, experimenting, testing, theorizing, and play. It requires creativity and intuition to explore that creativity, looking for new ways to be in and of nature. It involves art, engineering, science, and math. It involves all the liberal arts. There is so much depth the foundational principles of Freemasonry and we only have to delve further to decant vast pools of mystery where we can drink direct understanding.

Indeed, most humans rarely look beyond their own bodies, and sometimes not even then, to study nature and science. We are accustomed to people telling us what to see, hear, and do. This is not to say their input is incorrect or malicious. It is their opinion based on evidence to their eyes. It is based on their own perception of the universe. Every perception, including our own, is only a shadow of perhaps all there is, and we need to remember that when listening and observing. The ideas we come up with from observing how nature works, by the vehicle of science, is a far better path towards wisdom. This is why ancient philosophers are so fascinating. It the not-so-distant past of humanity, a mere two thousand years, we were focused on the union of these two methods – observing nature and theorizing on its state – to understand life. Philosophers would not have separated the two ideas; nature taught, philosophers sought to understand, test, and validate their findings.

They were a curious lot, and for hundreds of years helped humanity steer itself toward a union between itself and the rest of the universe. They were often wrong; yet, even today we find them often right. Democritus, “Father of the Atom,” understood that “the world is made of up of granular particles.” Today, his work has informed Einstein as well as many modern quantum physicists. We recognize that the world is made up of grains, atoms, and their constituents are also granular.

These great thinkers are not limited to just the well-known philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. In fact, I do not believe we can truly understand these three unless we take steps to understand their predecessors and successors. Zeno of Citium, in 300 B.C.E. taught that universal reason, logic, is the foundation of all goodness in life and that living a life of reason was humanity’s purpose. Epicurus, with his principles of pleasure and happiness informed Lucretius’ work On the Nature of Things, which has also informed many modern scientists. Three hundred years earlier, Anaximander, a student of Thales of Miletus, became what we now believe to be the “first” philosopher, as Thales’ writings have ceased to survive.

“Anaximander invented the idea of models, drew the first map of the world in Greece, and is said to have been the first to write a book of prose. He traveled extensively and was highly regarded by his contemporaries. Among his major contributions to philosophical thought was his claim that the ‘basic stuff’ of the universe was the apeiron, the infinite and boundless, a philosophical and theological claim which is still debated among scholars today and which, some argue, provided Plato with the basis for his cosmology.”1

The past informs the future and sometimes, it informs the far future if we pay attention. Carlo Rovelli, in “Reality is Not What it Seems,” states:  “It is only in interactions that nature draws the world.” Or, “The world of quantum mechanics is not a world of objects: it is a world of events.” Rovelli sees the world as Anaximander did, as an eternal flow between events; these events may be the life of a human being or a rock, not as fleeting as that of the quantum processes of creation.

In Lucretius’ discussion about the existence and composition of space, he poses what we now know as the Javelin Argument:

“For whatever bounds it, that thing must itself be bounded likewise; and to this bounding thing there must be a bound again, and so on for ever and ever throughout all immensity. Suppose, however, for a moment, all existing space to be bounded, and that a man runs forward to the uttermost borders, and stands upon the last verge of things, and then hurls forward a winged javelin,— suppose you that the dart, when hurled by the vivid force, shall take its way to the point the darter aimed at, or that something will take its stand in the path of its flight, and arrest it? For one or other of these things must happen. There is a dilemma here that you never can escape from… Lastly, before our eyes one thing is seen to bound another; air is as a wall between the hills, and mountains between tracts of air, land bounds the sea, and again sea bounds all lands; yet the universe in truth there is nothing to limit outside.”2

We now theorize that with Loop Quantum Gravity, a form of quantum theory about how the universe is constructed at the quantum level, spacetime is a network that creates itself, as the universe is expanding. While we may believe there is an edge to the universe, it is at the quantum level unbounded in that it has a constant creation. According to Claudia de Rham, theoretical physicist at Imperial College, “General relativity yields the predictions of black holes and the Big Bang at the origin of our universe. Yet the “singularities” in these places, mysterious points where the curvature of space-time seems to become infinite, act as flags that signal the breakdown of general relativity.”

Courtesy of NASA

Additionally, Juan Maldacena, a quantum gravity theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, has said, “In quantum gravity, space-time itself behaves in novel ways. Instead of the creation of particles, we have the creation of universes.”

If the foundation stones of Freemasonry are these ancient philosophers, it behooves us to understand them so we have a foundation to understand the nature of humanity in order to perfect it. In fact, we require their knowledge to understand the nature of all things, so that we may remember whence we came and that of which we are made. To understand a thing is to know it. Can we understand ourselves if we do not understand nature? We do not stand apart. We are the universe in all things. As NASA has said,

“The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts or gravitational wave events. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life,”

and have come from exploding white dwarfs and massive stars.3

To the Freemason, then, there are ever things to explore and understand. In fact, we might even say that we are co-creators in the universe, as it constantly growing and developing. The breadth, depth, and width of our “Lodge” is on the move, and we have the past and the future to explore. Spacetime is inconstant, creative, and evolving, and there is a wonderful eternal now from which to draw our study of nature and science. Perhaps that is a subject for another time. Again.


Notes:
1 – August 21, 2020, https://www.ancient.eu/Anaximander/
2 – August 22, 2020, https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/carus-on-the-nature-of-things/simple#lf1496_endnote_nt239
3 – August 09, 2020, NASA https://ift.tt/2DCCwin

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.

Colors In Freemasonry: Part II

Colors In Freemasonry: Part II

This is Part II of a two part series, “Colors in Freemasonry.” Part I can be found here.


Freemasonry is a system of age-old knowledge handed down primarily through the language of symbolism, and a part of the vocabulary of symbolism that is most significant is that of color. Color saturates our entire experience, and can be quite easy to take for granted, or simply see as a case of happenstance. This or that object simply “happens” to be this or that color, and while it certainly has aesthetic effects, this is more or less the scope of it’s significance. 

Yet anyone who has spent time learning the language of symbolism, whether in the context of Masonry, the interpretation of dreams, or analysis of art and fiction will know that color carries enormous symbolic significance. To dream of a blue boat can be quite different in meaning than to dream of a red boat, and the same principle applies to any dream symbol and it’s color. As a body of knowledge communicated in the same language of symbol as dreams, the arts, or religious mythology, color in the Masonic Lodge is likewise an essential layer of meaning for the Initiate

So, what do the various colors mean in the language of symbolism in general, and to Masons specifically?

Green

GreenThe color of grass, trees, moss, and the myriad forms of verdant plant life. It’s impossible not to associate green with peace, happiness, and the thriving of life, due to it’s association with plants, grasses, and forests.

Throughout our evolution, the green places have been those with food and other valuable resources, and where green was lacking was also desolate and harsh landscapes. In the chakra system, the green chakra represents unconditional love, growth, and balance, as it is the central chakra along the spine, corresponding to the spiritual heart.

In Masonry, because of its association with the evergreen trees of the North, green represents immortality, and thus all that is immortal, truth, divinity, and the soul. The emerald tablet of Thoth is also worth noting, as well as various Egyptian deities whose blood was said to be green, and finally, the sacred green acacia plant.

Blue

The color of sky, air, ocean, sapphire, and ice. Blue is the color which is in many ways the opposite of red, representing the calm of the ocean, the expansiveness of the clear sky, and that which transcends the physical. Depictions of ghosts, spirits, or other non-physical beings are often blue, perhaps because of the rarity of the color’s appearance in the actual physical world.20375805_658664157676724_3202398839325588042_n

Other than the ocean and sky, which are themselves transcendental, only certain flowers, feathers, and eyes display the color blue. The blue chakra is associated with connection to the divine, creativity, and inner tranquility, corresponding to the throat. 

Blue is perhaps the most significant color to Masonry, representing the first three degrees, known as the Blue Lodge, which at one point was the entirety of Freemasonry, and is shared by all Masons, regardless of further degrees they attained. Blue was regarded as special and sacred by many cultures from around the world, including the Egyptians, and Masonry likewise regards it. In various places it was associated with divine wisdom, perfection, purity, and immortality.    

Indigo/Violet

Color of spiritual vision and royalty. Even rarer in nature than blue, indigo only appears in certain feathers, flowers, or minerals, and so has an even greater mystique about it. Some shades of indigo seem almost not made for human eyes to see, and have a glow-like appearance. Indigo is said to be the color of the inner eye, spiritual vision, psychic capabilities, and royalty. In the chakra system, indigo and violet are separated, with indigo being the third eye, the center of spiritual intuition and extrasensory perception, Violet Flameand violet being the direct connection to God or the higher self

In Masonry, indigo/purple can be seen historically as a symbol of royalty and power, as at one point it was extremely valuable in trade, and worn by royalty in Europe. It has also been suggested that Indigo may have been the mysterious color of the ancient Hebrew priests’ robes, referred to as techelet. It can also be seen as representing the merger of the lower self, represented by red, with the higher spiritual self, represented by blue. Masons also use violet in particular to represent mourning, a tradition adopted from the ancient Chinese. 

White

White GlovesColor of light, purity, innocence, and the merging of all colors together. White is worn by brides, is the color of the blank canvas, and is the color of raw unfiltered light itself. White contains all colors in perfect balance, and gives whatever light it meets perfectly, absorbing none for itself. It’s also connected to cleanliness, as it shows any impurity clearly, thus giving a house the “white glove treatment.”

White calls to mind a sort of wholeness, the completion of all colors added together and balanced, or conversely, the wholeness from which colors may be created, by darkening the white canvas’s purity with some shading.

White is prevalent in the Masonic Lodge as a symbol of Light, as well as purity in some respects, and Masonic regalia, particularly in Universal Freemasonry, is largely white. Here, again, as with black, white’s role in the checkerboard floor pattern of the mosaic pavement is worthy of consideration. 


Colors in Freemasonry: Part I

Colors in Freemasonry: Part I

Freemasonry is a system of age-old knowledge handed down primarily through the language of symbolism, and a part of the vocabulary of symbolism that is most significant is that of color. Color saturates our entire experience, and can be quite easy to take for granted, or simply see as a case of happenstance. This or that object simply “happens” to be this or that color, and while it certainly has aesthetic effects, this is more or less the scope of it’s significance, as people normally think.

Yet anyone who has spent time learning the language of symbolism, whether in the context of Masonry, the interpretation of dreams, or analysis of art and fiction will know that color carries enormous symbolic significance. To dream of a blue boat can be quite different in meaning than to dream of a red boat, and the same principle applies to any dream symbol and it’s color. As a body of knowledge communicated in the same language of symbol as dreams, the arts, or religious mythology, color in the Masonic Lodge is likewise an essential layer of meaning for the Initiate. 

So, what is the meaning of colors in the language of symbolism in general, and to Masons specifically?

Black

finaltumblr_inline_nxatcedBV71riiuei_500_1 (2)Color of darkness, the endless expanse of space, the depths of the Earth, and absence of light. Black is first and foremost the unknown, as it is literally what is dark, what is not illuminated. As such, it can also represent not just the unknown, but the hidden, and the act of concealing. 

Archetypally, we often associate black with evil, as we see evil as a kind of darkness, an existence not brightened by the light of love and knowledge. Black does not correspond to any standardly recognized chakra, however the absence of light from any given chakra can be said to be blackness, in effect.

In Freemasonry, black can represent grief, can be connected to Anubis the God of Death and all that he represents, as well as carrying all of the symbolism described above. The role of black in the Masonic mosaic pavement is a central element of the Lodge, and worth pondering. 

Red

Color of blood, fire, passion, gore, and anger. We say we “see red” when we are angry beyond maintaining composure; prostitution occurs in red light districts; we give red roses to those we are in love with, and “paint the town red” when we release all inhibitions and indulge our whims and passions. It can represent anything from war and bloodshed to health and vitality.

Tubal Cain

Red is also the color of Vulcan, or Tubal-Cain (see image), descendant of Cain, progenitor of civilization. It’s also noteworthy that the name Adam is akin to the word for red, and so the mythological first human is connected to the first chakra, and the first level of the hierarchy of needs.

The red chakra is usually associated with the most basic physical needs and drives, including money, sex, and health.In Masonry, red carries an association inherited from the ancient Egyptians, that of fire, which is the regenerator and purifier of souls.

Orange

Color of autumn, dawn and dusk, and bright flames. Orange is a color which tends to elicit strong reactions from people, whether positively or negatively; as the saying goes, either you love it or you hate it. Orange conjures feelings of vibrancy and energetic overflowing, perhaps due to its association with the sun and fire. The orange chakra is associated with both personal power as well as sexual the sex drive.  

Oddly, the color orange seems not to make many appearances in the Lodge. Perhaps it is lumped in with red in some cases, and yellow in others, but we can assume it carries much the same symbolism as above, when it does appear. 

Yellow/Gold

Color of the element of gold, the sun, sunflowers, and the happy face. Yellow is a color which has mostly positive symbolism, perhaps because of its association with gold, and is often also connected to the intellect, as well as radiance, as that of the sunflower, and happiness.Yellow Golden Wheat

We also use it to describe cowardice, but this is virtually the only negative association. The yellow chakra has to do with the intellect, and also social aspects of life, those having to do with society at large. 

Yellow appears on various regalia and aspects of the lodge, often in the form of metallic gold, and in addition to the inherent associations with the precious metal, was also the symbol of light in the ancient world. Thus, although it may not play a central role in the lodge, it nevertheless represents the goal of Light which the Mason seeks, including the radiant beams reaching out from the All-seeing Eye


Alright, we’ve made it halfway through the spectrum, we’ll continue our review of the symbolism of colors in Part II.

Freemasonry: Is Architecture Frozen Music?

Freemasonry: Is Architecture Frozen Music?

At the end of a recent Scottish Rite workshop, and after one of the most incredible weeks of my life, I felt inspired and nourished with the treasures that only the craft of Freemasonry can offer. I jumped in the car and set off on my long drive home. My thoughts were tuned to philosophy, art, and music. I contemplated how a beautiful masonic temple is a work of art, a finely tuned instrument, a Stradivarius if you like. I had just been a part of something special; freemasonry, philosophy and art teaming up together in my world for the love of beauty.

So far so good.

But then the quote, supposedly of Goethe, crossed my mind, “Architecture is frozen music.”

Now, I like Goethe very much. He was certainly a profound thinker, contrasting the way architecture and music impact our minds. He gives you a sense of what is greater than ourselves, what transcends our lives. I appreciate the philosophical perspective. But, at the time I was thinking with my snobbish musical mind that he got this one terribly wrong.

What about the reverse? If architecture is frozen music, does that mean music is liquid architecture?

Tomar knights templarYou certainly wouldn’t say that musical notes written on a piece of paper is a complete definition of music. Of course not! A written melody is perhaps one of the necessary components for a musical experience. But we also need a musician who can read the notes and have the skill to perform on an instrument. We need an occasion for this music to be played. Don’t forget we need those listeners who can undergo the musical experience. All these factors come together in a synergistic manner to make up what we might call music.

Are you telling me that music is liquid architecture?

I don’t buy it. Music is a complicated affair needing a host of ingredients working merrily together to transport us into a state of musical rapture. Is Goethe telling me that architecture requires all this movement to be frozen still? How could Goethe be so wrong?

What Goethe really said

Well, as it turns out Goethe’s analogy between architecture and music actually extends much further. A little bit of research revealed to me that the popular cliché has become distorted over time.  “Frozen music” might even be the most misleading definition of architecture around.

Goethe definitely said this in Conversations with Eckermann:

“I have found a paper of mine among some others, in which I call architecture ‘petrified music.’ Really there is something in this; the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music.”

What I think is the most important part of this statement is that Goethe was suggesting that architecture produces the same “tone” or effect in your mind as music.  The point he is making is about the mind.

Let me expand on my interpretation of his philosophy.  If this is an act of arrogance then I apologize, but for all my love of Goethe, my loyalty is to truth and art.

1200px-Music_lesson_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2421Goethe’s idea suggests something about the creative process of the mind and the human need to express something.  What would a building sound like if the architect had been a composer?  He would be using vibrations as the medium of expression instead of lines and shapes. It could be said that the musician “composes” using vibrations, the scientist “invents” with formulas, the painter “paints” with color and design, and so on. A thought-form is created. There is a universal theme of mental expression underscoring all creative disciplines.

It is the special skill of the creative worker and the space in which they create that causes a living architecture.  These factors make the air molecules vibrate in such a way that this soup of pulsating molecules works upon our minds, even after the creative worker has completed his architecture.  We might call it a thought-form, a musical idea, that continues to exist.  

Freemasonry: The Creative Workshop

Freemasons are always looking for connections between music, architecture, geometry, proportion, and how such tools can be used to transform society. Music doesn’t use windows or columns and architecture doesn’t use melodies or notes. For most of us such obvious differences would seem to eliminate any possible similarity between them. But wait! If we use the idea that any artistic expression is a creative process of mind then we get a very different picture. 

St. Thomas Aquinas has said:

“Music is the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal, bursting forth in sound.”

finalstairway-to-heaven-chords (3)How can a Freemason achieve that exaltation of the mind? I have a couple thoughts on this. First, there is an acceptance of the possibility of a more evolved world, and second there is an experience of a change in our state of being as we become aware of that better world. 

Temples and buildings of great architecture are designed to build a bridge between this world and that. There is something musical that pulsates and glows inside them, inside the architecture, some dancing molecules that converge as a product of all the thoughtful labor that has been conducted until that point in time.

I should point out that in a masonic temple there are no blurred boundaries between participant and observer. Everyone has an active role in building the edifice. 

Architecture. Music. And the relationship between them is….? I’m not sure, but the obvious thing that springs into my mind is that the experience of a beautiful building might in some ways equate with the experience of a beautiful piece of music. The architecture inside the Lodge inspires the Freemason outside the lodge to become a better Master Craftsman in the mighty workshop of the Lord. 

Each Mason must be a builder; he is a workman under the direction of a Great Architect, who is planning a marvelous edifice, which is the Grand Lodge above, the perfect universe. To the building of this perfect edifice, each Mason must bring his stone, his perfect ashlar, perfect because it has been tested and proved true by the plumb, by the level and by the square.”

~ Brother C. Jinarajadasa, Ideals of Freemasonry

Censing in Freemasonry: Practical or Symbolic?

Censing in Freemasonry: Practical or Symbolic?

The act of censing has been said to create a pleasing and purified ritual space.  There is nothing quite as inspiring as walking in to a sacred place and being hit by the smell of lovely incense, which immediately transports us into a more reverent state of mind.  What are the reasons censing is important, or is it?

The Rite of Censing came before, most, if not all, the current concepts of religion. It is said to have originated from a distant past when men worshiped the sun and other fiery forces of nature. Most researchers agree that there is a connecting link between the use of incense in the ancient mysteries of the past, and the speculative Freemasonry of the present day, for those lodges who use incense. From what I have read, this connection can be fairly well traced by archaeologists.  However, there is less agreement on why it is important.

Is censing and the use of incense in ritual more practical or symbolic today?

I recently read an interesting book called “A history of the use of incense in divine worship” (1909) by Cuthbert Atchley.   It contains a rather unique and objective history of censing within ritual, both pre-Christian and Christian. I especially enjoyed the section explaining various Egyptian ceremonials.  However, I was somewhat disappointed when I finally arrived at the end of the book to hear researcher Atchley’s conclusions:

“The ultimate basis of all use of incense in the Church is its pleasant odour; that is, it is fumigatory.  The more superficial reasons are what are called ceremonial.”

In other words, he is saying that the main use of censing and incense is for “deodorant” purposes, to mask awful smells and the stink of decaying bodies, and so on. He says that any connection to ceremonial purposes is “superficial.” While I might be somewhat forgiving because the book was written over a century ago, the thinking underlying still seems flawed, in my mind at least.

If something did have a practical origin at some point in time, does that mean that any symbolic value is of no account? Following from that, should it be done away withNeff_Angel accordingly?  It seems to me that this fails to think deeply enough about the nature and function of ritual and ceremony – no matter what century we are talking about.

Practical Origins

It is true that many of the early uses of incense were practical and operative. For example, the fragrance obscured odors, and was aesthetically pleasing. There existed a mystical healing art hidden surrounding the use of certain incenses. Ancient Egyptians (3000 BC) practiced medicine with aromatic plants and even went so far as to establish astrological relationships for them.  There are many pictures that can be seen where a Pharaoh is depicted with a censer casting the incense. Each civilization, throughout the ages have all added their own contribution to this handed down practical knowledge. 

Over time, the burning of incense formed a link to spirituality in a speculative sense when it was offered to the gods alongside sacrifices and prayer. Incense is mentioned frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures.

The psalmist expresses the symbolism of incense and prayer:

“Let my prayer rise like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:1)

What the ancients knew intuitively, science has verified today.  Of all of the five senses, the sense of smell is most strongly connected to the areas of the brain that process memory.  Even the smallest hint of a fragrance that you had previously associated with a certain place can bring you back to there in moments.  Incense, then, is a way to tap the mind quickly and with a great deal of exactitude.  Certain combinations of aromas can quickly adjust not only the atmosphere of the room but the atmosphere of the emotions Temple Censingand mind. Knowing all this, how, then, is censing significant in Freemasonry?

A Symbolic Perspective from C.W. Leadbeater

Freemason Charles W. Leadbeater placed a great deal of importance on the ceremonial value of censing in his book “The Hidden Life in Freemasonry.” He said that the entire process of censing in a Masonic Lodge is meant to prepare and purify. It provides an atmosphere of solemnity and due introspection. He explains that the ceremony of censing, being a vortical movement, is connected with the way in which the Great Architect has constructed the universe.

Leadbeater writes:

“In the movements made and in the plan of the Lodge were enshrined some of the great principles on which that universe had been built.”

He thought the censing ritual to be significant giving four main reasons:

  1. Raises the vibration of the lodge.
  2. Unifies the lodge members in thought.
  3. Bridges the inner worlds with the outer.
  4. Lifts and aids the candidate.Buddha censing

Leadbeater’s premise is that the basis of any ritual is intent. The intentional thoughts of the members set the purpose and vision for the ritual. The lodge work concerns lifting and raising humanity from the human to the spiritual kingdom. The Craft performed is therefore applied to the mastery of the forces of one’s own nature, whereby “that which is below” may become truly and accurately aligned with “that which is above.”

He says:

“The time has come when men are beginning to see that life is full of invisible influences, whose value can be recognized by sensitive people. The effect of incense is an instance of this class of phenomena… each of which vibrates at its own rate and has its own value.”

Any of us who has experienced censing may have a different opinion of what it means. Practical or symbolic? Perhaps both?  For myself, censing kindles a wonderment at the eternal mystery of an all-knowing Deity, whom we have not seen and cannot yet see clearly. Our human vision is not suited to that. The smoke obscures the air briefly. It is salutary for us to be reminded every now and again that our concept of the Most High is always incomplete, inadequate; that he is other, transcendent, and holy.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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