Ancient Free and Accepted Masons

Ancient Free and Accepted Masons

THE word “Mason” has been defined in many fanciful ways, as when one writer derives it from a Greek word meaning “in the midst of heaven,” and another finds in it an ancient Egyptian expression meaning “children of the sun”; but it is almost certain that the term came into existence during the Middle Ages to signify a man engaged in the occupation of building. Originally it had merely this trade significance; it was only after Masonry became a secret society that it took on a wider significance. Of course, there were builders long before the Middle Ages, but they went by other names, just as today we often speak of them as “architects,” a term that came into use in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

Builders of the Middle Ages, like all other workmen, were organized into societies, somewhat similar to, but by no means to be identified with, our trade unions, known as guilds. These guilds were permitted to make their own rules, and they were given a monopoly of the work done inside their own territory. The builder guilds were usually more important than others because their work was more difficult and required a high degree of skill and intelligence; such of them as had in hand the erection of the great cathedrals possessed among their membership the outstanding geniuses of the times and wrought such works as to this day remain our wonder and despair.

The art of building was, according to the customs of the time, held as a trade secret. Therefore the young men entering a guild of builders were solemnly obligated to divulge no secrets of the craft. Inasmuch as the work was difficult, these young men were given a long course of education under the direction of a Master Mason, in which, so it is believed. The tools and processes of Building were used symbolically and to impress certain truths on the mind of the member. In this way, and because the builders were in close touch with the church, which employed systems of symbolism as today we use books (the people could not read, but they could understand pictures), the builder guilds came in time to accumulate a great wealth of symbolic teaching and an elaborate ritual. In the eighteenth century, this symbolical element completely displaced the original craft of actual building, and Masonry became “speculative,” as we know it now, so that we are Masons only in a symbolical sense.

We are called Masons therefore because we are members of an organization that harks back to the time when builders and architects were bound together in closely guarded guilds. But why are we called “Free” Masons? This is a more difficult question to answer, as all our Masonic scholars have discovered, for in spite of a great amount of careful research, they have never vet agreed among themselves as to how the question should be answered. We have records of the word as having been used six hundred years ago, but it is evident that even then, “freemason” was a term of long-standing, so that its origin fades away into the dimness of a very remote past.

One of the commonest theories is that the freemason was originally the mason who worked in “free-stone,” that is, stone ready to be hewn and shaped for the building in contrast to the stone lying unmined. Such a mason was superior in skill to the quarrymen who dug the stone from the quarry, and this is in harmony with the fact that in early days freemasons were deemed a superior kind of workmen and received higher wages than “the rough masons”; but it does not explain why carpenters, tailors, and other workmen were also called “free.”

Another common theory has it that the early Masons came to be called “free” because they were exempted from many of the tiresome duties that hemmed in the laborer of the Middle Ages and enjoyed liberties such as the right to travel about (forbidden to most workmen of that period) and exemption from military service, etc. It is held by some writers that the early Popes granted bulls to Masons that freed them from church restrictions, but no amount of search in all the libraries of Europe, or in the records of the Roman Church (that church did not issue bulls against Freemasonry until 1738 and afterward). Has ever succeeded in unearthing a single such bull or any record thereof.

There are other theories. One has it that a Mason was free when out of the bonds of apprenticeship and ready to enjoy the full privileges of membership in his guild. Another, that there were grades of workmen inside building guilds and only the highest type were permitted all such privileges, and that these were called “free” in contrast to their less advanced brethren.

One of the most acceptable of all these theories is that so brilliantly advanced by G. W. Speth in the past century, in which that learned brother held that in the Middle Ages, there were two types of builders’ guilds, those that were stationary in each town and those that were employed in the cathedrals and were therefore permitted to move about from place to place, or wherever cathedrals might be in course of construction. Inasmuch as cathedrals represented the highwater mark of skill and learning in that day, such workmen were very superior to those that were employed on the humbler structures in the community, such as dwellings, warehouses, docks, roads, etc. so that Freemasonry descended from the aristocracy of medieval labor.

I have never been able to make up my mind between these various theories, except that it appears to me that Speth’s is the most plausible. It may be that several of them are true at one and the same time; such a thing would not be impossible because Freemasonry developed over a large stretch of territory and through a long period of time.

There is no doubt that, in some cases, this word has its face meaning and serves to remind us that our Craft is very old. The first Grand Lodge of Speculative Masons was established in London in 1717, but Masonry, even of the Speculative variety, was very old by that date. Boswell was accepted into the Craft in 1600, Moray in 1641, and Ashmole in 1646. Our oldest manuscript, usually dated at about 1390, looks backward to times long anterior to itself. There is no telling how old Masonry is; perhaps they are not so far wrong after all who date it in antiquity. In any event, it is “ancient” and has every right to the use of that word.

But in the majority of cases, this word doubtless refers to the Grand Lodge that came to be organized in England shortly after 1750. When the first Grand Lodge (that of 1717) was formed, it was planned that it should have jurisdiction only over a few lodges in London; but as these lodges increased in number, it extended its territory to include the county, and later on to include the whole country. A large number of lodges remained independent – they were often called St. John’s lodges – many in the north of England, and others in Scotland and Ireland. As time went on there grew up a feeling among the brethren of several of these independent lodges that the new Grand Lodge was becoming guilty of making innovations in the body of Masonry; therefore, after a deal of agitation had been made, a rival Grand Lodge was formed, and because its older sister Grand Lodge had made changes they dubbed it “Modern,” and because they themselves claimed to preserve the work according to its original form, they called themselves “Ancient.” This Ancient Grand Lodge was fortunate in securing as its Grand Secretary Laurence Dermott, who had such a genius for organizing that in the course of time, this newer lodge began to overshadow the older. The rivalry, often bitter enough to be described as a feud, lasted until 1813 when the first step toward a union was effected; out of this effort at reconciliation, there came at last “The United Grand Lodge of England.”

Meanwhile, the Ancients had chartered a great many lodges in the colonies of America. These, a large number of them, carried on the name long after American lodges had severed all relations with the Grand Lodges across the sea. In this wise, the word “Ancient” came into general use and remains today imbedded in the official titles of about half the Grand Lodges in this land.

Much mystery still hangs about the word “Accepted,” but in a general way, we may feel pretty safe in thinking that it refers to the fact that after the ancient builders’ guilds began to break up and to lose their monopoly of the trade, they began to “accept” into their membership men who had no intention of engaging in the actual building, but who sought membership for social purposes, or in order to have the advantage of the rich symbolism, the ritual and the philosophy of the Order. Thus, the first man admitted of whom we have a record is Boswell, who was made a Mason in 1600, as already noted, but it is fairly certain that others had been similarly accepted long before. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that non-operatives had been taken into membership from the earliest times. It is possible that the word was also applied to those members who devoted themselves to superintending and planning, but not to physical work. Throughout the seventeenth century, the number of accepted increased until the beginning of the eighteenth century. Many lodges were almost wholly made up of such members, and in 1717 the whole Craft was transformed into. A speculative science, though it is true that many operative lodges remained in existence, and some are still functioning and claiming for themselves the ancient lineage.

We shall have to wait with patience until all problems concerning these various words are cleared up, but meanwhile, we can use them with a satisfactory degree of certainty as connecting us historically with a process of growth and development that began far back in the Middle Ages, or earlier, and has continued until now. Verily it has been a history filled with wonders, and even now, there are few who have a full appreciation of the height and depth and length and breadth and exceeding riches of Freemasonry.
 


* Originally published, “What means Free and Accepted Masons? in THE BUILDER, 1923.

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 Meaning of Masonry

The Meaning of Masonry

Such, my brethren, is the subject on which I have been requested to address you. Some who have the interests of Masonry at heart, have thought it was possible to say something upon this subject that might tend to remove erroneous impressions, to increase union and harmony among Masons, and to persuade society at large that its well-being and progress are, to some extent, involved in the advancement and prosperity of Masonry. They have demanded that I should say that something; and, though unaffectedly reluctant to do it, my obligation as a Mason bars against me all the avenues of escape, and compels disinclination to yield to the imperative mandate of duty.

It would need no argument to show that to the Masonic Order itself, as to any other order or association, however unpretending and unimportant, intestine dissentions, struggles for the possession of power, jealousies and heart-burnings must necessarily be harmful, retard its growth and progress, repel those who, if it were at peace with itself, would seek to approach its doors; and at first diminish and ultimately destroy its capacity for usefulness. If this were all that I desired to establish, I might say so much and at once conclude.

But we, my brethren, do not believe that this is all. We think that the highest interests of Society, and of the community in which we live, and, perhaps, even interests wider and more general still, those of the Nation, and of humanity at large, are affected and injured, in that which affects and does harm to Masonry. We think that the world without our Temples is deeply interested in the continuance or restoration of peace and harmony within; and that every Mason who encourages or by apathy permits dissentions within the walls that veil our mysteries from the world’s eyes, is an enemy, not of Masonry only, but of that world’s advancement and prosperity.

It is indeed true that the world at large, the statesmen and the men of business, are not in the habit of attaching much importance to the peaceful operations, the active efforts and silent influences of Masonry. Some even think evil of the order; to others its pretensions are the subject of mirth and food for ridicule; while probably the general impression is that it is a harmless and inoffensive association, rather laudable for its benevolent propensities, its charities, and the assistance its members mutually lend each other; but one in which the world at large is in no wise interested, one whose ceremonies are frivolous, its secrets mere pretense, its titles and dignities absurd, and its dissentions mere childish disputes for barren honors and an empty precedency, fit only to excite the pitying smiles of the grave and the sarcastic laughter of the ill-natured.

Nor is it to be denied, that there is warrant for this, in the unfortunate proclivity of over-zealous and injudicious brethren to make the history of Masonry remount to the time when Adam, in the Garden of Eden, was Grand Master; to invent fables and manufacture traditions; to invest with a mysterious sanctity the trite commonplaces that all the world is at liberty to know; to give interpretations of symbols that every scholar knows to be untrue and every man of sense knows to be vapid and trivial; in the vain parade of sounding titles and glittering decorations; and more than all, in the angry disputes which rend the bosom of the Order, accompanied with bitter words, harsh epithets and loud denunciations, that give the lie to the combatants’ claim of brotherhood, in regard to questions that to the world seem trifling and unreal.

Is society really interested in the peace and progress of Masonry? Has the world a moral right to demand that harmony shall govern in our Temples? Is that a matter which at all concerns the community? How grave and important are the interests that by our mad dissentions we recklessly put at hazard? And by what means are peace and harmony to be restored and maintained?

Such are the questions which it is demanded of me to consider. To do so, it is evidently necessary first to settle what Masonry is, and what its objects are, and by what means and appliances it proposes to effect those objects.

The well-being of any nation, like that of every individual, is threefold, — physical, moral and intellectual. Neither physically, morally, or intellectually is a people ever stationary. Always it either advances or retrogrades; and, as when one climbs a hill of ice, to advance requires continual effort and exertion, while to slide downward one needs but to halt.

The happiness and prosperity of a people consist in advancing on each of the three lines, physical, moral and intellectual, at once; for the day of its downfall draws nearer, even when its intellect is more developed and the works of its genius are more illustrious, and while its physical comforts increase, if its moral progress does not keep pace with its physical and intellectual; and yet without the last, the two first do not mark the loftiest condition of a great people.

That institution deserves the title of “public benefactor,” which by a system of judicious charities and mutual assistance diminishes the sum total of haggard want and destitution, and relieves the public of a portion of a burden which the necessities of the poor and shelterless impose upon it; for it thus aids the physical advancement of the people.

It still more deserves the title, if in addition, it imperatively requires of its members the strict and faithful performance of all those duties towards their fellow-men as individuals, which the loftiest and purest morality enjoins; and so is the potent auxiliary of the laws, and the enforcer of the moral precepts of the great Teacher who preached the Sermon on the Mount: for thus it labors for the moral elevation of the people.

And still more, if its initiates are also, and of necessity, devoted to the true interests of the people; if they are the soldiery of Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood, and at the same time of good government, of good order, and of the laws, that made by the representatives of all, for the general good of all, must be implicitly obeyed by all: for thus again it aids in elevating still higher the moral character of the people.

And most of all, in addition to all this, it strives to elevate the people intellectually, by teaching those who enter its portals the profoundest truths of Philosophy, and the wisdom of the Sages of every age; a rational conception of the Deity; of the universe that He has made, and of the laws that govern it; a true estimate of Man himself, of his freedom to act, of his dignity and his destiny.

I mean to speak only of what Masonry teaches; and to set up no extravagant pretensions on its behalf. that its precepts are not fully obeyed by its initiates, in no wise detracts from their value or excellence; any more than the imperfect performance if its votaries detracts from the excellence of religion. The theory and the intentions of every man that lives are better and purer than his practice, – I do not say they are unfortunately so; for it is one of the great kindnesses of Providence, and a most conclusive proof of God’s existence and infinite benevolence, that the worst as well as the purest of men has ever which he must perforce always struggle to reach, an ideal and exemplar of a rarer excellence than he can ever attain to, strive and struggle as he may. It has been well and truly said, that even Hypocrisy is the involuntary homage which vice pays to virtue.

That Masons do not live up to the teachings of their Order proves only that they are men; that, like other men, they are weak with the frailties of feeble human nature; and that in the never-ceasing struggle with their passions and the mighty circumstances that environ us all, it is often their lot to be discomfited.  If the doctrines of Masonry are good, they of necessity have their effect, and are never taught in vain. For not in vain are the winged seeds of Truth ever sown; and if committed to the winds, God sees to it that they take root somewhere and grow.

A Lecture on the Evil Consequences of Schisms and Disputes for Power in Masonry, and of Jealousies and Dissensions Between Masonic Rites by Bro. Albert Pike

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Provided Courtesy of www.phoenixmasonry.org

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?

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. 

Halloween: Origins, Traditions, and Masonry?

Halloween: Origins, Traditions, and Masonry?

Contemporarily known as a time of fright, mystery, darkness, and macabre gaiety, most of us are at least cursorily aware that Halloween has its origins in ancient pagan tradition, and that it is the beginning of a three-day sacred festival later adapted by the church, as part of it’s strategy of absorption and re-branding of pagan traditions to adopt Northern Europeans into the fold. Let’s dive in and take a look at the history of the three-day festival of Allhallowtide, and it’s possible connection to the goals and principles of Freemasonry

Winter is Coming

To pre-Christian Europeans like the Celts and various Germanic and Scandinavian tribes, our modern November 1st marked the beginning of the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the new year. Also representing the onset of darkness as the season shifted to shorter and shorter days, particularly the eve of the new year, Samhain (pronounced sow-in, old-Irish for “Summer’s end”) or modern Halloween, was seen as a time when the veils between the spiritual and mundane world are particularly thin, allowing for spirit contact, haunting, as well as enhanced divination and oracular opportunities among the priest-like druids.

Samhain the Gaelic festival that became Halloween

Gaelic festival of Samhain

It’s worth noting that this tradition, particularly as it relates to the return of the spirits of the dead during this time, is not exclusively European; in fact, Halloween exists in various forms around the world. The belief that the spirits must be appeased in some way is also common.

For instance, Día de Muertos in Mexico actually doesn’t stem purely from it’s Catholic conquerors, but actually has origins in the pre-Columbian Aztec and other cultures. The Hungry Ghost Festival of China is also a correlate, with people believing that the spirits of the dead grow hungry and must be fed offerings, during this time of year. 

Particularly in the Anglo-Celtic world in ancient Britain, activities related to divination formed a major part of the celebrations, probably owing to it’s druidic origins. These included various kinds of scrying, dream interpretation, and also rituals of protection and purification. The early origins of trick-or-treating were also practiced, with celebrators dressing up as the dead, symbolically going house to house and collecting offerings on their behalf. 

The Christianization

Way-of-salvation-church-militant-triumphant-andrea-di-bonaiuto-1365

Allhallowtide Scene – Andrea di Bonaiuto (1365)

The following days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Nov 1st-2nd) were a wholly Christian addition, although they did have pagan correlates, simply not on these particular days. The pagan festival which correlates to All Souls Day, for instance, originally took place in early May. These were days for feasting and celebrating the saints and traditions of the Catholic church. 

As you may know, the Roman Catholic church often coexisted with pagan traditions, and even adopted elements of them in order to appeal to and convert the pagan residents of any given region. The festival of Samhain is no exception, and in the Christian world it became the eve of the 3-day feasts of Allhallowtide. Some of the Samhain traditions were adopted with new Christian meanings, such as offering proto-trick-or-treaters “soulcakes”, meant to celebrate the christened dead, or also praying and leaving offerings at the graves of the dead.

Meanings Beneath the Surface

It’s impossible to consider the symbolic meaning of Halloween without associating it with the shadow, the aspects of the self which have been rejected from the light of consciousness, and thus dwell in the darkness of the unconscious, taking on a life of their own and occasionally coming to haunt us. As the ancient traditions focused on the dead gradually transformed over time into various witches, vampires, and other monsters, the prominent figures and symbols of Halloween have come to be various manifestations of shadow aspects of the psyche. 

The werewolf, for instance, is a representation of our wild and beastly selves, particularly those aspects which are hidden during the day, but emerge at night. The witch is naturally the feminine powers of intuition and magic, twisted and gnarled in it’s rejection from the masculine-dominated consensus world of daylight. Vampires are the parasitic and predatory aspects of the self, particularly when it is disconnected from its own natural life-force, which of course burns if it is touched by the light of day. Frankenstein can be seen symbolically as the monstrous alter-ego created by the intellect in it’s rejection of the mysteries of femininity, spirit, emotion, and the need for human relating.

Our willingness to celebrate, dress up as, and thus embody these shadow elements, then, can be seen as a way of facing and embracing these various neglected or rejected aspects of ourselves, and thus transforming them with the Light of consciousness. Understanding their symbolic meaning is the next step, beyond simply reveling in their spooky stories and ghoulish aesthetic. Thus, although the two are not often connected, we can find in Halloween the sacred Masonic principle, from darkness to Light.

Halloween


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

The Serpent in Myth, Antiquity, and Freemasonry

The Serpent in Myth, Antiquity, and Freemasonry

The serpent is one of mankind’s most significant symbols, showing up prominently our myths, stories, and dreams. What is it about the slithering snake which speaks to us on such a deep level, that resonates with some archetypal force in our inner depths? Furthermore, what role does the snake play in esoteric philosophy? 

The language of symbolism is built on a structural syntax of similarity of forms. Two otherwise disparate things are connected, because they bear some likeness to one another, and through this principle of sympathetic resonance, all things are connected. So, what likeness does the snake owe it’s archetypal resonance?

Serpent in Myth and Legend

The serpent plays a role of some kind in most mythological systems, and is one of the most common elements to appear in individuals’ dreams. Dreams are still a mystery to science, but those who delve into their analysis can see that they speak a language which stretches beyond our nightly sojourns, into the dream of this waking life, as well. So, the serpent, too, spans the gulf between personal sleep, and waking collective myth.

Serpent in the Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – Lucas Cranach (1531) 

Perhaps the most famous snake in the Western world was that which tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Whether this Knowledge purveyor was truly a deceptive villain depends on the interpreter of the story, but certainly the mainstream of Christianity sees the it as such, even the devil himself. A Gnostic view, on the other hand, portrays the Edenic serpent as the Luciferian liberator of mankind from Jehova’s captivity.  

In other myths and traditions, the serpent is seen as less nefarious, and often as a symbol of wisdom, perhaps because of its apparent stillness, self-control, and single-pointed precision when attacking. It plays the role of guardian of the center of the world in Greek mythology, twin encirclers of the world in Chinese mythology, intermediary to the Gods and bringer of wisdom and culture by the Aztecs, and initiator of manhood by the Australian Aborigines, just to name a few. 

Perhaps most significantly to Freemasons, the Egyptians saw the serpent as one of the primary forms of the Sun God Amun-Ra, the divine inseminator of the cosmic egg from which sprung all of Creation. As we’ve all seen, the Pharaohs were also represented with serpents emerging from their forehead, and many have speculated that this relates to the “third eye,” the psychic or spiritual eye which is said to see all.

Last, but not least, the Vedantic teachings of the East also use the serpent as the representation of one of the most important forces in the universe, that coiled-up latent power which dwells in the gut and lower regions of the Human being, known as kundalini. It’s said that as one progresses along the yogic path, this serpentine life-force energy will be roused from its sleep, and climb up through the chakras, to finally arrive at the third eye, and provide complete illumination to the enlightened individual. 

The Serpentine Universe

Beyond the investigation of the serpent’s mythological roles throughout history, another connection interests me, and that is the serpent’s form as an apt representation of both dimensionality, and the central nervous system.

280px-Serpent_Nebula

Serpent Nebula: Found in the western region of the Milky Way

As you may recall, the progression through the dimensions begins with the zero-dimensional point, proceeds to the one-dimensional line, the two-dimensional plane, three-dimensional space, and perhaps beyond into higher dimensions. And this dimensional framework makes up the basic structure or matrix of our reality. 

If you consider the head of the snake to be the zero-dimensional point, which leads the motion of the snake creating a one-dimensional line, then this motion slithering in an S-form also reveals the two-dimensional plane; finally, when the king of snakes, the cobra, stands upright and erect, it reveals three-dimensional space. Thus the serpent can be seen to represent the most basic form of any entity existing in the matrix of space-time. 

Furthermore, as illustrated in this video, the possibility of higher dimensions implies that our entire 3D physical universe may be a single point, like the original zero, in yet higher dimensions, moving through hyperspace to leave behind a snake-like timeline which makes up the past, a process which repeats to create higher and higher dimensional spaces until, perhaps, the tenth dimension of infinity.

The Serpent of Man

Lastly, you can take everything just said about the serpent and apply it to our own form,

brain-cord-central-nervous-system

Central Nervous System of Man

The Central Nervous System that of an upright central nervous system. Have you ever looked at an image of our nervous system removed from the body?

We are like serpents who grew limbs, hair, and skin. The central intelligence of our body/mind is a serpentine brain and spinal cord, with various smaller branches protruding out into the rest of the body. So, perhaps in the end, we are the serpent.


As always, the thoughts expressed in this writing are not the official views of Universal Co-Masonry, but just the reflections of one Co-Mason.

Is Freemasonry a Sigil?

Is Freemasonry a Sigil?

The connection between Freemasonry and ritual magic is something which might be controversial to some brothers. The organization has intentionally de-emphasized such esoteric aspects of the Craft, at least in mainstream male-only Masonry, to focus instead on charity and fraternity. Universal Freemasonry for Men and Women, on the other hand, chooses to embrace the less mundane aspects of our tradition, so an idea like the one discussed in this writing is much less controversial among our Order.

As Masons, we enact rituals which change little over time, carry layers of philosophical significance and symbolism, and are meant to teach and transform each Brother. What is the magical significance, if any, of these rituals? Continuing with the theme of examining Masonry through various lenses, today we’ll inquire: Is Freemasonry a sigil?

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

Sigils, Symbols, and Sympathetic Magic

sigilWhat is a sigil? Sigils have been used throughout the history of magic, as a symbolic means by which to execute some magical action. This application has ranged from the sigil representing the name of supernatural entities, and therefore the power to summon them, to the more modern applications of Chaos Magic, which view them as symbolic representations of the magician’s intent.

In his excellent book Real Magic, Dr. Dean Radin discusses the scientific reality of what ancients called magic, and researchers today tend to call psi phenomena. Taking the more modern scientific view on magic, he includes a section about sigils in which it is explained that sigils use the law of correspondence, or sympathetic magic, to influence the world in some way and achieve a desired goal. While the mechanism by which this allegedly occurs is still unknown, many speculate that symbols or information may be fundamental to the fabric of reality itself. This is one way to explain why symbols, plus human intention, are able to affect changes in some mysterious, non-local way.

In the book, he recommends a simple sigil that illustrates the concept: take the letters of an acronym representing what it is you want to achieve, then rearrange and blend the letters together, to create a symbol. The main thing is that this symbol represents the desired goal to you, and gives it a graphic form, which you can then charge with intention, via a ritual, meditation, or method of your choosing. The combination of your intention and this symbol is supposed to literally reach out non-locally, to effect change toward achieving your goal in a magical or synchromystic sense. This is a basic illustration of the principle of sigils. 

Sigils, Sigils Everywhere

sigils symbolsIf one considers magic to be real, as current psi research indicates, and sigils to have a true effect by somehow utilizing nonlocality to extend human intention into the world, this brings up a possible re-interpretation of not only Freemasonry, but many other aspects of human culture, in general. If the sigil-effect is real, for instance, then how might that re-shape our view of art, corporate logos, architecture, city planning, and media in general?

While symbols are everywhere, the degree to which they have a magical effect is supposed to be determined by various factors, like how much human intention they’re being “charged” with, how often the ritual is performed, how many people are involved, etc., at least according to those who feel they’ve gained some understanding of this mysterious phenomenon. This means that symbols employed in a highly focused and regularly performed ritual would carry a great deal more power than a corporate logo, for instance.

Crafting a Spell of Awakening?

masonic symbolThus we arrive at the consideration of Freemasonry’s symbols and rituals, in a magical context. The origins of the Speculative aspects of Masonry came from traditions such as Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism, Alchemy, and Astrology, all of which were at least somewhat magical in nature. Therefore, its reasonable to suppose that those who originated the Craft were aware of, or believed in the power of symbol and ritual.

Considering the highly focused and disciplined nature of Masonic ritual, as well as the Fidelity and intention with which they are performed, it stands to reason that if the sigil-effect is in fact real, Masonic rituals performed regularly throughout the world must be performing a type of magic which reaches far and wide. While sigils in the traditional sense are a graphical symbolic representation, of which the Lodge and rituals contain plenty, it’s also interesting to consider that the rituals themselves may be a sort of 4-dimensional sigil, written into both 3D space, and the 4th dimension of time.

If Masonic Ritual is a sigil, what is the intention behind it? For most Brothers familiar with the Rituals, the answer would seem to be the uplifting and perfection of humanity, the bringing forth of Light from the Darkness, and the subduing of passion for the sake of Service to the Divine. What does Masonic Ritual mean to you?

Is Freemasonry a Time Capsule?

Is Freemasonry a Time Capsule?

Freemasonry can be and is many things to many people. Some see it as a conspiracy to take over the world; others, an ancient method to guide and improve humanity; yet others still, an old boys club with funny rituals and charitable activities. Following on the perspective theme of last week’s blog Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?, I’m going to explore yet another lens on Masonry: the possibility that it may be a kind of time capsule.

This may seem an odd take on our proud tradition at first glance, but bear with me. Without a doubt, Freemasonry is an institution passing down rituals often believed to be ancient in origin, with layers of meaning which are revealed as one progresses through the degrees. Great emphasis is placed on the idea that Masonic Ritual is passed on with regularity, with major changes typically requiring approval through the hierarchy.

This is not to say that Masonry never changes, nor that there are never outliers in terms of individual Lodges deviating from the norm, but rather that the ratio of tradition preservation to novel permutation is relatively high. So, if Freemasonry can be seen as a time capsule, what is it preserving?

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

Ancient Origins?

masonic ritualSome debate goes on both within and outside of Masonic circles over the true age and origins of Masonic Ritual. More conservative and scholarly historians have settled on the Middle Ages as the coming together of operative masonry (builder’s guild) with it’s Speculative components (philosophy and esotericism), and the Renaissance founding of the Grand Lodge in England in 1717 demarcates the official culmination point of modern Freemasonry into what it is today. However, it’s possible that this is merely when Freemasonry came into its modern form, and began leaving a neat paper trail.

On the other hand, more speculative Brothers have traced its origins to the ancient mystery traditions of old, supposing it to trace back as far as ancient Israel, Egypt, even Atlantis. Certainly the Speculative Masonic elements which joined and transformed Masonry from an architectural guild into the modern spiritual tradition it is today were inspired by, if not actually directly descended from, those ancient mystical traditions.

In a way, the question we’re asking is two-fold, because it depends on what we’re referring to when we say “Freemasonry.” If, by that term, we mean the unified Fraternity we know today, under the auspices of Grand Lodges, combining the symbolism of Masonic Builders with the teachings of the ancient Mysteries, then the conservative historians are probably correct. On the other hand, if we are referring to the origin of the Mysteries it preserves, which are the Speculative elements that have made it significant enough to be preserved when all other such organizations from medieval times faded away, then we must look much further back into the past.

A Mystery Within a Secret Hidden in Plain Sight

masonic traditionWhat is a time capsule? It is a container in which is placed one or more items of significance which one wishes to preserve through the process of time. If those same items had not been placed in the capsule, they would likely have succumb to the inevitable forces of entropy and change. They would have been thrown away, fallen apart, or given away and forgotten about. The central intention of creating a time capsule is to preserve something so that it may be rediscovered at a later time.

You might be thinking that the comparison of Freemasonry to a time capsule seems a bit of a stretch, and in some ways, I’m inclined to agree. It is not merely a time capsule; but can we think of that as one of the purposes it serves?

Freemasonry in its modern form comes to us from a time when certain freedoms such as democratic government, open philosophical discourse, and personal spirituality had all but been eradicated from the Western world by means of despotism, mass psychological manipulation, torture, and genocide. Is it any wonder that those passing along these ancient virtues converged and found an adequate container in which to place them? Operative masonry, with its democratic hierarchical structure, secret terminology and tokens, and international nomadic mode of existence particularly lent itself to being an ideal container for these timeless Truths, to preserve them against decay and tyranny.

That being said, Freemasonry is also different from a time capsule in many ways. It does not simply sit there, buried somewhere, to be found at a later time; it lives on and raises men and women to higher stages of their own evolution, contributes to the world charitably, and attempts to steer humanity towards freedom and enlightenment. Yet, it would not be capable of doing so if it weren’t maintaining the ancient Mysteries within the container of symbolism and fraternal organization.

What do you think? Do you find this to be a useful perspective of the Craft?

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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