The Tracing Boards of John Harris: A Masonic Legacy

The Tracing Boards of John Harris: A Masonic Legacy

When I joined Freemasonry, I realized the ceremonies were full of symbols meant to allude to greater meanings. One of the items that caught my attention during my initiation was the tracing board or picture in the Lodge room which displays the symbols for the degree. Later I learned that artist John Harris (1791- 1873) was responsible for creating the design that I saw displayed. My curiosity was forever peaked to better understand John Harris and his symbolic art.  Although John Harris was well-respected during his life, I soon discovered that in recent times he has been labeled “a forgotten artist.” As an advocate for the arts, I immediately felt a resonance with this hard-working Freemason who seemingly never got his due.

What can we learn from his life story?  Is he really a forgotten artist?

Harris joined Freemasonry in 1818 during a time of exciting cultural developments. As part of the new organization of the United Grand Lodge of England (U.G.L.E.) in 1813, British Freemasons were moving away from tavern culture. The masons, now owners of beautiful massive buildings, were able to contemplate adorning them with permanent furnishings such as antique art or elaborate pipe organs.

Part of the standardization occurring in the furnishings of new buildings was that each of the Lodges were to own a set of tracing boards. Upon entering the Lodge, Harris very quickly became fascinated with the concept of the tracing boards and started drawing designs almost immediately. His talents, as a painter, facsimilist, and architectural draughtsman, fitted him perfectly for the task.

1809 Microcosm_of_London_Plate_038_-_Freemasons'_Hall

1809 London Freemason’s Hall

In 1823, Harris dedicated a set to Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England.  The Grand Master immediately recognized Harris as a very talented young man. It is assumed that he commissioned Harris to make a standard official model for each degree.

These developments helped to standardize the designs. Until that point, there had been no consistency in the way the boards were painted.  It was not unusual for individual Lodges to have a variety of symbols and designs and employ their own artists.

 Why are symbols on the tracing boards important to the Freemason?

Albert Mackey, in his book on the Symbolism of Freemasonry, suggests that the symbols that are illustrated for each degree are a key to its mystery.

He writes:

To study the symbolism of Masonry is the only way to investigate its philosophy.

In the masonic teaching, symbols are a way to investigate the deeper meanings because they speak to the whole human being, not only the limited waking intelligence. It is said that a symbol will communicate its “message” even if the conscious mind remains unaware of the fact. The power of the symbol does not depend on it being understood.

Harris spent his whole life painting and studying the symbols of the Craft. As he furthered his masonic career, his designs evolved accordingly.  His life was his art.

Studying the boards of Harris really made me think about the question:

Can you separate the artist from the art? 

1825_tb_harris_fc_500_860 (1)

1825 Second Degree

Some say art and an artist’s biography are not so easily separated.  What I found striking about the Harris boards is how much his art did reflect his life. The first designs he created in 1820, just two years after he joined, were very simple.  I imagine he was still unraveling all the deep teachings of Freemasonry.

The 1825 designs convey more depth of experience. His life at that time truly reflected a fruitful craftsman. He was forging his fraternal ties with the Grand Master, a relationship which seemed to blossom and mature over time. The Grand Master loved the “Harris Boards,” and every Lodge wanted a set of the “approved” designs. Harris could hardly keep up with the orders from the Lodges and also kept very busy as a facsimilist at the British Museum.  His client list consisted of some of the major collectors in rare books in England, many often royalty.

A 1846 advertisement praises the skill of Harris:

The Craft Tracing Boards have been of essential service in promoting instruction among the Society at large; they are eagerly sought after every place where Freemasonry is cherished.

Relentless demands and grueling labor ensued for the next couple of decades.

John_Harris_3rd_1850

1850  “Open Grave” Third Degree

In those days, there were no photocopy machines so each one of the boards for each of the lodges had to be hand painted.  It was not unusual for a lodge to wait longer than a year once they ordered a set from Harris.

The last board he designed was in 1850 for the third degree, referred to as the “open grave” design.  This was a period in his life he found himself reduced to the lowest state of poverty and distress due to partial blindness. In 1856, he went completely blind and was paralyzed from a stroke the same year. The darkness of the 1850 painting gives a feeling of emotional starkness not experienced in any of his earlier designs.  Although seemingly dismal, the sheer intensity of the painting does suggest something exceptional.

One of his friends comments:

At the age of sixty-six, he is deprived of the only means he possessed of supporting himself and an invalid wife.

In 1860, Harris moved with his wife to a masonic home in East Croyton for aged Freemasons and their widows. In earlier times it was named “The Asylum for Worthy, Aged, and Decayed Freemasons” but known today as “The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (R.M.B.I.).” Harris found an outlet for his art in the East Croyton home and used his remaining years there to write poetry to raise money for the R.M.B.I. He answered his summons to the Grand Lodge Eternal on December 28, 1873.

From my research, I believe that Harris in the truest sense embodied the teachings of Freemasonry. His strength sustained him to endure in spite of overwhelming circumstances of unforeseen misfortune. He persevered until the end, laboring ceaselessly in the tasks that the Master had confided to his care. In my opinion, he is far from being a “forgotten artist.” His light continues to shine in one of the most treasured of all lodge furnishings.

In the words of Beethoven:

Art demands of us that we shall not stand still.


Note: Images for Harris Tracing Boards were retrieved on the website of Harmonie Lodge No. 66.

Masonic Fortitude: A Hero’s Journey

Masonic Fortitude: A Hero’s Journey

The great spiritual teachers, culture bringers, warriors, Freemasons and saints are living examples of the virtue of fortitude. Whether they fight the dragon or obtain the great treasure it guards, those with fortitude are people who deliver on their promises. They are people who do what is right, who take on any trial or opposition and see it through to the end. The importance of fortitude is truly significant in the masonic teachings such as are found in the Blue Lodge, the Scottish Rite, and in the York and English Rite.

Have you ever stopped to think how much fortitude you have?   Why does it matter?

I know I am correct in saying that we live in a time of great opportunity.  All progressive groups in the world are being called to accountability. The demand is under way that we actually, factually accomplish. I am also fairly certain that most golden opportunities go unfulfilled because people are hoodwinked to the presence of the opportunity. People are afraid to act.

Fortitude is defined in the Mason’s Manual as:

 That noble and steady purpose of mind, whereby we are enabled to undergo any pain, peril, or danger, when prudentially deemed expedient.

It is the virtue of courage and much more.  Fortitude gives us strength to act.  Ethics without the component of fortitude to act keeps it in the realm of heady philosophy.  As it is said by the mystical teacher Morpheus in the movie The Matrix: 

Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking it.

Fortitude is bringing both halves together, the knowing and the doing.

Human frailty tells us that if we do nothing about immoral behavior it will continue or 14595755_516608225215652_6008544087224846220_nget worse. Allowing ethics to “slide” will eventually take everything else for the same ride.

I ponder sometimes the amount of fortitude around me: leaders, scholars, scientists, legislators, religious guides, Freemasons— myself. I ponder how often we betray our morals and principles on every topic.  On the other hand, we admire people who have voluntarily or forcibly departed from the status quo, faced great challenges, and saved themselves and others.  Possibly we want to believe that we, too, can go on an incredible journey and come back transformed for the better.

How do we acquire more fortitude? How do heroes do it?

The Path of the Hero

As most know, the phrase “hero’s journey” or Monomyth was made popular by Joseph Campbell in his book Hero with a Thousand Faces.  It’s the idea that one single protagonist undergoes a life-changing journey to come out the other side wiser than they began. The Monomyth has been a pretty stunning formula in movies and books such as 330px-Vasnetsov_samoletThe Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  It is also the allegorical pattern in many of the masonic rituals.

The hero is often faced with questions about himself. What kind of person should I be?  What is the best way to live? How do I attain excellence? What should I aim for? What training must I do to achieve those aims?  Many of us eat, sleep, and breathe the ideals of the hero.

Joseph Campbell says:

The All is everywhere, and anywhere may become the seat of power. Any blade of grass may assume, in myth, the figure of the savior and conduct the questing wanderer into the sanctum sanctorum of his own heart.

The monomyth idea suggests that, given the call to adventure and favorable circumstances, we might be able to advance beyond our current limitations and unearth, if not exactly superpowers, at least latent virtues that we can use to serve the greater good.

At the onset, the hero isn’t a hero. At the onset the hero does not have fortitude.

Fortitude is instilled when one desires something so intensely or values that something so highly that he will settle for nothing else, and is willing to sacrifice many things.  It is17499398_595913547285119_2024712522915719750_n the virtue that gives a hero a willingness to die and stand by his principles to the very end.

The Masonic Quest

In an article published in Vol. 2, Issue 8 of Living Stones Magazine, author Jason Marshall suggests that the rituals of Freemasonry set a high bar for the hero, especially in the Hiramic Legend of the Third Degree.

He writes:

The Hero’s journey provides a powerful blue print for transformation, and it is no coincidence that the ritual experience of the craft follows this timeless formula. Just as the hero’s quest calls seemingly ordinary men to undertake feats of greatness, which have far-reaching impacts, the masonic fraternity calls men of all backgrounds to undertake their own hero’s journey, to not only transform themselves, but the world around them.

Marshall explains that a Freemason transforms humanity through modeling the process of an initiatory experience. He finds something underneath life that gives it purpose; that works, and has a sublime lesson. Marshall says that the ultimate hero is one who is resurrected from his world of adventure to immortality.

To transform the world around us might mean that today we are looking beyond the individual hero to a collective hero – one in which a society changes itself for the better by seeking answers en masse. It might mean there is one brotherhood fighting battles for human kind and not only individuals fighting their own monsters.

In the end, what is it that allows a courageous individual to tolerate the loss of life, that which the great majority of humanity cherish so highly? In my opinion, fortitude is ultimately based upon identification as the immortal, invincible Self.  In short, it is based upon the realization of one’s true Identity. Who can lose the immortal Self?

In 1 Corinthians 15:51, Saint Paul talks about the immortal Self when he says:

Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.

Cowardice crops up from the overwhelming feeling that something of rare value will be lost. The truly courageous person is not only able, but eager to give up all things short of the Self, for the sake of the greater realization.

For he knows that the further he journeys, the vaster the perspective, and the more humbling the realization.20375805_658664157676724_3202398839325588042_n

Lead me from darkness to Light.

Lead me from the unreal to the Real.

Lead me from death to Immortality.

 

 

 

Brotherly Love: The Heart of a Mason’s Work

Brotherly Love: The Heart of a Mason’s Work

Whether the subject of heart is mulled over by the philosopher or analyzed by the scientist, one thing is for certain — the heart is one of life’s most important mysteries.

Freemasonry reflects this idea, when it instructs that every mason is made ready first in his heart, and at the close of our Masonic quest, it is the purified heart which we consecrate to serving Humanity. Among all the masonic teachings, none is more important than brotherly love, relief, and truth.

It is a familiar aphorism of Vincent van Gogh, and I think a true one, that which undertaken for the cause of love is well accomplished. Van Gogh wrote:

It is good to love many things, for therein, lies the true strength. Whosoever loves much, performs much, and can accomplish much….What is done, in love, is well done.

Unfortunately, in the world today, it seems like the practice of brotherly love falls short of the ideal. Peace and harmony do not rule the day. There is conflict here and around the world. Our very home, this tiny little planet, is in real crisis. The disconnect between the ideal and the reality bewilders and baffles me. As a humanity, we are just not very good at the practice of brotherly love. Perhaps it is because we don’t really know what it is.

Are we all just looking for love in all the wrong places?

W.L. Wilmshurst in Meaning of Masonry tells us:

The very essence of the Masonic doctrine is that all men in this world are in search of something in their own nature which they have lost, but that with proper instruction and by their own patience and industry they may hope to find.

Could this “something” be love? BIG LOVE? I have always felt that love is an elusive516664c4a9229fc49ad64039ebb378e1.jpeg subject. We know that it is often driven by a range of factors. To feel love is one thing but to define it is quite another. Brotherly love is not a thing that one can hold in the hand or see with the eye.

Many masonic writers define Brotherly Love as Tolerance. Although, tolerance is admirable among virtues, I have always felt that it not a very lofty concept. Sure, if we compare it with outright bigotry, tolerance is indeed a virtue. But dig a little deeper, and behind tolerance is a concept a few steps removed from our loftiest ideals. “I tolerate you” is a far cry from “I love you.” 

What is the loftiest expression of brotherly love? If not tolerance, what? How do we find it?

Pantajali’s Raincloud of Knowable Things

Perhaps we need a nice metaphor to get us thinking at a higher elevation. How about a magical raincloud? Maybe it rains millions of lofty ideas from heaven. No one gets wet.

An old Hindu seer named Pantajali was the first to brand the metaphor of the “raincloud of knowable things,” which he said stands for a reservoir of divine Ideas. These “knowable things” or thoughts of the creator can “rain” into the mind of a man’s nature. Patanjali wrote about the process of tapping the “raincloud” in his famous Yoga Sutras 3638958116_125c024a31_zwhich were his working tools that he claimed lead a student to wisdom. This cloud hovers over humanity, ready to precipitate the wonders which deity holds in store for mankind.

We would all agree that clouds, even the ones in the web, get attention as metaphors because they are literally shape-shifters. Clouds as metaphors adorn our language; a cloud is on the horizon, he’s on cloud nine, every cloud has a silver lining, it’s cloudy in the east, etc. Clouds are meaningful symbols on the tracing boards of freemasonry.

In the mind of the Great Architect of the Universe, there are ideas and concepts that are group ideas; they are greater than our individual raincloud.

Pantajali says:

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

The point that Pantajali makes is that we can synchronize our labors on earth with those patterns laid in the heavens by mere contemplation. For every upward striving of our thoughts, we become better caretakers of this beautiful planet earth. Better Freemasons.

Building the Holy Temple in Freemasonry

I have always felt that Freemasonry was developed for a great purpose, one that is of pure heart and of great import. But many times, I find myself at a loss for words to describe this purpose in an integrated, comprehensive fashion.

In the book Spirit of Masonry, Foster Bailey writes about the eternal purpose of theHeart image mason’s task of building the holy temple. He says this temple is not just a pile of bricks but it can also represent the unseen holy temple, the symbolic inner temple inside of each brother.

He describes one of the key pillars of this holy temple as the Law of Love. While assembled for labor, the lodge assumes the ideal of this eternal purpose. The Law of Love is expressed as a living ethic of fellowship, brotherly understanding, mutual assistance, charity, and morality.

In Foster Bailey’s words:

Love is the cement that holds the entire divine structure together, and which cements the stones of the temple, producing coherence, support and strength.

To cement the stones of the temple takes an inner attitude of mind and a subjective orientation of heart. The vision he writes about is that someday the symbolic relationship in lodge will be reflected in the world outside the lodge. The ancient practice of the mystic chain, holding hands in a circle, is perhaps the most striking symbol to me of the eternal bonds of brotherhood that unite.

I marvel in this moment at the possibilities of a world built on the tenets of brotherly love. The magnificence of the glory outside. The vastness of the glory inside the human.

May we mark well! May Brotherly Love Prevail!

 

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

The Perfection of Humanity: A Work in Progress

What if perfection isn’t what you think it is? It is a term that every Freemason can relate to as part of their understanding. The zeal to achieve perfection is a core value of the masonic practice. Many instances of the word turn up in masonic language.

In the Scottish Rite, the combined degrees of 4 to 14 are called the “Lodge of Perfection.” In the Egyptian Rite, we find the “Rite of Perfect Initiates.” When we think of perfection, the idea has positive connotations. Achievement, completeness, evolution, excellence, fulfillment, integrity, and so on. People sometimes wear the title of perfection as a badge of honor.

What does perfection mean, really?

When I was younger and taking piano lessons, my music teacher’s studio wall was framed with a picture that said: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” That was a tall order! Later, I discovered the view is very different. The merit of perfectionism is called seriously into question outside the music studio. For example, in the book Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Fritz Perls writes that if you are “cursed with perfectionism, you are absolutely sunk.”

This contrast of views can be quite perplexing, since there appears to be truth on both sides of the equation. Perfectionism can apparently be a destructive trait or a good trait. The danger with using the word perfect is that it seems to imply completeness. One of the meanings of the word perfect is “absolute and unequivocal.” There’s a certain arrogance built into the word.

IMG00025-20100812-1145Trying to be perfect assumes that you know what perfect would be.

What if perfection is more like a verb? Is perfection a means to an end or the end itself? How is the idea of perfection portrayed in Freemasonry?

The Seed of Perfection

Man has always been fascinated by the mysterious perception of life and its purpose. As the hunt for the truth advances, more individuals are starting to focus on perfection of mind, body, and soul.

Manly Hall writes:

All humans have within them the seed of their own perfection. It is not bestowed; it is revealed. Man is a god in the making, and as in the mystic myths of Egypt, on the potter’s wheel he is being molded.

Manly Hall suggests that the perfection of potential is within us. We, of ourselves, are not that perfect, but there’s something within us that is. The true seeker on his journey ever strives for that hidden secret lost within — that seed of perfection.

The Buddha named Six Perfections to work on before illumination will manifest through us: 1) magnanimity, 2) selflessness, 3) patience, 4) fiery striving, 5) meditative quiescence, and 6) wisdom. The perfection of wisdom arises when the first five perfections have been attained. The masonic teaching focuses on the development of character and virtue as part of the training. Attention is given to “building in” certain patterns of right living, thinking and conduct. The Greeks, Persians, and Indians all had narratives of how to perfect the individual. These are ancient paths — tried, tested and proven.

statue-1593706_960_720Therefore, it appears that the divine plan for man can be both perfect and imperfect. The divine impulse that moves us all on the great Way through life, might be considered a perfect process. However, the product of this perfect system is yet to be fully manifested. It is truly a “work in progress.” It is a piece of labor that we must work on continually.

Annie Besant in her book Outer Court calls the process “spiritual alchemy.” She says:

Imagine the spiritual alchemist as taking all these forces of his nature, recognizing them as forces, and therefore as useful and necessary, but deliberately changing, purifying, and refining them.

It is so interesting to reflect on what it might mean to purify each of our faculties. What would it mean to guide others through this process of spiritual alchemy; to educate, to nurture, to listen and not always get the last word in? I walk with you, my friend, on this path of love and light back to the divine.

When the service for the divine spills over into assisting the perfection of humanity, it could be so uniquely lovely.

Service: The Highest Ideal

What is service? The word service is somehow elusive to me because it evokes different personal ideas in each of us. But anyone involved in a true service activity knows it is far from personal. It is about others and the grand design. It is not about “what’s in it for me” or the separate self. When we see everything in relation to ourselves, so will our spiritual vision be limited, isolated, and narrow.

Service is when our heart begins to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine plan, the divine tracing board, not our separatist mind.the_rough_ashlar_2

I ponder these obligations every time I think about the allegory of King Solomon’s Temple. I recently read a wonderful article about the legend here. The symbolism suggests that true perfection can never end with physical perfection. It is only the means to the end which is spiritual perfection.

The Temple must not only be built, but it must also be spiritualized, often described as “a Temple not made with hands.”

Albert Mackey tells us:

The speculative mason is engaged in the construction of a spiritual temple in his heart, pure and spotless, fit for the dwelling-place of Him who is the author of purity.

When we look at each other through this glance, we hear an echo of a heavenly realm. All here and now. I wonder about what it would be like to build and live in such a sacred community.

Too often the outer court, with its distractions and fleeting pleasures, demands our attention in ways that leave us enthralled within the walls of ourselves, and the veils of the mundane, forgetting our true perfect master. A call, if not responded to, a knock if ignored, causes the doors of inner perception to close, at least for a time.

What would it be like to see the deepest jewel in one another’s soul? What would it mean for divine faculties to come and take over, replacing all that is egotistic with all that is eternal? Will the perfection of humanity always be a work in progress?

A pile of rocks ceases to be a rock when somebody contemplates it with an idea of a cathedral in mind.   

—   Antoine De Saint-Exupery

 

Mozart: A Freemason Inspired by the Craft

Mozart: A Freemason Inspired by the Craft

A few years ago, I spent a great deal of time researching Mozart’s life and especially his affiliations with Freemasonry. We know much about Mozart because there are many letters that have been preserved in the archives. As I poured over these amazing documents, I learned a lot about history. But it especially got me thinking about how the themes of freemasonry affected his musical style. After he became a Freemason, his tools of making music evolved into something completely different.

Do the ideals of Freemasonry inspire an artist?

We know the craft attracts many men and women from all walks of life. They not only change and shape their Lodge but the world around them. Mozart, a prolific musician and a Freemason was a mover and shaker of his time. He left his mark on the world with more than 600 works in a great range of genres. There are so many timeless lessons from his character, his creative process and his music that we can learn from.

At around five years old, he wrote his first composition, a Minuet and Trio in G major, listed as K 1. He eventually made it all the way up to K 626, his Requiem.  Mozart possessed the outstanding ability for “photographing” everything that he heard. He could attend a concert and later write down the full composition of the concert. In one of Mozart’s letters to his father about Prelude and Fugue in C (K 394), Mozart writes:

6062034280_3a832f5073_zI composed the fugue first and wrote it down while I was thinking out the prelude.

His genius was unquestionable.  However, we don’t really know what inspired him. Where did his inspiration come from? What is inspiration, anyway?  When we break apart the word “inspired,” we find it comes from two words “in” and “spirit.” The word literally means “in spirit.” In other words, when you are inspired by something, it means that you are living in spirit or in more masonic terms, “on the plumb.”

Just how important was the tie to freemasonry with his inspiration?

The Fraternity

Mozart knocked on the door of Freemasonry in 1784. Being twenty-eight years old, the enlightenment was a glorious time for this young lad. The setting was revolutionary. Humanity stood on the threshold of a new era. Composers and musicians would no longer be viewed as mere servants, but as craftsmen in their own right.

In an excellent book by Paul Nettl called Mozart and Masonry, he remarks:

What led him to Masonry was the reflection and self- contemplation which followed his extensive wandering, and this also brought about the creation of his unique style.

Mozart_in_lodge,_ViennaMembership in the Royal Art for Mozart was not an impulsive act. He attended his Lodge regularly, advanced in the degrees and had many friends through his connections with the Lodge.

There is something very crucial to understand that relates to all this. Years and years of hard labor gave him a solid foundation to take his music to the next level. He labored incredibly hard, up at 5 am in the morning and often burned the midnight oil. He always pushed for something unique as a true gift to humanity, introducing his own shade of meaning into whatever he touched.

It would seem that the disciplines of Freemasonry inspired him greatly.  No?

Masonic Music

Mozart wrote a staggering amount of music considering his short years. It must be acknowledged that being controversial didn’t stop him. His music wasn’t appreciated by everyone – not even close. He was willing to put himself out there, especially with his masonic music. What exactly constitutes Mozart’s masonic music?

Music scholars say that Mozart’s “masonic” music generally falls into three categories.

  1. Masonic in nature, obviously written for Lodge occasions.
  2. Masonic in spirit, but not written specifically to be performed in a lodge.
  3. Written for other purposes, but adapted for use in lodge.

For example, the famous Clarinet Concerto in A Major (K 622) falls into the third category.  Although not written for a Lodge occasion, he composed it for Anton Stadler, a member of his Lodge, who he shared the utmost of fidelity. Whenever he wrote as a token of friendship, he would add a different nuance depending on what the music was for. It was his gift. His wide circle of Lodge brothers inspired him greatly. 3353349312_d6aa1254bc_z (1)

Most artists have admitted that they require the aid of inspiration to accomplish their work. Etienne Gibson, French philosopher,  in Choir of Muses tells how music composer Sibelius describes an inspired experience:

When the final shape of our work depends on forces more powerful than ourselves, we can later give reasons for this passage or that, but taking it as a whole one is merely an instrument. The power driving us is that marvelous logic which governs a work of art. Let us call it God.

I believe that Sibelius is speaking of a different kind of inspiration, one that comes from still Higher Sources, the Great Architect of the Universe.  Music is so abstract at times it gives you infinite ways to contact the Divine.

After his death, the Freemasons held a Lodge of Sorrows in Mozart’s memory, and the oration there delivered was printed by Ignez Alberti, a member of Mozart’s own Lodge.

An excerpt follows:

Though it is proper to recall his achievements as an artist, let us not forget to honor his noble heart.  He was a zealous member of our order.  His love for his brothers, his cooperative and affirmative nature, his charity, his deep joy whenever he could serve one of his brethren with special talents, these were his great qualities.  He was a husband and father, a friend to his friends and a brother to his brothers…

Every so often when I’m lazing about, it makes me incredibly motivated to think about these histories from classical composers like Mozart.  Sadly, we may never know what inspired Mozart. The composer’s intentions remain unknowable. I have to say the sheer intensity of his life does suggest something exceptional. Something inspired by the craft.

A United Endeavor: Universal Co-Masonry’s Five-Year Plan

A United Endeavor: Universal Co-Masonry’s Five-Year Plan

Robert Kennedy once stated, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence, but it is the one essential quality to change the world.”  We, as Freemasons, know something about changing the world, but how serious are we about completing the work we are called to do? Do we possess that “moral courage” necessary to stand up to ignorance and change the world?

Universal Co-Masonry is taking the steps to create a better world through the implementation of an innovative Five-Year Plan. The plan was released during the Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry’s Annual Summer Workshop at its headquarters in Larkspur, Colorado held from August 5th through August 12th of this year. Brothers arrived from Lodges throughout the Americas to attend the workshop, a semi-regular tradition in the Order for more than a century. 

Universal Co-Masonry’s Most Sovereign Grand Commander, Brother Magdalena I. Cumsille announced an ambitious and detailed Five-Year Plan to accomplish the task at hand. Speaking to those assembled, she stated, “It is our duty as Masons to make a better world for, not only ourselves, but for those that come after us.” In his address which followed, President Matias Cumsille issued this call to action: “Let it be a united endeavor: a place where Freemasons toil together in the great work.”

The work of the Five Year Plan is separated into seven divisions of labor, including: 1) Expand the Masonic Philosophical Society, 2) Establish the Masonic Publishing Company, 3) Institute the Masonic College of Arts and Sciences, 4) Found the Masonic Order of Service, 5) Implement the Order’s Energy Initiative, 6) Finalize the Order’s Technology Initiative, and 7) Commence the Order’s Historical Document Preservation Program.MPS Logo

The Masonic Philosophical Society

The first step in the Five-Year Plan is to expand the reach of the existing Masonic Philosophical Society  (M.P.S.) to include additional online platforms. The mission of the M.P.S. is to destroy ignorance through the advancement of research and understanding of the sciences, arts, and humanities. Utilizing online video conferencing technology, the M.P.S. will be better equipped to fulfill its mission across the globe. Since the commencement of the first online study center, individuals from around the world have been able to participate in the educational opportunities, including men and women from India, Madagascar, Germany, Spain, England, and Canada. “We are planning on establishing a European online M.P.S. study center, as well as a new physically-located M.P.S. Study Center in Asia,” explained President Matias Cumsille. 

The Masonic Philosophical Society was founded in January of 2009 to provide interactive educational opportunities for adults beyond the nationally required post-secondary schooling.  Since 2009, the M.P.S. has expanded its operation to include 25 centers in North and South America. With more than 60,000 members, the M.P.S. has created a worldwide movement and community. To learn more about the Society, follow the online M.P.S. Journal, interact with the global community, or inquire about membership, visit the M.P.S. website or the M.P.S. Facebook page.  

The Masonic Publishing Company

Another ongoing project expected to get an evolutionary boost in the next five years is The Masonic Publishing Company: an innovative and independent publisher of books. MPC Meme“Its objective is to publish rare, esoteric, occult and philosophical books,” President Matias Cumsille added. 

Created to bring new light to the great enigmatic works of the past, M.P.C. books include new material added by Freemasons to inspire modern inquiry. The M.P.C. is the proud publisher of a selection of books which have been handpicked to inspire our readers to reach their fullest potential. One might call it a Must-Read List for Seekers of Wisdom, including members of the Brotherhood of Freemasonry, which encircles the globe. 

The Masonic College of Arts and Sciences

Another step in the Five Year Plan is the formation of a Masonic College to provide education for seekers throughout the world. The Masonic College of Arts and Sciences (M.C.A.S.) is a private liberal arts college which will offer educational courses based on the synthesis of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science.

The College is oriented specifically for those individuals in search of higher understanding beyond that found in traditional universities and dogmatic institutions. M.C.A.S. endorses the Integrated Approach to its studies and discourages Reductionism – the approach used in an overwhelming majority of higher educational institutions.

“Initially, courses will be online, and we will offer two undergraduate degrees, both founded on the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences,” President Matias Cumsille stated. “We will be working to ensure the accreditation of the college through the Colorado Department of Higher Education in the next five years.”

Further Steps in the Five-Year Plan

Other initiatives in the Five-Year Plan include the formation of the Masonic Order of Service, detailed in an earlier blog, an Energy Initiative to make the Order’s headquarters more self-sustaining through the installation of solar and wind power, and a Technology Initiative to update the structure of the Order for dissemination of Masonic studies. The final step of the Order’s plan is to preserve historical documents as part of the Order’s Historical Document Preservation Program.


 “Let us begin the Work. We cannot wait, for time is a gift rarely used wisely.” 

— Most Sovereign Grand Commander, Magdalena I. Cumsille

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

Finding the Middle Path: Esoteric and Non-Esoteric Freemasonry

There are two groups in Freemasonry, the so-called “Esoterics” and “Non-Esoterics,” who too often do not get along. They should. After all, they need each other.

This, to my mind, is best illustrated by an image I have observed floating around the Internet for a decade. It’s the High Priestess card in the Rider Waite tarot deck with the Kabbalistic “Eitz haChayim” (עץ החיים) or, in English, The Tree of Life, superimposed upon it.

My own version of it is pictured above, along with a box of cigars. Because, as in the statement often is attributed to famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It does not really matter if Freud ever said or wrote that. The point is that things are not always metaphors or symbols for something else.

That said, I think it’s equally possible for them to be and not to be – all at the same time.

My observation of the High Priestess Card and Tree of Life pairing is that individuals, especially those esoterically inclined, who see the connection for the first time, generally experience a kōan moment. That is to say that their minds are completely blown. There is a good deal to be gained in such a moment, i.e. when the mind is absolutely blank. That seems to be the aim of a good portion of esoteric study, inside Freemasonry and out. The aim being to assist the neophyte in unraveling hidden or higher truths deep within themselves and stretching outward to farthest reaches of the Universe.

The image itself supposedly originated with an unknown individual, possibly the late Paul Foster Case, who noted that if you draw circles around the pomegranates on the card and then draw lines between them the image drawn resembles the Tree of Life. The problem is that the tree of life cannot actually be constructed through the process. As is the case with many of these studies, this exercise breaks down under non-esoteric scrutiny.

There are no pomegranates on the card to represent the lower Sephirot, namely Yesod and Malkuth. Thus, the High Priestess’ knees and toes, along with one end of the crescent moon, must be pressed into service. A circle around the cross at the center of her chest also is required. Without those pomegranate-free circles, there is no Tree of Life on the card. The decision to accept any part of the picture, in an exercise to connect an image, leaves us open to circles, squares, and other doodles on the card.

Tree of Life

The Kabbalistic Tree of Life

In my observation, the esoterically inclined Brother may declare that, simply by making that perfectly reasonable observation, the non-esoterically inclined Brother is just not open to the experience and not worthy of the special knowledge imparted. The non-esoterically inclined Brother may reply that the whole thing is nonsense and then try to turn the subject toward something practical, such as an upcoming fundraiser.

That, in turn, frustrates the esoterically inclined Brother, who sees the upcoming fundraiser as meaningless compared to the exploration in search of answers about life, the universe, etc. The Brothers with opposing viewpoints might even start squabbling at this point, each implying that the other should be more like themselves.

That argument generally leaves those individuals in the middle thinking both of the original points is valid and worth considering. They may wonder why those on either side cannot get along.

To be clear, as a historian in Freemasonry I have endured my own share of being annoyed with esoterically inclined writers who, to my mind, flippantly make up historical events to bolster their own writings. Quite recently, I heard an operative alchemist claim that medieval architecture originated with the Templars, stating it as a fact without supporting documentation, something more academically minded Templar scholars would have no trouble refuting.

Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight, who were big deals when I came into Freemasonry about a decade ago, have been seen by some to invent things to bolster the message and lessons they want to get across.

Which, I think, is the point. For esoteric writers, the focus is on the message or lesson they are trying to teach not necessarily about the complete historical accuracy of the facts underlying their arguments.  They may ignore some historical data or information if it is seen as cumbersome, irrelevant, or diminishing to their argument. 

Non-esoteric writers may prefer to establish their messages and lessons in well-documented and verifiable historical analysis. To do otherwise, may seem to these writers as “making up history.” They also might express a certain irritation that esoteric books far outsell non-esoteric tomes.

Both points of view are valid, but both sides also often also forget to take a hard look at themselves.

I suppose it might be helpful, even this late in the blog, to define the term “esoteric”, which is no easy thing. Merriam-Webster lists the popularity of the word “esotericism“as being in the bottom 30 percent of popular words and defines it as “the quality or state of being esoteric.”

Spheres Dante

The Concentric Spheres of “The Key to Dante’s Divine Comedy,” by Augustus Knapp

The same source defines “esoteric” as pursuing something “designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone” (my emphasis) or “requiring or exhibiting knowledge that is restricted to a small group.”

To be “non-esoteric,” in Freemasonry and without, would be not to be part of that specially initiated group or to not have that knowledge restricted to the small group. Or, I suppose, to reject all that.

Brothers on both sides live in the same place. They really do, but they fail to recognize the concentric spheres spheres that share the same center – which make up that place. In Freemasonry, there are those who labor in the Inner Order, they who keep the Light; and those who labor in the Outer Order, they who keep the lights on.

There is no point in making sure the power bill is paid to keep the lights on if there is no Light to keep; and the Light cannot very well be kept if the power bill is not paid to keep the lights on.

There are Brothers who prefer the Outer Order. They enjoy the sumptuous banquets, the social functions, and getting out into the world to show how good Freemasons can be. The Outer Order excels at financial planning, in setting aside trusts for the future, for that is where the Outer Order lives. They are careful to remember the past and plan for the future.

The Brothers of the Inner Order live in the Now. They see Freemasonry as a body of individual seekers of Light, an heir to the ancient mystery schools, and a system to impart morality, ethics, and the benefits of mutual service. The Inner Order tends to dismiss the past as unimportant and reckons the future will take care of itself. For them, clarity and correctness about the past and future is a secondary concern to the now.

Ancient Mysteries

Ancient Mystery School Symbolism

Then there are those achingly tolerant Brethren, “hybrids,” who can pass between the spheres and see value in both. They historically have been in the minority in Freemasonry but, in my observation, their numbers are increasing. I see them as Brothers deeply rooted in the center. I wish there were more of them.

I am not the first to observe this disharmony between the spheres. Bro. Robert Davis, in his 2010 paper “The Path of the Esotericists Among Us,” pointed out that “no sincere adept’ would force truth on someone not prepared to contemplate it. “We all know Masons who believe with all their heart there is nothing spiritual about the rituals of Masonry,” Bro. Davis wrote. 

There are those who claim there is nothing to learn beyond the ritual words. There are even more who are appalled when it is suggested that Kabbalistic, Alchemical, or Hermetic associations might be made from a study of the Degrees of Masonry. Never mind that every aspirant is told before he receives the very first Degree that Masonry is a course of hieroglyphic instruction taught by allegories. Oh well. As obvious as this may seem to the esoteric minded among us, there is little to be gained by arguing with those who aren’t listening.

I would add to Davis’ point that there *is* a middle path. It is worth seeking, and Esoterics and Non-Esoterics need to tolerate, if not respect, each other.

Until we can all be there, I continue to hope that Brothers of the Inner and Outer orders will learn to respect and tolerate each other. I hope that they will try – please try – not to encroach too much into the opposite sphere. At least not until they are ready to do so harmoniously and fully recognizing that the Brother in the opposite sphere who does not get you and who is not open to your experience is the Brother who makes sure that you do and are.