What do Masons’ Marks reveal?

What do Masons’ Marks reveal?

The subject of marks forms an interesting study in the history of Freemasonry that begins in much earlier times with the ancient cathedrals. In the days of operative builders, a mason’s mark was defined as a figure, an emblem, or some other arbitrary symbol chiseled on the surface of a stone for the purpose of identifying his own work and distinguishing it from that of other workmen.

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to visit the cathedral site of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, built-in the mid-15th century. Looking closely at the walls, carefully inscribed masons’ marks can be seen. These were made by the stonemasons who cut the blocks that make up the columns, piers, windows and arches of the chapel. The masons’ marks at Rosslyn Chapel stood out to me as strikingly well crafted. That much was clear.

What wasn’t clear to me is why did these stonemasons leave these marks? Was there hidden meaning in their unique symbols or were they drawn for practical purposes?

In the everyday world “making your mark” is a phrase that means you have created a lasting impression on someone or mankind itself. You have added something positive that will be remembered after you pass to the Grand Lodge Eternal above. We all want to make our mark on this world, a legacy—to know that our life mattered.

Often, however, “making a mark” has become diluted as a common household phrase. Has it has lost its deeper import? What purpose do masonic marks serve, or do they?

Past Theories, Speculations and Thoughts

The purpose of masons’ marks in medieval buildings, especially churches and cathedrals, is not entirely known. Researchers have offered many hypotheses, but the problem is not easy to unravel. In time and place, marks had several different uses.

Free to use EB1911_Rome_-_Masons'_Marks

Many scholars think that marks were placed on stones for solely practical reasons. It was much like a signature. The mason, would either be assigned or choose a mark, and that would be his professional symbol. He would chisel his mark into each stone he worked on and this allowed an accurate account of his work and payment.

Others believe that there may be more to these marks than mere signatures; they believe that the masons were trying to carve their messages into stone so that they could not be lost to future generations and those who came after them. Given that many of the masons’ marks may be repeated, and not related to an individual, there may be some truth to this claim. However, no one has managed to decipher what those messages might mean.

One hypothesis about Rosslyn Chapel is that the hanging cubes were designed to compose a musical score. The patterns reveal a piece of music waiting to be played and a musical code. Tommy and Stuart Mitchell, both musicians, wrote a book called “The Rosslyn Motet” and they claim that actual sounds are carved into the stones. This particular theory created some controversy and has been debunked by many writers who think there is no pattern, musical or otherwise. Thought – provoking, nevertheless.

As you can imagine, there is no shortage of theories as to the meaning that may be embedded within the enigmatic symbols.

How does a Freemason today apply these ancient methods?

Leaving a Mark and To Mark Well

In current times, a Freemason who has advanced through the degrees of York Rite learns the significant purpose behind a masons’ mark and to mark well. What does it mean to mark well? Probably, the most stunning symbol encountered in these rites is that of the Keystone, which is a symbol of completion.

KeystoneThe teaching of the Keystone forms an interesting link to the cathedral builders of ancient times.

Brother Albert G. Mackey writes:

“The stone placed in the center of an arch which preserves the others in their places, and secures firmness and stability to the arch. As it was formerly the custom of Operative Masons to place a peculiar mark on each stone of a building to designate the workman by whom it had been adjusted, so the Keystone was most likely to receive the most prominent mark, that of the Superintendent of the structure.”

The Keystone in the symbolic arch, signifies the completion of the individual Temple which each craftsman is erecting. It is the Temple not made with hands. With the keystone, we see that “leaving a mark” means putting a stamp on the future, and making a lasting contribution to coming generations.

In symbolic terms, there are many examples in the world of people who have left a mark on a beautifully wrought stone. The life works of Brother Annie Besant, a woman instrumental in founding Co-masonry, comes to mind. Her contributions display masterly skill in execution, and creating something useful and important for humanity.

How does a Freemason make such a mark in the world? In other words, what is the service that is beckoning? How does an individual handle the resistance to following that impulse? What happens when we say yes? What happens when we say no?

I have found the answers to these questions are not simple, only slightly less arduous that deciphering the Voynich Manuscript. Cracking the code requires discernment which will occasionally have you up nights. Perhaps you have seen the design of something and try to shape your service from that thought or memory. And then you fail when trying to follow it through. Or more often, the truth is inconvenient and so you don’t even pursue it. Discernment is demanding work. It’s also prone to error and imperfect.

Fortunately, the Craftsman learns that all “true” service, no matter how imperfect, is acceptable. He learns the lessons of patience, endurance, faithful service and perfect humility. The reward of true merit for the workman comes when egoism and pride fall away.

The Freemason marks well when he aligns with the plan and purpose of the Great Architect who has a greater design or pattern. The chisel is used as an instrument of refinement to further shape and polish that stone to fit into the Temple’s Plan with right exactitude.

What were the ancient builders of old thinking when they carved their marks on beautiful temples and cathedral buildings? And today? What do masons’ marks reveal?

Only each craftsman can know the mystery for himself –  his true legacy –  before reaching that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.

Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Masonic Motto: Ordo Ab Chao

Of the many symbols and phrases of Freemasonry, a few mottoes are important enough to be prominently, and sometimes publicly displayed on flags, seals, or regalia. The phrase “Ordo Ab Chao,” is the motto of the 33rd degree, which can be found on the grand decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, one of the highest honors and roles which can be bestowed upon a Mason. It is also featured on other seals and flags representing various Orders.

This phrase being depicted so prominently, particularly in relation to the 33rd degree, indicates a tremendous importance to Freemasonry. Indeed, Ordo Ab Chao, translated to “Order from Chaos,” is also associated with another latin phrase, Lux In Tenebris, which translates to “Light from Darkness.” Why is the idea of Order from Chaos or Light from darkness so significant to Freemasonry? Let’s explore this question together.

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

Historical Artifact, or Essence of the Craft?

One theory about the origin and significance of this phrase has mostly to do with Masonic history in the United States. In the early 1800s, there was some division and conflict between the Northern and Southern jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite, in the US. According to this theory, when the Rite being practiced in the North was found to be aorder from chaos fraud, and the conflict resolved in the restoration of the original Rite, this was where the original use of the phrase emerged.

Perhaps the most dismissive theory, in this case the “Order from Chaos” was simply the order restored from the chaos of the schism between jurisdictions, and all other meanings commonly attributed to it are purely speculative.

While it’s important not to rule out such an explanation simply because it’s only historically interesting, it’s hard to believe that the motto would be considered so significant if it didn’t have a deeper symbolic meaning. What are some other possible meanings?

The Universal Phoenix?

The first clue to the more profound meaning and significance of this phrase is the origin of it’s correlate, Lux in Tenebris. This phrase comes to us from the Latin translation of the Gospel of John, in which it is said “The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” While Ordo Ab Chao can be traced to the early 19th century, this other phrase is obviously much older, and carries similar meaning.

What is meant when we say to bring Light from darkness, or Order from chaos? Much as the operative Masons of old took the rough stone of the natural world and hewed and smoothed it in such a way as to be fit for the construction of elaborate and pristine structures such as cathedrals, so the speculative Masons of today apply the same discipline, and even the metaphor of the builder’s tools, to draw forth Order from the Chaos of their own lives and minds. Just as God is said to have made a Light to shine in the darkness which comprehended it not, so are we to be as Lights of knowledge and integrity in the darkness and ignorance of the world, even when it does not understand that Light.

On an even deeper level, what is this universe made of? There are many ways to answer that, and one of them is that it is made of gradients of Order and Chaos. We can see in history and in our own lives that these are not two separate things, but are both a continuum, and a dynamic process of change. As Chaos ensues, old orders are broken down to allow new ones to emerge. Like Ying and Yang, death and rebirth, Order and Chaos follow from and give birth to one another, in an ever-renewing cycle of creation and evolution.

Why Have So Many Famous Jazz Musicians Been Freemasons?

Why Have So Many Famous Jazz Musicians Been Freemasons?

When we think of the connection between Freemasonry and music, where most people’s minds probably go first is to Mozart, who is the most famous classical composer to be a documented Mason, although some speculate about Beethoven as well. Indeed, Mozart even wrote Masonic themes into some of his music, as was discussed in another of our posts.

What many do not realize is that there are perhaps more famous jazz musicians who were Masons than classical composers, or perhaps any other genre. Why does Freemasonry count so many renowned jazz artists among its ranks? That’s what we’ll be learning about in this post: both the history and reasons for Masonry’s jazz connections.

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

A History of Great Jazz Masons

First, let’s just take a look at some of the big names from jazz history who have been a part of the Brotherhood. Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Dizzy Gillespie are just a few household names you might recognize who were either proven or almost certainly Freemasons. There are yet more to list, but these are probably the biggest names who even casual jazz fans will recognize. 

sun ra freemasonSun Ra, an interesting character by any measure, is also theorized to have been a member of a Prince Hall Lodge, or a lodge of a related fraternal order, throughout his career. While not the most well-documented Mason, his flamboyant, Egyptian-inspired stage garb and “cosmic” philosophical expressions certainly make him at least the most colorful character to be associated with both jazz and the Masonic tradition.

So, why is there such a connection between Freemasonry and jazz?

Hip to Be Square

One of the suggested reasons that Freemasonry has been so appealing to musicians throughout history is that along with valuing music as one of the seven liberal arts, it also made it easier for those who lived on the road. By being a Freemason, traveling musicians could easily plug into any community and support network they encountered, via the local lodge. It also provided support at times of sickness and death, which to the sometimes empty-pocketed musicians, could be a godsend.

prince hall freemasonryJazz history is also intimately intertwined with African American history, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that many of these jazz musicians were connected to Freemasonry through Prince Hall Lodges. Prince Hall Freemasonry is an order that was chartered by the Grand Lodge of England for African Americans who were rejected from mainstream Lodges at the time, and are predominantly African American in their membership.

At the time when jazz proliferated, and many of the African American jazz Masons were in their hayday, much of the country was still segregated, and racial tensions were still quite high. Life as a musician already wasn’t easy, and if you add to that being part of an actively persecuted ethnic group, it’s not hard to see why the benefits of Fraternal Life would be appealing, even empowering to African American jazz musicians in the early-to-mid 20th century. 

However, it also seems likely that there are deeper reasons for the connection than simple utility and networking.

On the Same Wavelength

Jazz is known by most as a type of music, but it’s also a subculture, and that subculture has its own sort of philosophy and ethic. If we reflect upon both the ideas embodied in the music of jazz, as well as the culture surrounding it, we can find many correlations which give a deeper understanding to the connections between jazz and Freemasonry than simply being a useful fraternal organization for musicians.

Both Freemasonry and jazz, for instance, are about generating new ideas; innovation and forward thinking are qualities that are embraced both in the Lodge and in the creation of jazz music. There is also an inclusiveness to jazz, having originated in the intermingling of various cultures and musical styles in New Orleans in the early 20th century, and that symbiosis and confluence of cultures towards a common goal of progress together is certainly a value held by Masonry, as well.

freemasonry and musicOn a more abstract level, we can look at the actual musical nature and structure of jazz, some of which can be quite abstract, and draw another correlation. Anyone who has developed an appreciation for jazz, especially the more abstract variety, can understand how the phrase “Ordo Ab Chao” could be equally relevant to the craft of jazz as it is in the Craft of Freemasonry. 

 

The Masonic Lesson of Subduing One’s Passions

The Masonic Lesson of Subduing One’s Passions

One of the primary lessons of Freemasonry is to learn to subdue your passions. On the surface, some might think this means to dampen and reduce your emotions – to become a kind of automaton. Quite the opposite is the case, however.

As you proceed down your spiritual growth path, your emotions become more intense and poignant in response to external events. The difference, by result of proper training, is that, on the surface, you appear calmer and in perfect control of your emotions, regardless the circumstance. 

An examination of the word Subdue supports this contention. The dictionary definition of subdue is to “bring under mental or emotional control, as by persuasion or intimidation; render submissive.” The Latin derivation of the word is of even more interest as subdue originates from subdūcere, which translates into “to withdraw.” An inference here is that you are withdrawing your emotions from external view.

On the inside, your emotional reactions to external circumstances become more intense – you are able to pick up more subtle nuances in your personal interactions.Controlled Emotional Response On the outside, your demeanor is that of a placid lake in terms of facial expressions and both body and eye language.

In a certain sense, you become detached from your emotions. You are better able to identify your emotional response to situations, analyze that response, and respond in specific, measured ways without bias. It becomes an internal feedback loop that allows you to improve yourself and learn to subdue your passions. Over time, the situations presented become more intense and you find yourself gracefully addressing situations you would not have imagined just months before. One thing is certain; you will continue to be presented ever increasing challenges throughout your life.

Externally, your measured response to situations helps to accomplish very specific goals of which you may not always be aware. Passions or emotions are a universal language conveyed through body language, eye contact, and the timbre of your voice. You continually affect others through that language, provoking them to specific and systematic response. Your emotions, then, afford a tool for assisting humankind in its endeavors.

As you progress through life and the degrees of Freemasonry, your ability to use your emotions as a tool for good grows. Your ability to turn your externally displayed emotions on and off is enhanced, to the point that you react instinctively to situations presented in life. Often, you do not recognize the purpose of your reaction to specific events until after the fact and sometimes not even then.

The Gospel of Matthew 5:39 states, in part: “…whosoever shall smite thee on thy right vslcheek, turn to him the other also…” This biblical passage has, in my opinion, at least three levels of interpretation.

The first, most basic level, encourages the recipient of the smite to ignore the offender. The second, more popular perception inspires the recipient to forgive the offender. The third and most sublime interpretation exhorts the recipient, in the most loving manner possible, to deliberately provoke the offender to hit the other cheek so that the offender might someday come to subdue his own passions. 

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?

What do Freemasons Imagine?

What do Freemasons Imagine?

I grew up listening to the Beatles. John Lennon was one of my favorite musicians. Recently I was listening to his song “Imagine.” As music sometimes does, it triggered a whole chain reaction of questions.

What does it mean to imagine, really? How is imagination related to creativity? Does it guide the Freemason? Is there a masonic message underneath the song’s lyrics for those who have the “seeing eye”?

At first listen, it’s easy to think of the song “Imagine” as a simple tune: a ballad, a vision of peace, a piano-driven melody. But at second listen,  I began to wonder, deep down, if what Lennon describes will really happen. Will the world have a happy ending?  To imagine all people living in peace asks for the giving up of what we often cling to most frantically.

Consider the third verse:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Possible, really? Imagine a life without material possessions. What are possessions? Well, pretty much everything that we love and cherish and cannot do without. Can we imagine a life without our smart devices? Probably, we cannot. And that’s why John Lennon questions if we are capable of such a triumph.

Even so, I subscribe to the theory that we are poised for a great leap forward in our evolution as humans. This turning point in our history is propelled by technology which is fundamentally transforming not only how we live as a species, but also how we see ourselves at our core. IMG_3216

And, in order to journey into this uncharted new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever. Why? Because behind all the Masonic work and underlying all its rituals and symbolism there can be found the prophetic vision of a new world. It frames a code and system of moral imagination for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, and their world.

Brother Foster Bailey writes in “Spirit of Masonry”:

“The prophet of old has told us that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’ In Masonry the vision blazes forth in the East, and towards the materializing of that vision all good Masons work.”

This begs the question: how do all “good masons” work at imagining?

Imagination: From “Ideas” to “Ideals” to “Idols

The scholar Wendy Wright describes the imagination as:

“the crucial capacity of the human person to create a world – either the familiar world of the everyday or a world not yet visible. Our relentless human search for new ways of being and relating, our dreams of beauty, our longings for mercy and justice.”

Wright claims that imagination is the heart of all creative work, allowing us to imagine the unseen and give form to the new. It is essential to all human activity. It gives us the power to recall the past, and to predict possibilities for the future.

1024px-Inside_the_Temple_of_Aboo-symbol-David_RobertsToday, the job of remembering the past has been well documented by research scholars. In our schools and in our lodges, we study the traditional history as it has unfolded down the centuries. But do we spend as much time attempting to imagine a clear picture of the future? Is there a method whereby ideas can be developed?

In the writings of Brother Alice Bailey, she gives an outline broadly speaking of how ideas pass through three stages.

  1. The idea – based on intuitive perception
  2. The ideal – based on mental formulation and distribution.
  3. The idol – based on the materializing tendency of physical manifestation. (This is when the sensed idea unfortunately becomes dogma).

Bailey says that “once an idea becomes an ideal, humanity can freely reject or accept it, but ideas come from a higher source and are imposed upon the racial mind, whether men want them or not.”

Interesting to consider? Not sure I agree with all of that sentence, especially the word “imposed,” but let us see how this method might work.

Imagine: “A Brotherhood of Man”

Take for example the idea of “brotherhood.” Most would say that in its pure state, the idea itself is from a higher source (Divine). In Early America, the impressed idea took flight as a radical thought movement in surprising ways. Brother George Washington and other early American Freemasons abandoned a European past in which an overbearing authority controlled the flow of ideas. A sense of something new was being imagined and being born in America. St._Paul's_Chapel_Great_Seal_Painting

The early masons “worked” to actualize this masonic ideal. They imagined a liberty from the imprisoning conditions of an oppressive class-ridden society. They imagined equality of society based upon universal education and combating ignorance. They imagined a fraternity, where all men are brothers.

Liberty! Equality! Fraternity! These three words were the outcry and ideals of the best minds of the time.

As such, through the imaginative process, the founders of America began to materialize a sensed idea of brotherhood, even if still a rough stone.

Brother Albert Pike writes in Morals and Dogma (1872):

“He who would become an accomplished Mason must not be content merely to hear, or even to understand, the lectures; he must, aided by them, and they having, as it were, marked out the way for him, study, interpret, and develop these symbols for himself.”

Pike stresses that the lectures and teachings must mark out a way. To develop the symbols is to “mark well,” making them manifest in the everyday world.

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(reverse).svgA case in point is The Great Seal, which was designed under the direction of accomplished masons such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The Latin motto that is displayed on the unfinished pyramid — Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum — can be approximately, if poetically, translated as: “God Smiles on Our New Order of the Ages.” It expresses Masonic philosophy at its heart.

Thus, in the founding of America we see the three stages of the imagination process that Brother Alice Bailey describes.

And today? What do Freemasons imagine? Perhaps a better question is: How do Freemasons imagine? Sure, the world is not a Utopia yet.  But I have come to realize that the process of imagination can be a path to discovering what is good, true, and beautiful.  And in the words of John Lennon, “it’s easy if you try.” 

“The heart of human identity is the capacity and desire for birthing. To be is to become creative and bring forth the beautiful.” — John O’Donohue

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.