Combating Ignorance

Combating Ignorance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Father, Who Art In Heaven

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

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

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

Father and the Rebel

Rembrandt Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son

“Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt

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

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

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

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

Light Casts No Shadow

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

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

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

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

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

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

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

The Shamanic Thread in Religions

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

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

Female Shaman Khakas 1908
Female Shaman (Khakas 1908)

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

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

Growth, Monopoly, and Compartmentalization

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

egyptians and acacia
Egyptian Tree of Life

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

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

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

The Standard Deviation from the Mundane

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

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

IQ Bell Curve

IQ Bell Curve

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

Will That Be Milk, or Solids?

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


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. 

Colors in Freemasonry: Part I

Colors in Freemasonry: Part I

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Tubal Cain

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Behind the Widow’s Son: A Deeper Dive into the Enigmatic Mythology

Behind the Widow’s Son: A Deeper Dive into the Enigmatic Mythology

I recently covered the topic of the Widow’s Son in Freemasonry, and several avenues of interpretation and investigation about this concept, ranging from biblical genealogy to archetypal mythology.

Now, I would like to take you along for a deeper dive into the topic of the Widow’s Son, and the possible source of it in Rosicrucian, Gnostic, and generally esoteric thought. Here again, there is a range of realistic vs mythological interpretations, but the occult significance of either, or both, will be further explored. 

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

A Tale of Fire and Water

At the heart and origin of the Widow’s Son concept, according to the Rosicrucian writings of Max Heindel, is an alternative take on the biblical story of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel, which is itself embedded in an alternative cosmology related to, but quite different from the biblical story of creation. 

fire and water in freemasonryIn this Rosicrucian take on biblical cosmology, briefly, the spirits or angels of various elements represent different spiritual forces and archetypes unfolding in the early events of creation, and the Angels of Fire play a major role. In this story, the Angels are spirits of various elements, and the Spirits of Fire are those who decided to manifest the latent potential in matter by ignition; in the form of the sun and other stars, this effulgent quality provided a polar contrast with the cold vacuum of space and inert matter.

By burning, they created an engine of manifestation, as the heat evaporated the water, which re-condensed to fall and cool the surface of the planets, eventually creating a habitable crust-zone for biological life. Therefore, the Spirits of Fire, and all who are affiliated with them, are aligned with the archetype of dynamic power, manifestation, and light, and are also somewhat rebellious in nature, hence breaking energy free from the bonds of matter, literally what Fire does.

The Spirits of Water, on the other hand, have exactly the opposite essence and agenda, chiefly to quench the flame of the Spirits of Fire, and to keep energy bound in matter. Thus, the evaporated water condenses and rains down onto the hot molten earth, cooling it, and stabilizing it back into a more structured, albeit less free existence. Thus, the world as we know it, and in fact every individual, is some combination of these two fundamental forces, Fire and Water, dynamism and restraint, power and passivity, entwined together, encased within one another, playing out their polaric dance upon the stage provided by Earth and Air, Solidity and Space.

What does the dynamic of the elements have to do with the Widow’s Son, and the biblical first family? 

Good Old Uncle Samael?

Chapter Two of this Gnostic creation story presents us with the more familiar characters of Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel, with one less familiar guest appearance: an angel by the name of Samael. In this version of the story, Samael is said to be of the hierarchy of the Angels of Fire, and is identical with the serpent who convinced Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Thus, true to fiery archetypal form, he paved the way for the freeing of the latent potential of the human mind from the blissfully ignorant liquid passivity of the Garden existence. freemasonry mythology

In this version of the story, though, Samael did a bit more than just some slick apple-salesmanship; he also provided Eve with her first child, Cain. However, before Cain was born, Jehova forced Samael to flee elsewhere, for his crime of corrupting Eve. By the way, Adam hadn’t been created yet, in this version; he was only created after Samael’s banishment. This means that Cain is not only a Fire Angel/Human hybrid, but also the Son of a Widow, although he got a stepfather and half brother in the form of Adam and Abel, respectively. As a child of a Fire-angel, it’s safe to say Cain probably didn’t have much in common with them.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and while Cain is best known for his murder of his (perhaps half) brother Abel, water-child of Adam, he was also the first who labored to till the soil, indicating his identity as the original innovator of agriculture, the basis of all civilization, while his water-brother Abel went with the flow, and lived a leisurely life of animal husbandry.

Furthermore, after his rejection by Jehova, ostensibly for being a bit too clever and independent for the jealous god’s tastes, and the resulting fratricidal episode of course, Cain went on to found his own civilization, and his descendants are also identified as the inventors of metalworking, writing, and music, essentially the beginnings of all intellectual and technological endeavors. You could say they had, as it were, Fire in their blood, and they used that Fire to forge the foundations of civilization. 

Meanwhile, Cain’s younger brother Seth, and his proceeding generations, like their late brother Abel, were of solely human birth, and therefore had a much more watery disposition, being mostly obedient and, though attuned to spirit and intuition, not all that bright, hard working, or innovative.

According to the myth, these two kinds of people continue to exist from ancient history to the modern day. The idea is that people are usually of one or the other disposition, either fiery, rebellious, intellectual, and valuing works over faith, or watery, trusting, faithful and obedient, the good flock who don’t stir up a fuss, and rely on (hopefully) divine guidance, often from religious authority figures. In fact, you could also characterize these two types of people as goats and sheep

Liquid Light

What has all this to do with Masonry? As you probably know, the construction of Solomon’s temple is an important biblical myth in Masonic lore.

What many may not have realized from their Bible studies is that Solomon’s need to hire Hiram Abiff, the Master Craftsman, to build his temple wasn’t simply a matter of delegation; Solomon was himself a descendant of Seth, and for all his wisdom and poetic acumen, wasn’t particularly up to the task of designing and overseeing the construction of the Grand Temple. It required a fiery descendant of Cain to get the job done, and widows son in freemasonryHiram Abiff was not only a descendant of the original Widow’s Son, but was also a Widow’s Son, himself. This makes him both a Widow’s Son, and a Widow’s great great great great great…Grandson. 

This duality within humanity is said by some to continue even now, with the church representing the sons of Seth, quenching the thirst of the weary with their holy water at the entryway to every church, rituals of baptism, and symbolism of the good shepherd and his obedient flock. Meanwhile, the sons of Cain build, advance intellectually and technologically, shun authority, tame the wilds and illuminate the world with their Fire. Perhaps these two sides, that of the goat and the sheep, the fire and the water, the intellect and intuition, are ultimately destined to meet, intertwine, and come to balance.

Whatever the case, it’s hard to deny that Freemasonry leans heavily on the fiery side of this equation, as evidenced by all of the symbolism around being craftsmen, builders, intellectuals, valuing labor for the betterment of man, personal initiative, and of course, the significance of Hiram Abiff, the Widow’s Son and Master builder from the Fire-tinged bloodline of Cain, himself. 

What does it all mean? As with any mythology, one can take it in a variety of ways; perhaps there is some literal truth to it, different populations of people from the ancient past, born of different dispositions, with threads of this dichotomy continuing even today. We could also, however, take it as symbolic of our own inner polarities, with our inner intuitive Solomon, wise and watery son of Seth, needing the intellect and determination of our inner son if Fire, Hiram, to complete the great work of the Temple within us, and vice versa. It’s always possible to form our own theories, but the only way to find out for sure what it means to a Mason, is to ask one.

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason?

Poet, politician, and playwright, Victor Marie Hugo [1802 – 1885] believed in the inherit beauty and worth of all mankind. He sought to lift the masses out of the darkness of ignorance and vanquish injustice by promoting the virtues of liberty, equality, and fraternity. As the leader of the Romantic literary movement, Mr. Hugo crafted a lasting legacy as one of the most influential and beloved writers of his day.

A humanitarian who utilized the written word to influence hearts and minds, Victor supported social causes to improve the lives of the disadvantaged, including ending social injustice and abolishing capital punishment.

Hugo wrote:

“There is a point, moreover, at which the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confounded in a single word, a fatal word, Les Misérables; whose fault is it? And then, is it not when the fall is lowest that charity ought to be the greatest?”

As key components to liberating the masses, Mr. Hugo advocated for freedom of the press and self-governance by the people. Every individual was worth saving and their salvation was a possibility, in his opinion, as long as the entire society reformed. What did he request for these individuals foundering in darkness? Light. Hugo stated:

“They seem not men, but forms fashioned of the living dark… What is required to exorcise these goblins? Light. Light in floods. No bat resists the dawn. Illuminate the bottom of society.”

Was Victor Hugo a Freemason? There seems to be conflicting information as to his involvement in Freemasonry. Some writers claim he was a Mason, while others write that he was a Rosicrucian or a Martinist. Despite a lack of written record establishing his status as a Mason, Hugo’s writings contain numerous references to Freemasonry and its philosophies. “God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art,” wrote Hugo. Victor Hugo was reported to support one of Universal Co-Masonry’s founders, Brother Marie Deraismes, stating:

“Carry on the Holy work, Honest people honour you and admire you and it is only right and fair to say so.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Les Misérables, and The Legend of the Ages all contain Masonic ideals, concepts, and principles. The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s Quasimodo character may have been based on an operative Mason who worked on the Cathedral, as recently discovered documents reveal evidence of a hunchbacked sculptor who worked on Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral in the 1820s, while Hugo was writing the book. Legend is a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, conceived as an immense depiction of the history and evolution of humanity – from darkness into Light.

Hugo’s characters aspire towards the ideal of perfection, a seemingly impossible dream is given wings through his masterful writings. Jean Valjean’s fortitude against almost insurmountable odds, Javert’s justice, or Cosette’s enduring faith, each is an example of a Masonic virtue personified. Soldiers of the revolution, Hugo’s characters march diligently towards that glorious victory – overthrowing tyrants, trampling evil, developing virtues, and discarding vice. These legendary stories populated with archetypal figures are Hugo’s immortal gift to humanity, providing examples of divine virtues for mankind’s enrichment and emulation.

Hugo was so beloved by the people that when he died – in 1885 at the age of 83 – forty thousand people spent the night on Paris streets and accompanied his casket, from Arc de Triomphe to the Pantheon. It is estimated that more than two million individuals came to pay their respects to the departed writer as part of the funeral procession.

Famous Works: Les Misérables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Contemplations, The Legend of the Ages


“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” 

“From remotest antiquity, the human race has employed architecture as its chief means of writing.” 

“From a political point of view, there is but one principle, the sovereignty of man over himself. This sovereignty of myself over myself is called Liberty.” 

 “God is behind everything, but everything hides God. Things are black, creatures are opaque. To love a being is to render that being transparent.” 

“History has its truth, and so has legend. Legendary truth is of another nature than historical truth. Legendary truth is invention whose result is reality. Furthermore, history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath momentary man.” 


The Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

The Elements: What Are Their Significance for Freemasonry? [Part 2]

In our previous discussion in Part 1, we began an examination of the elements as symbols, and we will continue with that here.

We covered the first two elements, Earth and Water, and discussed their essential qualities, and symbolic correlates in mind or consciousness. As we continue with Air and Fire, the reader will do well to recall the importance of structure and fluidity, as well as inertia and change. 



The element Air is a step up in dynamic quality from Water, yet not quite like Fire. In many ways, Air is different and yet not so different from Water. Like Water, it rises when heated, and falls when cooled. Like Water, it flows around the globe, in the form of wind. Yet, unlike Water it has a quality of expansiveness, there is more outward pressure, and less downward pressure, as it doesn’t fall or flow in a liquid form. One critical aspect of Air in our own experience is that it is the most immediately necessary element to our biology, we can go much longer without food (Earth) or drink (Water), than we can without Air. Air is an essential ingredient of Fire, and without it, Fire will immediatelyelement air die. Air has a spacious quality to it, it offers very little resistance to movement, and anything light enough can actually float or fly, which is essentially like swimming in the ocean of Air.

So, what is Air within us? As with the previous elements, clues lay in our direct experience of it. When we are in the Air, we can see clearly the furthest, like the eagle flying high above, yet able to see the smallest mouse. We refer to the most intellectual human endeavors as the “Ivory Tower,” which is of course high above and far removed from the rest of human life, able to see it all through the Air. The same could be said of mountains, which are also where saints and great teachers are often said to be found, those who are wise and “see” the true perspective of life. Air also resonates with the concept of freedom, precisely because of the lack of obstruction, and freedom is often embodied symbolically as flying – like a bird. Therefore, Air is freer and less inert than the previous three elements, and corresponds to aspects of our mind and experience which are most free and clear. Part of what Air represents is pure mind, or intellect, it is the mental space within which clear images, thoughts, and conceptual models can be formed. 


In many ways, the element Fire seems to be separate from the other three elements. Rather than being a something, a substance, fire is more of a process, a change. Fire transforms one thing into another, and also separates one thing from another. The simplest example is the separation of the gases trapped within a log from the inert earth that is left over in the form of ashes, after the burning of that log. Additionally, it involves radiation, the freeing of not just gas, but also energy which was latent within the element firesubstance that burned, giving off both light and heat. Thus, in a way it can be viewed as a transformation of that which is bound into that which is free, of matter into energy.

We can say that the essential qualities of fire are dynamism, change, transformation, and purification. In a sense, although it appears separate, fire is also the source of all other elements, for it is only by the fire of the sun that all things have motion and existence. Without Fire, all would be motionless darkness.

For these reasons, it can also be difficult to pin down the exact symbolic meaning of Fire within us, although it clearly seems significant. Certainly, Fire dwells within us, in the form of energy produced by the slow chemical “fire” of the gut, and without the Fires of our various biochemical processes, including neural Firing, we would die even more quickly than we would without Air. In terms of our consciousness, represented by light, since Fire emits light, perhaps Fire represents that which creates or liberates consciousness from matter?

In myth, Fire is featured as the gift which Prometheus stole from the Gods to give to man, which allowed humanity to have knowledge and civilization. Certainly, the discovery of Fire and how to use it is often regarded as the beginning of true Human existence, and also technology. Even those Human cultures which we regard as most primitive still possess and utilize Fire. In terms of the gradient from inertia to dynamism, certainly Fire is at the farthest dynamic end of the spectrum; representing a release of energy, it is even more “free” than Air. Fire, in a way, represents pure change, pure dynamism.

The Elements in Perspective

What is this universe? One way to answer is to say that it consists of these elements, but what does that really tell us? Another compatible perspective is the one given in the perennial philosophy, the philosophy of the Vedas and the Idealists, that this reality is most fundamentally consciousness, or mind. This is a concept being re-visited by many modern philosophers as panpsychism, due to various shortcomings in our attempts to explain the universe purely in materialistic terms. This is also the perspective generallypanpsychism four elements accepted within the occult traditions, and in fact the wisdom traditions of most cultures, if you dig deeply enough. That all is ultimately mind is also described in the Principle of Mentalism, from the Kybalion.

If all of the universe contains elements of mind or consciousness, then perhaps the dichotomy between viewing the elements symbolically vs. literally is unnecessary. If all is mind, which is tantamount to saying that all is a dream, perhaps these are simply different iterations of the same essential dynamic or pattern, at different levels of the dream; as above, so below; as within, so without. If the different elements are different forms of the same fundamental mind-stuff, whatever that fundamental substance might be. It seems to me that these elements represent a process which begins being bound by inertia, of which Earth would be the extreme, being gradually subjected to change, until it eventually becomes more and more free, of which Fire is the extreme.

This whole process could be viewed as a transmutation from matter into energy or light, just as the Fire is matter being transformed, to light the darkness. Of course, as without, so within, and some version of this same process is going on within all of us. The most matter-bound aspects of us are gradually being acted upon and transformed by the forces of change, whether from within, or from without. Every experience is to some greater or lesser degree a catalyst within this process, and causes “movement upon the waters of the deep”. Eventually, this process culminates in the ignition of Fire within us, of the inner Light.

alchemy four elementsOur pains and our pleasures, our highs and our lows ultimately give birth to the dawn of true Awareness, what some might call Gnosis. Why? Because just as the light which is emitted by Fire was previously trapped within the matter of the fuel, that Divine Spark has always been latent within us, watching, waiting for its moment to arise. 

Now, we come full circle to Freemasonry, and the significance of the elements symbolically to the Craft. What are we doing as masons, if not kindling, stoking, and maintaining a light in the darkness – a Fire in the denseness and confusion of material existence? Every element plays its part, and exists within all of us; the culmination of the interplay of those elements, when utilized skillfully, is the igniting of that Promethean Light, within the self and within the world. What nobler endeavor could one set oneself to, than that of bringing light to the darkness within oneself, and within all of humanity?

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

The Symbolism of the Cube: Why is it both Qabalistic and Masonic?

Symbols can often have double or multiple interpretations, ranging from the obvious exoteric meanings to the more esoteric ideas understood by a few. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes can be found the hidden knowledge.  Symbols conceal as much, or more, than they reveal.

Where does the masonic cube fall on this continuum? How did the hidden knowledge of the mystical qabalah influence its use in Freemasonry?

To start with, what is Qabalah? It’s difficult to define with a phrase. Even after a few decades of study I don’t think I can come up with a definition. How can you describe the indescribable?

Perhaps one could say the Qabalah is a mystical symbolic system of looking at the microcosm and macrocosm from the standpoint of the Creator. For a qabalist, there is nothing in life that is not interesting; the speck of dust on the ground, the glowing nebulas in the heavens, and the tiny living cell — all these have their message and tell a story of the Creator.

Can masons relate to this? Of course. That is why most of the early 18th century English ritualists were acquainted with the qabalistic teachings. Since many of them studied the qabalah while the masonic rituals were being written, it was likely a source for many of the signs, symbols and allegories of Freemasonry. Brother Albert Pike 33° indexed over seventy entries to the subject of qabalah in his book Morals and Dogmacabala21

The book indicates that the more you study the hidden meanings (or occult), it becomes clearer and clearer that everywhere in the universe, at every conceivable point in space, there is a Consciousness, which expresses through what is visible and invisible.

Pike tells us that:

“Qabalah is the key of the occult sciences.”

The qabalists used models such as the Tree of Life, The 32 Paths of Wisdom and the Cube of Space to describe the plan and processes of creation. The cube is especially significant to the themes of freemasonry. How, so?

The Qabalist’s Cube of Formation

Perhaps a good place to start is the Book of Formation or Sefer Yetzirah. It is one of the oldest treatises on qabalistic philosophy that concerns itself with the Divine creative process. It describes how the Creator literally thought and spoke everything into existence, and continues to do so. The type of creation that it shows proceeds through manipulation of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

I am always in awe of the Sefer Yetzirah whose short verses can easily conceal its depth and complexity. The seeming simplicity is only a taste of its mystery. The premise is that everything in the universe is directed by intelligence. The scheme of life and activity that we call evolution is in accordance with a Plan made by a Master Mind or Great Architect. Final Cube Sepher Yetzirah

Everything is considered to be constructed of the Hebrew letters, or at least the forces they represent. The three Hebrew Mother letters (Aleph, Mem, Shin) corresponded to the three simple letters to form the name Jah (IHV).

From Verse II of The Sepher Yetzirah:

He looked above, and sealed the Height with (IHV)
He looked below and sealed the Depth with (IVH)
He looked forward, and sealed the east with (HIV)
He looked backward, and sealed the west with (HVI)
He looked to the right, and sealed the south with (VIH)
He looked to the left and sealed the north with (VHI)

Brother Paul Foster Case, scholar and Freemason, popularized the Sepher Yetzirah through his concept of the Cube of Space using the verses in Chapters IV and V to add the tarot keys and astrological correspondences. It alludes to defining the boundaries of our perceptions. Quite a remarkable diagram, indeed!

The Divine Mind conceives the archetypal form, and then it exists in the world of ideas. A long process of human evolution has to take place before the ideal can be manifested in form, and the soul in full consciousness can achieve the archetypal form.

Some might look at the diagram and say, “so what!” Why does it matter for a Freemasonblack-background-1468370534d5s_1 (1) work with these archetypal ideas, specifically the cube?

The Freemason’s Perfect Stone 

One possible reason is that archetypal themes underlie many of the masonic rituals. It is no coincidence that the form of a masonic lodge is a symbolic cube.

Freemason Albert G. Mackey writes:

“The lodge or collected assemblage of masons, is adopted as a symbol of the world. The solid contents of the earth below and the expanse of the heavens above give the outlines of the cube, and the whole created universe will be included within the symbolic limits of a mason’s lodge.”

In Revelation Chapter 21, the new Jerusalem is described as a perfect cube: “The plan of the city is perfectly square, its length the same as its breadth.” Also, the room known as the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed in the shape of a cube. In the center of the room was the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Scroll of the Law.

The candidate in a masonic lodge symbolically represents one of the stones used in the construction of King Solomon’s Temple. The ritual portrays the shaping, testing and laying of that stone. Ultimately, the moral and spiritual preparation that he must undergo is to become a “living stone” in the heavenly temple.

Brother Manly Hall says:

“The perfect cube represents the personality that has had all the unevenness, roughness, and inequality polished away by experience. Such a stone is ready to become a block in the Everlasting House not built by hands but eternal in the heavens.”

If left to our own devices, our evolution and progress would be infinitesimal. But fortunately, we have teachers and perfected individuals of past ages to guide us to be perfect stones. Instead of using the working tools to build a physical structure out of stone and mortar, a speculative mason uses these same tools symbolically for spiritual, moral and intellectual development. finaltumblr_inline_nxatcedBV71riiuei_500_1 (2)

In the end, what does the symbol of the cube offer? I believe it is archetypal concepts that help all of us connect with something larger. Are we not all just sculptors? Writing our own books of creation? “Becoming” perfect cubes?

“A block of marble, deep within the quarry lies. Hidden within it lies likewise a form of beauty rare. The sculptor works, patterning true to that which lies revealed unto the inner sight. He patterns true and beauty comes to life.”

– Brother Alice Bailey

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

Freemasonry and Civil Discourse in the Digital Age

As Freemasons, the concept of the Word is very important to us, both in ritual, as well as in daily life. The Word represents the medium through which truth is transmitted, it’s how we express ourselves, and ultimately is the essence of the creative principle of the universe. In the beginning, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. One interpretation is that the Word represents the abstract essence of the ideal structures of information which form reality itself, the thoughts of the G.A.O.T.U., perhaps.

On a more practical level, in day-to-day life in civil society, how we communicate with one another via language can determine our success in life, the harmony of our social environment, and in some cases can be a matter of life and death. Some would even argue that language is the primary differentiator which makes us human and places us in a category above the animals. The importance of language to human life truly cannot be overstated, but exactly how we communicate with one another is also a subject of much debate and controversy, currently.

It seems to be exceedingly difficult these days to communicate with those we disagree with in any meaningful way, and almost every discussion, particularly on the internet, tends to devolve into divisiveness and anger. This is partly because of the lack of face-to-face interaction and partly because of the filter bubble or echo chamber effect, which occurs when either we or the algorithms that control what we see in social media cause us to only hear or communicate with those with whom we agree. These factors, thereby, contribute to increasingly polarized and radical views, and the atrophy of our capacity to tolerate opposing views.

Civil Discourse and Free Speech

What seems to be lacking in modern times is civil discourse. Civility, or Civil Discourse, is a long tradition of philosophy and communication, and throughout history, itFree Speech has undergone various transformations, or has at times been rejected. So, what is civility, and how should we use it in our approach to communicating on subjects where there is so much disagreement?

The root of the word civility is the same as the root for citizen, and civilization, the latin “civilis.” In the larger sphere of human life beyond communication alone, it means “working together productively to reach a common goal, often with beneficent purposes.” In other words, civility is cooperation towards a shared goal, which is the basis of civilization – hence the words’ etymological relatedness.

In communication specifically, we refer to this as civil discourse. Just like the definition of civility more generally, civil discourse is when we communicate together towards a common goal. This concept is most important, naturally, when there is a disagreement of some kind, for it’s easy to be civil when we agree. According to the principle of civil discourse, we should do everything in our capability to communicate with those we disagree with in a manner which allows us to work together towards a common goal: namely finding or approximating truth together. Alternatively, in some cases, it is simply coming to some level of mutual agreement or common ground.

The tricky part comes when civility sometimes might require us to restrict our sense of freedom of expression.

Alongside this principle of civility, we also have the concept of free speech, or freedom of expression, which, as we all know, is written into the U.S. Constitution as a fundamental right, at least insomuch as the government should not be able to prohibit it. Many people go a step further and believe that not only should we have the right not to have our speech censored by the government, but also that this should be a more broad cultural ideal; so that, in general, people are able to speak their mind without fear of retribution, ostracization, or termination from their job.

Compelled Civility and Free Speech

Today, speech and its regulation are yet another highly polarized and debated topic, to a compelled speechlarge extent along political party lines. On one side, we have those who wish to utilize authority to limit certain kinds of speech which are deemed to be harmful, such as hate speech, racism, mis-gendering, and “fake news.” On the other, we have those who believe in a fundamental concept of free speech, so that anyone should be able to speak their own opinion, regardless of the effects it might have, as long as actual threats are not being made. This includes opinions that many would find extremely offensive, perhaps even harmful in some ways, such as inciting violence.

This polarity is an interesting one and is reminiscent of many other polarities we may take notice of in nature and in human life: Chaos and Order, Progress and Conservatism, Intellect and Feeling; in a way, I can see all of these dichotomies at play in this singular issue. At times, it seems as if everything we do is some sort of interplay of opposites, and which side we identify with crosses over into other spectra of life, which might otherwise seem unrelated.

While I fall firmly onto the side of free speech as far as the government is concerned, how to approach the dichotomy of civility and free speech on a personal level is much more interesting and also relevant to the Masonic life.

To Be a Level in a World Askew

As Freemasons, we are simultaneously compelled to seek and speak truth, as well as, to unite humanity, which can seem paradoxical given all of the divisions over what is true. We are expected to tolerate differences of opinion and worldview. In our speech, as in many other aspects of our lives, we are encouraged to seek balance: the middle way. Not only that, but we also aim to serve as a balancing force on the world around us, for we believe that the truth is in the center point.

When we are able to balance free speech and civility in ourselves and when we are able to speak in a way that is not hateful or divisive without avoiding speaking our truths, webalance can act as a balancing force to the polarized culture of the day, around whatever topic of discussion we come into contact with. Part of the work we must do in the world is to be the level which brings balance to that which is askew.

In a world where polarized opinions seem to perpetuate themselves in an endless feedback loop, how do we do this? I think the answer has to be that we first seek balance in ourselves and then seek it in others. Every radical on one side has a nascent version of the opposite view and traits buried deep within them, somewhere. As in Jungian psychology, every introvert has an unconscious extrovert, or vice versa; whatever we identify with consciously, the opposite dwells in darkness within us, and it is our job to bring light to it – both in ourselves and in others.

How do we do that? We ask probing and thought provoking questions, rather than tell people what to think. We notice the imbalances in ourselves and others and seek out their counterbalance. We act as moderators, bridge builders, and help people find common ground. Perhaps most difficult of all, we maintain respect for the inner light that dwells within each individual, however concealed with the muck of dogma it might be.

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Eastern Sages, Western Secrets: What Has Vedanta to Do with Freemasonry?

Like unto that of a man blindfolded and carried away by robbers from his own country is a man’s condition. The folds of cloth over his eyes being removed by a friend, he recovers the use of his eyes and slowly finds his way home, step by step, inquiring at each stage. So also, the good teacher instructs the seeker of Truth and helps him to unloose his bonds of desire. ~ From the Chandogya Upanishad 6:14:1/3

As a young seeker of Truth, I found the wisdom of the East long before I found the hidden wisdom of the West. After I had turned away from the exoteric religion of my upbringing, and briefly embraced the alternative orthodoxy of nihilistic materialist scientism, I began to seek truths beyond the tiresome antagonism of the “religion vs. science” debate, and it was not long before I discovered the Bhagavad Gita, Taoism, Buddhist teachings, and Western interpreters like Alan Watts and Ram Dass. Of all the Eastern traditions, Vedantic philosophy (rooted in the Vedas, Upanishads, and related texts) has influenced my worldview more than any other system of thought.

Now, as a newcomer to the Western wisdom tradition of Freemasonry, and to some extent also Theosophy, Alchemy, and Hermeticism, I am struck by the similarity in essence, but difference in expression between East and West. Although I still have much to learn, I sense that the one great Truth, described by Aldous Huxley as the Perennial Philosophy, is fundamentally the same in the Western traditions as in the East, but is clothed in secrecy and symbolism, and in some ways emphasizes certain values over others. The contrast between East and West is particularly interesting to me, as they are two halves of humanity’s collective mind, just as they represent two poles on our globe.

Torch Bearers from the East

eastern wisdomTo begin with, we can be fairly certain that the connection between East and West goes back at least as far as all of Western history, as we know it. The history of great Western philosophers is also in part a history of those who journeyed to the East, learned, and came back with new insights which had to be clothed and couched in the prevailing worldview of whatever Western culture they were returning to, in order to be understood and accepted; even then, they were often rejected, sometimes violently. Bearers of the torch carrying light from the East are notoriously persecuted upon their return to the West, and often meet a gruesome end.

Some think that none other than Jesus of Nazareth is one such example, although this is still a highly controversial theory, with inconclusive evidence that he visited the East during his “missing years.” Another is Pythagoras, who is thought to have traveled extensively in his youth, at least as far East as Persia, and who also was killed by the ignorant. One that is more recent, and therefore also more certain, is that of H. P. Blavatsky, one of the founders of Theosophy and originators of Victorian spiritualism, which also preceded and influenced much of what people consider to be “new age” or “new thought” ideas, today.

In general, I think that we underestimate the degree to which people traveled, and teachings were shared or spread via the Silk Road and other trade routes between East and West, throughout our history. It doesn’t help that our mainstream historians are hesitant to acknowledge Eastern influence on Western thought. So, with all this cross-pollination, why are the West and East not identical?

Wisdom in Contrast

east and westThe most striking difference to me between East and West, in terms of the mysteries, is that in the East they simply aren’t mysteries. There isn’t much secrecy in Vedantic, Buddhist, or Taoist traditions, teachers are prone to publicly say things like, “So long as God seems to be outside and far away, there is ignorance. But when God is realised within, that is true knowledge [Sri Ramakrishna].” The volumes of Vedantic and other Eastern teachings are filled with things like this, which in the West might be merely scoffed at today, but in the past, could have led to a burning at the stake or crucifixion, for speaking so blasphemously.

Here, we arrive at what seems to me to be the chief reason for the secrecy of the Western traditions, which is the millennium of history in which the desert religions of Abraham turned from their mystic origins to the darkness of fanaticism and ignorance, and dogma spread like a plague, reigning over the West with the fiery whip of religious persecution for roughly one thousand years. While our history lessons often breeze over this period as the “Dark Ages,” with some discussion of feudalism and monarchy, the harsh reality is that Western culture underwent an intellectual and religious cleansing, where all ideas that ran contrary to the dogmas of the church (or the mosque) were punished by torture, imprisonment, and gruesome death.

No wonder, then, that those who held the wisdom of the ancient traditions of the West were forced to seek shelter in organizations like operative freemasonry, which provided secrecy, as well as a highly effective organizational structure, and fertile ground for the symbolic coding of wisdom in the tools and principles of masonry. Meanwhile, our Eastern neighbors, safeguarded by distance, geographical features like the himalayas, and their own kingdoms and power structures, held the wisdom passed on from ancient times, and continued teaching it in a relatively open manner. This is an oversimplification, but is generally more accurate than not, I would say.

Aside from being hidden vs. open, what else separates West from East? Perhaps there is a more essential difference, due to differences in temperament and culture of the two peoples, shaped in part by their climates. I could make an argument that the harsh climates of Europe, mostly in the North, bred a spirituality more focused on action, intention, and the overcoming of obstacles, while mostly tropical Eastern environments, particularly in India, bred a spirituality with a more passive focus on meditation and surrender. This theory may have some merit, but ultimately we’ll never know for sure. It does seem to me that the West is more focused on building and actively working to perfect the human, while the East is more about dissolving, letting go, and becoming free from attachment.

At the risk being accused of over-simplifying neuroscience, the general dichotomy of the left and right sides of the brain could also be said to correspond to the same principle. In many ways, West and East are akin to the left and right. The West/Left is all about clearly defined logic, boundaries, and places a greater emphasis on intellect; the East/Right is more about direct perception, dissolving boundaries, and places greater emphasis on intuitive realizations. With all these differences, is there common ground? What is the corpus callosum of East and West?

The Bridge and the Stairway

philosophyI would say absolutely, and as the beginning of this post alludes to, there are striking similarities, at times, between the teachings of the Lodge or Western esotericism in general, and that of the Swamis. Both speak of the human condition as a state of darkness and ignorance striving for light; both design their sacred structures to resemble the human body; both tend towards idealism, or the belief that consciousness rather than matter is fundamental; both ultimately teach that God dwells within.

The commonalities are surely greater than the differences, and the essence, I believe, is one. In many ways, co-masonry in particular may be an excellent bridge between the two systems, with its close ties to theosophy, a much more Eastern tradition than many of the other Western systems, and its focus on adopting the feminine into the masculine lodge. Whatever the bridge we use, it seems clear to me that we must blend East and West, right and left, action and contemplation, intellect and intuition, if we are ever to rise above, and climb the stairway to a greater truth, some transcendent gnosis.

Ultimately, I believe that we are all approximating this same truth, like a middle point of a circle which both East and West circumambulate in their own ways. The classical human mystical experience, which all these traditions are ultimately based on, seems to be more-or-less universal across cultures, and to differ only in it’s interpretation post-experience, and the cultural context which either allows it to flourish, or forces it to hide and conceal itself. Either way, the truth will out, and the light will not be concealed for long, for it is what every human on this planet thirsts for, in the depths of their soul.

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