Shakespeare and Freemasonry

Shakespeare and Freemasonry

We have set it down as a law to ourselves to examine things to the bottom, and not to receive upon credit, or reject upon probability, until these have passed a due examination.

~ BACON’S NATURAL HISTORY. 

SPECULATE: To consider by turning a subject in the mind and viewing it in its different aspects and relations; 2. In philosophy, To view subjects from certain premises given or assumed, and infer conclusions respecting them a priori.1 

~ WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY


ANYTHING proposed at this late day as a new contribution to the history and purpose of Freemasonry should be accompanied by the best of credentials. And, yet, the very fact of its being new may preclude almost any evidence except what it bears within itself; so that the most one can do is to state what appears to be a truth, show how it has become such to him, and then rely upon it being apprehended by others. 

In offering to the Craft this essay, which in its main proposition may seem altogether new, and perhaps revolutionary, all that is asked for it is the application of a primary Masonic rule of action. A strange brother coming into a community is not received as such on his own representation, but neither is he discarded. Let the same method by which he is duly accepted as a member of the Fraternity be applied to the views here expressed. It is the only way in which they will become true to other persons. 

Should these views appear to any reader like an attempt to overthrow some of the most ancient landmarks of the Fraternity, the assurance is given that such is not the writer’s purpose. Rather it is an effort to restore to the Order the original patent or charter of Freemasonry, thus making it possible to verify or correct all its landmarks. 

THE PURPOSE OF FREEMASONRY

In reflecting upon the work in Lodge meetings, and its exemplification in the lives of brethren, these questions often presented themselves:

  1. What is the purpose of it all?
  2. Is its full purpose understood?
  3. Are the results commensurate with the ideals of expectations?

And to answer these questions was not an easy matter. There is a feeling abroad, which must be wide-spread, as its expression can be traced through many Masonic journals, that something is wanting in the working of the Order; either there is a misconception as to its origin and object, or errors have crept into the exposition of the work. At any rate it seemed worth some study to ascertain whether there might not be a reasonable explanation for such conditions. 

It is apparent to many of the most zealous and loyal Masons that the discussions and uncertainty as to the origin of their Order is placing it on the defensive, and is a handicap to its progress. In these days of libraries and general reading, the influence of standard works of popular education cannot be ignored. At the beginning of the article on “Freemasonry,” in the New International Encyclopedia, after a passing reference to the claims made for the antiquity of the Order, the statement is made that:

…the Order, however, is now considered to have been instituted about the early part of the eighteenth century – the pretensions put forth to a date coeval with the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, with King Solomon as its first Grand Master, being considered by those who have thoroughly investigated the subject as not worthy of credit.

In the new Encyclopedia Britannica, the article on “Freemasonry” was written by William James Hughan, recently deceased, a recognized authority on questions pertaining to Masonry. After noting that the Mother Grand Lodge is that of England, which was inaugurated in the metropolis on St. John Baptist’s day, 1717, and that a Grand Lodge was founded in Ireland in 1725 and in Scotland in 1736, he states:

It is important to bear in mind that all the regular Lodges throughout the world, likewise all the Grand Lodges, directly or indirectly, have sprung from one or the other of these three governing bodies named… It may be a startling declaration, but it is well authenticated, that there is no other Freemasonry, as the term is now understood, than what has been so derived. In other words, the Lodges and Grand Lodges in both hemispheres trace their origin and authority back to England for working what is known as the Three Degrees, controlled by regular Grand Lodges. 

Yet, in face of all this the general work and reputation of the Order is based on the assumption that modern Freemasonry is something very ancient.

Studies extending over a number of years led to a generalization so remarkable that at first it seemed incredible, as no doubt it will to many other persons; but it grew so clear and definite, accounting for an origin of the Order consistent with the known facts, furnishing a reasonable explanation for the difficulties which beset it, and giving such an exalted conception of Freemasonry, that its truth could scarcely be questioned. 

ARE THE TEACHINGS OF SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY IDENTICAL?

A point was reached where there was no avoiding the conclusion that the teachings and purpose of Shakespeare and Freemasonry are identical; that their origin was coincident, or nearly so, the Order being designed to prepare a special body of men to exemplify in actual life the principles embodied in the plays; and, reciprocally, the plays being intended to supply, with concrete illustrations, correct rules of conduct and life; and that both are parts of the grand and comprehensive philosophical scheme of Francis Bacon to regenerate the world and unite mankind into a universal brotherhood. 

This view of Freemasonry places it at the very top of that vast scheme, making the institution a necessary integral part of the wonderful plan, without which it would have been incomplete. This view makes the purpose of the Order the sublimest conception of man, this being no less than to secure and maintain the freedom, the welfare and the very preservation of the human race, A little reflection will convince any member of the Order that its work has tended toward that end; but what has been done, notable as it has been, is hardly more than a beginning or earnest of what it was meant to accomplish. 

To show how such conclusions were reached naturally is… 

a chronicle of day by day, 
Not a relation for a breakfast. 

and yet it may be possible to give in a reasonably small compass at least an intelligible, if bare, outline of the course which led up to it. 

It is but fair to remark that others have had suspicions or intimations of some close relation between Shakespeare and Freemasonry. The Worshipful Master of Bard-of-Avon Lodge claimed Masonic fraternity with Shakespeare, thinking that allusions to Masonic terms and customs are scattered through the plays, but chiefly on the strength of Hubert’s words in King John

They shake their heads,  
And whisper one another in the ear,  
And he that speaks doth grip the hearer’s wrist. 

That action being symbolic of the Sublime degree.2 Of course, this is but a slight and superficial argument, since such actions are not peculiar to Masons. 

Frederick Nicolai, a learned book-seller of Berlin, advanced the belief that Lord Bacon, influenced by the writings of Andrea, the alleged founder of the Rosicrucians, and of his English disciple, Robert Fludd, gave to the world his “New Atlantis,” a beautiful apologue, in which are to be found many ideas of a Masonic character. But in his opinion the Order was not established until 1646, when a number of men met for that purpose. It is worth noting that this is the same year in which the Royal Society was founded. Had Nicolai understood the relation between Shakespeare and Freemasonry, and the part they bear in Bacon’s system of philosophy, no doubt he would have made a different guess. 

In the effort to establish the truth of the main proposition – the identity of Freemasonry and Shakespeare – let all questions relating to their history be laid aside for the present, and let attention be directed to their actual nature. Long ago the wise man who, it is believed, knew all about these subjects, said: “The nature of everything is best considered in the seed.” That is, by beginning with the elements of which it is composed. This course is pursued in all the investigations of modern science, and it should be the proper course for Speculative Masonry. That is the significance of the term Speculative. 

It will hardly be questioned that the whole system of Freemasonry is the expansion of some principle, some fundamental idea, just as truly as the mighty oak has developed from the germ within the acorn. Now, the germ idea of Freemasonry is contained in one paragraph of the Charges of a Free-Mason (1723), and in the first line:

 A Mason by his tenure is obliged to obey the moral law.

And as the embryo of the acorn sends roots down into the ground for the sake of the tree that grows above, so the observance of the moral law is to the end that mankind may be united into one brotherhood – a high ideal, never to be attained, but still the goal toward which to strive.

While the main part of this Book of Constitutions pretends to trace the history of Masonry from the earliest period of the world’s history, the least reflection will convince one that all this has nothing to do with speculative Masonry. Almost all the book having reference to Freemasonry may be said to be in that one paragraph, which is here given: 

A Mason is obliged by his Tenure to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the ART, he will never be a stupid ATHEIST, nor an irreligious LIBERTINE. And though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to obligate them to that Religion in which all Men agree; leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be GOOD MEN AND TRUE, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion they may [be] distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Unity, and the means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remained at a perpetual distance. 

This paragraph may be summed up in a single phrase, which fully expresses the vital spirit of Freemasonry – The Majesty of the Moral Law. 

Professor Henry Van Dyke has made the splendid generalization that the aim and purpose of the Shakespearean dramas also is to teach the Majesty of the Moral Law. It will be found, when the plays are studied from this viewpoint, that they form a comprehensive and consistent body of ethics or moral philosophy, the term being used in the Baconian sense as embracing politics, ethics, as commonly conceived, and logic; and that this system is entirely in harmony with the teachings of Freemasonry. It may be more exact to say that Freemasonry is a training school to make the realization of this philosophy possible.

Perhaps the simplest and yet most satisfactory definition of Freemasonry is Dr. Hemming’s, that…

Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morals, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

WHERE SHAKESPEARE AND FREEMASONRY MEET

Shakespeare may be also defined as a beautiful system of morals, veiled in allegory and illustrated by fictitious and historical personages. Further, one play, The Tempest, which stands first in the collected plays, is an epitome, a miniature of the whole. The argument of our main proposition – the identity of Shakespeare and Freemasonry – may be based upon the proper interpretation of this play. One primary idea must be kept in mind: these plays are works of art; works of literary art, which, next to music, is the highest art; and again, in the form of the drama, which is the highest form of literary art.

And as Alfred Noyes has so aptly expressed it, “The content and import of a work of art are not to be weighed in the same way as those of a philosophic system or a work of science.” It is to be realized more as a personal experience, not so much comprehended by the mind as apprehended by the soul. Let it not be thought strange, therefore, if for many persons The Tempest has little significance. For that matter, to how comparatively few persons is Shakespeare anything more than a name. The reason is to be found in our one-sided, unnatural and, in many respects, false education. Others can place themselves where Shakespeare and Freemasonry meet, if they but free their minds from traditions and prejudices. 

Hence, to read these plays as mere stories in dramatic form, filled in with many wise reflections, is to miss their real character. The Tempest may be read simply as such a story, and even as having a moral purpose. Sir Edward Strachey says quite aptly that it is “a mimic, magic tempest which we are to see, a tempest raised by art, to work moral ends with actual men and women.” 

But he fails to show how it is to bring about such a state in the actual affairs of men, say of our day or of any time. The play contains hints suggesting that it is meant to be of universal application. It will yet be clear that this play can be fairly interpreted as an allegorical drama, summing up the whole method of Francis Bacon’s philosophy, and especially his moral philosophy, as it is to affect in actual life the individual, and all the relations which men and women sustain toward each other, from the primary relations of the family to the highest, which is that of government. And when so interpreted it will be found that it is also the philosophy of Freemasonry. 

In a small frame hanging on one of the beautiful marble columns in the Library of the Masonic Temple at Philadelphia, PA., are a number of Masonic Landmarks, which may be accepted as a fair statement of some fundamental principles of Freemasonry. They are reproduced here.

THE MASONIC LANDMARKS

  1. The Moral Law is Masonic Law.  
  2. Obedience to lawful authority is inculcated by Masonry.  
  3. Masonic qualifications are mental, moral, and physical.  
  4. Masonic preferment is grounded upon real worth and personal merit only.
  5. Charity should be the distinguishing characteristic of a Mason.  
  6. The will of the majority governs for the good of the whole. 
  7. Secrecy is indispensable in Masonry. 
  8. The Master is the head of the Lodge. 
  9. In his absence, the Wardens preside according to rank. 
  10. The Grand Lodge is supreme in its sphere of jurisdiction. 
  11. The approbation of God is the highest Masonic honor. 

Comparing these Masonic Landmarks with The Tempest, it can be seen how they are woven into the word-pictures of the play. 

FREEMASONRY AND THE TEMPEST

As the Moral Law forms the first Landmark, so the main theme of the play is illustrated by the story of the violation of the moral law by the false Duke and his confederates, and their repentance; with the result that a reconciliation of all the persons is brought about, and they agree to live in harmony and unity. 

The second landmark is the recognition of lawful authority. Now, the very first scene of the play teaches the same lesson. In the first twenty-seven lines is embodied the whole theory of authority and obedience, as the basis of true liberty. Notice, the cheerful obedience of the sailors to the commands of their proper superiors, and the sudden change to sullen opposition to those who had no lawful right to order them about. In the same way it can be seen how the other general abstract principles of Masonry are illustrated as the play progresses. 

But it is desired to call special attention to the distinguishing term of Freemasonry – the word Free. Freedom is the enveloping, penetrating atmosphere of the play as a whole, and of every part of it. It is the necessary life-giving principle for the development of the individual and society as therein portrayed. The idea of freedom is present in almost every action of importance throughout the entire play, and forms the theme of a postscript, in form of an apologue. The simple wish of Caliban, type of primitive man, or of the animal becoming human, is for his freedom; and it forms the last wish of Prospero, type of the highest developed man. But above all, the promise of freedom and the hope of attaining it formed the very life of Ariel, and was the spur to all his activity; and Ariel, it is believed, symbolizes the spirit of man. 

To analyze the play in detail would make this paper too long. Let this marvelous drama of The Tempest be interpreted as an allegory expressing in the form of literary art what Bacon meant to express in sculpture by the statue of Orpheus, which he erected in his grounds of Gorhambury. The result will show whether it bears such an interpretation and has any relation to Freemasonry. 

Bacon inscribed the statue, Philosophy Personified. He interpreted Orpheus as denoting learning, and the ancient fable as a picture of universal philosophy. The music of Orpheus was of two kinds: one that appeased the infernal powers, he applied to natural philosophy, which seeks to understand and control the physical world; the other, which draws together men and beasts, to moral and civil discipline. In other words, Bacon understood Orpheus to have been to the Greeks a civilizing hero, who had induced their ancestors to renounce cannibalism, and taught them the arts and sciences and how to live together. This, Bacon thought, was the true Orpheus music or harmony. 

Now, The Tempest presents to us a picture of similar sordid, selfish and warring social conditions transformed into a society where reparation has been made for all injustice, where no man is to “shift” for himself, but where each shall shift for the others, and where, as a result, peace prevails. “The supreme harmony prevails when all things are in harmony with the moral order.”

The events which brought this about culminated in the marriage of Miranda, the admired daughter of Prospero, to the prospective reigning prince. This marriage, with its attendant happiness, is emblematic of the prosperity and peace of a state which would accept Bacon’s philosophy, symbolized here by Miranda. It will be noticed that she is the very embodiment of pity, sympathy for her fellow-men, as Ariel is the embodiment of thought, especially in its highest manifestation, that of the creative imagination.

Herein, lies the explanation of the figure which represents Freemasonry as spanning the world with its arms of light and love and benevolence. It is indeed a picture of an ideal civilization, of a state requiring a high degree of education to be even approximately realized. This is the invisible Temple, continually being built. 

The teachings of Freemasonry lead in this same direction, and I submit that the Order was instituted to bring to pass just such a condition of society, in which Masons are to be the living stones. It was meant to be a civilizing force, working throughout the whole world. The universal application of its principles and teachings attest to this fact. These principles in their general form are embodied in The Tempest, while in the other plays they are exemplified as they apply to the manifold conditions of human relations. It should be said that these plays are extra-institutional, something like the post-graduate studies of schools and colleges. They have no immediate connection with the secret work of the Lodge. 

Freemasonry is frequently conceived as a religion. The language of the Ancient Charges implies that it may be so considered. Every religion has its body of doctrines, its votaries, and an organization through which, by means of rituals and worship, these doctrines are taught to its followers and disseminated among outsiders. In Freemasonry, the Lodges and the secret work correspond to the religious organizations and their rituals. But Freemasonry has no body of doctrines. Freemasonry is not a matter of belief. Its members are to think and feel and act. And, in lieu of a body of doctrines, I name the peerless plays of Shakespeare as embodying and exempliplying the principles which are to serve as a guide and inspiration of Masons; that is, beyond what is inculcated by the secret work of the Lodges. 

FREEMASONRY AND THE WINTER’S TALE

If an explanation is asked how modern Freemasonry was connected with Operative Masonry, the answer is that the ancient Institution was taken as the wild stock on which the new was grafted, exactly as each of the plays was based on some older tale or legend. The process is set forth quite plainly in that charming play, The Winter’s Tale, where the author says: 

We marry,
A gentlers cion to the wildest stock,  
And make conceive a bark of baser kind  
By bud of nobler race; this is an art  
Which does mend nature – change it, rather; but  
The art itself is nature.3

The great secrecy and mystery which surrounded the early history of the Order was necessary to establish it, but this should no longer hold in our day. 
It may be that all this is well known in the higher Masonic circles, but kept hid, like so many other things, from motives of prudence. But if such a course seemed necessary at one time in the history of Freemasonry, it is difficult to see a reason for continuing it. If it is not known, then the conviction is expressed that a careful examination will verify the discovery. And its importance cannot be questioned or exaggerated.

Freemasonry makes a private appeal to all that is best, noblest and most unselfish in man; and to stimulate the interest by a certain amount of mystery, secrecy of symbolism is well and good. But this has its limitations. In these days many men have advanced beyond such a stage in their education. To them the actual truth cannot fail to appeal. It will solve not only the perplexing question of the authorship of the plays, but in large measure their real meaning, and furnish a practical way of relating them to men’s lives, thus making them what they were meant to be – a vital, educating force.

It will explain the tremendous spurt of civilization in England during Bacon’s life-time, and make clear who was the intellectual dynamo that furnished not only the light and power of that wonderful period, but the impulse which led to our present advanced stage of civilization. It will confirm the opinion that Freemasons were meant to be the special guardians and conservators of the richest and noblest treasure intended for the welfare of mankind that the human mind ever collected. It will establish the fact that in modern times lived a philosopher, Francis Bacon, the freest, wisest, tenderest of men, who for three centuries has met the common fate of philosophers – to be misunderstood and maligned – but who planned a scheme of philosophy surpassing all that ever preceded; and who also made provision for its dissemination and preservation among men. 

Let Freemasonry acknowledge its paternity, which will be found to have been noble in name and most noble in fact, and claim its inheritance, with its attending responsibilities, and it will have the means to solve the difficulties and dispel the fears felt by many members and expressed so forcibly by the good brother, Bishop Charles T. Williams, of Michigan, when he said:

I have often felt that Freemasonry should be something more than a mere theatrical exhibition, with some technical charity and a good deal of social intercourse; but I do not see just how its moral forces can be effectually concentrated and directed. 

It can also meet the criticism, and fufill the prophecy presented by Oswald Wirth,4 who declared that our institution has not yet found itself, that it seeks itself like the youth who is forced to recognize himself, and take knowledge of what he really is. He predicts that an epoch will come forcibly, when all that is respectable will be universally respected – when forms shall be appreciated and scrupulously observed no more by instinct or superstition, but in reason, for what they contain as living. 

Let Freemasonry but find itself – and this is possible by the author’s last will and testament, The Tempest – and there is nothing that can prevent it from becoming the world-wide civilizing force which it was designed to be, becoming the most potent factor in dispelling ignorance and superstition, in bringing about a fuller freedom and development of man, and in replacing the selfishness, deceit and inhumanity, which unchecked must eventually destroy our civilization, by the rule of justice and love, which alone can unite mankind into a universal brotherhood.

Written by Bro. William Norman M’Daniel and originally published in THE AMERICAN FREEDOM – JANUARY 1912.


a priori, “from the cause to the effect.”
2 John Weiss, Wit and Humor of Shakespeare, p. 248. 
Act IV, Scene 4. 
THE AMERICAN FRFEMASON, August, 1911.

Masonic Ritual: The Dispersal [Part V]

Masonic Ritual: The Dispersal [Part V]

PART V: CLOSING AND THE DISPERSAL


By Very Ills..... Bro... Kristine Wilson-Slack 33o


In the series finale, the author explains that the framework of Freemasonry bestows the ability create what the world needs, if Brothers do it with intention, focus, and true service. 


What happens with this energy once it has intensified to its most perfected state? With the completion of the ritual work of the day, the Lodge ceremoniously disassembles into its individual parts. Dispersal of energy thus contained takes a faster course than it did to create it.

The First Bubble: Closing the Lodge

At the moment of closure within the ritual, the innermost bubble is dispersed; it reaches its greatest potential and ready for dissemination into the material world. The energy may cling to matter much like a soapy film clings to those things the soap bubble touches.21e326ac55c85b2bc5a51029c20d6d85 This is the purest form of intended energy, and it is perhaps the densest dispersal of energy, happening in a rush. It should be noted that even dispersal of energy should take place with intention and focus. Ritual movements should be clean and precise, as much as with the opening rituals.

This release should be akin to a funnel focusing its release to a tight beam, not merely like popping a balloon. It should be of note to the Freemason what happens between these bubbles being released, as this is the motion and ritual of unwinding. Between this innermost bubble and the second bubble, there is a closing up – a shuttering – and an admonition to ensure we remember there will be a next time. We are to take with us the intent of Service, reminding us of why we were brought together.

The Second Bubble: Unwinding the Ring-Pass-Not

The next bubble, the second, is broken when the ring-pass-not is unwound. The symbol of the mind, the Sword, is used to unwind the Temple-not-made-with-hands and becomes ring-pass-not solarthe unbinding of ritual space, from the Center, outward towards to door of the world.

The hierophants assembled are now taking their inner tools with them, the knowledge and the experiences they have gained, to be able to spread individually across their material worlds. This is a scattering, quite literally, of knowledge abroad.

The Sword, the Mind, cuts across the bubble to let this information out into the world, and to release the space from its duty. The officers form from the heart of the Lodge, unwinding as they walk in recession, out the door of the Physical world. 

The Third Bubble: The Disbursement

Lastly, the final bubble is released when the Temple is disassembled, and the members disperse in actuality into the material world. The fainter energies are stuck to us, to our tools, to the building, and even to the locale in which we perform ritual. We leave the building and we take that energy to those whom we touch, communicate, and interact. This energy, depending on our state of consciousness, may never dissipate or it may fly away quickly. Bubble1What happens next is of prime importance because it sets Masonry’s adherents up for continued success as Freemasons.

What do we do between the energetic dispersal and the stirring of creation for the next Lodge meeting? Do we prepare? Do we put thought and effort into our daily advancement of Masonic knowledge and discipline? Do we press our clothing and memorize our rituals? Do we practice movements or strengthen our own minds and bodies for upcoming challenges? 

Going Forth and Future Masonic Labor

What we do after this third and final bubble is released as a profound effect on further work. To be a Light Worker is to be of Service, not only to ourselves but most importantly, to the perfecting of Humanity. If we throw ourselves into caustic or hateful situations, right after Lodge, we have lost much, and it takes time and a great deal of energy to bring it back.Update10906040_301677396708737_8697647859799665523_n

This is one of the reasons that Freemasonry is not a thing to do once a month, or study in our “spare time.” It’s something that is a walk of life, a journey of personal experience wrapped in group work. It’s not a social club, nor is it a personal support group.

It is equally talented journeymen working together to build a beautiful, metaphorical Cathedral, a Temple of Pure Light. The framework of the Freemasonic Order gives us the ability to move freely within the context of these duties, and in such, we create exactly what the World needs if we do it with intention, focus, and true Service.


This is Part V of the series, “The Effects of Masonic Ritual.” The previous articles can be found here: Part I, Part IIPart III, and Part IV

Service: Why Do We Help?

Service: Why Do We Help?

If you were to ask five different people of five different belief systems why it’s important to serve others, you’d probably get five somewhat different answers. For instance, a Hindu might say that it will accrue positive karma, a Christian that it’s to spread the love of Christ, and perhaps a scientific atheist might say that it simply reduces the amount of suffering in the world, and that is reason enough.

The teaching that we should serve others is almost universal in the various religions and wisdom teachings of mankind, although their stated reasons may vary, as one might expect. To most of us, it seems obvious that it is good to serve others, to help those in need. But as Freemasons, what is our explanation? Why do we help?

Freemasonry defines itself as an organization based on service to humanity, and masons throughout history have spoken on the subject of service to humanity extensively, and focused heavily on both charity and enlightenment. As with every other philosophy or belief system, our perspective on service is deeply rooted in the masonic perspective on humanity’s essential nature, and destiny.

An important caveat is necessary, here: technically, there is no single “masonic perspective,” because each mason chooses for him or herself how they think about any given topic. Freemasonry is a fellowship among truth-seekers, not an orthodox belief system. Therefore, the ideas presented here are in no sense meant to be understood as universally accepted by all masons.

The Vector of Human Evolution

888695607In Freemasonry, and the Western esoteric traditions in general, we do generally have a particular perspective on humanity’s purpose. We do not typically view it in the way that some religions might, which is often the idea that humanity was created merely to worship and please a deity, nor do we generally believe that humanity’s existence is randomly purposeless, a chance occurrence in an otherwise dead and meaningless universe, as might those skeptics who believe only what science can prove.

One of the most deeply-held core values of freemasonry is that humanity does in fact have a teleological vector, which is a fancy philosophical way of saying that we believe humanity has a purpose, a trajectory, an inherent potential which each and all of us are in the process of unfolding. We may have differing ideas about what that purpose entails, or what its ultimate goal is, but the common thread is that we believe a process is taking place which involves a perfecting or evolution of each person, so that we eventually become something more and better than what we were before, both individually and collectively.

In fact, it is this vector which underlies the current and overall purpose of Freemasonry. This is one understanding of what we term The Great Work, the progression towards the highest potential in the self, and in humanity as a whole.

Service in Context

So, what does all of this have to do with service, you might ask?

images-5If we believe that all people have this higher potential which is yet to be unfolded, then our chief task in this world must be to unfurl it in our self, as well as to do whatever possible to help the people we come into contact with to do the same. In other words, to catalyze and cultivate the process of human evolution towards our destiny. That is my attempt to encapsulate the essence of service, from the perspective of the esoteric wisdom teachings.

When most people think of service and charity, they probably wouldn’t think about contributing to our evolutionary process. We might simply think it’s the “right thing to do,” or that our compassion simply compels us to do so. People are suffering, so we do what we can to provide relief; many people are lacking in knowledge, so we do what we can to provide insight and enlightenment. If we are able, we help those who are not able. For many, it feels almost written into our DNA. Why do we need an explanation?

These reasons are good enough, insomuch as they spur us to action. However, in my opinion, the best possible understanding of the purpose of service must necessarily be embedded in, and in alignment with the purpose of our entire existence. To me, there is value in seeing things in the larger context of what we ultimately believe about ourselves, our species, and the universe itself.

Climbing the Pyramid

Any of us who are blessed enough to have found some measure of spiritual awakening in this life find ourselves in a peculiar situation, in respect to our relationship with the rest of humanity.

It is a fact of life, and has been for as long as there have been those who wake up to some degree, that the majority of humans exist in a state of confusion and suffering. This suffering is not purely economic, although poverty is a real problem. Those who have their basic needs taken care of, or even those who live in lavish luxury, can and do still suffer a great deal on an emotional, social, and soul level. And this is precisely the state which we ourselves seek to extricate ourselves from.

Yet, we know from the understandings handed down to us from various wisdom teachings that each of those confused and suffering people contains a divine spark, and the potential to ignite that spark, and transmute their suffering, thereby transforming into a vibrant, soulful, and purposeful human being. Whether we know it or not, I believe that this is the ultimate purpose of service, not simply to reduce suffering to reach some state of equilibrium, but to free up resources to realize a higher potential in each person.

1579917_origMany readers will be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, perhaps from Psychology 101. For those who aren’t familiar, it is a model of human needs which arranges them in a pyramidal structure, grouped into levels, each needing to be satisfied before the next level can be advanced. At the base are the most basic, biological needs, and they transition up the pyramid into emotional and social needs, with the capstone being self-realization, the fulfillment of some transcendent purpose that is beyond all the others below it. The key idea is that one must take care of the needs in sequence, from bottom to top. If the basic needs are not addressed, the higher needs will remain unfulfilled.

So, if the capstone of that pyramid is equivalent to the destiny towards which we are moving, and which we hope to assist all of humanity in achieving, then helping those around us means helping them move beyond the level where they currently exist. For those whose basic needs still are unsatisfied, we would not necessarily hand the deepest teachings of soul wisdom. It may simply be that they need food to eat or a roof over their head. For yet others, mental/emotional stability may be their current requirement. Yet, in all of these, the reason we help is the movement towards that capstone of ultimate good, even transcendence.

In this way, if we wish to be good servants to our Creator and our fellows, it’s helpful to first be able to recognize which service is required, depending on where that person is at, and how we are best equipped to provide it. This begins with a concrete conceptual model of the hierarchy of needs, as well as the ultimate goal.

Tending the Garden

400017260I find the garden to be a useful metaphor both in inner work, as well as work with other people. To me, the relationship between those who wish to serve a higher purpose and the rest of life and humanity is similar to the relationship of a gardener to a garden. In this vein, we are not the sole rescuers or providers of the essential life processes. Rather, we should best view ourselves as Life’s humble and equanimous attendants.

We cannot make the garden grow, the flowers blossom, or the vegetables ripen, but we can water them, prune them, prop them up when they have fallen, and dig out the weeds. If more of us are wise, conscientious, and faithful stewards, then the garden of human civilization will be more sweet with the scent of compassion, bright with the colors of inspired expression, and fulfilling with the fruits of human self-actualization.

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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