Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

Inner and Outer: The Shamanic Thread Through All Religions

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

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

The Shamanic Thread in Religions

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

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

Female Shaman Khakas 1908
Female Shaman (Khakas 1908)

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

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

Growth, Monopoly, and Compartmentalization

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

egyptians and acacia
Egyptian Tree of Life

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

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

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

The Standard Deviation from the Mundane

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

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

IQ Bell Curve

IQ Bell Curve

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

Will That Be Milk, or Solids?

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

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Masonic Symbolism

Of the many esoteric traditions, Freemasonry has served as an ideal refuge and vehicle for the mystically inclined. This is primarily because of its level of organization and practicality, which has facilitated its membership not just studying high concepts behind closed doors, but having a major influence on society at large, as well as a highly functional internal structure that allows us to be effective at getting things done. While the milk of parables is enough for most, for those who seek more solid food, we welcome sincere truth-seekers of every kind


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

Where is a Freemason first prepared? And why?

Where is a Freemason first prepared? And why?

When a new brother is in the beginning stages of his masonic journey, he is asked what I believe to be one of the most profound questions of all: “Where were you first prepared to be made a mason?”

As those of us in the fraternity know, the usual response is “my heart.” This turning of the heart is often said to be the beginning of the initiation process. But, why? What does the heart symbolize that is so important?

Plato spoke of the pumping of the valves of the heart as the origin of human passions. Aristotle offered a somewhat different explanation, claiming that it is not only the organ of passions but the resting place of the soul’s vital spirit. Freemasonry mirrors this philosophy attributing the heart as the sacred abode of the Inner Ruler Immortal.

In our modern world, the word “heart” is often downplayed to have to do with the feelings or temperament. We might hear of a heart that is stony, heavy, broken, foolish, warm, cold or bleeding. In the middle of February, the retail stores make a fortune on the heart motif.

Brother Manly Hall in “The Secret Teaching of All Ages” suggests that the common reference to the emotions when it comes to the heart is a blind. He says:

“While all the Mysteries recognized the heart as the center of spiritual consciousness, they often purposely ignored this concept and used the heart in its exoteric sense as the symbol of the emotional nature. The student of esotericism discovers ere long that the ancients often resorted to various blinds to conceal the true interpretations of their Mysteries.”

Blinds can no doubt lead a person astray. Brother Helena Blavatsky, for example, in the “Secret Doctrine” continually used enigmas, cryptograms, and other devices intended to conceal the real esoteric meaning from uninitiated readers. Never does she actually lie, but I have noticed when a topic seems too clear-cut, then I should be suspect.

So, what about the heart? Has our society oversimplified the concept only to conceal a blind? If so, what is the nature of that blind? Is it possible to grasp a glimpse of the heart’s mystery?

The Heart Symbol – Universally Understood

A journey through a number of the Volumes of Sacred Lore is as a way of exploring just a few of the many deeper meanings of this symbol.Flaming Heart on Apron Scottish Rite

In Buddhism, the heart is considered the center of enlightenment. The word “bodhicitta” translates to the pure awakened heart and mind within each person. Within “bodhicitta” is the aspiration for service to all beings as the longing to heal the sufferings of the world.

In Christianity, the Grail stories describe the human heart as a container of the heart of Christ whose life/blood grants nourishment to the soul. In the Bible, it is the heart to which Christ referred when he said “The Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

In Hinduism, the Upanishads speak of what is known as the hridaya guha, or the cave of the heart, in which resides the Supreme Reality. In the eighth chapter it says to “Go into the cave and you find the treasures of heaven.”

In Islam, the basic Arabic word for heart is galb meaning change or transformation. It is considered the meeting place between the human and the celestial realms where spirit resides. The heart of the faithful is the “Throne (al-‘Arsh) of God the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman)”

In Judaism, the heart is the seat of wisdom, as the Psalmist wrote, “Teach us to number our days that we may attain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90) The Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem is considered to be a heart as was Jerusalem itself.

In Taoism, the heart is a vehicle of eternity, love, and divinity. Hazrat Inayat Khan says: “Realizing that love is a divine spark in one’s heart, one keeps blowing on that spark until a flame rises to illuminate the path of one’s life.”

In the Cosmology of Memphis, the heart was understood as a repository of the good deeds in a person’s life. If the heart was light as a feather, you passed the test of the Goddess Maat and were able to enter the afterlife.

One could go on almost indefinitely. In just a short survey, the heart symbol is seen as an important spiritual center, an inner shrine, a place that reflects the life and deeds of each person. It is often depicted with a flame.

Can any of these sacred teachings apply to a mason’s life?

The Masonic Heart on Fire

In Freemasonry, we learn about brotherly love which inflames the hearts of all true Masons. With that understanding comes the responsibility to lift and aid the downtrodden and to battle against the forces of fanaticism, ignorance, and tyranny. It is our duty to bring light to darkness.

A flaming heart is a symbol of this task and makes its appearance in more than one of the Scottish Rite Degrees. It represents a zeal for truth and doing what is right, even if it means self-sacrifice. Moving toward the fire of knowledge, of both ourselves and the world, is the path of every Mason whose heart burns within him. The whole degree system of freemasonry echoes the imagery of a fiery striving.

In the Agni Yoga book “Fiery Worlds” we read:

“A striving will, emanating from the fiery heart, creates a karmic wave which produces a vortex drawing in the corresponding energies.”

As the writings suggest, the striving fiery heart becomes magnetic. It then can bring into manifestation that which is willed. The highest striving originates not from the separate self, but from the divine. When our hearts begin to beat in unison with the heartbeat of the divine, we naturally enter into and become a part of the spiritual striving of the finalmasonsheart-2017972_960_720world.

A Freemason’s “first preparation” could definitely stand for a state of the emotions like zeal, aspiration, passion, motivation, etc. All well and good. In my mind, however, I envision that a flaming heart symbolizes something far more mysterious. It connects us to the spark of the sacred Fire within us. As the door is opened and expands, “the heart can conceive what the eyes could not behold.” We are truly enveloped with revelation, the beauty and splendor of which is beyond description. This is the perhaps when we truly realize the mystic tie that binds us all together.

“That which is a mystery shall no longer be so, and that which has been veiled will now be revealed: that which has been withdrawn will emerge into the light, and all men shall see and together they shall rejoice.” – Brother Alice Bailey

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? – A Masonic Interpretation

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? – A Masonic Interpretation

In Freemasonry, the term “brother” is used to demonstrate a closeness of relationship that is not necessarily based on blood ties. It is formed from a common bond, shared obligations and experiences. In addition, being a child of the Divine Father (or Great Architect) accounts for a sacred cemented kinship with each other.

Lately, the question, “am I my brother’s keeper?” has been echoing in my mind in terms of my own masonic obligations.  This question goes to the foundation of what it means to be of service in the Great Work. The ultimate aim in masonic teachings is the mastery of self, through reflection, actions and acceptance of the sublime lessons of immortality. The student is encouraged to temper their emotions and control their vices and practice the tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth.

This line of thinking led me to revisit the story of Cain and Abel, and the actual source of the “brother’s keeper” phrase. As in any holy book like the bible, there is fair debate whether passages should be treated literally or as a malleable allegory. The seeming contradictions are common for writings that span over centuries. Each individual’s faith, academic viewpoint, view of religion, or personal worldview certainly comes into play in interpreting the text. I was hoping to find some masonic insight in this age- old bible story.

Basically, the passages from Genesis 4:1-16 can be summarized like this:

cainkillshisbrotherabelCain was the first son of Adam and Eve and Abel was the second son. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. When it came time to bring an offering to the Lord, Cain offered fruit and Abel offered a slain lamb. The Lord was satisfied with Abel’s offering, but unsatisfied in Cain’s. Cain, filled with jealousy, killed his brother.

After the murder, we read in Genesis 4:9:

The Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Things did not go well for Cain.

Translated from the original Hebrew, the word “keeper” refers to someone who “watches over,” or “guards.”

What is the symbolic meaning of these two characters? Could they relate to the quest of a Freemason?

Cain and Abel – From Darkness to Light

Some theories say that Cain and Abel were twins and each twin could represent our higher and lower natures. This speaks to the heart of the masonic work which is learning to navigate the duality of our existence. For example, there would be no light without darkness, no good without evil, no love without hate and so on.

Comparing light vs. darkness is an important study. However, what’s curious about the subject of light is that everyone knows what it is until you ask them. In the Bible we read that “God is light.” This quotation evokes a mystery. It suggests there is a deeper connection to the subject of light than meets the eye. It seems unlikely that when you go into a room and flip a switch, you are turning on God. Equally mysterious is the concept of darkness. cain and abel

Recently, in a Lodge meeting we studied Brother Leonard Bosman’s work, “The Light of a Master Mason.” Bosman proposes that the myth of Cain and Abel is about the Freemason’s battle between two opposite aspects of mind. The grand struggle deals with the incompatibility of these two natures, especially when the ego is in control.

From “Light of a Master Mason” we read:

“Abel is the Love-Mind, Cain the Head or brain mind; Abel is the heart or spirit, Cain the earthly mentality. Hence it is that, symbolically as well as in actuality, Cain kills his brother Abel, that is to say, the hard Cain-like mind kills the pure love nature (Abel) when preventing it functioning.”

Bosman makes a good point that Abel is not the one struggling. The struggle is about Cain because the ego is always in a constant struggle to kill off the higher nature. The ego wants total control because to sacrifice the ego is to die to self and let the Light nature live through you. No easy task.

Both aspects of the mind have a function. Cain, according to the inner meaning of its etymology represents the hard, pointed weapon of the mind. Cain is the selfish, acquisitive mind, the “getter,” the “centralizer,” whilst Abel is the yielding one, the “giver.”

If this is all true, then how do we “master” these two aspects of our nature?

Tubal Cain – The Sharpener of Mentality

tubal cainThe symbolic key may lie in Tubal-Cain, a blacksmith character in the bible who was the son of Lamech, a descendant of Cain. He was known as an artificer in metals of brass and iron. In the legend, there is a biological connection as well as a symbolic one. Bosman writes that Freemasonry may be “thought of as an alchemical experiment, the Lodge in this sense being the Great Alchemist’s cauldron in which the base metal of the lower nature will be changed into the gold of the spiritual.”

Further on, in “Light of a Master Mason” we read:

“In all this the student of Freemasonry will see the inner and secret meaning of Tubal-Cain, the yielding of the central might or egoistic mind, the letting-go, as it were, of the personal self as it spreads out to become a greater self, the ONE that is in all.”

In other words, the more we cling to self-importance and ego, the more we are undoubtedly living in darkness.

The mystical worker will often cry, “When I’m nothing, I’m everything!” This might possibly be why so few people truly seek an authentic path to enlightenment. Who wants to be nothing? We’ve all been told the whole purpose is to be somebody.

brothers keeper 2We could draw two conclusions from all this. We could decide that the Cain and Abel legend is simply a good story — an illusory tale to tell our children. Or we can assume that it does have some merit in its symbolic import. I prefer the second option myself, if only because it jibes with my own intuition as a masonic worker that we can learn about ourselves from symbols.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper? Indeed, I try. “To make daily progress in masonic light” sounds simple, but it’s probably the hardest concept a Freemason has to learn. That’s OK, because it also offers a lifetime of value.

“What the sad world needs – what each of us needs – is more light, more love, more clarity of mind and more charity of heart; and this in copious measure is what Free Masonry gives us – if only we let the light of love enter the dark recesses of our hearts.”   — Bro. Jyothindra Kumar

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part 2]

The Archetypal Lucifer: Bringer of Light, Adversary, Enigma? [Part 2]

Freemasonry reveres the Light, which illuminates and chases away the darkness of ignorance. As a “bringer of light,” Lucifer can be a touchy subject, particularly in relation to Freemasonry, because Masons have been accused of devil worship by various groups, including conspiracy theorists. What follows is Part II of the post on the Archetypal Lucifer. [Part One can be read here.]


Where else does the Lucifer archetype manifest in humanity, both within and without, in culture and in self? From this point forward, I go beyond the factual, historical roots of Lucifer, and explore the concept more speculatively. Because Lucifer and Satan have been so conflated throughout history, I will refer to the merged concept as Lucifer-Satan. As always, this post is only the reflections of one mason, and does not represent the official views of Universal Co-Masonry

Lucifer: Shadow and Light

As the Lucifer-Satan archetype is partly personified by a glorification of the intellect, I believe that one manifestation of it is the worldview of philosophical materialism, or scientism, the belief that all that is real are the phenomena we can measure and study with science. This worldview is personified by regarding only the the mental and the animal aspects of human existence as real, viewing humans as essentially a clever monkey ultimately made of meaningless space dust, and a corresponding rejection of spirit or immaterial aspects to reality or humanity. This fits quite well with the Lucifer-Satan archetype’s association with knowledge, moral relativist, or even nihilistic point of view, and position of opposition to religious authority. 

However, I believe that to stop here would be a mistake; the purely objective intellect, regarding the world outside the finite self/mind as solely made up of dead and unconscious matter to be controlled for the perpetuation of mind and hedonisticlucifer-painting-lucife pleasure is only one embodiment of this archetype. I believe that it exists beyond the boundaries of the materialists’ denial of all things “supernatural,” it is something more universal.

In fact, one of the places that the Lucifer-Satan archetype is alive and well most openly is within certain of the “dark” magical arts and practices, where Lucifer-Satan as a deity figure may at times be seen as an underdog of personal power and liberty, rejected by a spiritual authority seeking always to subjugate its creation. This loosely correlates also to a view shared by some branches of Gnosticism. All of these represent a view of Lucifer-Satan which goes beyond scientific materialism, clearly indicating that the archetype is more broad than that particular manifestation.

Masonic Interpretations of Lucifer 

What about a masonic view of Lucifer? Manly P. Hall, famously wrote in his book The Lost Keys of Freemasonry:

When the Mason learns that the key to the warrior on the block is the proper application of the dynamo of living power, he has learned the mystery of his Craft. The seething energies of Lucifer are in his hands, and before he may step onward and upward, he must prove his ability to properly apply energy. He must follow in the footsteps of his forefather…. who with the mighty strength of the war god hammered his sword into a plowshare.

This passage has often been used as evidence by some to say that Freemasons are secretly a bunch of devil-worshipping satanists. It might even be enough to give a mason unfamiliar with it some pause; what exactly did Brother Hall mean by the “seething energies of Lucifer”?To an uninformed reader, and taken out of context, this statement might sound a bit nefarious, especially given the cultural context of the conflation of Lucifer and Satan, as an embodiment of evil. 

More likely, Brother Hall is drawing upon a more Gnostic perspective on Lucifer, such as that it represents the latent life-force energy, described in the East as Kundalini, dwelling “underground” and in the “darkness” of lower aspects of the self (literally in the lower body), which can be stirred and lifted by certain practices to travel through the various energy centers. Another facet of some Gnostic views is that Lucifer is the other side of brightandmorningstarthe Christ aspect of the self, which rings true based on the origins of the archetype. If Lucifer/Satan is the primary antagonist of the story from which the archetype originates, we shouldn’t ignore the role of the protagonist, and all that he represents, as well. So, how does Lucifer relate to Christ, in the self?

This Gnostic account of Lucifer is as both carrier of the light, and tempter of the divine self represented by Christ; indeed, Satan (the “adversary” angel, in Hebrew) did tempt Christ during his fast in the forest, in the biblical account. This view posits that Lucifer represents both the energy within the self, and the temptation to waste that energy, working together with Christ in an antagonistic interplay within the self, to raise up and purify the fundamental raw potency contained in the lower half of the person, the generative organs and the gut. This paints an image of Lucifer as a force which ensures purity in the self, just as he was the prosecutor of Job to test his faith, in the old testament.

Alchemically, we could say perhaps that this is like an acid or solvent, which eats away all that is not gold. As such, this idea of Lucifer is as a force which guarantees that the self has evolved beyond the desires and temptations of the lower aspects of our animal nature before allowing it to become possessed of divine radiance, by tempting it at every turn. This includes the temptations which come at the highest levels of development. 

Satan as Lucifer’s Folly?

Some masonic authors have extended an explanation that Lucifer and Satan are not the same, but are two very different ideas which have been conflated due to translation errors and historical inaccuracies, as alluded to earlier in this post. By this account, the term Lucifer is exactly what the etymology of the word implies: an archetypal Light Bearer, a bearer of spiritual Light, which would be represented by any of the known Light Bearers of history, including Jesus Christ himself, and is what each Freemasonchristos luficer aspires to be. Essentially, it is the idea that a person can serve as a bridge between the divine and man, that an individual can be the bearer of God’s Light for the world, perhaps after undergoing the temptation/purification process described by the Gnostics. 

I find this to be an inherently satisfying and rational explanation, but I also find myself feeling the need to take pause, before becoming too complacent with this particular understanding. Reflecting upon all that has happened with the idea of Lucifer, chiefly becoming conflated with the embodiment of all evil, one has to wonder: perhaps the archetype of Lucifer-Satan is more meaningful than simply being a human error in the interpretation of scriptures and other texts? Perhaps Lucifer-Satan is, indeed, an archetype of a fallen Light Bearer?

Warning from the Sutras

One embodiment of this which I believe may lend some clarity is in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A particular description is given of those advanced Yogis who attained abilities which we would identify as psychic powers, or siddhis in Sanskrit, through the practice of extreme concentration, or Samadhi, but without overcoming the personal attachments of their baser nature and desires. Having not given proper attention to the taming of the lower self before attaining Samadhi, the selfish and attached mind that had achieved the prometheus bound to mattersiddhis became lost in the fulfillment of their desires. In other words, they learned to use their inherent divine capabilities, without attaining true wisdom. Ultimately, this results in their merging with the object of their desires at the end of their mortal life, and being locked into the material world itself as a kind of elemental spirit, rather than achieving liberation. This is also very similar to the dark shaman

I think that this idea encapsulates the essence of the Lucifer-Satan archetype quite well, even resonating with the theme of his being cast down and bound to matter. Just like Prometheus being bound to the stone, or Lucifer-Satan being cast into Hell, this fall from grace of the Light Bearer could be an archetypal warning against the perils of succumbing to one’s own ego-based attachments and lower nature, as one advances along the spiritual path. This would include the desire for and fixation on sense pleasures, power, control, and positions of superiority. 

If I attempt to distill this idea down to its essence, it might be something like: “The limited self attempting to become God, without realizing that it already is.” It’s the attempt of the finite self to have God-like perception and power, but without sacrificing all of the entrapments of the finite self’s desires, attachments, and need for control. This is the desire to be the ultimate divinely ordained King, Ruler of the Universe, and to think that one knows better than the silent, seemingly passive transcendent God. As pointed out by Manly P. Hall, mythically, this transition occurred the moment when Lucifer thought that he knew better than God how to operate creation, and that he should take over. On the other hand, in the story of Christ, it was surpassed the moment that Christ was offered this position, but turned it down.

Lucifer and the Temptation of Christ

One symbolic representation of Lucifer-Satan could be the crowned animal, the combination of the dynamo of the unrefined lower self with the mind awoken to its true potential, without the crucial mediating and transforming influence of the Heart. Afterlucifer temptation of christ all, Lucifer/Satan has been depicted as cunning, seductive, powerful, brilliant, and intriguing, but there is one quality that Lucifer-Satan rarely embodies in any depiction of him with which I’m familiar, and that is selfless Love. Loving kindness, compassion, humility, and surrender to the greater Self of which the finite self is merely an extension, is the one critical quality which Lucifer-Satan seems to lack, and which is ultimately what binds him and all who embody him to being King of This World, as he is sometimes referred to in the Bible. At the same time, it is the quality most essential to Christ. Does that make Christ the true Lucifer, the true Light Bearer?

Perhaps this is also the ultimate temptation with which we are presented, at our highest stages of spiritual development. Because when one does truly become a Light Bearer, and become possessed of corresponding expanded awareness and capabilities, the temptation to use it for selfish ends has to be one of the single greatest obstacles imaginable. We can see this manifesting in many forms, such as using the light of the intellect to build technological methods to control and manipulate nature and other people, the exertion of the light of magical will to satisfy one’s own self-centered desires, spiritually exalting one’s own ego in spiritual materialism, or in gaining material wealth and power over others.

In the end, all are the attempts of the finite self or ego to become God-like, or rather, to become like a false notion of God, as a King or Ruler on a throne, a finite entity with infinite capabilities. It’s fundamentally a refusal to realize and accept one’s place as an illusory appendage of the Infinite One, meant to act in harmony with all of Creation, and to utilize one’s gifts as a self-less Light Bearer in service to humanity. At whatever level it occurs in our development, we always have the temptation to place the will of the self over the will and well-being of others, this being perhaps the fundamental essence of evil, which ultimately culminates in the utilization of others as extensions of the self to fulfill one’s own desires.

Would You Pass? 

Here’s an interesting question: If you were to be granted all the Power of This World today, would you pass The Test? Would you be able to resist the temptation to use your control over the illusory world to endlessly fulfill your own desires? Would you choose to surrender to the larger plan, which even with all your knowledge you can never fullylucifer comprehend, and to use your abilities only to heal and enlighten others, never to control them or inflict harm, or even your own brand of justice? Would you, in spite of all your power, forgive the ignorant even as they nailed your hands to the cross, rendering your Heart wide open and undefended?

The great Light Bearers of history have given us examples for how to walk the tightrope forward, to resist the temptations of power, and become the selfless servants that humanity needs. Nobody said it would be easy; in fact, its probably the most difficult thing that anyone can do. Perhaps this is why the ability to die and be reborn is such a critical component of freemasonry, as well as mythology in general. We must be able to die to the false self, and all of its desires and fears, if we ever wish to be worthy Bearers of the Light.

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

Is Freemasonry Free from Religious Bias?

If you investigate freemasonry and religion, among the first things you will find are various iterations of the following message:

Freemasonry is not a religion, and is not intended to be a replacement for religion. Within the ranks of the brotherhood are many people of varying backgrounds and faiths. Lodges in one part of the world may have more members of a particular faith than those in other parts, but regardless of this, believers of all faiths are welcome. The teachings and rituals of freemasonry are intended to be acceptable to all religious traditions, and the organization encourages its members to practice their chosen faith, and to serve God above all man-made institutions.

While this is true, the relationship of freemasonry to various religions has gone through phases, and evolved over time. Some religions or sects have regarded freemasonry with suspicion, or in some cases, outright condemnation. Meanwhile, some of the rituals and symbolism used in Lodge clearly are traceable to particular religions, such as the Judeo/Christian. Does this mean that freemasonry is particularly Christian or Jewish, as opposed to any other faith? What is its compatibility with other, non-Christian faiths?

Freemasonry’s Historical Relationship with Christianity

freemasonry and christianityComing, most recently, from Europe in the first and second millennia C.E., it should not surprise us that freemasonry has been influenced by religion, specifically Christianity. While the York Rite has many Christian elements, this is only an appendant body, whose degrees are not essential to being a Mason. Beyond this, the common use of the Bible as the Volume of the Sacred Law (or Lore) in the rituals is more-or-less the extent of specifically Christian symbolism in freemasonry, and even that is not ubiquitous among lodges and orders.

On the other hand, from a historical perspective, many believe that speculative (philosophical) Freemasonry might not exist today, if not for Christianity. This is due to the fact that much of what makes freemasonry so unique and valuable is to some extent the result of Christian oppression. In this sense, religion in the form of Christianity may have shaped Freemasonry far more from the outside than from the inside, at least according to many masonic historians, such as the masonic history described by Manly P. Hall.

During what we normally call the Dark Ages, various Western wisdom traditions, tracing their origins to the mystery schools of the ancient world, found refuge in the the ranks of operative masonry, among those who were truly stonemasons by trade. The operative masons’ democratic organizational structures, political independence, and secretive nature made this guild-like organization an appealing place for those who were considered heretics under the rule of the Catholic church. Within its ranks, they could practice and carry on their traditions in safety, and freely exchange ideas, blending the ancient wisdom teachings with the more literal craft of the masonic trade.

hermeticism alchemy and freemasonryThe fusion of these refugee practitioners of gnosticism, hermeticism, alchemy, astrology, and related systems with the operative builders of old is the origin of speculative freemasonry, as we know it today, and it all happened in part because of the religious tyranny of the church. Not only did freemasonry as we now know it come into existence partly to conceal themselves from the persecution of the church, but also subverted it in some ways, such as by being heavily involved in the secret colleges which ultimately culminated in the scientific revolution, and scientific enlightenment, displacing the Catholic church as a monopoly on truth. Yet, does this mean that Freemasonry was inherently anti-catholic, or anti-christian?

Freemasonry is primarily a collection of traditions and rituals, none of which are explicitly against any religion, but in fact are supportive of religion. What Freemasons generally are opposed to are tyranny over the minds and lives of people. Freemasons have been, throughout history, proponents and defenders of personal liberty, including the freedom to think, believe, speak, and worship as each person sees fit, as well as the ideal of self-rule and democratic forms of government. In fact, many masonic historians claim that our organization was instrumental in the democratic uprisings of the 18th century, including both the French and American revolutions.

In this light, we can safely say that freemasonry’s rocky historical relationship with Catholicism had less to do with their beliefs, and more to do with their imperial and dogmatic rule, which persisted even after the fall of the Roman Empire. Since the fall of that empire, freemasonry’s relationship to Catholicism and protestant Christianity has been much more congenial, even symbiotic, with many Masons also being members of various churches and clergy.

Conservative or Fundamentalist Religions

While much of freemasonry’s historical context is in relation to Catholicism, it has of course interacted with many other religions, as well. It might be safe to say that the theme is not so much variation in freemasonry’s attitude towards the various religions, antimasonryas we believe in freedom of individual worship, but rather in those other religions’ attitudes towards freemasonry. Often, the most conservative of these religions have a strong aversion to the theologically liberal nature of masonry.

The Muslim world is an excellent example. For various reasons, the Islamic peoples of the world have not generally had a very favorable view of Freemasonry, with it being totally banned in some Muslim countries. This seems to be due primarily to the Judeo-Christian flavor, symbolism, and historical lore of some aspects of freemasonry.

On the other hand, one appendant body of Freemasonry, the Shriners, clearly has Islamic symbolism, and some even trace their history to the first followers of Mohammed. Writers on the subject tie the Islamic opposition to freemasonry mostly to their political opposition to Judaism, and the long-standing rivalry between these two branches of the Abrahamic faiths.

Another group with a strongly antipathetic view on Freemasonry are some modern evangelical Christian sects, as well as some other protestant bodies. The details of their various stances are too great to go into, but generally they tend to associate Freemasonry with the occult, and therefore satanism, witchcraft, etc. Another common thread among both Evangelicals and Islamic people is the idea that Freemasonry is a Jewish conspiracy, mostly based on the prominent symbolism of Solomon’s Temple.

In general, those religious groups most opposed to Freemasonry are also those who are most opposed to freedom of religious thought, and those which are friendliest towards it are the most religiously liberal. Regardless of this, Freemasonry itself welcomes people of any particular faith.

Freemasonry and Non-Abrahamic Faiths

The relationship of Freemasonry to other belief systems outside the domain of hinduism and freemasonryAbrahamic religions follows the same aforementioned pattern; however, since non-Abrahamic religions tend to be less restrictive on personal freedom of thought, the relationship tends to be more often positive or neutral.

Hinduism in India, for instance, is generally accepting of all forms of worship as being within the myriad ways in which one can come to know God, Brahman or the absolute, and as such, freemasonry is usually regarded as another one of those ways, albeit one from a totally different cultural context, the West. Just as Hindus can accept Christ as a great saint, so they can usually accept freemasonry as a spiritual practice. Because of the British imperial rule, Freemasonry has had a presence there, and some believe that freemasonry has played some part in merging of East and West in India.

Likewise, there is not much in Buddhism which is opposed to masonic ideals and practices, and many masons practice some form of it. Today, some orders of freemasonry, most notably Universal Co-Masonry, are particularly friendly towards Eastern philosophy in general, even sometimes using the Vedas or I-Ching as our volumes of sacred lore. This is due in part to our historical ties to Theosophy, and consideration of the Eastern origins of much of Western esoteric tradition.

Lastly, what about Interfaith, Wiccan, Neo-shamanic, Pagan, New Age, and similar non-denominational, eclectic forms of spirituality? As with every other belief system, these should be welcome in freemasonry, so long as they believe in a singular, primary Higher Power, regardless of various sub-deities which may also be worshiped.

hermeticism and freemasonryAs far as which Order of Freemasonry this type of person might find most compatible, the main thing to consider is the culture of the brothers in the lodge; the more liberal and universal, the better. Membership in a primarily Christian or Muslim lodge may be possible, but might still feel out-of-place.

In that sense, Universal Co-Masonry, which is generally more religiously liberal as well as more mystically or spiritually oriented, is likely to be a more comfortable community for anyone on this type of path, the difference being primarily not in the rituals themselves, which are much the same as masculine masonry, but in the culture of the membership, and of course the lack of segregation by gender, race, or any other attributes.

What Can The Egyptian Book of the Dead Teach Us About The Masonic Life?

What Can The Egyptian Book of the Dead Teach Us About The Masonic Life?

While Freemasonry is known for secrecy, it’s no secret that we trace the origins of our rituals and teachings to the ancient mystery schools of Egypt; many masonic writers, such as Manly P. Hall, have publicly stated this. While there is disagreement among academic historians about the true origins of the Order, Freemasons do tend to believe in this ancient source of the mystic teachings, and we can also be relatively certain that the esoteric wisdom traditions which are the antecedents to speculative masonry, such as Hermeticism and Alchemy, are connected to the ancient Egyptian mystery schools.

This means that, in  my opinion, anytime we look at something from Egypt, we should try to look at it masonically; that is, we should try to interpret the inner meaning of it, to see the truth behind the symbols.

One of the most fascinating writings we have from the ancient Egyptian traditions is known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Alternatively translated as The Book of Emerging Forth Into the Light, or The Book of Becoming Light, this book of “spells” is thought to have been written by many priests over a period of perhaps 1,000 years, as a guide for death, to be read aloud to the dying. There are different versions, with different combinations of spells, and 192 total spells are known, from all versions.

A Guide to the Initiation Beyond Death

Egyptian AfterlifeWhile having a guidebook to read to a dying person to lead them through the afterlife is an interesting concept in itself, what may be more profound is to examine the book and what it might tell us about life, and perhaps even the masonic life.

It may help here to have some context of the Egyptian conception of life, the universe, and magic. To the ancient Egyptians, magic permeated the world, and words in themselves were inherently magical. Consequently, to the Egyptians, there was little difference between written/spoken words and magic. All writings were essentially magical. Likewise, knowing the name of something was thought to give power over it. There was not such a stark line, in Egyptian thought, between the ordinary world we experience with our senses, and the invisible worlds of spirit. All the layers of existence were thought to overlap, and interweave.

The story of the Book of the Dead is that of a soul passing through death, into eternal life. To do so, he must pass through the underworld, or Duat, and overcome various supernatural creatures by charming them with magic incantations, in a sort of trial of initiation into the afterlife. At the end of the trial, if the soul hadn’t first been consumed by one of the creatures, or destroyed by Osiris’s minions, then he would be weighed by Osiris against the Goddess of Truth and Justice, Maat. In other words, the soul was a candidate and had to pass tests and trials in order to prove him/herself worthy to live among the immortals.

The Initiatory Model for Life, Death, and Beyond

Egyptian Book of the DeadMuch of this should sound familiar to any Freemason, and it seems clear that there is an element of this Egyptian ritual in those which are preserved in Freemasonry, at least in their essence. Clearly there is an allusion to death and immortality in both, but how does this “model” of initiation, so-to-speak, relate to what Masonry teaches us about life?

Essentially, life is a series of initiations, or one large initiation with phases, if you will. We are perpetually confronted with situations which challenge our integrity, our determination, our wisdom, and our compassion. Virtue is not magically granted from the sky, it is honed, it is earned, it is built from the ground up. Becoming the best man or woman that we can be is hard work, and requires sacrifice and difficulty. Particularly when we choose to follow the path of the initiate, life has a way of throwing even more trials our way, because karmically (many believe), we have chosen an accelerated path, by seeking initiation.

Throughout life, much like the soul entering the Egyptian underworld, we are faced with various situations, most of which are actually in our minds. Of course, the outer circumstances must serve as props, but the real monsters to be charmed and pacified are within us, they are the baser aspects of our own nature, and a large part of masonry is indeed overcoming these creatures within us. There may even be something to be said about the Egyptian concept of using the magic of words to charm these creatures, especially considering the insights of NLP, hypnosis, and similar methodologies, but that’s a subject for another post. More symbolically, we can view the magic of the spoken word as the creative and expressive capacity within us.

Initiation as Evolution

burialegyptianmsoul11Does this also pertain literally to the afterlife? As someone who takes an interests in Near Death Experiences (NDEs), in my opinion, it is reasonable to think so. Based on what we have learned from NDE research, it does indeed seem that we may sometimes have to pass through a realm of astral darkness, which depending on our own state of mind may contain monstrous beings or obstacles, before arriving at the Light. When people get to the light, they almost invariably go through their entire life in a flash of holographic memory, where they experience everything they ever did, and also how it affected other people. Essentially, this is a weighing of the scales, a measurement of our life’s actions against justice, or what was right. In this way, I believe that there is an element of literal truth in the Egyptian Book of Coming Forth Into the Light.

The subtler truth, however, is even more interesting to me. Because, in a way, it is grander. Even if this process is literally what we experience when we die (approximately), what about when we are born again? Is the goal of the reincarnation process that our soul will one day weigh perfectly against the scales of justice, to avoid rebirth into the physical, i.e. to have no karma? If we take a Vedantic perspective, the answer would be yes. In that context, even multiple lives, much like the many experiences we have in one life, are really just phases of a larger initiation, into something even greater. Is there any end to this initiatory process?

I suppose it’s possible, but for my money, I would say probably not. I think the process of creation/initiation goes on indefinitely, infinitely, forever. We are always becoming something more, whether slowly or quickly. Essentially, this is the process of evolution. By choosing Freemasonry, we’ve simply opted for the catalyzed reaction – the accelerated evolution. As such, we must face each catalyst that comes our way with steadfastness, equanimity, willpower, compassion, and the magic of creativity, intuition, and divine communion, if we wish to be worthy of being freed from, or perhaps more accurately, to complete the initiation of the life/death cycle. 

 

The Mystery: Why Does It Matter?

The Mystery: Why Does It Matter?

“Why do you care whether there is a God, or extraterrestrials, reincarnation, or any of that? What relevance does it have to your life?”

This is a question which I have often heard, in one form or another, when bringing up topics related to the mysteries of life, from those who are not typically inclined to ponder them. Personally, I have always found the mysteries irresistible, so this common refrain has always been somewhat baffling to me. How could you really not care whether there is a God, or extra-terrestrial life? Such apathy toward the ultimate questions of life seems unfathomable, to me.

Indeed, those who find themselves involved in Freemasonry are generally those who are inclined to explore these questions, and this is part of what draws us to the craft, esotericism in general, and what is often referred to literally as The Mysteries. This is also why the fellowship of a brotherhood of truth seekers is so precious to those who find it, because our kind so often feel alone in a world full of those who care more about their bank balance, newest electronic gadget, or mundane interpersonal dramas than the quest for ultimate reality.

So, like a fish trying to describe the ocean, for a long time it was difficult for me to articulate why these things matter to me so much when this question arose. However, I eventually did manage to create some semblance of an explanation, which I would like to share with you now. Perhaps by reading this, you will have a new answer in your repertoire the next time someone asks why you seek truth.

The short version is: I care about the mystery because the mystery is the ultimate context of my existence, and context is absolutely everything; the context of a thing defines that thing and gives it meaning. Allow me to explicate.

The Universal Existential Constant

VitruvianManThe human condition is defined by a finite or limited conscious existence, and a mystery beyond it. In fact, I believe that this is probably the condition of not just humans, but any entity, since any finite consciousness is always limited, by definition. If it had no limits, it would not be an “entity,” it would be infinite.

In other words, there are things you directly experience, and there are things beyond that, with a gradient boundary between them. Regardless of how far your awareness may expand, there is, a priori, always a boundary to it and always something beyond that boundary, which to you is a mystery.

The only possible exception to this would be if our awareness became infinite, perhaps, but we cannot really imagine that. Barring the hypothetical exception of infinity, there is always a boundary to conscious existence, and therefore, a mystery beyond it.

This would presumably also be true for any self-aware finite entity, from the lowliest worm to the most vast super-intelligent species, or even advanced spiritual beings. If they are not infinite, then it seems to me that their existence must have this structure: the known, the unknown, and the boundary between.

The Existential Island in an Ocean of Mind

9d5f825306d964f0b1fe99d921e05627One helpful metaphor is to think of our existence as a sphere, like a planet. That planet has its basic substance or ground, which for us is our direct sensory awareness. These are the things we are most certain of, because we directly experience them, and in this metaphor, they are our ground or earth, which also relates to our colloquial sayings about being “grounded” in reality. This is the reality to which we refer, our most certain, sensory reality, the bedrock of our experience.

Then, there is another layer which is beyond the ground of sensory experience, but which is near enough to be relatively certain; you can liken this to the atmosphere of our metaphorical “planet” of existence. For us, these would be facts outside of our senses, but nevertheless trustworthy, thanks to evidence and logic (to put it briefly).

For instance, I can be relatively certain that oxygen exists, a faraway country like Russia is really there, and that I have a liver, even though I’ve never truly seen or experienced any of those things. Thus, there are things I have not directly experienced, yet of which I am relatively certain. Here is where the boundary begins.

Finally, beyond that of which we are relatively certain, there is the larger Mystery, about which we ponder, and upon which we weave the fabric of our beliefs, by combining reason with imagination. To continue our planet metaphor, this would be the vast starry expanse in which our planet is suspended. Just as the cosmos is the context of a planet, whatever is beyond the boundaries of the ground and atmosphere of our existence forms the context of it.

Thus, the mystery is the context of our existence, and is experienced purely in the realm of imagination, hopefully tempered by reason. Regardless of what is actually “out there” beyond what we know with varying degrees of certainty, our experiential existence floats in a cosmos of mind and imagination because we can only imagine and reason about what is beyond the boundary of our experience and certainty.

Not only that, but no matter how far we expand our knowledge and experience, it always will float in an ocean of imagination and mystery, because that seems to be the inherent structure of any finite, experiential entity. How else could it be?

Context is Everything

a52f2b4eede4932789bf0d916be16850So, “Fine,” you might say, “the mystery is the context; why should the context matter to me?” My answer to this is that the meaning of anything essentially is derived from its context. Let’s take a very concrete example: a bar fight.

Let’s say that you witness a fight break out between two men in a bar. If you know absolutely nothing about the context of this fight, it will mean very little to you; perhaps you may have some thoughts about the volatility of alcohol and testosterone when combined in too great a quantity. In other words, to you, it is a relatively meaningless occurrence.

Let’s say that you now expand your knowledge, when someone tells you that the reason they fought is that one man was sleeping with the other’s wife. Now, to you, this is a very different bar fight, is it not? Yet, it is the same bar fight; it is the context of it in your own mind and imagination that has changed. Let’s say that you hear from yet another person that the reason the affair occurred in the first place is that the husband was abusing her; yet again, another vastly different bar fight.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that your spiritual “third eye” suddenly opened, and you were able to see that this was an unfolding of karmic patterns through time that had been in motion for thousands of years between these two souls, as they weave a pattern of flesh-bound experiences in and out of various bodies and lifetimes, trying to find a balance and transcend the illusory nature of this physical reality, for their ultimate mutual enlightenment. Yet again, a totally new bar fight, with a totally different meaning.

Why? Because with every expansion of your knowledge of the context of the fight, your experience of the fight transforms. The same is true of your entire experiential existence, the same principle is in operation every time you learn, and explore the mysteries.

That, my friends, is my answer to the question of why the mystery matters. To me, this is like something I had always subtly known but for the longest time had difficulty articulating. Perhaps it may strike you the same way, as almost obvious, yet novel in it’s explanation; or, perhaps you somehow disagree, in which case I would love to hear your perspective.

Either way, I hope that you have enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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