The Sun, Moon, and Stars

The Sun, Moon, and Stars

WE have more right to be astonished that the astronomical references are so few, rather than to be surprised that there are so many!  We are taught that geometry and Masonry were originally synonymous terms and geometry, fifth of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, is given more prominence in our Fellowcraft degree than the seventh, Astronomy. Yet, the beginnings of astronomy far antedate the earliest geometrician. Indeed, geometry came into existence to answer the ceaseless questionings of man as to the “why” of celestial phenomena. 

In these modern days, it is difficult to visualize the vital importance of the heavens generally, to early man. We can hardly conceive of their terror of the eclipse and the comet or sense their veneration for the Sun and his bride, the Moon. We are too well educated. We know too much about “the proportions which connect this vast machine.”  

ANCIENT IMPORT OF THE HEAVENS

THE astronomer has pushed back the frontiers of his science beyond the inquiries of most of us; the questions which occur as a result of unaided visual observations have all been answered.  We have substituted facts for fancies regarding the sun, the moon, the solar system, the comet, and the eclipse.  

Albert Pike, the great Masonic student “who found Masonry in a hovel and left her in a palace” says:

WE cannot, even in the remotest degree, feel, though we may partially and imperfectly imagine, how those great, primitive, simple-hearted children of Nature, felt in regard to the Starry Hosts, thereupon the slopes of the Himalayas, on the Chaldean plains, in the Persian and Median deserts, and upon the banks of the great, strange River, the Nile. To them the universe was alive – instinct with forces and powers, mysterious and beyond their comprehension. To them it was no machine, no great system of clockwork; but a great live creature, in sympathy with or inimical to man. To them, all was a mystery and a miracle, and the stars flashing overhead spoke to their hearts almost in an audible language. Jupiter, with its kingly splendors, was the Emperor of the starry legions. Venus looked lovingly on the earth and blessed it; Mars with his crimson fires threatened war and misfortune; and Saturn, cold and grave, chilled and repelled them. The ever-changing moon, faithful companion of the sun, was a constant miracle and wonder; the Sun himself the visible emblem of the creative and generative power. To them, the earth was a great plain, over which the sun, the moon, and the planets revolved, its servants, framed to give it light.

Of the stars, some were beneficent existences that brought with them Spring-time and fruits and flowers – some, faithful, sentinels, advising them of coming inundations, of the season of storm and of deadly winds some heralds of evil, which, steadily foretelling. they seemed to cause. To them, the eclipses were portents of evil, and their causes hidden in mystery, and supernatural.  The regular returns of the stars, the comings of Arcturus, Orion, Sirius, the Pleides, and Aldebaran; and the journeyings of the Sun, were voluntary and not mechanical to them. What wonder that astronomy became to them the most important of sciences; that those who learned it became rulers; and that vast edifices, the pyramids, the tower or Temple of Bel, and other like erections elsewhere in the East, were builded for astronomical purposes? – and what wonder that, in their great childlike simplicity, they worshipped the Light, the Sun, the Planets, and the stars; and personified them, and eagerly believed in the histories invented for them; in that age when the capacity for belief was infinite; as indeed, if we but reflect, it still is and ever will be?

– Bro. Albert Pike

Anglo-Saxons usually consider history as their history; science as their science; religion as their religion. This somewhat naive viewpoint is hardly substantiated by a less egoistic survey of knowledge. Columbus’s sailors believed they would “fall off the edge” of a flat world, yet Pythagoras knew the earth to be a ball.  The ecliptic was known before Solomon’s Temple was built.  The Chinese predicted eclipses long, long before the Europeans of the middle age quit regarding them as portents of doom!

FREEMASONRY’S ANCIENT ASTRONOMICAL LORE

THE Astronomical lore of Freemasonry is very old. The foundations of our degrees are far more ancient than we can prove by documentary evidence. It is surely not stretching credulity to believe that the study which antedates “Geometry, the first and noblest of sciences,” must have been impressed on our Order, its ceremonies and its symbols, long before Preston and Webb worked their ingenious revolutions in our rituals and gave us the system of degrees we use – in one form or another – today.

The astronomical references in our degrees begin with the points of the compass; East, West, and South; and the place of darkness, the North.  We are taught the reason why the North is a place of darkness by the position of Solomon’s Temple with reference to the ecliptic, a most important astronomical conception.  The Sun is the Past Master’s own symbol; our Masters rule their lodges – or are supposed to! – with the same regularity with the Sun rules the day and the Moon governs the night.  Our explanation of our Lesser Lights is obviously an adaption of a concept which dates back to the earliest of religions; specifically, to the Egyptian Isis, Osiris, and Horus; represented by the Sun, Moon, and Venus.

Circumambulation about the Altar is in imitation of the course of the Sun.  We traverse our lodges from East to West by way of the South, as did the Sun Worshipers who thus imitated the daily passage of their deity through the heavens. Measures of time are wholly a matter of astronomy. Days and nights were before man, and consequently before astronomy, but hours and minutes, high twelve and low twelve, are inventions of the mind, depending upon the astronomical observation of the Sun at Meridian to determine noon, and consequently all other periods of time.  Indeed, we are taught this in the Middle Chamber work, in which we give to Geometry the premier place as a means by which the astronomer may “fix the duration of time and seasons, years and cycles.”

PILLARS AND GLOBES OF THE LODGE

Porch of King Solomon’s Temple

ATOP the Pillars, representing those in the porch of King Solomon’s Temple, appear the terrestrial and celestial globes. In the Fellowcraft degree, we are told in beautiful and poetic language that “numberless worlds are around us, all framed by the same Divine Artist, which roll through the vast expanse and are all conducted by the same unerring law of nature.”

Our Ancient Brethren, observing that the sun rose and set, easily determining East and West in a general way. As the rises and sets through a variation of 47 degrees north and south during a six-month period the determination were not exact. The earliest Chaldean stargazers, progenitors of the astronomers of later ages, saw that the apparently revolving heavens pivoted on a point nearly coincident with a certain star.  We know that the true north diverges about from the North Star one and one-half degrees, but their observations were sufficiently accurate to determine a North – and consequently East, West, and South. The reference to the ecliptic in the Sublime Degree has puzzled many a brother who has not studied the elements of astronomy. The earliest astronomers defined the ecliptic as the hypothetical “circular” plane of the earth’s path about the sun, with the sun in the “center.”

As a matter of fact, the sun is not in the center and the earth’s path about the sun is not circular. The earth travels once about the sun in three hundred and sixty-five days, and a fraction, on an “elliptic” path; the sun is at one of the foci of that ellipse. The axis of the earth, about which it turns once in twenty-four hours, thus making a night and a day, is inclined to this hypothetical plane by 23 and one-half degrees.  At one point in its yearly path, the north pole of the earth is inclined towards the sun by this amount. Halfway further around in its path the north pole is inclined away from the sun by this angle. The longest day in the northern hemisphere – June 21st – occurs when the north pole is most inclined toward the sun.

Ant building situated between latitudes 23 and one-half north and 23 and one-half south of the equator, will receive the rays of the sun at meridian (high twelve, or noon) from the north at some time during the year.  King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem, being in latitude 31 degrees 47 seconds north, lay beyond this limit.  At no time in the year, therefore, did the sun or moon at meridian “darts its rays into the northerly portion thereof.”

As astronomy in Europe is comparatively modern, some have argued that this reason for considering the North, Masonically, as a place of darkness, must also be comparatively modern. This is wholly mistaken – Pythagoras (to go further back) recognized the obliquity of the world’s axis to the ecliptic, as well as that the earth was a sphere suspended in space.  While Pythagoras (510 B.C.) is much younger than Solomon’s Temple, he is almost two thousand years older than the beginnings of astronomy in Europe.

UNIVERSALITY AND SYMBOLISM

THE “world celestial and terrestrial” on the brazen pillars were added by modern ritual makers.  Solomon knew them not, but contemporaries of Solomon believed the heavens to be a sphere revolving around the earth.  To them the earth stood still; a hollow sphere with its inner surface dotted with stars.  The slowly turning “celestial sphere” is as old as mankind’s observations of the “starry decked heavens.”

It is to be noted that terrestrial and celestial spheres are both used as emblems of universality.  They are not mere duplications for emphasis; they teach their own individual part of “universality.”  What is “universal” on the earth – as for instance, the necessity of mankind to breathe, drink water, and eat in order to live – is not necessarily “universal” in all the universe.  We have no knowledge that any other planet in our solar system is inhabited – what evidence there is, is rather to the contrary.  

We have no knowledge that any other sun has any inhabited planets in its system.  Neither have we any knowledge that they have not.  If life does exist in some other, to us unknown world, it may be entirely different from life on this planet. Hence, a symbol of universality, which applied only to earth would be a self-contradiction.

Real Universality means what it says. It appertains to the whole universe. While a Mason’s Charity, considered as giving relief to the poor and distressed, must obviously be confined to this particular planet, his charity of thought may, so we are taught, extend “through the boundless realms of eternity.” Hence “the world terrestrial” and “the world celestial” on our representations of the pillars, in denoting universality means that the principles of our Order are not founded upon mere earthly conditions and transient truths, but rest upon Divine and limitless foundations, coexistent with the whole cosmos and its creator.

We are taught of the “All-Seeing Eye whom the Sun, Moon, and Stars obey and under whose watchful care even comets perform their stupendous revolutions.” In this astronomical reference is, oddly enough, a potent argument, both for the extreme care in the transmission of ritual unchanged from mouth to ear, and the urgent necessity of curbing well-intentioned brethren who wish to “improve” the ritual.

The word “revolution” in this paragraph (it is so printed in the earliest Webb monitors) fixes it as a comparatively modern conception.  Tycho Brahe, progenitor of the modern maker and user of fine instruments among astronomers, whose discoveries have left an indelible impression on astronomy, made no attempt to consider comets as orbital bodies.  Galileo thought them “emanations of the atmosphere.”  Not until the seventeenth century was well underway did a few daring spirits suggest that these celestial portents of evil, these terribly heavenly demons which had inspired terror in the hearts of men for uncounted generations, were actually parts of the solar system and that many if not most of them were periodic, actually returning again and again; in other words, that they revolved about the sun.

Obviously, then, this passage of our ritual cannot have come down to us by a “word of mouth” transmission from an epoch earlier than that in which men first commenced to believe that a comet was not an augury of evil but a part of the solar system.  The so-called “lunar lodges” have far more a practical than an astronomical basis.  

The Milky Way Credit: 9NewsDenver

In the early days of Masonry, both in England and in this country, many if not most lodges, met on dates fixed in advance, but according to the time when the moon was full; not because the moon “Governed” the night, but because it illuminated the traveler’s path! In days when roads were but muddy paths between town and hamlet, when any journey was hazardous and on black nights dangerous in the extreme, the natural illumination of the moon, making the road easy to find and the depredations of highwaymen the more difficult, was a matter of some moment!  One final curious derivation of a Masonic symbol from the heavens and we are through.  The symbol universally associated with the Stewards of a Masonic lodge is the cornucopia.

According to the mythology of the Greeks, which goes back to the very dawn of civilization, the God Zeus was nourished in infancy from the milk of a goat, Amalthea. In gratitude, the God placed Amalthea forever in the heavens as a constellation, but first gave one of Amalthea’s horns to his nurses with the assurance that it would forever pour for them whatever they desired!  The “horn of plenty,” or the cornucopia, is thus a symbol of abundance.  The goat from which it came may be found by the curious among the constellations under the name of Capricorn.  The “Tropic of Capricorn” of our school days is the southern limit of the swing of the sun on the path which marks the ecliptic, on which it inclines first its north and then its south pole towards our luminary.  Hence there is a connection, not the less direct for being tenuous, between out Stewards, their symbol, the lights in the lodge, the “place of darkness” and Solomon’s Temple.

Of such curious links and interesting bypaths is the study of astronomy and its connection with Freemasonry, the more beautiful when we see eye to eye with the Psalmist in the Great Light:

“The Heavens Declare the Glory of God and the Firmament Sheweth His Handiwork.”


* Originally Published: SHORT TALK BULLETIN – Vol.VIII, March 1930, No.3.

The Masculine of Freemasonry

The Masculine of Freemasonry

IF someone had asked me 30 years ago if Freemasonry was masculine, I would have said: “Is there anything else?” I’m speaking of course about the mainstream idea, over the past three hundred years or so, that all Freemasons must be masculine. I was not erudite enough to realize that there were far, far more meanings to “masculine” and “feminine” than I believed, as there are far more than “just” masculine Freemasons. I was learned in some esoteric traditions but found out that I had a long, lifetime journey in front of me.

To what I am referencing are the many traditions that transcend gender as a sexual, physical attribution. As I noted earlier in another essay, gender is referenced here as specific to virtues and attributes that transcend the physical. Why do we call something masculine? Why do we call it feminine?

In this essay, I will be focusing on the masculine attributes, aspects, and virtues of Freemasonry – not the gender of its adherents. Remember that true Freemasonry seeks to unite, not divide; it seeks to create order out of chaos, harmony from cacophony, and solidarity amongst all creatures.

That said, why do we call some aspects of Masonry feminine and masculine. I think in order to dissect this, you may see that the core of Freemasonry comes out of the ancient mystery schools and has roots in Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Stoicism, Neo-platonism. It is a mixture of philosophy and wisdom born of the needs of its human wielders. It is ritual and word that are combined to bring about the evolution of humanity. It is no mere repetition of plays from medieval stone worker guilds; that said, even these medieval stonemasons play a part in the gender of the ritual and philosophy of Freemasonry. Let’s explore…

GENDER IN THE RITUAL AND PHILOSOPHY OF FREEMASONRY

MANY of us are trapped in the idea of gender as given to us in our media, by our families and friends, and even taught in schools. We see gender as a division, one or the other. Gender, in the hands of the wise philosopher, is fluid and non-physical. There is a divine masculine just as there is a divine feminine, and it is as important as the feminine. Where the feminine is receptive and gives form, the masculine is forceful, outward, and expansive, as well as liberating, freeing. It is giving and generous; think of The Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. That is masculine. In Kabbalah, the masculine is the Pillar of Mercy – not because it is merciful but because of its liberating nature. The Pillar of Severity, the feminine, is labeled severe because of its constrained and passive nature. Because of these natures, one might see the masculine as unrestrained chaos, and indeed, they might be right.

When we think of the Masonic ritual, the one bit of chaos that is consistent is the human initiate, the neophyte. The neophyte is all “outside world,” bringing with them the unrestrained passions, emotions, and physicalness that the non-Masonic world has to offer. They come to be changed, to find balance – yet we must always retain our humanity. Our chaos. Anyone who has sat in any Lodge meeting will understand whence this chaos comes, and how it can expand. In this way, the masculine seems most evident in the Apprentice; all that human chaos has come to be subdued. Not subjugated, not eliminated – subdued. We come to be refined, not erased. Our modern world tends to be masculine in nature; it resonates with masculine, unrestrained energy, and growth. Freemasonry is a sanctuary to explore the balance that we humans were mean to embrace.

The exercise of ritual in Freemasonry also generates gender qualities in its energies. When we think of the masculine or feminine, we must consider the movements made during a ceremony, or even during the opening and closing of ritual. How do our officers move and what are they doing when they perform specific actions? Do they use a right hand? Do they use the right foot? What side of their bodies are being affected? What side of their minds? These are questions to which gender qualities can be applied – are they being expansive, assertive, forceful, outward, or giving? If so, these would be masculine qualities. I would challenge the Freemason to always look for the corresponding feminine action or officers. Freemasonry is overt in its display of polarity, gender, and unity if one keeps looking.

When it comes to the symbols of Freemasonry, what might act as masculine at one point becomes feminine in another. Degrees, with their different stories and lessons, shows us this over and over again. In this, we have to look at how each is employed and by which hand, or which side of the body. Wands or swords, anything carried in the right hand is masculine, expansive, or triggering growth. What side is put forward at what time? This not only triggers the masculine energy but alerts our whole body and mind to balance. Freemasonry seeks balance, harmony, and unity. Whatever is done by the left will eventually be balanced on the right. It is inevitable.

Some symbols are displayed consistently and should be of consideration so as to give us clues about the actions of officers, neophytes, and in Ceremony. We know that Freemasonry is a Western esoteric tradition, built on many different Western philosophies. For example, for the majority of Western cultures, the Sun has a masculine, forceful connotation while the Moon is feminine, displaying its reflective nature. Stars tend toward neutrality. Think of the languages of the Western world and you will see some of these gender qualities reflected in the culture. While this is not always the case, language can tell us a great deal about our own paradigms. The vigilant Freemason will realize that there are some symbols that are fairly constant in Lodge. Those constant symbols tend to be those of the celestial nature; the symbols that change their gender qualities tend to be those in which a human is involved – either in their creation or their use.

THE HERMETIC PRINCIPLE OF GENDER

MANY volumes of sacred writings discuss the masculine and feminine working together to achieve this balance. The Kybalion talks at length about the Hermetic Principle of Gender.

Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.~ The Kybalion

The Masculine is seen as will or strength the actual force to move matter, thoughts, or ideas. In Freemasonry, this is evident in the catechism of part of the Apprentice degree: while the heart may come up with a plan (feminine), or the brain scheme (neutrality), we need the force of work, using our hands, to actually create and execute the desired action (masculine): be it physical, mental, or spiritual. If we take the Hermetic principles together, as discussed gnostically in the Kybalion, these gender principles existing on all planes are, using the Mind (the first law – Mentalism), the source of all creation. Indeed, the root of the word gender, as spoken about previously, means generation, creation, or regeneration. Humans are, on all levels and on all planes, meant to create.

THE BALANCE OF GENDERS IN TAOISM AND HINDUISM

four elements masonic

TAOISM is gender-neutral but emphasizes the equality and need of having a balance of genders, of masculine and feminine. In fact, the qualities of Yin Qi and Yang Qi are necessary to be in balance in order for creation to actually happen. In the cosmology of the Tao, the dual natures are necessary to create the Five Elements and indeed, the Ten Thousand Things. In Hinduism, the same concepts exist; the feminine power resides in all beings but it requires the masculine spark of force to trigger creation. The Vedas speak about the Absolute (The One) being genderless, and physical gender necessary for the smooth function of society; the masculine and feminine have complementary roles to play in the physical world. All of this mimics the human creation experience physically, and as I believe, Freemasonry is emphasizing, mentally, and spiritually as well.

KING SOLOMON, WISDOM, AND CREATION

KING Solomon considered Wisdom to be feminine and a part of the divine’s ability to create the universe. The “I” in the following passage is “Wisdom,” as defined in Chapter 8, Verse 22 of Proverbs: “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.” Wisdom goes on to say:


The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.

When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary,
So that the water would not transgress His command.

When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men.

~ New American Standard Bible, Proverbs 8:22-29


I take this to mean that the idea of “wisdom” here is also the idea of concept, idea, vision. The force of creation (masculine) requires that wisdom (feminine) to create something which continues; this harkens back to the concept in the Kybalion in the natural law that requires the force, or will, to bring forth the vision of beauty. In a Freemason’s ritual, this might be explained as wisdom needing strength, to bring forth beauty. The feminine requires the masculine to become manifest – to be created.

While we continue to struggle with the ideas of human (physical) gender, perhaps we can explore the idea of gender, the creative principle, within a more philosophical state, and perhaps, find a measure of equality in all aspects of our lives. To me, a Freemason, that seems like a worthy goal – one that could benefit all of Humanity.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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