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

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

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

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


 

Air

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

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

Fire

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

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

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

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

The Elements in Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

Can You Make the Climb?

Can You Make the Climb?

The Three Initiates, who authored the book The Kybalion, speak of seven Hermetic principles that guide the Universe. One of those principles is the Law of Polarity. In brief, this law says that qualities such as love and hate, fear and confusion, etc. are truly the same quality of life that differs only in gradient.

The Kybalion uses a great exemplar when it mentions hot and cold. There is no scientific line drawing thethe kybalion thermometer in half saying, “any object who measures above this number is hot and any that falls below is cold.”

There is no more a line for hot and cold as there is for any pair of opposites. This may be a strange thing, but try it for yourself. Take a particular vice and locate its virtue. Now try to see if you can find a concrete division between the two. When does the vice become a virtue? When does the virtue move into its vice? Finding the changing point is much harder than realized. It is much akin to trying draw a physical line on the ground for when you first clear the fog. Near impossible.

Now ask yourself what the “opposite” of Science is, and my bet is you will say Religion. Most do. Why? Because it seems that Religion is the other pole to a fundamental principle pendulum. These two are a particular expression of the greater idea of Knowledge.

Let’s us apply the Law of Polarity to Religion and Science. Imagine yourself on a small newton-s-cradle-balls-sphere-action-60582silver ball that is tied to a string and that string is swinging towards one pole, then the other, and then back again. Continually moving in this way. There is sort of an exhilaration to it, yes? Swinging back and forth hearing the cacophony of arguments rushing in our ears. The adrenaline of this rhythmic movement plays the background music of the constant Science-Religion debate, enticing us to stay; however, it is time we stand up to temptation.

There are several problems that plague this never-ending battle between Science and Religion. One of the problems (and there are many) is the great misunderstanding of the purpose of Science. There are those on both sides who claim that Science is in pursuit of Truth, but this is simply not so. Unfortunately, the philosophy of science is not a common topic at parties or dinner tables (or many science classrooms); so the masses are mostly unaware of the purpose of Science. Don’t worry such discussions didn’t exist at my dinner table either.

To be clear, Science is not in the pursuit of Truth, and true Science, unadulterated Science. will never be. The very foundational reasoning behind it precludes this possibility. Rather, Science is in the pursuit of understanding. It wants to understand how your genetic sequence works, the health affects of that coffee you are drinking, and how to make the plastic you use safer. Science is looking to improve its understanding with every new discovery, and it is rightfully unapologetic in doing so. The late Richard Feynman said Science can only tell you how a thing works, not why it works.

Truth requires more than just knowing the how. It requires so much more. There is a freedom to not being the custodian of Truth, and we should liberate our misconceptionsSimilarities-Between-Science-and-Religion of Science as that custodian.

The debate between Science and Religion will most likely never end. The pendulum will always swing; we cannot get off this particular ride. Hate won’t do it; apathy especially won’t. But that doesn’t mean we have to engage in the incivility that cloaks ignorance occurring on both sides.

Let us do what The Kybalion speaks to. Climb up. Climb the string so that we are swayed less by misquoted “facts” and down right mud-slinging. The climb isn’t difficult.

Pick up a book, read more than one article and from different points of view, but most of all ask questions and speak less. Science has ever been the observer, the person in the field looking up at the night sky asking why – not hollering the question at his neighbor. Human beings seek. We have all our existence, and what better place to best see the landscape than at the highest point of the pendulum? At the top of the string.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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