Baseball: America’s Esoteric Pastime?

Baseball: America’s Esoteric Pastime?

It’s difficult to deny America’s status as a state profoundly influenced by esotericism, and specifically Masonry, from it’s very inception. From the number of influential Masons in American history, to the Masonic design of Washington D.C. and many other capital monuments of individual states, and the blatant esoteric symbolism on the American dollar itself – not believing it is simply being either ignorant of the extent of the evidence, or in denial.

So, what else that is quintessentially American has mostly unseen esoteric, and perhaps Masonic significance? In recent articles I’ve discussed Masonic ties to jazz, said to be the only purely American genre of music, and today I’ll present the case that none other than the Great American Pastime, the sport of baseball, may have been influenced by Theosophists and Freemasons in it’s early history, and might carry esoteric symbolism throughout its structure and rules.

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

The Diamond and the Checkered Green

From the beginning, this all might sound a bit like frantic conspiracy theorizing, even if it’s not particularly conspiratorial per se, if we didn’t first acknowledge the well-known fact that one of the central figures of early baseball coming into its modern form, Abner Doubleday, was a Theosophist, and another important figure in it’s early days was a Freemason by the name of Alexander CartwrightWhether Abner or Alexander were truly the sole or primary progenitors of the game is heavily debated, but even if it arose as more of a gradual evolution from its recreational ancestor Rounders, the many esoteric symbols and numbers are difficult to explain away.

esoteric baseballFor starters, there’s the diamond shape of the baseball field itself. While most major sports are played in bipolar rectangles (think soccer, football, hockey, basketball, etc.), baseball is the only one to take place on a diamond, which strongly resembles a square and compass, especially when viewed from the perspective of behind second base, which would make home plate the circular apex of the compass. Whether inverted or not, there’s clearly a resemblance, and the fact that the square end is in dirt may also be related to the earthly qualities said to be represented by right angles.

To take it even further, many baseball fields have recently begun to be mowed in a checkerboard fashion, perhaps unwittingly adding to the Masonic overtones.

All Freemasons will also begin to recognize some similarities of the shape of the field, placement of the bases, and journey of the batter to elements of a Lodge, which I won’t allude to here very concretely. Many may also be surprised and interested to find that the journey of the batter around the bases, in the historical origins of the game, was in reverse of the direction it runs now. The shape of home plate, where the player both begins and ends, may strike a cord. 

A Game of Threes

Three is a number with mystical significance to many esoteric teachings, and Freemasonry is no exception. The 3° being the pivotal point at which a Mason becomes a Master Mason, and the 33° being the penultimate achievement of Masonry, and many other instances of 3 in Masonic Life and Lodge are themselves, of course, symbolic allusions to the deeper significance of the number three. As it so happens, baseball is a game entirely based on 3, and multiples thereof.

The scoring of baseball occurs in threes: 3 strikes, 3 outs, 9 innings, 9 positions, 27 total outs, and 81 each of either at home games or away games. Of course, 3 and 9 have quite interesting mathematical properties in and of themselves, which is partly why they are considered sacred by so many traditions. Nine times any other number equals something which is numerologically nine, and also which divides the ten fingers into it’s product, to name just a couple of it’s “mathemagical” properties

Take Me Out to the Soul Game

Some have also read even further symbolic significance into the nature of how baseball is played, as a metaphor for the soul’s gnostic journey. By such an account, the pitcher is seen as the demiurge throwing obstacles at the batter, who is the individual soul, who must use exact timing and precision to attempt to hit the ball out of the park, representing the soul leaving the limited world of physicality, and allowing the individual to run through the bases without obstruction, as well as allowing any others on the path to pass through as well, representing what happens when a soul becomes illumined, and is able to illumine others. On the other hand, if they “strike out” by not being successful at least 1/3 of the time, then they must go back into the ancestral realm until they’re “called up to bat” at another incarnation. 

Did baseball’s founders intend this extent of esoteric meaning? It’s difficult to say, perhaps we could expect something like that from Abner Doubleday, as a Theosophist, or Alexander Cartwright, a Freemason; but again, the claim of who originated the modern version of the game is hotly contested. If I’m being honest, aspects of it seem to me like a bit of a reach. It’s possible that the way baseball is played actually is a much more mundane metaphor of meeting life’s challenges. Perhaps it’s both.

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide what they think about all that, but it’s nevertheless interesting Masonic food for thought. 

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

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

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

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

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

Torch Bearers from the East

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

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

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

Wisdom in Contrast

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

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

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

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

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

The Bridge and the Stairway

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

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

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

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

Discover

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.