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. 

IMG_3216

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. 

Service: Why Do We Help?

Service: Why Do We Help?

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

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

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

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

The Vector of Human Evolution

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

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

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

Service in Context

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

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

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

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

Climbing the Pyramid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tending the Garden

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

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

 

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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.