Halloween: Origins, Traditions, and Masonry?

Halloween: Origins, Traditions, and Masonry?

Contemporarily known as a time of fright, mystery, darkness, and macabre gaiety, most of us are at least cursorily aware that Halloween has its origins in ancient pagan tradition, and that it is the beginning of a three-day sacred festival later adapted by the church, as part of it’s strategy of absorption and re-branding of pagan traditions to adopt Northern Europeans into the fold. Let’s dive in and take a look at the history of the three-day festival of Allhallowtide, and it’s possible connection to the goals and principles of Freemasonry

Winter is Coming

To pre-Christian Europeans like the Celts and various Germanic and Scandinavian tribes, our modern November 1st marked the beginning of the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the new year. Also representing the onset of darkness as the season shifted to shorter and shorter days, particularly the eve of the new year, Samhain (pronounced sow-in, old-Irish for “Summer’s end”) or modern Halloween, was seen as a time when the veils between the spiritual and mundane world are particularly thin, allowing for spirit contact, haunting, as well as enhanced divination and oracular opportunities among the priest-like druids.

Samhain the Gaelic festival that became Halloween

Gaelic festival of Samhain

It’s worth noting that this tradition, particularly as it relates to the return of the spirits of the dead during this time, is not exclusively European; in fact, Halloween exists in various forms around the world. The belief that the spirits must be appeased in some way is also common.

For instance, Día de Muertos in Mexico actually doesn’t stem purely from it’s Catholic conquerors, but actually has origins in the pre-Columbian Aztec and other cultures. The Hungry Ghost Festival of China is also a correlate, with people believing that the spirits of the dead grow hungry and must be fed offerings, during this time of year. 

Particularly in the Anglo-Celtic world in ancient Britain, activities related to divination formed a major part of the celebrations, probably owing to it’s druidic origins. These included various kinds of scrying, dream interpretation, and also rituals of protection and purification. The early origins of trick-or-treating were also practiced, with celebrators dressing up as the dead, symbolically going house to house and collecting offerings on their behalf. 

The Christianization

Way-of-salvation-church-militant-triumphant-andrea-di-bonaiuto-1365

Allhallowtide Scene – Andrea di Bonaiuto (1365)

The following days of All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Nov 1st-2nd) were a wholly Christian addition, although they did have pagan correlates, simply not on these particular days. The pagan festival which correlates to All Souls Day, for instance, originally took place in early May. These were days for feasting and celebrating the saints and traditions of the Catholic church. 

As you may know, the Roman Catholic church often coexisted with pagan traditions, and even adopted elements of them in order to appeal to and convert the pagan residents of any given region. The festival of Samhain is no exception, and in the Christian world it became the eve of the 3-day feasts of Allhallowtide. Some of the Samhain traditions were adopted with new Christian meanings, such as offering proto-trick-or-treaters “soulcakes”, meant to celebrate the christened dead, or also praying and leaving offerings at the graves of the dead.

Meanings Beneath the Surface

It’s impossible to consider the symbolic meaning of Halloween without associating it with the shadow, the aspects of the self which have been rejected from the light of consciousness, and thus dwell in the darkness of the unconscious, taking on a life of their own and occasionally coming to haunt us. As the ancient traditions focused on the dead gradually transformed over time into various witches, vampires, and other monsters, the prominent figures and symbols of Halloween have come to be various manifestations of shadow aspects of the psyche. 

The werewolf, for instance, is a representation of our wild and beastly selves, particularly those aspects which are hidden during the day, but emerge at night. The witch is naturally the feminine powers of intuition and magic, twisted and gnarled in it’s rejection from the masculine-dominated consensus world of daylight. Vampires are the parasitic and predatory aspects of the self, particularly when it is disconnected from its own natural life-force, which of course burns if it is touched by the light of day. Frankenstein can be seen symbolically as the monstrous alter-ego created by the intellect in it’s rejection of the mysteries of femininity, spirit, emotion, and the need for human relating.

Our willingness to celebrate, dress up as, and thus embody these shadow elements, then, can be seen as a way of facing and embracing these various neglected or rejected aspects of ourselves, and thus transforming them with the Light of consciousness. Understanding their symbolic meaning is the next step, beyond simply reveling in their spooky stories and ghoulish aesthetic. Thus, although the two are not often connected, we can find in Halloween the sacred Masonic principle, from darkness to Light.

Halloween


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

Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?

Is Freemasonry Dying or Evolving?

Time is a river in which all things must sink or swim, and change is a necessary component of what allows any living thing to survive. Freemasonry is no exception. However, today, Masonry seems to be facing some challenges. Statistically, Freemasonry is seeing a major decline, at least in mainstream (masculine, male-only) Masonry. Some Brothers are even saying that Freemasonry is dying.

Is it?

Freemasonry is a tradition which traces its origins as far back as medieval Europe, ancient Egypt, or, some Masonic thinkers even believe, lost pre-historic civilizations. While there are competing theories and narratives about the history of freemasonry, we know that Masonic ritual and culture has not always been the same; what we have today is certainly not a carbon copy of what took place in the ancient world, or even in the Middle Ages. That is certainly a good thing; as much as we love to relish our deep history and connection to the past, ultimately, all traditions must change and adapt to remain relevant, especially today. Is Freemasonry failing to meet that challenge?

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

Evolution is Not Optional

freemasonry failingAs the saying goes, the numbers don’t lie, and all of the relevant statistics are given in the blog post by Brother Lance Kennedy linked at the beginning of this work; I won’t spend time re-hashing them here. If you consider Freemasonry in its mainstream form, there certainly is an undeniable downward trend. Many are making efforts to turn the tide, perhaps with some degree of success, but how best can Freemasons know exactly what needs to be changed, to breathe new life into a seemingly fading institution? While change is obviously necessary, exactly what changes are needed is also a matter of critical importance.

One useful point of comparison to learn what will help Freemasonry thrive and proceed into the future is the much higher growth rates being seen by alternative Masonic Orders, such as our own. Universal Co-Masonry is rapidly growing in numbers, and other Co-Masonic bodies around the globe, although still small in comparison to the nearly ubiquitous masculine Lodges, also appear to be healthily thriving, even as traditional masculine Masonry’s numbers decline.

So, what is Co-Masonry doing right that traditional Masonry is falling short of, that leads greater numbers of young initiates and even former mainstream Masons into our ranks?

The Elephant In the Lodge

women and freemasonryA reasonable way to approach the topic is to look at the key differences between the Orders. It appears that some of the things which once contributed to Masonry’s growth and popularity are now contributing to their decline. This includes the exclusion of women (as equals) from the Lodge, as well as the segregation of Lodges by race, in some jurisdictions. This is the most obvious difference, and was the primary motivation for our Co-Masonic Orders to emerge, or rather, diverge. This is primarily why Co-Masons, considered by masculine Masonry to be “clandestine,” came to exist, because Mainstream Masons refuse to acknowledge the enormous discrepancy between the modern recognition of the moral necessity for Equality in any organization, and their continuation of institutionalized inequality.

I believe that for most Masons under the age of 40, what is most mysterious is why this trend of young seekers favoring Orders based on Equality would be mysterious to anyone, in 2018. In an age of global culture and rising concern for equal rights for all people, the idea of a “Men-Only Club” seems inherently antiquated. To many young minds, it probably calls forth an image of stodgy old Victorian gentlemen, puffing pipes and pontificating through monocles in leather armchairs over how best to maintain their power and wealth, with wives obediently cooking after-Lodge dinner, nearby. I mean no offense to our masculine Masonic Brothers (and we do consider them Brothers, whether they recognize us or not), but this is a very real perception and state of affairs which is, perhaps in more symbolic ways than one, an elephant in the Lodge.

Pancakes Are Only Slightly Magical

masonic pancake breakfastHowever, in this author’s opinion, while inequality is one of, if not the primary factor, there are other major differences which are contributing to Co-Masonic success and mainstream Masonry’s decline, as well. After speaking to Masons who have been members of both, or have transitioned over, I believe I can accurately point out another huge problem facing Masonry, today.

One of the major complaints about mainstream Masonry is that it doesn’t deliver what the seekers drawn to it are looking for. Around the turn of the 20th century, Masonic organizations shifted their focus to charity instead of esoteric matters, mostly in response to growing anti-masonic sentiments, often associated with religious fundamentalism, and suspicions of the occult. Now, huge portions of time in the meetings are consumed with business matters and planning charitable events such as pancake breakfasts, and relatively little is devoted to esoteric study. While charity is ultimately a worthy and necessary aspect of Masonry, it’s not really what most of us come to the Fraternity looking for.

No, there are any number of charitable organizations out there which any young person can join, if they simply want to help/feed/educate people, which don’t involve commitments to secrecy, hours of memorization, and participation in rituals. What young people approaching Masonry today are seeking is more along the lines of guidance in their personal development, spiritual brotherhood, and revelations of arcane knowledge preserved against the eroding forces of time and religious suppression. The unfortunate fact is that masculine Masonry is generally not delivering on that promise, while Universal Co-Masonry emphasizes these things above all else.

Evolution or Extinction

masonic phoenixUltimately, the challenge facing Freemasonry today is the same as the challenge which has always faced every organism throughout all time: evolve, or go extinct; adapt, or fade away; iterate, or fail the market; upgrade, or become obsolete; sink, or swim. I really believe it is as simple as that. As we know from biological evolution, the branches of the evolutionary tree which will survive are those which are most suited to their environments. At one point, our rodent-like ancestors were not so different from their dinosaur cousins, but the differences they did have were a matter of life and death, the difference between inheriting the Earth, or fading into oblivion.

Luckily, the fate of Masonry today does not have to be determined by slow mutation, but rather, the willingness of each individual Mason to cast off the dry, scaly husk of the rigid, unequal, and mundane aspects of Masonry, and walk hand-in-hand with Brothers of all genders and creeds into a new dawn of spiritual enlightenment. If we wish to pass on the treasures which the Craft represents and guide humanity to a higher state of existence, it is the only way. So mote it be.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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