What Esoteric Knowledge lies veiled in Classical Art?

What Esoteric Knowledge lies veiled in Classical Art?

AN enduring cornerstone of Western Civilization, Classical Art builds on the cultural ideals of Ancient Greece and Rome, as demonstrated in painting, sculpture, and architecture. Founded upon the virtues of harmony and divine proportion, these artists sought to elevate the human form by adorning it with the highest, illuminating humanity’s evolution, and depicting man’s relationship with the Divine. For more than a Millenia, classical artistic expression has been shaped by the reverence of the virtuous, the good, and the beautiful. In Manly P. Hall’s work, The Secret Teachings of All Ages, we learn:


Symbolism is the language of the Mysteries; in fact, it is the language not only of mysticism and philosophy but of all Nature, for every law and power active in universal procedure is manifested to the limited sense perceptions of man through the medium of symbol… By symbols men have ever sought to communicate to each other those thoughts which transcend the limitations of language.”

~ Manly P. Hall

Does symbolism transcend the limitations of language? Is a picture worth a thousand words?

CRYPTIC, ABSTRUSE, MYSTERIOUS: WHAT DOES “ESOTERIC” REALLY MEAN?

THE term, Esoteric, has been defined as “known only to the few,” and is derived from the Greek root Esō, meaning “within.” To study Esotericism, often requires communing with a small inner circle of learned fellows in order to embark on a journey of self-discovery. The opposite of esoteric is exoteric, meaning “suitable to be imparted to the public,” and historically linked to the ancient philosopher Aristotle. Those deemed worthy to attend Aristotle’s private discussions were known as his “esoterics,” or confidants.

Whereas, the “exoterics” were individuals who only attended Aristotle’s popular evening lectures. Because such information is largely incomprehensible to the general population, esoteric is sometimes erroneously equated with that which is difficult to understand. Instead, esoteric scholars are typically empowered by exceptional methods of education, such as hyper-specialized training, private tutoring, intensive study, or initiation.

Most religions provide exoteric or fundamental teachings, as well as, a path of esoteric study for those who seek it. Perhaps it could be said that once a fundamental understanding of the tenants of a religion is obtained, a door swings open providing the seeker a deeper level of wisdom and understanding. In Christianity, the Apostle Paul wrote:


And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”

~ 1 Corinthians 3: 1-2

This dichotomy of basic and advanced study exists within other religions such as Islam, where Sufism serves as the esoteric branch of the religion. Freemasonry provides similar esoteric instruction to members of all religious faiths. What is the difference between esoteric and exoteric knowledge? Does one need to be an initiate to study esotericism?

WHAT LIES HIDDEN? VIEWING ART THROUGH AN ESOTERIC LENS

IN this series, we seek to uncover the hidden meaning found in the artistic works of numerous Masters, including Michelangelo, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, William Blake, Georges de La Tour, and Raphael. Let us begin the discussion by outlining a basic structure for analyzing art through an esoteric lens; thereby, we will utilize both observation and intuition, symbolically represented by the concrete and abstract minds.


OBSERVATION: Observe the work of art and search for the following:

  • Inconsistencies
  • Patterns
  • Clues

INTUTION: What does your intuition tell us about this art?


Many people think of intuition as instinctual or even magical. Our intuitive hunches, however, are assumptions formed based on experience and cumulative knowledge. They tend to arise holistically and quickly, without conscious awareness of the underlying mental process of information. Intuition is nonconscious thinking; essentially, the brain on autopilot. Scientists have repeatedly demonstrated how information can register on the brain without conscious awareness and positively influence decision-making. How are observation and intuition different? Does each correspond to a different hemisphere of the brain?

THE CREATION OF ADAM BY MICHELANGELO

To begin, The Creation of Adam has long been recognized as one of the world’s great art treasures. From 1508 to 1512, the Italian Renaissance Master, Michelangelo Buonarroti, painted glorious frescoes, including The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, as commissioned by Pope Julius II. Michelangelo wrote the following describing the artistic process:


After the divine part has well-conceived,

Man’s face and gesture, soon both mind and hand,

With a cheap model, first, at their command,

Give life to stone, but this is not achieved

By skill. In painting, too, this is perceived:

Only after the intellect has planned

The best and highest, can the ready hand

Take up the brush and try all things received.”

~ Michelangelo

What can be unveiled regarding The Creation of Adam through observation and intuition?

To be continued in Part II….

The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries

The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries

“I THINK you are making a mistake,” writes a kindly brother, “in unsparingly condemning that phase of Masonry that is concerned with ritualistic performance.”

He continued:

Is it not true – an unpalatable truth, perhaps – that for most of us this ritualism must remain as chief aim and purpose of our connection with the Fraternity?

We know that there is an intellectual side to the Institution, where the scholar and the student find highest satisfaction. But why should those who have not yet reached that high plane, or who may not be able to appreciate the full value of these advanced studies, be denied such pleasure and such profit as is available to them in lower paths?

“I THINK you are making a mistake,” writes a kindly brother, “in unsparingly condemning that phase of Masonry that is concerned with ritualistic performance.” He continued:

SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND

MY kindly critic gives opportunity to discourse briefly upon the proper balance of Masonry. It is true that in these pages, as elsewhere, the editor has urged insistently the higher imperatives, as those which should have dominating force in the world of Masonic thought and action. He would hold out to all brothers the intellectual promise, rather than show in grosser terms the rewards and satisfactions of the Craft. He would have every Mason enter upon the quest “for that which was lost,” though convinced that few there be who shall achieve to complete object of the search.

AS from King Arthur’s table, many valiant knights arose, with high resolve to seek the Holy Graal – men bold of heart and true of soul – though only to the few was granted vision of the chalice sacred, mystical. And yet, if so I read aright these meaning stories of the past, the knights that travailed long in places perilous, doing bewhiles great deeds of fealty and of faith, although denied the precious thing for which they fought and prayed, were made the better, braver, nobler, even because they were accounted to have failed.

The properly balanced Masonry is that which gives full place and scope to all the workmen. The Master who draws designs upon the trestle-board may not speak with contempt of those who labor faithfully in the mountains and the quarries. He may indeed seek for disciples and scholars among the more eager and ambitious, who are most likely to profit by his instructions. These, indeed, he will urge to higher things, knowing full well that the great cause is to be advanced most surely and speedily by men trained to highest capabilities of head and heart.

But in Masonry, as in the world without, there must ever be the greater number content with tasks of lesser thought. Yet to them – to all – should be unrolled and explained the full plans and meanings of the structure to which their toil and skill are dedicated. They should gain significance of the timbers and the stones upon which their labor is expended. Such brethren are not mere wage-workers, put by task-masters to their various toil. They are free Craftsmen, and should receive instruction, increasing ever with their understanding.

So, for the Temple of Humanity and Brotherhood should Wisdom put forth ever nobler effort, with Strength evident in the mass and Beauty showing in every detail.

WHERE PROPER BALANCE LIES

I KNOW of no other comparison for Masonry than the great religious systems of the world, past and present. From them we may, perhaps, learn where proper balance lies, where associative effort before has failed, and where and how best purpose has been served. So, we find that, wherever in the world’s history an organized system has made successful appeal to the masses of men, there has ever been ample allowance for the varying capacities of adherents.

The exoteric, outward showing is for the greater number – for that larger body of worshipers content to remain in the outer court. Where subtler wants are not felt, the higher spiritual sufferings would be unmeaning. It is enough for such exoteric religion that the norms of conduct be established, and that fear of punishment or hope of reward shall be so adjusted to unawakened intelligences as to enforce compliance therewith. I know that this will be called superstition, and in no way to justify comparison with aught in Masonry. But superstition, as I take it, has two distinct meanings.

To the man who has advanced beyond the necessity for grosser compulsions, the term represents no more than do the old definitions and enforcements of the common law, altogether superseded by higher mandates. The outworn things are for him valuable as records of the spiritual evolution through which he himself, or his ancestors, have passed. But for the unlearned and unleashed radical the word “superstition” stands for such things as he will not and can not seek to understand, which he is concerned only to revile ignorantly, and to proclaim his refusal of obedience.

For him, the commands of ancient force no longer hold, not that they are without reach or meaning, but that his soul has gained only to a stage of irrational rebellion against authority. Like an immature boy, such a one seeks only to express a newly-sensed independence, being altogether unaware of the eternal compulsions.

TRUE MASONRY: EXOTERIC AND ESOTERIC

WHEN I hear “superstition” cried the loudest, in matters of faith or symbolism, l am inclined to linger longest, that so I may hope to discover something more of what has been preserved from an ancient time, and is today found worthy of the adherence of men. For whatever endures has in itself the heart of Truth. And, likewise, what is true of religious symbolisms and observances, is true of Masonry in its exoteric form. There is a superstition, perhaps, of the fraternity, and it may be regarded from the same standpoints as mentioned above. The radical by condemning and rejecting indiscriminately, loses much of highest value. It is only by providing and maintaining the proper balance, by serving the needs of the greatest possible number of men, embracing the broadest range of intellectual capacities, that this or any like institution can hope, to achieve and hold real meaning in the world.

The brother who can only grasp the outward phases of Masonry will certainly receive all that can have use for him. Go into your anterooms after the conferring of degrees, and answer if this is not true. Hear those who are grateful and appreciative after receiving the Master’s degree, and have been impressed for good, though no hint even of the esoteric has come to them.

The true learner will, from that point, still seek and find; will ask and receive; will knock, thereafter, at many doors, hidden oftentimes, and these will be opened to him. But also for him who chooses to remain in the outer court, to be satisfied with sensuous observances, there is gain, nicely calculated to capacity. For those having ears to hear, there are things cryptic, mystical, and well worth the hearing. For those who are content with the ringing of bells, the bells will ring, and in beautiful harmony. It might perhaps be permissible to compare Masonry of the Lodges – the Masonry of routine and of ritual – with those old chthonic religions, while the real esotericism of the Craft rises to the region where subtle inspirations are received and understood by highest processes of thought.

In answer to my brother, I esteem very highly that one who finds in ritual his best enjoyment, though I will not cease to urge upon such a one that he should use this ritual as a guide to upper paths. But Masonry, even in its simplest requirements, demands more than that one should go and remain upon the tread-mill of verbiage, making no advancement upward or forward. If advancement is made, whether by means of ritual, or by study or by intuitive process, be that advancement less or more, in so much is Masonry honored and benefited, and by so much has the individual brother made his gain.

~ “The Proper Balance of Masonry: The Greater and the Lesser Mysteries,” THE AMERICAN FREEMASON, May 1912.

Universal Freemasonry

TO THE GLORY OF GOD

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