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?

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

Lovecraft: A Dark Place to Find Light

H.P. Lovecraft and Freemasonry. Yes, I’m going there.

A long-serving Brother in Universal Co-Masonry has been known to observe that the stars are always where they are but can be seen only against the dark night sky; and he points out that all light is worth seeking. Lovecraft is some pretty dark stuff and it could be that only the most intrepid will seek the light revealed there.

“H.P. Lovecraft, Providence and Freemasonry” is the title of The H.P. Lovecraft Archive webmaster Donovan K. Loucks’ planned paper during the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual meeting over the weekend of September 28 in Providence, Rhode Island.

As the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon points out on its website, Lovecraft is best known as “a writer of weird fiction,” which is true enough. His medium isn’t exactly horror, though it can be pretty scary. It isn’t exactly science fiction, though it can be geeky and, at times, intangibly technical.

However it’s defined, Lovecraft’s work beckons to the reader’s darkest, most deeply veiled interior places and lays bare what’s really there. If there happens to be light there, it is worth seeking.

LovecraftBirthPlace

H.P. Lovecraft’s Childhood Home

Depending on how “success” is defined, Lovecraft could be said to have had little of it. Born August 20, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, his work was published only in pulp magazines, not much respected at the time. His father died in the psychiatric institution of Butler Hospital in Providence a month shy of H.P.’s 8th Birthday. His mother also died in Butler in 1921.

A pale, gaunt, brooding fellow with a piercing stare and deep, dark eyes, Lovecraft seldom went out before nightfall, suffered what he called “Night Gaunts” when he slept, never graduated from high school and failed a National Guard physical. He at times went without food to pay the postage on his voluminous private correspondence with contemporary literary ne’er-do-wells such as Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith.

Beyond his innate ability to write and edit, Lovecraft had few marketable skills, generally rubbed employers and co-workers the wrong way and seldom had any so-called “regular jobs.” He died in poverty and obscurity, as do many painfully brilliant artists, at age 46 on March 15, 1937.

His work received little notoriety in his lifetime and a decade would pass before it started to be recognized for its literary importance and to be collected into posthumous volumes. In my opinion, some of his best works include “The Outsider,“”Haunter of the Dark,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Alchemist” and, of course, the Cthulhu Mythos stories.

VITRIOL

V.I.T.R.I.O.L

In my observation, Lovecraft’s work is wildly popular among some of the more intense Freemasons most interested in all that V.I.T.R.I.O.L. stuff, but the author’s own brushes with Craft are hard to pin down. Lovecraft wasn’t a Freemason and neither was his father. However, his maternal grandfather, who by all accounts was the lone father figure in H.P.’s youth, the businessman Whipple Van Buren Phillips, was in 1870 a founding member of Ionic Lodge No. 28 in Greene, Rhode Island and was reckoned to be a very active Freemason.

LovecraftGrandFather

H.P. Lovecraft’s Grandfather: Brother Whipple Van Buren Phillips

Lovecraft’s work stands on its own, it doesn’t have to be read as an exercise in self-reflection but, for the Freemason willing to go there, it’s quite an exercise. The Philosopher Graham Harman, in his 2013 “Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy” describes Lovecraft’s work as having a unique, if veiled, anti-reductionalist ontology. “No other writer is so perplexed by the gap between objects and the power of language to describe them, or between objects and the qualities they possess,” Harman says.

Yes, Lovecraft was a bit of a racist and he had other personal flaws, as do we all, but I learned long ago not to seek perfection in any artist. The work is the thing and art never apologizes.

I have a preference for the dark stuff, a great appreciation for emblems of mortality and and no real hesitance to reflect upon mortality with an eye toward living life while there’s life to live. That, for me, is the light worth seeking as revealed against the darkness; and why I read Lovecraft.

Loucks’ paper isn’t the only thing going on at the Masonic Library and Museum Association’s annual conference this year. I’ve been a member for years, and I’ve always wanted to go. I can, however, never seem to get the highly complicated, multi-level math to work. However, it’s a very good, if quiet, conference aimed not so much at research but in facilitating research and applying professional library sciences to Masonic libraries. The conference is open to all.

And with that, I’ll leave you with a bit of Lovecraft, from his 1921, “The Defence Remains Open!“:

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”


“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”