The Masculine of Freemasonry

The Masculine of Freemasonry

IF someone had asked me 30 years ago if Freemasonry was masculine, I would have said: “Is there anything else?” I’m speaking of course about the mainstream idea, over the past three hundred years or so, that all Freemasons must be masculine. I was not erudite enough to realize that there were far, far more meanings to “masculine” and “feminine” than I believed, as there are far more than “just” masculine Freemasons. I was learned in some esoteric traditions but found out that I had a long, lifetime journey in front of me.

To what I am referencing are the many traditions that transcend gender as a sexual, physical attribution. As I noted earlier in another essay, gender is referenced here as specific to virtues and attributes that transcend the physical. Why do we call something masculine? Why do we call it feminine?

In this essay, I will be focusing on the masculine attributes, aspects, and virtues of Freemasonry – not the gender of its adherents. Remember that true Freemasonry seeks to unite, not divide; it seeks to create order out of chaos, harmony from cacophony, and solidarity amongst all creatures.

That said, why do we call some aspects of Masonry feminine and masculine. I think in order to dissect this, you may see that the core of Freemasonry comes out of the ancient mystery schools and has roots in Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Stoicism, Neo-platonism. It is a mixture of philosophy and wisdom born of the needs of its human wielders. It is ritual and word that are combined to bring about the evolution of humanity. It is no mere repetition of plays from medieval stone worker guilds; that said, even these medieval stonemasons play a part in the gender of the ritual and philosophy of Freemasonry. Let’s explore…

GENDER IN THE RITUAL AND PHILOSOPHY OF FREEMASONRY

MANY of us are trapped in the idea of gender as given to us in our media, by our families and friends, and even taught in schools. We see gender as a division, one or the other. Gender, in the hands of the wise philosopher, is fluid and non-physical. There is a divine masculine just as there is a divine feminine, and it is as important as the feminine. Where the feminine is receptive and gives form, the masculine is forceful, outward, and expansive, as well as liberating, freeing. It is giving and generous; think of The Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. That is masculine. In Kabbalah, the masculine is the Pillar of Mercy – not because it is merciful but because of its liberating nature. The Pillar of Severity, the feminine, is labeled severe because of its constrained and passive nature. Because of these natures, one might see the masculine as unrestrained chaos, and indeed, they might be right.

When we think of the Masonic ritual, the one bit of chaos that is consistent is the human initiate, the neophyte. The neophyte is all “outside world,” bringing with them the unrestrained passions, emotions, and physicalness that the non-Masonic world has to offer. They come to be changed, to find balance – yet we must always retain our humanity. Our chaos. Anyone who has sat in any Lodge meeting will understand whence this chaos comes, and how it can expand. In this way, the masculine seems most evident in the Apprentice; all that human chaos has come to be subdued. Not subjugated, not eliminated – subdued. We come to be refined, not erased. Our modern world tends to be masculine in nature; it resonates with masculine, unrestrained energy, and growth. Freemasonry is a sanctuary to explore the balance that we humans were mean to embrace.

The exercise of ritual in Freemasonry also generates gender qualities in its energies. When we think of the masculine or feminine, we must consider the movements made during a ceremony, or even during the opening and closing of ritual. How do our officers move and what are they doing when they perform specific actions? Do they use a right hand? Do they use the right foot? What side of their bodies are being affected? What side of their minds? These are questions to which gender qualities can be applied – are they being expansive, assertive, forceful, outward, or giving? If so, these would be masculine qualities. I would challenge the Freemason to always look for the corresponding feminine action or officers. Freemasonry is overt in its display of polarity, gender, and unity if one keeps looking.

When it comes to the symbols of Freemasonry, what might act as masculine at one point becomes feminine in another. Degrees, with their different stories and lessons, shows us this over and over again. In this, we have to look at how each is employed and by which hand, or which side of the body. Wands or swords, anything carried in the right hand is masculine, expansive, or triggering growth. What side is put forward at what time? This not only triggers the masculine energy but alerts our whole body and mind to balance. Freemasonry seeks balance, harmony, and unity. Whatever is done by the left will eventually be balanced on the right. It is inevitable.

Some symbols are displayed consistently and should be of consideration so as to give us clues about the actions of officers, neophytes, and in Ceremony. We know that Freemasonry is a Western esoteric tradition, built on many different Western philosophies. For example, for the majority of Western cultures, the Sun has a masculine, forceful connotation while the Moon is feminine, displaying its reflective nature. Stars tend toward neutrality. Think of the languages of the Western world and you will see some of these gender qualities reflected in the culture. While this is not always the case, language can tell us a great deal about our own paradigms. The vigilant Freemason will realize that there are some symbols that are fairly constant in Lodge. Those constant symbols tend to be those of the celestial nature; the symbols that change their gender qualities tend to be those in which a human is involved – either in their creation or their use.

THE HERMETIC PRINCIPLE OF GENDER

MANY volumes of sacred writings discuss the masculine and feminine working together to achieve this balance. The Kybalion talks at length about the Hermetic Principle of Gender.

Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.~ The Kybalion

The Masculine is seen as will or strength the actual force to move matter, thoughts, or ideas. In Freemasonry, this is evident in the catechism of part of the Apprentice degree: while the heart may come up with a plan (feminine), or the brain scheme (neutrality), we need the force of work, using our hands, to actually create and execute the desired action (masculine): be it physical, mental, or spiritual. If we take the Hermetic principles together, as discussed gnostically in the Kybalion, these gender principles existing on all planes are, using the Mind (the first law – Mentalism), the source of all creation. Indeed, the root of the word gender, as spoken about previously, means generation, creation, or regeneration. Humans are, on all levels and on all planes, meant to create.

THE BALANCE OF GENDERS IN TAOISM AND HINDUISM

four elements masonic

TAOISM is gender-neutral but emphasizes the equality and need of having a balance of genders, of masculine and feminine. In fact, the qualities of Yin Qi and Yang Qi are necessary to be in balance in order for creation to actually happen. In the cosmology of the Tao, the dual natures are necessary to create the Five Elements and indeed, the Ten Thousand Things. In Hinduism, the same concepts exist; the feminine power resides in all beings but it requires the masculine spark of force to trigger creation. The Vedas speak about the Absolute (The One) being genderless, and physical gender necessary for the smooth function of society; the masculine and feminine have complementary roles to play in the physical world. All of this mimics the human creation experience physically, and as I believe, Freemasonry is emphasizing, mentally, and spiritually as well.

KING SOLOMON, WISDOM, AND CREATION

KING Solomon considered Wisdom to be feminine and a part of the divine’s ability to create the universe. The “I” in the following passage is “Wisdom,” as defined in Chapter 8, Verse 22 of Proverbs: “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.” Wisdom goes on to say:


The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills I was brought forth;
While He had not yet made the earth and the fields,
Nor the first dust of the world.

When He established the heavens, I was there,
When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep,
When He made firm the skies above,
When the springs of the deep became fixed,
When He set for the sea its boundary,
So that the water would not transgress His command.

When He marked out the foundations of the earth;
Then I was beside Him, as a master workman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in the world, His earth,
And having my delight in the sons of men.

~ New American Standard Bible, Proverbs 8:22-29


I take this to mean that the idea of “wisdom” here is also the idea of concept, idea, vision. The force of creation (masculine) requires that wisdom (feminine) to create something which continues; this harkens back to the concept in the Kybalion in the natural law that requires the force, or will, to bring forth the vision of beauty. In a Freemason’s ritual, this might be explained as wisdom needing strength, to bring forth beauty. The feminine requires the masculine to become manifest – to be created.

While we continue to struggle with the ideas of human (physical) gender, perhaps we can explore the idea of gender, the creative principle, within a more philosophical state, and perhaps, find a measure of equality in all aspects of our lives. To me, a Freemason, that seems like a worthy goal – one that could benefit all of Humanity.

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

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