In this installment of Symbols & Symbolism, we look at a reading from Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and from a piece from Joseph Fort Newton’s The Builder on the Mystic Tie. Defining this mysterious phrase is often troublesome as how does one define the ineffable or the unseen? Often times, to define the mysterious we resort to putting words to feelings, or expressions of a feeling, that still fall short of the what the meaning represents. Perhaps, in Mackey’s definition with help from Newton, we can find some help in putting feeling to this important symbol.
The Mystic Tie
The expression was used by Brother Robert Burns in his farewell to the Brethren of Saint James Lodge, Tarbolton, Scotland in 1786.
The full text of the poem/song reads:
Adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu;
Dear brothers of the mystic tie!
Ye favoured, enlighten’d few,
Companions of my social joy;
Tho’ I to foreign lands must hie,
Pursuing Fortune’s slidd’ry ba’;
With melting heart, and brimful eye,
I’ll mind you still, tho’ far awa.
Oft have I met your social band,
And spent the cheerful, festive night;
Oft, honour’d with supreme command,
Presided o’er the sons of light:
And by that hieroglyphic bright,
Which none but Craftsmen ever saw
Strong Mem’ry on my heart shall write
Those happy scenes, when far awa.
May Freedom, Harmony, and Love,
Unite you in the grand Design,
Beneath th’ Omniscient Eye above,
The glorious Architect Divine,
That you may keep th’ unerring line,
Still rising by the plummet’s law,
Till Order bright completely shine,
Shall be my pray’r when far awa.
And you, farewell! whose merits claim
Justly that highest badge to wear:
Heav’n bless your honour’d noble name,
To Masonry and Scotia dear!
A last request permit me here, –
When yearly ye assemble a’,
One round, I ask it with a tear,
To him, the Bard that’s far awa.
From The Builder
by Bro. Joseph Fort Newton
“The moral solidarity of mankind is dissolved. The danger is imminent that the end may be a war of all against all. Sects and parties are increasing; common estimates and ideals keep slipping away; we understand one another less and less; even voluntary associations, that form of unity peculiar to modern times, unite more in accomplishment than disposition, bring men together outwardly rather than in reality.”
These words, written by Rudolph Eucken in 1912, were like a star-shell over No Man’s Land, revealing the divided mind of the world, and they had a terrible fulfilment. The War, by its principle of violence, made no positive contribution to society, but only stirred up and brought to the surface what already existed. For both men and nations, it intensified tendencies already active, precipitated passions held in obscure solution, and brought into focus forces that had long been uneasily accumulating. It neither initiated nor changed the direction in which the world was moving, but it did quicken the pace, and, in quickening it, revealed it. That is why a haunting uneasiness possesses the minds of men today. Even when local disturbances subside and isolated disputes are settled, we still doubt whether a stable tranquility has returned or ever will return again. For these things are only symptoms of a profound and widespread mental ferment and moral restlessness.
The insight of Eucken goes further back and deeper down to the real root of the matter, divining the causes and logic of it all to be moral, spiritual, religious. For, if anything is made plain by history, it is that the mystic tie which holds humanity together in ordered and advancing life is moral and spiritual, and when that thread is cut anything may happen. From the beginning of the century the spiritual disintegration of the modern world, the breaking of the ties that bind together the fabric of civilization, had been observed and noted by many. Faith grew dim, moral sanctions were relaxed, and it was deemed clever and smart to talk lightly of those sanctities without which no society has long existed. Much of our literature has been intellectually Bolshevistic for thirty years, attacking the basis of marriage, of the home, of the church, of the state, as if the moral laws were only conventions, if not fictions. Verily we have our reward; we know now that when fools play with fire they get burned.
For a time, during the stress and strain and terror of the war, there seemed to be a re-knitting of the ties that bind men and nations together; but it was only seeming. It was the power of fear and force, not the power of faith. How unreal, how artificial it was is shown by the rapidity with which that amazing solidarity was demobilized, to be followed by a revival of class rancor, sectarian ardor, and a narrow, myopic nationalism. A world which, having sent young men to die by the thousands for magnanimous ideals, has already half forgotten them as it coolly and briskly resumes business at the old stand – such a world may be grieved, but it ought not to be astonished, at the revolt of both the minds and souls of men. Not that the immediate future will see a triumph of subversive schemes and radical ideas. If we follow an almost universal precedent we shall pass first through a period of luxury and extravagance, and there will he a momentary craving for the old social and religious orders, as in the years following the Napoleonic Wars. But this is not significant. It is merely the first reaction from the emotional strain and nervous tension of the war. This mood will soon spend itself, and then, at once, new forms, new forces, new demands will begin to arise which will sweep away much that has seemed precious and permanent in our lives.
Without a spiritual renewal, without a re-knitting of that “moral solidarity,” of which Eucken speaks so eloquently, – without the Mystic Tie – we may not hope for security and real progress. The truth is that we have been trying to build a human civilization on a materialistic foundation, and it cannot be done. No human community can long exist on such a basis. Russia has rendered incalculable service to humanity, by showing, with deadly consistency, how materialism issues into anarchy and animalism. Hear now a proof of this in the words of a spiritually-minded man who lived in the midst of it, watching the decay and destruction of his country. Eugene Troubetzkoy, Professor of Law in the University of Moscow, in the Hibbert Journal, for January 1920 (page 210), shows us what happens when the tie of spiritual faith and fellowship is broken. Here are words which he who runs may read:
Bolshevism is first and foremost the practical denial of the spiritual. They flatly refuse to admit the existence of any spiritual bond between man and man. For them economic and material interests constitute the only social nexus; they recognize no other. This is the source of their whole conception of human society. The love of country, for example, is a lying hypocritical pretense; for the national bond is a spiritual bond, and therefore wholly factitious. From their point of view the only real bond between men is the material – that is to say, the economic. Material interests divide men into classes, and they are the only divisions to be taken account of. Hence they recognize no Nations save the Rich and the Poor. As there is no other bond which can unite these two Nations into one social whole, their relations must be regulated exclusively by the zoological principle revealed in the struggle for existence.
The materialistic conception of society is the Bolshevist method of treating the family. Since there is no spiritual bond between the sexes, there can be no constant relation. The rule is therefore that men and women can change their partners as often as they wish. The authorities in certain districts have even proclaimed the ‘nationalization’ of women, that is, the abolition of any private and exclusive right to process a wife even for a limited period, on the ground that women are the property of all. The same children. A powerful current of opinion is urging that children must be taken from their parents in order that the State may give them an education on true materialistic lines. In certain communes some hundreds of children were ‘nationalized,’ that is, ‘taken from their parents and placed in public institutions.
There it is, showing us what the red logic of hell means when it works itself out in action, and what results follow when the Mystic Tie of spiritual faith and fellowship is cut. Political anarchy, social animalism, moral bedlam follow with mathematical certainty, and all the fine and holy things of life are thrown into the junk heap. Man has an animal inheritance – moods of ape and tiger mingle in him with divine dreams and thoughts that wander through eternity – and when the Divine is denied, he reverts to the law of the jungle, and the hard-won trophy of spiritual struggle and agony vanishes. What happens, happens again. The Bolsheviks are men of like passions as ourselves; they simply carry out with the fatal logic of fanaticism the dogma of materialism upon which we have been trying to base our modern civilization. If anyone thinks that what has taken place in Russia cannot happen in America, he knows little of history and less of human nature. The practical denial of the Divine dehumanizes humanity, and the rest follows as night follows day.
For that reason, if it should be a part of our religion to be patriotic, it must be a part of our patriotism to keep the light of spiritual faith aflame on the altars built by our fathers. Down in Wales, at a time when it seemed that revolution was inevitable, I asked a labor leader what bond held men together. He said:
All that holds these men back is the fact that they were trained in the Sunday-schools of these Welsh chapels years ago. That is all that keeps the spark from blowing up.
Within the last four years, ten thousand Sunday-schools have ceased to exist in America, and the end is not yet. Facts such as these, and others of like kind, make a thoughtful man wonder as to what the future will be. What confronts us is not specifically indifference to religion, but indifference to pretty well everything outside the circle of creature comfort and self-gratification. There are many exceptions, of course, but in the main it is true that society has as yet been able to persuade only a few of its members to be really interested in its higher concerns. By the same token, men who do care for what is finest in our national life must make use of every opportunity, every instrumentality, to keep alive the faith that makes men faithful, and the vision of the moral ideal that lights our human way toward the city of God.
There is no need to apply what has been said, least of all to men to whom the Mystic Tie is a reality, and who are bound together by it in a fraternity of spiritual Faith and Fellowship. In every degree of Freemasonry, we are taught – by art, drama and symbol – the moral basis of human society, its spiritual interpretation, and the necessity of a fraternal righteousness among men, without which manhood is rudimentary and intellectual culture is the slave of greed and passion. Of Lincoln it was said, that “his practical life was spiritual,” and by as much as Masonry builds men of like faith and fiber who, in private life and public service, keep a manhood neither bought nor sold, true of heart and unbefogged of mind, it is helping to weave that Mystic Tie that holds the republic together. The words of James Bryce, in The American Commonwealth (page 583), ought to be written and hung up in our hearts. If history teaches anything, it teaches us that hitherto civilized society has rested on religion.
It was religious zeal and religious conscience that led to the founding of the New England colonies two centuries and a half ago… Religion and conscience have been a constantly active force in the American Commonwealth ever since…
And the more democratic republics become…
…the more the masses grow conscious of their power, the more do they need to live not only by patriotism, but by reverence and self-control, and the more essential to their well-being are those sources from which reverence and self-control flow.
The full quote reads:
America is no doubt the country in which intellectual movements work most swiftly upon the masses and the country in which the loss of faith in the invisible might produce the completest revolution because it is the country where men have been least wont to revere anything in the visible world. Yet America seems as unlikely to drift from her ancient moorings as any country of the Old World. It was religious zeal and the religious conscience which led to the founding of the New England colonies two centuries and a half ago those colonies whose spirit has in such a large measure passed into the whole nation. Religion and conscience have been a constantly active force in the American commonwealth ever since not indeed strong enough to avert many moral and political evils yet at the worst times inspiring a minority with a courage and ardor by which moral and political evils have been held at bay and in the long run generally overcome.
It is an old saying that monarchies live by honor and republics by virtue. The more democratic republics become the more the masses grow conscious of their own power the more do they need to live not only by patriotism but by reverence and self control and the more essential to their well being are those sources whence reverence and self control flow.
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