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The Great Work

The Great Work is, above all things, the creation of man by himself; that is to say, the fall and entire conquest which he effects of his faculties and his future. It is, above all, the perfect emancipation of his will.

For a good many years, I’ve written about the idea of producing to contribute to the Great Work. Yet, I don’t think I’ve taken the time to address what that idea means, to me or to the wide world when it comes to your self-development.

In basic terms, the Great Work is the idea of completing the development of our soul. By completing it, I mean finding within ourselves that spark of the cosmic consciousness and nurturing it to a state of understanding the wider universe around us.

A lofty goal and, not surprisingly, one that is seldom, if ever, brought to completion.

But, in undertaking such an endeavor, it’s important to not try and put the cart before the horse. While considering the Great Work as the length and breadth of a career, the reality is that the work itself is an ongoing pursuit made by degree, the production of which making small, nearly imperceptible changes to the inner life that slowly make themselves known in the external domain.

Complex Simplicity

So then, what is the Great Work? The easiest way to define what it is is to say that The Great Work is the quest for knowledge that ends in wisdom.

It seems almost too simple. It seems like a process many of us already undertake. In many respects it is. But what happens in the pursuit of the Great Work is the myriad distractions and attention-stealing interruptions that take us away from the pursuit of that work.

Like all the Mysteries of Magism, the Secrets of “the Great Work” have a threefold signification: they are religious, philosophical, and natural.
– Albert Pike

To further simplify the term, the Great Work is the betterment of oneself. Be it through learning and doing our trade, perfecting our life, providing for the health and welfare of our family or contributing to the uplifting of mankind. It’s in the undertaking of these tasks that the effort of the Great Work begins to shape the world around us.

The hardest part of understanding what the Great Work represents is knowing that the work is just that—work.

It isn’t something that you can buy on a shelf or order online. It isn’t something you can achieve in the simple reading of a text. No, the Great Work manifests itself in the assimilation of information and application in the real world. It comes out of the understanding of perspectives other than one’s own and seeing meaning from the eyes of the stranger. Think in terms of walking a mile in another person’s shoes. In this aphorism, the purpose is the development of empathy for the world around you, much in the way of the Golden Rule.

Purposeful Execution

With knowledge comes wisdom. From wisdom comes empathy. And yet, there is another component necessary to square the circle. That fourth component is the willpower to undertake such a change with the knowledge that it means a reexamination of past lessons learned in the past.

This is the purpose of the Great Work.

Without doubt, this path implies a measure of agreed upon change that, once begun, inculcates itself into your day to day existence. The seeker, desiring change (knowingly or not) wanting to assimilate knowledge must take the first step in this process by exercising their will to acquire it, fearless of where ever it may take them.

Many Paths, One Destination

Where does that knowledge come from? What path should one follow to pursue the Great Work? Many groups and organizations suggest theirs is the one true way. But, in reality, there is an infinite number of means to obtain knowledge, and just as many in applying it. The effort of undertaking the Great Work is in your mindful daily living, applying the lessons learned and when finding an impasse, seeking further enlightenment beyond where you find yourself now. This is the process of the Great Work, not the Great Attainment. It is work. It is an effort. It is a continually tested result and attunement to the world in increasingly broadening strokes and circles.

It is for this that the pursuit of the Great Work is called the Search for the Absolute; and the work itself, the work of the Sun.

This attunement happens in meditation. It happens in prayer. It happens in mindful interactions with other human beings in the world at large—both in your community and outside of it. One could argue that it happens in the comments in social media if they offer something constructive to the dialog seeking to uplift rather than tear down.

Pike, in Morals and Dogma, writes:

For all that we familiarly know of Free-Will is that capricious exercise of it which we experience in ourselves and other men; and therefore the notion of Supreme Will, still guided by Infallible Law, even if that law be self-imposed, is always in danger of being either stripped of the essential quality of Freedom, or degraded under the ill-name of Necessity to something of even less moral and intellectual dignity than the fluctuating course of human operations.

It is not until we elevate the idea of law above that of partiality or tyranny, that we discover that the self-imposed limitations of the Supreme Cause, constituting an array of certain alternatives, regulating moral choice, are the very sources and safeguards of human freedom; and the doubt recurs, whether we do not set a law above God Himself; or whether laws self-imposed may not be self-repealed: and if not, what power prevents it.

28th Degree—Knight of the Sun, or Prince Adept.

It is in this operation of seeking, working and finding the Great Work that we employ in the exercise of the Hermetic Art. This is the heart of the Great Work.


Read: Why Brotherly Love Relief and Truth in Freemasonry?

Greg Stewart: A devoted student of the Western Mystery Traditions, Greg is a firm believer in the Masonic connections to the Hermetic traditions of antiquity, its evolution through the ages and into its present configuration as the antecedent to all contemporary esoteric and occult traditions. He is a self-called searcher for that which was lost, a Hermetic Hermit and a believer in “that which is above is so too below.” Read more about Greg Stewart.
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