Recently I attended a Festive Board of Jewel P. Lightfoot Lodge No 1283, Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM. The guest speaker DDGM John Tolbert made a passionate presentation on Hermeticism and Freemasonry using slides as illustrations. That made his presentation peppered with pictures which is what this article will look like. Jewel P. Lightfoot, the founder of this Lodge, had a marked interest in Hermeticism as you will see. This made the Presentation all the more personal to the members of this Lodge assembled. Tolbert was kind enough to allow me to reprint his presentation with his pictures which you will find below.
HERMETIC PHILOSOPHY AND FREEMASONRY by Brother John Tolbert
Have you ever wondered why all of the words and passwords that we use in our degrees are in Hebrew and that every prayer we use in our degrees are from the Old Testament?
Have you noticed that a Masonic Lodge room is full of diametrically opposed objects and symbols which represent polar concepts or ideas? Examples of these opposites are:
Square and Compasses
Rough and Perfect Ashlars
Jachin and Boaz / Wisdom and Strength
Terrestrial and Celestial Globes
Darkness to Light
Checkered Pavement / Black and White pavers
East and West…North and South
Death and Rebirth
Sun and Moon
Stepping off upon the right and left feet
Cowans and Eavesdroppers Ascending and Descending
Isn’t it interesting that Masons are encouraged from the very beginning to control their passions and to pursue a virtuous and pure life? It’s interesting, because the Greeks demanded the very same thing from their candidates before they were admitted into the Ancient Mystery Schools, and the School of Pythagoras (you can see a map of the school here).
After reading thousands of pages written by Masonic scholars, I am convinced that Freemasonry was not “invented” by the English (nor the Scots) in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. Yes, in the early eighteenth century, Freemasonry was developed into a regulated institution and rituals were developed from existing initiatory rites of operative Lodges, but something else was going on beneath the surface and intellectuals of the time could sense that there was more.
In the most recent issue of Heredom, the annual publication of the Scottish Rite Research Society, on page 61 (a paper about the 1738 anti-Masonic Papal Bull by Marsha Keith Schuchard) it reads:
“In January 1721, when the antiquarian William Stukeley (close friend of Newton and Desaguliers) determined to join the fraternity, “suspecting it to be the remains of the mysteries of the ancients…”
This illustrates that even from the first years of organized Freemasonry, educated men were recognizing something about Freemasonry that led them to believe that it was rooted in ancient philosophy and concepts.
The namesake of this Lodge, Jewel P. Lightfoot, speaks candidly to the Texas Mason concerning the mystical and spiritual aspects of the Craft. Please listen carefully to the following quote from the INTRODUCTORY in our current monitor, written by Lightfoot many decades ago.
“ The presence in the modern Masonic system, of many of the emblems, symbols and allegories of the ancient Temples of Initiation, as well as certain rites performed therein, has persuaded the most learned among Masonic scholars to conclude that Masonry is of very ancient origin, and is, in some aspects, the modern successor of, and heir to, the sublime Mysteries of the Temple of Solomon, and the Temples of India, Chaldea, Egypt, Greece, and Rome [I am certain that he was referring to the cult of Mithras], as well as the basic doctrine of the Essenes, Gnostics and other Mystic Orders“
With this single quote, Brother Lightfoot clearly asserts that Masonry contains remnants of the symbols and rites of the Ancient Mysteries and Masonry also contains the basic doctrines of known esoteric groups, which he terms, Mystic Orders.
This is precisely what the antiquarian William Stukeley had noticed in 1721; there were aspects of Freemasonry that seemed to have similarities to known rites and cults of the ancient world.
This presentation is specifically written to explore one well known stream of thought from the ancient world, broadly called Hermetic Philosophy, and its potential influence on the early progenitors of our Craft. Remember that Stukeley was a close friend of Newton and Desaguliers. John Theophilus Desaguliers is generally credited with the early development of our three degree system, he was the secretary / research assistant for Newton for twenty years, and he was also the third Grand Master of English Lodges.
NOTE – The association of Desaguliers with Isaac Newton is well worth researching; Newton was a practicing alchemist, obsessed with King Solomon’s Temple, and concealed his heretical religious views in enciphered writings, which were supposed to be burned at his death but were retained and translated in the twentieth century.
Hermetic Philosophy focuses around an entity called Hermes; this entity has also been named Thoth (Egyptians), Mercury (Romans), and Hermes Trismegistus or Hermes Thrice Great.
Thoth, Hermes, Hermes Trismegistus, may or may not have been just a single person, but the name and legend could have been inspired by some incredibly intelligent human (like Plato, Pythagoras, or Hypatia) who had such a capacity for knowledge, that their writings evolved into myth and legend, and sometimes converted into God forms. Plato is a perfect example of how one very intelligent person can have profound influence on entire civilizations, and the effects can last for centuries.
Most esoterically minded Masons are already aware of the great intellect of “Hermes” and his contributions of science and knowledge to mankind, but let’s examine how Hermetic Philosophy was evident in 15th-18th century literature, art, and direct Masonic connections. It is important to recall at this point that the typical European citizen had been enduring centuries of civil unrest, violent revolutions, constant wars, disease epidemics, cruel oppression from monarchs and religious authorities, public torture spectacles, and the raw uncertainty of life itself. In light of these long term social stresses, it is no wonder that a new, mysterious, and apparently ancient spirituality would capture the fascinations of intellectuals and develop into obsessions of looking for a better world, a pure un-corrupt religious experience, and a closer relationship to God. These are the allures of so-called Hermetic Philosophy.
The term Hermeticism, doesn’t really have a dogmatic or well defined definition, but in general, it includes the study of alchemy, gnostic spirituality, Kabbalah, theurgy, astrology, and other mystical approaches to relating the physical reality to the spiritual realm. Almost any occult science could be included under the Hermetic umbrella.
The following is a brief and certainly incomplete list of known references to the interest in Hermeticism in 15-18th century Europe.
1.Marsilio Ficino’s translation of what is now called the Corpus Hermeticum brought Hermes and the mysterious writings into the focus of philosophers and the ecclesiastic authorities. The Hermetic writings were interpreted as having predicted the coming of Christ and therefor acceptable; a beautiful marble floor panel in Siena Cathedral (1480s) in Italy depicts Hermes Trismegistus as being a contemporary of Moses.
2. Hermes was a central character in the Sloane (1646) manuscript Constitutions. Hermes discovers the two pillars, one of brick and one of marble, which contain the preserved wisdom and knowledge of the ancient masters.
3. Alchemy, being within the scope of Hermetic Philosophy is everywhere in Europe during this period. The Medici funded translations of ancient scrolls rescued from Byzantium revealed to the Western mind the concepts of alchemy. The Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 1600’s, likely written by Johanne Valentine Andreae and his associates, set off what is called a furor of interest in alchemy as well.
4. Giordano Bruno is travelling around Europe (the late 1500s) promoting controversial mathematical and astronomic theories; he is also promoting the Hermetic Art of Memory, which is not just a mnemonic strategy of memory, but a mystical technique. Bruno was burned at the stake in early 1600 for his heretical scientific and spiritual views.
5. William Shaw, the Master of Werks for James VI, declares in the Second Shaw Statutes (1599) that all craft fellows and prentices shall “Tak tryall of the art of memory”. William Fowler, a colleague of Shaw, had met with Bruno in London in the 1580s and it is feasible that this is how Shaw became exposed to the Hermetic Art of Memory.
6.Robert Cooper, the Grand archivist of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, makes many references to Hermeticism in his book Cracking the Freemasons Code. Brother Cooper asserts Hermeticism as being a component of Scottish Freemasonry in the 1500-1600s.
7. The interest in Alchemy, astrology, magick, and the Kabbalah are very evident in the circles of Royal Society members, and well known Masonic persons. Elias Ashmole, Isaac Newton, Thomas Vaughn, and others were known alchemists and studied occult subject matter; their personal libraries are evidence of these interests. John Byrom maintained a group of intellectually inclined Brothers who convened in an occasional gathering called the Cabala Club, and Lodges in London have minutes showing that papers were presented in Lodges about John Dee, Rosicrucians, and Jacob Boehme. Boehme’s visionary spiritual writings as well as John Dee’s books of angel magic and alchemy were of extreme interest to many intellectuals and free thinkers during this time period.
8. Kabbalah teacher Rabbi Leone Yahudahdi Modena, in 1680, lectured in London about Solomon’s Temple, Lawrence Dermott, the Grand Secretary of the Antients refers to the Rabbi, as Architect, Hebraist, and Brother.
9. Acception – There existed in the 1600’s an elite organization, which was closely associated with the London Mason’s Company, the operative organization of stone Masons. This elite and secretive group was called The Acception and only “accepted” very few members (one being Elias Ashmole); the cost of membership was very high, and one had to be highly educated and well respected. The early 20th century Masonic scholar and writer Reverend Castells, asserts that the name “The Acception” is synonymous to Kabbalah, which in Hebrew means “to receive.” Reverend Castells is convinced that “The Acception” was a purely speculative Masonic organization.
10. Medieval Kabbalists held Hermes in great veneration, no wonder, since he is considered (in some legends) as having given the Kabbalah to Moses. The Zohar contains phrases which closely parallel the well known Hermetic motto, “As above so below.” “Come and see: the world above and the world below are perfectly balanced.” (Zohar 2:176b) Kabbalah and Hermeticism share the all important mystical understanding of the balanced interrelations of heaven and earth.
On 12 May 2010 the Board of Management passed a resolution stating the principles governing esoteric research. These principles are central to the practice of Regular Freemasonry. In order that there be no doubt that they bind every brother and Lodge in this jurisdiction I have decided to make them the subject of a Grand Master’s edict. At my request the Board of Management has rescinded its resolution so that it may be substituted with the following edict which takes effect immediately.
1. Authorised, official Masonic Education and Instruction is only ‘Regular’ when applied to Free and Accepted or Speculative Masonry (Regular Freemasonry).
2. Because of the widely divergent interpretations which can be placed upon it, I am concerned about the unqualified use of the word “esoteric”, or any of its derivatives or extensions, within Regular Freemasonry. Such use needs to be avoided as it has been and can be misconstrued to the detriment of the Craft.
3. I encourage all Masons to make daily progress in the acquisition of Masonic knowledge. Speculation and discussion within the Landmarks of the Order are to be commended.
4. Within Regular Freemasonry, interpretive discussion and exposition concern only the progressive acquisition of Masonic knowledge towards an understanding of the secrets and mysteries of the Craft, promoting the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. To avoid any misapprehension, such regular discussion and exposition shall be described as “speculative” and the term “esoteric” shall not be applied.
5. Regular Freemasonry does not permit within it any form of esotericism which encompasses or tends towards – occultism, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, profane mysticism, transcendentalism, supernaturalism, druidism, rosicrucianism, satanism or any concept or movement related to any of these. The presentation, endorsement and/or promotion of such subjects in any Lodge holding under the UGL of NSW and ACT whether the Lodge be open, adjourned, at refreshment or closed or at any connected or associated Lodge function should be deemed irregular and is strictly forbidden.
6. Any breach of this Edict constitutes serious unmasonic conduct and shall be treated accordingly.
7. The Grand Master from time to time may grant dispensations to permit the presentation of papers on esotericism which would otherwise constitute a breach of this edict. A dispensation may be granted on such terms and conditions as the Grand Master may impose. An application for a dispensation must be made to the Grand Master in writing through the Grand Secretary. Normally it will only be granted if the proposed paper is a genuine and proper piece of masonic research.
COMMENTS FROM BROTHER VICK
From Australia, it appears as the Grand Master has directly defined what is considered ‘esoteric’ within the confines of his definition of Freemasonry. He also outlines what is not “esoteric” as “occultism, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, profane mysticism, transcendentalism, supernaturalism, druidism, rosicrucianism, satanism or any concept or movement related to any of these.”
The argument for this edit was that there were certain lines and teachings occurring that were about as closely related to Freemasonry as I am related to the president of the United States. Charges are that certain Freemasons were using the term ‘esoteric’ as a way to teach/preach non-mainstream religious tendencies and as a recruitment tool within the order.
The glaring issue is that of course this stifles any discussions of the above and how Freemasonry works and is inspired by them. Rosicrucianism for instance is still a topic of debate and its influence on Freemasonry (some believe it was the foundation, others deny that as its foundation on faith, hope and charity). The issue with this edict is that stifles these types of debates, academic research, etc.
On the other hand the use of Freemasonry as a recruiting tactic for some cult should be addressed as it has the potential to bring serious shame to our order.
I don’t believe that this edict was the right approach to curb illegal recruitment, but will cause stagnation in the spiritual growth of a Freemason, no matter path it may take him.
While this ruling was made outside the United States it highlights the direction of Freemasonry in many American jurisdictions. When the Information Age began in the United States many Grand Lodges handled the “computer revolution” poorly. Some restricted Freemasons from owning or operating a Masonic website. Others closed down privately operated Masonic forums and discussion groups by threatening to expel any Mason who refused to knuckle under.
Many Grand Lodges were “Johnny come lately” into the 20th century methods of communication. They, not their individual members, were the last to open Masonic websites. What they did do at first was a very amateurish attempt. To this day some jurisdictions refuse to allow electronic reporting between Grand Lodge and constituent local Lodges.
Even today The Grand Lodge of West Virginia is on a crusade to find out the identity of a certain website that supported Past Grand Master Frank Haas. It has promised to expel each and every Brother involved with that website. The Grand Lodge of Arkansas closed its website and ordered all Masons within its jurisdiction not to E-Mail each other on threat of expulsion.
This seems to be the modern trend – THOUGHT CONTROL. It used to be that Freemasons everywhere would say that no one man speaks for Freemasonry. Now it seems one man does – the Grand Master and he wants to be the only one speaking on behalf of Freemasonry. If this seems farfetched to you ask Brother Tim Bryce of Florida to explain it to you.
“The origins of the Royal Society lie in an “invisible college” of philosophers and scientists who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss the ideas of Francis Bacon. Two of the original members of the Royal Society – Sir Robert Moray and Elias Ashmole – were already freemasons by the time the Royal Society was formed. The Society met weekly to witness experiments and discuss what would now be called scientific topics although science then was much more broadly defined and included subjects such as alchemy and astrology.”
So we can see that alchemy and astrology among other disciplines were from a very early age adhered to by some Freemasons. So was Rosicrucianism. Laura Britton tells us:
“Although Rosicrucian ideas influence the Scottish Rite degrees of Freemasonry, the origins of the two orders are distinctly different. Throughout the history of both Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, each has borrowed from the other, yet they both retain their own symbols and beliefs.”
Now it seems that Masonic censorship is one more weapon in the arsenal of Grand Lodge control.
One has to wonder how the likes of Albert Pike, Albert G. Mackey, Joseph Fort Newton and Carl Claudy would have reacted to their Grand Master banning their “esoteric” writings.
Freemasonry was once the bastion of liberty and independent thought. It used to be that there was no Pope in Freemasonry and that each Freemason could interpret in his own way what Freemasonry meant to him. What distinguished Freemasonry from the control that many houses of worship demanded was that there was no centralized dogma that must be adhered to. Dogma didn’t drive Freemasonry, the absence of dogma – the freedom for many different ideas, many different philosophies and many different interpretations to exist under the same roof was what used to distinguish Freemasonry. It used to be that the nexus of power resided in the local Lodge. Today Grand Lodges have consolidated their power to such an extent that they hold the power of life or death over both individual Lodges and individual Masons.
From the three steps to the five steps, we now stand at the landing of of the middle chamber. On this journey we have climbed much – traversing up Jacob’s ladder in the first degree, climbed the first series of three steps and introduced to their significance in our maturity with an introduction to the Kaballah. Then, we traversed upon the next five steps where we were illustrated the role of architecture and to our senses to take in the exoteric and esoteric undertaking of the degree. Now, before us we confront the next leg, the next seven steps that have such meaning that they can scarcely be fully understood as they are contained in their presentation.
The seven steps allude to the seven Sabbatical years, seven years of famine, seven years in building the Temple, seven golden candlesticks, Seven Wonders of the World, seven wise men of the east, seven planets; but, more especially, the seven liberal arts and sciences, which are: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy
Each of these arts, as they are defined come with a specific exoteric meaning, they are what they presume to be, and by that I mean that they are in fact what we consider comparable to be the Liberal Arts of study in university today.
At first blush, seven dissonant elements are mentioned first, but our concentration must first come to focus on the latter 7, the seven liberal arts and sciences. But why study a liberal arts course of study? Harvard, a school of some esteem and founded well before Masonry organized under its present day Grand Lodge system, says of a present day liberal arts education that “A liberal education is…a preparation for the rest of life.”
It goes on to say a liberal education…
“…is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students’ awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives, personally, professionally, and socially. College is an opportunity to learn and reflect in an environment free from most of the constraints on time and energy that operate in the rest of life.”
Though the idea of what a liberal study was at the time of their inclusion in Masonry, the principal of that study was the same. This is no subtle assertion; the creators of the Masonic degrees agreed and included in them the instruction to pursue the study of this program to better make the Mason. In short, to make the man a better man with a firm understanding of the Liberal Arts is a necessary foundation for his being.
But what exactly does that mean? To see that answer, we must look at what resides within the study of the liberal arts as instructed by Duncan’s Monitor. To do that, we need to break down what the study of the Liberal Arts would entail in its age of inclusion.
The body of rules describing the properties of the English language. A language is such that its elements must be combined according to certain patterns, its morphology, the building blocks of language; and syntax, the construction of meaningful phrases, clauses and sentences with the use of morphemes and words.
The first codex for English grammar, concisely called Pamphlet for Grammar was compiled/written by William Bullokar, and was written with the ostensible goal of demonstrating that English was just as worthy and rule-bound as was Latin, and was published in 1586. Bullokar’s grammar was faithfully modeled on William Lily’s Latin grammar, Rudimenta Grammatices (1534), which was a Latin text and was used in schools in England at that time, as it was “prescribed” for them in 1542 by Henry VIII.
From early on we can see that the use of language was seen as an important necessity and that the study of Grammar and the use of language in communication of ideas to others as an important aspect of transferring knowledge.
Like grammar, is the art of using language to communicate effectively and persuasively involving three audience appeals: logos which is the “reason or the rational principle expressed in words and things”, pathos which is the ” the quality or power, esp in literature or speech, of arousing feelings of pity, sorrow”, and ethos which is the ” the distinctive character, spirit, and attitudes of a people, culture, era,”, as well as the five canons of rhetoric: invention or discovery, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Along with grammar and logic or dialectic, rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse dating back to antiquity and the great works of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle of whose surviving texts we can read today. From ancient Greece to the late 19th Century, rhetoric was a central part of Western education, filling the need to train public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with arguments rather than coercion of force.
It is the use of language in persuasion of others, an interesting Masonic application, indeed.
With its origins from the Greek λογική logikē, is the study of arguments – Grammar and Rhetoric together. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, and computer science. Logic examines general forms which arguments may take comparing which forms are valid, and which are fallacies. It is a form of critical thinking. In philosophy, the study of logic figures into most major areas of focus: epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics. In mathematics, it takes place in the study of valid inferences within some formal language.
Clearly, we can see that Logis is the application of Grammar and Rhetoric together.
These three areas of study composed what the medieval universities called the tritium, meaning the “three roads” or “three ways” which was necessary in preparation for the quadrivium which are the next four liberal arts of ancient study. The use and preparation of this work was principally for the deeper study of philosophy and theology both noble arts in this period of the middle ages and Renaissance. The four studies came from the curriculum as outlined by Plato in the Republic, as written in the seventh book. The same quadrivium was suggested to of come from the Pythagoreans, as Proclus wrote in A commentary on the first book of Euclid’s Elements:
The Pythagoreans considered all mathematical science to be divided into four parts: one half they marked off as concerned with quantity, the other half with magnitude; and each of these they posited as twofold. A quantity can be considered in regard to its character by itself or in its relation to another quantity, magnitudes as either stationary or in motion. Arithmetic, then, studies quantities as such, music the relations between quantities, geometry magnitude at rest, spherics [astronomy] magnitude inherently moving”
Arithmetic,then, is the simple day-to-day counting to advanced science and business calculations involving the study of quantity, especially as the result of combining numbers. In day to day usage it refers to the simple properties of traditional operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with small number values.
The origins of Arithmetic are thought to date back to as early as 20,000 B.C.E. from ancient tally marks on bone, however earliest records date back to the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians of 2000 B.C.E. with numeral systems and counting marks. Continuous historical development of modern Arithmetic begins in the Hellenistic period of Greece with a close relationship to philosophical and mystical beliefs such as in the works of Euclid and Pythagoras, both Masonic patriarchs.
From the Greek as earth-measurement, geometry is concerned with the determination of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space. Euclid, Archimedes, Descartes, Kepler, and Pythagoras are but a few who are a part of this 5000 year old art of lengths, angles, area, and volume, of which works can be found in ancient Egypt and Babylon too. A fantastic example of their prowess we look to still today in the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The advanced study of Geometry today looks not just into the dimension and space of number, but into its correlation to physics, algebra, and string theory just to name a few as it puts to measure both the physical and invisible universe.
The art of the muses, is an art form whose medium is found in the creation of sound. Common elements of music are to be found in pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts of tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture.
More than the study of melody and song, the Pythagoreans of ancient Greece were the first researchers believed to have investigated the expression of music in scale in terms of numerical ratios, particularly the ratios of small integers. Their central doctrine was that “all nature consists of harmony arising out of number”
On Pythagoreans scale, the Greek Pythagorean and Presocratic philosopher
Philolaus says in Carl Huffman’s “Philolaus,”
A musical scale presupposes an unlimited continuum of pitches, which must be limited in some way in order for a scale to arise. The crucial point is that not just any set of limiters will do. We cannot just pick pitches at random along the continuum and produce a scale that will be musically pleasing. The scale that Philolaus adopts is such that the ratio of the highest to the lowest pitch is 2 : 1, which produces the interval of an octave. That octave is in turn divided into a fifth and a fourth, which have the ratios of 3 : 2 and 4 : 3 respectively and which, when added, make an octave. If we go up a fifth from the lowest note in the octave and then up a fourth from there, we will reach the upper note of the octave. Finally the fifth can be divided into three whole tones, each corresponding to the ratio of 9 : 8 and a remainder with a ratio of 256 : 243 and the fourth into two whole tones with the same remainder. Thus, in Philolaus’ system the fitting together of limiters and unlimiteds involves their combination in accordance with ratios of numbers. Similarly the cosmos and the individual things in the cosmos do not arise by a chance combination of limiters and unlimiteds; the limiters and unlimiteds must be fitted together in a pleasing way in accordance with number for an order to arise. Fragment 6a suggests that Philolaus saw the cosmos as put together according to the diatonic scale. This would be very much in accord with the famous conception of the harmony of the spheres according to which the heavenly bodies make harmonious music as they move, but neither in Philolaus nor any other early source do we get an explicit account of how the musical scale corresponds to the astronomical system.
As you can see, the study of music, in its basic form of composition and in its deeper esoteric study, lends itself to the exploration of mathematics, logic, and geometry, which can lead to a better understanding of the universe itself, which brings us to the last element in this progression.
More precisely called astrology in its earliest Western study.
Astrology and astronomy were archaically one and the same discipline (Latin: astrologia), and were only gradually recognized as separate in Western 17th century philosophy during the “Age of Reason”. Since that time the two have come to be regarded as completely separate disciplines.
Astronomy, then, is the study of objects and phenomena from beyond the Earth’s atmosphere which is a science and widely studied in academic discipline discovering the expanse of the heavens in planets, stars, and other stellar phenomena. Astrology, which uses the positions of celestial objects as the foundation for predictions of future events, and other esoteric knowledge, which is not considered a science and is often seen as a form of divination.
The early astronomer/astrologer, despite its predictive application, would use the study of celestial bodies and chart the astrological movements in space which in turn were applied to correspondences in day to day life of those who he charted them for. Many renaissance scientists were astronomer/astrologers including Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler. The infamous John Dee, astrologer and Magus for the court of Elizabeth I in 1558. Its suggested that by his charts he selected Elizabeth’s coronation date. The practice was in keeping with their earlier study pattern of the liberal arts and not seen as abhorrent to their conclusions in their time.
Scoffed at in academic circles today, the realm of astrology is often the fodder for cheap periodicals and psychic infomercials. In its deeper recesses we can link it to the study of the Kabbalah and the Western mystery traditions and find parallels to our perceptions and ideas even in our Masonic symbolism. Just a quick look at the Holy Saints John again will remind us of our own pairing of earth bound ideas to the equatorial poles of our sun’s annual transition from summer to winter and back again. Perhaps this is coincidence, or by design, in either case it gives us a link to our past in the Liberal studies. This is, in some aspect of antiquity, the role of astrology and the cycle of mankind and our understanding of it.
Notwithstanding the work in Duncan’s or in more localized versions of the Work, the number seven has a deep and rich symbolic significance within many circles. Cirlot, in his A Dictionary of Symbols says of the number seven that it is “Symbolic of perfect order, a complete period or cycle…composed of the ternary and quaternary and … endowed with exceptional value.” He goes on to suggest that it corresponds to the seven directions of space and to the reconciliation of the square with the triangle – the sky over the earth. Seven is the number expressing the sum of heaven and earth.
Now, as we have looked at the seven liberal arts it is necessary to turn back to the dissonant collection at the beginning of this section of steps to look at some of the other connections mentioned in Duncan’s Ritual Monitor to bring them into resonance. In this degree, Duncan mentions the seven Sabbatical years, seven years of famine, seven years in building the Temple, seven golden candlesticks, Seven Wonders of the World, seven wise men of the east, and seven planets. Briefly we must touch on what each of those things mentioned in the 7’s allude to and see if we can find any deeper esoteric meaning behind them to get a glimpse of their significance or meaning to Masonry.
The Number Seven
The Seven Sabbatical years, known also as Shmita, is the seventh year of a seven-year agricultural cycle as mandated by the Torah for the use of the Land of Israel. During that 7th year the land is to lay fallow and all agricultural activity on it stops (excluding some maintenance) and comes from the Book of Leviticus which makes promise of bountiful harvests to those who are observant:
Leviticus 25:20-22 N.I.V. 20 You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.
The seven years of famine stems literally from Genesis 41:30 which reads “And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land” which follows a 7 year period of great abundance. Interestingly, there are other activities in the period of the Sabbatical year, in which debts are to be forgiven as it is considered a Godly act, which becomes a component of the focus in that seventh year.
The seven years in building the Temple is clearly the story of Solomon building the temple in which…King Solomon raised up a labor force out of all Israel – and the labor force was thirty thousand men . . . Solomon selected seventy thousand men to bear burdens, eighty thousand to quarry stone in the mountains, and three thousand six hundred to oversee them. (1 Kings 5:13; 2 Chronicles 2:2). According to 1 Kings 6:38 The work of the temple took seven years saying:
“And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it.”
The seven golden candlesticks, literally from Revelations 1:20 (NIV) which reads
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lamp stands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.”
This could, interpretively, be seen as the Menorah which is a seven branched candelabrum used in the ancient Tabernacle of Moses in the wilderness (not to be confused with the nine branched Menorah used at Hanukkah. The Great architect himself instructing Moses on the construction of the lamp in Exodus 25:31-40 a depiction of which can be found on the Arch of Titus, which is a first century Roman honorific on the Via Sacra in Rome which shows the spoils from the sack of Jerusalem.
The Menorah, when lit, was said to represent the Shekhinah, which refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense as that of divine presence, to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekhinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable. Its lighting, or continual ignition, is variously representative of universal enlightenment and/or the burning bush as seen by Moses.
The temple menorah is a more likely source of Masonic inspiration as it fits with the appointments of King Solomon’s Temple, to whom Masonry holds its affinity and who’s role fits more in resonance with the purpose of the degrees.
The seven wonders of the world are very straight forward and are reflections on the impressive work of the Masons (literally stone cutters) who came before the present day lodge.
The Ancient Wonders were:
The Great Pyramid of Giza from 2584-2561 BC in Egypt.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon from around 600 BC in Iraq.
The statue of Zeus at Olympia from 466-456 BC (Temple) 435 BC (Statue) in Greece.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus circa 550 BC in Turkey.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus 351 BC (to which the modern AASR SJ HQ is modeled after) in Carians, Persians, Greeks
The Colossus of Rhodes from 292-280 BC in Greece.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria circa 280 BC in Hellenistic Egypt, Greece.
The seven wise men of the east were early 6th century BCE philosophers, statesmen and law-givers that were renowned in the following centuries for their wisdom. The title of Seven Wise Men (or Seven Sages) was the title given by ancient Greek tradition.
Each of these Sages represents a worldly aspect of wisdom, though each has varied over time, these are the most common:
Cleobulus of Lindos: he would say that “Moderation is the best thing.” He governed as tyranos of Lindos, in the Greek island of Rhodes, circa 600 BC.
Solon of Athens: he said that “Keep everything with moderation”. Solon (640-559 BC) was a famous legislator and social reformer from Athens, enforcing the laws that shaped the Athenian democracy.
Chilon of Sparta: authored the aphorism “You should never desire the impossible”. Chilon was a Spartan politician from the 6th century BC, to whom the militarization of the Spartan society is attributed.
Bias of Priene: “Most men are simply bad.” Bias was a politician who became a famous legislator from the 6th century BC.
Thales of Miletus: Thales is the first known philosopher and mathematician. He famously said “Know thyself”, a sentence so famous it was engraved on the front façade of the Oracle of Apollo in Delphos.
Pittacus of Mytilene (c. 650 BC), governed Mytilene (Lesbos) along with Myrsilus. He tried to reduce the power of nobility and was able to govern Mytilene with the support of popular classes, to whom he favored. He famously said “You should know which opportunities to choose”.
Periander of Corinth: he was the tyranos of Corinth circa 7th and 6th centuries BC. Under his rule, Corinth knew a golden age of unprecedented prosperity and stability. He was known for “Be farsighted with everything”.
Collectively, these wise men have been quoted and mentioned throughout antiquity and have been looked to as great men worthy of emulation if in their least for their thoughts.
Plato’s Protagoras is the oldest and most explicit mention of the 7 sages in which he says:
“…There are some, both at present and of old, who recognized that Spartanizing is much more a love of wisdom than a love of physical exercise, knowing that the ability to utter such [brief and terse] remarks belongs to a perfectly educated man. Among these were Thales of Miletus, and Pittacus of Mytilene, and Bias of Priene, and our own Solon, and Cleobulus of Lindus, and Myson of Chen, and the seventh of them was said to be Chilon of Sparta. They all emulated and admired and were students of Spartan education, and one could tell their wisdom was of this sort by the brief but memorable remarks they each uttered when they met and jointly dedicated the first fruits of their wisdom to Apollo in his shrine at Delphi, writing what is on every man’s lips: Know thyself, and Nothing too much. Why do I say this? Because this was the manner of philosophy among the ancients, a kind of laconic brevity.”
The seven planets from classical astronomy included the Sun and Moon and the five non-earth planets of our solar system closest to the sun each visible without a telescope including Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. At an early point they were considered asteres planetai or wandering stars, as they were seen as non fixed objects in the night sky.
The astute observer may notice the inclusion of the Sun and the Moon as these two objects relate to the leadership of the lodge, the pillars of wisdom, strength, and beauty, and the art of Kabbalah.
As a side note, the early seven planets were the derivatives of the names of the week; in alchemy the seven metals of the classical world: gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, and lead which corresponded to the known planets.
How do we relate these 7’s to the degree is complex. Perhaps how Cirlot stated, each of these 7’s are elements of perfection: how to achieve perfection, how to live it, how to incorporate it, etc., giving us the map by which to seek it out.
With this, we have reached the top of the stair, and in having taken the journey we have learned what we can about the being of a Fellow of the Craft. As said earlier, this is a complex lot of knowledge and information to digest through the smallest of apertures as presented on a rolled out carpet as given in the degree lesson. It is assumed that the candidate would have knowledge of these esoteric things; in the sense that few would have studied them and even fewer committed them to memory, or that the candidate would seek out this information beyond their degree explanation to educate and enlighten himself as to what these various elements mean. This lesson in three parts is an offering of the latter in assumption that you, like the author, are in deficit of the former and not enlightened in the ways, means, and ideas of the deep and often obtuse ancient world that is so little a part of our modern one. Clearly, the second degree is a wealth of information, from the suggestion of the pillars of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty as a conduit to the study of the Kabbalah, to the understanding of our senses and their physical and spiritual meaning and to the study of alchemy in its assertion of the significance of the seven planets and what we can infer from them physically as their position in the heavens affects our life. Perhaps Thales of Miletus said it best saying “Know Thyself“ as this change is the fuel to discovering the universe, both within and without. There is much more to this statement than what rests at its surface, of both the degree and of our being and, it is with some hope that this has served to educate you to that end.
 logos. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 03, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/logos pathos. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 03 Jan. 2011. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pathos>. ethos. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 03, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethos Jean, James, Science and Music, p154 retrieved 1/03/2011 Huffman, Carl, “Philolaus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/philolaus/>. Cirlot, J.E., A Dictionary of Symbols, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul LTD 1962 page 283 : As the cross in three dimensions, 7 is a “Septenary number, composed of seven elements. “Ultimately, it is founded upon the seven directions of Space: two opposite directions for each dimension, plus the center. This spatial order of six dynamic elements, plus one which is static is projected into the week as a model of the septenary in the passage of time.” “Three is, in many cultures, the number pertaining to heaven (since it constitutes the vertical order of the three dimensional spatial cross) and four is associated with the earth (because of the four directions – comparable with the cardinal points of the two horizontal dimensions).” Protagoras 342e-343b, trans. R.E. Allen
The ancient Babylonians based zodiac signs on the constellation the sun was “in” on the day a person was born. During the ensuing millenniums, the moon’s gravitational pull has made the Earth “wobble” around its axis, creating about a one-month bump in the stars’ alignment.
“When [astrologers] say that the sun is in Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,” said Parke Kunkle, a board member of the Minnesota Planetarium Society.”
Its such a big story that ABC, NBC, and CBS ran the story in their morning programs, probably because its been reported that 31% of people believe in Astrology and that it has some connection to the events in their life.
Asclepius, Asklepios, Ophiuchus
In the change, is a new sign called Ophiuchus which is in the celestial equator, depicted as a man wrangling a serpent, who is thought to represent Asclepius the healer, who the hermeticists out there will recognize as the body of work in the Corpus Hermetica, from the book of Asclepius – To me this Asclepius is like the sun – “A Holy book of Hermes Trismegistus”. The work in this book explores the difference between the physical and metaphysical and their relationship to the soul and immortality.
Of the work, Yates in the work Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition says “… they were certainly not written in remotest antiquity by an all wise Egyptian priest, as the Renaissance believed, but by various unknown authors, all probably Greeks, and they contain popular Greek philosophy of the period, a mixture of Platonism and Stoicism, combined with some Jewish and probably some Persian influences.”
So, whats your sign now? The new dates are:
Capricorn: Jan. 20 – Feb. 16
Aquarius: Feb. 16 – March 11
Pisces: March 11- April 18
Aries: April 18- May 13
Taurus: May 13- June 21
Gemini: June 21- July 20
Cancer: July 20- Aug. 10
Leo: Aug. 10- Sept. 16
Virgo: Sept. 16- Oct. 30
Libra: Oct. 30- Nov. 23
Scorpio: Nov. 23- Nov. 29
Ophiuchus: Nov. 29- Dec. 17
Sagittarius: Dec. 17- Jan. 20
But, Ophiuchus isn’t new and has existed in the Sidreal Zodiac, used by Hindu Jyotish astrologers. Western Astrology, what those 31% of American’s believe in, follows the seasons, to which Jeff Jawer, an astrologer with Tarot.com as quoted in the CNN blogsays”This story is born periodically as if someone has discovered some truth. It’s not news,” especially as the earth has been in motion for millenia.
“Astrology is geocentric. It relates life on Earth to the Earth’s environment, and seasons are the most dramatic effect, which is why we use the tropical zodiac,” said Jawer.