The question has arisen if certain religious practices are compatible with Freemasonry, primarily Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism.
Article XIII – LANDMARKS AND CERTAIN LAWS OF FREEMASONRY
Section 2. The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida hereby recognizes, as being Landmarks of Freemasonry, the following:
(a) A belief in the existence of one ever living and true God.
(b) A belief in the immortality of the human soul and a resurrection thereof to a Future Life.
(c) The Volume of the Sacred Law, open upon the altar, is an indispensable furnishing of every regular Lodge while at labor.
Regulation 1.02 Masonic Law is a rule of fraternal conduct, and applies only to the moral and fraternal rectitude of its members. It is based upon the law of Divine Revelation, therefore, any covenant, affirmation, declaration, assumption, prescription, or requirement derogatory thereto, or in conflict therewith, is void. Hence the precept, “a Mason is bound by his tenure to obey the moral law.”………….
Excerpt from THE CHARGES OF A FREEMASON
THE GENERAL HEADS, VIZ.: – I . OF GOD AND RELIGION.
I. CONCERNING GOD AND RELIGION
“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine.”……….
Therefore, as Grand Master, it is my Ruling and Decision that none of the above mentioned beliefs and/or practices are compatible with Freemasonry since they do not believe or practice one or more of the prerequisites to be a candidate for Masonry listed above.
Further, any member of the Craft that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks.
Furthermore, Freemasonry prohibits the change of any of the Ancient Landmarks, and its members admit that it is not in power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry.
Your Humble Servant and Brother,
Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master
”Be A Leader; Make It Happen”
This edict applies to a particular Brother. Full story to follow.
Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol, reminded me of a parable. A parable is a story embellished with perhaps some grains of reality to convey a broader idea of truth. Dan Brown in his new book, The Lost Symbol, has artfully woven an update of an ancient parable into a modern suspense novel that features prominently the one group that should be most apt to see the connection, the Freemasons. Freemasonry, a fraternity “veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”, is central to the plot under pinning’s, but by its end, merely the back drop by which the modern parable is played out.
Brown, at his finest, is a genius at writing parables. The The Da Vinci Code is a prime example, the telling of the story of the Christ, but not as a divine emanation of God, but rather a mortal man who walked the earth like the rest of us. Brown’s novel was a work of fiction then, just as it is now with his release of the The Lost Symbol. But artfully, he weaves in elements of reality and fact, so as to set his stage onto which the story unfolds, perhaps to give it a greater link into reality, or to simply paint enough real figures into the work so the less (or not real) elements blend in to diffuse with the rest. The more believable the story, the more real it feels for the reader.
In his latest book, The Lost Symbol, Brown brings the story immediately to your feet, sweeping the reader into the air with anti-hero Robert Langdon. These first steps, however are only after a mysterious initiation with libations from a skull. Better to start the mysterious early. With this rapid start, and dubious ceremony, Brown wastes no time in introducing the cast of players and introducing suspicions of who is and who isn’t to be trusted. It works for Brown’s novels; they are after all suspense thrillers. With our cast in place, the story then begins to unfold at whip shot pace.
I do wonder if the book was conceived on a walking tour of Washington, as in the unfolding pages, the actions and activities seem to be bullet points on a map of D.C. rather than more well thought out (or conceived) stages. It seems most of Langdon’s ah-ha moments happen in the less important rooms of these Washington landmarks. Sub sub basements, kitchens, and church offices hardly seem as sexy as the Vatican library, but their mundane setting is really the same places all of us have time to reflect and think in our day to day life. This secondary settings may be a clever illusion to the importance of the idea of discover of the inner sanctum to which we each must travel for our own discoveries, but again, this is Dan brown, and he is writing about the allegorical and symbolic Masons, so you must treat the text with just as much symbolic verve. And brown’s use of these locations give clues to the broader idea of the story too, the chamber of reflection in the U.S. Capitol (inner journey), the Library of Congress (learning, knowledge), and the National Cathedral (where church and state meet).
Science plays an interesting role in this book too, and with another Masonic twist. The nascent field of Noetic Sciences features large here, but not in a first person the reason de etre way, but in a “this is similar to this” allegorical way. Religious mysticism (of all religions) is really at the core of this new science, but besides being an early plot point and step stone to link Freemasonry, mysticism, and Noetic Sciences, the new science field really doesn’t come into play, in the same way it did in Angels and Demons. It was, almost, another symbolic back drop to the whole story, interesting, and connective, but not vital, not the story itself.
As I mentioned, this review will be split in two, and the goal of the 2nd is to look more at the Masonic connections and connotations. But as the book itself was about Freemasonry, it is important to note that Brown’s treatment of Masonry was very tender, almost to much so. Early on, Brown goes to GREAT lengths to debunk and say what Freemasonry isn’t, covering the “is masonry a religion” issue, and even guffawing at the notion of secret geometric grids in the streets of Washington. Even the infamous MASON on the great seal on the back of the 1 dollar bill gets a quick walk on, only to of been used as a dodge for something else. Brown really did write this book with the fate of Freemasonry in mind, in parts almost writing as if he were creating one of our own brochures (perhaps off which he copied his passage) saying very strongly in his main character’s voice “In this age when different cultures are killing each other over whose definition of God is better, one could say the Masonic tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness is commendable.” Brown does go out of his way to weave in all manner of Hermetic, Gnostic, Rosicrucian, and Cabalistic ideas into the offering, but not in a way to dominate the reader into submission of belief, but to paint the picture that the ideas of Freemasonry, in their age and wisdom, are not wholly a Judeo-Christian construct, more on that in a bit in part 2.
Like past Brown novels, the story soon out paces the stage settings and takes over as a thriller and this book is no different. Its pace reaching a fever pitch of intrigue, manipulation, and murder, while embroiled in the ancient mystery of a “Masonic pyramid”. There are a few gasp moments for the reader, and plot spins that I didn’t see coming until hit square in the face by them. And the story winds out with a tragic dilemma, which brings me back to the idea that the story itself was a modern retelling of an ancient parable.
:: spoiler alert::
Caravaggio (1573-1610) The Sacrifice of Isaac
The parable I mention is from the bible. In that sacred text, very early in Genesis (chapter 22 to be exact) Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as a show of his allegiance to his faith in God. In that past parable, the test of faith is tremendous as the eldest born of Abraham is the greatest sacrifice that he can give, and give he does, willing at the command of God. In the very last seconds, Abraham is spared, his faith proven, and a ram is substituted for his son. In the climax of The Lost Symbol, that same test of faith is presented, but for a different outcome. As Abraham was to be the one giving sacrifice, the protagonist of the story, Peter Solomon is in that Abrahamic position, and knowing what the consequences were for the sacrifice he was forced to make, he still chose to not make that sacrifice, choosing to follow his heart. Symbolically, in a book about allegory and symbol, it stuck me that the story was alluding to a transition from one of Abraham’s blind faith (as an external salvation, doctrinal, dogmatic, and absolute), to man believing in the faith within us, that by our acts and intentions we were communing with the divine, which is a Gnostic outlook that sacrifice, in totality, is not necessary and in the end destructive.
The reason for this conclusion seems to me to be based in the preceding pages as repeatedly the ideas of the Hermetic law were repeated and stressed (As Above, So Below) and the bomb of the protagonist was not one of physical destruction, but of ideological chaos. To sacrifice the son would still bring chaos, absolute destruction, personally and publically.
The story wraps up and all the loose ends become tied in the neat bows that Brown manages to make following so many leads and loose ends. But the way in which the book reached its crescendo, not in a fiery explosion or an earth shattering revelation of biblical purport, was lack luster. The inclusion of the CIA, the cavalcade of 33rd degree masons and publicity of the who’s-who of Washington seemed to me an interesting plot point, but hardly reason to blow up historical property, and murder several innocent bystanders, but then, this is a suspense novel, and this YouTubian plot device was just as much a stage setting as the Masons themselves (twitter even got a mention to put the story in a contemporary but soon to be outdated setting).
Really, would the world be so traumatized to see people, who are already pretty open about being Masons, being Masons?
In the end, it was a good book, fun, flighty, suspenseful, with a few a-ha and gasp moments. Was it worth the 5 year wait, I’ll let you be the judge, but it was a nice testament to Freemasonry, and very tasteful in its portrayal of the ancient and honorable fraternity, to which I say thank you to Dan Brown. I give the book 7.5 out of 10 stars, and can say that I enjoyed reading it, and I think that you will too.
For those who read the book, but are wondering what Freemasonry is about, I recommend this Free E-book “What is Freemasonry?.”
“My heart can adopt all forms, I follow the religion of Love: Whichever road the camel of Love takes, that is my religion and my faith”
By Carlos Antonio Martinez, Jr., J.D., PH.D., M.A., 33º
Contrary to the majority of “Exoteric Spiritual Systems” Free-Masonry lacks totalitarian ambition. It accepts that although its method is “just and perfect”, it is not the only one through which its goals are accomplished. It recognizes that its modus-operandi is merely one more of the Traditional Avenues of Access to Knowledge, just like in the Occidental world so were the diverse Gnostic Schools with which it shares a number of basic elements.
For the individual who knows how and when to advance beyond the appearances which at times seem discordant and contradictory and reaches the central nucleus of a proposed concept and/or theory, it must not be difficult to encounter profound parallelisms among Traditions which emanate from the same fountain. Thus, it is with minimum or no effort that we can realize how Free-Masonry shares so many essential tenets, attributes and characteristics with other socio-cultural movements which have emerged all throughout the history of mankind; Movements which in the form of academies, cults, private associations, clubs, congregations, guilds and corporations united and still unite “men and women of good repute and customs” who labor incessantly in the construction of their Inner Temples.
The acceptance of this proven fact, however, must not lead us to the extreme assumption that “everything is identical”, thus reducing Traditions to its minimum common denominator and therefore losing its intrinsically characteristic richness. The fact that “within their nucleuses” Traditions seem analogous does not make their manifestations appear so before the eyes of the common folk, for in order to really appreciate it, it is necessary to make an active and persevering effort.
One of the traditions which outside the occidental frame distinguishes itself among those most proximate to Free-Masonry, is Sufism. The similarity and compatibility of Sufism with the Craft is such that, quite frequently, learned men and women refer to Free-Masonry as: “Western Sufism”, and, in like manner, they refer to Sufism as: “Free-Masonry of Islam”. Before continuing on, it is important to under-line what I consider the most fundamental difference between these two Traditions: While Free-Masonry accepts any “exoteric frame”, Sufism can only be lived plentifully within the Islamic Religion. In this occasion, therefore, notwithstanding how passion-inspiring the topic may be, I will not address the more or less true relationships existing between these two Institutions and their precursors; I will, however, focus very succinctly on points that are central and common to both Traditions.
There are two origins commonly attributed to Sufism: One, is a type of “Concealed Interior Doctrine” directly transmitted by the Prophet (may Peace be upon him!) to his most intimate Disciples; a somewhat similar to certain Gnostic Interpretations of Primitive Christianity and transmitted to our modern days by way of a “golden thread” of Initiates. And the other, entirely different from the first one, is that of the Persian Influence upon the primogenial Arabic Islam, an influence through which certain pantheist and monist depth was aggregated. It is indeed probable that both theories bear much Truth in them; But, only one reality remains uncontested: Sufism has been present in Islam since the first centuries of its existence, having, just like Free-Masonry, a best or worst fate while living its Principles of Love and Tolerance in any of the social/political contexts of the last twelve hundred years.
Though Sufism is not a monolithic block, and philosophical positions from the most orthodox to the most heterodox have been based on it, the most adequate definition may be the one given to us by Omar Ali Shah: “Doctrine which seeks to remove the veil from the eye of the heart (Ayd al-Qalb) to see what is Real (al-Haq)”. It is difficult to condense greater profoundness in such a few words, and impossible to explain them to he/she who does not feel. On the other hand, the moral aspect, just like in Free-Masonry, is not alien to Sufism; Hence the definition given by Junayd of Bagdad: “Adoption of superior qualities and abandonment of inferior ones”.
Sufism, contrary to practices and Ascetic Schools of the Indian subcontinent with which it is also compared, is vivid and practiced in open communities, thus vertebrating themselves with Progressive Ways from smaller groups headed by a “Master” to larger “Grand Orders”, of which the Naqsbandi is probably the best known. The exterior practices of Sufism are determined in great measure by belonging to either “Order”, and most specially by the “ritualistic knocking”, counsel and input of the founding “Master” who inaugurates all major ceremonies which are then followed by prayers, supplications, invocations, diets, pilgrimages and other activities which are as generic and specific to the Muslim World.
The internal practices are, on the contrary, much more faithful to Sufism and very common/familiar to it independently of the “Order” affiliated with, as it usually happens with any esoteric doctrine of difficult comprehension to the non-initiate. Let us in this occasion only mention the practice of Meditation over the Internal Reality (Haqiqah), over the thought-integrator of opposites, over the motion of Nature innate to all human beings (Fitra) and which reveals in its interior the Full Sense of Creation and the presence of Allah (Dhirku’llah) in an analogous perception.
These exercises, among other disciplines, are carried out individually, but, under the tutelage of the “Master” of a regular Community where nobody is granted admission, unless he/she has been subject to rigorous trials aimed at provoking the “Awakening of the Sufi”, an event rarely referenced to under such appellative, but, instead, commonly known as: the “Awakening of a Friend”, very close to the Masonic expression: the “Resurrection of a Brother Master Mason”.
May these few lines suffice to at least superficially emboss the coincidences between Sufism and Free-Masonry, in order that the individual interested in the study of Esoterism in general may benefit from the resources offered by either path, and the Free-Mason, with or without an apron, may know of a Sister Tradition in the Muslim World, a world that is now so perversely defamed and slandered by Profane and “Mason” alike, a world that, contrary to the nefarious assertions of our nation’s failed leadership, is plethoric of Hope, Faith and Charity and ever ready to extend the hand of Brotherly/Sisterly Love, Relief and Truth to all the people of the world.
Reprinted by permission of Carlos Antonio Martinez, Jr.
By Timothy W. Hogan PM, KT, 32* KCCH, S.I.I., District Lecturer for the GL of Colorado
Freemasonry is a system of initiation that draws its Masonic symbolism from a variety of sources and traditions.
Masonic historians are quick point out some of the connections between Freemasonry and the cathedral builders, the Knights Templar, the Royal Society, Hermetic tradition, alchemists and Qabalaists, however the connection between Freemasonry and the Gnostic schools is often overlooked- even though it is perhaps the most prevalent.
Gnosticism is a school of thought originally developed in the ancient pagan world and championed by philosophers like Pythagoras, and later instrumental in the development of early Christianity, in which an initiate can attain a Gnosis – or direct knowledge of the divine. In fact, the word “Gnosis” means “knowledge” in Greek, and it was a divine knowledge that could be achieved through the study of nature, personal initiation, and divine revelation. As a result, schools of initiation were set up by the Gnostics in order to engage in study and initiation, and to attain connection with the path of Sophia- the Greek word for “wisdom”. In fact, this is where the word “philosophy” comes from- as it is from the Greek words “Philo”- meaning “to love”, and “Sophia”, being the goddess of wisdom. The term philosophy is believed to have been coined by Pythagoras, and some have associated Pythagoras’ school with a form of Pagan Gnosticism. Gnosticism therefore showed the connection between God and Nature, and contributed to the esoteric sciences of alchemy and sacred geometry. The “G” emphasized in Freemasonry may therefore have other implications! It has also been argued by many researchers that Gnosticism was a new label for the pagan philosophies and doctrines found in Hermeticism, which had just been rewrapped in new packaging. Indeed, Hermeticism and Gnosticism share many fundamental details, and the influence of Hermetic thought and Hermes in particular could be a whole separate article. Therefore we will just explore Gnostic connections in this article.
Gnosticism and Gnostic thought are mentioned several times in the Scottish Rite degrees, and we can see it as a general theme in Freemasonry, though it is rarely mentioned specifically by name outside of the Scottish Rite. This is partially due to the fact that the Gnostics generally considered themselves their own form of religion, and as Freemasonry accepts brothers of all faiths, it is important not to make the mistake of portraying Freemasonry itself as a Gnostic religion. That being said, the idea associated with Gnosticism can be found in almost all religions, and as such, it can be viewed as more of an esoteric philosophy that unites people across various religions- though some people today claim to be Gnostics as a religion. For example, the ideas associated with a Gnostic Christian are fundamentally almost identical to a Buddha or Boddisatva in the Buddhist religion, Gnanis in Hinduism, an Arif in the Islamic tradition, and a “knower” in the Taoist tradition, and it is for this reason that it is believed that Gnosticsm had an influence on all of these religious philosophies as it spread between Egypt and Tibet, and likewise these other schools contributed to Gnostic doctrine. Though Gnostic philosophies vary somewhat depending on the school, in their essential details and philosophy they are mostly the same. The Gnostic philosopher Mani alluded to this universality when he said, “But my hope will go to the West and to the East. And they will hear the voice of its teaching in all languages and they will teach it in all cities. Gnosticism surpasses in this first point all earlier religions, for the earlier religions were founded in individual places and in individual cities. Gnosticism goes out to all cities and its message reaches every land.”1 Therefore it is important to explore some of these ideas and see how they relate to Freemasonry.
To begin with, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to ancient Gnostic thought, with most scholars explaining Gnosticism as a form dualism in which there is a god of darkness and a god of light who are battling for the souls of humanity. In my opinion, this is kind of a way over simplified version of Gnosticism, and one that is potentially more tied with modern Christian ideas, though there certainly were different types of Gnostic schools and some likely had a more dualistic way of interpreting Gnostic philosophy, and we particularly find this in some later Gnostic movements like the Cathars of southern France. We must remember that much of what had been written about the Gnostics prior to the wide spread translation of Gnostic texts, consisted of harsh critiques by the Roman Catholic Church, which view Gnostcism as a rival movement. Therefore we would also expect a harsh and biased interpretation of Gnostic doctrine. A more correct and widespread view of general Gnosticism, in my mind, would be to suggest that there is a single God, which manifests itself into two forces. These forces have been labeled as Spirit and matter, light and darkness, yin and yang. Gnostics believed that the world of spirit is always subtly directing the world of matter, in order that we, as conscious beings, may grow and become more in line with our spiritual potential. Understanding God’s laws of spirit in matter could enable one to come to a better comprehension of God. This moment of “ah-ha”, or awareness of God’s work, is the Gnosis. It was believed by Gnostic schools that this divine knowledge was necessary for humanities salvation- as it was a personal knowledge of God, and to the Gnostics it was represented by Light. “Gnosis” then, in many ways is similar to ideas associated with “revelation”, “enlightenment” and “nirvana” from different traditions.
From a Gnostic standpoint, then, it was ridiculous to worship anything matter based, as it is just a shadow of a very real spiritual phenomenon from the realm of light. The quest for salvation was believed by most Gnostics to take place over several incarnations on the earth plane, and therefore the battle between two gods over the soul of man was a symbolic metaphor of the battle within oneself over the focus and perceptions in life. Mastering the Gnostic process was considered to be true living, as opposed to being asleep and non-living, which was usually associated with “evil”. Ultimately, the Gnostic must free himself from the illusions of attachment to matter and, leaving the darkness of the mundane world, unite with the Divine Light of God, the first Principle Creator. Metaphors associated with raising the dead, or giving the blind sight were said to be symbolically associated with this awakening. Biblical scholars, for example, usually translate the early Greek word “anastasis” as “resurrection”, but the word more correctly means “awakening”. Therefore most Christian Gnostics considered Jesus’ resurrection as a metaphor for an awakening to Gnosis. The Gnostics did not require the intervention of a Priest to know God, as they became their own conduit for God’s revelation. They did set up a series of initiations to help in the development of consciousness and to lead to Gnosis. These initiations were also sometimes associated with stages of consciousness development after the transition from this life at death, and prior to new incarnation.
The initiations of the Gnostics were primarily centered around the classical elements and the seven planets recognized in antiquity, and they usually involved various baptismal rites and the conferral of passwords at each stage of initiation. It was believed that the four classical elements of antiquity, earth, water, air, and fire represented stages of consciousness illumination, with earth representing the consciousness obsessed with the passions and enslaved by matter on one extreme, and fire representing the consciousness free to shine with the light of God on the other extreme. The initiate therefore learned to master their emotions with the initiation associated with baptism by water, the intellect with the initiation associated with air, and the spiritual understanding with the baptism associated with fire. There was usually also a symbolic death of the old lower self and a resurrection of the new spiritual self that was illustrated in these later degree initiations. The lower false self, called the Eidelon or the Twin, symbolically died, and the higher self- called the Daemon, was free to express itself in Mastery as a reflection of God. God was therefore represented as the supreme light, and in fact, the Gnostics were often called the “Sons of Light”, or sometimes the “Religion of Light”- especially in the case of the Manichean Gnostics. They were also referred to as the “Sons of the Widow”, as found in the Manichean, Valentinian and Mandean traditions. There is even some speculation that the Ming Dynasty got its name from the abundance of Manichean Gnostics at the Chinese court, as “Ming” means “light”. The Chinese believed the Gnostic teacher Manni to be the reincarnation of the Taoist sage Lao Tzu, and even referred to him as the “Buddha of Light”2. Obviously this terminology is something we are very familiar with in Freemasonry.
With each Gnostic degree, the aspirant attained new metaphors for how consciousness was connected in the world, and they attained new passwords which were deemed to be a valuable aid when either their transition came, or they went through the symbolic death, so that they could ascend the higher spheres of consciousness. Along these lines, it was believed that souls incarnated down to earth from the highest heavens, passing through all the planetary spheres with their influences, and cloaking the soul with the tools of consciousness needed for incarnation. After death or during certain breakthroughs of consciousness the souls went back by the same path to the higher realms of consciousness, abandoning at each stage of their ascent what they had taken while incarnating, and this purified them for pure Gnosis. To pass out of the sphere of one planet and into the next above it, they had to go through gateways guarded by Archons, who were like Tilers or Inner Guards, and would give way only to those who had the passwords conferred in the Gnostic initiation ceremonies3. Some schools even taught that the soul could not ascend after death until it was “drawn up by the rays of the sun and, after passing the moon, where it was purified, it went on to lose itself in the shining star of the day” 4. In some Gnostic traditions, like the Mandeans, they even attained secret hand grips and were given special signs of the hands and feet associated with each stage of the initiation process. Ultimately the realization of spiritual awakening and Mastery overcoming the slavery of material senses is hoped to be achieved in these initiations.
In Freemasonry, we may recognize this similar symbolism emphasized with the compasses and the square- as the square represented things material and the compasses represented things spiritual and eternal. We can also recognize the same order of initiation from water to air to fire, as emphasized in the penalties associated with each degree, and the planetary influence may be recognized by the emphasis of the seven liberal arts and sciences- each of which was ruled by one of the classical planets. In Freemasonry, we are likewise given hand grips and signs associated with the hands and the feet in each degree. Ultimately each brother must likewise go through a symbolic death and raising into a new life- just like the Gnostics illustrated in their initiation rites and writings.
The Christian Gnostics were principally concerned with the Christian drama however, and the symbolism associated with it, and as Freemasons we can see how it also relates to the symbolism found in the Masonic degrees themselves, and to the meanings behind the experiences associated with Hiram. Therefore we will examine the path to Gnosis from this early Gnostic Christian vantage point. Keep in mind that this same general myth can be found in different forms all over the ancient world- including with Mithras, Krishna, Odin, Buddha, Jupiter, Apollo, Dionysus, Indra, Pythagoras, Semiramis, Prometheus, and even Quetzalcoatl- mainly because most of these traditions had a root in some Gnostic thought. This being the case, even though we are looking at the Christian myth, keep in mind that the initiation aspects of this myth are actually universal and were incorporated into the Gnostic initiations.
As mentioned, within the Gnostic tradition, there were four states of consciousness with three initiatory steps between them in most schools- particularly the Valentinian. The first type of personality was represented by earth and involved people whose consciousness were totally obsessed with the physical world, the physical senses and by extension their own ego. These personalities were referred to as “Hylics”, and the early Gnostics taught that they identified with a false physical body- called the “eidolon”- or double. Biblical terminology referred to these people as “blind” or “dead” or “asleep”, since they couldn’t perceive the spiritual root of things and didn’t understand that their true body was spiritual and not physical. In Freemasonry we would refer to them as a profane- or uninitiated. Since these people were consumed with their ego, this ego was sometimes represented symbolically by a donkey- since the animal can be so stubborn. Overcoming this stage was usually represented by the person riding the donkey- symbolizing control over the lower nature- and represented by Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, or other Avatars like Mithras and Osiris also riding the donkey in their traditions. In the story of Pinocchio (written by Freemason Carlo Collodi), he almost turns into a donkey when he is obsessed with his own ego, but later turns into a real boy when he overcomes this stage of development. Restoring Hylics to the spiritual path was therefore alluded to as “giving the blind sight” and later “raising the dead”. Throughout the Bible, places of slavery or bondage usually represented this hylic state- for example the earth before the flood, the slavery of Egypt, the Babylonian captivity, or the control of Rome being a few examples. In some Masonic degrees we may clearly see it represented by the Babylonian captivity. Again, this stage was associated with the “earth bound” personality of the elements.
Once a person had an experience of the divine nature of the world however, they underwent a change of heart, so to speak, and had achieved the witnessing of some light. Most English translations of the Bible refer to this change of heart as “repentance”- though the Greek word associated with it is “metanoia.” “Metanoia” didn’t mean that you need to confess to a Priest or join a church, or apologize to God for “missing the mark”- as it is so often interpreted, but rather that you simply changed your heart and your focus towards attempting to understand your connection with God, and you were therefore free in the truest sense. It is the first step in spiritual awakening, and in Freemasonry it is symbolized by the sharp implement being pressed against the heart at the EA degree. This stage of initial awakening symbolically was represented as the realization that you live in a prison of your mind or in a tomb and the first initiation in the Gnostic rites involved baptism by water- sometimes referred to as a “catharmos” or purification in early texts. Some Masonic traditions to this day still begin the first degree with the candidate starting out in a small dark room (a Chamber of Reflection) which has bread and water- like a prison, as well as symbols pointing to the way out of that prison. The initiation then proceeds with the candidate’s first initiation out of the symbolic prison- which makes the brother a free-Mason, and thereby freeborn, and of their own free will and accord. The first stage of Gnostic initiation was generally concerned with subduing the passions and ethics. It was called the “psychic” stage by early Gnostics, and it was a stage in which the initiate discovered they were not merely a physical body. The emphasis on water in the Bible and the overcoming of this stage can be found in such metaphors as the flood of Noah and Jesus walking on water. In our EA degree today in Freemasonry, we likewise find a system which is primarily concerned with ethics, and this is where the first light is received, after having been introduced to a penalty associated with water. The candidate becomes a brother, and in so doing, is no longer blind. The essential details are identical to the Gnostic rites.
The next Gnostic initiation was usually done with air or breath and was called “pneumatic”. A pneumatic initiate came to understand their nature in impersonal terms and God not as a person on a cloud somewhere, but rather as the One. Duality begins to become understood and then transcended and all relationships with God begin to be brought into Oneness. God and the initiate become the mystery of God in love with itself. All is perfectly One. In the ancient Gnostic mystery theatres of Egypt, the various parts of the body of the slain Osiris represented different aspects of reality that all had their roots in this One source. The parts of Osiris are recollected and put back together through the love of Isis. If God was One with creation, then the Pneumatic initiate in the Gnostic schools began the study of the arts and sciences in order to understand God and glorify Him. In fact, it was during the Pneumatic stage that most Gnostic schools had represented steps associated with the seven planets, which by extension ruled the seven noble metals, the seven days of the week, and the seven liberal arts and sciences. The Pythagoreans extended it further and suggested that the notes of the octave and the seven Greek vowels were also under this influence. Therefore we should likewise not be surprised to find this emphasis in the second degree of Freemasonry, in which the penalty is related to air- just like the second initiation in the Gnostic schools. In this degree the world of duality is likewise brought into focus with the pillars.
The pneumatic initiate also came to understand that if God was a point within a circle, and the outer circumference of the circle represented the physical form, then lines of radius emanating from the point in the center of the circle represented various stages of consciousness and various personas of the One. In the outer circumference of the circle each radius appeared as unique and distinct, but at the source of all was God- the mystery of mysteries5. The point within the circle therefore not only represents the brother kept in due bounds, but in ancient symbolism it symbolized gold and the sun, and it was a symbol found in part of the Gnostic initiation process. Getting to the center of the circle was the path of Gnosis, which is why Christ said that those who came before him were baptized with water and air, but he came to baptize with fire. Fire represented the initiation into Gnosis, and in Freemasonry it is related to our third degree.
At some point in the Gnostic pneumatic process, attachment to the false self- or eidolon had to symbolically die so that the new higher spiritual body- sometimes called the “daemon” could awaken. (Notice that I wrote daemon and not demon!!!) The word usually translated as “resurrection” in the Bible is the Greek word “anastasis”, which as discussed actually means “awakening”. This awakening was the Gnosis and to the Christian Gnostics it was represented by Christ. The Christ was the point within the circle that Gnostics were trying to reach, and it is symbolically why that point lies between the two Saint John’s in Masonic EA instruction. This is why “doubting Thomas” questions Christ’s awakening. “Thomas” means “twin” in Greek- and represented the eidolon- or false physical self. This is also how it came to be in Islam that the Koran suggests that someone other than Jesus died on the cross for Jesus. The Koran says, “They did not kill him. They did not crucify him. They were taken in by an appearance.” Islamic Gnostics, such as Ishmaili Shiites and Sufi Sunnis teach that they represent the true Islamic tradition of which Mohammed and the original Muslims were initiated into6. It was these same initiation groups that the Knights Templar had come in contact with and learned alchemy and other ideas from. This tradition came from the Gnostic teachings and Apocryphal texts which suggested that the false twin- or eidolon symbolically died on the cross and Jesus (in the Gnostic Christian traditions) awakened to the Christos of Gnosis (representative of the daemon), and therefore united with God (the Universal Daemon). Mystery school tradition maintains that the tying of an initiate to a cross at this stage, or a symbolic death of some kind, goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. Like the original Christians, Islamic Gnostics treat Christ as an image of the consciousness of God, our shared essential identity. This was all symbolic, of course, to the initiatory and psychological path that we all take, and to the early Gnostic Christians it was irrelevant if a man named Jesus actually went through this crucifixion or if he actually had a twin brother named Thomas. What mattered is that each Christian symbolically went through the symbolic death in order to realize Christ, and by extension a reintegration with God and an understanding of the spiritual Kingdom all around them. Initiation provided the symbolic roadmap to achieve this realization in the Gnostic schools.
This same symbolic death obviously occurs in the Master Mason degree, as the brother represents Hiram Abiff. Even more so, there are two Hirams (or twins) in the degree – Hiram Abiff and Hiram King of Tyre. Some have seen the symbolic death of Hiram Abiff as representing the death of the Gnostic Twin- or Eidolon, who is then attempted to be raised by the Kingly Daemon self (represented by Hiram King of Tyre), but he can’t be raised without the help of King Solomon (representing the Universal Daemon). Some have seen this same twin motif as suggested in the seal of the Knights Templar, which had two knights riding on one horse. It has been debated a great deal if the Templars had any type of secret Gnostic doctrine reserved for the few of the inner circle, however in support of the idea, it is known that they also used a seal of the Gnostic figure of Abraxas7. Abraxas was a rooster headed figure that represented time, among other things, and it was a rooster because a rooster heralds in the new light of the new day with its cry. This was a perfect Gnostic metaphor, and some have suggested that this is the origin of the rooster image found in the Chamber of Reflection in some Masonic traditions, particularly the Traditional Observance. Going back to the twin idea, this same symbol was reflected in the astrological symbol of Gemini (the twins)- whose symbol is two pillars together. We have seen this same two pillar symbol in Freemasonry.
The symbolic death for a “third degree” can be found going all the way back to ancient Egypt. In fact, some researchers suggest that the raising of Lazarus from the dead by Jesus was just such a reenactment of this ancient mystery school drama. The name “Lazarus” in Hebrew is “El Ausor”. “El” was a Hebrew name for God, and “Ausor” was the Egyptian name for the God Osiris- who symbolically dies and was raised from the dead. In fact, in the Mandean Gnostic tradition of the Middle East, one of the names for God continues to be “Aursor”. The story of Lazarus takes place in Bethany, which in Hebrew is “Bethanu”. “Beth” in Hebrew means “house” and “anu” in ancient Egyptian was the abode of the dead. Therefore “Bethany” or “Bethanu” means “house of the dead”. Interestingly, if we change the Hebrew name for Lazarus around so that “El” is last and “ausor” is first, we get the name “Ausorel” or “Azrael”- which is the angel of death. In any event, it is widely believed by researchers that the raising of Lazarus was illustrating an initiatory rite, which is why Jesus took so long to go get him out of the cave he was symbolically buried in.
The Gnostic likewise revered John the Baptist as a supreme Gnostic, and some Gnostic traditions even went so far as to name each of their leaders “John”- as a title, and they believed that John the Evangelist was a Gnostic of the same lineage. They thereby became “holy Saints John”, and the Gnostic leaders likewise named John fell into this same category. Other Gnostic schools, like the Mandeans in Iraq, have even been referred to as “John Christians” throughout most their history, due to their revearing of John the Baptist and emphasis on baptismal rites. The same emphasis is found in the Grail legends, like Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, and it may be related to the Prester John myths. Some have speculated that the emphasis on John in Gnostic traditions is tied to the earlier Babylonian myths of Oannis, whose feast day was June 24th– like John the Baptist, and who was known in myth to anoint Priest Kings, have them don aprons, and teach them the arts and sciences needed for building civilization. According to this theory, Oannis became the Greek Ionanis, which became the Latin Johannis, which finally got abbreviated to John. For the Gnostics this name of John was important however because of the vowels in the name- composed of IOA. Many Gnostics referred to the name of God as IOA or IAO. These vowels were also emphasized in Hebrew words like Adonai- meaning “lord”. The Latin letters IOA were significant from a Gnostic and sacred geometry standpoint, as “I” represented a point extending itself, and therefore the “word” of creation. “O” represented the word extended through space to the point that it comes back in contact with itself, and it therefore represented the extension of the word in creation, or the Christos. “A” represented a triangle that forms as two dualities come in contact with themselves and therefore form a third point of manifestation, and it symbolized the Sophia, or reflection of the word in matter. In the Gnostic text known as the Pistis Sophia, Jesus explains the mystery of the vowels IAO to his disciples thus: “This is its interpretation: Iota, the Universe came out; Alpha, they will turn them; Omega, will become the completion of all completions.”8
As late as the 1803 there was a Gnostic Church started for French Templars called the Johannite Church of Primitive Christians, by Bernard-Raymond Fabre-Palaprat. This church later had close ties with Martinist movements, and developed into l’Englise Catholique Gnostique under the influence of Gerard Encause. This Gnostic lineage has continued to exist in various strains to today, some of which only allow Master Masons or Martinists to become members of the church. The Gnostic Johannite Church tradition itself was often mentioned by Eliphas Levi in his writings of the 1800’s, and it is from here that we likewise find mention of it a number of times in Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma9. The early Knights Templar likewise revered John the Baptist, as along with the Abraxas seal mentioned before, there have been numerous other seals found of theirs which depicted the head of John the Baptist, and some have even suggested that they venerated it as a talisman. Obviously the emphasis on both John the Baptist and John the Evangelist features predominantly in most forms of Freemasonry around the world today.
Another interesting similarity that we find in both early Manichean Gnostic rituals and in some degrees in Freemasonry consisted of the placing of an empty chair on a platform in the east which symbolized the “unseen Master” or “unknown Master” of their sect. The Manichean members who had purified themselves for the special annual ritual were permitted to kneel before this empty chair10. The empty chair is reminiscent of the vacant throne of Osiris in Egyptian initiation rituals, though a similar chair is found reflected in the York Rite degrees of Freemasonry in many jurisdictions, and in the Royal Order of Scotland.
We certainly see the ideas found in both Gnosticism and Freemasonry in other traditions as well, which has led some to believe these ideas in Freemasonry came from other sources. For example, the same progression in initiations from earth to water, water to air, and air to fire, is found in other traditions than just the Gnostics, as it is also emphasized in alchemy and in qabbalah11. However it has been argued that the mystics of these different traditions shared similar doctrines, and some have even gone so far as to suggest the Knights Templar secured the doctrines of Gnosticism of the early Christians, Qabbalah of the Jews, and alchemy of the Islamic societies while in the Holy Land- all of whom had been sharing doctrines and similar initiations as the Templars themselves. By extension, the myth is that Templarism grew into early Freemasonry. Such ideas can also be found in many of the early Rosicrucian manifestos. Ultimately the goal of both the Gnostic tradition and Freemasonry was a level of Mastery- which both systems represent by Light. Gnosticism, on the one hand, teaches that Mastery comes from understanding the spiritual forces behind creation and matter. Freemasonry, on the other hand, emphasizes the same idea- particularly in relation to the compasses that have overtaken the square. Compasses are an instrument used to draw the arcs which define the points behind geometric forms, whereas squares can be used to define those physical forms. The Master Mason is therefore likewise one who understands and utilizes the knowledge of the hidden spiritual and eternal forces behind creation. This is not to get rid of the square, but rather to use it is a tool for the expression of the compasses. Though Gnosticism is a philosophy to some, a religion to others, and a heresy to a few, I hope I have shown that in the essential details we cannot ignore that it shares much in common with the rituals of Freemasonry. This is not written to suggest that Freemasonry itself is a Gnostic religion, but rather to show that much of the symbolism within Freemasonry can best be understood by also understanding some of the symbolism found in the Gnostic philosophy, schools, and initiations.
Rudolph, Kurt, Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism, Harper & Row, San Fransisco, 1987, pg. 332.
Doresse, Jean, The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, MJF Books, New York, 1986, pg 267.
Abid, pg 267.
Freke, Timothy & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2001, pg 60-64.
Freke, Timothy & Peter Gandy, Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2001, pg 205.
Olsen, Oddvar (editor), The Templar Papers, New Page Books, Franklin Lakes, NJ, 2006, pg 122.
Horner, G. (translation), Pistis Sophia, Macmillan, London, 1924, pg. 180.
Pike, Albert, Morals and Dogma, The Supreme Temple of the AASR SJ, Charleston, 1950, pg 817
Hall, Manly P, Orders of the Quest: The Holy Grail, The Philosophical Research Society, Los Angeles, CA, 1949, pg. 14. Also on this page is a reference to Manicheans calling themselves “sons of the widow”.
For more on these associations see my books The Alchemical Keys to Masonic Ritual and The 32 Secret Paths of Solomon: A New Examination of the Qabbalah in Freemasonry.
Sources of general reference:
Barry, Kieren, The Greek Qabalah, Samuel Weiser, Maine, 1999.
Join Greg and Dean in this episode, recorded on April 26, 2009, as they delve into the distant cousin of Freemasonry—the OTO. For the show, they’re joined by Frater Hrumachis who was the Former Public Information Officer for the U.S. Grand Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
This was a particularly rough episode, for a variety of reasons. On its surface, the episode had more than a few audio issues (sorry for all the popping). This was also a hard subject to explore for the hosts. I’ll let you listen to see how that evolved in the show. And then this was one of those “lost” episodes that only resurfaced a decade after it was recorded.
We plan to discuss the Order’s history including its early Masonic roots in European Freemasonry as well as the Order’s modern operations of philosophy and its path of esoterica and fraternity under the teachings of Thelema.
Most importantly, we want to explore what the Thelemic practice is, what it isn’t, and why its relevant to the OTO and how it applies to each of us.
This subject came to mind as I had the unique opportunity recently to attend a Gnostic Mass with LVX Lodge of the O.T.O. a short time back. The mass is presented as an open ceremony that is the public face to the orders otherwise private activities.
For those unfamiliar with the O.T.O., it is a separate philosophical system from Freemasonry whose origins are tied to some late 19th century founder, Karl Kellner, who had feet firmly planted in Freemasonry. In Kellner’s original formulation, the O.T.O. was to serve as a Masonic Academy of sorts that would enable all Freemasons to become familiar with all of the Masonic degrees.
In lieu of a broader exploration, essentially the Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of Oriental Templars) was an esoteric order founded on the idea of re-instilling the esoteric ideas of magik (self development, not hocus pocus) and mysticism into a system that at that time had essentially excised out most of its esoteric leanings. Essentially, it formed and took shape in the absence of these things in the preeminent system of the age, especially as Aleister Crowley took over after his introduction to it in 1910.
It seems to me that in its original context this system was it adopted as a similar practice of the craft and only later did it evolve into their present participatory rites.
I think we may be surprised how many similarities we share and the few differences between one another. For those who have never before heard of the OTO, this program will be an excellent primer to open that door, and for those who have crossed paths with the order, this will be an excellent rediscovery of a past member of the Masonic family and put to rest some of the misconceptions that may exist.
Join us for this episode from March 8, 2009, as Greg and Dean are joined W. Kirk MacNulty, who is an exceptional Freemason and author of several books on the fraternity. A longtime Freemason, MacNulty brings a special understanding of Freemasonry delving into the esoteric and deeper “mystical” underpinnings of the craft. In this conversation we go deep about finding the divine presence through Freemasonry.
Br. Kirk has been an inspiration for many on the mystical ideas of Freemasonry and its deep rooted ties to the Renaissance and scientific revolution that followed. But interestingly, his take on Masonic Mysticism does did not originate from the familiar sources that we associate with it today. Also, we plan to explore the meaning and need of allegory and myth, as it pertains to the fraternity.
I do think generally speaking, that there is probably a greater interest now in the in the mystical or metaphysical dimension than there used to be.
W. Kirk MacNulty
With perhaps in a more poignant tone, this episode talks about the reawakening of the new age idea and philosophy of the the development of the inner Temple and how that act is shaping the face of Freemasonry in the 21st Century.