A book review by Frederic L. Milliken
Masonic Traveler, the book, was something I looked at often on the site I am part of, Freemason Information, and said to myself I have to order that book. Next month I reminded myself, order that book but I didn’t. Next month I reminded myself again but I didn’t. Next month…and so it went until the day I met Greg Stewart in person for the first time and he gave me a copy as a gift. And I am so glad he did because this is a book that fills in a lot of blanks, those parts of Freemasonry that were never questioned and never answered.
Masonic Traveler is a book that will bring many Freemasons into the esoteric part of Freemasonry that a Mason never gets in Lodge. It is a journey, the journey of Gregory Stewart who is a Masonic Traveler.
Brother Tim Bryce, no stranger to either one of us or Freemason Information, wrote the introduction to the book in which he said,
Bro. Greg Stewart is a Renaissance Mason with a ravenous curiosity for all things Masonic.
The content of the book comes from a number of essays, some of which have been reworked, on Stewart’s Masonic Traveler blog from 2005-2008. Stewart is the type of individual that always has questions, always wants to know why, always wants the story behind the story and the philosophical underpinnings behind the answers if there are any. He tells us,
Of all the conclusions I have come to the most prominent to me is that the system of Freemasonry today is not merely one of a weekly social hour or ‘fish fry’ as is so often the accusation, but instead a rich philosophical society with fingers both in the ‘third way’ of faith and in the ‘new age’ idea of a metaphysical spiritual development.
So Stewart takes us on his journey. We are on board with him and as the train leaves the station we are introduced to some simple concepts such as The Beehive and Anno Lucis, then proceeding to the slightly heavier subjects of esoterica, education and the place of religion in Freemasonry, from there on to the really heavy topics of symbolism, King Solomon’s Temple, Hermetic tradition and its intertwining with Freemasonry, and the same for the Kybalion, the First Degree Tracing Board finally to Faith ,Hope and Charity.
On this journey we feel a real need to spread the light of some really good Stewartisms.
Chapter One titled “What Is A Freemason” starts us off with a simple basic explanation.
“A Freemason,” Stewart writes,
is a man who in searching for life’s ineffable questions, finds his way into the company of fellow seekers. Comprised of men from every nation, races, social and economic level, all hold similar ideals and beliefs. The uniting idea is a faith in the divine founded in the certitude in an afterlife. This ‘belief’ is grounded by certain landmark tenants and virtues which ultimately lead in exploration of those invisible questions, leading ultimately to the betterment of all mankind.
Later on he says, “Freemasonry strives in its membership to bring like minded men together to explore the four cardinal virtues in hopes to glimpse the divine transcendence of God.”
Next we do some basic “Digging” into esoterica before we later are treated to the real heavy stuff.
What I have come to see is that at some point early in the 1600s, Freemason and Rosicrucian thought crossed paths and likely merged for a time together to form a large degree of esoteric (occult) and organizational knowledge.
He goes on to say,
These ideas came from the alchemists and proto scientists who brought an air of this Hermetic Magick born anew in the coalesced ideas of the Rosicrucian movement, to manifest in the writing of texts such as the Fama Fraternitas.
Expounding on this theme further in Chapter Five, Stewarts writes, “Some writers such as Anderson, Mackey, and later Hall, have made great strides in linking allegorical meanings and symbolic teachings to a broader history with an ethereal connection to the past.”
From the Ziggurats of Ur to the Egyptian mysteries, the breadth of Hinduism and the creation of the Torah, the school of Pythagoras, the Hermetic traditions, the Evolution of Christianity and later Islam the Kabbalah traditions to the Christian mysticism and unfoldment of the self in the new age and in modern psychology, each of these ideas evolving through time to later merge and meld with a Rosicrucian alchemy whose roots go back to the Roman empire and passed from one seeker to another, one esoteric group to another, to eventually be taken in by the societies sub rosas and emerge in the hands of the Free-stone masons and practiced in Lodge.
Many Masons reject this connection of esotericism and see only an institute that caters to the community aspect, basing the fraternity on their own personal faiths and choosing not to see its associations with other seekers.
But I believe that the true nature of Freemasonry at its core exists in both realms, a balance of fraternity and ceremonial initiation of letter and law whose value is in the creation of its shared experience. From it we can delve into this esoteric past from whence we came and explore the ideas of our generations and shape them in our time for how the future will study them.
When we turn to Masonic education Stewart even is philosophical here:
Perhaps it is that Freemasonry is not really a ‘thing’ as such, but instead the essence, ethereal and intangible. It is not necessarily a cause of an action but a contributor, the unseen impetus of our existence.
Directly I see Masonic light coming from within. We carry the light, learning from its reflection on the things we illuminate with our wisdom.
The illumination we seek is an internal understanding of our relationship to the divine and I would argue that all light leads to the same divinity though known by different names in different lands. Freemasonry is but one path to that end. It not being a faith, it is rather a way to conceive the divine, a way to conceive God.
Moving on to Oaths in chapter seven Stewart writes:
That the idea of God does not just exist in one conception; it instead resides in all of us and in all of our myriad faiths and faith teachings. With that in mind and our own individual beliefs at bay, is any one faith greater than the other? Remember there is a divine spark in man that bears a close resemblance to the supreme intelligence of the universe. In a situation where men meet upon the level and in a faith neutral environment, should one text be held above another? How could we not see the value in all faiths?
Next comes my personal favorite chapter in the book – “Freemasonry, The Religion Of Not Being A Religion,” not only because it is a subject I have written about, researched and taken to heart myself but also because of the outstanding job Stewart does with the subject.
Ready for some more Stewartisms?
Masonry is the universal morality which is suitable to the inhabitants of every clime, to the man of every creed. It has taught no doctrines, except those truths that tend directly to the well- being of man; and those who have attempted to direct it toward useless vengeance, political ends, and Jesuitism, have merely perverted it to purposes foreign to its pure spirit and real nature.
With these quotes in mind is Freemasonry a faith? No, not at all. Is Freemasonry a Religion? Perhaps in its practice, yes, as it carries forward a tradition from the past to be taught to generations in the future, but not a dogmatic belief system with specifics to salvation. Is Freemasonry tolerant of all faiths? Yes. Does that frighten, distance and otherwise disenfranchise all fundamental ideologues? Yes, it does which is why every organized dogmatically proscribed faith denounces Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is the religion of not being a religion, the faith of all faiths. It says that no one faith is right, and no one faith is wrong, which is diametrically opposed to what any fundamentalist body wants to tell you is right.
One of the aspects I have found in Freemasonry is that it is like a religion, but not a faith. The practice is liturgical and the catechism is universally teaching a message, but the message is not on divinity, or on faith. It is, the religion of not being a religion. It is a difficult concept, as there is nothing else to compare it to, as no other system promotes faith without saying in who that faith resides, which is how we come to the idea of the Great Architect. In this embodiment, we can collect all ideas of the divine as the creation of the universe, the Monad, or point of creation.
It is in this lack of a dominating opinion of how the practice should be conducted where we find the most infuriating issue. Because of the open stance of the Fraternity and the willingness that it has as being an ecumenical and non sectarian practice, it puts all faiths on an equal footing, not allowing any one faith to leverage power or authority over another.
Stewart goes on to bemoan the loss of study and meaning in the symbols of Freemasonry.
Our symbols today speak to an era long gone by and have become lost to the uninitiated on their meaning, purpose, and importance which has been drowned by an overload of icons. The studies of these internal symbols are quickly becoming relegated to a modern history that is forgetting its near past, by ignoring its archaic origins, and decrying its ideals. Ironically, they are the very ideas that are in even more need today.
The book then segways right into the deeper philosophical contributions of Hermeticism and the Kybalion.
Today this tradition may seem antiquated and even superfluous, but it is the model of our origin and a shining example of the progress towards the city upon the hill. History may consider the secret societies as below the sight of the mainstream, but it was not the membership that passed itself on through the ages, but rather the ancient communication of the development of the self, the vestige of Thoth and the Thrice great Hermes, as the message brought forward to us today. It is that message of self discovery that is transferred to us, as we become the inheritors of its memory to be re-communicated to the future.
It is to Hermes that all western esoteric teaching is said to have originated, in that through this philosophy, Hermes planted the ‘great seed of truth’ instead of founding a teaching school as many other great philosophers of his age did. It was by mouth to ear communication that this wisdom was passed through the ages. But also it was cautioned that it is not for everyone in that the lips (words or wisdom) are closed, except to those with the ears of understanding. To preserve the wisdom, the ancient teachers warned against allowing the secret doctrine to become crystallized into a creed which would allow it to become dogmatic and inflexible.
Much of this history is fanciful and well imagined, but the Hermetic teachings have been linked to a late period of Egypt, and like most ancient or religious in nature texts their true origin and history is in shadow. It is from this tradition that it is supposed that Freemasonry originated. As a continuation of the Egyptian mystery schools, the method of teaching, and the philosophy taught was promulgated forward. Perhaps of significance is the point of preventing the philosophy from becoming dogmatic or crystallized into a specific creed. But even faced with that question, the philosophy has at various points been studied and adopted as an aspect of their faiths, including Christianity and Judaism. And it is in this connection that we can draw parallels to Gnosticism, which was in a sense a middle way between them.
From there the book goes into the seven applied Hermetic principals from the Kybalion.
- THE PRINCIPLE OF MENTALISM
- THE PRINCIPLE OF CORRESPONDENCE
- THE PRINCIPLE OF VIBRATION
- THE PRINCIPLE OF POLARITY
- THE PRINCIPLE OF RHYTHM
- THE PRINCIPLE OF CAUSE AND EFFECT
- THE PRINCIPLE OF GENDER
By understanding these principles and the Kybalion, we can better attune their operation and function in our daily lives. By doing this, we can embark on a path to Mastery and unfold that inner lotus of knowing. By knowing, we take on the word of creation ‘I am” and become creators and shapers ourselves. It is here that we find the lost word in the lessons of the Kybalion which is the key to our Mastery as a Mason.
On the chapter on King Solomon’s Temple Stewart has this to say:
The presence of King Solomon’s Temple in ancient thought, from the earliest Old Testament writings to the pinnacle of renaissance occult philosophy has preserved it as an iconographic representation of the path of the divine. Solomon’s temple is not a solitary place in history, used as a simple metaphor in which to base an allegorical play. Instead, it is a link in early Christian Cabala and Hermetic thought, which is just as vital today, as it was then, to the tradition of Freemasonry, to define and create a construct to relate our movement through its several chambers . Just as it represented the pinnacle of holy practice, so too can it be equated to our own spiritual development by progressive degrees. It is still a metaphor worthy of deeper reflection and thought.
Further chapters deal with St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist and the many symbols and their meaning of a First Degree Tracing Board . What is noteworthy here is Stewart’s excellent treatment of The Point Within A Circle.
By seeking Sophia, that wisdom and knowledge, those things to which we hold our faith inviolate can only then be understood. Through wisdom, we can coalesce our ideas of divine revelation into tangibles that we can then attribute as a part of our faith.
Masonic Traveler is a book that should be a part of every Mason’s library.
Normally I am not enthralled by a collection of essays merged into a book because the message seems to get so splintered. But Stewart does a great job in creating a flow where one topic naturally flows into the next, with one exception. A chapter we didn’t mention “So What” which is a dissertation on the decline of Freemasonry accompanied by statistics that show the trouble that Freemasonry is in, seemed to be just artificially inserted into the middle of some deep philosophical thought in chapters surrounding it. It stuck out like a sore thumb as being out of place and might have fit better as a lead off first chapter.
But withstanding that criticism there is nothing else to say that would put this book in a less than a stellar light. The great thing about it is that in reading Masonic Traveler it will open and expand your mind and you will be taken on an adventure of possibilities and insights that you might not yet have come across. For that reason, among many, I highly recommend this book.
You can find Masonic Traveler on Amazon.