book, The Great Work, knowledge, wisdom, willpower

The Great Work

book, The Great Work, knowledge, wisdom, willpower

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

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

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

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

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

Complex Simplicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Purposeful Execution

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

This is the purpose of the Great Work.

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

Many Paths, One Destination

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

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

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

Pike, in Morals and Dogma, writes:

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

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

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

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

Read: Why Brotherly Love Relief and Truth in Freemasonry?

Santa Claus sitting in a masonic lodge.

Christmas and Freemasonry

winter Solstice, holy Saints John, John the Evangelist

At its surface, the Christmas holiday has no intrinsic connection to the fraternity of Freemasonry. What I mean by that is no where in the degrees does it link itself to any particular holiday in its practice, in particular the Christmas holiday season.

Holy Saints John, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, sol invictus, winter solstice, Freemasonry, holiday
The Holy Saints John

There are, however, certain Christmas celebrations that have become a part of the fraternity which are linked to one of the interesting symbols that resides at the heart of the practice. Without any specific reference, Masons are said to come from a Lodge of the Holy Saints John, the specific why and how of this connection is lost in the sands of metaphorical time, but some connection infers a balance to the celestial equinox (from summer to winter and back again).

Through this link, winter is said to be represented by the Saint John the Evangelist, whose feast day falls on December 27th.

This Holy Saint John has an interesting symbolic significance, in that, as John the Baptist (who represents the other Holy Saint John) was the precursor to the coming Christ, John the Evangelist is said to be the first disciple at the Lake of Genesareth who recognized the Christ and believed that he had risen.


Of the Saint it is also said that he was the only disciple of Christ to not to forsake him in the hour of His Passion at the foot of the cross. John the Evangelist is also called the Apostle of Charity, which may be in part, his connection to Freemasonry in addition to his unwavering resolve and purity of his love of the divine.

In creating the original construct of the two Johns, the conclusion that I came to was that they struck a balance between zeal and knowledge.

The Baptist who was the precursor of the Christ living in his zeal for the coming son of God and the Evangelist as the representation of knowing that the Christ was the son of God. Only in piecing the component of knowing did it become clear to me that it was not about the degree of knowledge gained, but the degree to which the Evangelist trusted his intuition, to know what was before him.  An interesting parallel comes in the book of Matthew where this very lesson is communicated to Peter from the Christ who says in Matthew 16:15-17

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

This is somewhat out of original context, but illustrative of revealed knowledge based on experience, on learning.

John the Evangelist came to that knowledge by his experience with the Christ.

Another way of looking at this experience is coming from darkness to light, an awakening, and if you take it further, the dawning of awareness. This awareness sits squarely with the idea of Sol Invictus, or the conquering sun which overcomes its captivity of night from the summer solstice and again begins to vanquish the night in its ever increasing minutes of daylight.


Looking at some of the other symbolic connections, the Evangelist is said to relate to the alchemical symbol of the up pointed triangle which represents fire, where again we can see a link to light and knowledge. When we combine the alchemical sign of the Baptist with that of the Evangelist, we create the star of solomon, and the duality of fire and water, further, the duality of light and dark and summer and winter.

Pope Adrian I

Further work attributed to John the Evangelist are the Epistles of John, and the book of Revelation, though his connection to them in later centuries has been contentious, as much of his life from 2000 years ago is lost to time.  Within the church his feast day is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Adrian I near 772 A.D.

The message of the church, and something each of us can take away from John the Evangelist is to “Apply thyself, therefore, to purity of heart, and thou shalt be like Saint John, a beloved disciple of Jesus, and shalt be filled with heavenly wisdom.”

The feast of the Evangelist is little remembered today, except within Masonry where it is celebrated by a few lodges that still practice the Table Lodge ritual where brothers gather together to celebrate it with toasts to those brothers present and absent.   in the past, it was considered a feast day of high importance for Freemasonry because of its proximity to the holidays and the presence of lodge members being close to home. Because of this, It gave those brothers a festival to meet under to punctuate the closing of the year. Meeting like this though is something less convenient in this modern day as most with families travels abroad to celebrate the holiday.

A Christmas Santa sitting in the worshipful masters chair of a Masonic lodge.

Because it is celebrated less does not diminish the importance of the day, nor the symbol itself, as in the modern ritual we are reminded that we come from the Holy Saint John’s in Jerusalem, and as such we should pause and reflect on just what that means. John the Evangelist gives us an important lesson to pursue knowledge and wake from the darkness and renew our commitment to the awakening light of the Victorious Sun.  Even taken out the Christian metaphor, we can salute with Sol Invictus, as knowledge is re-awakened from its cold wintry defeat.

Through the lens of symbolism, John the Evangelist gives us a means to find resonance with the holiday of giving and compassion to the fraternity of brotherly love, relief, and truth.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Teachings of Diogenes-Lesson 3 Light of Teaching


In winter Diogenes walked barefoot in the snow. In summer he rolled in the hot sand. He did this to harden himself against discomfort. “But aren’t you overdoing it a little?” a disciple asked.

“Of course,” replied Diogenes, “I am like a teacher of choruses who has to sing louder than the rest in order they may get the right note.”

How do you mentor your new masons? Do you hand them a book and say memorize this and call me in a month? Or do you teach him the catechism then slap him on the back say congratulations and forget about him?

It is a sad fact that most masons lead a double life. They never try to get to know or help out the candidate, sure they come out to lodge and help with the ritual but who lives the example outside the lodge.

M.W. Brother Herman Forester GM, GLKY puts it very eloquently in the Masonic Home Journal, June, 2009:

The Brotherhood of Freemasonry is not just something we belong to, it is a way of life which has been passed down through the ages, Freemasonry teaches us to be better than ourselves. It is about the good things about man, love of God, love of our fellow man, made in God’s image, our families, neighbors, community and country. The teachings of Masonry are so important to a world desperately seeking the things that Masonry teaches. Brothers, let us all stand together for the right things, which are not always the most popular things, harmony and Brotherly love must always prevail in our Lodges. Honor, integrity and unity must set the standard for all who wear the square and compass, and a rallying point to live by not hollow words but noble actions and deeds for all to see.

I have had the pleasure of taking a young mason under my wing and helping him to understand masonry both in and out side of lodge. He is a sponge soaking up what ever I put before him. Not everything you see or read is correct so careful study is required this actually benefits both of us, as he learns so do I. I show him both sides the correct as well as the incorrect ways of masonry.

The Masonic Journey is of an individual nature. Each individual must choose his path if he is not mentored he may become lost and fall off the path, but those who are mentored and have someone to look to for guidance will keep to their path and grow.

“Did you ever think?

  • 15 Masons gathered to make you a EA,
  • 15 Masons gathered to pass you to Fellowcraft,
  • 33 Masons gathered to make you a Master Mason.

What did you do?

Well I walked barefoot in the snow and rolled in the hot sand so that my voice could be heard above the chorus!

Read Teachings of Diogenes-Lesson 1 Emptiness
Read Teachings of Diogenes-Lesson 2 Honesty

Wor.Bro. Ian M. Donald
Wor.Bro. Ian M. Donald

Wor. Bro. Ian M. Donald
A man is not measured by how tall he stands,
But by how often he bends to help, comfort and teach!

Diogenes (c. 412- c. 323 B.C.) was a very playful philosopher who liked to use great wit when challenging the values and beliefs of his fellow citizens in ancient Athens.    He lived in great poverty, probably begging and stealing his food, and steadfastly disdained all forms of luxury.   It was because of his determination to follow his own dictates and not adhere to the conventions of society that he was given the epithet “dog,” from which the name “cynic” is derived.
– From the web site of David Quinn

An Allegorical Dream


The other evening I had a strange dream. Now, most dreams are rather odd, but every once in a while a dream gives us a bit of truth about life. The following is an account of my dream.

I found myself driving along a highway, following a gray pick up truck. I could see that we were nearing a storm on the horizon and it appeared to be a cloud burst. It was obvious that the rain was very heavy because the curtains created by the precipitation from the clouds had ceased to be translucent and had now become opaque, blocking out all light from the sun.

As I entered the storm following the gray truck, I thought to myself “As long as I stay behind that vehicle, I will be safe. The pickup will guide the way.” But while I turned on my head and tail lights so that the vehicles in front of and behind me could see my car, the truck didn’t follow suit. The gray color of the truck provided it with the perfect camouflage in the rain storm and without the rays of red emanating from its tail lights it was nearly impossible to see. My windshield wipers struggled to remove the dense rainfall from my view and I feared that I would not be able to find the vehicle that was suppose to be guiding me through the rain.

In a moment of desperation, I pressed harder on the accelerator to find the gray truck. As I sped through the sheets of rain I wondered if it had pulled off of the road and I was lost forever. Finally, I saw the reflection of my head lights on the wet tailgate of the truck. I realized that if I could see my own reflection in my guide, that I could properly follow it anywhere.

I found this dream incredibly applicable to the idea of knowing thyself, which is an important part of a person’s overall spiritual health. It is impossible to learn more about God without learning more about one’s self. Self examination is essential to spiritual growth.

The idea of examining one’s inner self in order to come closer to God is an ancient concept. In the Bible, it can be found in the very first chapter of Genesis:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

This passage has long supported the idea that there is some sort of divine spark in man. Something that raises man above the animals and makes him god-like. If a man can look at his own reflection and see the part of the Divine which exists in him, he can unlock the mysteries of his Creator. As Oscar Wilde once said “The final mystery is oneself.”

Namaste OmMasonry is a personal journey that leads us through the journey of knowing ourselves. It invokes the contemplation of our past, present, and current conduct, how we can better ourselves, how we view God, and even our own mortality. In order to truly understand Freemasonry, we cannot only look to the organization for our purpose; we must look inside and discover what role Freemasonry plays in ourselves. Through personal study, meditation, and devotion we can truly subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Masonry. This is how Freemasonry helps us to know thyself.

The Hindus use the greeting Namaste—or I bow to you—which is commonly used in religion to say “I salute the divine within you.” I think that this salutation is a fitting way to end this article.


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Are Illiterates Raising Illiterates?

booksby Br. John Nagy

If you’re old to Masonic Education you know that, for the most part, “average formal Grand Lodge backed” Masonic Education programs exist today as:

  1. Memorizing Degree Catechism
  2. Learning Ritual and floor work
  3. Reviewing the Digest of Law and taking exams based on it
  4. Reading Pamphlets
  5. Perusing Degree Handbooks
  6. Following Officer Manuals

If you’re more fortunate than most, you may even have some Brothers show up at lodge once in a while to provide some interesting tidbits on Masonic history. These are all important and form a stable foundation to continue the necessary support that Freemasonry requires to survive. What is missing though is the kind of education that many Masons are starving for and which Properly Raises them toward the level that Freemasonry was intended to have.

This is a bold statement and one that requires some explanation so let me ask the obvious question, “What are they starving for?” They starve for the truly important aspect of Masonic Education most missing today: how Masonry applies to their lives overall. Without a firm understanding of how Masonry manifests in our lives, what it means and how it helps us Build better lives, the true Masonic lessons are lost, leaving Masons unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

The sad part of this situation is that it is caused by self-sabotage. We Masons are held back because we have falsely labeled ourselves for years. What’s needed to move forward is an earnest effort to dismiss this notion that we are merely “Speculative Masons.” This is blatantly misleading.

Let me place something firmly before you to consider: All Masons who use Masonry to help themselves Build better lives are “Operative Masons;” Masons today do work in and on Stone; it’s not recognized as Stone though, and that is part of the problem. Most of us Masons don’t understand the symbols before us!

Every Working Tool mentioned in Masonic Ritual has Authentic Application in the real world. What is missing though is a foundational understanding as to the application of these tools in our lives today. We don’t see this because the very symbols that are shared within Ritual do not speak to us today as they did in years past. In this respect, Masons being Raised today are symbolically illiterate. They do not have a sufficient Symbolic Education to be Raised properly; which leads me back to the statement I wrote earlier, most Masons are not Properly Raised.

Let me run a few frank statements past you to consider further.

Freemasonry is Building Builders. Sound Building is based on the ability to properly Understand and Work with Symbols. The basis of Symbolic Education is stated within Masonic Ritual. The final Steps Masons must take to prepare themselves for being Properly Raised are alluded to in the FC lecture. The first three of the final Steps are in preparation for understanding and using Symbols as Words; the last four are in preparation for understanding and using Symbols as Numbers. These Seven Steps are important because without a firm understanding of Symbols, Freemasons metaphorically die of hunger in a grocery store jam-packed with food for lack of an ability to access that which is immediately before them.

These last seven Steps are Symbolic in Masonry and were once considered the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences. They were initially used as preparation for serious study in Philosophy and Theology. Without their foundation, the training in Symbols, one could not properly deal with Symbols, also known in some circles as “the Word” or “the Logos.” Masons may go through the motions of being Raised, but until they are capable of raising their level of understanding above the actual words and numbers, they are Symbolically Illiterate, hence they’re unable to read what is before them.

In this respect, Masonry has failed as an organization. As truly successful as Masonry is in preserving our “food locker of symbols,” our Brothers starve and loose interest because they lack access keys to this locker. The saddening aspect of this is that few Brothers understand this; fewer still are willing to work toward changing this.

In general, we Masons as a whole look at increasing numbers, retention of members and ability to “repeat back without firm understanding” as key indicators of our success. They will never be indicators of success – ever!

The challenges we are faced with are based in educating our members in Symbolic Understanding and Use; our problems are based in our Educators not focusing on this; the troubles that are focused on today are a symptom of our not meeting the challenge before us; they are not the cause but we’ll have to live with them until we change our focus.

People support what they can “make sense of” and “use” in their lives. What’s more, when others see how well things are working for Masons, we will attract others in kind. Ironically, if we stick with the basics and educate our members in Symbolic understanding and application, we’ll attract far more members then we could ever imagine.

Building Hiram - Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education by John Nagy

Let’s make a unified effort to give our Brothers the keys to the Masonic locker. All that is required is taking seven simple Steps.

You can hear an interview with Br. Nagy on Masonic Central!

Dr. and Br. John Nagy is the author of the new book:

Building Hiram Uncommon Catechism for
Uncommon Masonic Education Vol. 1.

Non-Masonic Education

A hot topic in the on-line Masonic community is lodge education. Many ideas are presented for educational subjects or how to implement educational programs. Most of this discussion is limited to Masonic topics such as Masonic symbolism or history. There is no shortage of information on these subjects available through the Internet or in hard copy. However, I was asked an interesting question about preparing an educational presentation a couple of weeks ago. A Brother had been tasked with developing an educational segment for the next lodge meeting. The Brother was a relatively new Mason and was not particularly comfortable about presenting on a Masonic topic. Unsure of what subjects he could or should address, he asked the lodge “What should I talk about?”


At this point, every member of the lodge could have given him an idea. He could have presented on the symbolism of the square and compasses or read a short story about George Washington. These are all very predictable subjects. Throughout a Mason’s fraternal experience, he will doubtlessly hear several anecdotes about Mr. Washington and will probably see several extemporaneous speeches given on various symbols taken verbatim from the ritual with a little bit of discussion. The problem with these options is that they are viewing lodge education as a course of instruction which must be exclusively Masonic in its nature. This can make lodge education a redundant process which constantly covers one subject. Imagine going back to high school and discovering that every single class that you were taking was on the subject of geometry. That curriculum would bore anyone to death.

Luckily, we don’t have to limit our lodge education to Masonic symbolism, history, and ritual. If we look at the charge of the Fellowcraft degree, we discover that we are admonished to study the liberal arts. The seven liberal arts consist of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In other words, the Mason is taught to study a wide array of subjects in order to improve himself. As one of my previous columns suggested, balance is an essential concept to a Mason’s life. Therefore, it is important that a Mason balances his education so that he gains knowledge in all areas of the arts and sciences and what better place to promote this idea than within the lodge? If you take a look at your lodge’s membership, you will probably be surprised to discover that the Brethren have expertise in a variety of subjects.

What we can develop using these individual talents is non-Masonic education. This is as important to a lodge’s growth as Masonic education. Our lodges are populated with men from a variety of backgrounds. Freemasonry is home to doctors, lawyers, engineers, historians, clergy, mechanics, farmers, and construction workers. All of these men have the ability to impart useful knowledge on one another. For instance, perhaps one of your lodge’s Brothers is a mechanical engineer which has just patented a new invention. A presentation on the purpose and development of that invention would provide an interesting topic for an educational session.

Likewise, you may have a Brother who is a mechanic trained to maintain hybrid or fuel-cell vehicles and could discuss the challenges facing the automotive industry to provide service to these new alternative fuel models. Everyone in the lodge would benefit from these subjects and an educational program utilizing the knowledge of individual Brothers can develop the same enthusiasm as a well planned lecture circuit.

The main character of the Brother mentioned at the beginning of this article turned out to be a middle school teacher and it was suggested that he present on educational techniques currently being used at that age level. The entire lodge was surprised to discover that current educational techniques differed significantly from those used in the past. Several questions were asked on subjects ranging from how teachers were currently disciplining children to the effectiveness of these new educational methods. Every Brother gained a new understanding from the lesson and left the lodge more enriched than when they had entered. Of course, there is always a place for education pertaining to the ritual, furniture, and customs of the lodge. However, properly supplementing traditional Masonic education with non-Masonic subjects will provide a more well- balanced education program and keep lodge members engaged.