I am often asked, not only by the public at large but even by some Masons, how does Masonry make good men better? A large proportion of Masons, after a lot of errs and ahs, will finally come out with something like, “Well we do a lot of charity.” A more sophisticated answer would be that Masonry has a peculiar system of morality which, if followed, cannot help but make good men better.
The problem is that after being raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason many Brothers are left on their own to figure out how to exactly accomplish this improvement.
Has anybody set up a school to teach Masons on how to apply the virtues of Masonry to their daily lives? Maybe sporadically here and there, there is such instruction but nothing large enough or popular enough to be noticed by the majority of Masons on a nationwide basis.
Originally starting out as contemplative exercises or practices like prayer, meditation, breath work, chanting, and visualization, Dunning expanded his concept into a primer for those seeking to utilize Masonic symbolism and teachings in a way that is practical, accessible, inspiring, and profoundly transformative.
CONTEMPLATIVE MASONRY is a much-needed resource for Masons seeking to undertake the challenging and rewarding work of deep self-knowledge and self-improvement. Dunning provides Masons with a unique system of practices derived directly from the Degrees of Craft Masonry, without reliance upon other religious, spiritual, or esoteric traditions. He also shares the valuable wisdom and insights that come from decades of personal experience with contemplative practices.
Chuck Dunning has been a Master Mason since 1988, and his mother lodge is Haltom City-Riverside #1331, in Haltom City, Texas. He is also a member of Albert Pike #162 in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and also belongs to a number of Masonic research societies. In the Scottish Rite, Chuck is a Knight Commander of the Court of Honor, Director of Education for the Guthrie Valley in Oklahoma, and a Class Director for the Fort Worth Valley
in Texas. In 2012 he became the founding Superintendent of the Academy of Reflection, which is a chartered organization for Scottish Rite Masons wanting to integrate contemplative practice with their Masonic experience.
Chuck has been engaged in various forms of contemplative practice for over three decades. In his career in higher education and mental health, in
Masonry, and with other groups and individuals, he facilitates and teaches mindfulness, meditation, and imagery to enhance peoples’ experiences of life in many ways. Chuck holds a master’s degree in counselor education and a bachelor’s degree in psychology, both from the University of North Texas.
Dunning tells us that Masonic ritual steers Masons into becoming contemplative.
He says early on in the book:
“Our tradition tells us that Speculative Masonry ‘leads the contemplative to view with reverence and admiration the glorious works of creation, and inspires him with the most exalted ideas of the perfections of his Divine Creator.’ It should be recognized that this passage distinguishes the contemplative Mason as one who is guided by the Craft to be more reverent, admiring, and inspired than one might otherwise be.”
“A true contemplative uses the faculties of the psyche as a collection of fine working tools. One learns to employ those tools with the proper measures of force and precision in order to more fully reveal the wisdom, strength, and beauty in whatever matter is chosen. One thus makes of oneself a true philosopher, a literal ‘lover of wisdom.’”
Later he goes on to explain the importance of contemplative practice in making good men better.
“There can be no doubt that a comprehensive and functional psychology is inherent to Masonry. We have seen that our tradition provides us with profound clues and useful information about the structure, dynamics, and health of the psyche, as well as guidelines for holistic maturation and rich rewarding relationships. All of this has been to expand upon the realization that Masonry’s greatest purpose is to assist its members in transforming their lives into wiser, stronger, and more beautiful reflections of the Great Architect’s designs for the human soul and society.”
Echoing my earlier complaint, and I am not the only one Coach John Nagy concurs, that Freemasonic Institutions need to take a bigger part in the life application of its virtues and peculiar system of morality, Dunning has this to say:
“It is one thing to grasp the philosophical basis of an esoteric approach to Masonry, but as with other esoteric pursuits, there should also be a practical dimension. In other words, in order to fully engage Masonic esotericism, we should include practices that are especially fitting in the Masonic milieu. It is therefore interesting, and perhaps frustrating to some of us, that our tradition encourages such things without offering much explicit technical guidance. This fact has undoubtedly contributed to the somewhat popular notion that Masonry is meant to lead to another system of esoteric thought and practice. However, it can be argued that there are elements of our ritual and its teachings that strongly suggest actual practices which require no special knowledge of other traditions or specific systems.”
Half of the book is devoted to the philosophical foundation for contemplative Masonry and the other half is actual contemplative exercises Masons can perform. These exercises are the basis for the life application of Masonry, that sought-after explicit technical guidance. And they are transformative.
But what really sent me into contemplative bliss was the conclusion that Dunning comes to. That is the answer to the question where does this all lead. What will be the end result of this transformation?
It all starts with one of the best quotes from the book:
“It is the position of this book that the Lost Word is indeed the deepest and most profound mystery of the Masonic art, as well as the greatest wage of a Master Mason.”
And then the conclusion:
“Through the practice of Freemasonry, and particularly through a contemplative practice of Freemasonry, we can become more aware of the presence of the Divine within ourselves, and in our lives and around us and become a more capable servant because of that awareness.”
“The most important way that this manifests in the life of a Mason is in how loving he becomes once he recognizes that the Divine is in himself, the Divine is all around him, that the Divine is in his Brothers, that the Divine is in every human being. That is one of the most powerful catalysts for a life transforming experience of love.”
“Love is at once the prime motive force, the most desirable sentiment the most admirable action, and the worthiest product of our work.”
Chuck Dunning founded the Academy of Reflection within the Scottish Rite and is its first leader. This newest addition to Scottish Rite practice was
chartered by the Guthrie Valley in Oklahoma and is now spreading to other Valleys throughout the United States. It is a place for the formal practice of contemplative Masonry.
Once again we visit the great Masonic artist Ryan J. Flynn. There is little that you can write anymore that does justice to what this Brother is doing with and for art. You have to see it to believe it. So Phoenixmasonry Live’s December 2016 program SHOWS you what words cannot do justice to. And as he shows us his creations, his description of how he does it will truly amaze you.
“Freemasonry is not a brand name; it is not Nike, it is not Starbucks. Freemasonry is an ideal, an organization of men who, when gathered together, strive for the absolute best in all of us, and they settle for nothing less. I fervently believe that Masonic works of art should strive to meet the same ideal.”
“I pledge that you will never see me settle for average, plain or quick. I will never brand something with a square and compass and call it “Masonic.” To call something “Masonic” means that it is a direct representation of the Craft, and thus should be educational, symbolic and meaningful; something that I strive to do in all my work. Of course, having a shirt embroidered with my lodge is something I would love to wear, but this, although adorned with our symbols, is merely Masonic in name and not substance.”
“Substance is what drives good art, and it is what drives me to create works that truly honors the Craft that I so love dearly.”
Phoenixmasonry hopes that this video will be a permanent part of your library and that you will carry Flynn’s message of appreciation of Masonic art to your Brethren.
There are some interviewees that make life difficult for you. Sometimes it is like pulling teeth to get them to open up and expound on a question.
Michael Schiavello, an experienced broadcaster, writer and author is not one of those. When you ask him a question he takes off and runs with.
Here is an author who has blended the esoteric thought of Freemasonry with the practical application of its philosophy. Schiavello reminds me a lot of Dr. John Nagy with his Life Application and his questions at the end of each chapter. Nagy, however, writes strictly for Freemasons while Schiavello writes for Masons and non-Masons alike. And that is what makes this book so universal. It deals with universal truths time proven from Masters of ancient times to the current age. Freemasonry is a way of life. And Schiavello writes a primer on how to live the noble life. He urges us and shows us how to pay equal attention to our spiritual side as well as our earthly side. He promotes a life of Balance.
Freemasonry makes good men better and this is one of the few books that will actually show you how that can be done using the symbolism of the Craft. This is not only a must book for Freemasons it is a handbook for anybody and everybody, Mason and non-Mason alike. There is no doubt in my mind that Know Thyself: Using the Symbols of Freemasonry to Improve Your Life will become a classic standing tall with the works of Wayne Dywer, Mitch Albom. Scott Peck and Neale Donald Walsch.
From the three steps to the five steps, we now stand at the landing of of the middle chamber. On this journey we have climbed much – traversing up Jacob’s ladder in the first degree, climbed the first series of three steps and introduced to their significance in our maturity with an introduction to the Kaballah. Then, we traversed upon the next five steps where we were illustrated the role of architecture and to our senses to take in the exoteric and esoteric undertaking of the degree. Now, before us we confront the next leg, the next seven steps that have such meaning that they can scarcely be fully understood as they are contained in their presentation.
The seven steps allude to the seven Sabbatical years, seven years of famine, seven years in building the Temple, seven golden candlesticks, Seven Wonders of the World, seven wise men of the east, seven planets; but, more especially, the seven liberal arts and sciences, which are: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy
Each of these arts, as they are defined come with a specific exoteric meaning, they are what they presume to be, and by that I mean that they are in fact what we consider comparable to be the Liberal Arts of study in university today.
At first blush, seven dissonant elements are mentioned first, but our concentration must first come to focus on the latter 7, the seven liberal arts and sciences. But why study a liberal arts course of study? Harvard, a school of some esteem and founded well before Masonry organized under its present day Grand Lodge system, says of a present day liberal arts education that “A liberal education is…a preparation for the rest of life.”
It goes on to say a liberal education…
“…is, an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students’ awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives, personally, professionally, and socially. College is an opportunity to learn and reflect in an environment free from most of the constraints on time and energy that operate in the rest of life.”
Though the idea of what a liberal study was at the time of their inclusion in Masonry, the principal of that study was the same. This is no subtle assertion; the creators of the Masonic degrees agreed and included in them the instruction to pursue the study of this program to better make the Mason. In short, to make the man a better man with a firm understanding of the Liberal Arts is a necessary foundation for his being.
But what exactly does that mean? To see that answer, we must look at what resides within the study of the liberal arts as instructed by Duncan’s Monitor. To do that, we need to break down what the study of the Liberal Arts would entail in its age of inclusion.
The body of rules describing the properties of the English language. A language is such that its elements must be combined according to certain patterns, its morphology, the building blocks of language; and syntax, the construction of meaningful phrases, clauses and sentences with the use of morphemes and words.
The first codex for English grammar, concisely called Pamphlet for Grammar was compiled/written by William Bullokar, and was written with the ostensible goal of demonstrating that English was just as worthy and rule-bound as was Latin, and was published in 1586. Bullokar’s grammar was faithfully modeled on William Lily’s Latin grammar, Rudimenta Grammatices (1534), which was a Latin text and was used in schools in England at that time, as it was “prescribed” for them in 1542 by Henry VIII.
From early on we can see that the use of language was seen as an important necessity and that the study of Grammar and the use of language in communication of ideas to others as an important aspect of transferring knowledge.
Like grammar, is the art of using language to communicate effectively and persuasively involving three audience appeals: logos which is the “reason or the rational principle expressed in words and things”, pathos which is the ” the quality or power, esp in literature or speech, of arousing feelings of pity, sorrow”, and ethos which is the ” the distinctive character, spirit, and attitudes of a people, culture, era,”, as well as the five canons of rhetoric: invention or discovery, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Along with grammar and logic or dialectic, rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse dating back to antiquity and the great works of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle of whose surviving texts we can read today. From ancient Greece to the late 19th Century, rhetoric was a central part of Western education, filling the need to train public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with arguments rather than coercion of force.
It is the use of language in persuasion of others, an interesting Masonic application, indeed.
With its origins from the Greek λογική logikē, is the study of arguments – Grammar and Rhetoric together. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, and computer science. Logic examines general forms which arguments may take comparing which forms are valid, and which are fallacies. It is a form of critical thinking. In philosophy, the study of logic figures into most major areas of focus: epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics. In mathematics, it takes place in the study of valid inferences within some formal language.
Clearly, we can see that Logis is the application of Grammar and Rhetoric together.
These three areas of study composed what the medieval universities called the tritium, meaning the “three roads” or “three ways” which was necessary in preparation for the quadrivium which are the next four liberal arts of ancient study. The use and preparation of this work was principally for the deeper study of philosophy and theology both noble arts in this period of the middle ages and Renaissance. The four studies came from the curriculum as outlined by Plato in the Republic, as written in the seventh book. The same quadrivium was suggested to of come from the Pythagoreans, as Proclus wrote in A commentary on the first book of Euclid’s Elements:
The Pythagoreans considered all mathematical science to be divided into four parts: one half they marked off as concerned with quantity, the other half with magnitude; and each of these they posited as twofold. A quantity can be considered in regard to its character by itself or in its relation to another quantity, magnitudes as either stationary or in motion. Arithmetic, then, studies quantities as such, music the relations between quantities, geometry magnitude at rest, spherics [astronomy] magnitude inherently moving”
Arithmetic,then, is the simple day-to-day counting to advanced science and business calculations involving the study of quantity, especially as the result of combining numbers. In day to day usage it refers to the simple properties of traditional operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with small number values.
The origins of Arithmetic are thought to date back to as early as 20,000 B.C.E. from ancient tally marks on bone, however earliest records date back to the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians of 2000 B.C.E. with numeral systems and counting marks. Continuous historical development of modern Arithmetic begins in the Hellenistic period of Greece with a close relationship to philosophical and mystical beliefs such as in the works of Euclid and Pythagoras, both Masonic patriarchs.
From the Greek as earth-measurement, geometry is concerned with the determination of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space. Euclid, Archimedes, Descartes, Kepler, and Pythagoras are but a few who are a part of this 5000 year old art of lengths, angles, area, and volume, of which works can be found in ancient Egypt and Babylon too. A fantastic example of their prowess we look to still today in the Great Pyramids of Giza.
The advanced study of Geometry today looks not just into the dimension and space of number, but into its correlation to physics, algebra, and string theory just to name a few as it puts to measure both the physical and invisible universe.
The art of the muses, is an art form whose medium is found in the creation of sound. Common elements of music are to be found in pitch (which governs melody and harmony), rhythm (and its associated concepts of tempo, meter, and articulation), dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture.
More than the study of melody and song, the Pythagoreans of ancient Greece were the first researchers believed to have investigated the expression of music in scale in terms of numerical ratios, particularly the ratios of small integers. Their central doctrine was that “all nature consists of harmony arising out of number”
On Pythagoreans scale, the Greek Pythagorean and Presocratic philosopher
Philolaus says in Carl Huffman’s “Philolaus,”
A musical scale presupposes an unlimited continuum of pitches, which must be limited in some way in order for a scale to arise. The crucial point is that not just any set of limiters will do. We cannot just pick pitches at random along the continuum and produce a scale that will be musically pleasing. The scale that Philolaus adopts is such that the ratio of the highest to the lowest pitch is 2 : 1, which produces the interval of an octave. That octave is in turn divided into a fifth and a fourth, which have the ratios of 3 : 2 and 4 : 3 respectively and which, when added, make an octave. If we go up a fifth from the lowest note in the octave and then up a fourth from there, we will reach the upper note of the octave. Finally the fifth can be divided into three whole tones, each corresponding to the ratio of 9 : 8 and a remainder with a ratio of 256 : 243 and the fourth into two whole tones with the same remainder. Thus, in Philolaus’ system the fitting together of limiters and unlimiteds involves their combination in accordance with ratios of numbers. Similarly the cosmos and the individual things in the cosmos do not arise by a chance combination of limiters and unlimiteds; the limiters and unlimiteds must be fitted together in a pleasing way in accordance with number for an order to arise. Fragment 6a suggests that Philolaus saw the cosmos as put together according to the diatonic scale. This would be very much in accord with the famous conception of the harmony of the spheres according to which the heavenly bodies make harmonious music as they move, but neither in Philolaus nor any other early source do we get an explicit account of how the musical scale corresponds to the astronomical system.
As you can see, the study of music, in its basic form of composition and in its deeper esoteric study, lends itself to the exploration of mathematics, logic, and geometry, which can lead to a better understanding of the universe itself, which brings us to the last element in this progression.
More precisely called astrology in its earliest Western study.
Astrology and astronomy were archaically one and the same discipline (Latin: astrologia), and were only gradually recognized as separate in Western 17th century philosophy during the “Age of Reason”. Since that time the two have come to be regarded as completely separate disciplines.
Astronomy, then, is the study of objects and phenomena from beyond the Earth’s atmosphere which is a science and widely studied in academic discipline discovering the expanse of the heavens in planets, stars, and other stellar phenomena. Astrology, which uses the positions of celestial objects as the foundation for predictions of future events, and other esoteric knowledge, which is not considered a science and is often seen as a form of divination.
The early astronomer/astrologer, despite its predictive application, would use the study of celestial bodies and chart the astrological movements in space which in turn were applied to correspondences in day to day life of those who he charted them for. Many renaissance scientists were astronomer/astrologers including Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler. The infamous John Dee, astrologer and Magus for the court of Elizabeth I in 1558. Its suggested that by his charts he selected Elizabeth’s coronation date. The practice was in keeping with their earlier study pattern of the liberal arts and not seen as abhorrent to their conclusions in their time.
Scoffed at in academic circles today, the realm of astrology is often the fodder for cheap periodicals and psychic infomercials. In its deeper recesses we can link it to the study of the Kabbalah and the Western mystery traditions and find parallels to our perceptions and ideas even in our Masonic symbolism. Just a quick look at the Holy Saints John again will remind us of our own pairing of earth bound ideas to the equatorial poles of our sun’s annual transition from summer to winter and back again. Perhaps this is coincidence, or by design, in either case it gives us a link to our past in the Liberal studies. This is, in some aspect of antiquity, the role of astrology and the cycle of mankind and our understanding of it.
Notwithstanding the work in Duncan’s or in more localized versions of the Work, the number seven has a deep and rich symbolic significance within many circles. Cirlot, in his A Dictionary of Symbols says of the number seven that it is “Symbolic of perfect order, a complete period or cycle…composed of the ternary and quaternary and … endowed with exceptional value.” He goes on to suggest that it corresponds to the seven directions of space and to the reconciliation of the square with the triangle – the sky over the earth. Seven is the number expressing the sum of heaven and earth.
Now, as we have looked at the seven liberal arts it is necessary to turn back to the dissonant collection at the beginning of this section of steps to look at some of the other connections mentioned in Duncan’s Ritual Monitor to bring them into resonance. In this degree, Duncan mentions the seven Sabbatical years, seven years of famine, seven years in building the Temple, seven golden candlesticks, Seven Wonders of the World, seven wise men of the east, and seven planets. Briefly we must touch on what each of those things mentioned in the 7’s allude to and see if we can find any deeper esoteric meaning behind them to get a glimpse of their significance or meaning to Masonry.
The Number Seven
The Seven Sabbatical years, known also as Shmita, is the seventh year of a seven-year agricultural cycle as mandated by the Torah for the use of the Land of Israel. During that 7th year the land is to lay fallow and all agricultural activity on it stops (excluding some maintenance) and comes from the Book of Leviticus which makes promise of bountiful harvests to those who are observant:
Leviticus 25:20-22 N.I.V. 20 You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.
The seven years of famine stems literally from Genesis 41:30 which reads “And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land” which follows a 7 year period of great abundance. Interestingly, there are other activities in the period of the Sabbatical year, in which debts are to be forgiven as it is considered a Godly act, which becomes a component of the focus in that seventh year.
The seven years in building the Temple is clearly the story of Solomon building the temple in which…King Solomon raised up a labor force out of all Israel – and the labor force was thirty thousand men . . . Solomon selected seventy thousand men to bear burdens, eighty thousand to quarry stone in the mountains, and three thousand six hundred to oversee them. (1 Kings 5:13; 2 Chronicles 2:2). According to 1 Kings 6:38 The work of the temple took seven years saying:
“And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it.”
The seven golden candlesticks, literally from Revelations 1:20 (NIV) which reads
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lamp stands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lamp stands are the seven churches.”
This could, interpretively, be seen as the Menorah which is a seven branched candelabrum used in the ancient Tabernacle of Moses in the wilderness (not to be confused with the nine branched Menorah used at Hanukkah. The Great architect himself instructing Moses on the construction of the lamp in Exodus 25:31-40 a depiction of which can be found on the Arch of Titus, which is a first century Roman honorific on the Via Sacra in Rome which shows the spoils from the sack of Jerusalem.
The Menorah, when lit, was said to represent the Shekhinah, which refers to a dwelling or settling in a special sense as that of divine presence, to the effect that, while in proximity to the Shekhinah, the connection to God is more readily perceivable. Its lighting, or continual ignition, is variously representative of universal enlightenment and/or the burning bush as seen by Moses.
The temple menorah is a more likely source of Masonic inspiration as it fits with the appointments of King Solomon’s Temple, to whom Masonry holds its affinity and who’s role fits more in resonance with the purpose of the degrees.
The seven wonders of the world are very straight forward and are reflections on the impressive work of the Masons (literally stone cutters) who came before the present day lodge.
The Ancient Wonders were:
The Great Pyramid of Giza from 2584-2561 BC in Egypt.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon from around 600 BC in Iraq.
The statue of Zeus at Olympia from 466-456 BC (Temple) 435 BC (Statue) in Greece.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus circa 550 BC in Turkey.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus 351 BC (to which the modern AASR SJ HQ is modeled after) in Carians, Persians, Greeks
The Colossus of Rhodes from 292-280 BC in Greece.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria circa 280 BC in Hellenistic Egypt, Greece.
The seven wise men of the east were early 6th century BCE philosophers, statesmen and law-givers that were renowned in the following centuries for their wisdom. The title of Seven Wise Men (or Seven Sages) was the title given by ancient Greek tradition.
Each of these Sages represents a worldly aspect of wisdom, though each has varied over time, these are the most common:
Cleobulus of Lindos: he would say that “Moderation is the best thing.” He governed as tyranos of Lindos, in the Greek island of Rhodes, circa 600 BC.
Solon of Athens: he said that “Keep everything with moderation”. Solon (640-559 BC) was a famous legislator and social reformer from Athens, enforcing the laws that shaped the Athenian democracy.
Chilon of Sparta: authored the aphorism “You should never desire the impossible”. Chilon was a Spartan politician from the 6th century BC, to whom the militarization of the Spartan society is attributed.
Bias of Priene: “Most men are simply bad.” Bias was a politician who became a famous legislator from the 6th century BC.
Thales of Miletus: Thales is the first known philosopher and mathematician. He famously said “Know thyself”, a sentence so famous it was engraved on the front façade of the Oracle of Apollo in Delphos.
Pittacus of Mytilene (c. 650 BC), governed Mytilene (Lesbos) along with Myrsilus. He tried to reduce the power of nobility and was able to govern Mytilene with the support of popular classes, to whom he favored. He famously said “You should know which opportunities to choose”.
Periander of Corinth: he was the tyranos of Corinth circa 7th and 6th centuries BC. Under his rule, Corinth knew a golden age of unprecedented prosperity and stability. He was known for “Be farsighted with everything”.
Collectively, these wise men have been quoted and mentioned throughout antiquity and have been looked to as great men worthy of emulation if in their least for their thoughts.
Plato’s Protagoras is the oldest and most explicit mention of the 7 sages in which he says:
“…There are some, both at present and of old, who recognized that Spartanizing is much more a love of wisdom than a love of physical exercise, knowing that the ability to utter such [brief and terse] remarks belongs to a perfectly educated man. Among these were Thales of Miletus, and Pittacus of Mytilene, and Bias of Priene, and our own Solon, and Cleobulus of Lindus, and Myson of Chen, and the seventh of them was said to be Chilon of Sparta. They all emulated and admired and were students of Spartan education, and one could tell their wisdom was of this sort by the brief but memorable remarks they each uttered when they met and jointly dedicated the first fruits of their wisdom to Apollo in his shrine at Delphi, writing what is on every man’s lips: Know thyself, and Nothing too much. Why do I say this? Because this was the manner of philosophy among the ancients, a kind of laconic brevity.”
The seven planets from classical astronomy included the Sun and Moon and the five non-earth planets of our solar system closest to the sun each visible without a telescope including Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. At an early point they were considered asteres planetai or wandering stars, as they were seen as non fixed objects in the night sky.
The astute observer may notice the inclusion of the Sun and the Moon as these two objects relate to the leadership of the lodge, the pillars of wisdom, strength, and beauty, and the art of Kabbalah.
As a side note, the early seven planets were the derivatives of the names of the week; in alchemy the seven metals of the classical world: gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, and lead which corresponded to the known planets.
How do we relate these 7’s to the degree is complex. Perhaps how Cirlot stated, each of these 7’s are elements of perfection: how to achieve perfection, how to live it, how to incorporate it, etc., giving us the map by which to seek it out.
With this, we have reached the top of the stair, and in having taken the journey we have learned what we can about the being of a Fellow of the Craft. As said earlier, this is a complex lot of knowledge and information to digest through the smallest of apertures as presented on a rolled out carpet as given in the degree lesson. It is assumed that the candidate would have knowledge of these esoteric things; in the sense that few would have studied them and even fewer committed them to memory, or that the candidate would seek out this information beyond their degree explanation to educate and enlighten himself as to what these various elements mean. This lesson in three parts is an offering of the latter in assumption that you, like the author, are in deficit of the former and not enlightened in the ways, means, and ideas of the deep and often obtuse ancient world that is so little a part of our modern one. Clearly, the second degree is a wealth of information, from the suggestion of the pillars of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty as a conduit to the study of the Kabbalah, to the understanding of our senses and their physical and spiritual meaning and to the study of alchemy in its assertion of the significance of the seven planets and what we can infer from them physically as their position in the heavens affects our life. Perhaps Thales of Miletus said it best saying “Know Thyself“ as this change is the fuel to discovering the universe, both within and without. There is much more to this statement than what rests at its surface, of both the degree and of our being and, it is with some hope that this has served to educate you to that end.
 logos. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved January 03, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/logos pathos. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 03 Jan. 2011. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pathos>. ethos. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 03, 2011, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethos Jean, James, Science and Music, p154 retrieved 1/03/2011 Huffman, Carl, “Philolaus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/philolaus/>. Cirlot, J.E., A Dictionary of Symbols, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul LTD 1962 page 283 : As the cross in three dimensions, 7 is a “Septenary number, composed of seven elements. “Ultimately, it is founded upon the seven directions of Space: two opposite directions for each dimension, plus the center. This spatial order of six dynamic elements, plus one which is static is projected into the week as a model of the septenary in the passage of time.” “Three is, in many cultures, the number pertaining to heaven (since it constitutes the vertical order of the three dimensional spatial cross) and four is associated with the earth (because of the four directions – comparable with the cardinal points of the two horizontal dimensions).” Protagoras 342e-343b, trans. R.E. Allen
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.
Our age glories in skepticism and high technology. Science explores every corner of the universe, from the infinitesimal level of subatomic particles to that of the millions of galaxies spreading in an ever expanding universe, overwhelming us with an endless flood of new facts, while imagination is banished to the sidelines of fiction, and faith is condemned as irrational. Science attempts to find unifying theories that will make the world simple, but daily experience teaches us the opposite, that the world is in fact complex and variegated.
If such is our current world, why do Freemasons insist in conveying their messages through the medium of symbolism? Why do we continue performing long and complicated ceremonies? Why is Ritual the foundation of masonic teaching? Why, in the structure of Masonry, we have to perform a special symbolic ceremony to advance from one to degree to another?
Anthropologists tell us that even the most primitive societies have their rituals, often very elaborate. And in our present, “civilized” world, we are immersed in ritual, though we may not be aware of it. From nurseries to armed forces, from law courts to tennis courts, we see old and newly-born rituals performed every day.
Ritual is intimately connected with symbolism. The national flag, the logo of a company, and the colors of a traffic light, they are all symbolic.
The physicist, the modern demiurge, creates his invisible particles in a world of infinitely precise measurements, elaborate instruments, powerful computers and mathematical analysis.
However, the human mind does not appear to work following the rules of computer logic; rather, it works on the basis of symbolic networks. Apprehension and abstraction are symbolic in nature. The language we use to think with and to convey information to others is no more than a generally accepted system of symbols. Words do not correspond to measurable physical entities. They are but shadows, images that flash in the mind and evoke associations, memories and expectations. Furthermore, most of the brain’s activity goes on underneath the surface, so to say, below the level of consciousness. This activity, revealed sometimes in dreams and myths, is nothing but symbols and analogies.
Say I hold in my hand the score for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. You see a book, yet in your mind you hear the four stating notes of the music, destiny knocking on the door, or V for Victory, if you remember Churchill. I say this a symphony, but a scientist might claim that it is only an object weighing 400 grams, composed of wood pulp beaten into sheets, partly covered with a mixture of carbon black and glue. Who is closer to the truth? Which truth is closer to us?
I now pick up a plastic disk and say this too is Beethoven’s Fifth. In my mind, they are closely related; the book and the disk are almost twins. More surprising still, they are both somehow representations of another, totally different experience, the actual concert performance of the music. The human mind has this extraordinary ability to abstract these various experiences: attending a concert, listening to a recording, reading a score, and conflating them into a single symbol: Beethoven’s Fifth.
Symbols, then, are tools for thought, ways to grasp reality and to relate it to ourselves. We sometimes forget that all measurements started as proportions of the human body. An inch is a thumb’s length; a palm, a yard (an arm’s length), a foot, a fathom (length of outstretched arms). The scientist has dehumanized his measurements, because his work is not done with tools adapted to the human body, but with instruments adapted to the machine.
In Masonry we look back to our human dimensions. The symbolic tools we use are intended to reveal direct insights about man, the microcosm, and the world about, the macrocosm. Masonry does not teach like in a classroom. We have no professors; rather we all are apprentices, learning through work, through practice, through personal experience.
Masonic teachings are acquired and developed only by personal effort and involvement, by experiencing the ritual ceremonies. Masonic degrees cannot be received by mail or through the Internet, like diplomas after concluding a course of study. Ritual and symbol are dead letter when on the printed page. Only when words and actions come to life, only by personal experience the symbols become reality.
Masons assemble in lodge in order to work. We hold work is such high esteem, because work is essentially a personal experience. Working we must use our hands, minds and heart.
Seeing only the external aspects of ritual, one may be inclined to call it a theatrical game. Indeed, when ritual is performed without proper preparation, as a charade, a series of actions, words and gestures carried out without thinking, ritual becomes a parody.
But ritual can also become the key to unlock a deeper, more immediate understanding of human nature than can be imparted by logical discourse. Ritual incorporates the accumulated experience of wise men who lived in ages before science and the scientific method were dominant, an experience expressed in legends and symbols. When Freemasonry itself is considered as a philosophical institution, that is, an association of free men lovers of knowledge, then, and only then, can we begin to appreciate the value of ritual and symbol in our Masonic work.
Yes, we do play a game in Masonry. It is a very ancient game, ever full of surprises. It is called the game of life. The tools that Masonry puts in our hands allow us to play the game better, with personal enjoyment and for the benefit of others.