That secret portion of Masonry which is known only to the initiates as distinguished from exoteric Masonry, or monitorial, which is accessible to all who choose to read the manuals and published works of the Order. The words are from the Greek, εσωτερικός, internal, and εξωτερική, external, and were first used by Pythagoras, whose philosophy was divided into the exoteric, or that taught to all, and the esoteric, or that taught to a select few; and thus his disciples were divided into two classes, according to the degree of initiation to which the had attained, as being either fully admitted into the society, and invested with all the knowledge that the Master could communicate or as merely postulants, enjoying only the public instructions of the school, and awaiting the gradual reception of further knowledge. This double mode of instruction was borrowed by Pythagoras from the Egyptian priests, whose theology was of two kinds-the one exoteric, and addressed to the people in general; the other esoteric, and confined to a select number of the priests and to those who possessed, or were to possess, the regal power. And the mystical nature of this concealed doctrine was expressed in their symbolic language by the images of sphinxes placed at the entrance of their temples. Two centuries later, Aristotle adopted the system of Pythagoras, and, in the Lyceum at Athens, delivered in the morning to his select disciples his subtle and concealed doctrines concerning God Nature, and Life, and in the evening lectured on more elementary subjects to a promiscuous audience. These different lectures he called his Morning and his Evening Walk.
In this installment of Symbols & Symbolism, we look at a reading from Albert G. Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and from a piece from Joseph Fort Newton’s The Builder on the Mystic Tie. Defining this mysterious phrase is often troublesome as how does one define the ineffable or the unseen? Often times, to define the mysterious we resort to putting words to feelings, or expressions of a feeling, that still fall short of the what the meaning represents. Perhaps, in Mackey’s definition with help from Newton, we can find some help in putting feeling to this important symbol.
The Mystic Tie
That sacred and inviolable bond which unites men of the most discordant opinions into one band of brothers, which gives but one language to men of all nations and one altar to men of all religions, is properly, from the mysterious influence it exerts, denominated the mystic tie; and Freemasons, because they alone are under its influence, or enjoy its benefits, are called “Brethren of the Mystic Tie.”
The expression was used by Brother Robert Burns in his farewell to the Brethren of Saint James Lodge, Tarbolton, Scotland in 1786.
The full text of the poem/song reads:
Adieu! a heart-warm fond adieu; Dear brothers of the mystic tie! Ye favoured, enlighten’d few, Companions of my social joy; Tho’ I to foreign lands must hie, Pursuing Fortune’s slidd’ry ba’; With melting heart, and brimful eye, I’ll mind you still, tho’ far awa.
Oft have I met your social band, And spent the cheerful, festive night; Oft, honour’d with supreme command, Presided o’er the sons of light: And by that hieroglyphic bright, Which none but Craftsmen ever saw Strong Mem’ry on my heart shall write Those happy scenes, when far awa.
May Freedom, Harmony, and Love, Unite you in the grand Design, Beneath th’ Omniscient Eye above, The glorious Architect Divine, That you may keep th’ unerring line, Still rising by the plummet’s law, Till Order bright completely shine, Shall be my pray’r when far awa.
And you, farewell! whose merits claim Justly that highest badge to wear: Heav’n bless your honour’d noble name, To Masonry and Scotia dear! A last request permit me here, – When yearly ye assemble a’, One round, I ask it with a tear, To him, the Bard that’s far awa.
From The Builder
June, 1920 by Bro. Joseph Fort Newton
“The moral solidarity of mankind is dissolved. The danger is imminent that the end may be a war of all against all. Sects and parties are increasing; common estimates and ideals keep slipping away; we understand one another less and less; even voluntary associations, that form of unity peculiar to modern times, unite more in accomplishment than disposition, bring men together outwardly rather than in reality.” These words, written by Rudolph Eucken in 1912, were like a star-shell over No Man’s Land, revealing the divided mind of the world, and they had a terrible fulfilment. The War, by its principle of violence, made no positive contribution to society, but only stirred up and brought to the surface what already existed. For both men and nations, it intensified tendencies already active, precipitated passions held in obscure solution, and brought into focus forces that had long been uneasily accumulating. It neither initiated nor changed the direction in which the world was moving, but it did quicken the pace, and, in quickening it, revealed it. That is why a haunting uneasiness possesses the minds of men today. Even when local disturbances subside and isolated disputes are settled, we still doubt whether a stable tranquility has returned or ever will return again. For these things are only symptoms of a profound and widespread mental ferment and moral restlessness.
The insight of Eucken goes further back and deeper down to the real root of the matter, divining the causes and logic of it all to be moral, spiritual, religious. For, if anything is made plain by history, it is that the mystic tie which holds humanity together in ordered and advancing life is moral and spiritual, and when that thread is cut anything may happen. From the beginning of the century the spiritual disintegration of the modern world, the breaking of the ties that bind together the fabric of civilization, had been observed and noted by many. Faith grew dim, moral sanctions were relaxed, and it was deemed clever and smart to talk lightly of those sanctities without which no society has long existed. Much of our literature has been intellectually Bolshevistic for thirty years, attacking the basis of marriage, of the home, of the church, of the state, as if the moral laws were only conventions, if not fictions. Verily we have our reward; we know now that when fools play with fire they get burned.
For a time, during the stress and strain and terror of the war, there seemed to be a re-knitting of the ties that bind men and nations together; but it was only seeming. It was the power of fear and force, not the power of faith. How unreal, how artificial it was is shown by the rapidity with which that amazing solidarity was demobilized, to be followed by a revival of class rancor, sectarian ardor, and a narrow, myopic nationalism. A world which, having sent young men to die by the thousands for magnanimous ideals, has already half forgotten them as it coolly and briskly resumes business at the old stand – such a world may be grieved, but it ought not to be astonished, at the revolt of both the minds and souls of men. Not that the immediate future will see a triumph of subversive schemes and radical ideas. If we follow an almost universal precedent we shall pass first through a period of luxury and extravagance, and there will he a momentary craving for the old social and religious orders, as in the years following the Napoleonic Wars. But this is not significant. It is merely the first reaction from the emotional strain and nervous tension of the war. This mood will soon spend itself, and then, at once, new forms, new forces, new demands will begin to arise which will sweep away much that has seemed precious and permanent in our lives.
Without a spiritual renewal, without a re-knitting of that “moral solidarity,” of which Eucken speaks so eloquently, – without the Mystic Tie – we may not hope for security and real progress. The truth is that we have been trying to build a human civilization on a materialistic foundation, and it cannot be done. No human community can long exist on such a basis. Russia has rendered incalculable service to humanity, by showing, with deadly consistency, how materialism issues into anarchy and animalism. Hear now a proof of this in the words of a spiritually-minded man who lived in the midst of it, watching the decay and destruction of his country. Eugene Troubetzkoy, Professor of Law in the University of Moscow, in the Hibbert Journal, for January 1920 (page 210), shows us what happens when the tie of spiritual faith and fellowship is broken. Here are words which he who runs may read:
Bolshevism is first and foremost the practical denial of the spiritual. They flatly refuse to admit the existence of any spiritual bond between man and man. For them economic and material interests constitute the only social nexus; they recognize no other. This is the source of their whole conception of human society. The love of country, for example, is a lying hypocritical pretense; for the national bond is a spiritual bond, and therefore wholly factitious. From their point of view the only real bond between men is the material – that is to say, the economic. Material interests divide men into classes, and they are the only divisions to be taken account of. Hence they recognize no Nations save the Rich and the Poor. As there is no other bond which can unite these two Nations into one social whole, their relations must be regulated exclusively by the zoological principle revealed in the struggle for existence.
The materialistic conception of society is the Bolshevist method of treating the family. Since there is no spiritual bond between the sexes, there can be no constant relation. The rule is therefore that men and women can change their partners as often as they wish. The authorities in certain districts have even proclaimed the ‘nationalization’ of women, that is, the abolition of any private and exclusive right to process a wife even for a limited period, on the ground that women are the property of all. The same children. A powerful current of opinion is urging that children must be taken from their parents in order that the State may give them an education on true materialistic lines. In certain communes some hundreds of children were ‘nationalized,’ that is, ‘taken from their parents and placed in public institutions.
There it is, showing us what the red logic of hell means when it works itself out in action, and what results follow when the Mystic Tie of spiritual faith and fellowship is cut. Political anarchy, social animalism, moral bedlam follow with mathematical certainty, and all the fine and holy things of life are thrown into the junk heap. Man has an animal inheritance – moods of ape and tiger mingle in him with divine dreams and thoughts that wander through eternity – and when the Divine is denied, he reverts to the law of the jungle, and the hard-won trophy of spiritual struggle and agony vanishes. What happens, happens again. The Bolsheviks are men of like passions as ourselves; they simply carry out with the fatal logic of fanaticism the dogma of materialism upon which we have been trying to base our modern civilization. If anyone thinks that what has taken place in Russia cannot happen in America, he knows little of history and less of human nature. The practical denial of the Divine dehumanizes humanity, and the rest follows as night follows day.
For that reason, if it should be a part of our religion to be patriotic, it must be a part of our patriotism to keep the light of spiritual faith aflame on the altars built by our fathers. Down in Wales, at a time when it seemed that revolution was inevitable, I asked a labor leader what bond held men together. He said:
All that holds these men back is the fact that they were trained in the Sunday-schools of these Welsh chapels years ago. That is all that keeps the spark from blowing up.
Within the last four years, ten thousand Sunday-schools have ceased to exist in America, and the end is not yet. Facts such as these, and others of like kind, make a thoughtful man wonder as to what the future will be. What confronts us is not specifically indifference to religion, but indifference to pretty well everything outside the circle of creature comfort and self-gratification. There are many exceptions, of course, but in the main it is true that society has as yet been able to persuade only a few of its members to be really interested in its higher concerns. By the same token, men who do care for what is finest in our national life must make use of every opportunity, every instrumentality, to keep alive the faith that makes men faithful, and the vision of the moral ideal that lights our human way toward the city of God.
There is no need to apply what has been said, least of all to men to whom the Mystic Tie is a reality, and who are bound together by it in a fraternity of spiritual Faith and Fellowship. In every degree of Freemasonry, we are taught – by art, drama and symbol – the moral basis of human society, its spiritual interpretation, and the necessity of a fraternal righteousness among men, without which manhood is rudimentary and intellectual culture is the slave of greed and passion. Of Lincoln it was said, that “his practical life was spiritual,” and by as much as Masonry builds men of like faith and fiber who, in private life and public service, keep a manhood neither bought nor sold, true of heart and unbefogged of mind, it is helping to weave that Mystic Tie that holds the republic together. The words of James Bryce, in The American Commonwealth(page 583), ought to be written and hung up in our hearts. If history teaches anything, it teaches us that hitherto civilized society has rested on religion.
It was religious zeal and religious conscience that led to the founding of the New England colonies two centuries and a half ago… Religion and conscience have been a constantly active force in the American Commonwealth ever since…
And the more democratic republics become…
…the more the masses grow conscious of their power, the more do they need to live not only by patriotism, but by reverence and self-control, and the more essential to their well-being are those sources from which reverence and self-control flow.
The full quote reads:
America is no doubt the country in which intellectual movements work most swiftly upon the masses and the country in which the loss of faith in the invisible might produce the completest revolution because it is the country where men have been least wont to revere anything in the visible world. Yet America seems as unlikely to drift from her ancient moorings as any country of the Old World. It was religious zeal and the religious conscience which led to the founding of the New England colonies two centuries and a half ago those colonies whose spirit has in such a large measure passed into the whole nation. Religion and conscience have been a constantly active force in the American commonwealth ever since not indeed strong enough to avert many moral and political evils yet at the worst times inspiring a minority with a courage and ardor by which moral and political evils have been held at bay and in the long run generally overcome.
It is an old saying that monarchies live by honor and republics by virtue. The more democratic republics become the more the masses grow conscious of their own power the more do they need to live not only by patriotism but by reverence and self control and the more essential to their well being are those sources whence reverence and self control flow.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism, we look at the brief entry on the magical and mystical word know today as the word of prestidigitation. While over used in more modern times, the word itself is seen as a hex, an incantation or the lead up to the punch line of a parlor trick. Believed to be an Aramaic word, it’s suggested to have derived from the phrase “”I create as I speak.” Like so many words, it represents a vestigial memory cloaked in a syncretic mythology.
From Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry:
A term of incantation which was formerly worn about the neck as an amulet against several diseases, especially the tertian ague (known today as tertian malaria).
It was to be written on a triangular piece of parchment in the following form:
It is said that it first occurs in the Carmen de Morbis et Remediis (The full text being called De Medicina Praecepta Saluberrima- Carmen de Morbis et Remediis) of Q . Serenus Sammonicus, a favorite of the Emperor Severus in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and is generally supposed to be derived from the word abraxas (ΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ).
On 12 May 2010 the Board of Management passed a resolution stating the principles governing esoteric research. These principles are central to the practice of Regular Freemasonry. In order that there be no doubt that they bind every brother and Lodge in this jurisdiction I have decided to make them the subject of a Grand Master’s edict. At my request the Board of Management has rescinded its resolution so that it may be substituted with the following edict which takes effect immediately.
1. Authorised, official Masonic Education and Instruction is only ‘Regular’ when applied to Free and Accepted or Speculative Masonry (Regular Freemasonry).
2. Because of the widely divergent interpretations which can be placed upon it, I am concerned about the unqualified use of the word “esoteric”, or any of its derivatives or extensions, within Regular Freemasonry. Such use needs to be avoided as it has been and can be misconstrued to the detriment of the Craft.
3. I encourage all Masons to make daily progress in the acquisition of Masonic knowledge. Speculation and discussion within the Landmarks of the Order are to be commended.
4. Within Regular Freemasonry, interpretive discussion and exposition concern only the progressive acquisition of Masonic knowledge towards an understanding of the secrets and mysteries of the Craft, promoting the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. To avoid any misapprehension, such regular discussion and exposition shall be described as “speculative” and the term “esoteric” shall not be applied.
5. Regular Freemasonry does not permit within it any form of esotericism which encompasses or tends towards – occultism, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, profane mysticism, transcendentalism, supernaturalism, druidism, rosicrucianism, satanism or any concept or movement related to any of these. The presentation, endorsement and/or promotion of such subjects in any Lodge holding under the UGL of NSW and ACT whether the Lodge be open, adjourned, at refreshment or closed or at any connected or associated Lodge function should be deemed irregular and is strictly forbidden.
6. Any breach of this Edict constitutes serious unmasonic conduct and shall be treated accordingly.
7. The Grand Master from time to time may grant dispensations to permit the presentation of papers on esotericism which would otherwise constitute a breach of this edict. A dispensation may be granted on such terms and conditions as the Grand Master may impose. An application for a dispensation must be made to the Grand Master in writing through the Grand Secretary. Normally it will only be granted if the proposed paper is a genuine and proper piece of masonic research.
COMMENTS FROM BROTHER VICK
From Australia, it appears as the Grand Master has directly defined what is considered ‘esoteric’ within the confines of his definition of Freemasonry. He also outlines what is not “esoteric” as “occultism, sorcery, alchemy, astrology, profane mysticism, transcendentalism, supernaturalism, druidism, rosicrucianism, satanism or any concept or movement related to any of these.”
The argument for this edit was that there were certain lines and teachings occurring that were about as closely related to Freemasonry as I am related to the president of the United States. Charges are that certain Freemasons were using the term ‘esoteric’ as a way to teach/preach non-mainstream religious tendencies and as a recruitment tool within the order.
The glaring issue is that of course this stifles any discussions of the above and how Freemasonry works and is inspired by them. Rosicrucianism for instance is still a topic of debate and its influence on Freemasonry (some believe it was the foundation, others deny that as its foundation on faith, hope and charity). The issue with this edict is that stifles these types of debates, academic research, etc.
On the other hand the use of Freemasonry as a recruiting tactic for some cult should be addressed as it has the potential to bring serious shame to our order.
I don’t believe that this edict was the right approach to curb illegal recruitment, but will cause stagnation in the spiritual growth of a Freemason, no matter path it may take him.
While this ruling was made outside the United States it highlights the direction of Freemasonry in many American jurisdictions. When the Information Age began in the United States many Grand Lodges handled the “computer revolution” poorly. Some restricted Freemasons from owning or operating a Masonic website. Others closed down privately operated Masonic forums and discussion groups by threatening to expel any Mason who refused to knuckle under.
Many Grand Lodges were “Johnny come lately” into the 20th century methods of communication. They, not their individual members, were the last to open Masonic websites. What they did do at first was a very amateurish attempt. To this day some jurisdictions refuse to allow electronic reporting between Grand Lodge and constituent local Lodges.
Even today The Grand Lodge of West Virginia is on a crusade to find out the identity of a certain website that supported Past Grand Master Frank Haas. It has promised to expel each and every Brother involved with that website. The Grand Lodge of Arkansas closed its website and ordered all Masons within its jurisdiction not to E-Mail each other on threat of expulsion.
This seems to be the modern trend – THOUGHT CONTROL. It used to be that Freemasons everywhere would say that no one man speaks for Freemasonry. Now it seems one man does – the Grand Master and he wants to be the only one speaking on behalf of Freemasonry. If this seems farfetched to you ask Brother Tim Bryce of Florida to explain it to you.
“The origins of the Royal Society lie in an “invisible college” of philosophers and scientists who began meeting in the mid-1640s to discuss the ideas of Francis Bacon. Two of the original members of the Royal Society – Sir Robert Moray and Elias Ashmole – were already freemasons by the time the Royal Society was formed. The Society met weekly to witness experiments and discuss what would now be called scientific topics although science then was much more broadly defined and included subjects such as alchemy and astrology.”
So we can see that alchemy and astrology among other disciplines were from a very early age adhered to by some Freemasons. So was Rosicrucianism. Laura Britton tells us:
“Although Rosicrucian ideas influence the Scottish Rite degrees of Freemasonry, the origins of the two orders are distinctly different. Throughout the history of both Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, each has borrowed from the other, yet they both retain their own symbols and beliefs.”
Now it seems that Masonic censorship is one more weapon in the arsenal of Grand Lodge control.
One has to wonder how the likes of Albert Pike, Albert G. Mackey, Joseph Fort Newton and Carl Claudy would have reacted to their Grand Master banning their “esoteric” writings.
Freemasonry was once the bastion of liberty and independent thought. It used to be that there was no Pope in Freemasonry and that each Freemason could interpret in his own way what Freemasonry meant to him. What distinguished Freemasonry from the control that many houses of worship demanded was that there was no centralized dogma that must be adhered to. Dogma didn’t drive Freemasonry, the absence of dogma – the freedom for many different ideas, many different philosophies and many different interpretations to exist under the same roof was what used to distinguish Freemasonry. It used to be that the nexus of power resided in the local Lodge. Today Grand Lodges have consolidated their power to such an extent that they hold the power of life or death over both individual Lodges and individual Masons.
It is true without lies, certain and most true;
That which is below is as that which is above,
and that which is above is as that which is below,
to accomplish the miracle of the one thing.
It is true without lies, certain and most true;
That which is below is as that which is above,
and that which is above is as that which is below,
to accomplish the miracle of the one thing.
One of the most extensive collections of esoteric work is in jeopardy of being dispersed into the hands of private collectors.
The Ritman Library, known as the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica comes from the private collection of books by businessmen Joost R. Ritman who turned his private collection of manuscripts and printed works in the field of Hermeticism into a library of the Hermetic tradition, to show the interrelatedness between the various collecting areas and their relevance for the present day study.
Today, the renowed Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (BPH) is in grave danger because of a financial conflict with Ritman, and the Friesland Bank.
An online petition has been started to save the library, which you can sign here, and chronicles the dissolution of the library, saying:
It is widely known that the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam, was in great danger in the 1990s, when the ING bank took possession of the collection and threatened to sell it. Fortunately, the Dutch government intervened: the BPH was put on the list of protected Dutch heritage, and the State eventually acquired over 40% of it. The books remained at the same physical location, integrated with the rest of the collection, and the government would eventually acquire all of it.
The manuscript was likely written for one of the leading aristocratic families of Medieval France (circa 1315-23) and is now expected to sell for $2.49 to $3.23 million.
As part of this process, there were great plans for further expansion. Largely due to the financial crisis and a change of government this was taking somewhat longer than originally anticipated, but nobody doubted that the library was safe.
Last week this turned out to be incorrect. An extremely valuable medieval manuscript owned by the BPH (The Grail of Rochefoucauld – the oldest known Arthur Manuscript) was put on sale at Sotheby’s, and this triggered a reaction from the Friesland Bank, which took possession of the library, that had apparently been brought in as collateral, in order to get back a 15 million euro loan from mr Ritman.
At present the BPH is closed, and intense negotiations are going on behind closed doors. It is impossible at this moment to predict the outcome, but there is no doubt that the situation is extremely serious. There is a very real possibility that the Friesland bank will try to sell at least 60% of the library that is still owned by Mr. Ritman, and nobody knows what implications this will have for the rest of the collection and the BPH as a whole, including its staff. The brand-new government of the Netherlands has announced a program of radical financial cuts in the culture section and elsewhere, which makes a renewed intervention from that side highly unlikely.
It continues saying:
If the Ritman library would go down, this would mean an enormous blow to international scholarship in hermetic studies. The damage would be irreversible. By signing this petition you express your concern, and ask the Dutch government and the Friesland bank to do their utmost to ensure that the collection will be saved and will remain available for the international scholarly community.
What you can do.
Its a challenge to say what one can do in such an situation, but there are some things one can do to express their concern.
Sign the petition to save the Library.
Send an email/letter to Friesland Bank in protest of the sale and dissolution of the work. You can send to: Headquarters
Friesland Bank Postbus 1 Friesland Bank PO Box 1
8900 AA Leeuwarden 8900 AA Leeuwarden
Call the Friesland Bank Press Officer
at Pers Press
Persvoorlichter Press Officer
Saskia Toor Saskia Toor
(058) 299 44 23 (058) 299 44 23
06 51 50 56 00 06 51 50 56 00
Send them a message at their Friesland Bank contact page here
or call them at +31 58 2994499
Encourage your academic institution to join the growing list of Professors and Academic institutions in support of the study of the Hermetic tradition and the preservation of the library. You can see a list of those who have already signed the petition here.
Also, if there is consideration of private investment in the library, contact me and we can organize a mission to help preserve the collection. Email me at email@example.com
You can see by their Guide the bredth and work of the collection.
In the colelction of work, you one can study and explore the depth of Hermetic study, which the library has divided into the following principal collecting areas:
Gnosis & Western Esotericism
This collecting area contains works attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, other neo-Platonic works, patristic testimonies to the Christian reception of Hermes and works testifying to the influence of the Hermetica from the Early Middle Ages through to the present day. Placed at the beginning is a general section with relevant historical studies.
Works range from antiquity to modern day.
The general section at the beginning contains a great number of art historical works and plate books on the subject of alchemy and its symbols. There are also specialized periodicals in the field of alchemy available, such as Ambix and Chrysopoeia (both complete).
A number of source texts and secondary works from Greek, Oriental, Arabic and Jewish, to Midieval and Western Alchemy.
The BPH particularly collects medieval and later Western mystics having a demonstrable affinity with Hermetic thought, amongst whom Meister Eckhart, Suso and Tauler.
From early mysticism to mystical spiritualism through the centuries, the Library has a wide collection of works to research from, including a selection on Sufism.
The Rosicrucian Manifestoes (Fama fraternitatis, Confessio fraternitatis and Chymische Hochzeit) were printed in addition to the original 17th-century editions, the BPH holds several modern editions, ranging from facsimile editions to annotated text editions, and various translations, amongst which Spanish, English and French.
The BPH collection spans work from the original Manifestos to more modern workings of the S.R.I.A, Max Heindel’s Fellowship, A.M.O.R.C., O.T.O./O.R.A., and other relevant developments.
V GNOSIS & WESTERN ESOTERICISM
This principal collecting area includes various currents in addition to Hermetism, Alchemy,
Mysticism and Rosicrucians which express a spirituality mainly manifesting itself outside the confines of the institutionalized religions. At the same time they feed and reinforce the core of the collection.
This branch of the collelction includes works of comparative religion, egyptology, pre-Christian cults, Early Christian practice, the Nag Hammadi Library both pre and post materials, Gnostic both past and present, Manichaeism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Non-Western philosophy religious traditions, Esotericism, Grail, Catharism, Kabbalah, Judaica, Qumran, Freemasonry, the Templars, and Christianity.
Needless to say, the collection is both extensive and necissary for modern study of the Hermetic Tradition.
The ‘Way of Gnosis’ or the ‘Way of Hermes’ leads to this ultimate goal: the experience of divine reality, which cannot be learnt, but can only be personally experienced (gnosis). Therefore, if one has knowledge, he is from above. If he is called, he hears, he answers, and he turns to him who is calling him, and ascends to him. And he knows, in what manner he is called. Having knowledge, he does the will of the one who called him, he wishes to be pleasing to him, he receives rest. Each one’s name comes to him. He who is to have knowledge in this manner knows where he comes from and knows where he is going.
From: The Gospel of Truth by the gnostic Valentinus,one of the texts found at Nag Hammadi
Take a minute and sign the petition, and if you are passionate about the library, take the extra step and send a note to save the collection.
This article comes from Jeremy Gross, who you may know better as the 47th Problem Euclid and author of the Masonic blog Corn, Wine, and Oil. His blog is very insightful and it is recommended that you visit his site for more thought provoking articles on Freemasonry.
I have been writing a lot about Jewish Mysticism, but for this article, I’d like to share another Jewish tradition that is somewhat more mundane, and yet possibly more profound. There is an ethical tradition in Judaism called Mussar. While the Modern Mussar movement is less than two centuries old, it taps into a tradition that goes back for nearly a millennium. It is part of Mitnagdim (the opponents of the Hasids) Yeshiva study, especially in the Litvisher (or Lithuanian Jewish) tradition. That’s ironic, because I am much more influenced by Hasidic Mysticism, and I’m a Galitzianer (Gallician Jew), and the Litvishers and Galitzianers traditionally butt heads with each other (kind of like a Jewish version of the Hatfields and the MacCoys). But a good set of techniques is precious, so I will take wisdom where I find it.
Modern Mussar practice was initiated by Rav Yisroel Salanter , who studied with Reb Zundel Salant , of Salantai, Lithuania. There is a story that Rav Yisroel was a dilligent student, but a failure in business. After losing his umpteenth job, he went to Reb Zundel in despair. Reb Zundel suggested that he become a rabbi. Rav Yisroel thought about it long and hard, and went back to his teacher. “I don’t know that I can be a rabbi. People will come to me for advice, and life and death may hang on my decisions. People will take on a career and avoid others based on what I tell them. People will marry based on my suggestions. What if I am wrong? I couldn’t bear to have people led astray because of my error. The very idea of it terrifies me.” Reb Zundel replied, “And you’d rather that a rabbi be a man who didn’t worry about his mistakes and their consequences?”
There are many stories about Rav Yisroel’s moral righteousness. During a cholera epidemic, he turned his students away from the Beth Midrash (house of learning) to attend to the sick, even though the disease was deadly and highly contagious. On that Yom Kippur, everyone is supposed to fast, but he encouraged the sick to eat, because he felt that the preservation of life was more important. When the pious sick refused, he publicly ate a piece of cake at the bimah, after Shacharit services, and begged those who felt weak to join him. For this, he was nearly fired as the head of his school, but his mastery of Torah during his exit interview was enough for him to keep his job.
He believed in Mussar, and believed that Mussar was for everyone, men, women, the Orthodox, even those who were lax in their observance. He worried that someone could study Torah and Talmud, the great works of Mysticism, secular knowledge and business, and still not study himself and his own behavior. He felt that without ethical self-examination, other achievements were hollow.
A disclaimer: I have read two books on Mussar, and studied some of two Mussar classics, and I’m about to start a personal Mussar practice. I haven’t started yet. I have all the spiritual authority of someone who has read a few books on Freemasonry, but has never taken any degrees, writing about Freemasonry. I’m hoping that the mistaken things I say next will come out being more truthful than silence, but I’m not guaranteeing anything.
What is Mussar? Mussar is not designed for the tzaddik, the holy man who is incapable of sin. Neither is it designed for the damned soul who is entirely governed by sin. It is designed for those who strive to do good, who sometimes end up doing evil, but are contrite when their evil deeds are pointed out to them. This is similar to Freemasonry, which cannot make evil men good, but can make good men better.
We are endowed with free will, and yet we fall into patterns that are hard to break. When we analyze where we have free will, we find our choices limited to certain things, while other things in our lives we are currently powerless to change. Anyone who has tried to break an addictive trait knows what I am talking about.
Mussar suggests that we have certain pivot points, called points of bechirah, where we could follow the inclination towards the good (called the yetzer hatov), or the inclination towards the evil (called the yetzer hara). A bechirah-point is a circumstance in our lives where each inclination has about a 50% chance of controlling the outcome. We have many of these points in our lives, with different issues. In Mussar practice, one observes one’s own behavior and actions, and keeps track of where the bechirah-points are on any given day, and if any new bechirah-points have emerged. The work is to use directed consciousness to tip the balance in favor of the yetzer hatov. What makes it hard is that the yetzer hara is really vocal, really loud and really persuasive. The yetzer hatov is pretty quiet. So one trains to listen to the voice of the yetzer hara and then deny it a victory. The metaphor given is one of a battlefield for your soul, with individual actions as soldiers, where some land is occupied by the yetzer hatov, and other land is occupied by the yetzer hara. The places where they share control is no-man’s land, and where they each control about 50% is the front line. One approaches the field of his soul like a general, planning battles, opening salients, and pushing the forces of the yetzer hara back. The yetzer hara is where excuses not to go to lodge this month come from, what urges you to eat a second piece of cake, what impels you to put a cigarette to your lips and persuades you to light it. The yetzer hara is always talking, which is why meditation is a practice designed to silence the inner monologue. The yetzer hatov is very hard to hear, most of the time. It takes silence for it to find a voice.
Mussar says that each of us has a spiritual curriculum, individually tailored to us personally. The two comparison examples given in the literature are, on the one hand, the master thief, raised by thieves, surrounded by thieves, who makes a living off of thievery. While stealing is against the Ten Commandments, the master thief does not struggle with the ethics of stealing on a day-to-day basis. But if the master thief were to be caught, he might have to kill the person who caught him. Or run away. The master thief is not a murderer. Yet. Killing someone now would be submitting to the yetzer hara. Running away without harming the other person would be listening to the yetzer hatov. The second example is that of the pious rabbi who obeys all of the commandments in the Torah. When it comes time for him to give the charity commanded of him by his religion, does he give away his money joyfully, or does he have a pang of regret? The pang of regret before a generous act is the voice of the yetzer hara. The thrill of joy before a generous act is the feeling of the yetzer hatov.
The Mussar practitioner makes a list of thirteen traits of the soul, called middot, that he would like to cultivate, and devotes a week to working on each one. The classical thirteen middot are equanimity, patience, order, decisiveness, cleanliness, humility, righteousness, frugality, diligence, silence, calmness, truth, and separation (isolating oneself when one is unable to behave appropriately). Other middot include fear of God, modesty, trust in God, and generosity. One is free to choose any thirteen virtues that he feels is relevant to himself. At the end of 13 weeks, it begins again. After four cycles, he makes a new list. He keeps a daily journal of what bechirah-points were challenged, and what the outcome was each time.
Also, the great classics of Mussar are consulted, often with a study-partner or chevrutah. The two chaverim take turns reading a paragraph each, and then debate their meaning. This dialectical process has many benefits. It encourages each partner to keep up with his partner, it gives each student a perspective other than his own, and each partner watches over the other to ensure that neither is overwhelmed or loses interest.These classics include Orchot Tzaddikim (The Ways of the Righteous), Mesilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just), by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Devorah), by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Chovot ha-Levavot (The Duties of the Heart), by Rabbi Bahya ibn Pakuda , and Cheshbon ha-Nefesh (An Account of the Soul), by Rabbi Menahem Mendel Leffin (inspired by Grand Master MW Benjamin Franklin’s idea of the Thirteen Virtues). Because Freemasonry has influenced this practice, there is no reason why this practice cannot in turn influence Freemasonry.
Indeed, this whole practice of Mussar seems strongly congruent with Freemasonry. We are instructed to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Freemasonry. We are given working tools for this purpose, and given some instruction as to their use. But how many masons do you know say to themselves, “I feel like I’m stuck. There is the rubbish of the Temple from past labors in the quarries I no longer need to harbor, gumming up the works. I need to apply the Common Gavel to them, shaping my Ashlar from Rough to Perfect. I also feel like the hinge on my Compasses is a bit sticky– it might need Oil.”? It seems to me that a version of Mussar tailored to masonic usage might give us techniques for using our working tools more effectively.
I’ve studied some of Mesilat Yesharim and Tomer Devorah, and although they are beautiful texts, I don’t believe these are very accessible to someone outside of Jewish scholarship. I studied them with a rabbinical student who was able to translate the Hebrew (we used bilingual translations), locate each scriptural or Talmudic reference, and explain some of the subtleties. Both authors were passionate mystics, and wrote mostly about Jewish mysticism and esoterica, and their works reflect their mystical intents. I think the introduction to Mesilat Yesharim is brilliant. But none of the above books would be entirely appropriate for the average Freemason to study. While I think the partner study of Mussar classics is a necessary component of the technique of Mussar, I’m not well-versed enough in masonic scholarship to provide appropriate substitutes specifically tailored for a Freemason looking to do ethical contemplation. One might start with Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, but I’m sure that better examples exist. At the very least, finding a Brother, expressing the intent to do Mussar together, checking in with each other on a periodic basis to gauge progress, and possibly reading a suitable book of ethics together would be a good start.
Join us for this episode from March 8, 2009, as Greg and Dean are joined W. Kirk MacNulty, who is an exceptional Freemason and author of several books on the fraternity. A longtime Freemason, MacNulty brings a special understanding of Freemasonry delving into the esoteric and deeper “mystical” underpinnings of the craft. In this conversation we go deep about finding the divine presence through Freemasonry.
Br. Kirk has been an inspiration for many on the mystical ideas of Freemasonry and its deep rooted ties to the Renaissance and scientific revolution that followed. But interestingly, his take on Masonic Mysticism does did not originate from the familiar sources that we associate with it today. Also, we plan to explore the meaning and need of allegory and myth, as it pertains to the fraternity.
I do think generally speaking, that there is probably a greater interest now in the in the mystical or metaphysical dimension than there used to be.
W. Kirk MacNulty
With perhaps in a more poignant tone, this episode talks about the reawakening of the new age idea and philosophy of the the development of the inner Temple and how that act is shaping the face of Freemasonry in the 21st Century.
Join Greg and Dean in this episode of the Masonic Central podcast, originally recorded on November 16, 2008, as the talk with to Brother Timothy Hogan about his book The Alchemical Keys To Masonic Ritual. It was an enlightening conversation on alchemy, ritual, and the “secrets” of Freemasonry.
In His work, Timothy has found several special connections from antiquity that correspond to more than a few aspects of Freemasonry. Do they connect the modern fraternity to the ancient path? We talk about those answers as Hogan explored them in his book, The Alchemical Keys To Masonic Ritual.
In the episode we dig into:
Freemasonry and Alchemy
The Mystery Schools of antiquity
The Morgan Affair
And, of course, alchemy!
Timothy Hogan is a great listen. He’s passionate about Freemasonry and well versed at conveying complex ideas in an understandable manner.