The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

How do U.S. political parties nominate a candidate for President? To win the nomination in one of the parties, the candidate collects pledges from a majority of the delegates to the parties’ National Conventions, currently held during the summer before November’s general election. There are three methods used presently to allocate delegates to presidential contenders: 1) the Caucus System, 2) the Primary System, or 3) a combination of the two. To determine their candidate, each state hold’s a political contest, referred to as a caucus or primary.  The caucus method is organized by the political parties, whereas, primaries are organized and overseen by the State government. The candidate who secures the highest number of delegates at the political convention wins the nomination and competes in the general election. How has history shaped this nomination process, and how did Freemasonry impact the evolution of that process? 

The Caucus

As the older method of choosing delegates, the caucus system was utilized by all States in the Union until the 1832 election. The term “caucus” is derived from Latin origin, meaning,  “a drinking vessel” and was used to describe informal local pocaucusmeetinglitical clubs prior to the forming of the United States. 

A caucus is defined as “a meeting of a political group to select candidates, plan strategy, or make decisions regarding legislative matters.” In the nominating process, a caucus is a local meeting where registered members of a party gather to select a delegate that may represent them at the National Convention. In most states, the attendees at the precinct caucus vote for their preferred party candidate, which informs and directs a percentage of the State’s delegation at the National Party Convention. In 2016, approximately 123,500 Democratic voters in Colorado attended their local caucus on March 1st and voted to select a party candidate. In contrast, the Republican Party in Colorado decided to forgo voting for a candidate in their precinct caucuses and only selected delegates for their future convention. This means that of the 5.5 million citizens of Colorado, only 2.2 percent of the population voted to select a Presidential candidate for the 2016  general election. 

In 2016, thirteen states (Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Wyoming) utilized the caucus system. In most states, only registered voters can participate in a caucus, and they are limited to the caucus of the party with which they are affiliated. Caucuses are typically used in combination with congressional district assemblies and a state convention to elect delegates to the national nominating convention for presidential elections. 

The Primary

A primary is a state-run process of selecting candidates and delegates, where the results are used to determine the configuration of delegates at the national convention of each party. Unlike caucuses, primaries are conducted at regular polling stations, paid for by the state, and overseen by state election officials. Voters cast a secretPrimaryVoting ballot for their preferred candidate, as compared to caucuses where the voting is done in a group forum usually by a show of hands or breaking into groups based on support.  In 2016, thirty-seven U.S. states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota) and the District of Columbia will conduct a primary election. Voter participation tends to be significantly higher in primaries. In 2016, more than 1.5 million citizens of the state of Missouri voted to nominate candidates for president. With approximately 6 million people living in Missouri, this equates to 25 percent of the population voting for a presidential candidate. 

There are several types of primaries in the U.S. system: closed primary, semi-closed primary, open primary, and semi-open primary. 

  • Closed primary: Participation is open only to a particular political party’s registered members. Independents or other party members cannot participate. Florida holds a closed primary. 
  • Semi-closed primary: Participation is open to registered party members and unaffiliated voters. State election rules determine whether unaffiliated voters may make their choice. New Hampshire holds a semi-closed primary. 
  • Open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary. Illinois holds an open primary. 
  • Semi-open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary but when they identify themselves to election officials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. Ohio holds a semi-open primary. 

Prior to the 1970s, most states utilized the caucus system to choose their delegates, but public outcry over corruption by political bosses led to substantial changes in the process for the 1972 election.  The caucus system favored powerful leadersRepublicanNationalConvention with pull in their delegation like famous party boss Mayor Daley of Chicago. In 1968, CBS reporter, Martin Plissner, stated, “If Daley instructs the Illinois delegates to vote for Ho Chi Minh, all but twenty votes will go to Ho Chi Minh without question.” In an effort to make the nomination process more inclusive and transparent, most states have moved to the primary system. 

Political Party National Conventions 

Every four years, a political party national convention is hosted, usually in the summer, by the major political parties who field nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November. The purpose of the national convention is to select the party’s nominee for President, adopt a policy platformand adopt the rules for the party’s activities for the next election cycle. During the convention, a roll call of the votes is held, where each state delegation announces its vote totals. If no candidate secures a majority of delegates during the first vote, a “Brokered Convention” in invoked. In a brokered convention, most pledged delegates are released from their agreements to support a specific candidate and delegates are then able to switch their allegiance to a different candidate. The party nomination is then decided through a process of debate and rounds re-voting until a candidate is selected. 

Historical Analysis: Freemason Andrew Jackson and Reforms to the Nomination Process

Before 1820, members of Congress would hold a caucus meeting and nominate candidates from their party. There were no primaries or national conventions, instead congressional party members gathered in a caucus meeting to decide the party’s candidate. The system was altered following the U.S. Presidential election of 1824, referred to as “The Corrupt BargainCorruptBargin1824,” when Andrew Jackson won the popular and electoral college vote, but the U.S. House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams to be President. Mr. Jackson decried the corruption stating, “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.”

Andrew Jackson, a Freemason and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee (1822-1824), was among the most strident critics of the caucus method of selecting candidates. In his 1828 presidential bid, Jackson ran with the vocalized intent of restoring the voice of the people to the election process. As a man of the people, Andrew Jackson argued that the caucus system was elitist and undemocratic, as only a small percentage of the population was engaged in the process. Jackson pledged that he would open up the system to increase the political power of the electorate, and he proposed to eliminate the Electoral College and institute a direct popular election of the president. Jackson argued, ” Our government is founded upon the intelligence of the people. I for one do not despair of the republic. I have great confidence in the virtue of the great majority of the people, and I cannot fear the result.” The election of 1828 was described as a “triumph of democratic politics,” in which more than 1.1 million men participated compared to only 300,000 in 1824. 

Andrew Jackson was elected U.S. President in 1828 and was re-elected in 1832. In 1832, national conventions were held by the political parties, including the Anti-Masonic Party which held its convention in Baltimore, Maryland on September 26, 1831 to select William Wirt as their Presidential candidate.  President Andrew Jackson, candidate of the Democratic Party, won re-election against Henry Clay the candidate of the National Republican Party, and William Wirt the candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party. Jackson won with 219 of the 286 electoral votes cast in the national election. 

Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

Questioning Religion: The Rock Opera Jesus Christ Superstar

In 1971, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice debuted the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The musical began as a rock opera concept album which was released in 1970, and a film adaptation of the musical was released in 1973. The narrative is based on the New Testament Gospels’ account of the final week of Jesus’ life: spanning from the preparation of Jesus and his disciples prior to their arrival in Jerusalem to Jesus’ crucifixion. A worldwide phenomenon, “Jesus Christ Superstar” has been professionally produced in forty-two countries and has grossed more than $205 million dollars since 1970.

The Final Seven DaysJudas1

The Rock Opera begins focused on the Apostle, Judas Iscariot as he watches Jesus with a group.  Judas expresses his growing concerns that Jesus and the disciples will be perceived as a threat to the Roman Empire and will receive deadly retribution.  In somber tones, he reflects his premonition “My mind is clearer now. At last all too well, I can see where we all soon will be.” As the pragmatist of the drama, Judas sees Jesus’ current behavior as reckless, foolish, and selfish.

Thinking that Jesus has put his own stardom above the safety of the group and the Jewish people, Judas pleads with Jesus with a series of questions. Has Jesus forgotten how put down the Jewish people are by the Romans? Has Jesus forgotten that the Empire has enormous power and could crush them if they are not careful? Does Jesus not see how close he is to ending all the good they have accomplished in the last three years?

More than anything, Judas wants to be heard and wants Jesus to listen to reason. He raises a series of valid points as to why Jesus should abandon his super-stardom and keep a low profile, so that the group can continue to spread tJudasheir message and help the people. It is important to note that at this point in history there were dozens of men claiming to be the Messiah: the fulfillment of the Jewish prophecies. Each one of the “supposed” messiah has his own group of followers and message. To Judas, this Messiah role was never a part of his group’s trajectory, and he is concerned that the public mistakenly believes that their movement is based on his Jesus being the Jewish Messiah. Clearly confused by this turn of events, he demands that Jesus answer if he believes that he is the Messiah. If Jesus is the Messiah, Judas feels entitled to that information considering his dedication and service to their cause. The musical does an uncanny job of allowing Judas to serve as a “placeholder” for all Christians who are questioning their faith in Jesus. Jesus remains an enigma both to Judas and the questioning audience. Just what was he thinking in the week leading up to his crucifixion? 

The High Priest, Caiaphas and his associate Annas, echo Judas’ concern that Jesus’ popularity will bring down the wrath of the Romans. The Priests’ Council determines that Jesucaiaphass and his movement must be crushed, and that Jesus must be killed, sharing the fate of John the Baptist. Undeterred by the danger involved, Jesus and his disciples triumphantly enter into Jerusalem, surrounded by cheering, palm waving crowds singing, “Hosanna.” Finding the Temple overrun by money lenders and unsavory merchants, Jesus lashes out and angrily throws them out of the Temple. At this point, Judas decides that Jesus has lost his mind, and he feels obligated to do something to stop the impending Roman attack on the disciples and the Jewish people. He is driven by fear, trying to protect those he cares about and himself.  What he does to stop the Romans is for the good of all, he believes, and it is not because he seeks “blood money.” He is aware enough to realize that he may be “damned for all time,” but he acts because he feels he has no choice otherwise. Judas goes to the Romans and tells them that Jesus will be at the Garden of Gethsemane the following night and receives thirty silver pieces in return for the information. JesusChristSuperstar Last Supper

The next night at the Garden, the audience witnesses the famous last supper. When Jesus announces that one of his followers will betray him, an angry Judas jumps up and retorts “cut the dramatics you know very well who!…To think I’d admired you,” Judas lashes out. “Well now I despise you!” Jesus responds by calling him “a liar” and tells him to go. The two men, teacher and pupil, share a final embrace, and the audience can see the pain, compassion, and regret exhibited on both sides. “Every time I look at you,” a frustrated Judas sings, “I don’t understand, why you let the things you did get so out of hand.” He then flees to retrieve the Roman soldiers and identifies Jesus with a kiss. Jesus is arrested, sent to a series of inquisitions: first with Caiaphas, the High Priest; second, with the Roman Pontius Pilate; and third, with King Herod.

In the performance, Pontius Pilate serves as another questioning archetype, compassionate and full of reason. Pilate argues Jesus’ innocence before the crowds, only to have Jesus’ supporters retort, “we have no king but Caesar.” The angry mob now threatens to end Pilate’s career if he does not fulfill his duty and crucify Jesus. Pilate knows Jesus’ innocence and entreats Jesus to save his own life, but Jesus declares the future to be fixed. Responding with disgust, Pilate declares Jesus a fool, sentences Jesus to death, and exclaims “die if you want to, you misguided martyr.” With the crowds screaming, “Crucify him,” Jesus is whipped, sentenced, and condemned to death on the cross. 

Judas and Jesus: Pragmatism and Idealism for the same Cause

“We made him a type of Everyman. Judas did not think of himself as a traitor. He did what he did, not because he was basically evil, but because he was intelligent. He could see Christ becoming something he considered harmful to the Jews. Judas felt that they had been persecuted enough. As far as what Christ was saying, general principles of how human beings should live together, Judas approved of this. What Judas was worried about was that as Christ got bigger and bigger and more popular, people began switching their attentions from what Christ was saying to Christ himself… Judas reckoned that if the movement got too big and people began worshiping Christ as a god, the Romans who were occupyingJesusChristCross Israel would come down and clobber them.” – “Jesus Christ Superstar” Lyricist Tim Rice

Jesus, Judas, and the rest of the disciples share a belief in the philosophy of love, peace, and brotherhood. They dedicate their lives to serving humanity, but they maintain very different beliefs in what choices the group should make in the final days of Jesus’ life. The dichotomy between Judas and Jesus is a fascinating one. Judas is the practical one, concerned with image, message, public opinion, money, etc. Jesus is concerned only with the Message. That central relationship shows us a mammoth tug-of-war between pragmatism, represented by Judas, and ideas, represented by Jesus. Judas finds himself constantly frustrated and confused by Jesus’ refusal to look at the practical side of their situation, as verbalized in many songs from the Rock Opera, including “Heaven On Their Minds” and “Superstar.” They fight because they both care passionately about the cause and about each other. There are three main arguments that break out between them, during the songs “Strange Thing Mystifying” and “Everything’s Alright,” as well as, at the Last Supper. Judas acts as a kind of business agent and PR man, concerned over the political message they’re sending out, the perceived inconsistencies in Jesus’ teachings, and the money wasted on Mary’s ointments and oils.superstarcarlanderson

Questioning Religion and Freemasonry’s Role

Freemasonry is not a religion, but it requires its members to believe in God, whatever name they choose to give him. Masonry embraces all world religions, rejects dogmatic teachings, and teaches its members to question their beliefs. Those who have studied comparative religion will find that many facets of Christianity, including the Genesis story, the sacrifice and resurrection hero myth, and the miracles performed by Jesus were present in other world religious texts long before Jesus was born. While these similarities do not discount all of Christianity for many believers, they do raise questions that are voiced in Jesus Christ Superstar.  In the song “Superstar,” Judas questions Jesus about Christianity’s relationship with other world religions and whether all religions are essentially one. He sings, “Tell me what you think about your friends at the top. Who’d you think besides yourself’s the pick of the crop? Buddha, was he where’s it at, is he where you are? Could Mahomet move a mountain or was that just PR?” A Mason is at liberty to practice any religion in the worship of God, but Freemasonry does obligate him to question his beliefs in an effort to better know himself and his God. 

The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

The U.S. Electoral College: Are American Citizens Qualified to Elect the President?

Many Americans uphold the U.S. Constitution as a visionary document: drafted in a spirit of equality and encouraging the maximum democratic participation for all voters. The Preamble’s introductory line, “We the people of the United States, in order to establish a more perfect union,” seems to imply that all citizens of our Nation would be involved in the process of creating and directing the government. In reality, however, the framers of the Constitution only provided a small voting role for the general electorate. The drafters intended that only members of the U.S. House of Representatives would be subject to direct election by the general voting population. In contrast,federalistpapersauthors U.S. Senators and the U.S. President would be indirectly elected for longer terms of office. What reasoning did the Framers cite for withholding direct electoral rights to citizens? 

Tempering Passions with Reason

In The Federalist Papers,  James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, wrote against the concept of direct elections of the President and Senators. In his papers #49 and #63, Madison argued that giving ordinary citizens the right to elect their president would mean that “the passions, therefore, not the reason, of the public would sit in judgement.” Moreover, the indirect election plan would protect the American public against “their own temporary errors and delusions,” “their violent passions,” and “popular fluctuations.” Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper #68 advocated for indirect elections as a means to avoid “tumult and disorder” and “violent movements.” Ultimately, the authors’ indirect voting philosophy informed the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, which outlines the method of selecting in the President in Clauses 2, 3, and 4 of Article 2, Section 1. 

The U.S. Constitution’s Requirements for Electing the President

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2: Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to theUSConstitution whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

Under the U.S. Constitution, by means of a constitutional grant of authority to the State legislatures, the President and Vice President are chosen by electors. This system allows each State to determine the means by which it will create its State College of Electors. In current practice, State legislatures create their panel of electors by indirect popular vote.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3: The electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot… they shall make a list of all the persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each; which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates, and the votes shall then be counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President… (Note: This clause was changed by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804).

Each individual State chooses its electors in the popular election. Once chosen, the electors meet in their respective states to cast ballots for the President and Vice President. In the case where no Presidential candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House chooses from the top three candidates.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 4: The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.

Congress determines the national Election Day, which has been determined to be the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in the year before the President’s term is to expire. Then, the Electors cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday ElectoralCollegeElectorsSwornin December of that year. The votes are then opened and counted by the Vice President, as President of the Senate, in a joint session of Congress.

The Electoral College 

The political philosophy that ordinary citizens were not qualified to choose their leaders was common practice in the early years of popular voting. Instead, nations made use of indirect voting, whereby the voters would elect a group of representatives to select public leaders on their behalf. The Electoral College is the last vestige of this arcane system still operating in the United States. Thus, when Americans go to vote for the President on Election Day they are not voting for the President, they are choosing representatives who will vote on their behalf. In each State, the voters are technically choosing between the groups of electors who have been elected or appointed months prior to the election. The electors are then pledged to support their own party’s presidential candidate. 

The Electoral College operates on a system of 538 total electoral votes for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. To win the general election, 270 votes are needed for a candidate. Each state is entitled to a number of electoral votes equal to the combined number of Senators plus the number of U.S. Representatives for that state. For example, Montana has a single member of Congress and two senators. Thus, Montana receives three electoral votes in the Presidential contest. In contrast, California has 53 members of Congress and 2 Senators, receiving 55 electoral votes.

Following the general election on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November, the winning balloted electors travel to their State Capitol to formally cast their votes on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December. While rare, electors have, in the past, broken their pledges and voted for a different candidate. Although most states have passed statutes binding their electors to their pledges, constitutional authorities have raised doubts as to whether these state laws would be enforceable in the National electionElectoralCollegeMap2016. In a case where no candidate receives a majority of Electoral College votes, the names of the top three candidates are submitted to the House of Representatives for a vote. Then, each state is given one vote to elect the President.

While the popular vote usually correlates with the election of the President, there have been exceptions in American History. In the 1824 election, there was no majority winner in the electoral college. Four candidates split the vote: John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford. The election was sent to the House of Representatives who chose John Quincy Adams despite Andrew Jackson winning the popular and electoral votes. The choice was the ultimate result of what is historically referred to as “The Corrupt Bargain,” devised and executed by Adams and Clay. In 1876, Samuel Tilden was chosen by the popular vote, but a special commission overruled this vote, electing President Rutherford B. Hayes instead.  In 1888, Grover Cleveland received more popular votes, but the Electoral College elected President Benjamin Harrison. Most recently, Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 with 48.4% of the vote, but President George W. Bush won the Electoral College with 271 votes. 

Meeting on the Level: Equality, Tolerance, and Justice 

Does the American public still lack the responsibility and reasoning necessary to elect the President? Must we still be protected against our  “own temporary errors and delusions” and “violent passions” as James Madison argued? Freemasonry rests under the banner of the universality of all mankind and operates under the principles of tolerance, justice, and equality. When American Citizens are withheld the electoral power to choose our President, are we truly operating as, “we the people?” Can we form a “more perfect union” when we voluntary abdicate our voting choices to others deemed to be more rational and less ruled by passions?  Perhaps, we need to realize the responsibility inherent in acting as mature adults, subdue our unruly passions, and advocate for our equal voting rights in the election of the President. 

Freakonomics and Freemasonry

Freakonomics and Freemasonry

In 2005, a University of Chicago economist and a New York Times journalist revolutionized economic thinking in popular culture with their non-fiction book, “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything.”  The authors put forward a fresh perspective as to how the world works through an exploratory lens they refer to as “the hidden side.”  The authors argue that this exploration can be accomplished by “stripping away a layer or two from modern life and seeing what is happening underneath.” The book is formatted by postulating a series of thought-provoking questions. What do school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime? Since the original work was pubFreakonomics Authorslished in 2005, the Freakonomics authors have capitalized on their success by creating a Freakonomics brand through additional books, lectures, blogs, and a weekly podcast.

According to Steven Levitt, economics was a science with excellent tools for gaining answers but a serious shortage of interesting questions to direct the application of those tools.  He provided an original set of  thought-provoking questions and then applied the tools of his economic training. The result was statistically significant, rational explanations to explain perplexing phenomenon in the modern world. Often eschewing conventional wisdom, Levitt and Dubner created controversy by demonstrating empirical evidence for events, including their theory that the legalization of abortion in the 1970s reduced violent crime in the United States two decades later. Unconcerned with shocking the mainstream population, the authors argue that morality is how individuals would like the world to work, and economics is the way the world actually operates. The book outlines a number of basic principles related to economics: 1) Incentives are the cornerstone of life; 2) conventional wisdom is often wrong; 3) Dramatic events or effects often have distant, subtle causes; 4) Experts use their informational advantage to serve their own agenda; and 5) knowing what to measure and how to measure makes the world less complicated. 

Incentives

Freakonomics postulates that economics is the study of human behavior, explained through the investigation of incentives. Thus, to understand human behavior, one must understand the incentives which motivate him into action.  Levitt and Dubner write, “Economists love incentives. The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented a problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme.” According to the authors, incentives come in three varieties: moral, social, and economic. Moral incentives motivate an individual to act out of conscienceincentiveseconomic or conviction. Social incentives inspire individuals to act in order to avoid shame or achieve glory. Finally, economic incentives direct people to act in their financial interest.  

To explain how these incentives work in the real world, Levitt and Dubner utilized an example of a day care center in Haifa, Israel.  In this example, the center’s management faced a recurring problem: parents were late to pick up their children and staff had to be paid extra wages to watch the children past the agreed upon schedule. Management decided to enact a fee for the late pickup of a child, which they believed would discourage parental tardiness. Instead, they was shocked to discover that parents showed up late more often after the fee was instituted. According to the authors, the fee had the reverse impact on parental arrival times because the parents traded a moral incentive, a sense of guilt for being late, for an economic incentive, a small fee for a late pickup. These parents changed their behavior by assessing the benefits of the extra time in their schedule and decided that the price was worth the added cost. 

Conventional Wisdom

Freakonomics is a persuasive read, in part, because of the authors’ innovative way of employing powerful quantitative tools of economic inquiry to refute conventional wisdom. The problem with conventional wisdom is not that is it always incorrect, rather that such explanations are simply accepted by the general population without questioning or examination.  To many, human social behavior is complex and requires too much effort to understand. In an effort to avoid mental analysis, we accept conventional wisdom delivered  in short phrases which comfort us with their simplicity and familiarity. Taught as children, we hear the same phrase repeatedly until we start parroting it back as an explanation. Such aphorisms include “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” “the early bird gets the worm,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Conventional wisdom is often first created by experts in a field, i.e. physicians advised patients to avoid eating eggs to maintain a healthy level of cholesterol. These conclusions get repeated in the media and by other experts who further establish credibility. Repeated often enough, a false attribution of causality becomes accepted by society as conventional wisdom to explain a problem. 

Levitt and Dubner cite several examples of conventional wisdom, which is demonstrably in error including the positive societal connotations of allowing your child to attend a play date where the family owns a swimming pool versus the negative associations of allowing your child to visit a home where guns are kept. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States.  There are approximately 6 million pools in the United States, which equates to  550 children under the age of ten who drown each year. Comparatively, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million guns. There are an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, which means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns. Thus, the likelihood of death by pool equates to 1 in 11,000 versus death by gun to 1 in 1 million. The authors write, “If you both own a gun and a swimming pool in your backyard, the swimming pool is about 100 times more likely to kill a child than the gun is.”

Dramatic Events 

Freakonomics postulates that economic inquiry, the gathering and interpreting of data, is time intensive and complex. When considering the causes that precipitated a dramatic event, the answer is often outside the realm of attributed factors. The book carefully analyses the dramatic rise in crime reported in the early 1990s and the predictions that the violence would increase dramatically in the decade. President Clinton spoke to the fears abounding from the increase in deaths by gunfire, carjackings, robbery, and rape. He stated, “We know we’ve got about six years to turn this juvenile crime thing around or our country is going to be living with chaos.” In a drastic turn of events, crime began to fall in 1995 and continued in thjacket_freakonomics_lge subsequent years. The teenage murder rate did not rise to the levels predicted, rather it fell more than fifty percent within five years. By 2000, the U.S. murder rate had dropped to the lowest levels in thirty-five years. Experts then theorized a number of logical reasons for the drop in crime: the booming economy. the proliferation of gun control laws, and innovative policing techniques. Levitt and Dubner’s analysis concluded that the real underlying cause was attributable to the legalization of abortion in 1973 and the related decrease of children born into poverty. 

Experts and Informational Advantage 

Freakonomics explores how specific individuals can capitalize on their informational advantage to serve their own goals. The authors examine the informational advantage held by a real estate agent, including the current condition of local housing markets. They can combine this superior knowledge to expedite a home sale which may be at a price less than what the seller could have obtained by a longer listing period. The real estate agent’s commission is structured in such a way that what may be a significant increase in profit for the sellers equates to negligible increase in the fees they receive for the sale of the home. Moreover, the real estate agent’s credibility is often linked to how fast a home is sold, i.e. days on the market. The authors cite evidence of real estate agents using their informational advantage to scare sellers into accepting a lower offer to achieve a deal which is in the agent’s best interest. 

Measuring the World

Freakonomics provides new insights by applying the scientific process to address economic and social issues. The authors formulated testable hypotheses and then gathered the relevant data, often from what was previously considered unconventional sources to test those hypotheses. Freakonomics provides concrete illustrations of how unconventional methods of data gathering and innovate means of interpreWorkingtoolsting said data provides new insights into how our world works. The book argues that knowing what to measure and how to measure it makes a complicated world easier to understand.

The Freakonomics of Freemasonry

Popular culture often relays a mistaken point of view of Freemasonry as being an elite organization, where individual members possess and yield undue power in our society. This is an example of the principle that conventional wisdom is often wrong and should be examined by the individual. Stereotypes about Freemasonry have been exacerbated and enforced by the media, i.e. attention to sensationalized books such as “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown.  In reality, Freemasonry is an educational and self-improvement system that requires hard work and dedication. Not unlike a school, members are taught how to behave as upright members of society and instructed on how to improve their lives through greater control of their bodies and minds. Many freemasons are very successful individuals who reap the benefits of education in the seven liberal arts and sciences, including grammar, logic, rhetoric, music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.  Repetition is a recipe for success as the more time an individual takes to perfect his skills, related to writing, public speaking, debate, and logical reasoning, the greater the probability he will have in being successful in the business world and in society in general. 

 

 

 

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

Imagine yourself as a citizen of the Roman empire. It is 52 BC and a warm summer night’s breeze brushes across your cheek, ruffling the tails of the blindfold tied tightly around your head. Perhaps you are a merchant or a sailor, possibly a soldier between campaigns. You are being led swiftly along a jagged rocky path, your hands bound, deep into the woodlands close to your home town. You come to a stop and you hear a series of passwords exchanged between your escort and a second voice. The words you recognize but their emphasis and arrangement is strange to you. Your escort tugs at your arm and you resume your brisk pace but as you step forward a few paces the unmistakably dank, cool air of a subterranean refuge fills your nostrils. After several twists and turns, your escort once more pulls you to a stop and says to you:

“I can bring you no further, neophyte. You must meet him alone.”

With a gentle push between your shoulder blades, he propels you forward into the unknown labyrinth. Your heart hammers against your rib cage as you take you first step into formless dark. Your foot meets nothing but air and you are plunged headlong into a pool of impossibly cold water. After negotiating several more trials of a similar nature, you feel an unnatural warmth on your skin and you begin to hear the crackling of a fire and the echoes of chanting ahead of you. As you step forward into this room, you are seized at either arm and rushed forward and pushed down on your knees. You are beginning to regret your foolish decision when suddenly your hoodwink is removed. You are blinded by the light of burning braziers and as your vision readjusts to the new light you see a man standing before you garbed in a black robe and wearing a fearsome mask. Behind him is a towering stone stele depicting a man astride a writhing bull, plunging his dagger into its breast. Plants appear to be growing from the wound and various animals are depicted as sharing in the feast. The entire scene is bordered by the zodiacal sigils and cornered by effigies of the Four Winds. The man in black begins to speak:

“When the peace of our world was threatened by the great demon Ahriman, humanity had no hope of prevailing against such a potent force of violence and despair. Ahriman sought to destroy this world by inducing drought, thirst and starvation. Not a drop of moisture remained in the kingdoms of the plants and animals and the whole world cried out in desperation. In our darkest hour, the great hero Mithras, sprang forth from the stone of the world and took up the orb of the Cosmos in his protective embrace. From his bow he let fly an arrow that struck the earth and from this wound came a renewing spring, which rejuvenated the Earth, if only temporarily. Still the threat of destruction persisted and with the assistance of the moon-mother, Selene, the vital fluid essence of life itself was secreted away in a giant bull on Earth. A raven, acting as the messenger of the Sun, came to Mithras and told him of the forest in which the bull was hiding. Mithras burned away the withered and desiccated trees and forced the great bull out in the open. He captured the bull and dragged it underground into the bowels of the Earth where he wrestled it into submission and plunged his dagger into its breast. Trees sprang from the wound, bees were born from the droplets of blood and all of the earth was rejuvenated by this great sacrifice.”

The man in black steps forward and cuts you free of your bonds and takes your right hand in his and, clasping it firmly, declares, “Behold the grip of Mithras. It shall ever identify you as being in allegiance with your brethren as Mithras and Helios were united in like manner. Rise, Raven, and take your rightful place amongst your Brethren!”

The Dawn of Mithras

Although embellished with artistic license, the above account is close to the experience that the novice initiate into the Roman cult of Mithras would have had. Mithraism has its roots in the dawn of civilization, a deity named Mitras making an appearance in the Vedas as the bringer of the light of dawn nearly 2,000 thousand years before his bull-slaying counterpart would appear in Iran. From Persia, Mithras made his way to Greece through Mithradates Eupator VI, a grizzled naval commando of the ancient Mediterranean Sea and king of the Cilician Empire who helped the Greeks repel the attempted conquest of

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Mithradates Eupator VI

Rome. Mithradates was the first to establish Mithras at the head of a mystery religion. This fraternity, created and led by Mithradates himself, functioned as a sort of ancient special forces to be used in piratical incursions across the Mediterranean. The Cilician navy rose to infamy and came to dominate the Mediterranean slave trade after the dissolution of the Carthaginian, Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. These “pirates of Mithras” also carried out an enterprise of kidnapping Roman magistrates and their families, most likely under the direction of Mithradates himself for political motives as well as profit.

These early Mithraists, who were in nearly constant opposition to the forces of Roman imperialism, conceived of themselves as a sort of hidden militia of Mithras, the cryphii or ‘hidden ones’. They recognized Mithras as a god of righteous warfare, of resistance to oppressive force. Eventually the iron hand of the Roman general Pompey shattered the rule Mithradtes VI and his fraternal mercenaries were scattered to the winds. A few of these Mithraic pirates were captured and paraded through the streets of Rome as part of Pompey’s tribute, the general then installing them as beekeepers in province of Apulia. From here, Mithraism was rekindled and slowly spread northwards to the teeming and lively marketplaces of Rome and found welcome among the Roman collegia, associations of tradesmen and merchants. Mithraism further ingratiated itself into the fabric of Roman society as the cult spread like wildfire among the legions, similar to the expansion of Freemasonry in the 19th century throughout the military of the British Empire. At the height of the Roman imperial period, followers of Mithras ranged as far afield as the scorching fringes of the Sahara to the windswept moors of Hadrian’s Wall.

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Mithras slaying the bull

The Cult of the Invincible Sun

Mithras was a solar deity and bore the title of Sol Invictus, “Invincible Sun”, in reference to his pact with the Sun to restore the Earth. Very few Mithraic liturgical texts have made their way into contemporary hands, as befits a secret society, but a few scraps do remain. Some scholars, such as Robert Turcan in ‘Cults of the Roman Empire’ (1996) speculate that in performing the duties that the Sun was normally responsible for (duties that Helios was somehow prevented from fulfilling), Mithras assumed his throne by his act of heroism. Within the mithraeum, Mithras’ position was always in the south, representing the Sun at full strength at the meridian. On the entrance of the Mithraic crypt and within the mythology of the fraternity, Mithras is flanked by two attendants, Cautes and Cautophates, who represented the Sun at dawn and sunset respectively. Cautes holds a torch pointing upwards while Cautophates directs his towards the ground. They have also been taken as representing the vernal (ascending) and autumnal (descending) equinoxes, which along with the winter and summer solstices, were of the utmost importance to the Mithraic cult.

Mithraism was a religion of the crypt and unlike other Roman mystery religions, had no exoteric function. They held no public ceremonies and the mithraeum were strictly off-limits to outsiders. Because they took no public tithing, Mithraism had to adapt to the circumstances of the individual chapters. The mysteries of Mithras were held in tent’s on the battlefield, discreet taverns and, when possible, in custom built subterranean temples financed by wealthy patrons of the brotherhood. These lavish temples, such as the mithraeum of Ostia, would have been ringed in statuary depicting the seven classical planets and had ceilings painted a deep sky blue, daubed with white stars. The regular meetings of the Mithraic brotherhood were known as “magic banquets” and were held weekly if not daily. They consisted of the brothers entering the temple in procession determined by rank of initiation and taking up places around the edges of the mithraeum. The master of the temple fulfilled the symbolic role of Saturn and sat in a throne wreathed in solar symbols. On occasions that required no extraordinary ceremonies, the proceedings began with a lecture upon spiritual and moral philosophy, no doubt illustrated by the symbolism and astrological allegories of the myth of Mithras. Following this period of study the brethren would participate in a symbolic meal of bread and wine, similar to the Catholic Eucharist, as a symbol of the feast shared by Mithras and Helios, followed by a communal meal.

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A drawing of Aion found at the mithraeum of Ostia

Under the Canopy of Heaven

The study of time and astronomy were of central importance to the mysteries of Mithras. One of the dominant artistic figures of many mithraeum, the lion-headed deity Aion watched over the proceedings of the mystery cult. At Ostia, he was depicted as holding the twin keys of wisdom, the scepter of royal power and the thunderbolt with the tools of a smith, a rooster and a pine cone at his feet. He also has a serpent wrapped around him, the snake’s ability to shed its skin representing infinity. Aion represented unbounded time, in contrast to the limited and linear form of time personified by the Saturnian deity Kronos and was often encircled by the zodiac. Mithraism came into being in the same era as the discovery by Grecian astronomer Hipparchus of the phenomenon now known as the precession of the equinoxes. The precession of the equinoxes is caused by the subtle wobble of the orientation of the Earth’s axis and takes 25,920 years to complete. It has astrological significance in that every 2,160 years the Sun rises on the summer solstice in alignment with a different zodiacal constellation. The Mithraic mysteries were conceived in the midst of a change in ages. Mithras, as the newborn ‘Sol Invictus’, represents the victory of the fire-sign Aries over the previous age of Taurus the Bull. The twin aspects of Cautes and Cautophates symbolizing the addition of Gemini to the retinue of the Sun, the astrological age of Gemini having preceeded that of Taurus. In the tauroctony scene that could be found in every mithraeum, several animals are shown feasting on the bull, including a dog, a lion and a scorpion. These animals surely represented constellations though their exact symbolism and interplay within the Mithraic myth has been lost to history.

The Degrees of the Crypt

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An artist’s interpretation of the initiation ritual of the degree of Soldier

 

The mysteries of Mithras were divided into seven degrees, each connected to one of the seven classical planets. The initiation of the first degree gained the initiate the title of Raven. This oracular bird who could speak like a man occupied a position between the worlds and was thus the first point of contact between the neophyte and the ineffable. Candidates of the grade of Nymphus wore the flammeum, the bridal veil worn by Roman women on their wedding day. At the crescendo of the ritual, the veil was removed to reveal some particular arrangement of ritually significant objects. The words, “Look Nymphus! Hail, Nymphus! Hail young light!” were spoken, these phrases suggesting that the candidate held a lantern. The title of “Nymphus” implies that this degree represented a intermediate stage between the novice state of the Raven and the mastery implicit in the rank of Soldier. The Soldier bore a mark, either tattooed or branded, as a sign of his commitment to the militia of Mithras. During his initiation, the Soldier would have been presented with a crown on the point of a sword. He was then required to divert the crown to his shoulder, declaring that Mithras was his only true crown. The consecration of the degree of Lion was a ritual bathed in fire. The emblems of this degree are the fire-shovel, the sistrum of Isis and the heavenly fire of the thunderbolt. Fire being the enemy of water, the candidate’s hands were washed with honey to ensure his purity. The ritual itself consisted of physical trials by fire, presumably similar to the fire-walking stunts of the Hindu fakirs.  The candidate for the rank of Persian also had his hands washed in honey but for a different symbolism. The Persian was granted the privilege of harvesting the fruits grown by the grace of Mithras’ sacrifice. His emblems were thus the sickle and the Phyrgian cap of liberty. We know nothing of the ritual of the Heliodromos, the Sun-runner, other than that the symbols of his grade were the torch, a radiant crown and the flail. The Father, adorned in a headdress likening him to Mithras, led the proceedings of the temple and it has been speculated that he and a Heliodromos fulfilled the roles of Mithras and the Sun in the ritual re-enactment of the celestial feast.

There is one gift that the mysterious brothers of Mithras gave to the world that has survived to modern times. Every time we clasp hands with a friend, a colleague or a stranger in a handshake, we recognize them as brothers initiated into the mysteries of the cave-dwelling god of sacrifice. The modern handshake was birthed from the cult of Mithras and has endured millennia in its original form. It is obvious, from what scraps of their rituals remain, that some core concepts of Mithraism have survived in modern Freemasonry. It would be irresponsible to attribute the origin of Freemasonry to this cult or that society but it is beyond doubt that certain aspects of many ancient fraternities have been folded within the embrace of Speculative Freemasonry. The Mithraic obsession with utter secrecy concerning the whereabouts and operations of their temples is certainly echoed in Freemasonry, as is the practice of greeting brothers by certain handshakes. As Freemasons, an examination of Mithraism and similar ancient mysteries will surely bring us closer to timeless and unwavering truths glimpsed by so many throughout the vast expanse of time.

“When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart: ‘By the same powers that you are slain, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hands shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the Tree of Heaven.'”

-Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet and Freemason

The American Lexicon: The Bikini, Ground Zero, and Meeting on the Level

The American Lexicon: The Bikini, Ground Zero, and Meeting on the Level

Can we communicate effectively without understanding the origin and history of our common language? The American Lexicon includes many terms that Americans utilize often without knowing where the phrase originated. The English word “lexicon” is derived from Greek words “lexis,” translated as “speech,” and “legein” translated as “to say.” Defined as “the words used in a language or by a person or group of people,” lexicon encapsulates a multitude of words and phrases, including “Google” which most people now attribute to the sea7liberalartsandsciencesrch engine without realizing that the company’s name is a clever spelling of the mathematical term Googol. Coined by U.S. mathematician Edward Kasner in the late 1930s, Googol is a noun meaning, “a number that is equal to 1 followed by 100 zeros.”  

Freemasons are encouraged to study the Liberal Arts and Sciences: grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.  Grammar teaches us the system and structure of a language, including word meaning, punctuation, verb tense, and sentence structure. Proper understanding of the art of grammar  provides a strong foundation for studying and mastering rhetoric, or the art of persuasion.  Rhetoric can understood as the ability to communicate effectively through the establishment of common ground between speaker and listener.  Is the study of etymology an integral component in mastering the arts of grammar and rhetoric? 

The study of etymology provides an enhanced ability to understand and communicate, thus improving our grammatical and rhetorical skills. By studying grammar through the lens of etymology, one begins to see patterns and gain understanding about the development of the English language.  Comprehending the history of words and phrases helps to establish rhetorical ethos allowing for appeals to the audience’s beliefs, history, morals, or ideals. Studying etymology, including a phrase’s history, original meaning, and present usage, can provide clarification of meaning that can be otherwise lost or misconstrued by the passage of time. 

The American Lexicon: Ground Zero

After September 11, 2001, the term “Ground Zero” was permanently affixed to the tragedy at the World Trade Center. Few people realize that the term was originally coined by the physicists of the Manhattan Project at the U.S. Atomic Bomb testing site in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Known under the code name Trinity, the test was the first detonation of a nuclear weapon conducted by the United States Army on July 16, 1945. The phrase, however, did not enter the American Lexicon until the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a June 1946 report, the phrase “Ground Zero” was used to describe the spot on the ground directly underneath the aerial detonation of the atomic bombs:  the spot in the air was called “air zero” and the spot on the ground was called “ground zero.” Following World War II, the report received tremendous attention from the press and the public. Becoming part of the lexicon, the general public used the term in reference to a nuclear bomb during the years of the Cold War. In the latter part of 20th Century, “Ground Zero” was symbolically 911-GroundZero-TwinTowersexpanded to mean the “center of an explosion” or the site of activity where an explosion has occurred. American Language Expert, Ben Zimmer, explained that during this period the phrase, “developed a kind of metaphorical meaning. Some people used it to mean, basically, the same thing as square one. So, back to ground zero, back to the original place.”

When the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, the press referred to the site as “Ground Zero,” and so it was already attributed to the World Trade Towers prior to 9/11. An ABC News Correspondent, John Miller was the first person to use the term in 2001. As a former deputy police commissioner of New York City, he was on scene reporting by 1:25 p.m. that day. Interviewing police officers he stated, “these are the stories of people who were there at ground zero when the first building fell.” The phrase was repeated in the evening broadcasts on the 11th, and it quickly became part of the American Lexicon used to describe the site of bombings in New York City.

The American Lexicon: The Bikini

Popularized by the actress Annette Funicello in the 1963 film “ Beach Party,” the ladies’ swimsuit known as the “Bikini” is well known in America. Although today the Bikini is ubiquitous within American culture, many people are unaware that the bikini also derives its name from a nuclear explosion. In the 1940s, Louis Réard, a French aspiring fashion designer, entrepreneur, and mechanical engineer, noParisPoolticed women on the beaches of St. Tropez, located in Southeast of France, were rolling up the edges of their swimsuits to get a better tan. Mr. Réard was inspired to design and produce a swimsuit with less fabric which exposed the wearer’s navel for the first time. His bikini consisted of four triangles made from 30 square inches of fabric.

Holding a press conference to unveil his work,  Louis Réard introduced his design to the media and public on July 5, 1946, in Paris at Piscine Molitor, a public pool in Paris.  Réard named his creation the “bikini,” inspired by the explosion of an atomic bomb by the U.S. Military at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean five days earlier. The first nuclear weapon tests since Trinity in New Mexico, the United States tested two nuclear weapons at the Bikini Atoll under the name Operation Crossroads. The purpose of the tests was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on warships, and Operation Crossroads was the first nuclear test to be publicly announced and attended by a live audience including a large press corps. A fleet of 95 target ships was assembled in Bikini Lagoon and hit with two detonations of Fat Man plutonium implosion-type nuclear weapons, each yielding 23 kilotons of TNT. With a large press corps in attendance, the nuclear testing at the Bikini Atoll was a huge international press event with obvious impacts on popular culture and the international lexicon.

operationcrossroadsRéard reportedly termed his swimsuit the “bikini” because he believed its revealing style would create reactions among people similar to those created by the explosion of a nuclear bomb. His belief proved accurate as the “bikini” shocked the press and public because it was the first to reveal the woman’s navel. Less than a month after the swimsuit was unveiled to the public,  the U.S. military conducted the second atomic test of Operation Crossroads at the Bikini Atoll and named the bomb Helen of Bikini, which was detonated 90 feet underwater on July 25, 1946. Whether the U.S. Military named the bomb in reference to  Réard’s creation is unclear. Archaeological evidence demonstrates that Greek women wore two-piece swimsuits, resembling the “bikini,” for athletic purposes, as depicted on Greek urns and paintings dating back to 1400 B.C. Regardless, the American public was shocked by the navel-revealing “bikini” and the swimsuit was not worn by the general public until the 1960s.

The American Lexicon: Meeting on the Level

Freemasonry was founded on the principal of the equality of all of mankind, symbolically illustrated by the builder’s tool of a level.  Although LevelPlayingFieldthe phrase, “Meeting on the Level,” is less commonly heard in today’s vernacular, it was once a staple of the American Lexicon. Today, Americans are more likely to use the expression, “meeting on a level playing field,” which denotes a situation where neither party has an advantage over the other. In sports where the game operates on a playing field, such as Football, one team would have an unfair advantage if the field sloped in one direction. In order to make things equal or level regardless of any defects in a playing field, it is customary in American sports for teams to swap ends of the playing field at half-time.

In American Politics, the concept of a level playing field is often referenced in Presidential speeches regarding individuals’ access to education, employment, and health-care. On September 2, 2004, Former U.S. President George W. Bush used the phrase stating, “To create jobs, we will expand trade and level the playing field to sell American goods and services across the globe.” Similarly, President Barack Obama often discusses the importance of a “level playing field.” In a speech given on January 30, 2009, he expressed, “We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement.”

How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

How does Sufism Relate to Freemasonry? A Search for Truth

What is the purpose of religion? To be certain, the teachings of morality are fundamental to all of the world’s major religions. Each religion teaches a form of the Golden rule: do unto others as you would have done to you. In Judaism, followers are instructed, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary” (Talmud, Shabbat 3id).

Is the purpose of religion also to teach wisdom and enlighten the followers of that faith? Most religions provide exoteric or fundamental teachings, as well as, a path of esoteric study for those who seek it. Perhaps it could be said that once a fundamental understanding of the tenants of a religion is obtained, a door swings open providing the seeker a deeper level of wisdom and understanding. In Christianity, the Apostle Paul writes, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3: 1prophet-depicted-624x420-2). Similar to all world religions, the dichotomy of basic and advanced study exists within the religion Islam, where Sufism serves as the esoteric branch of the religion.

What is Sufism?

Sufism is the esoteric school of Islam, which was founded for the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. The word Sufi is Persian in origin, meaning “Wisdom.” From the original root word, many derivations can be traced into other languages, including the Greek, “Sophia.” Students of Sufism seek knowledge in order to understand reality as it truly is which they believe will ultimately allow the individual to achieve Ma’arefat: divine gnosis. Thus, perfect self-understanding will lead to the understanding of God, as the Prophet Mohammed stated, “Whoever knows oneself, knows one’s Lord.”

As with many forms of mysticism, the exact origins of Sufism are unknown, some evidence suggests that it dated back to ancient Egypt. According to the Muslim tradition, the descriptive term ‘Sufi’ was decided at a council of 45 mystics in 623 C.E.: the second year of the Islamic calendar and the Order was officially founded in 657 C.E.

The Teachings of Sufism

Sufism is rooted in the teachings of the Koran, the Holy Book of the Muslims. The central message of Islam is the declaration of faith, referred to as the Shahada which WhirlingDervishstates: “There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad is the Messenger of God [Allah].” From the esoteric perspective of the Sufi, this statement can be understood as “there is no reality except Reality.” Within Islamic esotericism, knowledge is made accessible depending on the integrity and cognitive abilities of the individual. This measured unveiling of spiritual truths is called Hikmat at-Tadrij: the “Wisdom of Gradualness.”

To a Sufi, there exists no gulf of separation between the Creator and His Creation. The perception of fundamental unity, however, is masked to most of humanity due to the limitations of the material and physical tools that mankind possesses. Sufism provides a pathway that can be followed through purification and meditation in order to perceive what is already a reality. When the heart is purified, the God is reflected in the mirror of the heart, transporting man from his carnal state to the true human being.

Poetry and Ritual of Sufism

One of the beautiful aspects of Sufism is the poetry written by its followers. Two of the most famous Sufi poets are Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz. Jalaluddin Rumi was a 12th century saint and mystic who provided the inspiration for the Order of the Whirling Dervishes, which practices the Sufi ritual of revolution in order to be in harmony with all things in nature offering praise to God.

You’ve no idea how hard I’ve looked for a gift to bring You.rumi

Nothing seemed right.

What’s the point of bringing gold to the gold mine, or water to the Ocean.

Everything I came up with was like taking spices to the Orient.

It’s no good giving my heart and my soul because you already have these.

So, I’ve brought you a mirror.

Look at yourself and remember me.

   Rumi

Hafiz of Shiraz also lived in the 12th century and is considered the greatest lyric poet of Persia, whose poetic form has been described as taking unparalleled heights of subtlety and beauty.

holytreeEven after all this time

The sun never says to the earth,

“You owe Me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that,

It lights the Whole Sky.

-Hafiz

Sufism and Freemasonry

How does Sufism relate to Freemasonry? Freemasonry is not a religion, rather, it teaches its members to respect all religions and faiths. Religious tolerance is an important tenet of Masonry because members of the Fraternity belong to allhaqq major faiths. It is not uncommon to find Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists all belonging to the same Masonic obedience and happily working together to assist humanity and to glorify God.

At its core, Freemasonry is a search for truth: a guiding principle the fraternity shares with Sufism. The Sufi Hadith wrote, “Our cause is the truth of truth. It is the exoteric, the esoteric of the exoteric and the esoteric of the esoteric. It is the secret of the secret; it is the secret of that which remains wrapped in secret.” In our modern world, confusion, ignorance, and falsehood blind humanity to the true nature of reality: the universal oneness of the All.

Like Masonry, Sufism requires the individual to be initiated, after a period of time where he or she has been subjected to various trials. In Sufism, these trials are aimed at provoking what is referred to as “Awakening of the Sufi” or the “Awakening of a Friend.” The Sufi Scholar Omar Ali Shah explains that the esoteric school is based on the “doctrine which seeks to remove the veil from the eye of the heart to see what is real.” Thus, initiates of both organizations are prepared in their hearts to serve and enlighten.

 

Columbia: An American Goddess

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus, 1883

If you were to ask the average American which mythical figure best represents the national character, most would reply with a household name: Uncle Sam. The genial yet intimidating patriarch has dominated artistic and poetic descriptions of the American nation-state for a hundred years. However there is another, more deeply ingrained avatar of the American populace, the omnipresent Columbia. Most famously depicted as the Statue of Liberty , upon which is inscribed Emma Lazarus’ poem reproduced above, Columbia was the mythical figure adopted by the founding generation of the early United States. After the defeat of the British in 1783, America found itself free from international harassment and a wide open frontier of unknowable bounty. What was needed was an icon, a symbol by which to galvanize and direct the consciousness of the American people. By the late 1790’s, Columbia was born.  Columbia quickly became the patron saint of Manifest Destiny, the doctrine of westward expansion embraced with genocidal fervor by the pioneers and politicians alike.

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Columbia advancing towards the darkness of the West, bringing light and civilization in her wake.

Columbia’s figure appears on or within many state and federal buildings constructed in the 19th century, usually cast in bronze and often pointing or facing West. She adorns the Wisconsin Capitol building, sculpted by the same Daniel Chester French who constructed the greatest rendition of Columbia in history, the 65-foot-tall Statue of the Republic commissioned for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois. She reposes atop the Texas Capitol holding the sword of Justice and raising aloft a blazing golden star. She lends her name to numerous towns across America, she is the patron of Columbia University and the seat of governmental power stands in a district built in her honor: The District of Columbia.

Columbia as a symbol is far too complex and deeply-rooted to be ascribed as a creation of political machinations. Columbia is only the latest name given to a goddess who is older than recorded history and can be traced in her modern form to the early Egyptian dynasties. She has been known throughout history variously as Inanna and Ishtar by the Sumerians, Kali by the Hindus, Freya by the Norse and most notably as Isis by the ancient Egyptians. She is the goddess of love, wisdom, warfare and destiny and is venerated by all cultures as the mother of civilization. In the original

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Isis suckling the infant Horus at her left breast.

Egyptian telling of her tale, Isis is also the goddess of magic, friend of slave and aristocrat by equal measure. It was Isis that kept the veil of night cloaked about the light of wisdom and it was her name invoked in the rites and rituals of the numerous fertility cults that sprang up along the banks of the Nile. The pentagram, or five-pointed star, the primary symbol of magical and initiatory societies across the world, is the shape traced in the heavens by the transit of the planet Venus throughout the year. In this Roman context the parallels between Isis and the western conception of the Virgin Goddess in her myriad forms become starkly apparent.

She has also enjoyed considerable veneration throughout history as a figurehead of Freemasonry or as Manly Palmer Hall put it, “The Virgin of The World”. Numerous Masonic writers have expounded lengthy treatises on the Masonic symbolism inherent in the legend of Isis, it being so closely tied to the inner curriculum of Masonry. In the pre-Christian Mystery traditions, Wisdom was always depicted as feminine. In Greece, Wisdom was personified as Athena, Goddess of Knowledge and Crafts. The seven liberal arts are given female representations and the nine Muses invoked by countless artisans and artists are all of female form. For an organization with an historical opposition to the admittance of women, Freemasonry has an oddly persistent fascination with feminine representations of their Craft.

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Freemasonry Instructing The People by Charles Mercereau – 1875

It is often acknowledged that many, if not most, of the founding figures of early America were Freemasons. Could it be that this small group of men, working with the vast repository of Masonic symbolism, crafted a symbol to forge a specific path forward into the future? Is it coincidence that Columbia led the waves of settlers of the New World from ‘sea to shining sea’, transporting the light of civilization from its birth on the Eastern horizon to its maturity in the West? Though she has been subsumed in popular understanding by the withered visage of Uncle Sam, Columbia keeps constant vigil from the forgotten and overlooked corners of American history and geography, a testament to a different time. She may remain cloaked behind the veil she draws so closely to her breast yet the light of her torch still burns for those with eyes to see.

 

Therapeutic Poetry: Connecting with Words

Therapeutic Poetry: Connecting with Words

Poetry: often regarded as the domain of lofty, high-brows: difficult to understand, and even more difficult to write. In its traditional sense, it almost could be argued that poetry has lost its flare, its ability to connect. When I say traditional, I mean rhyming couplets, clear stanzas, sonnets, etc. Stuff dead people write. My response would be that that is absolute nonsense.

Poetry today is dominated by slam poetry. The outcries of the young and the broken, the abused. The neglected. Simply, those who want to be heard. Poets loudly project their stories, and through public events and the power of the internet, people everywhere can listen and appreciate. Now I mention slam poetry not because there is anything wrong with it, in fact one might say that it is the next step in the evolution of poetry.

It has become popular, and it is meant to be heard by many. Some people benefit much from it. But its purpose is to excite–it can be chaotic in its ferocity and passion.

I am not arguing for a step-back in poetic technique, but I do think that some of us could benefit from experimenting with closed form poetry–as a sort of therapeutic device. An almost zen-like state can be achieved through simple, closed poetry.

The Haiku

matsuo-bashoOnce again, I know what your probably thinking: in the first sentence you mentioned that poetry is “difficult to understand” and “difficult to write.” Poetry, in many forms is actually quite simple, at least in a basic sense. And what I am trying to push is not brilliant poetry for the masses, but private, calming poetry. Sort of like knitting or cross stitch. A mix of accomplishment as well as focus and harmony.

Consider this haiku by Matsuo Basho:

Spring going–

birds crying and tears

in the eyes of the fish

This poem comes from Basho’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, in which he wrote based on his travels through Japan. It might be a tad intimating at first, considering that Basho is considered to be a master of the haiku, but the haiku is one of the most accessible forms of poetry.

A common technique is the first and last lines consist of five syllables, while the middle line consists of seven syllables. Anyone can do it. Many haikus have nature themes, but the syllables are variable. For example, Jack Kerouac wrote hundreds of “American haikus,” which rarely ever followed the rule. Take this one for instance:

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Glow worm

sleeping on this flower–

your light’s on.

Simplicity. That’s the emphasis in these poems. They allow you to simple process the world around you, and document your experience. Poems like this allow one to condense the complexities of life into a few short lines. And I mentioned before, it can be extremely calming.

The Sonnet

Moving towards more complex poetry, one might look at the sonnet–popularized by none other than William Shakespeare. Again, sounds intimidating, but it’s not. A few more rules are required than in a haiku, and it takes more time, but it can be quite a rewarding process.

There are two main types of sonnets: the Shakespearean, consisting of three, four line stanzas, followed by a couplet (two lines), and the Italian, which is broken into two parts, an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the last six lines). Additionally, both types of sonnets follow specific rhyme schemes.

The Shakespearean: william-shakespeare-portrait11

a b a b

c d c d

e f e f

g g

The Italian:

a b b a a b b a

c d c d c d

Okay. Maybe it’s a tad more complicated than a haiku, but that’s besides the point. Once you get going, the sonnet can provide a frame for your life experience. A meticulous mosaic, simplifying the complicated and providing closer. Sometimes, the best thing for someone is a bit of restriction, some rules to provide organization for the chaos that can be life. The sonnet provides that. For example, here is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 73”

That time of year thou may’st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

In Conclusion…

Poetry allows for people of all ages to connect with the world around them, and more tradition forms like the haiku and the sonnet allow them to do it simply and privately. It can be a modest form of expression and analysis, and can be done on a personal level.

Poetry can be found in all things. Anything and everything can be poetry if the effort is put in–if the author has purpose. I argue that poetry can be used as a tool to mend, helping one understand that facets of one’s own life and connect with the nuances of others. A means to serenity and awareness, realization and unity.

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Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead

Stop! This is the Empire of the Dead

Six million people beneath your feet. Meticulously arranged and organized. Hundreds and hundreds of years of history. The Paris Catacombs are famous for being one of the most ominous and interesting sites below the city’s streets. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Catacombs and experiencing its allure, and I found myself curious about the nuances of the former mining tunnels.

Into the Past

The Catacombs of Paris came out of necessity. The Les Innocents cemetery was rancid and overflowing. The cemetery, which since the mid-12th century had been Paris’s primary burial site, was a home to remains dating back hundreds of years. To account for all the city’s dead, the church began to place the bones of the deceased within the cemetery walls. Galleries, they were called. It became a mass grave.

Things became complicated when the basement of the church began to collapse under the weight of the cemetery. This was in the late 18th century. Consider the amount of bodies that must have been amassed by then, as burials with the Les Innocents cemetery did not stop despite the overwhelming conditions. Mines and other subterranean areas within the city were put up for consideration as the situation became more and more desperate.

FullSizeRender(1).jpgThus began the moving of millions of bones into tunnels beneath the surface of the city. The transfer took two years. The cemetery at Les Innocents was not the only burial ground emptied, it was only the largest and most problematic. Bones from at least five cemeteries were exhumed and moved.

The Catacombs Today

When you walk through the Catacombs of Paris, you are experiencing the bones of revolutionaries and soldiers. The bones of the elite, of the peasants and workers. The bones of the sick and the bones of the deprived. All of them together, connected. Where else might you see such a gathering? A true city, and community, of the dead.

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The arrangement of bones is fascinating. In the early 19th century, an effort was headed by the Paris Mine Inspection Service to transform the catacombs from a mere collection of the deceased into a mausoleum of sorts. Walls of femurs and skulls were constructed to contain the bones. Various patterns were used to compliment the dead. Traditional cemetery trappings were added to various sections of the tunnels, too: these included arches and inscriptions, as well as displays and memorials. It is truly a wonder seeing bones transformed into such beauty.

Since its renovation, the Catacombs have been open to the public. People have been witnessing the site for nearly two hundred years. Though it has been closed a few times due to vandalism, the Catacombs have endured through revolution, upheaval, and war. Of late, it has become an extremely popular tourist site, with lines stretching far away from its entrance in Montparnasse.

Through My Eyes

My experience in the Catacombs was hair-raising. Never before had I witnessed so much history in one compact space. “Stop! This is the Empire of the FullSizeRender(2).jpgDead” reads the entrance. And an empire it is, truly. There I was, walking through the lives of six million people. The empty eye sockets of skull atop skull staring me down. As an American, I almost felt out of place, like I was interrupting something profound. But there was nothing, only silence. The air in the cavern chilled me to my bones.

The attention to detail is astounding, almost haunting, as one display contained a heart shaped out of skulls, another a small diorama of buildings and other structures. Clever and beautiful, and quite utilitarian. You almost forget that you are underground, that there is an entire city bustling above your head. It almost humbles Paris: not only is it unique above the ground, but below as well. In a very different way, of course. It is quite literally a testament to the depth of such a city.

You may say that there are bones beneath every settlement, below every forest, every plain, every step, wherever you walk, but it’s nothing compared to the feeling of stacks and patterns of visible history: bodies of bones, an empire of the dead.

 

Posthumous Remorse

When you will sleep, O dusky beauty mine,
Beneath a monument fashioned of black marble,
When you will have for bedroom and mansion
Only a rain-swept vault and a hollow grave,

When the slab of stone, oppressing your frightened breast
And your flanks now supple with charming nonchalance,
Will keep your heart from beating, from wishing,
And your feet from running their adventurous course,

The tomb, confidant of my infinite dreams
(For the tomb will always understand the poet)
Through those long nights from which all sleep is banned, will say:

“What does it profit you, imperfect courtesan,
Not to have known why the dead weep?”
— And like remorse the worm will gnaw your skin.

 -Charles Baudelaire (translated by William Aggeler)

 

 

 

 

 

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