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.