The Illusion That Is Caste

The Illusion That Is Caste

The word “caste” comes from the Portuguese word casta, meaning “race, lineage, tribe or breed.” It originally comes from the Latin word castus meaning pure. The Spanish and Portuguese used the word differently in the Renaissance period; to the Spanish, it was applied more in a hereditary way, indicating family and/or lineage. For the Portuguese, it leaned toward something more akin to “breed” or social standing.

Many know that India was a British Colony but what many do not know is that it was a Portuguese one as well. From the beginning of the 16th century, the “Estado de India” or State of India was a Portuguese colony until 1961, when the country of India invaded Portuguese India and a treaty was signed. In fact, the Portuguese had a far longer history as a colonial power in India than did the British. For an American, this is nearly unheard of unless you are a history buff. While this is as oversimplification of the complicated workings of colonialism in India, we will delve into this to make a point, I promise.

This same time period of Portuguese rule (Early 1500s to 20th Century) is marked by British rule in India, which ended in 1947. While the Portuguese were the first, after the Romans, to begin trading with modern India, it was the British who seized dominance by the mid-19th Century. In 1661, Portugal was at war with Spain and needed assistance from England. This led to the marriage of Princess Catherine of Portugal to Charles II of England, who imposed a dowry that included the insular and less inhabited areas of southern Bombay while the Portuguese managed to retain all the mainland territory north of Bandra up to Thana and Bassein.

While the British were in India before this, this marriage marked the beginning of rulership, not just trade, within India. What is interesting to note is what while the Portuguese were using the word casta to denote the hereditary social groups they perceived in India almost as soon as they arrived, it wasn’t until 1613, during the time of British interest, that we see the word translated to “caste.”

BrahminPriestAssistantChristopherPillitzImageBankGetty-56a0428f5f9b58eba4af9280What may surprise some people is that there is no Hindu word for “caste.” In Hinduism, rising from ideas within the Rig Veda, the term associated with the Vedic social structure is varna.

According to one author, “The Four Varna system reflects a deep ecological and yogic vision of social and universal unity very different from the divisive idea of caste by birth.” This is an organic and natural social order that does not coincide with a hierarchy of rule which was applied by both the British and the Portuguese. The term varna is not specifically found in Hindu writings until later, possibly as an add-on in the Purusha Sukta. The text noted to discuss this social structure is:

When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make? What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet? The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaishya, from his feet the Shudra was produced.

The basic idea of this is that we, humanity, are one construct made up of different, outward talents. The one construct, the Purusa, is the cosmic being, or some say, the cosmos itself. All human structure is built off this Purusa. Some may have an inclination toward knowledge and thought (Brahman), like a philosopher or religious person, and some way have an inclination toward service (Shudra) like a fireman or waiter.

However, all are part of the same construct called humanity and all have a part to play in helping the body move. No one of these is higher than the other – they are all necessary. Additionally, there was never the idea, in Vedic writings, of a non-Varna, or outcast/out caste member. Everyone is part of the whole. It would not make any sense to have a whole and then have something that is not part of the whole. To quote another author, “There is in this original Vedic model no outcaste, Dalit or untouchable. Each Varna constitutes a necessary part of the whole and all are mutually interdependent. Each is a manifestation of the same Divine consciousness working in humanity.”

Basor_Dalit_casteIndeed, this is an application of the British and Portuguese who were exerting control over the Indian population.

Either through misunderstanding or, perhaps, intentional co-opting, the Varna outline was translated and Westernized into a caste-oriented system where everyone fell into a suppressive class system, one type of human being better than the other. The adoption of these changes, from varna to caste, caused the dalit to be “created,” those that were considered outcasts and not part of society.

Dalit was a term coined about 1873, by the leader of a non-brahman-centric movement called Satyashodhak Samaj. Over time, this rigid caste hierarchy became the consciousness of a country. I remember being younger and hearing the words, “there is no caste system in India.” Yet, every Indian person I had met had embraced the idea of perhaps one group being above all others, superior to them, and others not being of equal value. The term unclean was part of the vernacular.

It’s important to know the origins of this, I think, not because of the events of history but because of the corruption of something uplifting and universal into the tool to create an oppressive society. Said clearly, from the American Institute of Vedic Studies:

“The Vedic social order was meant to instill an intrinsic feeling of unity in each individual with the greater society, and human society with the greater universe. The Varna system was based upon a transcendent ideal of human unity in the Divine, not an effort to give power and domination to one section of society.”

What was once a purely unifying religious concept was co-opted to create disharmony and foment discord among people.

gahndiWe have all seen this, as base, human need to tear down another group, using religion, education, resources, or a combination of all three in order to build the suppressive group up – whatever ‘up’ means.

Freemasons care about these things because, in the search for Truth, the goal is to build up and not tear down. It is to seek truth and Truth. In order to do this, we need to understand not only human history but the motivations behind the scenes. It doesn’t hurt to dig and explore the perhaps little known histories of the world.

One of the best podcasts recommended in this is “Revisionist History,” by Malcolm Gladwell. He does an excellent job bringing out about the little known facts of what we have taken to be “truth” and made the visible. Would that we were all as curious.

There are many things which are, I think, of interest to those who want to know Truth and build a better world, things which are knowledge gaps for us. Curiosity and an open find fill those gaps and shed light.  I know that I will never again think of the caste system as something arising from Hinduism, and I think this gives me the tools to help others think differently as well.

St. John the Evangelist, Involution, and Freemasonry

St. John the Evangelist, Involution, and Freemasonry

There’s been much written about the patron saint of Freemasonry, Saint John the Baptist. His feast day, celebrated by Freemasons over the world, is in June – the time of greatest light in the northern hemisphere. This feast day, June 24, is typically the time of Summer Solstice celebrations.

There is another patron saint of Freemasonry, Saint John the Evangelist, of which less is spoken or discussed. St. John the Evangelist has as his feast day December 27, roughly the time of Winter Solstice. There is an excellent paper on the Saints John in a popular Masonic site called Pietre-Stones. In it, the author discusses the possibilities of how the Saints John became the patrons of Freemasonry. In the end, he concludes that we really don’t know the actual reason that they are Freemason’s patrons.

One thing, though, that Freemasons are wonderful with is speculation. After all, it’s what we are – speculative Masons. So, let us speculate.

Freemasonry itself has a lot of analogies related to light and with Light. There’s an archetypal idea, mostly associated with Plato and the allegory of the cave and the analogy of the sun, which associate Light (in the form of the Sun) with Truth. These archetypical forms are what Plato (via Socrates) considers to be that for which the philosopher-king is ever searching. These ideas have been incorporated into Freemasonry in myriad passages and ritual elements. Many Freemasons consider Freemasonry to be a “solar” ritual, as opposed to a lunar ritual. In this aspect, they see “solar” as an active, outgoing, and Western in nature, whereas a “lunar” type of ritual is receptive, inward, and Eastern. Where some initiatory schools are inward looking, solstice1Freemasonry is outward viewing. Like the symbol of Yin and Yang, this does not mean it is devoid of lunar aspects; however, the primary focus of Freemasonry is the improvement of mankind.

It makes sense, then, that Freemasonry would concern itself with solstices. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun’s path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction. These are trajectories of the sun’s path and in understanding these movements, we understand more about how our world, how nature, works. In understanding nature, we are able to move through it with easy and achieve greater good. However, Freemasonry goes far deeper than the simple knowledge of nature. These movements become metaphors and analogies for the “a-ha” moments which make up a Freemasonic life.

For thousands of years, mystery schools and myths taught humanity about the cycle of life. When we moved away from superstition into speculation, we realized that special gods did not bring back the sun to continue life – it was simply the way that Nature worked. Humanity learned that while there might or might not be a Divine hand behind the creation of the world and the Nature it housed, we could learn to understand how it worked to our advantage. We learned to move away from fear and into exploration. The myths and mystery schools became a way to explore not only what happened in this world but perhaps what happened after we die, and help us contemplate the reasons for our existence, humanity’s existence. The greatest time of philosophical and physical exploration within these schools of thought came during the Age of Aries. The Age of Aries was a time of identifying humanity into civilizations, when there was the fire of invention, innovation, and inspiration.

With the onset of our current Piscine-age, mystery schools and myths faded in the bright light of more dogmatic and directive religions. With the rise of Abrahamic religions, our concepts of Light have morphed. In the Western Hemisphere, we began to associate people which archetypes. Jesus, the “Light of the World.” Muhammad, who said “I am the light of Allaah and everything is from my light.” Gods of all locales had and have been associated with the Sun or Light, but this Piscine age was the beginning of a time when living human beings began to be associated with light, and Light from divine sources. As Christianity spread, it sought to incorporate many cultures into its fold, thus continuing the influences of the Roman Empire – conquering with assimilation rather than johns5domination. In this assimilation, many “feast days” and “saint’s days” were integrated with, and overtook, colloquial celebrations. It is not a coincidence that the Feast day of Christ (the Light of the World) is also the celebrated feast day of Mithras, a Sun God worshiped in Ancient Rome.

Two of the most important figures of the Christian Bible, and specifically the Christian religion, are Saint John the Evangelist (John of the gospels) and Saint John the Baptist. An extremely good overview of St. John the Evangelist is located at this link. According to this, since the fifth century, December 27 has been the acknowledged feast or celebratory day of St. John the Evangelist.

Every Christian knows, at the very least in passing, about John the Baptist. They might say different things, but the core of the story is essentially that John the Baptist was born to a woman named Elizabeth, six months earlier than Jesus’ birth. There is some speculation that Elizabeth and Jesus’ mother Mary were related in some way. John was a bit of a wild man, calling on the nation of Israel to repent because “their savior was nearly upon them.” John began baptizing people by way of water, to “wash away their sins” and be ready for the Christ. Thus, John the Baptist was the herald of the coming of the Christian savior, even before knowing who he was. John the Baptist is known as the one who recognized the “son of God” and identified him to the world. (John 1:31-34)

John the Evangelist was a different story. John The Evangelist, brother of St. James, was one of the first disciples of Jesus and was the only disciple not to be martyred for his faith. This John wrote his gospel, letters to leaders of the early church and later, in Patmos, his Revelation. He apparently died in Ephesus, a priest and scholar. He was known in the Byzantine Church as “John the Theologian.” What we know of this John is only what he himself has, ostensibly, written.

This does little to explain why these two disparate personalities are linked to Freemasonry. My speculation goes on here. I believe these two Johns are archetypes in which Freemasonry has housed certain ideals and, perhaps, more esoteric teachings. John the Baptist is a fiery personality, who used water to cleanse the people for the coming of “the True Light.” He was vocal, verbal, an expression of the element of air and yet, he was a man of the wilderness, whose earthiness lead people to belief and faith. In other words, he was an elemental man, full of life of this material world. He shone during the highest point of the year, the time of most Light in the material world. He is the archetype of material expression in its highest form. It could not be clearer why he is the Patron Saint of Freemasonry at the brightest time of the year.

John the Evangelist, however, was none of these things. He is a reflection of the teaching of the Christ, someone who took the Light and transmuted it into thought. He was a scholar, someone for whom thought created life. He represents the mental aspects of humanity, the time when contemplation and reflection are necessary to achieve progress. He was the energy of the Light transferred to thought and in its purest form, the Mind. Where John the Baptist represents Evolution, John the Evangelist represents Involution. These two Johns are the boundaries of the circle of human attainment – maximum involution and maximum evolution – the spirit turned to word and the word turned to spirit again. We see this as a icon of Freemasonryjohns1 when we see the two Johns displayed beside a circle with a point in the exact center. This center is the point of pure Light within the human form, from which perfect balance of humanity is attained. These two Johns are the archetypes of the best of two facets of mankind, icons of the Piscean age.

This current age, in the procession of the equinoxes, is coming to a close and we find ourselves beginning a new age – an Aquarian age. While there is a technological overtone to the age, this is also the age of consciousness. The influences of nature continues to push us toward new ways of thinking, new influences. They push us away, perhaps, from the avatars and archetypes of an earlier age. The pictures that humans need vary and perhaps these two will become even further abstract in their meaning as we progress. Humans will continue to look to nature, and need to look to nature, to understand their own progress. Perhaps these archetypes of Involution and Evolution will change in the new age, and Freemasonry’s symbols will change with it. For now, these two Saints’ John stand guard and the highest and lowest moments of Light, reminding us that both edges of the spectrum are necessary for progress to be achieved and nature to be understood.