Are Sacred Places Important? The Labyrinth at Chartres

Are Sacred Places Important? The Labyrinth at Chartres

In our present time, there seems to be a huge market for “buying” your way to enlightenment. Everyone is peddling a secret. Chant this mantra. Hold this crystal. Buy some incense. Rub that oil. Say these words. Go to this retreat. Some of these things may have some value. Spiritual longing is a real part of the human experience. Labyrinths hold a special attraction for me. Can a labyrinth really be a tool for enlightenment? Are sacred places important?

The first labyrinth that I ever experienced was a Chartres Labyrinth, although I was not lucky enough to be in at the famous labyrinth in Chartres, France. I liked it so much I began to investigate labyrinths in general and the Chartres Labyrinth in particular.

Chartres Cathedral was built one thousand years ago to be the site of a Mystery School. Not only was the cathedral an architectural feat but was one of the leading learning centers at the time. The edifice combined the visionary teachings of Plato with Christian mysticism. You must walk the entire labyrinth path before gaining entrance to the Temple. It is the “way in,” if you will, a Chamber of Reflection of sorts.

Those who have been to the actual site in France say that the effect of the Cathedral is peaceful and nurturing. You are at rest, left to wander or to meditate in tranquility. The atmosphere suggests that the veil between the human and celestial worlds is thin, and God is very near. It represents the ideal of a sacred space: a blending of the divine and material. The impact of Chartres on people at that time must have been enormous. How can a place be so heavenly?

Sacred Geometry

The Divine mystery of the labyrinth walk might be due in part to the magical pattern. One path leads inwards to the center, and the same path leads back out again. Chartres has an eleven-circuit design, divided into four quadrants. They are encircled by an outer ring of lunations, thought to represent a type of lunar calendar. The quadrants suggest the even armed cross. At the center is a Rosette pattern of 6 petals which is the place of 14761614336_92dabf6bf4_zrest. It reminds us of the sacred lotus, symbol of enlightenment.

In medieval times, the path was considered a substitute for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It is symbolic of the pilgrim’s journey into his Soul: the Center. It must be a two-way journey, which ends at the starting point. The pilgrim must not seek to remain inside. He goes and comes back. He visits. He walks from the unreal to the real, from the periphery to the center, from the mundane to the spiritual and back. Is this not life?

Symmetry of the Design

In his book, The Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral, Louis Charpentier recalls his first experience of being inside the cathedral. He was immediately struck with the impression that “everything contained its opposite in itself.” He said that the same balance contained in the secret of the Chinese Tai Chi, is at work in Chartres where the “proportions, orientation, position and symbolism have all been designed to alert the psyche and refresh the spirit.”

This idea is hinted at in Chapter 14 of the Tao Te Ching

LabyrinthWhat we look for beyond seeing 
And call the unseen,
Listen for beyond hearing
And call the unheard.
Grasp for beyond reaching
And call the withheld,
Merge beyond understanding
In a oneness
Which does not merely rise and give light,
Does not merely set and leave darkness,
But forever sends forth a succession of living things as mysterious
As the unbegotten existence to which they return.

Charpentier further states:

“If the pilgrim experienced the entire sensuousness of the cathedral, it would be because the body’s senses had apprehended all the musical and geometrical proportions, and all the numbers and lines expressed in the building’s interior.”

Geometric forms that exist in the labyrinth or even the Masonic Temple such as the cube, triangle, sphere, square, or oblong square could act as a doorway into various states of awareness. “God Geometrizes.” Sacred Temples can be said to stand for an unseen condition of something that can be known.

Beauty as an Expression of Truth

Divine archetypes are said to be not only doorways to the unknown, but as Plato has indicated, they are the very essence of beauty. The nature of beauty cannot always be described in words, and so it is possible, that certain symbols act as a bridge between the visible and the invisible. Satisfying both a physical and metaphysical need, sacred architecture can:

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1. Provide an energetic focusing center on the physical plane wherein the mysteries are learned and enacted;

2. Serve those seekers who enter the building and become intellectually and spiritually stimulated.

The more beautiful the appearance in form – the more closely will it correspond with spiritual truth. Buckminster Fuller stated it like this, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty, but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

My sense is that if a person does not appreciate beautiful or holy things, he will lose them. Without reverence, the sacred feeling will diminish and then be forgotten. Thereafter, his only concern will be his personal comfort and selfish desires.

On the other hand, as we honor holy places we will be entrusted with holy things. Just the opposite of disbelief and despair, the goal is eternal life and peace. Contemplating art and architecture, the spiritual and the divine, moves us away from the mundane world of the daily round.

Do sacred spaces make us more enlightened? Some have scoffed at labyrinths, masonic temples, mantra, and things like crystals or incense for centuries. In times of need, I have tried all of them.

Music and the Quadrivium

Music and the Quadrivium

Music is delivered to us via our sense of hearing, which when young hears a wider range than when we are older. Our mind processes the complex mathematical formulas of sound waves, and that processing, can affect our mood, thoughts, feelings, and memories. Music is found in all cultures, at all human times – humming, hitting things together, singing, instruments. We have found a way, through music, to sounds and words much more integral to our lives than mere language.

There are so many aspects of music that it is impossible to scratch even the surface here. In a recent conversation, I asked a Brother, proficient in music theory, playing music, and song, what he felt the most important aspect of music was. Without hesitation he said, “The perfect fifth.” I asked him to explain.

M_Octave_Fourth_FifthThe human mind likes consonance, or harmony in its music. We find our minds like notes to be evenly spaced, and those that are not are “out of tune.” The perfect fifth is considered the most consonant of musical intervals. However, the musical scale cannot, mathematically, work with all perfect fifths, up octaves and down. There must be adjustment, otherwise it sounds “off.” This equal  interval spacing, what we’re familiar with today, is called equal temperament. There are several tuning methods, and several types of equal temperaments. These differences come from how the octave is divided mathematically.

This brings us to The Well-Tempered Clavier. The Well-Tempered Clavier is a collection of two series of Preludes and Fugues in all major and minor keys, composed for solo keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is sometimes assumed that by “well-tempered” Bach intended equal temperament, the standard modern keyboard tuning which became popular after Bach’s death, but modern scholars suggest instead a form of well temperament. There is debate whether Bach meant a range of similar temperaments, perhaps even altered slightly in practice from piece to piece, or a single specific “well-tempered” solution for all purposes. There are 24 pairs of preludes and fugues, in each book (48 total) each representing the entire set of musical keys.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), German musician and composer playing the organ, circa 1725. From a print in the British Museum. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

This set of music is significant for a few reasons. The first is that it is really Bach’s catalogue of the styles and techniques of Bach’s day. It inspired many composers and it can be seen, in some ways, as a type of “color card” for music – not unlike the paint chip cards you find in a hardware store. The music exploits tuning methods, temperaments, and construction that Bach would have used on any keyboard instrument.


Interesting book on humankind and music here: The Singing Neanderthals: the Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2005. ISBN 0-297-64317-7 374 pp.

Inspired By Art: Nicholas Roerich’s Symbolic Journey

Inspired By Art: Nicholas Roerich’s Symbolic Journey

The Himalayan paintings of Nicholas Roerich (1874 – 1947), Russian painter and philosopher, mesmerized me when I first laid eyes on the collection. I stared at them for hours. I feel a bit as though these paintings knew me better than anyone. It’s like I understood them, and in turn, they understood me. I became interested in why. 

It could be that as a child my imagination was captured by the breathtaking views of mountains. I was inspired as much by the physical grandeur of their peaks as by the spiritual mysteries harbored within them. Indeed, for me the towering peaks represented the very summit of beauty and spirituality. The tallest mountains I ever climbed were in Zermatt, Switzerland.  I had a truly a remarkable time discovering certain wonders in nature such as glaciers and rich vegetation along with snow-capped points. I would take a rest at several spots which were beautiful and magnificent. There were always more heights to scale, another plateau or peak above, views of the Matterhorn.

Was it this experience that caused me to have a connection with Roerich’s art or something else? Are we drawn to art that mirrors a part of our inner self? What was it specifically about Roerich’s art?

Mount of Five TreasuresIt is virtually impossible to separate the artist’s art from his philosophy. Many contemporaries were skeptical of Roerich’s spiritual mission and tended to dismiss his work as being repetitive and unoriginal. However, those who embraced his philosophy experienced something transformative in those same canvases – never ending spiritual realizations.  A brief survey of his life reveals that Roerich was not an adherent of any one established religion or philosophical movement. His name is universally known not only as Master of the brush but also as a thinker and a builder of life.  His art and writings are an evocation to Beauty, to Knowledge, and to Culture. Art education would pave the way to universal beauty and open the gates to spiritual enlightenment. This vision is nicely captured in his philosophical statement of the Master Institute of United Arts which he formed in New York in 1921:

“Art will unify all humanity.  Art is one – indivisible. Art has its many branches, yet all are one.  Art is the manifestation of the coming synthesis. Art is for all.”

Regardless of whether his lofty ideals will ever be realized, or if you agree with the artist’s art philosophy, his paintings are replete with rich symbolic jewels that are a pure delight for anyone to reflect upon.

19284963678_72350b9c8f_oFor example, Roerich refers often to the great treasures stored deep within the Himalayas. The very name Kanchenjunga, he tells us, means, “the Five Treasures of the Great Snow,” because it contains the five most precious things in the world.  He alludes to them in the painting, Treasure of the Mountain. The setting is deep inside a mountain cave.  Roerich causes us to question what treasures he is referring to? Are they rubies, gold, and diamonds?  Or, upon deeper reflection, is he talking about other more inner treasures?

The gurus hold a lamp. Does it suggest that the Light of Wisdom is the treasure of the mountain?   Roerich reminds us that we must think about what we hold valuable. And – taking this to the deeper level of reflection – we should think very clearly about how we find these symbolic jewels.  What does it take?

Pearl of Searching Flickr mediumIn the Pearl of Searching, another journey is pictured. The teacher-student relationship is a theme in many of Roerich’s paintings. Our eye is drawn to the figures and we identify with them, experiencing the panorama that unfolds behind from their perspective. They have reached a plateau and are celebrating the view and a treasure they have found. What is it? What symbolic meaning do we see?

Perhaps the “Pearl of Great Price” is what gives purpose to life.   The mountains themselves symbolize a spiritual world separate from earth but accessible to those who are attuned to the higher realities. The necklace – a symbol of eternity – signifies that this daily seeking is destined to go on forever, an emblem of immortality. This all causes us to consider, “Why are we here?”

Unquestionably Roerich is one of the most interesting 20th century figures. It seems to me that his life was a symbolic journey documented in his massive body of works, each canvas a masterpiece of daring composition, glowing with color. Himalayan is the word not only for his art, but also a metaphor for his thoughts on the process of transformation.

The path to enlightenment, spiritual ascent, the sacred signs of Satyum, Shivam, Sundaram (Peace, Beauty, Truth) – these are the symbolic themes at the heart of Roerich’s paintings and writings, also at the heart of Freemasonry.  They continually cast a spell on me.  Once we begin on this infinite and exponential journey of discovery, we might stop for a moment to enjoy the view or a treasure found, but there is no turning back. Ultimately, we choose the next plateau we want to rise to.

From Roerich’s “Realm of Light”:

“Let us abandon the past for the future. Let us impel our entire consciousness into the future and let us suffuse it with radiance, for this is within the access of humanity.”

Note: To read further on Nicholas Roerich, check out the Nicholas Roerich Museum.

The Quadrivium

The Quadrivium

What scholars call the “foundation of Liberal Arts” – the Trivium – is taught in order that one may expand to other subjects, building upon the skills learned. These subjects have been varied over time, based on the philosopher teaching them but they are now generally accepted as mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy – the Quadrivium. While these subjects were taught by ancient philosophers (Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, etc.), they became “the Quadrivium” in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, after Boethius or Cassiodorus had a go at translation.

(Encyclopedia Britannica has an excellent article on Mathematics in the Middle Ages, which discusses the Quadrivium briefly.)

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (usually known simply as Boethius) (c. 480 – 525) was a 6th Century Roman Christian philosopher of the late Roman period. Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 – c. 585), commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theoderic the Great, king of the Ostrogoths.  The former, Boethius, did a great deal to translate most of the ancient philosophers from Greek to Latin. Many of his works on Aristotle were foundational learning in the Middle Ages. Cassiodorus made education his life’s passion, particularly the liberal arts, and worked diligently to ensure classical literature was at the heart of Medieval learning. Both men have been credited with coining the term “Quadrivium,” or “where four roads meet.” Adding to the mix of Medieval education “influencers” is Proclus Lycaeus, one of the last classical philosophers and an ardent translator of Plato. He is considered one of the founding “fathers” of neoplatonism and had a great influence on Medieval education as well. His translations of Plato are peppered with his own ideas of education and philosophy. One of his most interesting books, considered a major work, is “The Platonic Theology.”

sevenLA1For the serious student of the classics, all of these philosophers, in their original Greek or Latin (with English translations alongside the original) can be found in the Loeb Classical Library series. Many used book stores, especially near universities, carry these books and they can be had for about 10$ each. There are hundreds of books but all are quite good as original references (See NOTE below) Back to the Quadrivium…

While many see the Trivium and Quadrivium as “separate,” I think this is a manufacture of our modern educational system. The Trivium are the basics for communicating thought, generating ideas, and conveying those thoughts clearly; yet, like Freemasonry, I don’t know that you would have jumped completely away from your foundations. Plato, in The Republic, does note that the quadrivium subjects, as identified above, should be taught separately. The Pythagorean School divided the subjects up between quantity (mathematics and harmonics, or otherwise known as music) and magnitude (geometry, cosmology or astronomy.) Personally, I find it difficult to talk about music without first having at least fundamental mathematics and exploring both together makes sense. I have not delved into the curriculum of the universities of the Middle Ages in Europe but if someone else has, it would be interesting to hear about it. sevenliberalarts

What I find most fascinating about the art surrounding the Quadrivium (and the Trivium, for that matter) is that nearly all of the plates, pictures, or engravings represent the subject matter as female or feminine. Perhaps it has to do with the receptive qualities of studiousness, or the idea of fecundity or maybe gentleness; whatever the reason, many of the Medieval and Renaissance European depictions show all subjects with a feminine demeanor. Since nearly all scholars in the middle ages in Europe were men, perhaps it was simply a bleed-over of the Medieval ideal of women. I am sure this is another subject for another time.

On an additional side note, I searched for representations of the Quadrivium and Trivium in Islamic art, also knowing full well that Islam is aniconistic. Islam really had begun to gain ground at the last part of the classical period in North Africa & Europe and as such did not really experience the same type of “downfall” or Dark Ages, that Europe did. The schools of Islam continued to develop the subjects of the quadrivium and trivium uninterrupted until Europe “caught up.” In fact, many of the mathematics, geometry, and astronomy texts of the latter Middle Ages were translated from Greek to Syriac Aramaic or from Arabic to Latin, and later taught in Latin universities in Europe.  Suffice to say that Islam did have an impact of the learning of the West, probably much more than most people today are aware.

So, why would the Freemason study the Quadrivium? The answer, to me, is obvious. If the one of the primary studies we must take on is Geometry, we need to understand how number fits into this process. We need Mathematics to understand Geometry, and Music to understand relationship of numbers, working in harmony. Astronomy teaches us our place in universe, and allows us to expand our knowledge of our own earth toward the heavens. Geometry, or the study of the measurement of the earth, is far more than the squares and triangle theorems we all know…and love. It’s about how to apply these numbers to the world around us. As we will see in each of the subjects, they can be taken for their base modern “ideas” or we can expand and overlap them, apply them to the natural world, and thereby become better caretakers of not only the earth we live on but the beings who live on it with us. The idea of a Renaissance Man is one who is well-versed in these foundations and has ideas that expand the world around us. They make the world a better place to live in, now and for the future. The Freemason, to me, embodies this idea completely.

Next stop, the subjects of the Quadrivium. Thank you for joining me!


NOTE For those interested in more of the Loeb Classical Library, but limited access to purchase these books, Harvard University Press has been working to put them online. The link is here: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/loeb/digital.html.

Individuals can subscribe for a yearly cost, with subsequent years being cheaper, and non-profits can also subscribe for a reduced cost. If you are a serious researcher and you would like primary sources, this library is an excellent resource.

Beethoven’s Last Work – Ode to Joy

Beethoven’s Last Work – Ode to Joy

As a classically trained musician, I often frame the way I think about the mysteries of the universe in terms of music. I love the quote of Einstein where he says, “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” A world without music would be lifeless, silent, and depressing. Almost every moment in a person’s life is continually underscored by music — from birth to death, at weddings and other celebrations. The ancients were convinced that music could become internalized by the individual; the music influencing, as it were, the manner of our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Ode to Joy 

The “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, first performed on May 7, 1824, is one of those musical treasures that invites me to dream, to turn within and to contemplate my mortal coil. The chorus was the finale in the “last work” that Beethoven ever composed.

The idea for “Ode to Joy,” and the words for the chorus, came to Beethoven in his early 20’s.  The famous poet Friedrich Schiller had written in 1785 an excessively cheerful drinking song, and Beethoven was creatively impressed to set the poem to music. He was the first major composer to include a chorus and vocal soloists in the last movement of a symphony. In the chorus, we hear the joy of a man who, through suffering and compassion, embraced all.  

It is such a glorious moment. So shocking. So hopeful: even though we know the violence and burdens of the world are out there surrounding us, waiting for us. The joyful lyrics ring true the message of uniting all people in universal brotherhood. Beethoven’s little introduction to the poem also mentions not dwelling on sad things but being happy instead.

The last words direct themselves to heaven, and in some amazing m34481589172_8d767a068a_o 1usical craftsmanship, the movement ends with a sublime message:

Be embraced, ye millions!
For the universe, this kiss!
Brothers – above the canopy of stars
A loving Father surely dwells.

Millions, do you fall upon our knees?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the canopy of stars!
Surely he dwells above the stars!

Just imagine that Beethoven was fully deaf and writing about being happy!  He was acquainted with a deep compassion that swept through him for others in a destitute situation. He dearly loved mankind and his skill as a master musician provided the means to reveal to us the hidden nature of the world within us, touching our souls.  Could this message possibly be a metaphor in itself? Who is really hard of hearing — him or us?

Beethoven’s music has been said to awaken compassion and the desire for universal brotherhood.  Because of the feelings contained in Beethoven’s music, his works can stir crowds to higher levels of realization. One wonders what power graced Beethoven that he could write such music. His joyful message still has the ability to lift the souls of all who hear it. How does this piece or any music tend to shape and mold us?  I have wondered that so many times and questioned myself. I have tried to touch the heart of the composer; Tried to turn my life into an “Ode to Joy.”352228023_28f8dd197a_o

Ancient Philosophers and the Mysteries of Music

David Tame, in his excellent book on The Secret Power of Music describes how a select group of composers have been able to show us what the ancient philosophers knew about the mysteries of music:

Pythagoras’ understanding of music was far more than a merely materialistic, academic one, and such an understanding is lamentably rare today. Yet we discover something of this timeless flame of ageless wisdom preserved in that small minority of musicians who still today have combined academic knowledge and the practical experience of music with a genuine and earnest inner spiritual development.

A Modern Take on Immortal Beloved

I consider Beethoven to be among this elite group.  In the 90’s, there was a film that came out about Beethoven’s life called “Immortal Beloved.”  Critics disagree with much of the movie’s historical contents, but there is one scene that took my breath away. I have pondered the meaning of it ever since. 

It begins by showing Beethoven standing before the orchestra while he is conducting the finale of the Ninth Symphony. He finds himself thinking back to a childhood memory of running away from his abusive father. The film draws us in as this young boy runs through the woods to escape the awful beatings that have plagued him all his life. His journey leads him to a lake where he wades in to float on his back to look up at the stars. The whole scene is illumined by a radiant full moon. 

Suddenly, we are transported to a change of perspective as the camera pans back.  The lake becomes a reflection of the sky, making Beethoven look as if he is suspended amid the stars until eventually his young body has merged with the heavens. He finds himself in his own universe, yet above the pain and uncertainty of his troubled adolescence. From this, we are left to wonder if Beethoven was truly alone and if his immortal beloved was music: his music. 

An Ode to Joy and Freemasonry 

There are many times that I have given myself over to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” masterpiece.  I bathe in the sounds, leave the troubles of my world behind and allow the joy to slowly purify me.  Freemasonry is much like any beautiful well-crafted piece of music in that the ceremonies and rituals give inspiration and perspective.  While the millions of stars in the sky may make us feel small in comparison, Freemasonry teaches that we are capable of so much.  We are truly a significant part of this very same Universe, and we have within us capacity to behold a sacred moment of transcendent power.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Footnote:  Some say that Beethoven was a Freemason, although there is a lack of absolute evidence to that fact. Further exploration of this theory can be found in the article: http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/biography/beethoven_l/beethoven_l.html
 

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

There is a real affinity for the goals of Freemasonry and the Seven Liberal Arts. From earliest teachings, we see that they are the foundation of many degree rites, the first of which is the FellowCraft Degree. To understand why this is, I think we must first understand the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts and what their history is.

The Liberal Arts have been, from antiquity, been the foundation stone upon which knowledge of the natural world rests. The seven liberal arts have been utilized since ancient Greece. Plato and Pythagoras were first in codifying their importance; the flowering of our western understanding of the liberal arts took place in medieval education systems, where they were categorized into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric are the Trivium, and Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy are the Quadrivium. The Trivium combines the use of the senses with knowledge to lay the foundation for further study. The Quadrivium was considered to be the higher level education for the philosopher, and employed the use of the Trivium to be able to compose higher ideas and thereby, expand the knowledge of the human condition.

Freemasons the world over have expounded on the Seven Liberal Arts ad infinitum. All you need to do is search Freemasonry and Seven Liberal Arts, and you get a great deal of regurgitated drivel. That is not what I am striving to do in this next series. Here, my goal is to simply explain why the Seven Liberal Arts seem to have a kinship with Freemasonry, and perhaps provide small examples of each – withsevenliberalarts and without a Freemasonic connection. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide what you’d like to do with the information.

Plato’s Dialogues explain the curriculum outlined in detail and for any serious student of liberal arts, Plato is required reading. I, therefore, will not relate these concepts here. Suffice to say that the study of the Liberal Arts is more of a study of knowledge than it is of any specific actual data and information. As we may have learned by now, knowledge without application is dead and useless. Knowledge in the pursuit of higher ideals and higher ideas is more valuable than… than… well, you get the idea. Remember, one of the goals of Freemasonry is to better the human condition while standing up in defiance of falsehood, ignorance, and hatred. How do we do that if we are not searching to better our communication and knowledge, and the ways to bring both to life?

The Trivium is, as I said above, the foundation stone of the Seven Liberal Arts and really provides us the method and ability to communicate. It is composed of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

  • Grammar: Knowledge and Learning of Language
  • Logic: Reasoning, Questioning, and Thinking with Language
  • Rhetoric: Directing, moving, and Persuading using Language

While these all seem to be in relation to language, they are much more than language. They are the skills involved in achieving these ends. Therefore, the study of Grammar is also the study of history, geography, reading, and writing. It is basic, absolutely, but more encompassing than simply learning one’s ABCs and how to put pen on paper and write. Logic is about how we learn – we use our senses to experience, put our minds to thought, question, and experiment. We learn to ask the correct questions to achieve the answers we seek. They are not provided to us – we must seek them out and test for ourselves. Finally, rhetoric is the ability to take what we have learned with grammar and dialectic and put them firmly into the hands of an audience we are attempting to persuade. Rhetoric uses emotional discourse, thoughtfully created and properly applied, to communicate new ideas.

If it is not clear to the Freemason now why at least the Trivium is not important, one might want to question what they have actually learned while being a Freemason. Many may think that Freemasonry is all about enlightenment, walking in squares, or religious meanings. It might be those things to some but I think the true goals of Freemasonry are to provide a framework of how to be in the world, to make that world better for those that follow us but more importantly, for our own betterment. We cannot communicate lofty ideals via ritual alone – we need to be able to express what we have learned to a wider audience, to bring new thoughts to a wider world. To me, when we talk about service to the world, there is no greater service than being a hand-up to the betterment of the human condition and we do that by “teaching a man how to fish.” Study of the Liberal Arts is by one means to catch that “fish.”

Hortus_Deliciarum,_Die_Philosophie_mit_den_sieben_freien_Künsten

The Lego Movie: The Master Builders and Freemasonry

The Lego Movie: The Master Builders and Freemasonry

Every once in a while a movie comes along that is so rich in symbolism and allegory that its message can be applied almost universally. In 2014, Warner Bros. Pictures released the computer animated “The Lego Movie,” which received widespread critical acclaim for its humor, visual style, voice acting, and positive message. Co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “The Lego Movie” tells the story of Emmet, an ordinary Lego construction mini-figure who, aided by a team of Master Builders, fulfils a prophecy to save the universe from the tyrannical Lord Business.

The Master Builder’s Prophecy

Described as a children’s version of “The Matrix,” the “The Lego Movie” is set within the Lego universe where a group of Master Builders are fighting to protect the realm from the nefarious Lord Business. Led by the wizard Vitruvius, the Master Builders wthe_prophecyork to keep the “Kragle,” a secret super weapon, out of the hands of Lord Business who devises to use the weapon to freeze the subjects of the Lego world. When Vitruvius is thwarted in hand to hand combat, he prophesies that one day a person will find the Piece of Resistance and save the universe.

One day, a talented lass or fellow, A special one with face of yellow, will make the Piece of Resistance found from its hidden refuge underground.

And with a noble army at the helm, This Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm, and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times. All this is true, because it rhymes. – Vitruvius

The Hero Emmet

Moving the narrative forward eight years, Emmet Brickowski enters the scene laboring as a contented construction worker in the heavily commercialized town of Bricksburg. Perfectly obeying his instructions, he cheers for the local sports team, listens to pop music, eats at chain restaurants, and drinks overpriced coffee. Subliminally craving escape from this monotony, Emmet must first learn that his soul is being crushed before he can summon the inner strength to do something about it.

The Lego MovieAt his construction site, Emmet comes across one of the Master Builders: a woman named Wyldstyle. Falling down a hole, Emmet finds and touches the Piece of Resistance, whereby he experiences visions and passes out. Awakening in Police Custody, Emmet is shocked to find the Piece of Resistance attached to him.

The Villain: Lord Business and his Weapon of Choice

During his interrogation from Bad Cop, Emmet learns of Lord Business’ diabolical plans to freeze the world with the “Kragle,” i.e. a tube of Krazy Glue with a partially rubbed off label. Business seeks world domination and operates a successful business that creates music, TV shows, surveillance systems, history books and voting machines, in addition to all dairy products and coffee.

Training to be a Master Builder

Believing Emmet to be “The Special” from the prophecy, Wyldstyle compellingly states, “Come with me if you want to not die” and praises him for pretending to be “a useless nobody.” While rescuing Emmet and taking him to Vitruvius, Wyldstyle informs him that he actually lives in a Multiverse that includes many parallel universes including his own, Bricksburg. He finds out that Vitruvius and Wyldstyle are Master Builders, a team of individuals capable of building anything they need without instruction manuals.

Disappointed to discover Emmet is not a Master Builder, Wyldstyle and Vitruvius are convinced of his potential when he explains his vision and belief of a deity he refers to as “the Man Upstairs.” Similar to Morpheus from the Matrix film, Vitruvius believes in Emmet and counsels him to let go and follow his instincts. Vitruvius instructs Emmet that the key to being a true Master Builder is to believe in yourself and follow your own set of instructions inside your head.

The trio then evade Bad Cop’s forces, meet with a council of Master builders, escape a dying world, and devise a plan to infiltrate Business’ headquarters and disarm the Kragle. Unfortunately during the attack, Emmet and the Master Builders are captured and imprisoned. Although killed by Lord Business, Vitruvius reveals he invented the prophecy but informs Emmet that it his self-belief that makes him the Special. Believing himself to be Special, he flings himself off the edge of the tower while strapped to a self-destructing mechanism.  Thus, Emmet saves the Master Builders and the universe, fulfilling the prophecy. Inspired by Emmet’s sacrifice, Wyldstyle issues a rallying cry to all the people to use their creativity to build and stop Lord Business.

The Real World

After his self-sacrifice, the lego figurine, Emmet, finds himself in the real world: a Lego filled basement of a house. The father, “the Man Upstairs,” reprimands his son for ruining his Lego sets by not following the instructions, deconstructing parts, and interchanging pieces from different set. Thus, the Father represeLegoBasementnts “Order” and the son represents “Chaos,” which ultimately represent a dichotomy that need each other to exist. Angered by the changes to his world, the Father proceeds to use Krazy Glue, i.e. the “Kragle,” to permanently lock his perceived perfect creation. Realizing the danger, Emmet wills himself to move and gains the son’s attention. The son picks up Emmet and returns him to the set, where he now possesses the powers of a Master Builder and confronts Lord Business.

Looking at his son’s creations, the Father realizes that he was his son’s inspiration for the evil Lord Business. Through a speech Emmet gives Business, the son tells his father that he is special and has the power to change everything. Father and son reconciling “above,” plays out “below” as Lord Business having a change of heart, capping the “Kragle” with the cap to the Superglue, i.e. the “Piece of Resistance” and using a solvent to unglue the Lego world.

The Masonic Message: The Role of Truth

While the use of “Master Builders” within the Lego Movie is an obvious nod to Freemasonry, the movie is also full of Masonic symbolism in the themes of teamwork, self-improvement, and service to all of humanity. Like Emmet, we are all special and capable of amazing things if we have the will to try.  Freemasonry rejects dogmatic teaching and helps the individual to learn to think for themselves.Emet-Truth

The film also contains many esoteric references including the hermetic principle of “As above, so below.” Everything that happens in the superior world of the real world basement is reflected in the inferior Lego world. Moreover, the movie contains references to the Kabbalah. According to Jewish tradition, one name of YHVH, the God of the Bible, is Emet, which means truth. Emet is spelled with an Aleph, Mem and Tav: the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Ironically, the movie also asks the audience to consider what illusions are keeping them from their goals, including the siren song of materialism. The writers deftly hint at the philosophy of Karl Marx,  “to call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” In the Allegory of the Cave, the Philosopher Plato also describes our world as a world of illusion. In the movie, the Lego universe represents the world of shadows, or the Cave. In order to perceive the real world, Emmet follows his inner truth through spiritual perception, which ultimately leads him to divine enlightenment, i.e. experiencing the real world of the basement.  

Mozart’s Masonic Opera: The Magic Flute

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Described as “an Enlightenment allegory, veiled in Masonic ritual,” The Magic Flute was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final opera. A prolific composer, Mozart’s portfolio of works included over six hundred pieces of symphonic, chamber, operatic, and choral music. Of all his compositions, The Magic Flute receives a distinctive status due to its critical acclaim and public intrigue over the Opera’s esoteric themes. The fact that Mozart and his collaborator Emanuel Schikaneder were both Freemasons has only added to the mystery surrounding his enigmatic masterpiece.magic_flute

Premiering on September 30, 1791 at Schikaneder’s Theatre in Vienna, The Magic Flute tells the tale of a prince compelled to complete a series of Herculean tasks, including vanquishing a wicked queen, assisted by the Princess Pamina. Mozart conducted the orchestra until his illness and death in December of 1791. Experienced through the eyes of the hero, the viewer shares in his enlightenment as Tamino gains knowledge and insight. At the beginning of the Opera, the prince believes without questioning what he sees and hears, however, through the journey, he matures in perception and understanding as he is eventually united with Pamina as members of Sarastro’s order.

Synopsis of The Magic Flute

Set in ancient Egypt, Prince Tamino is lost and pursued by a serpent. Collapsing from exhaustion, Tamino is saved by three ladies inthe service of the Queen of the night, who kill the serpent. When Tamino awakens, he meets a bird catcher named Papageno, who resembles a bird himself being covered with plumSchinkelDesignMagicFluteAct2Scene3age. When Papageno boasts that he strangled the serpent, the three ladies reappear and punish Papageno for lying to the Prince. The women place a padlock over Papageno’s mouth.

After he learns that the women killed the serpent, the Prince expresses his appreciation for their actions in saving his life. The women give him a picture of Pamina, the beautiful daughter of the Queen of the Night, who they say has been kidnapped by the evil magician Sarastro. Tamino instantly falls in love with Pamina. The Queen appears and entreats Tamino to rescue Pamina promising that he can marry Pamina if he is successful. He agrees to the quest, and the women give Tamino a magic flute that can change men’s hearts. Removing the padlock from Papageno, the women present him with silver bells to be used for protection. Papageno and Tamino set forth on their quest, guided by three boys.

In Sarastro’s Palace, Pamina is guarded by a villain named Monostatos, who is attempting to seduce her.  Sent ahead by Tamino, Papageno arrives and terrifies Monostatos into fleeing. Papageno then announces to Pamina that her mother has sent Tamino to rescue her. Pamina rejoices to hear that Tamino is in love with her.carl-offterdinger-papageno-the-bird-catcher-from-the-magic-flute-by-wolfgang-amadeus-mozart-1756-91

Lead by the three boys, Prince Tamino arrives at a temple. He finds three doors, but he is denied entrance to the doors of Nature and Reason. When he tries the third door, the Gate of Wisdom, a priest appears and explains that Sarastro is good and the Queen is the evil figure. After the priest leaves, Tamino plays his magic flute in hopes of summoning Pamina and Papageno and ward off wild beasts.

The tones of his magical instrument are returned with the sound of Papageno’s bells, causing Tamino to leave the scene. Papageno appears with Pamina and they are apprehended by Monostatos and his servants. Papageno plays his magic bells, and the villains are enchanted to release Pamina and Papageno.

Hearing the approach of Sarastro, Papageno is frightened and asks Pamina what they should say. She replies, “The truth! The truth! Even if it were a crime.” Sarastro and his followers arrive and Sarastro conducts a judicial proceeding. During the trial, Pamina confesses that she was trying to escape because Monostatos had demanded her love. Forgiving her, Sarastro informs Pamina she is free of Monostatos , but he will not allow her to leave. Arriving with Tamino as captive, Monostatos enters and tries to convince Sarastro that Tamino deserves retribution. Sarastro denies Monostatos’ claims and sentences him to receive 77 strokes of the bastinado. Tamino and Papageno are taken into the Temple of Trial to be purified, and the First Act ends with a chorus:

“Brethren! Initiates of the Temple of Wisdom; Servants of Isis and Osiris! Tamino, who is waiting at the Northern Gate of the Temple, is yearning to be free of the veil of the night, he wants to behold the sanctuary of Light.”

Act II

tumblr_n6q9o5htsx1rtynt1o3_r1_1280A council of priests, including Sarastro, deliberate and determine that Tamino shall be allowed to have Pamina if he succeeds in passing through the Temple of Ordeal. The council does not want Pamina to be returned to her mother, the Queen of the Night, who they believe has infected the world with superstition. Subsequently, Sarastro prays to the gods Isis and Osiris, askings for the protection of Tamino and Pamina by requesting that the Gods take the two into their heavenly dwelling place should they meet death in the course of their trials.

Back at the Temple of the Ordeal, Tamino is cautioned that this is his last chance to turn back. He responds that he will undergo every trial to win his Pamina. The priest also asks Papageno if he will concede to every trial, but he replies that he is uninterested in obtaining wisdom. The priest responds that Papageno may receive a woman, Papagena, if he undergoes the trials. Papageno agrees to also undergo the trials. Tamino and Papageno are instructed that their first trial is that they must remain silent under the temptation of women.

Three ladies appear and tempt them to speak.  Tamino and Papageno remain firm, although Tamino must constantly restrain Papageno commanding him to be “Still!” Papageno confronts one of the priests demanding to know why he must undergo tests if Sarastro already has a woman that wants to be his wife. The priest responds that it is the only way.

In a garden, Monostatos approaches and gazes upon a sleeping Pamina with rapture. The Queen of the Night appears and tells Pamina that she must kill Sarastro if she wishes to remain her daughter. She gives Pamina a dagger with which to kill Sarastro. Observing the conversation, Monostatos tries to force Pamina to love him by telling her that he will reveal the exchange. Sarastro appears and rebukes Monostatos, while reassuring Pamina.  

Approached by Pamina, Tamino and Papageno continue in their ordeal mandated silence. Papageno can no longer hold his tongue, but Tamino remains firm. Since Tamino refuses to answer, Pamina believes he no longer loves her and is heartbroken.Yearning for his wo524cedc2640499297472a5cfc1001581man, Papageno plays his magic bells. At the first ordeal, an old woman approached Papageno declaring herself his bride. Reappearing, she has transformed herself into the young and pretty Papagena. The priests send her away with thunder and lightning. Frightened, She vanishes and Papageno is miserable. Shattered by Tamino’s rejection, Pamina attempts to commit suicide but is stopped by the three boys.

Counseled by two men in armor, Tamino is given advice and instruction. Sarastro and Pamina appear, and Tamino is allowed to speak with her and assures Pamina of his love. Pamina and Tamino are allowed to undertake their final ordeals together, fire and water. Pamina leads him through the ordeals, and they triumph with the help of the magic flute.

Contemplating suicide, Papageno is distraught wishing for Papagena. Three Boys appear and remind him to use his magic bells, which indeed summon Papagena. The two are united, stuttering at first in astonishment. Seeking to destroy the temple, Monsanto’s and the Queen of the Night reappear, but they are magically cast out into eternal night. Sarastro bids the young lovers welcome at the entrance of the Temple and unites them. The members of the Temple praise Tamino and Pamina for their success in enduring their trials and give thanks to the Gods. 

Masonic Symbolism in The Magic Flute

At the age of twenty-eight, Mozart joined a Masonic Lodge in the autumn of 1784 and spent a total of seven years as a Mason. Many of his compositions during this period demonstrate his dedication to Masonry, including his final masterpiece, The Magic Flute. The Opera celebrates several integral Masonic themes: the importance of morality, the destMozart_magic_fluteruction of ignorance through enlightenment, and the virtues of knowledge, justice, wisdom, and truth. Moreover, the Opera includes the evocation of the four elements of earth, air, water and fire and the requirement of silence.

The number three is repeated throughout the story and in the music of opera: three women in service to the Queen of the Night, three boys, three doors to the Temple, three loud chords at the beginning of the Overture, the three flats of E-flat Major key throughout much of the score.

“He who treads the road full of care,

Is purified by fire, water, air and earth.

If he can overcome the fear of death,

he soars heavenwards away from earth!”

Viewed within a historical and political context of the Age of Enlightenment, the Opera’s Queen of the Night was seen to represent the Austrian empress Maria Theresa who vehemently opposed Freemasonry. Her antagonist, Sarastro, symbolized an enlightened sovereign who ruled according to the principles of reason and wisdom. Providing an allegory to the ideal progress of humanity towards enlightenment, Tamino journeys from chaos as represented by the serpent through the religious superstition of the Queen of the Night, and eventually arrives at rational enlightenment at the Temples of Sarastro.

The Magic Flute demonstrates an enlightened portrayal of gender equality through Pamina’s invitation to join Sarastro’s order by undergoing her own initiation. Scholar Julian Rushton argues in the publication, New Grove Opera, that “the implication that women should become initiates is the opera’s title to true Enlightenment.” In the second act, the Two Men in Armor counsel Tamino and address Pamina’s fate stating, “A woman who is not afraid of night and death, is worthy, and will be initiated.” Musicologist H. C. Robbins-Landon has postulated that the Opera demonstrated Mozart’s wish “to reform the St. John Masonry to which he belonged by asking that women be included in the Craft’s membership.”

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