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

Esoterism in Masonry: Exploring The Kybalion

Esoterism in Masonry: Exploring The Kybalion

Esoterism is the study of the hidden mysteries of nature and science, which can assist an individual to develop inner knowledge of himself and the world around him. The term Esotericism is derived from the Greek word Esôterikos which means  “pertaining to the innermost.” A common form of Esoteric study is the exploration of the hidden meanings and symbolism in various philosophical, historical, and religious texts, including the Bible and the Torah. The Kybalion attributes its origins to the original writings of Hermes Trismegistus, suggested to be a scribe of the Gods who dwelt in Ancient Egypt and a contemporary of the biblical patriarch Abraham. The name Trismegistus means “thrice greatest Hermes,” which was a title given by the Greeks to the Egyptian god Thoth, who was considered a lord of wisdom and learning.

Instead of founding a school like many other great philosophers, Hermes taught orally as his method for passing on his wisdom and teachings. The Kybalion sThelipsofwisdomtates “the lips of wisdom are closed, except to those with the ears of understanding.” By only teaching to small groups and eschewing written publications, the ancient teachers believed that the wisdom of the teachings would be protected.

First published in 1908 by the Yogi Publication Society, The Kybalion was authored by “Three Initiates” who chose to remain anonymous. While speculation surrounds who actually wrote the book, a common theory is that the book was authored by William Walker Atkinson, Paul Foster Case, and Michael Whitty. Paul Foster Case was a known Freemason connecting the work to the Fraternity. In the introduction, the authors explain their objective in writing The Kybalion:

“Our intent is not to erect a new Temple of Knowledge, but rather to place in the hands of the student a Master-Key with which he may open the many inner doors in the Temple of Mystery through the main portals he has already entered.”

What is the fundamental nature of reality? The underlying teaching of The Kybalion is that everything is governed by seven universal laws. These laws are categorized in the book as the principles  of mentalism, correspondence, vibration, polarity, rhythm, cause and effect, and gender. The Kybalion explains that by examining these principles and applying them to life, a scholar can gain in wisdom and understanding.

The Seven Principles of The Kybalion

  1. Principle of Mentalism: “The All is Mind; The Universe is Mental.”

The first principle explains that all reality exists within a universal, infinite, living mind. All the phenomena in the world is simply a mental creation of the All, and everything is subject to certain Universal laws. The entire known universe exists within this Mind where we live and move.

  1. The Principle of Correspondence: “As above, so below; as below, so above.”

The second principle states that there is a harmony, agreement, and correspondence between the Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual planes. Everything in the Universe shares the same rules and patterns. The application of this principle enables Man to reason intelligently from the known to the unknown. By studying the golden ratio on a seashell, we can learn about the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy. In utilizing the rules of Geometry, we can measure the movement of stars.

  1. The Principle of Vibration: “Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.”

The third principle states that motion is manifest in everything in the Universe. Although dense matter seems to stationary and solid, everything actually moves and vibrates. The differences between Matter and Energy are the result of only different vibrations. The All operates at an  infinite level of vibration, almost to the point of being at rest. Everything operates at varying degrees of vibration.KybalionTreeofLife

  1. The Principle of Polarity: “Everything is Dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.”

The fourth principle states that all manifested things have two sides, two aspects, or two poles. Although things may seem to be opposite, they are actually  identical in nature. When extremes meet, all paradoxes may be reconciled. For example, “hot” and “cold” are simply varying degrees of the same thing, merely a variation  in the rate of Vibration.

  1. The Principle of Rhythm: “Everything flows, out and in; everything has its tides; all things rise and fall; the pendulum swing manifests in everything; the measure of the swing to the right is the measure of the swing to the left; rhythm compensates.”

The fifth principle states that in everything there is manifested a measured motion: a swing backward and forward. This flow and inflow is evidenced in ebb and flow of the tide on a beach. There is rhythm between every pair of opposites or poles.  For every action, there is a  reaction which can be universally applied to the planet, humans, animals, mind, energy, and matter. This law is manifest in the creation and destruction of stars or in the rise and fall of nations. Moreover, the law of rhythm is evidenced in the mental states of Man.

  1. The Principle of Cause and Effect: “Every Cause has its Effect; every Effect has its Cause; everything happens according to Law; Chance is but a name or Law not recognized; there are many planes of causation, but nothing escapes the Law.”

The sixth principle states that there is a cause for every effect and an effect for every cause. Moreover, there is no such thing as chance, that chance is merely a concept applied when the causes are not recognized or perceived. While there are various levels of Cause and Effect, nothing escapes the Law entirely.

  1. The Principle of Gender: “Gender is in everything; everything has its Masculine and Feminine Principles; Gender manifests on all planes.”

The seventh principle states that gender is manifested in everything.  Gender is described as the masculine and feminine principles found within everything. This principle directs generation, regeneration, and creation. The Kybalion teaches that every person contains masculine and feminine within themselves.

Application to Masonry

In the study of Esoteric texts such as The Kybalion, an individual can gain great insights into themselves and the world around us. Freemasonry assists each member in the work of self-improvement, which can be greatly enhanced by understanding the nature of our reality.kybalion-1

Studies in quantum mechanics illustrate a phenomenon called “the observer effect,” which is that what the observer thinks is going to happen during an experiment impacts the results. This is an example of the Principle of Mentalism as the thoughts of the scientist influence what is physically measurable, drawing a clear relationship between how the mind impacts the physical world. If a person’s thoughts have a real effect on the state of reality, each person is called to the task of self-improvement. Freemasonry’s goal of “making good men better” can make a real difference in improving our world and all of humanity.

The Tarot: Symbolism and Freemasonry

The Tarot: Symbolism and Freemasonry

Is a picture worth a thousand words? In our modern society, most are acquainted with Tarot cards as a form of divination or fortune telling. However, there is a deeper, more esoteric meaning attached to the Tarot. A legend exists related to the Tarot which tells of a group of adepts traveling through an enchanted forest. Along the way, these individuals lost their voices and were only able to communicate with each other by displaying Tarot cards to one another. Through the exercise of relation via symbols, the adepts were able to navigate out of the forest and into the light. What is the Tarot, and what relationship does the Tarot have with Freemasonry?

The Tarot System

On a surface level, the Tarot is a deck of 78 cards, each with its own distinct image and meaning. While many have used the cards as a divination tool, Tarot cards can also represent a mysterious oracle of hidden knowledge. The Tarot cards are divided into two separate groups: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana consists of 56 cards divided into 4 suits: Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles, and 4 court cards: Page, Knight, King, and Queen.

MinorArcana

The meaning of the Arcana represents “what is necessary to know, to discover, to anticipate, so as to be fruitful and creative in one’s possible endeavors.” Arcana is derived from the Latin words “Arca,” meaning “Chest” and “Arcere” meaning “To shut or to close.” Thus, Arcanum symbolically represents a tightly-closed treasure chest which holds a secret meaning.

Nobel Prize winner Herbert A. Simon provides this illuminating sentiment related to the Tarot:  “a symbol is simply the pattern, made of any substance whatsoever that is used to denote, or point to, some other symbol, or object or relation between objects. The thing it points to is called its meaning.” By reading Tarot cards symbolically, each person is able to divine their own meaning and truth.

Historical Origins of the Tarot

Mystery shrouds the historical origination of the Tarot. The French scholar, Court de Gebélin, wrote that the Tarot was the one book of the ancient Egyptians that escaped the burning of the great Library of Alexandria Library. This booTarotEygptk was said to contain “the purest knowledge of profound matters” possessed by the wise men of Egypt. After the library was destroyed, a group of sages met in Fez, Morocco and decided to preserve the secrets of this ancient text into pictorial form on the cards of the Tarot.

There is general consensus that the pictures on the cards represented the visual retelling of the secrets of ancient mysteries, with different accounts of the wisdom being Egyptian, Zoroastrianism, or Gnostic in tradition. The symbols depicted on the cards provided a manner to keep the secrets safe except for those prepared to receive them. The cards were brought to Europe, purportedly as a result of the Crusades, but were suppressed during the inquisition of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.  

treeoflifekabbalahTarot and the Kabbalah

Many esoteric scholars have sought to understand the Tarot through the Kabbalah, the mystic teachings of Judaism. Kabbalah has been translated to mean “receiving,” from God, the Eternal One. Referred to as one, the deity is actually twofold in nature including the male aspect, Adonai, and the female aspect, the Holy Shechinah. The Kabbalistic Tree of Life, displayed above, is particularly useful in understanding and interpreting the Tarot. The Tree of Life consists of ten spheres, referred to as Sefirot, which are connected by 22 different paths, expressing different interactions between the Sefirot: Kingdom, Foundation, Victory, Splendor, Victory, Beauty, Mercy, Severity, Wisdom, Understanding, and Crown. Each path corresponds to a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which contains 22 letters. Similarly, the Tarot deck contains ten numbered cards in each Minor Arcana suit and 22 cards in the Major Arcana.

Freemasonry and The Tarot

What is the relationship between The Tarot and Freemasonry? To begin, there is the existence of a Masonic themed Tarot Cards: The Square and Compass Tarot Card Deck, which is displayed above. Deeper connections exist as well, including the symbolic journey of the initiate into Freemasonry. The Tarot has been described as symbolizing the path of initiation or a journey towards reintegration with one’s true self. “Know Thyself” is a motto of the Craft and the twenty-two cards of Tarot’s Major Arcana provide useful tools for reflection for those interested in doing the work. The cards reveal stages of an archetypal journey of man with each card representing a stage to be encountered by each individual on their life path.

Like the Tarot, Freemasonry’s origins are difficult to trace and veiled in mystery, and both systems have evolved through history, HolyGrailyet their essential substance remains unchanged. The Masonic scholar, A.E. Waite, posits that the Tarot and Freemasonry are both connected to the Legend of the Holy Grail. In his book The Hidden Church of the Holy Graal, Waite presents his conclusive belief that the Tarot is the “canonical Hallows of the Graal legend,” linking the character Percival, the Fool in the Tarot deck, to the Mason in search of light.

Alternatively, the Masonic writer, Manly P. Hall argued that the Major Arcana represent the 22 chapters of the Book of Revelations: a spiritual road map to achieve oneness with God.

It has been said that individuals come to Masonry to remember what has been forgotten; that all knowledge already exists with us. Through the signs, symbols and images in Tarot, the seeker is directed to recollect the universal teaching that we are all the same in essence, each traveling the same road despite perceived differences in form.