A Well-Rounded Education

A Well-Rounded Education

An M.P.S. member posted recently about a new museum and organization in Amsterdam called “Embassy of the Free Mind.” It is a fascinating place, very much in synergy with the goals and aspirations of the Masonic Philosophical Society. There is a hunger in the world right now, a deep need to find meaning in what we as humans are participating in, whether you believe it’s a great divine experiment, a quirk of evolutionary fate, or some pre-planned game of Destiny Chess. The thought of the popularity of such an organization got thoughts flowing about the period of time we call “The Enlightenment” or roughly 1650 C.E. through much of the 1700s, across nearly every country or city-state in Europe. This period of time emphasized the intellect and reason, where it picked up the additional moniker of “The Age of Reason.” Gone were the shackles of tradition, superstition, and fear-mongering of the Church’s influence; in its place, the individual man was brought to the fore, and the abilities of his mind were flexed right out in the open.

maxresdefault-2The interesting thing about the Age of Enlightenment is that it was really heralded in by the 17th Century Philosophers Descartes, Locke, and Bacon. There was a scientific revolution underway at the same time, whereupon these forces converged into a new way of thinking – the individual path to higher knowledge. Poets, writers, and thinkers of all types descended on the middle of Europe, Paris in particular, to challenge traditional ways and mores, fight against the moral control and dogma they had listened to for nearly 1200 years, and create a new world. Indeed, the American and French Revolutions and the establishment of new governments are outcomes of this revolution of thought.

Sound familiar? The world is searching for our modern philosophers. A simple Google search for “need for philosophers,” one will find a hunger for philosophers in finance, manufacturing, public life, and the Pentagon. Yes, really. Interestingly enough, there is also a need for a public that wants to engage with said philosophers, at least according to an opinion piece at National Public Radio.

In the past 100 years, since the real height of the industrial revolution, we have begun to devalue the free thinkers and dilettantes. The world has lost many of its tinkerers and dabblers because they are frowned upon. If you were a philosopher and an engineer, you weren’t and aren’t taken seriously by either group. Specialization has become the source of what we value. This is evident in the small amount of liberal arts degrees being granted to college students who are serious about the humanities.

According to numbers from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, less than 10% of the undergraduate degrees awarded are in Humanities without majors. While 92% of college students must take some humanities courses, the amount of students who choose to delve into a general education is fairly low. The focus for more than a decade has been on STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, with a high emphasis on women joining these disciplines. Today, approximately 2.5% of the college graduate population hold a Humanities degree. Yet, employers overwhelming state that the most important aspects they look for in college candidates is the ability think clearly, reason logically, and articulate their findings.

You can’t find that at the bottom of a test tube.

EDUCATION--1280x640I don’t find the STEM system to be out of line with what the United States and most countries in the world need. The human race is in need of scientists and mathematicians, even if we struggle to believe them. And, perhaps that is the point. Our college students, no, our populations, need balance. We don’t encourage, in general, a well rounded exploration of what intrigues and excites children if we are so focused on how they are going to feed themselves in the years to come. Parents and educators worry far more about these things and block much potential exploration in youth. While the parents of the 1950s were gender-biased in tailoring their children’s education, parents of the 1990s and 2000s have swing in an opposite direction. The pendulum swings one way and with the next generation, it will swing back again.

Partisanship, bias, and concrete paradigms stem from a lack of balanced education. Without the ability to debate and find logic, to think critically and clearly, we cut off the ability to learn and adapt from new experiences. This breeds intolerance, an inadequate workforce, and an inability to meet the needs of society. Think that’s a far jump? In a blistering article on the effects of a too-focused curriculum and testing, the National Education Association, agreed.

Today, more than a decade later, the law (No Child Left Behind)  is uniformly blamed for stripping curriculum opportunities, including art, music, physical education and more, and imposing a brutal testing regime that has forced educators to focus their time and energy on preparing for tests in a narrow range of subjects:  namely, English/language arts and math.  For students in low-income communities, the impact has been devastating.

The phenomenon isn’t restricted to the United States, either. Great Britain is also struggling to find its own education system remaining top-notch, for much if not all of the same reasons. One student explains his own resentment to the lack of quality education now being provided by the British school system, in the following take on the Minister of Education’s plans:

His obsession with grade inflation, abolition of modular exams and plan to phase out coursework, all form a smokescreen for his failure to address the real problems within the system: that too many exams and targets are turning students into robots who leave school with no real enthusiasm for a subject.

butterflyIt used to be that home education was looked down upon as being inadequate, low-quality, and incomplete. Yet, if we look into what goes into home-schooled systems and environments, we find a far-reaching curriculum, with specialization in special interests, creativity, and exploration. Children find a sense of wonder and a joy in what they learn because the entire world is open to them. While it is true that home-schooling has a lesser emphasis on socialization skills, these are not completely lacking. Yet, with the state of our current school systems, and the inherent dangers we are finding there, it certainly seems safer to educate at home.

Education is such an important part of our ability to reach as a species. We need to go back to the studies of Nature and Science to be able to grasp the concepts that go with not only math and engineering but also language and sociology, music, color, art, and dance. These things are important to ensure we don’t find ourselves out of whack with each other, and thereby create our own demise.

It’s interesting to note that out of the Age of Enlightenment, Freemasonry was revealed to all men, organized, and popularized. That is, it came out of the shadows. Is it a coincidence that they, too, were free thinkers, pushing the world to understand the value of the whole and not just the individual parts? Freemasons of that age explored new ways of thinking and propelled those philosophers, some of whom were also Freemasons, into the consciousness of other movers and shakers of their day. We may be on the brink of another “Age of Enlightenment,” although perhaps we cannot yet conceive of all its trappings. Perhaps that is what the consciousness of Freemasons today will help us discover.

When Did We Stop?

When Did We Stop?

It is easy for life to sweep us away on the current of self-importance. I don’t think we mean to; it just happens to be the way our culture works. Fast and busy and “me” centered. This way of life isn’t just an adult thing. We have shown our children how to do it. They, too, are pounded with the every day commitments we give them and allow. This way of living is like a fierce version of the Tango but at a pace it was never intended to be danced at.

This is my life as well; I made the same choice you did, to be a part of this me-speed machine.

Two events recently occurred that has made me slow my dance steps down and see those around me better: the launch of Falcon Heavy and a philosophical discussion on whether we should migrate to Mars.

The only word that I can give to the launching of Falcon Heavy is wonder. Watching the launch left my mouth open but with no words. There was something eerie when the sideFalcon Heavy boosters landed on Earth again. This shouldn’t be happening, I told myself. Side boosters don’t come back, they just don’t. Again, the wonderment had me re-watching several times over until the busy day I had, had dragged my eye lids closed.

Two weeks later the philosophical debate on whether humans should migrate to Mars coincidently dove-tailed with the SpaceX’s launch. The discussion was an interesting juxtaposition to my earlier experience of watching the Falcon Heavy launch. I entered the discussion, as I do monthly, with great enthusiasm about the topic. How could I not with this particular idea? We were going to talk about the possible expansion of our kind. To me, the feeling I had could be analogous to what people must have felt when travel to the New World seemed impossibly possible. The feeling was akin to infectious hope sprinkled with reservation. The New World, that is Mars, seems so alien, so inhospitable, could we ever truly make a life there?

It was after this debate that I have felt my mouth go dry with disappointment and my inner Tango stumble with the memory of a statement made earlier in the discussion, “What did schlepping to the Moon ever get us?” I shouldn’t judge I know… but I did. This question has forced me to understand the alternative purpose that Elon Musk had when he sent his Tesla roadster into space. He didn’t use his car solely as payload… he used it to get our attention.

I have to ask; I have to know. When did we stop looking up? When did we stop finding continual inspiration in the stars and unimaginable possibilities in worlds that seem saturns_shadowunreachable? I cannot help but to understand Elon Musk’s strategy. He needed to pull our eyes off the ground by wowing us with his fancy car whizzing around Earth’s orbit because a rocket that brings us one step literally closer to Mars, wasn’t and isn’t enough.

My hope has been temporarily dampened, but it still remains because it is possible to change the rhythm by which we live to include the stars. Space exploration isn’t about man schlepping through the cosmos; it is about us making a bigger place for ourselves in that inky black sky. And the possibility that we are closer than ever to doing just this gives oxygen to that small flicker of hope.

 

The Great Race

The Great Race

RACE – noun

Definition of race (Merriam-Webster)

  1. a breeding stock of animals
  2. a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
  3. a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
  4. an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (such as a subspecies) representing such a group
  5. breed
  6. a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
  7. obsolete : inherited temperament or disposition
  8. distinctive flavor, taste, or strength

The use of the word ‘race’ began about 1560, in Middle French, from the root word for “generation.” It comes from an older Italian word, razza, which, might be speculated, came from ratio, which originally meant idea or “conception of something.” The word does not have certain origin, but it certainly has certain meaning in our modern world.

Early American colonists struggled with race as much as we do today. With a radically different foundation of daily life, religion served as the basis for racial divide.

‘Race’ originally denoted a lineage, such as a noble family or a domesticated breed, and concerns over purity of blood persisted as 18th-century Europeans applied the term —which dodged the controversial issue of whether different human groups constituted “varieties” or “species” — to describe a roughly continental distribution of peoples. Drawing upon the frameworks of scripture, natural and moral philosophy, and natural history, scholars endlessly debated whether different races shared a common ancestry, whether traits were fixed or susceptible to environmentally produced change, and whether languages or the body provided the best means to trace descent. Racial theorization boomed in the U.S. early republic, as some citizens found dispossession and slavery incompatible with natural-rights ideals, while others reconciled any potential contradictions through assurances that “race” was rooted in nature.

Oxford Encyclopedia, The Idea of Race in Early America

While founding fathers could not get over this hurdle of the nature of “race,” the entire nation has trudged onward trying in several corners to face it, with very little success.

From Jim Crow laws stating “separate but equal” to the civil rights movement of the 60’s onward, people of all colors and backgrounds have struggled to be treated like human beings. Simply human beings. In the early 2000’s, racism, the idea of separation of peoples, is alive and well.

“What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”

The New Jim Crow

While the U.S.A. might have had an African-American President, we were quickly followed by this:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”  — President Donald Trump

Well, then, let’s bring the subject out for discussion into the light of day.

There are many people who would argue that they are not racist. I disagree. Everyone is racist to some point or another; whether it be national pride, cultural or heritage pride, seeing yourself as a separate from another human being in any way is racism. We all have, in our heads, the idea of “other,” whether it is gender, cultural, language, sexuality, skin color, or what have you. Human beings separate themselves in order to find security. Surely someone who is “not other” will protect and care for us, keep the tribe safe. We look for security in our chaotic world and in a sea of humanity, we cling to what we know.

Even Freemasonry has been subject to racism, and continues to be so. In 2009, the racism of some Georgia Masons was brought to light in Masonic and Civil courts. The rituals and foundations of Freemasonry are not racist; in fact, its precepts are strictly very non-discriminatory. Several Freemasonry orders admit people of all genders, races, creeds, and religions, including atheists. Yet, grand ideals and all, like any institution it too can be subject to human bias.

The question is, “what do you do with this sense of ‘other?'”Are we even aware that we have a sense of “other?” We all have preconceptions of traits, habits, or mores of certain peoples that are not of our own “tribe.” We have ideas and thoughts about other human beings from different places, different regions of the world. To say we don’t shows an ignorance of our own upbringing. My parents were not openly racist but my grandparents were – and they were active Freemasons. How could those traits have not been passed down to my parents? How could they not have been passed down to me, consciously or not? You don’t get all the good and none of the bad.

I would state this unequivocally: it’s our responsibility as decent human beings to treat everyone fairly, equitably, and justly, regardless of what is in our thoughts. Perhaps despite our thoughts.

It is the actions of people which determine their active racism. A middle-aged couple walk on the other side of the street to avoid a group of young African-American men walking towards them. A white man sitting on the bus who ignores an aged Hispanic woman who is standing and holding heavy grocery bags, yet offers his seat to a well-dressed white woman. People who blatantly ignore a group of Asian families waiting to get onto a train and push right past them.

We see these acts all the time, sometimes several moments in a day are filled with them. Maybe we do them. These could be the acts of people who are just horrible human beings, treating other human beings with contempt. They could be the acts of the completely ignorant. They could be racist acts. Only the human being committing them knows. Consciousness requires a lot of self-reflection. If the perpetrator isn’t clear about how they move through their day, they will continue to effect human beings with racist, demeaning, or fearful actions. Fear, the great motivator, is rooted in ignorance.

For those that think they are not racist, or that we don’t live in a racist society in most of the world, one would ask why these acts still happen? Racists and decent human beings come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They come from all religions, all creeds, all countries. They are educated and uneducated; they are Presidents; they are businessmen, farmers, doctors, and Wal-Mart employees. We are surrounded by decent and indecent people. And yet, these acts still happen. Do decent people stand up and say something?

It seems like it might require the sound of voices to rise up when these acts of ignorance are being committed. It takes courage to overcome ignorance. It may be our own education that needs to be rounded out. It may be spending time with “another” to get a sense of what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes. To say that one should be “colorblind” is ignorant and unnecessary. We should not be colorblind; we should be aware, conscious, and active in our support that all human beings are the same, regardless of any thing that took place before we met them, regardless of who their parents were, what gender they were born with or are now, and regardless in whom they place their trust, their destiny, or their faith. We need to stop being afraid. Tolerance is not homogeneity; acceptance does not mean giving up identity. There is nothing superior about acting so.

Only one sort of racism should be tolerated: the human kind. However, our cats may have something to say about that.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master: The Medieval Guild

Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master: The Medieval Guild

I became fascinated with guilds when I moved to Germany. Being an avid reader of all medieval history I could get my hands on, I was well aware of the Hansa (slang for Hanseatic) League’s rise in the 1100s in northern Europe – mainly Germany. The word Hansa is Low German for “convoy” – thus, this league of towns and merchant houses was a consolidated group of merchants and businessmen who strove to create their own answer to feudal Europe. The members of the League had their own legal system, their own armies, and had direct allegiance to the Holy Roman Emperor. Landed Barons and Earls did not stand a chance.

The rise of these independent towns and merchants also gave rise to the guild system. Where the Hansa League was a merchant’s guild, craft guilds began in a like manner around the same time period. The craft guilds were a system to protect knowledge that heretofore had been handed down by father to son, or nephew, or random laborer. Prior to the rise of larger towns and cities, just after the Dark Ages, it was difficult to form a “convoy” of skilled craftsmen because there was no system or codification of work. As towns grew, and more independent towns grew, the need for a steady flow of crafts began. Thus, craft guilds provided the goods and merchants fed the need: the beginning of real capitalism.

Both types of guilds, Merchants and Craftsmen provided a variety of important functions, very similar: “They established a monopoly of trade in their locality or within guilds1a particular branch of industry or commerce; they set and maintained standards for the quality of goods and the integrity of trading practices in that industry; they worked to maintain stable prices for their goods and commodities; and they sought to control town or city governments in order to further the interests of the guild members and achieve their economic objectives.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) 

The craft guilds are of interest to Freemasons and those interested in Freemasonry because they have like terms. The use of the terms of Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master is well known, with slight variation, to Freemasons as well as to any member of a guild in the middle ages in Europe. These were the common terms to designate the proficiency of a laborer. Guilds in Medieval Europe employed the apprenticeship system of hierarchy, which has its origins in the Roman Empire and possibly Mesopotamia.  From young ages, boys (and in some cases women, depending on the profession) were brought in to learn the craft, ensuring that an adequate number of skilled craftsmen were able to supply the growing towns with goods and services of equal and competitive quality. Standardization and quality were the driving force behind a steady stream of apprentices bonded to masters, and journeymen sent out to learn their craft.

The Apprentice was one who “apprehends” or takes hold of learning. One might also say it is one who is taken hold of, as he is bound to a Master to learn his trade. The term Apprentice does come from the Latin root of “apprehend,” and it does indicate in the guilds4most basic terms “someone learning.” An Apprentice was one who learned for a specified amount of time, learning specific skills and techniques of both hand and mind. He was, however, not allowed to be an official member of the guild until he had satisfied the requirements set out by the guild and even more importantly, by his Master.

The word Journeyman has a more interesting etymology. A Journeyman is someone who does work for “another.” That is, he is an Apprentice who has been sent out into the world to work, generally for other Masters or shops. An original meaning of the word “journey” was “a day” and a Journeyman was someone who performed work for a day and then moved on, as it were. The Journeyman was no longer bonded to a single Master and could choose the work they wished to do. The Journeyman’s former Master, however, still guaranteed the Journeyman’s character and abilities. Shame on the Journeyman meant shame to the Master, and to the guild in which the Journeyman had become a member. Perfection in work and bearing meant the same perfection to the associated Master and Guild.

Master is an even more interesting term as used in the same time period (mid-16th Century) as these other two definitions. At this time, the term Master meant “one who controls or has authority.” It also meant “one who subjugates.” This means that a Master has perfected and honed his skills to the point of being competent in all areas of his craft, under all variety of conditions, with a variety of materials. A guild member might go their whole life being a Journeyman; Master’s were few and far between. A Master, then, is partially self-determined and partially a bestowed title. “A journeyman who could provide proof of his technical competence (the “masterpiece”) might rise in the guild to the status of a master, whereupon he could set up his own workshop and hire and train apprentices. The masters in any particular craft guild tended to be a select inner circleguilds3 who possessed not only technical competence but also proof of their wealth and social position.” (Encyclopedia Britannica) 

The interesting thing is that the main function of the guild was not to produce goods or fix techniques ‘per se’ – those were supporting roles to the main function of the guild. The guild existed to serve a singular purpose: to train Apprentices. Bringing in and bonding Apprentices ensured a continuity of quality workmanship, consistent goods being produced, and traditions being maintained. Thus, the role of the Guild was not to form rules, mores, regulations, and laws with respect to their crafts; their role was to introduce a system of art or craft to a new individual, to instill in them the idea of standards, quality, consistency, and perfection. Their goal was to expand their horizons and technical knowledge in a specific area so they might provide for their towns as well as their families. Guilds and guild members served the community as much as they served themselves.

St. John the Evangelist and Involution

St. John the Evangelist and Involution

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 isjohns2 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 Freemasonry 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.

Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

Know Thyself: The Ship of Thieves

“I am not the person I was.” We hear that a lot, especially when it comes to growing older and, one hopes, wiser. Indeed, we’re not the same person we were. Over the course of time, our cells die, regenerate, add, delete, change, morph, and eventually we have all new cells. But we retain our name, our memories, our lives. Are we not the same person?

One would argue that of course we are. Or are we? Really?

We cling to our identities like dryer sheets to hot cotton shirts. In our minds, we are who we always have been. We are that twelve-year-old child who swam in the lake as well as that adult who had their first job in fast food. We remember events, creations, or possessions and claim them to be ours.

Conversely, we claim our “self” to exist because of those things. We do not change, or if we do, it is at a glacial pace. We affix our identity in time and space, and like an astronaut, place a flag on it and proclaim it to be ours, to be “true” identity: knowing who we are.Theseus_Helene_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_2309_n2

In a recent conversation with a fellow Mason, I was discussing the Ship of Theseus. The paradox is quickly explained in this video: The Paradox of the Ship of Theseus. In essence, the question is this: at what point does the ship cease to become Theseus’ ship and become something else?

If we take one plank from the ship and replace it, we generally can agree that the ship is still Theseus’ ship. At what point, however, do you fix enough broken pieces that the ship becomes something else? My colleague was convinced that the ship remained and always remained Theseus’ ship. For him, the idea of identity stays with the generally recognized “thing” even if the sum of its parts is not original.

Conversely, the argument is this: if I am a thief, and I slowly steal the pieces of Theseus’ ship, replace them with identical parts,  take the original parts, and put them together in my backyard, who has the ship of Theseus? The original owner, or me?

My friend said that the original owner did. I disagree. If I take a painting from the Louvre, and replace it with an identical painting, and everyone recognizes it as the “painting,” who has the “real” painting? In my colleague’s eyes, then, have I really stolen anything?

identityI contend that I have, if nothing else, I have stolen the certainty of the Ship of Theseus. I have stolen, or potentially stolen, the idea of the ship. But these painful musings do have a purpose: they help us work out our identity – the answers to the question of: Who am I?

A brilliant article on this is found on Brainpickings. I would encourage you to watch the other short videos on this site: not only is the one on Who Am I thought-provoking, but there are links to life’s other huge questions. How do I know I exist? What is the Nature of Reality? But, I digress.

The question is, at what point is our self no longer “us?” Is it when all the cells in our body have replaced themselves? What about new neural pathways or brain cells? If we replace a leg or arm or heart, are we the same person? 

Freemasons live by an adage of “Know Thyself,” which also adorned the Oracle of Delphi  at the Temple of Apollo. We must first understand what it is that makes up our “self” and when does that “self” become something else. I think this is a life long exploration and, since the self is constantly undergoing change, are we always who we were? Perhaps not.

But then, where did “we” go? Does our identity persist? If it does so, how? What makes us, us?fingerprint

I asked my fellow Mason about clones, which sent us down an entirely different path, discussing identical twins, and the like. Does time make a difference? If a plank is rotten on Theseus’ ship, and it is replaced, does that make identity linger, as opposed to replacing a “new” plank? If I change my mind about how I feel about something, am I still the same person? What if I create new habits? What then?

We are ever seeking to understand our true natures; yet, our true nature is ever-changing. Freemasonry teaches us about the cycles of life, death, rebirth, nature. and science. It teaches us all of Life’s Mysteries. If stagnation is death and change is life, how can we ever be the same person moment to moment? Perhaps that is the mystery that we must ever follow: a constant, persistent discovery of who we are, and what we are doing.

Stoic about Time

Stoic about Time

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”  – Seneca

In a recent Masonic Philosophical Society meeting, we discussed the likeness of Stoicism to Freemasonry. Seneca, Zeno, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius all took center stage. It was a lively discussion and the argument that Stoicism and Freemasonry are the same was extremely compelling. As I always do, I went on my own journey to rediscover what I had learned in school about the Stoics; with what I knew about Freemasonry, I felt that I was well armed to learn some new ways of looking at the Stoics.

I first went to TED Talks, where I always find a wealth of great ideas and food for further thought. There is an excellent animated video on the Stoics, by Massimo Pigliucci, entitled The Philosophy of Stoicism. It’s a very well done quick course on the Stoics. Another excellent TED talk on Stoicism is by Ted Ferriss, “Why you should define your fears and not your goals.” This is about 13 minutes long and is a very practical look at why Stoicism is beneficial and how you can use it in daily life.

What was very interesting was a single quite that Ferriss said helped him change his life: “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

Huh, I thought. Of course we do. But why? Another recent reading foray brought me to brain_opener_free_0another idea: time. We humans understand time only superficially, as it applies to us. Our brains are wired to understand and extrapolate possible futures, opportunities missed in the past, and move our lives to live in synchronicity.

There are factions of large people, including myself at one point, who thought that “living in the moment” was the key to being happy. I now don’t think we’re wired that way.

In a recent article in the New York Times, author and professor of psychology Martin E.P. Seligman agrees. “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment” examines how our minds work and why. He and his co-authors have outlined this process in their book, “Homo Prospectus.” The article, and the book, are really discussing the philosophy of Stoicism to make it through life.

time5

Time. We are subjects of Time. 

What really solidified this for me was listening to a recent Radiolab episode, which was a repeat of their first season, discussing “Time.” In it, the two podcasters discussed the idea of time and living in the moment. Robert Krulwich takes his co-host on a journey of reason.

Our mind does not process data at the time it is created. Smell, sound, and light – these are all generated by something and transmitted over some distance to our surroundings, where we pick it up via our senses, and whereupon it is interpreted by our brains. This distance travel take… time. It is not instantaneous. Our minds process – speed is only a matter of relativity. Ergo, we are never experiencing the moment. We are always processing memories. And memories are always subject to misinterpretation.

It’s no wonder we fear. We cannot live in the moment and must always interpret the past to create possible futures. Truly, like we never really touch anything, due to the molecular distance between surfaces, all that we have is an interpretation of our surroundings, received and processed in past, to guide us in our futures. Spending the time to put emotion into it grounds it even future in “memory.”

aurelius

To pull ourselves out of time is impossible, and thus, living in the moment is impossible. Ergo, we need a tool to bring us around to dealing with these memories in such a way as to not freeze us in our tracks. We are brought back to, again, the wisdom of the Stoics. “A bad feeling is a commotion of the mind repugnant to reason, and against nature,” stated Zeno of Citium.

Our modern psychologists agree:

“Homo prospectus is too pragmatic to obsess on death for the same reason that he doesn’t dwell on the past: There’s nothing he can do about it. He became Homo sapiens by learning to see and shape his future, and he is wise enough to keep looking straight ahead.”

– From Homo Prospectus, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Peter Railton, Roy F. Baumeister, and Chandra Sripada

Astronomy and the Quadrivium

Astronomy and the Quadrivium

Perhaps your first thought, as was mine, is: “How can Astronomy be an ‘art?'” Furthermore, how can Astronomy be called a ‘liberal’ art? From a very interesting (and worth exploring) website called “Arts of Liberty,” we have a snippet for explanation:

“To call astronomy an ‘art’ can come as a shock to a modern reader… Perhaps without thinking much about it, we think of “science” as being a genuine and exact knowledge, whereas ‘art’ is more expressive, or touchy-feely.  But, that is not quite adequate, since medicine is also an ‘art,’ and it is anything but touchy-feely… And while ‘science’ and ‘art’ do not appear to be synonyms, it could very well be that the same discipline can be called both a ‘science’ and an ‘art,’ although for different reasons.

To understand this properly requires us to consider a sense of the word ‘science’ not in common use today.  The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin word scientia, which meant a very exact knowledge, a rigorous and sure knowledge of things deduced from self-evident truths.  The ancient Greeks would have called such knowledge epistémé...  

In the vocabulary of the ancients, an ‘art,’ like a science, meant a carefully reasoned-out knowledge, but more than that, it meant a knowledge of how to produce something.  Where there is no ‘product,’ there is no ‘art.’  So it is possible for a form of knowledge to be a ‘science’ but not an ‘art.’  For example, Aristotle considered the study of god to be a ‘science,’ a body of knowledge rigorously reasoned out from self-evident principles, but not an ‘art,’ because it did not teach us how to make gods, or how to do anything about god.”

Ptolemaicsystem-smallClaudius Ptolemy (100-170 CE) was a Greek mathematician living in Alexandria. His work The Amalgest was one of the most influential astronomical works until Galileo’s discoveries in the 17th C. The Amalgest documents many mathematical and astronomical treatises, including works by other mathematicians – works thought to be lost. The most significant piece of this Amalgest (total of 13 books), is the documentation of the geocentric model of the universe. Ptolemy’s work became the accepted theory of the structure of the planets and stars, with the Earth central to all.

This influenced not only astronomy and mathematics but also theology, philosophy, and fine art. Three centuries after it was written, Hypatia and her father Theon, genius mathematicians, added to the work with their own commentary, throwing in their thoughts of elliptical orbits, the procession of the equinoxes, revising Ptolemy’s Handy Tables, and introducing the sexigesimal calculation systems. It’s believed that this rendering of the Amalgest, with the Hypatia/Theon commentary, is the one that was used for the majority of the Middle Ages although no direct reference to Theon survives and Hypatia is mentioned only in a passing 10th C. reference.


And thus, the Quadrivium ends. I hope you’ve enjoyed my answer to the Bro.’s challenge of finding a significant event, work, or person who influenced each specific liberal art. The question was posed, should Freemason’s really learn the liberal arts? The answer, to me, should be obvious. Not only should we learn the liberal arts individually, but understand their context in the whole of being educated about the natural world. Human beings can be taught easily to survive; we cannot just “pick up” how to thrive, generate ideas, and create a better world.

An example of this “Freemasonic mindset” is James Madison, even though he was not a Freemason. In his early twenties, when the United States was in its infancy, he gave up much of his career and life to studying the histories and government of world cultures. He was relentless in his pursuit of the histories and knowledge of government administration, what worked, what didn’t; he studied philosophy, history, theology, art, classical literature, geography – the liberal arts and more. By the time he finished, and began his work in the new nation’s government, he was arguably the single biggest influencer in shaping the United States Constitution and the framework of our Democracy. By learning the past deeply, he was able to innovate and create a new world. To me, that is a main goal of the Service of Freemasons.

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.

Geometry and the Quadrivium

Geometry and the Quadrivium

Whist sitting in school, slaving away with compasses and a ruler, one hardly remembers that geometry is the study of the measurement of the earth. Earth. The thing we sit on, utilize, and finally rest in when this is all over. The geometry in schools today looks nothing like the geometry of 3000 years ago. It is difficult to divorce geometry from the other liberal arts when we take into consideration the scale to while discoveries are interconnected. Geometry arose from the needs of agriculture, civilization, and war. For so much of this, we can thank Archimedes of Syracuse. A student of Euclid in the 3rd c. BCE, his advances in the field of geometry furthered irrigation (Archimedes’ Screw), astronomy (the first planetarium), and weights & measures (Archimedes’ Principle). The most interesting, to me, is The Method of Exhaustion (remember Dialectica) also known as “The Method” or “Archimedes’ Method.”

“…, to estimate the area of a circle, he constructed a larger polygon outside the circle and a smaller one inside it. He first enclosed the circle in a triangle, then in a square, pentagon, hexagon, etc, etc, each time approximating the area of the circle more closely. By this archimedes_circleso-called ‘method of exhaustion’ (or simply ‘Archimedes’ Method’), he effectively homed in on a value for one of the most important numbers in all of mathematics, π.” 1

Linked together with this Method is the “Method of Mechanical Theorems.” Proofs are everything to the mathematician, and in his Method of Mechanical Theorems, Archimedes had none that would be accepted. He set out using Eudoxus’ The Method of Exhaustion to prove what he knew to be true. In a letter to Eratosthenes, in manuscripts discovered in 1906, Archimedes outlines his thought processes. This document is known as the Archimedes Palimpsest.

Certain theorems first became clear to me by means of a mechanical method. Then, however, they had to be proved geometrically since the method provided no real proof. It is obviously easier to find a proof when we have already learned something about the question by means of the method than it is to find one without such advance knowledge.

The importance of these discoveries and the methods by which Archimedes came to them may be obvious – who doesn’t need π? However, it is also fascinating to peer inside the mathematician’s mind and view it with a Freemason’s perspective. Here was a man who could see the Plan, understand the Plan, and only needed to bring it to life: a divine spark of wisdom, the will to discover, and beauty in its presentation.

For an interesting and short expose on The Method and the “Archimedes Palmipsest,” whence this Method is documented, review  “The Illustrated Method of Archimedes” by  Andre Koch Torres Assis and Ceno Pietro Magnaghi. The PDF can be found here.

Additionally, the originally translated letter from Archimedes to Eratosthenes can be downloaded here. (Thank you, JSTOR.)


Just a note (1): The Story of Mathematics, Luke Mastin – http://www.storyofmathematics.com/hellenistic_archimedes.html – I’ve done my best to verify statements here, and so should you.