Hidden Mysteries of Nature

Hidden Mysteries of Nature

Recently, I was with a group of Freemasons having a passionate discussion about the word “magic.” Some of the members of the discussion group felt that Freemasonry is “magic,” while others disregarded the word as superstition and illusion. Still others were exploring different meanings, trying to find within themselves how the word made them feel, what it made them think, and what was their own relationship to magic. As Freemasons, we regularly discuss religion, or rather, being religious. We sometimes specifically compare religious symbols to one another and generally explore spiritual diversity and messages. Often corrupted by men, we lose site of what being religious truly is. We almost never talk about magic, even in free-thinking circles and in public, you only hear “magic” discussed, generally, with humor, disgust, or fear.

Most humans may lose sight of what being “magical” is. Our current world is corrupted by the thoughts of the fearful in so many ways, it’s often hard to tell that we’ve been conditioned by it, by ourselves, by our family, media, and friends. For example, when we use the word magic, it tend to conjure up thoughts of either something horrific, like ritual sacrifice or Voldemort (Yes, I said his name). It might bring to mind witches, burned at the stake, or witches doing strange things in forests at night. Yet, the word magical also tends to bring us to Disney artifacts (Tinkerbell, anyone?), gigantic film special effects, or even dreamy, personal experiences – think, Christmas at Rockefeller Center. The point is, we have not explored the word magic as much as we’ve explored the word religion. However, both may be important to humanity and the Freemason as well. Our ingrained fears stop us from talking about the word and stick it in a cave, hidden from the rest of the world. It’s time to do a little word spelunking.

img_0249The word magic is presumably derived from Old Persian and possibly from the proto-Indo-European language as meh-gh, which means “to help, power, to be able to.” It’s taken many forms over the years, from everything to indicate the workings of scholars, sages, Zoroastrian priests, rituals, spells, and eventually related to something or someone not of your religion. If you didn’t understand it as part of your personal religious upbringing, it was considered magic, especially by both Judaism and Christianity (13/14c C.E) . In Frazer’s The Golden Bough, he illustrates a very thorough journey from folklore, myth, magic, and religion, to the science of modernity. From what I have so far deduced and experienced, the knowledge and wonder of discovering how the natural world works is what magic has been for thousands of years. It’s learning, understanding, exploring, and working in conjunction with the natural world. Forget the word’s baggage and take it back to its origins: the wonder of the natural world that brings us awe and teaches us reverence and respect.

We’ve all learned that humans put their own connotation on the words we use, and shared and agreed-upon usage are how they become “fact.” We should do our best discard dogma; if something imparts an emotional response, it seems to be time to explore it, not shun it or parrot someone else’s belief. Understanding the words we use, like understanding ourselves, gives us authenticity and gives the words power.

Understanding the truth of what magic is seems to be related to how we are in relationship with our natural world. I understand magic to be the physical laws of nature and the universe that I do not currently comprehend thoroughly, and and magic is the process of continually learning how to “be” and be in harmony with our universe. This is not so far from what we perceive herbalists do when they understand plant lore and heal the sick, or weirdly enough, the gymnast who understands the laws of gravity and motion in his body, and can execute the most incredible flips and jumps. Have you ever had someone throw a ball in your direction and you reached up your hand to grab it at the perfect time, even if you might not have been looking at it coming toward you? How did you do that? Magic? Perhaps you understand the laws of motion and the physics of gravity well enough to make the catch. Others may not. To them, it appears as magical.

img_0250The “magical” feelings evoked are the impetus for the process of discovery. We first see something that entices us, intrigues us, gives us a certain spark of interest and imagination. What did we just see? What happened there? Then, we may try to recreate it, seek its origin, find out how to do what it is we saw. “To be able to” means we’re learning magic. From the learning how to do, we wonder and our interest continues. We start dissecting, breaking apart the machine of nature to figure out its meaning, its purpose, and its origin. We might take a path through religion to get there, or we may jump right to science – either is an option. Once we find the how, we seek the why.

There is a quote from a book by Arthur E. Powell, The Magic of Freemasonry, which takes me toward the part Freemasonry plays. It is this:

“Why do men love Masonry? What lure leads them to it? What spell holds them through the long years? What strand is it that tugs at our hearts, taut when so many threads are broken by the rough ways of the world? And what is it in the wild that calls to the little wild things? What sacred secret things do the mountains whisper to the hillman, so silently yet so surely that they can be heard above the din and clatter of the world? What mystery does the sea tell the sailor; the desert to the Arab; the arctic ice to the explorer; the stars to the astronomer? When we have answered these questions mayhap we may divine the magic of Masonry. Who knows what it is, or how or why, unless it be the long cable tow of God, running from heart to heart.”

So, is Freemasonry magical? Not in the way that Disney or Satanists or even fundamentalists of any religion would have the world think. That is fear and ignorance asserting themselves.

img_0253I believe it’s the discovery of the world around us that is magical. It persuades us to keep seeking and searching for the mysteries of nature and science. It speaks to us of understanding our world – not just the laws of men but also the laws of nature and whatever source it is that keeps us all “together.” Some may call it God, The Force, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Diana, Odin, the Tao, Krishna, and a host of other names. Perhaps they are just human mirrors of the same “thing” that ties us together. Perhaps that is the thing I am truly seeking: smashing the mirrors to understand what lies on the other side.

I would say that Freemasonry encourages magic and magical behavior, magical thought, and a magical mind. Ritual of any sort has a purpose and the structure, words, ritual, and trappings of Freemasonry are not as simple as to call them purely “magic.” Freemasonry requires a curious mind to work on its initiates. If one is not curious about Freemasonry and about the world in general, they will see Freemasonry as an institution, made for charity work, a fraternity in which to socialize, and a series of rituals that just encourage the participant to gain degrees. Maybe, for those masons, that is a first step, and maybe if there are more lives than this, we keep Freemasonry going for theirs, and our, future selves.  I see it as the Freemason’s duty to continue to keep our minds open and test our theories, test the world, be inquisitive; thus, perhaps Freemasons are magical scientists.

I do not think that magic is the antithesis of science. I think it is a step in the process of discovery, of which science is another. Science, which is “such knowledge, general truths, or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena” is another charged word, especially in the information and technology age. Is Freemasonry scientific? Take your own voyage and let me know what you think. This is your journey, too.

The Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice, which is also commonly known as Midsummer, takes place when one of the Earth’s poles reaches maximum tilt towards the Sun. In the Northern hemisphere, this occurs when the Sun enters Cancer, somewhere around June 21st. In the Southern hemisphere, it occurs when the Sun enters Capricorn, somewhere around December 21st. As a result of this tilt, the Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year.

Human beings have been marking the Summer Solstice for a very, very long time. In Wiltshire, England, from the vantage point of the middle of the stone circle at the famous Bronze Age site of Stonehenge, the sun rises directly over the Heel Stone. At Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a dagger of light appear to pierce the heart of theNewmexico petroglyph’s spiral. The Greek Antikythera mechanism which, depending on which set of scientists you ask, has been dated anywhere from 250 to 60 BCE, is a marvelous piece of engineering that was used to track, among other dates, the Summer Solstice and the start of the Olympic Games.

Today’s Druids celebrate the Summer Solstice with the festival of Alban Hefin, which means “The Light of the Shore.” For them, the seashore is a place between the worlds, where Sky, Sea, and Earth meet. They view the Summer Solstice as an expression of that liminality, because while the Sun God is at His strongest, His strength is also declining, and the days will grow shorter.

Ancient Druids gathered mistletoe from oak groves at high noon on the Summer Solstice. Mistletoe does not have berries in the summer, and in that form it was prized for its powers of protection. In order to ensure that none of this protective power was lost, Druids would spread or hold white linen under each tree so that the mistletoe would not Lithafall directly on the earth and send the power into the ground.

Wiccans and similarly oriented Pagans refer to the Summer Solstice as Litha. Named after the Anglo-Saxon grain goddess, Litha celebrates the fertile powers of nature at their highest point. It is a time for feasting, swimming, bonfires, and even fireworks. As the Summer Solstice represents the marriage of heaven and Earth, it is also a popular time for Pagan weddings, complete with couples “jumping the fire” to cement their vows. One ancient tradition that is being revived in some areas is the ritual of driving livestock through the dying embers of the Midsummer fire, though with the safety precaution of actually having two smaller fires with a path between to lead the animals through.

Among the metaphysically inclined, one common belief about the Summer Solstice is that it is one of those times of the year when the “veil” between the living human world and the Otherworld becomes thinner. In particular, many stories of humans entering the world of the faeries, or sightings of faeries in the human world, occur at Midsummer. Perhaps some of these stories – or sightings of his own – inspired William Shakespeare toA-Midsummer-Nights-Dream_859_ write A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Summer Solstice is a traditional time to gather herbs for purpose of protection, both for homes and animals. Boughs of rowan can be hung over entrances to stables, barns, chicken coops, sheep and goat enclosures, etc. – to protect the animals from disease or harm caused by evil magick. By the same token, a sprig of rowan hung over a pet’s favorite spot would confer the same special protection. Rue is considered protective against disease and poison, though it is poisonous itself when ingested in sufficient quantities. In Italy, rue was considered such an important herb that jewelry makers would make silver replicas of it to act as protection against the Evil Eye. In England, rue was believed to confer protection against faerie enchantments.

In one of many attempts by the Church to eradicate Pagan practices over the years, June 24th was designated “St. John’s Day,” in hopes that it would replace Summer Solstice celebrations. This is how St. John’s Wort, another herb traditionally gathered at johns2Midsummer, came by its name. St. John’s Wort flowers around the Summer Solstice, and those flowers are a cheerful, sunny yellow. In addition to making a lovely yellow dye, St. John’s Wort is also credited with the ability to bind spirits wherever it is hung.

Vervain is another herb that is traditionally gathered at the Summer Solstice. Vervain is believed to have the power to purify and to banish evil and negativity. Lavender is also gathered at this time and is used to make incense for Summer Solstice rites. Fern seeds, which are really spores still attached to the leaf and worn in the shoe, were once believed to make the wearer invisible. Today, the root of the male fern, with leaves intact, is dried over the Summer Solstice fire to create the “lucky hand” amulet.

In the East Anglian Tradition, the Summer Solstice is the seventh of the eight festivals of the natural year, which are celebrations of what Nigel Pennick calls “The Stations of the Year.” These stations express the round of life, death, and rebirth that is such an integral part of the agricultural cycle. At the same time, they are also a way of exploring the metaphysical questions of life, death, and the path to spiritual enlightenment. In this tradition, the stations are as follows:

Station Festival Event Agricultural Cycle
1 None (it’s a mystery) Death/rebirth Plant produces seed and dies.
2 Autumnal Equinox Calling/summoning Fruit ripens/harvest.
3 Samhain (October 31) Awakening Letting go, seed is released.
4 Yule Enlightenment Rebirth of the spark of life in the seed.
5 Vernal Equinox Reconciliation Seed, apparently dead, comes back to life.
6 Beltane (May 1) Mystic union Plant grows in harmony with environment.
7 Midsummer Sanctification Flower opens and is fertilized.
8 Lammas (August 1) Completion The circle turns.

Druids, Wiccans, and Celtic-centered Pagans have a slightly different approach to observing the overarching cycle of the natural world. They refer to it as “The Wheel of the Year,” and conceive of the cycle as follows:

Festival Event Agricultural Cycle
Samhuinn (October 31) Ending and beginning of the year. Remembering and contacting the honored dead. The final harvest; livestock who won’t be overwintered are slaughtered.
Winter Solstice (Alban Arthan) Death and rebirth. Death of the Holly King and rebirth of the Oak King. Longest night of the year.
Imbolc (February 2) Honoring the Mother Goddess. First faint signs of spring, lambs are born (in some climates).
Spring Equinox (Alban Eilir, Eostre) Celebrating the Resurrection of the God, light overpowering darkness. Equal day and night; flowers begin to appear; first seeds are planted.
Beltane (May 1) Celebrating the Fertility of the Land. Spring is in full bloom.
Summer Solstice (Alban Hefin) Celebrating the union of heaven and Earth. Longest day of the year.
Lughnasadh (August 1) Giving thanks to the Goddess. First harvest, particularly of grain.
Autumnal Equinox (Alban Elfed, Mabon) Giving thanks to the Goddess, and preparing for the return of the dark. Equal day and equal night. Second harvest, particularly of fruit.

Although the Summer Solstice occupies the seventh spot in the Stations of the Year, and the fourth spot in the most common Wheel of the Year, its essential significance is the same in both calendars. The Summer Solstice is a time to celebrate the light when it’s at its strongest, when exuberant growth is at its height. At the same time, we are reminded that the light will begin to wane thereafter, and that we would do well to consider the nature of our spiritual harvest.

 


Sources:

Campanelli, Pauline. Ancient Ways: Reclaiming Pagan Traditions. First Edition, Second Printing, Llewellyn, 1992.

Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon. Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard. New Page, 2004.

Pennick, Nigel. The Pagan Book of Days. Destiny, 1992.

Huson, Paul. Mastering Witchcraft. Perigee, 1970.

“Summer Solstice.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summer_solstice.

“Archaeoastronomy.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeoastronomy.

“Antikythera mechanism.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism.

“Summer Solstice – Alban Hefin.” The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. https://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/druid-festivals/summer-solstice-alban-hefin

“The Eightfold Wheel Of The Year & The Druid Festivals.” The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. https://www.druidry.org/druid-way/teaching-and-practice/druid-festivals/eightfold-wheel-year-druid-festivals

How Do You Know?

How Do You Know?

Our modern times have brought us many great advancements. We find ourselves living longer, becoming more globally connected, and enjoying medical ingenuities, such as antibiotics, blood transfusions, and artificial organs. There are many amazing necessities and niceties that are enjoyed by the human race in varying degrees because of Science. Science has given us a lot to be thankful for. Or has it?

In recent years, there have been debates, and at times heated arguments, over the likes of genetically modified foods, vaccinations, and global warming. Even the effectivenessFlat Earth of Western medicine has cropped up in many personal conversations over the years. Ideas such as Flat Earth have come back to the scene in modern discussions and often with contention.

Once thought for certain by the general populace, many scientific concepts are met with skepticism. But before you believe this blog is about winning you over to one side or the other, I ask you read on, because it not. There is something greater underneath these debates, and it has everything to do with you.

When researching the Philosophy of Science the other day, I came upon a very intriguing
question: How do you know your knowledge is authentic?

What a wonderful question, and it has given me more than a pause. Now before we reduce this question to reducto adsurdum, and say how can we really ever know anything, let’s try to accept the question for what it is: an invitation to know ourselves a little bit better.

Knowledge. It is a formidable due to its ubiquitous nature. It is an invading species that finds life in the uninhabitable regions of our brain. It plants its roots and digs deep so it cannot be easily removed, often without our realizing it.

Thus, when we allow “knowledge” to pass our acceptance filters and impregnate itself in our world view, it becomes almost impossible to remove. Especially if it comes from an authority – like science, religion, or a person of a particular importance. But are these sources enough to make an idea become an organism of knowledge?

One of the greatest lessons science has taught me is that it is only at its best when it is being challenged, and I find that this true of human knowledge in general. Authenticity cannot exist if challenge is not present. Growth is a product of conflict, not peace. Knowledge that is real will survive and become stronger; the ideas that do not deserve to be uprooted and replaced with a more genuine concept.

How do you know your knowledge is real? We listen and we give the other side their due. This is a very Masonic and scientific principle. In doing so, the only danger we will face is the danger of becoming more authentic in what we know. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

 

Is Death Necessary? Or Inevitable?

Is Death Necessary? Or Inevitable?

Death. A foregone conclusion to this life. Maybe. What does science say?

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me,” Albert Einstein wrote in a condolence letter, upon the death of his close friend Michele Besso in 1955, “that signifies nothing. For those of us who believe in physics, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Einstein was on to something, according to a contemporary scientist.

A theory… a philosophy, really, called “Biocentrism,” explores this question and many other fundamental reality-based questions. Introduced in 2010 by Robert Lanza, a scientist, doctor, and “influential thinker” who felt that consciousness is a problem for not only biologists, but physicists as well. Nothing, according to Lanza, can explain the “molecules of consciousness bouncing around in our brain.”

Biocentrism is sometimes the view or belief that the rights and needs of humans are not more important than those of other living things. This is not that theory of philosophy; it is something entirely different.

The theory postulated by Lanza is that nothing exists outside of consciousness and life. Biology is the great creator. In Lanza’s view, we humans have become very good at understanding the mechanics of our universe. We look at the rotations of planets, and we know chemical properties and can explain how apples fall from trees.

What we can’t explain is why. Why does the universe work as it does? Why can we not explain yet why we have consciousness, or what we should be doing with it? Biocentrism explains the why. Max Planck, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, stated:

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

Lanza, with Biocentrism, seeks to explain the difference between what we all perceive to be an objective reality versus a life-centric reality.

“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”

Objective reality says, why yes, of course it does. Biocentrism reality says, not unless brainthere is an ear nearby. The science is lengthy but makes a point – without the ear to hear, the sound does not really exist. The tree falling creates puffs of air which stimulate aneardrum that translates the shift of air into a sort of sound. The sound is entirely held within our brains. The sound requires life and consciousness to comprehend it. The human must remove themselves from the equation to see the validity of the argument, and put themselves back in to understand the human place in creating the universe.

  • The First Principle of Biocentrism is that “what we perceive as reality is a process that requires our consciousness.” Or, said slightly differently, requires “any” consciousness. If I ask you, where is the universe, most might answer, “out there.” What many struggle with is that we are part of the same universe; what is out there is what is in here.                                                                                                                                                                     
  • The Second Principle of Biocentrism is that “internal and external perceptions are intertwined; they are different sides of the same coin and cannot be separated.”

In a complex explanation, Lanza says the general idea is that our brains create the reality we see. In this book, “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe,” Lanza explains all of this in an answer to the question: “Where is the Universe?”

In total, there are seven principles to Biocentrism, according to Lanza.

  • The most interesting one, in relation to death, is the Fourth Principle of Biocentrismwithout consciousness, “matter” dwells in an undetermined state of probability.

Any universe that could have preceded consciousness only existed in a probability state. This seems to state that we, as are in that undetermined state of probability, and that our matter never really “goes away” but is folded into and part of the ongoing reality of the universe. Our consciousness separates from matter but doesn’t cease to exist because it’s all part of the same consciousness. This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s story, “American Gods.” Gods exist and thrive because of our consciousness of them.

Life creates the Universe. The Universe (Darwinism, the Big Bang, etc) did not create life. We’ve got it backwards.

Mind. Blown.

It seems like such a simple turn of phrase, one which everyone can identify with. Lanza brings to bear all the science and experiential anecdotes to back it up. He picks us up, biocentrism-turning-the-universe-outside-inkicking and screaming, from seeing the universe one way and to standing on our heads, viewing it another. These theories harken back to the ideals of Eastern Philosophies and Freemasonry.

Freemasons, Buddhists, and Taoists seek balance and unification, we see an understanding of nature and science, and a middle path. For the Buddhist, our consciousness allows us to connect with the One – the whole. For the Taoist, the focus is a seamless flow of life – where there are no individuals but a single existence. For the Freemason, we seek unity and harmony, and the idea that as a unit, we are also creators. None of this is incompatible with Lanza’s scientific and philosophical approach to how the universe, physics, works.

So, to the original questions: “Do we die?” and Is it inevitable?” 

According to Lanza, we are already dead, alive, past, future, and creators right now. The limitations are in our own perceptions and ideas of reality. All of it is right now because we, and all matter, are conscious. Lanza himself addressed this question in a Psychology Today article, located here.

Perhaps if more people could look at the universe from this new paradigm, we would become the creators we already are; we create and destroy together, whether we believe it or not.


  1. For a really good read, try out Lanza’s book on Biocentrism and his follow-on book, “Beyond Biocentrism.”
  2. For an interesting Buddhist view of Biocentrism, look to “The Endless Further,” a Buddhist’s blog.

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 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.

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

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

Stewards of the Earth: Improvements in California’s Drought Crisis

In 2015, the State of California faced one of the most severe droughts on record. Governor Jerry Brown had declared a drought “State of Emergency” in January of 2014 and directed state officials to take action to prepare for water shortages. However, conditions continued to deteriorate leading the Governor to order a 25 percent mandatory reduction in municipal water usage statewide. According to the Governor’s office, California’s water supplies dipped to alarming levels in 2015, indicated by depleted levels of snowpack, groundwater, water in reservoirs, and river water flows. Led by Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team of scientists utilized data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites in an effort to better understand and adapt tograce California’s water crisis. The new data led to more responsible decision making at the individual, state, and federal level. 

National Significance of California’s Drought

California’s drought has national significance for a number of reasons, including the fact that the state currently produces 50 percent of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. As the highest producing agricultural state in the United States, California has over 80,000 farms, which account for a large percentage of the State’s water usage.

Additionally, more than 33 million people across Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River for their water supply.  Negotiated in 1922, The Colorado River Compact allocated the water of the Colorado River across these seven states. Of the river’s lower basin water resources, California’s allotment is more than half [4.4. maf (million-acre-feet) of the 7.5 maf].  Supplying approximately 60 percent of the water for Southern California, the Colorado River provides a vital link in sustaining the region’s water for irrigation, human consumption, and hydroelectric pograce-drought-california-02-08-14_printwer.

Unfortunately, water levels in the Colorado River continued to decrease as a result of prolonged drought conditions in the West. As of April 2015, the Colorado River was flowing at 63 percent of average. In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted further restrictions to the Lower Basin States due to drops in the reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell. John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority,  provided this sobering analysis: “If Lake Mead goes below elevation 1,000 ( feet above sea level), we lose any capacity to pump water to serve the municipal needs of seven in 10 people in the state of Nevada.”   The U.S. Secretary of the Interior could declare a water shortage on the river, triggering a required alteration of “the Law of the River,” which began in 1922. The drought in California has implications for all Americans, especially those who live in the seven “compact” states. In order to address the growing drought concerns, Federal agencies and stakeholders have been diligently working to find innovative solutions to ensure adequate water supplies for the future. 

Drought Recovery in 2016 

Effective crisis management often depends on three components: encompassing data describing the problem, determined leadership, and an informed, sympathetic community. When all stakeholders have understand what the problem is and what needs to be done to correct the situation, leadership can easily motivate the general population into appropriate action. The three components are all present in California’s drought recovery. The historic drought in California saw some major improvements in the rainy season of 2o16 and millions of people experienced a slow but steady reclamation of water supply. California’s reservoirs saw significant increases in volume, and the two largest in the state, Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, were well over 90 percent for the year. californiadroughtrecovery

An update to the U.S. Drought Monitor was issued in April of 2016 which declared a large area of central California, from roughly Sacramento to Fresno, improved regarding the drought. More positive news followed in the fall of 2016 as October rains lifted the drought status altogether from 12 percent of the state. 

Californians have demonstrated leadership in conserving water, as residential water use decreased by 28 percent compared with usage in 2013. Local water suppliers saved 1.6 million acre feet of water in the first 12 months of the conservation plan, which is enough water to supply eight million people for a year. In October 2015, 46 percent of the state was in top level drought.  A year later, California’s percentage of extreme drought was down to 21 percent.  “Californians’ continued commitment to conservation shows they don’t take water for granted anymore,” said State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus. 

Stewardship in Freemasonry

The unprecedented drought across the West was a signal to Americans that what worked in the past is unsustainable in the future. For many U.S. regions, intense competition for water and diminished supplies forced local and state authorities to make tough decisions on water allocations, including implementation of unpopular restrictions. As Vicki Arroyo, the Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center, explained, “We’re entering uncharted territory, and yet our expertise and our systems are based on the past. ‘Stationarity’ is the notion that we can anticipate the future based on the past, and plan accordingly, and this principle governs much of our engineering, our design of critical infrastructure, city water systems, building codes, even water rights and other legal precedents.” Changes were necessary and action was required. Thankfully, technological upgrades, increased responsible water use, and improvements in state and national water policy are now reversing past water loss into water gain. 

Likewise, Freemasons are called upon to be good stewards of our planet, which includes careful and responsible management of natural resources. A good steward diligently examines the needs and vulnerabilities of his or her community. In turn, this examination helps the steward plan and prepare for the future. By evaluating our current vulnerabilities, we can create strong communities, which can not only survive, but thrive.

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

Do We Have an Obligation to Protect the Endangered? Molecular Ecology’s Role in Saving the Greenback Cutthroat Trout

In today’s hectic world,  it is easy to turn a blind eye to concerns outside our direct purview. Our willful blindness becomes even more pervasive when it comes to issues which are unpopular or which lack a perceivable benefit to our lives. Freemasons, however, are called to stand up for what is right, just, and true. Do we have an obligation to protect the endangered?

The Endangered Species Act

As one of the more controversial U.S. laws, the Endangered Species Act has been derided as detrimental to progress and to the economy. When President Richard Nixon declared the need foBackfromtheBrinkr increased species conservation, Congress responded by passing the Endangered Species Act which was signed by Nixon on December 28, 1973.

The Act’s goal is to prevent the extinction of imperiled species, and to recover those populations by decreasing threats to their survival. In the forty-two years since the bill was passed, only 10 species protected under the Act have been declared extinct. Scientists estimate that at least 227 species would have likely gone extinct without the legislation. The Bald Eagle and the Grizzly Bear are two notable species that have been saved from extinction and removed from the list.

Colorado’s State Fish: The Greenback Cutthroat Trout

As of 2014, there were 1,261 endangered species protected by the ESA which includes Colorado’s State Fish: the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Presumed to be extinct in 1937, a few wild populations of the trout were discovered in the basins of the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers. Following the listing of the fish under the Endangered Species Act, the scientific community launched a conservation campaign. Questions over the genetic characteristics of the elusive fish prevented the establishment of wild populations as empirical eviBearCreekGreenBackdence demonstrates that successful restoration of an endangered species requires knowledge of the species’ diversity and distribution.

The Role of Molecular Ecology

The science of Molecular Ecology provided the missing link to preventing the species’ demise. Molecular ecology applies molecular population genetics, molecular phylogenetics, and genomics to solve traditional ecological questions. Researchers at the University of Colorado analyzed the DNA extracted from wild trout and from preserved specimens collected as far back as 1857. The team first collected multiple samples of tissue and bone from the preserved trout specimens, obtaining fragments of DNA which they pieced together like a high-tech jigsaw puzzle to reveal two telltale genes of the individual specimens.  Utilizing the genetic data from museum samples, scientists were able to pinpoint the location of the last surviving wild population of the greenback cutthroat trout.

Led by Dr. Jessica Metcalf and Dr. Andrew Martin, the team was able to collect trout for repopulation efforts from  Bear Creek, a small tributary of the Arkansas River west of Colorado Springs. Since the trout were outside of their native habitat, the researchers concluded that the fish were placed there as a restocking effort. US Fish and Wildlife Service’s fisheries biologist Chris Kennedy discovered documentation that from 1889 and 1925, more than 50 million cutthroat trout from the Gunnison and White River Basins were stocked across Colorado, including in Bear Creek.  

Dr. Jessica Metcalf

– Dr. Jessica Metcalf, Evolutionary Biologist

Using the Bear Creek Greenbacks, conservationists have been successful in replicating the population. Dr. Metcalf explained her success stating, “This is a real win for conservation genetics. We were able to use historical specimens to find out something quite novel about cutthroat trout biodiversity that has resulted in a management action. We are not just bringing a native species back to its historic range, but the greenback cutthroat trout, our Colorado state fish.” The aquatics team of Colorado Parks and Wildlife oversaw the raising of approximately 3,500 greenback cutthroat trout, offspring of fish taken from Bear Creek, at the Mt. Shavano State Rearing Unit and the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. “We finally have the opportunity to bring these fish home,” Biologist Doug Krieger reported about the introduction of the fish into Zimmerman Lake. On August 8, 2014, in an effort spearheaded by the greenback cutthroat recovery team, Colorado’s state fish was reintroduced to its native range.

Freemasonry: Protecting the Endangered

In our modern culture is “truth” an endangered species? In America, espousing moral relativism, an unwillingness or inability to make judgments about what is right or wrong, has become an accepted norm. When ethical, moral, or social issues are debated in the public sphere, the use of rationality and logic to address such issues is often discouraged in order to foster a climate of inclusiveness. We must, however, be wary of confusing tolerance with moral ambiguity.  Freemasonry teaches individuals to living a life of high moral rectitude and to seek the truth in all situations. Whether the discussion relates to endangered wildlife, censorship, or euthanasia, an objective search for the underlying truth is often ignored to the detriment of all.

Seeking the Light: Innovative Cures for Neurological Disorders

Seeking the Light: Innovative Cures for Neurological Disorders

The Human brain and nervous system form an intricate matrix of electrical signals that coordinate our thoughts, emotions, memories, senses, speech, and movement. Over a billion people worldwide have a form of brain disorder that incapacitates them in some manner. Each year, millions of Americans are diagnosed with an inherited condition that impacts their nervous system. Known as Neurogenetic diseases, these conditions are primarily caused by an alteration, or mutation, in the individual’s Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). At a cost of over $1 trillion a year, researchers and companies have a tremendous incentive to find cures for these diseases of the brain and nervous system.

Could light-seeking organisms, such as algae, provide the missing link in curing these debilitating diseases?

Neurogenetic Diseases

Billions of neurons make up the brain and form an interconnected network which communicates using chemicals called neurotransmitters. The correct functioning of this complex neural network is necessary for activitiesdna-editing such as thinking, walking, and talking. Neurogenetic disease can lead to the misfiring of neurons and can lead to irreversible degeneration of specific neurons.

Affecting individuals of all ages, neurogenetic diseases are typically chronic and debilitating. In the most extreme disorders, the impacts are degenerative and reduce the individual’s lifespan. Scientists classify neurogenetic diseases into two categories: monogenetic and complex. Disorders caused by a mutation in a single gene are referred to as “monogenetic diseases,” and  include Huntington’s disease, myotonic dystrophy, Rett syndrome and fragile X syndrome. In Monogenic diseases, a single-gene mutation causes certain neurons in the central or the peripheral nervous system to develop abnormally or function poorly. In “complex diseases” such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, disorders can be caused by mutations in multiple genes with additional environmental factors contributing to the development of the disease.

Gene Therapy

Individuals diagnosed with a neurogenetic disease live with a severe, often times progressive, disability. In degenerative neurogenetic disorders, the ability to move or talk can deteriorate thereby decreasing an individual’s independence and quality of life. In some diseases, cognitive functioning also declines which impacts the ability to reason, understand situations, and remhuman-dnaember friends, family, and past events.

Up to the 1980’s, neurogenetic diseases could be diagnosed, but little could be done to prevent the onset or progression of the diseases. Breakthroughs in understanding the human genome, the DNA sequence, has brought new hopes to those dealing with neurogenetic diseases. Gene therapy introduces new genetic material to cells to replace missing or malfunctioning genes. Previously existing only in the realm of science fiction, gene therapy has produced promising results in treating neurological diseases.

Optogenetics and Algae

Light seeking organisms, such as algae, are currently being utilized and studied by researchers in the hopes of providing a breakthrough in genetic therapies in neurological disorders. Algae needs sunlight to complete its cycle of photosynthesis: converting carbon dioxide and water into sugar which feeds the organism. Algae senses and moves towards the light via phototaxis. It is this desire for light which has made chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a single-celled alga, the focus of cutting edge reCross_section_of_a_Chlamydomonas_reinhardtii_algae_cellsearch in treating disorders of the brain and nervous system. Chlamydomonas proteins, called channelrhodopsins, were discovered on an alga’s eyespot by a research team at the Texas Health Science Center.

Optogenetics uses light to control neurons which have been genetically sensitized to light. While brain cells are not sensitive to light, by introducing light-sensitive proteins into specific types of neurons, scientists can selectively control the modified neurons by shining light into the brain. Dr. Edward Boyden, an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, along with his team, envisioned a mechanism for modifying neurons.

His team spliced light-sensitive DNA from the alga into a virus, known as a gene therapy vector, which is then introduced into the body of an individual. His colleague, Dr. Feng Zhang, described the process stating, “My first challenge was to figure out a way to put channelrhodopsin-2 into neurons reliably and safely. I modified the HIV virus so that rather than delivering viral content into infected cells, the modified virus would deliver a gene for the light-sensitive protein.” Thus, through the use of algae in Optogenetics, scientists are developing innovative advancements in treating disorders including Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, autism, and depression.

Freemasonry and Seeking the Light

Freemasons seek the light to enable discovery, to gain knowledge, and to dispel ignorance. The absence of light impairs one’s ability to see and keeps tBlue Light Masoniche individual in a state of darkness and ignorance.

The Ancient Mysteries, from which Freemasonry has derived many of its teachings, developed the concept of Light as a symbol of Knowledge and Truth. Whether catalyzed by an individual’s desire for wisdom or algae’s desire to complete its cycle of photosynthesis, the search for light is truly beneficial for all.