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We discussed briefly, in Part 1, the text of the book, “The Sketch of the History of the Dionysian Artificers,” by Hippolyto Da Costa. The book, written in 1820, is the author’s take on where Freemasonry originated, and what the “guts” of Freemasonry’s teachings are about. However, no where in the text does Da Costa state this is about Freemasonry nor does he use the term Freemasons. What is this text attempting to say, and why should Freemasons care?
Let’s return to the myth of Dionysus. According to Mackey’s “The Symbolism of Freemasonry,” there were two myths of Dionysus and the one particularly noted to Freemasonry and the Dionysian Artificers is the one which involves the Titans. Dionysus had two births, according to some, including the Greek poet Nonnus, who has provided the account of his first birth and death. From Wikipedia…
“The Greek poet Nonnus gives a birth narrative for Dionysus in his late 4th or early 5th century AD epic Dionysiaca. In it, he described how Zeus “intended to make a new Dionysos grow up, a bullshaped copy of the older Dionysos” who was the Egyptian god Osiris. (Dionysiaca 4).
Zeus took the shape of a serpent (“drakon“), and “ravished the maidenhood of unwedded Persephoneia.” According to Nonnus, though Persephone was “the consort of the blackrobed king of the underworld”, she remained a virgin, and had been hidden in a cave by her mother to avoid the many gods who were her suitors, because “all that dwelt in Olympos were bewitched by this one girl, rivals in love for the marriageable maid.” (Dionysiaca 5) After her union with Zeus, Perseophone’s womb “swelled with living fruit”, and she gave birth to a horned baby, named Zagreus. Zagreus, despite his infancy, was able to climb onto the throne of Zeus and brandish his lightning bolts, marking him a Zeus’ heir. Hera saw this and alerted the Titans, who smeared their faces with chalk and ambushed the infant Zagreus “while he contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror…”
However, according to Nonnus, “where his limbs had been cut piecemeal by the Titan steel, the end of his life was the beginning of a new life as Dionysos.” He began to change into many different forms in which he returned the attack, including Zeus, Kronos, a baby, and “a mad youth with the flower of the first down marking his rounded chin with black.” He then transformed into several animals to attack the assembled Titans, including a lion, a wild horse, a horned serpent, a tiger, and, finally, a bull. Hera intervened, killing the bull with a shout, and the Titans finally slaughtered him and cut him into pieces. Zeus attacked the Titans and had them imprisoned in Tartaros. This caused the mother of the Titans, Gaia, to suffer, and her symptoms were seen across the whole world, resulting in fires and floods, and boiling seas. Zeus took pity on her, and in order to cool down the burning land, he caused great rains to flood the world (Dionysiaca 6).”
The first dating of Dionysus comes from approximately 13th Century BCE in Thrace, possibly migrated from Ionia. Mackey discusses in his chapter, “The Dionysiac (sic) Artificers,” how the rites of Dionysus, as it relates to the first death of Dionysus are nearly ubiquitous throughout the ancient world and how, over time, they have morphed into several rites which we are also familiar with – those of Osiris, Orpheus, and Mithras. After reading the passage above, it is hard not to see the connections in the death and symbolism connecting them together.
In one version of the myth, the events described above are directly attributed to Isis, Horus, and Osiris, with Horus taking the place of the Titans. From some sources, it is speculated that Dionysus was the only foreign God to be accepted into the Greek pantheon, and that many believe this myth of Dionysus to be the source of all other mystery schools. What is fascinating is we have a 4th or 5th Century CE author, Nonnus, writing about a God that has been in human consciousness for nearly 2000 years, at the very least.
What does this have to do with Freemasonry? Much, if you take Da Costa’s take. From Pgs 5 and 6 of the “Dionysian Artificers,” we read:
Amongst those mysteries are peculiarly remarkable the Eleusinian. Dionysius, Bacchus, Orisis, Adonis, Thamuz, Apollo, etc., were names adopted in various languages, and in several countries, to designate the Divinity, who was the object of those ceremonies, and it is generally admitted that the sun was meant by these several denominations.
Let us begin with a fact, not disputed, that in these ceremonies, a death and resurrection was represented, and that the interval between death and resurrection was sometimes three days, sometimes fifteen days.
Now, by the concurrent testimony of all ancient authors the deities called Osiris, Adonis, Bacchus, etc. were names given to, or types, representing the sun, considered in different situations, and contemplated under various points of view.
Therefore, these symbolic representations, which described the sun as dead, that is to say, hidden for three days under the horizon, must have originated in a climate, where the sun, when in the lower hemisphere, is, at a certain season of the year, concealed for three days from the view of the inhabitants.
(sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers)
The conjecture that the worship of the sun came from a climate (Persia, for example, Mithraic Rites) is, in Da Costa’s view, erroneous. The worship of the sun came from the northern-most climates, and thus came from Atlantis, as documented by Plato and, according to him, Socrates. While the origin of the Sun Worshiping rites is still open to debate in Da Costa’s work, he emphasizes that the numbers, in accordance with the Order of Nature, are important and that the mysteries themselves are teaching their initiates about the cycle of life and death. If we are to believe that these mysteries came from Atlantis, then the one common language that could have been passed through the ages is numbers and symbols, as expressed through the laws of nature which all Earth inhabitants share.
Da Costa continues to trace the lineage of the mystery schools through the modern day, including how the worship of the Sun and Dionysian Rites in particular became associated with the art of building and architecture. From the book, again, pages 30-32:
About fifty years before the building of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a colony of Grecians, chiefly Ionians, complaining of the narrow limits of their country, in an increased population, emigrated; and having been settled in Asia Minor, gave to that country the name of Ionia.
No doubt that people carried with them their manners, sciences, and religion; and the mysteries of Eleusis among the rest. Accordingly we find that one of their cities, Byblos, was famed for the worship of Apollo, as Apollonia had been with their ancestors.
These Ionians, participating in the improved state of civilization in which their mother country, Greece, then was, cultivated the sciences, and useful arts; but made themselves most conspicuous in architecture, and invented or improved the order called by their own name Ionian.
These Ionians formed a society, whose purpose was to employ themselves in erecting buildings. The general assembly of the society, was first held at Theos; but afterwards, in consequence of some civil commotions, passed to Lebedos.
This sect or society was now called the Dionysian Artificers, as Bacchus was supposed to be the inventor of building theatres; and they performed the Dionysian festivities. They afterwards extended themselves to Syria, Persia, and India.
From this period, the Science of Astronomy which had given rise to the symbols of the Dionysian rites, became connected with types taken from the art of building.
(sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers)
As the migration of the Artificers coincided with the building of the Temple of Jerusalem, Da Costa speculates that the building afforded a new way to communicate the mysteries, and thus tied together the mysteries of ancients with a legend of Hiram Abiff. Additionally, Da Costa alludes to the idea that the Artificers might have had a hand in building or advising on the Temple’s completion. He states that the Temple represents the “Universal System of Nature.” In other words, the study of the Temple’s actual layout may symbolize the whole of the cosmos in the Hermetic principle of correspondence: “As Above, So Below.”
Da Costa concludes his paper very quickly and simply: With the advent of religions, and science, the ideas of the ancients faded into obscurity.
In the tenth century, during the wars of the crusades, some societies were instituted in Palestine, and Europe, which adopted some regulations resembling those of the ancient fraternities. But is was in England, and chiefly in Scotland, where the remains of the old system, identified with that of the Dionysian Artificers, were discovered in modern times.
sacred-texts.com: Dionysian Artificers
Again, without discussing Freemasonry, Da Costa specifically calls out Freemasonry as a repository of the Dionysian Artificers and any student of modern Freemasonry would recognize many of the hallmarks of the mystery schools. In many places, and some even to modernity, regard these ancient mystery schools as heresy, atheism, or paganistic idolatry. A fascinating read, to accompany reading the Dionysian Artificers, is a section from the Theosophical Society’s website, entitled “Part 1 – The Mystery Schools” from the book “The Mystery Schools,” by Grace F. Knoche (Second Edition: 1999). While this is, of course, a decidedly Theosophical take on the origin and meaning of Mystery Schools, it can give the reader a very different view from the propaganda that has been surfaced through the ages and has influenced our modern thinking about Mystery Schools.
My take is, that in short, the Dionysian Artificers were and are those who are working to keep the venerable Mysteries alive; this is ancient knowledge passed down to us to use to live and to prepare for our own deaths. It’s knowledge of the world we are a part of, and if we listen closely can affect us in profound ways. Nature teaches us to live but more importantly, She teaches us to move through life to our inevitable destiny, and beyond. The stories repeated by the Artificers are not necessarily meant to provide profound enlightenment and help us all transcend to a perfect heaven or afterlife. The Artificers are those who work to continue the refinement of the human species and, over time, help us to move in concert with Nature & Science, and be the best version of Humanity. If that is the goal of the Artificers, perfecting humanity, then it seems that Freemasons are the modern Artificers, just as Da Costa, 100+ years ago, theorized.
“Enoch was son of Jared and fathered Methuselah. The text of the Book of Genesis says Enoch lived 365 years before he was “taken” by God. The text reads that Enoch “walked with God: and he was no more; for God took him.” (Genesis 5:21–24) *
This is what I learned about Enoch early on in my “Bible as Literature” class in high school. I was intrigued and the name of Enoch stayed with me ever since. “Walking with god” took on so many different meanings; he was transported to heaven and his physical body never died, or that he died painlessly because of his “righteousness” were two classical interpretations. As I’ve learned, there are other views of who and what Enoch might be.
In Judeo-Christian circles, he is considered the “scribe of judgement.” He’s considered the author of “The Book of Enoch,” an apocryphal work which was followed by the “Second Book of Enoch.” The Book of Enoch is considered by the Western Christian church as non-canonical, or non-inspired (a.k.a revealed) works. Some Orthodox sects see it as canonical, and most scholars of Judeo-christian literature find it of either historical or theological value. The Book of Enoch is considered to be, technically, five independent pieces of work, written between 300 B.C.E. and 100 C.E. The five independent pieces are seen as (with Wikipedia links):
These books talk about first the fall of the angels who were alleged to have fathered the Nephilim, as described in Genesis. The rest of the books are writings about Enoch’s revelations about and travels to heaven, either via visions or dreams. Some of the concepts discussed in these books are interesting and could have been controversial to the first Christian church leaders. The books contain histories of the fallen angels and their interaction with human kind, Enoch’s travels through what might be considered the underworld and heaven, a discussion about the Tree of Life, who the seven archangels were, parables on living, descriptions of heavenly bodies and their movements, and much more.
Fragments of The Book of Enoch can be found in other writings of the old and new testaments, other apocryphal works, and in the Quran. The Second Book of Enoch is also known as “The Secrets of Enoch,” and tells the story of how Enoch was transported to and through heavens, and further relates tales of the war of angels. There is a Third Book of Enoch which exists, and the Book of Giants, which is attributed to the same time period and relating to the same topics.
So, Enoch has a lot of interesting things going on with him, his life, and his afterlife; so much so that it has inspired many and decidedly different tangents to esoteric teachings. We know that Enoch, or Idris as he’s known in the Quran, was known to have been lifted up to heaven, as noted in the Christian Bible. The Quran contains two references to Idris; in Surah Al-Anbiya (The Prophets) verse number 85, and in Surah Maryam (Mary) verses 56-57:
(The Prophets, 21:85): “And the same blessing was bestowed upon Ismail and Idris and Zul-Kifl, because they all practiced fortitude.”
(Mary 19:56–57): “And remember Idris in the Book; he was indeed very truthful, a Prophet. And We lifted him to a lofty station”.
Some Jewish scholars think that Enoch became the head of the angelic host, Metatron. Edgar Caycee, a Christian fundamentalist and traveler to “the realms of the dead,” has a very elaborate reincarnation lineage of Jesus Christ, of which Enoch was one incarnation. To Caycee, Enoch was also Hermes (Thoth), the priest Joshua, and a few other incarnations. While this is interesting, we have not addressed the idea of “Enochian.” What is it?
Enter John Dee and Edward Kelley (a.k.a. Talbot). Much has been written about John Dee, and much of it dismissive. However, he was an extremely learned man with a fervent desire to heal the rifts between the Catholic Church, The Church of England, and the Protestant sects in mainland Europe.
He was a devout man, and while we might understand how this can all work together, he was a scientist, alchemist, and occultist. In his desire to mend the religious wounds of the time, he sought to discover the original language, the language of God and Angels. In doing so, he felt that he could bring about the unification of humanity.
Not being a medium or scryer himself, he turned to both his son, Arthur Dee, and eventually to Edward Kelley, a younger alchemist and spirit-medium. For eight tumultuous and energetic years, they worked together with Edward relating the Angelic language to John Dee through a series of seances and spirit conferences. Dee’s writings have been republished and in the web archives and by some publishing houses. Copies also exist in the British Library.
The language that Dee and Kelley uncovered or created (some debate exists, of course), was called by Dee the “Angelic” or “Adamic” language, as it was the supposed language that God used to create the universe, that Adam learned from God, and what Adam used to name all living things. The idea of an antediluvian, singular language was very popular at the time in the Western world, and seeking it was one of Dee’s highest priorities. He was a mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, cartographer, and navigator. Even though he is known more for his “magical” leanings, he was an extremely well educated man. He was also a follower of Neo-platonic ideals.
If one reads some of Dee’s journals or diaries of this work, one can see some of the occult influences that came into Freemasonry at a later time, and are evident in several Masonic rituals, especially in the English rites and Scottish Rite higher degrees. Elias Ashmole, who was the first to document the date of his speculative initiation, followed Kelley and Dee’s work closely. In fact, he reproduced some of Kelley’s documents and created a Biography of John Dee. Ashmole’s notation of his speculative initiation has undergone a fair amount of scrutiny, which will not be replicated here. He seemed to have an influence with many people who were swirling around the Speculative Masonic world.
It’s hard to believe that someone of Ashmore’s experience in the sciences and esoteric studies could not have influenced an organization he was a member of for decades. He’s well known for having written “The Institution, Laws, and Ceremonies of the Order of the Garter” in 1672 as well as being a member of the Royal Society. The author in the book noted below that “Ashmole was a joiner,” and joining a society of Freemasons seemed to be the thing to do at this time in England. It’s somewhat apparent that as his time as a Freemason went on, he did exert further influence. An excellent book to read about this time period, and about John Dee, Kelley, and Ashmole is “The Golden Builders,” by Thomas Churton. It is a deeper historical account of these persons than can be given here.
I think we may safely say that John Dee and Edward Kelley put the “Enoch” in Enochian, which begs deeper insight into who Enoch was, and why he “went with God.” Another excellent book is “The Book of Enoch,” by Weiser Books, and author R.H. Charles. The most recent publication is 2003. We’ll close with this small excerpt from that book:
103:2 “I know a Mystery | And have read the heavenly tablets, | And have seen the holy books.
* which some Christians interpret as Enoch’s entering Heaven alive. (Wikipedia)
This is the third post of a three part series the religion of the ancient Egyptians. Part one can be read here and Part two can be read here.
Temples were a part of Egyptian history from the very beginning, and could be found in most towns at the height of Egyptian civilization. There were both mortuary temples designed to serve the spirits of deceased pharaohs, and temples dedicated to patron deities, although the difference wasn’t always clear because the concepts of divinity and kingship were so intimately intertwined.
For the most part, state-run temples were not meant to be places for the general public to worship. Instead, these temples functioned as houses for the deities, whose physical images, like statues, acted as their surrogates, and were cared for and given offerings accordingly. These services were considered necessary to sustain the deities, so that they, in turn, could maintain the universe itself. Thus, temples were fundamental to Egyptian society, and vast resources were devoted to their upkeep, which included both large estates of their own, and donations from the monarchy. Pharaohs often expanded temple estates as part of their obligation to honor the deities, which resulted in many temples growing to enormous size. However, not all deities had temples dedicated to them, as many deities who were considered important in official theology were only minimally worshipped otherwise, and many household deities were the focus of universal reverence rather than temple ritual.
The earliest Egyptian temples were small, short-lived structures, but through the Old and Middle Kingdoms they became more elaborate, and were increasingly built out of stone. By the New Kingdom, the standard temple was built along a central processional way that led through a series of courts and halls to a sanctuary, which housed a statue of the temple’s deity. Admittance to this most sacred part of the temple was restricted to the pharaoh and the highest-ranking priests. In addition to the actual temple itself, temple complexes also included workshops and storage areas, and a library where the temple’s sacred writings and everyday records were kept, and which also served as a center of learning.
In theory, it was the duty of the pharaoh to carry out temple rituals, since he was Egypt’s official representative to the deities. In reality, priests almost always carried out these ritual duties. During the Old and Middle Kingdoms, there was no separate class of priests; instead, many government officials served in this capacity for several months out of the year before returning to their secular duties. It was not until the New Kingdom that professional priesthood become widespread, although most lower-ranking priests remained part-time. Temple staff also included many people other than priests, such as musicians and chanters for temple ceremonies. Outside the temple itself were artisans and other laborers who helped supply the temple’s needs, and farmers who worked on temple estates. All were paid with portions of the temple’s income. As a result, large temples were very important centers of economic activity, sometimes employing thousands of people.
Egyptian Temple Rituals
State religious practice included both temple rituals involved in the cult of a particular deity, and ceremonies related to divine kingship. Among the latter were coronation ceremonies and the Sed festival, a celebration and ritual renewal of the pharaoh’s strength that took place after he had held the throne for thirty years, then every three or four years after that.
Temple rituals included rites that took place all across Egypt, and rites limited to single temples or to the temples of a single deity. Some were performed daily, while others took place annually or occasionally. The most common temple ritual was the morning offering ceremony, performed daily in temples across Egypt. In it, a high-ranking priest, or sometimes the pharaoh, washed, anointed, and elaborately dressed the deity’s statue before presenting it with offerings. Once the deity had consumed the spiritual essence of the offerings, the items themselves were distributed among the priests.
There were still quite a few less frequent temple rituals, or festivals, with dozens occurring every year. These festivals often went beyond simple offerings to the deities, and could involve anything from reenactments of particular myths to the symbolic destruction of the forces of chaos. Most of these events were likely celebrated only by the priests and took place only inside the temple. However, the most important temple festivals, like the Opet Festival celebrated at Karnak, usually entailed a procession carrying the deity’s image out of the sanctuary in a model barque to visit other meaningful sites, such as the temple of a related deity. Commoners would gather to watch these processions, and sometimes received portions of the unusually large offerings given to the deities on these occasions.
Sacred Sites, Magic, and Oracles
At many sacred sites, the ancient Egyptians worshipped individual animals, which they believed to be manifestations of particular deities. These animals were chosen based on specific sacred markings, which were believed to demonstrate their suitability for the role. Some of these cult animals retained their positions for the rest of their lives, as with the Apis bull worshipped in Memphis as a manifestation of Ptah. Other animals were chosen for much shorter periods. These cults grew more popular in later times, and many temples began raising stocks of such animals from which to choose a new divine manifestation.
The ancient Egyptians used oracles to ask deities for knowledge or guidance. These oracles are known mainly from the New Kingdom onward, although it’s likely they appeared much earlier. People of all classes, including the pharaoh, asked oracles questions and, especially in the late New Kingdom, their answers could be used to settle legal disputes or inform royal decisions. The most common way to consult an oracle was to pose a question to the divine image while it was being carried in a festival procession, and then interpret an answer from the barque’s movements. Other methods included interpreting the behavior of cult animals, drawing straws, or consulting statues through which a priest apparently channeled. The means of discerning the deity’s will conferred a great deal of influence onto the priests who channeled and interpreted the deity’s message.
Popular religious practices included ceremonies marking important transitions in life, such as birth – because of the danger involved in the process – and naming, because the name was believed to be a crucial part of a person’s identity. The most important of these ceremonies were those surrounding death, because they ensured the soul’s survival beyond it. Other religious practices sought to discern the deities’ will or seek their knowledge. These included the interpreting of dreams, which could be viewed as messages from the divine realm, and the consulting of oracles. People also attempted to affect the behavior of the deities, in order to benefit themselves, through magical rituals.
The word “magic” is the closest translation of the ancient Egyptian term heka. Heka was considered a natural phenomenon, the force that created the universe and which the deities used to work their will. Ancient Egyptians believed that humans could also use heka, and magical practices were closely intertwined with religion. In fact, even the regular rituals performed in temples were considered to be magic. Individuals also frequently used magical techniques for personal goals. Although these purposes might harm others, no form of magic was considered harmful in itself. Instead, magic was seen primarily as a way for humans to prevent or overcome negative occurrences.
“It’s hard to have those conversations,” the palliative care doctor was saying. She was talking about telling a loved one that Stage 4 cancer is terminal, and all the discussions and decisions that surround such a prognosis. The patient, an 85-year-old man, had lived a good life and yet, because of his fear of death, of losing this life, he was in denial and angry. This caused him and his family pain and turmoil as he sought to find his way to some acceptance of his situation.
Conversations about death are hard because U.S. culture is steeped in the fear of death. One only needs to look at television or magazine ads to see this; a culture that prides itself on fitness, youthfulness, and acquiring things has little understanding of the true nature of death. Death is a skeleton to be feared, a lurker in the closet that should not be acknowledged. Many aged have lived a life of denial of death, waiting until perhaps the last possible moment to “find God” or think about “the other side.”
People fear dying, not death, in general. They fear the pain and suffering that comes with long illnesses. Who wouldn’t? Cancer is certainly not a pleasant state. We hope for a quick death or to die in our sleep. Death in this way removes the focus on the body, on the horrors of what happens to the flesh that decays. Westerners don’t spend a lot of time on what it means to transition in death; they mostly focus on the unpleasant physical effects of the dying process. What is fascinating is that if one steps outside of perhaps the standard Western religions, he sees a far greater world that is not only accepting of death, but embracing of death.
While the Egyptian Book of the Dead (The Book of Coming Forth By Day) is a book, or set of scrolls, that specifically addresses the stages of death and afterlife, it doesn’t speak to the reader in such a way as to make the stages of death clear. It is still, after all, a Western book, early (2670 B.C.E.) as it may be. The scrolls were lists of spells which were left in the tombs of the dead. Their purpose was to provide the deceased a way to navigate the afterlife successfully. A very good modern interpretation / translation of this book is titled “Awaking Osiris.”
The Bardo Thodol, or “The Great Liberation Upon Hearing in the Intermediate State” is a book which is written for the living to assist the dying and deceased to make the transition off the Wheel of Life to Nirvana. This book is also known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, although that is a fanciful 20th C. Western name.
Three bardos, or intermediate states between activities, are to be navigated, and success in these provides pathways toward different ends. A bardo may be any intermediate state, such as between birth and death, death and rebirth, even between something like sleeping and awakening. The guru or teacher sits with the person that is about to die and speaks to him of his journey, reminding him of his true being. He is prompted to enter the Clear Light, and thus, remove himself from the path of Earthly physical life. If he transitions to the second bardo, further instructions are given, and so on, until the soul either returns to Nirvana or back into a physical body, depending on the spiritual acumen of the deceased person. That all sounds a little complicated; in essence, it is assistance by the earthly person to the unearthly one, guiding him on his way to reincarnation or elevation.
“O Nobly Born, that which is death being called to thee now, resolve thus: “O this now is the hour of death. By taking advantage of this death, I will so act for the good of all sentient beings, peopling the illimitless expanse of the heavens, as to obtain the Perfect Buddhahood, by resolving on love and compassion towards them, and by directing my entire effort to the Sole Perfection.”
This section, from the First Bardo, is an example of the cultural views of death; not only its acceptance but total embrace to do what is best for the good of the collective humanity. This section goes on to remind the deceased that his life is in service to the greater good. The bardos continue in a cycle, all the while being guided by a guru, a “man of Faith,” a brother, or other person. The person acts as a guide from this realm to the next, allowing the soul to find peace by whatever means it finds possible. The thought of reading these beside the dying person is somehow comforting, perhaps as much to the speaker as to the “hearer.”
I think much of this same type of symbolism and instruction is provided to the Craft Mason, who winds through these bardos in the the rituals of all Craft degrees. Freemasonry, being an initiatory rite, seeks to impress on its membership the repeated lessons of life and death, until these ritual words and actions become very familiar to him. At first he is the recipient and later the provider. The nature of Freemasonry, the Service to Humanity, maybe partly this: imparting the ability to have each human experience a peaceful transition from this life to the next, and thereby improve the overall state of all beings.
The three bardos of death to rebirth transition, as explained in the book, are the Bardo of the Moment of Death, the Bardo of Experiencing Reality, and the Bardo while seeking Rebirth. To me, these mirror perfectly with the Craft degrees, where the lessons are told in with a Western slant. In some Masonic traditions, a chamber is used to create a space for the candidate to experience a true bardo, an intermediate state between activities, where reflection and change can take place. Symbolic in this world, perhaps these ritual trappings are faint shadows of the reality of our earthly transition.
It was said to me, recently, that Freemasons seem to be less afraid of death than perhaps the average Western human. If we listen to what Freemasonry is imparting, the Mason can’t help but put away the denial of his physical, transitory nature. We will die from this world. Freemasons may be better able to embrace the transcendence of being that marks the animus, the soul, the spirit, or whatever you wish to call the immortal principle in each living thing. Fear is the mind killer and is that which brings pain to what may not need to be a painful experience.
Freemasons are repeatedly provided the tools, symbolic and ritualistic, to learn to guide themselves and others through all the bardos of the human existence. It seems to me that all humans coulduse a lot more peaceful transitions into whatever intermediate state we find ourselves.
“Thine own consciousness, shining, void and inseparable from the Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable Light.” ~ Buddha Amitabha
I have to say, I love my Lodge’s Study Groups. They bring up all kinds of interesting subjects in relation to all aspects of life, and more particularly, life as a Freemason. We recently discussed how Ego affects our lives, and what our particular work is as Freemasons in regards to the Ego. These study sessions give me an opportunity to explore not only my own experiences with the topic but also what I think about it objectively – form an opinion, as well as be able to articulate that opinion. Since we all have an ego, it’s easy to have experiences with it. It’s harder to form objective opinions. After all, isn’t the ego involved in forming those opinions?
One of my first college classes, as a fresh-faced 18 year old, was Psychology 101. This was predated by a class in Western Philosophy, both having an extremely big pull for me. These were classes that my high school did not offer, a whole new world of learning that was and still is exciting. We learned all about Freud and Jung’s theories of the Ego, amongst other things, but nothing really “stuck” with me after that class. I never went back and explored ego until it came up so often in religious and metaphysical studies years later. I identified most closely with Jung’s writings and I often go back to read up on him when questions of psyche were, and are, involved.
In his writing about ego, “One of Jung’s central concepts is individuation, his term for a process of personal development that involves establishing a connection between the ego and the self. The ego is the center of consciousness; the self is the center of the total psyche, including both the conscious and the unconscious.” The reference goes on to say, “For Jung, there is constant interplay between the two. They are not separate but are two aspects of a single system. Individuation is the process of developing wholeness by integrating all the various parts of the psyche.”
The most interesting part of that statement is the fact that the ego and the self are different entities that must be integrated. How did they get dis-integrated in the first place? How did something that was whole become separate yet linked, and our goal is to try to integrate the two? Is it birth that separated them? If so, what are we before? And is that the state we are trying to achieve? It makes my head spin to think that we might have been integrated in the womb (or before?) and dis-integrated at birth, and we spend our whole lives working toward re-integration. Is that the purpose of human life, to find that which was lost? What happens, then, if you integrate earlier than dying? Is that perhaps our goal? Do we evolve as a species if that happens?
Hurts your head, right?
If these are two linked-yet-separate energies, they may be difficult to identify without each other. Imagine a binary star system, two bright points of light circling each other, embracing each other as only two fiery systems of gas and elementals can – never touching and continually burning each other. Love that consumes and renews itself. Yes, that must be the ego and the self, in Jung’s world.
If the ego and the self are inseparable, then it seems to me we have to learn to live with both, separate and equal parts, calling to and screaming at one another all the time. How do we reconcile? Do we even try? Since we cannot unequivocally say where the mind resides, perhaps these two things are part of the overarching mind that controls us. If “as above, so below,” we must ask – does that Divine mind have a self and ego, too? Does the Divine even have a mind? Maybe that’s a weird question, but maybe not.
Freemasonry simultaneously chooses to subdue our egos and find our “self.” Perhaps one of the binary stars must be dominant, and in that dominance is where we find the traits of a person – arrogance or humility, graciousness or rudeness. In the balance between the stars, we find the nature of the gasses they put off. It is difficult to be of service to your fellow Masons and at the same time be immodest and arrogant. There’s little room for others when you fill the room with your ego. Perhaps that is also why we learn to subdue passions – the passions of the ego – and develop the passions of the self – the connection to the divine. One star must dim to have the other shine. The Roche Lobe of Personality.
In the past, I wondered why we, as Freemasons, pin medals on our chests and put numbers at the end of our names, or added titles when we attain certain Masonic degrees. I think this is another of those tests – do we do it for prestige? Do we wear our outward jewels as a “brag rag,” as I heard one brother call it long ago? Or do we wear them to honor the Work we’ve completed and bring to the gathering? Do we shine our ego brightly to make our “self” fade? Intent is everything and nothing; we must be clear about what the outward trappings mean in order to not fall into the trap itself, yes? Is one degree better than another? What have we really attained? I think about these things often. I do my best to remember the duty and cautiously regard the glitter. It seems to stick to everything.
Does Masonry feed the ego? Or help one subdue it? Maybe it’s an ongoing dialogue rather than a simple, solitary question.
I’ve long been fascinated by this picture, statue, or representation of “Death and the Maiden” as it relates to Freemasonry. I first saw the picture when I became a Freemason, in one of the many books that I was able to pour through. Masonic art in general has fascinated me because it is, generally, not only beautiful but also weird; it was weird in a way that made you ask “why does that bird sit on the oddly-shaped stone” or “why is that man holding the woman’s hair while carrying a scythe?” It spoke to me, begging me to figure out what it was trying to tell me. Still, today, I can sit for hours and look at paintings, engravings, and statues and wonder what their creators meant to impart.
Death and the Maiden isn’t a new concept. Artists as far back as Duerer, Baldung, and Beham in the Middle Ages were showing that “all human beauty is ended in death (Beham.)” Shubert and Dorothea Tanning created at least two pieces of their art around the concept of Death and The Maiden. Yet, the pictures attributed to the Freemason’s ideas of Death and the Maiden seem to be very specific and rich in symbolism.
The Freemason’s “Death and the Maiden” seems to be attributed to a 19th Century Freemason named Jeremy Cross. A student of Webb and follower of Preston, he taught and lectured on Freemasonry extensively at the beginning of the 19th Century. General knowledge about him seems to be all we can find, according to Phoenix Masonry scholars and articles, but it seems the idea of the entire composition is attributed to his genius.
The composition has been recreated by others, but the basic design is as you see it above. Some have the maiden holding specific tools with an evergreen and others have her holding a piece of Acacia and an urn. The latter is a modern invention as cremation is a relatively modern invention. However, for my purposes for this post, we will still talk about it. It’s important to reflect on how symbols may change but meaning remains the same – and in this case, the emphasis is to see death on one hand, and everlasting life on the other.
Ostensibly, the winged figure behind the Maiden is Death. Shown as an old man, long-bearded, with wings and a scythe, he seems to be, as one author put it, removing the tangles from her hair. When one looks at this picture, it appears that he is about to cut her hair; taking a purely Judaeo-Christian point of view, from the inventor, the inference is that this is about the moment before death, before life is cut short. Tearing of hair and cutting hair were signs of grief and distress to the Israelites, and even implied the whole destruction of a people. Women’s hair was grown long to distinguish them from men but hair overall was a sign of health, virility, and life. That Death’s scythe is not raised implies that death of the physical world is not imminent but it is on the horizon. Death prepares the youth for what may come at any time, as implied by the hourglass sitting beside the figures. As one is born and grows, Death is always behind them, preparing.
The broken column seems to be the main figure of the composition, and implies that it is a symbol of the Freemason who is viewing the piece. Why not “every man?” Because columns are, symbolically, the individual Freemason. Freemasons are columns to uphold that “temple not made with hands.” Freemasons are there to hold up the ideals for others to emulate and must be strong and sturdy enough to do so. As we age, we start to crumble, become weak, and eventually our “bent backs” signify the end of our contributions to Humanity. Again, the broken column sitting beside its foundation shows that while Death is not ready to strike, we must prepare for it by the time our moment draws near. Hence, what appears to be a book of sacred knowledge, of whatever kind speaks to us, sits beneath the Maiden’s hands. She is studying intently, in quiet contemplation and thoughtfulness. She is not distraught or upset. Both figures are somber and still and accepting.
Then what is the Maiden? The Maiden seems to represent the essence of Life, the Will, Wisdom, and Beauty that we all can tap into to do whatever work calls us. This work is not fixing plumbing or diagnosing code or mopping floors; this work is the Work that is remembered when our time is done, in the Service of Humanity. Someone may remember that we always cleaned up the dishes or swept floors, and in that memory they see the love and dedication we had to a principle. That principle might be as material as “cleanliness” or it might be more virtuous, such as loyalty or dedication, sacrifice and service. The floor will get dirty again but the memory of the work we put into keeping it clean is what we bring to the world. The memory of Service to Humanity. The Maiden represents the potential we all bring with us at birth.
The most interesting of the symbols is the acacia plant. There are many, many theories regarding the use of Acacia as regards Freemasonry. I choose to take a more practical approach, beyond the poor or convoluted translations of the word and speculation as to its use as a sacred symbol to the mystery school of Freemasonry. It is, generally, a low shrub or tree that grows in all parts of the world but appears to have originated in Africa and the Middle East. It is evergreen with watering, and is still cultivated mainly in the Middle East, Africa, and Australia for its gum. Besides being an evergreen plant and symbolizing ever lasting life, its qualities as a gum make it far more interesting in relation to Freemasonry.
Since ancient times, the gum or sap of the tree has been used as a fixative. Powdered, the sap is a powerful glue that can be ingested by humans. It is used to combine, fix together, and generally adhere human consumables; this includes things like beverages, soaps, and icings and sweets. It is also used to combine and emulsify paints, slips for ceramics, printing inks, and photography. Thus, it is used to bring together individual components into a sooth solution, able to create works of art as well as feed the human body. Weird as that may be, these attributes show it is directly related to our Work as Freemasons – to bring together, to combine into a well-oiled “machine” to nourish the body, mind, and emotions of the Human Being.
Lastly, there is the myth of Osiris’ death at the hands of his brother, Typhon, and his body being placed into a coffin, and the coffin being thrown into a river. Presumably, Osiris dies and the coffin is captured by low hanging Acacia plants by the river. Over time, the Acacia tree is cut down to create a column for a new temple, and in the cutting of the column, the body of Osiris is found by Isis and she uses her wings to breathe new life into her fallen husband. Many myths of Osiris’ death and resurrection are found, in parts or in whole, throughout literature and this is only one of those (Plutarch). What I find this particular myth explaining to me is that the physical form can be had once again, if the aspirant is understanding the nature of everlasting life and perhaps of the lessons that nature and Freemasonry have to teach us. In this, the column and the acacia seem to go hand in hand.
Thus, in one hand we have the energy of our lives holding onto the evergreen which brings us all together, and the ultimate symbol of our physical passing – the urn. In ancient cultures where the belief in the physical body’s transference to the Underworld was prevalent burning of bodies was not performed, namely China and Egypt. In general, however, bodies were burned using many methods, and the remains were sometimes kept in a funerary urn. Additionally, the remains of skeletons and internal body organs were also kept in urns as a sign of respect and reverence. The practice of cremation became even more prevalent in Western cultures after the creation of the first cremation chamber in 1873. For some, the urn is one of those symbols that is still a little vague as regards a deeper meaning. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it is simply the reminder of our physical passing, and the fact that we keep the ash-filled urns of our loved ones near us is a constant reminder of the transient nature of this mortal life.
Death and the Maiden is better for its whole than its individual parts. It is a story of humans who strive for better, only to be still chained and linked to the eventual death we all face. That the Maiden is not facing her Death but still working to better the world is hope to me. It is the hope we all bear that in our work as Builders and Creators, we have left Humanity a little better for our having been part of it. We leave behind our passions, our principles, and our virtues to be passed on to further generations of humans. Our ripples effect the ocean of Mankind. While I live, I can carry on the Work of those who have passed before me, and I hope I leave a good enough legacy that others may find their burdens lighter.
For Joy Cornell, who will always remind me to be Authentic, Passionate, Joyous, Lively, and Loyal to home and hearth. Thank you for your Light. And May Light Perpetual shine upon you, my dearest brother and friend.
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 there 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?”
The most interesting one, in relation to death, is the Fourth Principle of Biocentrism: without 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.
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, kicking 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.
For a really good read, try out Lanza’s book on Biocentrism and his follow-on book, “Beyond Biocentrism.”
“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.
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?
I 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 atthe 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?
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.