Symbolism & The Literalists

Symbolism & The Literalists

Fundamentalism is everywhere.

Let’s be clear: fundamentalism is strict adherence to the basic principles of any subject or discipline. In most cases, people use it to discuss religious adherence to the “word” of any particular religion as being absolutely true and literal, in all sense. You can be, however, a fundamental ballet dancers, barista, or car mechanic. And, also to be fair, being a “fundamentalist” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It comes down to one additional feature: an open mind. Tolerance does not mean you walk away with someone else’s views being your new truth or a completely changed mind. It only means being able to accept that which fills the universe might be slightly bigger than your own fundamentalism.

What has this got to do with Symbolism? I just read a recent article on the symbol of the skull in Freemasonry. The article, is well written and somewhat shocking to me. How could anyone who has been a Freemason for any length of time, at all, think that the skull represents something horrible and to be feared?

Then, I realize, there are literalists in Freemasonry, like there are everywhere. They might not understand the idea of teaching via symbolism or that symbols are human communication mechanisms meant to stir the deep unconscious and subconscious, ala Joseph Campbell. So, let’s take a look at the purpose of symbolism.

Books, tomes, volumes, caves, papyrus, walls, and stele have been written about symbols, their meanings, their other meanings, and still stranger meanings. You cannot spit in a metaphysical bookstore without hitting a volume about that author or society’s view of what a particular pictograph meant. A cat means the afterlife and it means cleanliness, or attentiveness, or patience.

That’s well and good, but what is symbolism? What is a symbol? Symbolism is using symbols to represent ideas or qualities. A symbol is something that simply is a picture that stands in for something else. It isn’t what it is, but what it might act like, or a quality it exudes. So a picture of a cat can be a cat. It can also stand in for the idea of patience, observance, or hospitality. What matters here, is context. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar. Sometimes, as Freud so eloquently poked at, it is not.

By their very definition, a literalist cannot understand symbolism. A literalist does not, can not, see that cat as anything but a cat. A fundamentalist takes words for their exact meaning; there is no such thing as allegory, metaphor, or symbolism. There cannot be, else it breaks the very idea of their fundamentalism. Fundamentalists must have a very difficult time at comedy clubs. The point is that many conflicts come from a literalist and non-literalist arguing over meaning. Religions splinter and fragment based on a symbolic or literal meaning of a single text. The two ways of approaching thought, mind, discovery are challenged every day to come together.

Symbols are there for the explorative mind. Symbols expand our ways of thinking about something and break us out of following a single track. It cracks fundamentalism and provides new neural pathways of consciousness. What does it take? Yes, an open mind. It takes a curious mind. It takes a mind that is us afraid of being different than it once was. It might even take a little comfort in the chaos and disharmony of discovery.

The Freemason is an adventurer, an explorer. She is looking for a world bigger than herself, bigger than her current roadmap. She’s looking to build a map of imagination and wonder. Freemasons discuss and debate symbols because to the Freemason, a symbol is only a beginning point. The symbols take on myriad meanings, all being correct at some level, right at some level. When we share our discoveries with others, we’re offering a guidepost in a new land. We’re opening portals to a wider existence, not just for one but for all. The goal is the search for Truth. Not one truth, or a person’s opinion, but Truth – the fundamental idea of why we are here.

Thus, I think it would be very difficult for someone who is a literalist or fundamentalist to be a Freemason. Even “Fundamental” Freemasons are struggling in decay. Discovery breeds creativity and creativity is growth. Can a literalist be a discoverer? My open, inquiring mind wants to know.

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.