Freemasons in The Trenches

Freemasons in The Trenches

I recently attended an M.P.S. Meetup where the topic was “Has War Ever Led to Good?” The presenter had a distinctive bent: absolutely not. The viewpoint was of a passionate pacifist and could only see the negative in war time situations. I felt I should be looking at the bigger picture – how war affects humanity – and the smaller picture – how it affects the individual. While many see the horror of war, there must be something good to also be found, right?

After this M.P.S., I attended a bluegrass festival, John McCutcheon played “Christmas In the Trenches,” based on a letter written by a WWI English private named Edgar Aplin, this song depicts a moment in a bitter and bloody war where two sides came together for a beautiful moment of humanity. John’s song brings about that moment of clarity that everyone thinks about: we’re killing other humans that are just like us. In a tragic war that left millions affected, there is a humanity that we can remember. The lyrics to the song are found here.

Prior to the recent M.P.S. meeting above, and then again after hearing this song again, I looked for incidents of this occurring amongst Freemasons; after all, who else thinks about humanity and the perfecting of it more than Freemasons? Not many. There are many ways in which Freemasons make it known that they are brothers, and perhaps there are moments of “truce” that exist, even if they are not as famous as the U.K. Sainsbury Ad that idealizes the Christmas Truce of 1914.

Some of the most deeply moving stories of Masonic fraternity are from the American Civil War. Author Greg Stewart has written a wonderful article on the American Civil War and Freemasons, found on the Sojourners website. I would encourage anyone who has an interest in history or Freemasonry to read it. He does cite his sources, which is helpful.

In short, the American Civil War tested our country’s ability to fight for what we believed in and at the same time show compassion to our fellow human beings. While it brought out some of the worst fighting, it also inspired the greatest passion to ease the suffering of individuals. Masons strive to erase that which divides us as people. For the fighting Brothers of this war, the inner turmoil must have been great.

The annals of WWI do not have much to say about Freemasonry’s involvement. In an interesting article on skirret.com, we have one author’s exploration into the world and Masonic view of the War. In the article we are given much about how the Lodges felt about the war, but we see little in the way of anecdotal evidence that the war was anything but divisive within the Fraternity. From the loss of recognition to the outright revoking of charters and hostility, even within Lodges in America, we see the seeds of bureaucratic response to the war rather than a human response.

During WWII, Freemasons were one of the persecuted groups under the Nazi regime. A truly wonderful article on this is noted here. Not only does it talk of the secret meetings of Freemasons, after the disbanding of traditional Freemasonry in Germany, but it also describes one of the Lodges that existed within the wire fences of a concentration camp. Another paper, titled “Masons At War: Freemasonry During World War Two,” by Mark Stanford, also documents the Masonic Service Centers that came into being during the war, to care for Service Members at home and overseas. Freemasonry has solidly moved to the larger good works of caring for the members of the armed services, but we rarely hear about the individual’s experience. While acts of heroism show up in small ways by European Freemasons, some documented in various places noted above, the North American experience seems small in comparison.

In looking toward Vietnam, the only real evidence of Freemason’s involvement has to do with, again, the care of wounded soldiers and care packages to military overseas. Military Lodges having long been either frowned upon or banned altogether, there seems to have been very few during WWI and none during the Vietnam era.

From Vietnam forward to today, there seems to be no further evidence of widespread Masonic response to war time situations, either in the form of relief for troops or support of overseas military. While they undoubtedly exist, there is little to record their greater-than-local involvement in war efforts.

A first thought was that the Morgan Affair changed how Americans view Freemasons. It certainly changed how Freemasons viewed themselves and their fraternity. However, we find evidence of individual Masonic charity examples all over the American Civil War, which took place after the Morgan Affair. While anti-Masonic sentiment was still high at this time, it did not seem to affect the person relationships that each man had with Freemasonry and how it affected his actions during the war. Freemasonry overcame bitter rivalry and hatred, and still burned an ideal in the hearts of these men.

Co-Masonry has been in existence in one form or another since the end of the 19th Century, beginning in France and spreading throughout the world. While the numbers were high in its first few decades, Co-Masonry began to decline by the start of WW2; in fact, the decline might have been there for all of Freemasonry. During the war, when Freemasonry was persecuted in Europe, many different Orders originating in Europe found themselves under scrutiny. Those Orders established in France had gone into hiding and Le Droit Humain, a co-Masonic order, was one of these Orders. After the war, Co-Masonry had found itself taken deeper root in countries outside of France and there was an interest in its alternative thought: women could be Freemasons along with Men.

The world was and is decidedly different since WWII. Women in American culture and perhaps in all cultures around the world are more often included rather than excluded. A balanced mindset, toward gender and equality, was perhaps creating a different view of what was needed in the perfection of humanity. In the cultural and societal churn that might be called the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” the world may be looking for new types of leaders who are finally inclusive of all humanity.

Warfare itself has changed. Gone are bayonets and buckshot, hand-to-hand fighting where the soldier met the face of their attacker. Warfare has become impersonal drones sending air strikes on faceless dots on a pixelated screen. While Freemasonry is perhaps becoming more inclusive while war is becoming more impersonal: a struggle perhaps looking for balance?

It seems we find ourselves at an interesting point in history: where the facelessness of war impacts our ability to counter it with “good.” Freemasons may need to look beyond the conventional methods of the Craft employed in the past to not only support humanity but find those things which unite rather than divide human beings. Freemasons perhaps need to look beyond the “care package” or “pancake breakfast” for the troops and train for “civil disobedience.” I do not disparage the good works for the service men and women that many fraternal groups supply. They are necessary and selfless, and inspire hope when there is none. However, perhaps Freemasons can do more. As seekers of Truth and proponents of education, they are uniquely suited to combat ignorance, fanaticism, and hatred which is the heart of war.

There will be another war. We are humans, after all. It seems to be as yet in our nature. Deciding to be a pacifist will not stop it. Deciding to hide from it or ignore our leaders will not stop it. The question is how can we prepare for it and will Freemasonry be there to shed Light? Learning to speak Truth is a far greater skill that may be necessary to counter modern military thinking. Perhaps learning to be wise philosophers is more important to stopping war before it starts.

PRISONERS OF THE MIND: Shining Masonic Light on the Mysterious Meaning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

PRISONERS OF THE MIND: Shining Masonic Light on the Mysterious Meaning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

What is the meaning of Brother Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in Book Seven of his immortal work, The Republic? And why is this allegory so widely read and studied in the world of “higher education” today, over two thousand years after it was first published? The purpose of this short labor of love is to explore the possible answer to the first of these two vital questions for the mutual benefit of myself and the reader, leaving the answer to the second question to the reader to explore and find independently, if he or she so chooses, as such an intimate journey into the depths of one’s own heart and mind will be sure to reveal to him or her just how important, beautiful, and fulfilling it is for each of us to discover the true meaning and purpose of human existence for ourselves, as common, yet unique, individuals.

Fortunately, for us, Plato explains the gist of the meaning of his allegory of the cave within The Republic itself. This should make things a little bit easy for us. Unfortunately, for some, the fact is that Plato was a mystic and a philosopher– a lover of wisdom— which means that he wrote all of his timeless dialogues for the sole purpose of sharing and examining the nature of wisdom with other philosophers through the interrelated philosophical principles of epistemology, dialectic, metaphysics, ethics, The Republiccontemplation, and meditation.

In other words, the genuine and intended meaning of Plato’s allegory will forever remain an incomprehensible mystery to any reader of it who is not a true wisdom lover. Furthermore, the meaning of all of Plato’s sublime wisdom that has come down to us in written form through the ages, can only be captured by one who pursues true and ancient philosophy in the manner of the immortal philosophers of antiquity, who were known Initiates of the Ancient Mystery Schools such as Freemasonry. Such a noble pursuit demands nothing less or more than an open heart and mind that are both truly focused and desirous of knowing ultimate reality, as well as the true meaning and purpose of living in this world as a mortal– as a human being. From this we can understand that no matter how clearly and eloquently Plato may have briefly explained his allegory’s hidden meaning through the wise lips of Socrates within the pages of The Republic, it can only begin to be even vaguely understood by the man, woman or child who deeply loves wisdom.

And there is more: The meaning of the allegory of the cave will not unfold and reveal itself deeply within one’s soul if we overlook the importance of the philosophical concept of justice. This is due to the resplendent fact that The Republic is a philosophical lamp whose light is centered around the mystical oil of the search for the true meaning of justice and the heart’s burning desire to know what it truly means to be Plato Cavejustor virtuous. We must therefore keep the mystery of justice firmly in heart and mind as we proceed. Now, let us step into the Light.   

A QUICK SUMMARY OF THE ALLEGORY 

There is a group of chained prisoners in a cave, who have been prisoners there since they were born. They are chained in such a way that they can only see a low stone wall in front of them, and they have never seen anything else in their entire lives. There is also a fireplace constantly burning at a short distance behind them, which allows for the shadows of people outside the cave, who walk past it, to be casted upon the low wall in front of the prisoners. The prisoners, who have never seen anything else in life but themselves and these shadows, believe that these shadows are real things, and that there is nothing much more to life than the appearance of these shadows. One day, however, one of the prisoners in the cave breaks free and escapes from the cave. Upon seeing the world outside of the cave for the very first time, he quickly realizes that his former perception of life was limited, and all wrong. He has seen the light of the Sun and now knows that the shadows in the cave were not what they appeared to be. He then returns to the cave in an attempt to enlighten his former prisonmates about the true nature of the shadows, but they do not believe him. Instead, they threaten to kill him when he offers to set them free so that they can see the truth for themselves.

THE SECRET AND INNER MEANING OF THE ALLEGORY

The prisoners in the cave, as Plato vividly points out in The Republic, are us, or “you” and “I”. They are the symbolic personifications of the popular but mistaken notion that there really is such a thing as a separately existing “you” and “I”, as it is the crown jewel of trueplato-allegory-of-the-cave and ancient philosophy that there is really only one or self that exists, and that this authentic exists eternally as the infinite Universe in its entirety.

According to Plato, the underground den or prison within the cave is symbolic of the “world of sight”, by which he means the objective world as perceived by a non-discriminating and irrational mind through the five outward-focused senses of sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell. This prison is therefore a philosophical symbol of the mind itself, which lets us know that the cave, which contains this prison, and which, like the mind, is a secret dwelling place, is likewise a philosophical symbol of the mind, so that there is essentially no difference between the cave and the prison described by Plato. More precisely, the cave symbolizes the human mind in general, while the prison within the cave symbolizes the human mind or ego that is delusional and out of touch with reality.

The fire and light that are both inside and outside of the cave are symbolic of the “light” and life of both individuated consciousness and cosmic or universal consciousness, which are ultimately interconnected as One Mind. Plato states this darkly through the symbolic character of his wise teacher, Socrates (whose name means master of life), by having Socrates explain to Plato’s brother, Glaucon (whose name means owl-eyed), that, “the light of fire (in this allegory) is the Sun, which, when seen, is inferred to be the universal author of all things that are beautiful and right. It is the parent of light and the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual world. It is the power which he who wants to act rationally in public or private life must keep his eye fixed upon.” Now, ask yourself, does it sound like these alleged words of the enlightened Socrates are referring to the Sun in a literal sense, or to the Sun as being an ancient symbol of the “light” and life of consciousness which constitutes the The-Allegory-of-the-Cave-by-Plato-1-1024x761mind? Isn’t it true that you can close your eyes and still see things through the “light” of your mind, even while you are sitting or lying down alone in the dark?

What about the shadows in the cave? And what about the wall in the cave that serves as the screen upon which these shadows are seen? This wall and the shadows casted upon it are symbolic of the various objects, or people, places, and things, that the individual mind perceives as the objective world, or the world “outside of”, and “separate from”, one’s own relative self or ego-personality. Like shadows, these objects or forms that collectively make up the objective plane of life are merely the fleeting reflections of something that can be said to be real. They are nothing more than transitory effects that are caused by the obstruction and limitation of the light or illumination of consciousness. These philosophical shadows are what Plato would call relative and substantially illusory or unreal “forms”, while the metaphysical objects of which they are merely the reflections and imperfect revelations are what he would call the absolute, eternal, and perfect “ideas” behind these phantom-like forms.

As for the chains that keep the prisoners locked up and divested of mental and spiritual freedom within the cave of their own dim consciousness, they are a potent symbol of our closed-minded concepts and selfish ways of thinking, as these counterproductive mental constructs keep us mentally binded, blinded, and unable to behold the light of metaphysical and philosophical enlightenment. When we succeed in breaking these chains by freeing our minds through true education, which involves philosophy and meditation, we discover the greatest secret of life and existence, which in turn gives us insight into the true meaning of justice, the main subject of Plato’s Republic. Platos - CaveThis most valuable secret of all secrets is that all life is One Life, all minds are One Mindand all things are One Thing.

Not only does Plato’s Republic teach us that the mind can be, and that it all too often is, the worst kind of prison that we can ever find ourselves locked up in, this golden dialogue also teaches us, perhaps paradoxically, that the mind is also the key that we must use in order to free ourselves from that prison:

The mind is the prison

And also the key

And as Freemasons 

We have chosen to be free

 

Annie Besant: The Pearl of the Indian Renaissance

Annie Besant: The Pearl of the Indian Renaissance

She loved India with a fervor and devotion all her own. Our country’s philosophy, our history or legends, our spiritual heritage, our achievements in the past, our sorrows in the present, our aspirations for the future were part and parcel of Mrs Annie Besant’s own life.” – Sri Prakasa in Indian Political Thought

A consideration of Annie Besant’s role in the cultural and spiritual renaissance of India – in a period from the dusk of the 19th century to the dawn of the 20th – must be appropriately examined in the context of the larger renaissance movement which began with the Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772 – 1833), founder of the Brahmo Sabha movement, in the early years of the 19th century. Affectionately deemed the “Herald of a New Age,” Ram Mohan was, no doubt, largely responsible for laying the groundwork forRaja Ram Roy the revitalization of the Indian spirit which was to follow.

Upon his death, the Brahmo Sabha became moribund, and out of its eclipse emerged the movement that would become the Brahmo Samaj, considered from an historical perspective as a significant contribution to the making of modern India, and among the most influential religious movements to spring forth from Hindu soil. The purpose of this latter was, in short, the total renaissance of Hindu culture; this to be accomplished by the rejection of scripture as an authoritative source of spiritual truth; the denial of the infallibility of Avatars; a denunciation of polytheism and idol-worship; a breaking down of caste systems; and freedom of thought as regards the doctrines of Karma and Rebirth.

Also significant to the Hindu reformation movement was the establishment of the Arya Samaj in 1875. This samaj was opposed, in certain of its objectives, to those of the Brahmo Samaj; and yet its influence is significant to the later work of Annie Besant towards the revival of the Hindu religion and cultural identity. The Arya Samaj was founded by the sannyasi, Dayananda Saraswati (1824 – 1883), who advocated the infallible authority of the Vedas and denounced the idolatry and ritualistic worship so prevalent in Hindu society at that time. The significance of this movement in paving the way for the reclamation of the Hindu identity led Annie Besant to state that, “It was Dayanand Saraswati who first proclaimed that India was for the Indians.

This movement is noteworthy in theosophical history for the fact of the 1878 alliance between the Arya Samaj and the Theosophical Society, this emerging out of Colonel Olcott’s (1832 – 1907) extensive correspondence with the President of the Bombay Branch of the former. Whilst short-lived, this alliance is evidence of the importance of Hindu reformation in the thought of the theosophical Founders; a perspective which would, in time, spur the activism of Annie Besant towards the accomplishment of a Hindu revival.

That period of the Indian renaissance which was to follow, was undeniably due, to some significant extent, to the selfless and unabating toil on the part of Annie Besant for the liberation of the spirit of the Indian nation from the chains of ignorance and spiritual recession; to kindle in the darkness of the chasm of despondency a bright flame of hope Annie_Besant_at_deskand brotherhood to illuminate the way for troubled souls whose path is shrouded by the shadows of oppression.

Much of the academic study which has been published on the life and work of Annie Besant has tended to emphasize her political and activist endeavors; whilst these are, no doubt, highly significant aspects of her spectacular and spirited life, equally worthy of acknowledgement are her great efforts towards the liberation of the spiritual essence of India in the revitalization of Hindu culture and the development of education.

Such was the impact of her multifarious work that distinguished persons of vastly varied backgrounds and temperament were unanimous in their praise and admiration for her industrious travail, her prodigious commitment, her unparalleled oratorical potency, her generosity towards the underprivileged, and her fairness in dealing with associates and adversaries alike.  

Annie Besant’s life was a necessarily public one; indeed, she considered herself a humble servant and missionary of the Masters in the guiding of humanity along the evolutionary path. Her role was the carry out the outer work of the Inner Government of the World by the means of selfless service and in the practical promulgation of the ideals of Truth, Unity, Altruism, and Brotherhood. As she wrote at the close of her Autobiography:

I am but the servant of the Great Brotherhood, and those on whose heads, but for a moment, the touch of the Master has rested in blessing, can never again look upon the world save through eyes made luminous with the radiance of the Eternal Peace.” 

In many ways, her early years – prior to her involvement with the Theosophical Society – may be considered, from a historical standpoint, as a “training ground” for the work that was to follow. The rare qualities which would be necessarily endowed in the individual H.P. Blavatskywho was to follow in the noble footsteps of H.P. Blavatsky, were suitably imbued in Annie Besant from those days of her youth; both by the blessings of congenital inherence, further due to the endeavors and trials of earlier life.

Thus, did she possess all those qualities of bodily vitality, a brightness and intensity of intellect, an unequalled power of oratorical ability, moral integrity and courage, and, more significant than all the aforementioned, a sensitive and indomitable solicitude for the weak, the needy, the destitute, the subjugated, the oppressed, and the suffering. For over a decade prior to her momentous meeting with H. P. Blavatsky in 1889, she had been preparing the way for the theosophical work which would constitute the greater portion of her life; undergoing, as had been the case in Britain, the arduous training in public service (spurred, in significant part, by the ruin of her own private life), and in fearless defense for the rights of workers and woman alike.

After her move to India, she worked tirelessly for the religious, social, educational, and political reform which seemed to her and the vast population alike, to be imperative to the development of a new India, freed from the shackles of colonization. Central to her impact on the educational advancement and revitalization of the Indian nation was the founding of the Banaras Hindu University. This was initially intended to be Banaras Hindu Universitya theosophical college, however later took shape along the lines of Hindu spirituality, as an institution dedicated the ideals of unity, rationality, and harmony between differing sects and subdivisions then existent in the Hindu community.

In line with her support of Indian self-rule, Annie Besant advocated for placing Indian education in the hands of Indians, and sought to inject a spirit of patriotism into the developing educational outlook of the nation. In the establishment of a Hindu university, she hoped to reunite education with the essence of religion, and further to bring it into affinity with the emerging fields of Western science and technology. Like Ram Mohan Roy, Annie Besant advocated for social reforms in Indian culture and spoke highly of the advantages of Western education in the elevation of the Indian people.

However, unlike the earlier reformer, she also supported the revival of traditional Hindu education, endorsing a full-rounded system of instruction which integrated the two spheres of thought. She emphasized that whilst Western education would be an enriching complement to traditional teachings, India must be cautious not to succumb to the pressuring grasp of Westernization, and that the Hindu people must, rather, return to the glory and greatness of their own Oriental past and culture for inspiration and encouragement.

This conception of a Hindu university followed in the wake of the establishment of a number of such religious institutions, challenging the heretofore strictly Western and secular education offered by the existing universities of that period. Among these was were the various colleges and schools which had been established by the Arya Samaj in the late nineteenth century, and the traditional gurukuls – consisting of shishya, or students, in a residential setting with a guru residing nearby – which epitomized theAligarh Muslim University Samaj’s ideals of reformed Hindu culture.

There was also the Khalsa College in Amritsar, founded in 1892 by the leaders of the Singh Sabha movement, which would become a highly significant educational institution for adherents of Sikhism, and which aimed to revive Sikh religion by the means of formal religious instruction. The Muslim community was also actively attempting to establish a university, with a proposal to transition the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College into the Aligarh Muslim University. This proposal was, however, initially met with considerable opposition from the secular government at that time, which was not inclined towards acceptance of what they perceived to be faith-based and sectarian educational endeavors – whether Muslim or Hindu. The transformation would not be finalized until 1920, when the Aligarh Muslim University Act was enacted by the imperial legislation.

All these endeavors – Annie Besant’s Central Hindu College, the Arya Samaj colleges and schools, the Sikh Khalsa College, and the Aligarh Muslim University – could be rightly considered to be a part of that same movement of the Indian people towards an education which represented their cultural and traditional ideals and heritage. Annie Besant’s contribution to this educational movement corresponded with the general spirit of change and the rediscovery of identity which the nation was undergoing – spurred by the voices of the children of India, she channeled all the resources at her disposal towards the accomplishment of this high ideal.

At the time of her idea for the founding of a Hindu university, she was in contact with one Madan Mohan Malviya (1861 – 1946), an Indian educationalist and politician, renowned for his role in the Indian independence movement. Both fostered the idea of establishing a specifically Hindu university, and Annie Besant had already previously established her Central Hindu College in Varanasi in the year 1898, with plans for itsMadan Malviya expansion. A shortage of funds towards this end led Besant to join hands with Malviya and Kameshwar Singh (1860 – 1929), the Maharaja of Darbhanga, who were jointly responsible for financing much of the endeavor.

The latter two had originally formulated the idea of founding a university at a meeting in 1904, shortly after which a prospectus was published and circulated prominent educationalists and representatives from all corners of the Indian nation. They were met with overwhelming support for the scheme, gaining approval from the Congress of Hindu Religion under the presidentship of Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya. This led to the final drafting of the prospectus, which was released to the public and press in 1906 to be met with instant approval and support.

It was around this time that Annie Besant was also laying the foundations for the potential establishment of a university in Varanasi under the proposed name of “The University of India.” In April of 1911, she met with Malviya to discuss their visions for such an educational enterprise, and decided to join hands in the founding of a common Hindu University in Varanasi. This shared vision was brought into actuality later that year, with a revised prospectus outlining the need for the university and its objectives being issued to the general public.

A condition set forward by the government necessitated that the Central Hindu College be absorbed by the Hindu University; Annie Besant, Dr. Bhagavan Das (1869 – 1958), and the fellow Trustees of the former agreed to its incorporation as the nucleus of the latter, and thus in November of 1915, the Central Hindu College was relinquished to the Hindu George ArundaleUniversity Society, who were responsible for the campaign for the university’s establishment. Other theosophists from around the world traveled to India to assist with this, among them George Arundale (1878 – 1945) and Francesca Arundale (1847 – 1924).

The seeds having been sown, the university was formally established in Varanasi in the year 1916. It is today the largest residential university in Asia, with over 35,000 students. The success of the endeavor, and its continuing and significant influence and impact on the educational development of the Indian nation, places the founding of the Banaras Hindu University among the forefront of Annie Besant’s contributions to Indian society. Her role in its formation, too often overshadowed by the contributions of Madan Mohan Malviya and the other founders, was a decidedly central and vital one, the idea for which emerged out of her passionate service towards the betterment and rejuvenation of India’s education system. Indeed, in the perspective of Annie Besant, it is education which lays at the bedrock of a harmonious and just society; the lack of which logically results in conditions of injustice, poverty, oppression, and inequality.

Her fervent advocation of educational reform led her to publish several pamphlets on the subject; among these were Education as a National Duty (Banaras, 1903), The Education of Indian Girls (Banaras, 1903), Principles of Education (Madras, 1915), Education for the New Era (London, 1919), Theosophical Education Report (Madras, 1917), and the Kamala Lectures: Indian Ideals in Education & Philosophy, Religion and ArtAnnie Besant in Madras (Calcutta, 1925). Further, she wrote a variety of books and pamphlets on the topics of sociology, physics, physiology, biology, and the status of women in society.

In it clear that Annie Besant’s philosophy of education was rooted firmly in the principles of Theosophy. Indeed, the ideals of unity and universal brotherhood run like a constant thread interwoven throughout the vast variety of her life’s activities and work, permeating every aspect of the endeavors she brought into fruition, both during her time in India and elsewhere around the world. She envisioned an all-rounded education for Indian children, wherein the elements of literary, scientific, artistic, and technical branches of study would be taught. Her aim was to provide children with the skills they would need to earn an honest living, by which the conditions of poverty and destitution may be gradually assuaged.

She advocated the development of individual faculties; this being the idea that children should receive an individualised education best suited to his or her particular background, needs, and objectives. The ideal was that in receiving such an all-rounded, individualised education, the child would thus be equipped with the capacities necessary to becoming a healthy and useful citizen in his or her community. As such, the objects of theosophical education as outlined by Annie Besant were to train the body, emotions, and the mind towards the expression and love of all that is beautiful, compassionate, just, and inspiring. She emphasised the importance of developing the child’s ability to sympathise with the happiness and suffering of others, and in so doing to foster a spirit of universal brotherhood and kinship with all of life. Further, she stressed the disciplining of the child’s mind in the discernment of right thinking, right judgment, and right action.

As regards the ethics advocated by Annie Besant and instilled as ideals in the formation of the Banaras Hindu University, she promoted, among other things, the pledge of boys and girls to delay early marriage. It is possible, as suggested by historical researcher Gail Reekie, that she was influenced in this regard by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834), Thomas Robert Malthusbelieving birth control methods within marriage to be the answer to the problem of over-population. However, it is likely that she discarded this perspective on birth control upon deepening her involvement in the Theosophical Society – birth control being against the philosophy set forward by Madame Blavatsky’s Master K. H.

In accordance with Annie Besant’s ethical perspectives on early marriage, the Central Hindu College was not open to married pupils. She advocated the Hindu ideal of Brahmacharya, or celibacy, insisting that such was necessary to the intellectual, physical, and emotional growth of students in their adolescent years. Further, religion and social work were considered as joint pillars of a proper education, and thus were such organisations as the “Sons and Daughters of India” and the “Scouts and Guards of Honour” formed, with the intention of training youths for selfless and practical social service.

It was her promotion of these ideals which culminated in the founding of the Banaras Hindu University, and further, in the formation of various theosophical and theosophically-inspired schools, among these the Vasanta College for Women in Rajghat (founded in 1913), the Besant Theosophical College in Andhra Pradesh (founded in 1915), the National High School in Basavanagudi (founded in 1917), the Annie Besant School in Allahabad (founded in 1926), and the Besant Memorial School in Chennai (founded in 1934). [20] In recognition of her efforts for the development of Indian education, the Banaras Hindu University granted her the Degree of Doctor of Letters in 1921.

The educational philosophy set forth by Annie Besant was rooted in a balance of secular and spiritual instruction. The Banaras Hindu University may be considered, in many ways, to be the epitome of her educational idealism. It represented all the principles and ideals of the theosophical conception of education, and yet far from being a fringe orIndian Boys Scouts Association alternate institute of learning on the wayside of society, succeeded in establishing itself as one of the most prestigious and renowned of India’s learning establishments.

Also significant to Annie Besant’s contributions to Indian culture and modern national history was the establishment of the Indian Boy Scouts Association, based out of Madras, in 1916. This emerged out of the aforementioned emphasis set forth by Annie Besant on the necessity of an all-rounded education – on intellectual, emotional, and physical levels alike. Organised along the lines of the international Scout Law, these Indian troops also incorporated aspects of their cultural background into their national expression of the movement, wearing Indian turbans and singing Indian songs at their meetings and events.

The Indian Boys Scouts Association was preceded by various efforts towards the founding of a Scouting movement in India, the first of these emerging out of the Bishop Cotton Boy’s School in Bangalore in 1909. Annie Besant’s involvement began in 1913, when a group of educationalists and representatives opened Scouting to Indian natives; it had previously been open only to British and foreign Scouts. Assisting her in this endeavor was fellow theosophist George Arundale, alongside Justice Vivian Bose (1891 – 1983), Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861 – 1946), Hridayanath Kunzru (1887 – 1978), and Girija Shankar Bajpai (1891 – 1954).

In 1916, Annie Besant sent a request to the founder of the international Boy Scouts movement, Lord Robert Baden-Powell (1857 – 1941), to formally recognize the Indian troops as a branch of the international movement. The request, however, was denied – on account of Baden-Powell deeming that Indians were unfit to be Scouts. This came as a surprise to Annie Besant, who was immediately up in arms, interpreting Baden-Powell’s declination as an affront on Indian race and the assumption of racial superiority on the part of the British.

Lord Baden-Powell experienced a change in perspective upon his visit to India in 1921, when a perusal of Annie Besant’s now 20,000 members and the incontestable success ofBadge of the Silver Wolf the movement led him to recognize not only her Association, but further all the Scout organisations in the country, as part of the international Boy Scouts movement.  As a result of her efforts, she was made the Honorary Scout Commissioner for India, and in 1932 Lord Baden-Powell conferred upon her the highest Scout distinction: the Badge of the Silver Wolf.

Her assiduous and dedicated work to the Indian cause resulted in her election to the presidency of the Indian National Congress in 1917. This was significant for a variety of reasons; among these for the fact of her being the first woman to ever assume such a position. B. Palammal writes:

In 1917, seeing the services and sacrifices of Annie Besant, the Congress elected her as the president of the 32nd session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta. Being the first woman president of the Congress, She enhanced the prestige of Indian womanhood. Her presidential address was widely applauded as the charter of national liberty. But Annie Besant already had contacts with the Congress in the year 1914 when she participated in the 29th congress held at Madras during 28 to 30 December.

She was the first lady to occupy a post on the platform of India’s National Assembly. As the president of the Indian National Congress, she got an opportunity in planning out a system of national education in India. It was a graded scheme suiting each type of unit to be educated. Regional universities were established with research facilities in the indigenous knowledge of ancient literature, science, art and crafts, village education was to be developed country wide.

Equally significant to arriving at an understanding of her character and work, was Annie Besant’s influence from, and on, Hindu spirituality and religion; an influence which would permeate many aspects of her societal, cultural, educational, and political work both in India and elsewhere. It was, in many ways, this religious, philosophical, and intellectual aspect of her work which laid the foundations for such later initiatives as the Central Hindu College and Banaras Hindu University; these serving as the practicalAll India Home Rule League Movement manifestations of her Hindu-inspired spiritual ideals.

Her work towards reform in the areas of Indian education, Hindu social customs and traditions, the place of Indian women in the new India, her ardent support of Indian self-rule and the Swadeshi movement, her attempts at alleviating the suffering of the depressed classes, and the development of the Scout Movement in India may all be considered as being rooted in a spiritual foundation. For Annie Besant, it was spirituality which formed the core of all altruistic service; this latter being the keynote of the theosophic life.

It is important, also, to remember that Annie Besant was largely responsible not only for the rekindling of Hindu spirituality within the continent of India, but further for influencing the awakening of interest in Hindu religion, thought, and culture in other corners of the world, at a time when the sons and daughters of India herself were becoming strangers to the essence of their own culture and thought. It was with the object of the reawakening of the Indian man and woman to the profundity and spiritual quintessence of their own theosophic teachings that she undertook the work of spurring the Indian renaissance from an ideal into actualization; only once this was achieved, in her mind, could India become the nucleus of a global shift in thought, in which materialism would give way to the revival of mysticism through the consolidation and uplifting of ancient Hindu ideals.

Her intensive study of Sanskrit and Hindu religious texts culminated in her translation of the Bhagavad Gita into simple, comprehensible English, alongside which she also published a variety of short booklets of Aryan legends and tales for children with the objective of the instilling spiritual ideals and principles at an early age. Also published Annie Besantwere a number of booklets and pamphlets for general English-speaking readers. It was largely these efforts of Annie Besant, alongside those of Swami Vivekananda, which served to introduce the multifarious gems of India’s treasure chest of wisdom to the world of the West.

The influence of Annie Besant’s role in the cultural and spiritual renaissance of India is a continuing one; indeed, she was at the very forefront of the changing tides, the depths from which India would arise renewed and reborn, its people awakened to the dawning of a better day, illuminated by the radiant rays of hope. Her life was one of service and dedication to the ideal of Truth; she was, in every sense, a freethinker; a radical of her time; a world leader equipped with the steady sword of resolute sincerity and the infrangible shield of principle.

To the afflicted sons and daughters of India, she was a beacon of light amid the howling winds of oppression, a devoted Steward of the Flame of Truth. Into the bosom of India did she cast her warming light, to impart the breath of life unto the lifeless, and to instill the seed of hope in the broken hearts of the hopeless. Now passed beyond these finite realms, still yet in the depths of the spirit of India may be felt the sublime presence of Annie Besant – the Pearl of the Indian Renaissance.



~ By Luke Michael Ironside, from a paper published in the Friends of Theosophical Archives Newsletter in July, 2017 

 

Eritque Craticula Usque ad Tenebras

Eritque Craticula Usque ad Tenebras

The precipice of Winter. The hollow wind of Autumn. We humans are always on the edge of something. In this case, we are on the edge of seasonal change. As we slip from the warm days of Summer into the chillier nights of Autumn, we sense that change is imminent. We are on the edge, slipping from one day to the next, seasons rushing by in a flowing, ever changing stream. A stream, I must add, upon which we are always standing on the edge.

Nature teaches us a great deal of how to be in the world; most of the time, we just choose not to listen. Cement jungles are no place for the breath of the Green Man or the dance of a water nymph. Yet, Nature finds a way to express herself. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this is expressed as Yin and Yang. A Taoist concept, everything contains Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are two opposite yet complementary energies. Although they are opposite in their individual qualities and nature, they are interdependent. They are never separate and cannot exist without one another. The hard Yang of the cement contains in it air and space, Yin, in which it yields to the grass growing in its cracks. The meadow is dotted with hard boulders, unyielding and yet grounding to the lush, loamy soil.

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The traditional translation of Yin-Yang is Dark-Bright, which in turn translate to the traditional Chinese icon we see for it – two tear drops, intertwined, with a dot of the other deep in their bellies. Saying they are opposites is a faint allusion to their true natures. They are complex and rich for as simple as they appear. Both are archetypes and ideals, where simple human words are inadequate modifiers. They may be translated as “the shady side of the mountain (yin)” and “the sunny side of the mountain (yang).” Yin may also indicate the feminine, the moon, softness, passivity, sinister, darkness, overcast, or even treacherous. Yang, the “opposite” indicates masculine, the sun, hardness, assertiveness, open, overt, relief, light, and positivity.” There is always a bit of one in the other, a taste which makes them less opposite and more like polarities. Neither is good or bad, they just exist; intertwined for eternity in a dance of possession.

Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching (about 500 B.C.E. by Lao Tzu) is where the duality and Yin-Yang are found:

“The Way gave birth to unity,
Unity gave birth to duality,
Duality gave birth to trinity,
Trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures.
The myriad creatures bear yin on their backs and embrace yang in their bosoms.

They neutralize these vapors
and thereby achieve harmony.”

This may be interpreted that while the Way (Tao) gave birth to all of material life, it is contained within that life in the form of this duality. Thus, all matter, of animal, plant, or mineral contains yin and yang. All of Nature contains within it opposing truths, a constant tug of each end of the living spectrum. Being of Nature, we should be intimately at ease with the duality of our natures, right?

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Relative and absolute. We see absolute as our eternal goal – absolute truth. Is this not what the philosopher strives to attain? Is this not what the Freemason seeks? Absolute is the Truth which we hold as dearest, that which give us “rightness” of whatever we are understanding. Yet, relativity is important to our personal lives. We make judgments and choices about the relative Truths we perceive with our senses every day. How does that green shirt go with those pink pants? Does the omelet need more salt? Are we thirsty? These are truths, however small, in which we are always seeking answers and using our senses, our knowledge of duality, to provide answers. We are always on the edge, wondering if we are being deceived, somehow, by falsehood and ignorance. Curiosity is a sword to slay our own ignorance. Curiosity is not sheathed in ego.

The philosopher sees the duality in the people and situations around him. We recognize that there may be two sides to a situation: yours and mine, his and hers, etc. Without this sharing, we cannot see more Truth. We have to stand on the edge of reality, with another human being, and accept that this truth might fill in our blanks. Once we let judgement of Truth go, there is vast chasm in front of us. It is in recognizing duality that the pieces start to come together. Unity. We realize that we cannot have the whole picture. We may not ever have the absolute truth; yet, we may have relative truth to share. In heaps and bounds.

Thus, we are always on the edge of true understanding. Of knowledge. Of peace. Thus, perhaps we are always at an equinox within our natures. Halfway to Darkness. Halfway to Light. Eritque craticula usque ad lucem ac tenebras. A motto of change? A reminder of being on the edge? Perhaps we need not be so afraid of the darkness and the change, go out into nature, and learn what living really means. We can find Nature in everyone we meet, sharing in a brief bit of harmony by seeking to understand. Enjoy this Equinox, with balance and joy, understanding that the world will keep turning, seeking balance and yet, always on the edge. The Darkness is coming. So is the Light.

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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.

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

Imagine yourself as a citizen of the Roman empire. It is 52 BC and a warm summer night’s breeze brushes across your cheek, ruffling the tails of the blindfold tied tightly around your head. Perhaps you are a merchant or a sailor, possibly a soldier between campaigns. You are being led swiftly along a jagged rocky path, your hands bound, deep into the woodlands close to your home town. You come to a stop and you hear a series of passwords exchanged between your escort and a second voice. The words you recognize but their emphasis and arrangement is strange to you. Your escort tugs at your arm and you resume your brisk pace but as you step forward a few paces the unmistakably dank, cool air of a subterranean refuge fills your nostrils. After several twists and turns, your escort once more pulls you to a stop and says to you:

“I can bring you no further, neophyte. You must meet him alone.”

With a gentle push between your shoulder blades, he propels you forward into the unknown labyrinth. Your heart hammers against your rib cage as you take you first step into formless dark. Your foot meets nothing but air and you are plunged headlong into a pool of impossibly cold water. After negotiating several more trials of a similar nature, you feel an unnatural warmth on your skin and you begin to hear the crackling of a fire and the echoes of chanting ahead of you. As you step forward into this room, you are seized at either arm and rushed forward and pushed down on your knees. You are beginning to regret your foolish decision when suddenly your hoodwink is removed. You are blinded by the light of burning braziers and as your vision readjusts to the new light you see a man standing before you garbed in a black robe and wearing a fearsome mask. Behind him is a towering stone stele depicting a man astride a writhing bull, plunging his dagger into its breast. Plants appear to be growing from the wound and various animals are depicted as sharing in the feast. The entire scene is bordered by the zodiacal sigils and cornered by effigies of the Four Winds. The man in black begins to speak:

“When the peace of our world was threatened by the great demon Ahriman, humanity had no hope of prevailing against such a potent force of violence and despair. Ahriman sought to destroy this world by inducing drought, thirst and starvation. Not a drop of moisture remained in the kingdoms of the plants and animals and the whole world cried out in desperation. In our darkest hour, the great hero Mithras, sprang forth from the stone of the world and took up the orb of the Cosmos in his protective embrace. From his bow he let fly an arrow that struck the earth and from this wound came a renewing spring, which rejuvenated the Earth, if only temporarily. Still the threat of destruction persisted and with the assistance of the moon-mother, Selene, the vital fluid essence of life itself was secreted away in a giant bull on Earth. A raven, acting as the messenger of the Sun, came to Mithras and told him of the forest in which the bull was hiding. Mithras burned away the withered and desiccated trees and forced the great bull out in the open. He captured the bull and dragged it underground into the bowels of the Earth where he wrestled it into submission and plunged his dagger into its breast. Trees sprang from the wound, bees were born from the droplets of blood and all of the earth was rejuvenated by this great sacrifice.”

The man in black steps forward and cuts you free of your bonds and takes your right hand in his and, clasping it firmly, declares, “Behold the grip of Mithras. It shall ever identify you as being in allegiance with your brethren as Mithras and Helios were united in like manner. Rise, Raven, and take your rightful place amongst your Brethren!”

The Dawn of Mithras

Although embellished with artistic license, the above account is close to the experience that the novice initiate into the Roman cult of Mithras would have had. Mithraism has its roots in the dawn of civilization, a deity named Mitras making an appearance in the Vedas as the bringer of the light of dawn nearly 2,000 thousand years before his bull-slaying counterpart would appear in Iran. From Persia, Mithras made his way to Greece through Mithradates Eupator VI, a grizzled naval commando of the ancient Mediterranean Sea and king of the Cilician Empire who helped the Greeks repel the attempted conquest of

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Mithradates Eupator VI

Rome. Mithradates was the first to establish Mithras at the head of a mystery religion. This fraternity, created and led by Mithradates himself, functioned as a sort of ancient special forces to be used in piratical incursions across the Mediterranean. The Cilician navy rose to infamy and came to dominate the Mediterranean slave trade after the dissolution of the Carthaginian, Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires. These “pirates of Mithras” also carried out an enterprise of kidnapping Roman magistrates and their families, most likely under the direction of Mithradates himself for political motives as well as profit.

These early Mithraists, who were in nearly constant opposition to the forces of Roman imperialism, conceived of themselves as a sort of hidden militia of Mithras, the cryphii or ‘hidden ones’. They recognized Mithras as a god of righteous warfare, of resistance to oppressive force. Eventually the iron hand of the Roman general Pompey shattered the rule Mithradtes VI and his fraternal mercenaries were scattered to the winds. A few of these Mithraic pirates were captured and paraded through the streets of Rome as part of Pompey’s tribute, the general then installing them as beekeepers in province of Apulia. From here, Mithraism was rekindled and slowly spread northwards to the teeming and lively marketplaces of Rome and found welcome among the Roman collegia, associations of tradesmen and merchants. Mithraism further ingratiated itself into the fabric of Roman society as the cult spread like wildfire among the legions, similar to the expansion of Freemasonry in the 19th century throughout the military of the British Empire. At the height of the Roman imperial period, followers of Mithras ranged as far afield as the scorching fringes of the Sahara to the windswept moors of Hadrian’s Wall.

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Mithras slaying the bull

The Cult of the Invincible Sun

Mithras was a solar deity and bore the title of Sol Invictus, “Invincible Sun”, in reference to his pact with the Sun to restore the Earth. Very few Mithraic liturgical texts have made their way into contemporary hands, as befits a secret society, but a few scraps do remain. Some scholars, such as Robert Turcan in ‘Cults of the Roman Empire’ (1996) speculate that in performing the duties that the Sun was normally responsible for (duties that Helios was somehow prevented from fulfilling), Mithras assumed his throne by his act of heroism. Within the mithraeum, Mithras’ position was always in the south, representing the Sun at full strength at the meridian. On the entrance of the Mithraic crypt and within the mythology of the fraternity, Mithras is flanked by two attendants, Cautes and Cautophates, who represented the Sun at dawn and sunset respectively. Cautes holds a torch pointing upwards while Cautophates directs his towards the ground. They have also been taken as representing the vernal (ascending) and autumnal (descending) equinoxes, which along with the winter and summer solstices, were of the utmost importance to the Mithraic cult.

Mithraism was a religion of the crypt and unlike other Roman mystery religions, had no exoteric function. They held no public ceremonies and the mithraeum were strictly off-limits to outsiders. Because they took no public tithing, Mithraism had to adapt to the circumstances of the individual chapters. The mysteries of Mithras were held in tent’s on the battlefield, discreet taverns and, when possible, in custom built subterranean temples financed by wealthy patrons of the brotherhood. These lavish temples, such as the mithraeum of Ostia, would have been ringed in statuary depicting the seven classical planets and had ceilings painted a deep sky blue, daubed with white stars. The regular meetings of the Mithraic brotherhood were known as “magic banquets” and were held weekly if not daily. They consisted of the brothers entering the temple in procession determined by rank of initiation and taking up places around the edges of the mithraeum. The master of the temple fulfilled the symbolic role of Saturn and sat in a throne wreathed in solar symbols. On occasions that required no extraordinary ceremonies, the proceedings began with a lecture upon spiritual and moral philosophy, no doubt illustrated by the symbolism and astrological allegories of the myth of Mithras. Following this period of study the brethren would participate in a symbolic meal of bread and wine, similar to the Catholic Eucharist, as a symbol of the feast shared by Mithras and Helios, followed by a communal meal.

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A drawing of Aion found at the mithraeum of Ostia

Under the Canopy of Heaven

The study of time and astronomy were of central importance to the mysteries of Mithras. One of the dominant artistic figures of many mithraeum, the lion-headed deity Aion watched over the proceedings of the mystery cult. At Ostia, he was depicted as holding the twin keys of wisdom, the scepter of royal power and the thunderbolt with the tools of a smith, a rooster and a pine cone at his feet. He also has a serpent wrapped around him, the snake’s ability to shed its skin representing infinity. Aion represented unbounded time, in contrast to the limited and linear form of time personified by the Saturnian deity Kronos and was often encircled by the zodiac. Mithraism came into being in the same era as the discovery by Grecian astronomer Hipparchus of the phenomenon now known as the precession of the equinoxes. The precession of the equinoxes is caused by the subtle wobble of the orientation of the Earth’s axis and takes 25,920 years to complete. It has astrological significance in that every 2,160 years the Sun rises on the summer solstice in alignment with a different zodiacal constellation. The Mithraic mysteries were conceived in the midst of a change in ages. Mithras, as the newborn ‘Sol Invictus’, represents the victory of the fire-sign Aries over the previous age of Taurus the Bull. The twin aspects of Cautes and Cautophates symbolizing the addition of Gemini to the retinue of the Sun, the astrological age of Gemini having preceeded that of Taurus. In the tauroctony scene that could be found in every mithraeum, several animals are shown feasting on the bull, including a dog, a lion and a scorpion. These animals surely represented constellations though their exact symbolism and interplay within the Mithraic myth has been lost to history.

The Degrees of the Crypt

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An artist’s interpretation of the initiation ritual of the degree of Soldier

 

The mysteries of Mithras were divided into seven degrees, each connected to one of the seven classical planets. The initiation of the first degree gained the initiate the title of Raven. This oracular bird who could speak like a man occupied a position between the worlds and was thus the first point of contact between the neophyte and the ineffable. Candidates of the grade of Nymphus wore the flammeum, the bridal veil worn by Roman women on their wedding day. At the crescendo of the ritual, the veil was removed to reveal some particular arrangement of ritually significant objects. The words, “Look Nymphus! Hail, Nymphus! Hail young light!” were spoken, these phrases suggesting that the candidate held a lantern. The title of “Nymphus” implies that this degree represented a intermediate stage between the novice state of the Raven and the mastery implicit in the rank of Soldier. The Soldier bore a mark, either tattooed or branded, as a sign of his commitment to the militia of Mithras. During his initiation, the Soldier would have been presented with a crown on the point of a sword. He was then required to divert the crown to his shoulder, declaring that Mithras was his only true crown. The consecration of the degree of Lion was a ritual bathed in fire. The emblems of this degree are the fire-shovel, the sistrum of Isis and the heavenly fire of the thunderbolt. Fire being the enemy of water, the candidate’s hands were washed with honey to ensure his purity. The ritual itself consisted of physical trials by fire, presumably similar to the fire-walking stunts of the Hindu fakirs.  The candidate for the rank of Persian also had his hands washed in honey but for a different symbolism. The Persian was granted the privilege of harvesting the fruits grown by the grace of Mithras’ sacrifice. His emblems were thus the sickle and the Phyrgian cap of liberty. We know nothing of the ritual of the Heliodromos, the Sun-runner, other than that the symbols of his grade were the torch, a radiant crown and the flail. The Father, adorned in a headdress likening him to Mithras, led the proceedings of the temple and it has been speculated that he and a Heliodromos fulfilled the roles of Mithras and the Sun in the ritual re-enactment of the celestial feast.

There is one gift that the mysterious brothers of Mithras gave to the world that has survived to modern times. Every time we clasp hands with a friend, a colleague or a stranger in a handshake, we recognize them as brothers initiated into the mysteries of the cave-dwelling god of sacrifice. The modern handshake was birthed from the cult of Mithras and has endured millennia in its original form. It is obvious, from what scraps of their rituals remain, that some core concepts of Mithraism have survived in modern Freemasonry. It would be irresponsible to attribute the origin of Freemasonry to this cult or that society but it is beyond doubt that certain aspects of many ancient fraternities have been folded within the embrace of Speculative Freemasonry. The Mithraic obsession with utter secrecy concerning the whereabouts and operations of their temples is certainly echoed in Freemasonry, as is the practice of greeting brothers by certain handshakes. As Freemasons, an examination of Mithraism and similar ancient mysteries will surely bring us closer to timeless and unwavering truths glimpsed by so many throughout the vast expanse of time.

“When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart: ‘By the same powers that you are slain, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed. For the law that delivered you into my hands shall deliver me into a mightier hand. Your blood and my blood is naught but the sap that feeds the Tree of Heaven.'”

-Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet and Freemason