Soma and the Holy Grail: What Role Have Psychedelics Played in the Mysteries?

Soma and the Holy Grail: What Role Have Psychedelics Played in the Mysteries?

In the past two decades, the world has seen a renaissance in research on psychedelics, after being completely banned for the previous twenty-five years. Continuing the research that was done in the 1950s and 60s, scientists are further validating that the use of psychedelics in a therapeutic context has a high success rate for treatment of various mental disorders, ranging from addiction to depression and social anxiety. The research seems to indicate that it’s possible to treat, or in some cases perhaps cure, long-term mental disorders with only a short series of psychedelic-assisted therapeutic sessions. 

Psychedelics are arguably much more fascinating than any other class of psychopharmacologicals, in that the action which produces the healing effects is not simply an alteration of mood, but rather the creation of a radically altered, non-ordinary state of consciousness, leading to an acceleration and exacerbation of dormant or subconscious mental processes, which the patient can then face and deal with, to ultimately resolve the underlying psychological issue. It also includes, in some cases, the manifestation of the classical mystical experience, which has a healing power all it’s own. This last case is perhaps the most interesting as it relates to freemasonry, hermeticism, alchemy, and gnosticism, and the ancient mysteries to which we trace our origins.

Among the stories and legends of the esoteric mystery traditions are various clues and indications that psychedelics have played a role. So, how great a role have these magical substances played in the origins of Freemasonry and related occult sciences? 

Ancient Psychedelic Use: Shamans to Kykeon

stoned ape theory psychedelicsIf current indigenous peoples are any indication, we can be fairly certain that humans have been utilizing psychedelics perhaps since we became human. The Stoned Ape Theory, though considered radical by many evolutionary theorists, posits that psychedelic consumption may even have been a primary contributing factor to our development of language, culture, abstract thought, and everything that we typically regard as uniquely human.

Regardless of whether psychedelics were critical for our evolution to homo sapiens, there is no question that psychedelics have played a critical role in human life, particularly as it relates to the religious, or sublime. Shamans have been using these compounds for various purposes ranging from healing to divination, initiation, and ritual communion with spirits presumably from the time humans first gathered in tribes. This pattern extends even to this day, including the Ayahuasceros of the Amazon rainforest, the far Northern Sami using amanita muscaria mushrooms, the indigenous people of Central America’s consumption of psilocybin mushrooms, and in the depths of Africa where Iboga and other plant medicines are still used for healing and initiation rites. These are simply some of those ancient traditions which have survived to modern times, but we can reasonably infer that untold numbers of other cultures, now wiped out by colonialism and religious persecution, have utilized psychedelics for spiritual and other purposes from time immemorial. 

psychedelic somaAmong the history of what we refer to as civilization, we have evidence that the shamanic thread continued and evolved as a component of some earlier human societies. Perhaps the oldest example is that of Soma, a mysterious drink consumed by the Brahmins of India, who are the highest priestly caste in traditional Indian culture. Soma was also used by Zoroastrians of ancient Mesopotamia, meaning it extended beyond the boundaries of modern India. Some of the most ancient texts of the Vedic religions speak at length about Soma and its effects, which included mystical experiences, feelings of bliss, lightness of being, inspiration, and visionary states. Although there is no consensus or absolute proof of exactly what the ingredients for Soma were, the descriptions of its effects certainly fit the bill of a psychedelic. This doubtlessly influenced the philosophies and traditions of India, which ultimately have impacted the Western mystery traditions to some extent.

eleusinian mysteries kykeon
Another famous ancient psychedelic brew a bit closer to home for the Western mysteries is
Kykeon. Kykeon was a visionary drink which was imbibed at the ancient rites of Eleusis, commonly known as the Eleusinian Mysteries. The most popular theory on its ingredients is that it was made from barley infested with the fungus ergot, which contained alkaloids similar to LSD. No one knows with absolute certainty what happened in these rites, but they involved the participant going into an underground cavern or structure to drink the Kykeon and undergo a death and rebirth, an experience which was said to free the participant from fear of mortality. These psychedelic rites were undergone by great philosophers and influential figures including but not limited to Plato, Plutarch, Cicero, Aristotle, many playwrights, and the highest hierophants and priests of the day. Plutarch wrote:

“Because of those sacred and faithful promises given in the mysteries…we hold it firmly for an undoubted truth that our soul is incorruptible and immortal…when a man dies he is like those who are initiated into the mysteries. Our whole life is a journey by tortuous ways without outlet. At the moment of quitting it come terrors, shuddering fear, amazement. Then a light that moves to meet you, pure meadows that receive you, songs and dances and holy apparitions.”

These are some of the most famous examples of psychedelic use in ancient civilizations, and it seems to me that there are clearly symbolic correlations to the Eleusinian Mysteries in modern masonic ritual, at least in general theme of death and rebirth. 

Psychedelic Traces Left by Egyptians and Hebrews?

Perhaps most significant to freemasonry, alchemy, and hermeticism are the clues of possible ritual psychedelic use in ancient Egyptian, and even Hebrew cultures. However, these cultures’ psychedelic traditions are also the least popularly explored, or supported by evidence. While there is some speculation about the Egyptians’ use of blue lotus, which does have psychoactive properties, this particular plant is not known to be psychedelic at any dosage. Rather, it has a more mild, sedative effect. What is far more interesting is the possibility, though only supported by scant clues, of the Egyptian and perhaps Hebrew ritual use of acacia.

Egyptian acaciaAcacia’s significance is attested to throughout ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writings, where some even believe that it is equivalent to the Ished Tree, or the Tree of Life. Historians believe that Egyptians used acacia for a wide variety of medicinal applications, including the treatment of wounds, eye problems, and skin disease. Mythologically, the first Gods of Egypt were born beneath, or emerged from the acacia. In one version of the death of the God Osiris, he was buried in a coffin of acacia, out of which a new acacia tree sprouted, and Horus emerged. This is commonly regarded as one of the possible origins of the story of Hiram Abiff.

It just so happens that this plant so revered both medicinally and mythologically by the Egyptians also contains large quantities of the single most potent psychedelic known to man, n, n-dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as DMT. This has been referred to by some as The Spirit Molecule, and is also thought to possibly be produced naturally in the pineal gland of the brain, which was also theorized by Descartes to be the “Seat of the Soul.” 

moses burning bush acaciaIn the Hebrew tradition, acacia is likewise regarded as sacred, and one controversial Israeli scholar even thinks that Moses may have had a psychedelic experience, possibly arrived at through the use of acacia, when he saw the burning bush on Mount Horeb. The acacia would likely have been combined with other plants which are also native to the region, which would add MAOIs to render the DMT orally active. If true, this would be a middle-Eastern analog to the ayahuasca of the Amazonian rainforest shamans, using different plants which are native to the Middle East, but with the same active components. 

There also seems to be some evidence that the use of psychoactive ritual incense of various sorts was a very common method of communing with God or various supernatural beings, which the Hebrews (among other ancient peoples) brought with them from Egypt as they wandered the desert. This tradition was possibly even revived temporarily by King Solomon, according to a speculative interpretation of certain biblical passages about the dedication of Solomon’s temple. If true, presumably the sacred acacia might be among the plants used as this sacred incense for divine communion, given it’s highly psychedelic contents. 

While the theory of Egyptian and Hebrew use of acacia for its psychedelic properties is not heavily supported by concrete evidence, the more well-established fact that both cultures regarded the plant as extremely sacred and medicinally useful should lead us to at least ask the question: Was their reverence for the sacred acacia purely because of its medicinal and perhaps symbolic significance? Or did it also represent for them a gateway to other realms, in which they could die and be reborn, or connect with supernatural intelligences?

A Psychedelic Thread Through History

Because of the prevalence of the use of psychedelics in rites and rituals in various civilizations throughout ancient history, we must ask ourselves: Did they simply stop, and their use in civilization die out until their rediscovery by Albert Hoffman, Gordon Wasson, and others in the mid-20th century? This seems like a strange idea, and if true, requires some explanation. Certainly, from a historical perspective, the spread of the Abrahamic faiths correlated to a decline, or more accurately, a persecution and religious cleansing of all psychedelic rites and rituals, particularly in Europe. This was certainly the reason for the fall of The Eleusinian Mysteries, and all similar “pagan” rites in general, whether involving psychedelics or not.

phoenix of the mysteriesAt least by outward appearances, the ancient mystery traditions seem to have been crushed beneath the heel of dogmatic empires, and to have disappeared from mainstream knowledge. Yet, you and I both know that they did not disappear, they merely went into hiding during the millennia of Abrahamic regimes. 

Could the same be true of the ritual and sacramental use of psychedelics? Have traditions such as alchemy and hermeticism kept the use of some types of psychedelic compounds alive secretly, or are their practices the symbolic echoes of ancient psychedelic rites? Certainly, figures such as the controversial hermeticist Aleister Crowley employed drugs of various kinds in ritual and magical use, but there is no known use of substances like this, or even much discussion of it, in organizations like Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, or Freemasonry. 

In lieu of any direct evidence of the ritual use of psychedelics in the more widespread modern mystery traditions, I present to you an alternative hypothesis: Could it be that these traditions hand down to us ritual structures which were originally based on psychedelic use, and that these ritual structures so painstakingly preserved through the millennia are like a holy grail, a container into which the sacred waters of psychedelic experience are waiting to be poured?

Certainly, based on what we know about psychedelics through both modern science, ancient shamanism, and the explorations of modern psychonauts, the ritual experiences of death and rebirth so emphasized in these traditions would almost certainly be given an exponential increase in potency, if undergone in a psychedelic state. On the other hand, the legal and ethical ramifications of doing so right now would be extremely prohibitive; however, perhaps someday in the future, when the therapeutic and religious ritual consumption of psychedelics is more widely accepted, as it is no doubt destined to be by the march of progress, this could be a possibility. 

 I’ll leave you with this passage from P. D. Newman, a Brother of the Scottish Rite:

The principle goal of Alchemy was (and is) the production of the lapis philosophorum. The Alchemical axiom states that the coveted stone is made “not of stone, not of bone, not of metal.” That is to say, it comes not from the mineral kingdom and not from the animal kingdom. It must, therefore, be deduced that the true stone of the philosophers is to be found only within the vegetable kingdom… the production… [was said to be derived] from the mysterious prima materia, or first matter… Truly, acacia is referred to precisely as the prima materia by both Cagliostro and Melissino in the respective Alchemico-Masonic rites authored by them. The same is true of the Fratres Lucis

“The search for physical immortality proceeds from a misunderstanding of the traditional teaching. On the contrary, the basic problem is: to enlarge the pupil of the eye, so that the body with its attendant personality will no longer obstruct the view. Immortality is then experienced as a present fact.” …The Alchemists purport that the stone of the wise has the power to give its possessor the knowledge of his very immortal soul. Hence, it’s also being called the stone of projection. For, the soul of its possessor is the very thing that appears to be projected upon the stone’s proper application.

acacia freemasonry

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part Two]

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part Two]

Freemasonry, with its diverse symbols, allegories and philosophical lessons seeks to build the individual into a mighty warrior of morality, an overwhelming, unstoppable force for good. In this, Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior have a common goal. What follows is Part Two of the post on Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior. [Part One of the post can be read here.]


The Book of Five Rings

After his near-death experience at the battle of Sekigahara, Miyomoto Musashi devoted his life to the mastery of martial arts. As a ronin, Musashi did not possess the full privileges of a samurai but was still respected as a fearsome warrior. In his travels throughout Japan, Musashi fought at least Sixty-six duels to the death against some of the most notable samurai of Japan.

During the Edo period, as this time in Japanese history is known, Japanese martial arts were extremely stratified, with each student claiming a lineage of teachers and students. The object of his journey was to test his own system against those of the most preeminent schools of his day. Upon arrival at a temple for a scheduled duel, Musashi was asked what style he practiced and who his teacher was. In characteristic fashion he is said to have replied, “The water, running in the river, is my teacher. The wind, blowingThe Book of the Five Rings through the trees, is my teacher. The whole universe is my teacher and I am its student.”

The result of this quest to refine was Musashi’s book of strategy known as the Go Rin No Sho or The Book of Five Rings. In this book, Musashi explains his fencing techniques and strategies of combat through the metaphor of five “rings” or “spheres”: Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Void.

Though the book contains much technical information that relates specifically to Musashi’s techniques, it also contains many philosophical precepts that informed Musashi’s approach to both combat and life. Below are several of the most impactful quotes from the book:

“You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.”

“Get beyond love and grief: exist for the good of Man.”

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

“There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”

“The important thing is to polish wisdom and the mind in great detail. If you sharpen wisdom, you will understand what is just and unjust in society and also the good and the evil of this world; then you will come to know all kinds of arts and you will tread different ways. In this manner, no one in this world will succeed in deceiving you.”

The Dokkodo

In the last week of his life, Musashi, aware that he was soon going to die, began making Dokkōdō2preparations for his departure from the earthly plane. He gave away his possessions and made arrangements for the conclusion of his affairs.

As part of this process he composed what is known as the Dokkodo or the Way of Walking Alone, Twenty-one aphorisms that summarized his philosophy and all that he had learned about the Way throughout his lifetime. It was dedicated to his most loyal student and shows us that Musashi was an extraordinarily deep thinker in the same line as the Stoics of the ancient Mediterranean who perceived much more in his life than mere sword fighting techniques.

The Dokkodo:

1. Accept everything just the way it is.
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself or others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body, but you must preserve your honor.
21. Never stray from the Way.

Freemasonry and the Samurai Culture

Though the samurai culture has long since vanished from the Earth its influence can still be felt throughout Eastern and Western culture. In the East, the samurai – Miyomoto Musashi in particular – are the model of righteous character, virtuous conduct and a courageous attitude in the face of a hostile and adversarial Universe. In the West they are equally mythologized and provide the model of conduct for every student of the martial arts and the philosophy that informs their practices.

In the tenets of Bushido, we can recognize a simple and unwavering moral philosophy that any human being can use in their battles, both within and without. With theSamurai weapons of righteousness, benevolence, honesty and the armor of courage, honor, and duty, any challenge can be met, and any enemy overcome.

In the modern world, many of these virtues have become unimportant to us in an age of instant gratification and self-involvement. It seems now that our only duty is to ourselves and the idea of sacrificing one’s life for one’s principles seems archaic and absurd. But the samurai remind us that these principles, these virtues are the necessary companions of anyone who would achieve great feat of benefiting mankind and protecting species from the evil which lurks among us.

In this, Freemasonry and Bushido have a common goal. Freemasonry, with its diverse symbols, allegories and philosophical lessons seeks to build the individual into a mighty warrior of morality, an overwhelming, unstoppable force for good. Freemasonry understands, as the samurai did, that each and every one of us is engaged in a battle between good and evil. This battle is fought within ourselves, within our hearts and our characters and it is fought without against the tyrants of the material world who would enslave and destroy humanity. This is a battle worth fighting, and though the Way must be walked alone, the battle is fought side to side with all human beings.

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part I]

Freemasonry and the Way of the Warrior [Part I]

In the days of feudal Japan, from the 12th to the 16th centuries, the small island was ruled by ruthless Shoguns, warlords who controlled fiefdoms and battled one another for control of the island’s resources. They were aided in these fights by Samurai, noble warriors who were trained extensively in every martial art, from mounted archery to sword fighting, bare knuckle boxing and grappling. Knights and generals, these warriors were more than mere soldiers. Their martial prowess was dependent on their mental and spiritual discipline, discipline that was carefully cultivated over a lifetime of training.

What is a Warrior?

Throughout human history, in every society that has ever existed, there have been warriors. In the literal sense, a warrior is an individual who is actively engaged in the Samurai_with_swordpractice of warfare. More broadly however, we can think of warriors as those who are engaged in struggle. But what does it mean to be a warrior? In all interpretations of the word, a warrior is not a mere barbarian who uses brute strength to crush and dominate those weaker than himself.

The term “warrior” is used to describe an individual who has mastered their capacity for physical violence and yet abides by a code of discipline that regulates that capacity. This code of discipline is nearly always philosophical or religious in nature and governs every aspect of the warrior’s life. However, in our modern world, the necessity for familiarity with violence has diminished and along with it our need for warriors. Has that energy been lost or has it been re-directed elsewhere?

The Samurai and Bushido

The history of feudal Japan is an unending parade of warlords, known as shoguns, violently attempting to rule the fractured island. At this time, the 12th through the 18th century, Japan was not a united island but was instead divided among numerous clans, all competing for influence and control. This was the environment that gave birth to the samurai. The word “samurai” is derived from a Japanese word meaning “one who serves Minamoto Yoritomo 2nobility” and was initially a general title for a civil servant. After Minamoto Yoritomo created the first permanent shogunate and established himself as Emperor, he codified the laws governing the samurai’s conduct.

Just as European knights of the same time period lived by a chivalric code of honor, so too did the samurai abide by a moral, ethical and philosophical creed. Known as bushido, or, the way of the warrior, this creed was heavily influenced by the emergence of Zen Buddhism into Japanese culture. Buddhism’s teachings on reincarnation and the immortality of the soul made death the focus of the samurai. A samurai was to meditate daily upon his own death, visualizing it in many forms and living through each one in his imagination so that, when the time came, he would be prepared to meet any form of death that came to him without fear or regret.

Because their teachings nullified the finality of death, the central tenet of bushido held that a samurai was to uphold his honor at all costs, including that of his life, in the performance of his duty. Duty and honor were sacred principles to the samurai, each dependent on the other. For a samurai to bring shame upon himself or his lord by failing to perform his duty with courage was an unthinkable shame that necessitated the ending of his life by his own hand, a blood atonement for his failure. The practice of seppuku – ritual suicide – is seen as barbaric by our modern culture but was the inevitable end of a disgraced samurai and was seen as the only way to reclaim his honor.

Bushido: The Way of the Warrior

Bushido, the Way of the Warrior, had 8 central tenets or virtues that were expressed by famed Japanese writer Nitobe Inazo in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan.invaluable-bushido-code-virtues-v1B-1

(1) Righteousness – Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. Believe in justice, not from other people, but from yourself. To the true warrior, all points of view are deeply considered regarding honesty, justice and integrity. Warriors make a full commitment to their decisions.

(2) Heroic Courage – Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. A true warrior must have heroic courage. It is absolutely risky. It is living life completely, fully and wonderfully. Heroic courage is not blind. It is intelligent and strong.

(3) Compassion – Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong. They are not as most people. They develop a power that must be used for good. They have compassion. They help their fellow men at every opportunity. If an opportunity does not arise, they go out of their way to find one.

(4) Respect – True warriors have no reason to be cruel. They do not need to prove their strength. Warriors are not only respected for their strength in battle, but also by their dealings with others. The true strength of a warrior becomes apparent during difficult times.

(5) Honesty – When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done. Nothing will stop them from completing what they say they will do. They do not have to ‘give their word’. They do not have to ‘promise’. Speaking and doing are the same action.

(6) Honor – Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves. Decisions they make and how these decisions are carried out are a reflection of whom they truly are. You cannot hide from yourself.

Shoguns

(7) Duty and Loyalty – Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said, and all of the consequences that follow. They are immensely loyal to all of those in their care. To everyone that they are responsible for, they remain fiercely true.

(8) Self-Control – A Warrior’s strong foundation. 

The Legendary Samurai Miyomoto Musashi

Miyomoto Musashi is perhaps the most legendary samurai to have ever existed. Like all legends, concrete details about his early life are difficult to verify, as we must rely on feudal Japanese sources which are incomplete as a historical record. What is known is that, at age 7, Musashi was taken from his home by an uncle and raised in a Buddhist monastery, practicing extreme physical discipline and meditation. Monasteries andMiyamoto martial arts schools were indistinguishable in the days of feudal Japan as it was believed that physical conditioning and martial skill would enhance the meditative practice of the student. At the age of 13, Musashi fought his first duel to the death against a grown man and was victorious, swiftly ending the contest.

At the age of 16, Musashi participated in the Battle of Sekigahara, a pivotal battle between the forces of Western and Eastern Japan, as the country was split at the time. Musashi fought on the losing side of the battle and was severely wounded. Left for dead on the battle field, Musashi survived the ordeal. However, as his lord had been killed in the fighting, Musashi was no longer considered a samurai and instead traveled Japan as a ronin, a warrior with no allegiance to a master.

 To Be Continued…

The Real Reason a Masonic Temple is Called a Lodge

The Real Reason a Masonic Temple is Called a Lodge

Why is a Masonic Temple called a Lodge? This is a very good question; and the correct answer to this question is full of valuable wisdom that is of great and essential importance to Freemasons in particular, and to Philosophers in general. So, let us begin to unravel this mystery so that we can discover some of the useful life lessons that it has in store for us as Philosophers, or as lovers of wisdom.

All students of Freemasonry know that Freemasonry is of a symbolic nature, and that most of the foundational customs and symbols of Freemasons are derived from the work of the stone masons of ancient Egypt and other ancient countries. The universal masonic custom of referring to our temples or meeting places as “lodges” is an example of one of these foundational customs and symbols of Freemasonry that come from ancient stone masonry. Unfortunately, too many students of Freemasonry fail to realize that the soul or spirit of Freemasonry is essentially religious, philosophical, and spiritual. This causes these students to lack knowledge of the true and intended meaning of most of our masonic-lodge.jpgmasonic symbols, and to unknowingly give a false interpretation to not only our symbols, but to Freemasonry as a whole.

This is most often a result of the student limiting his studies to a trash heap of purposely misleading books and articles on the history and subject of Freemasonry that have been published by unqualified, overly pretentious, and overtly biased, self-proclaimed “authorities” on the subject.

However, this lack of a true understanding of Freemasonry is primarily due to the student making the costly mistake of overlooking the significance of the simple fact that the work of ancient stone masonry, which Freemasonry uses as an analogy or symbol of its own work and teachings, was centered around religion and philosophy, which is to say, the worship and study of Mother Nature, ourselves, and the divine.

As the old saying goes, “the true nature of a tree can be known by the kind of fruit it produces,” and the ancient stone masons (not to be confused with brick masons), who were of many different cultures, nationalities, and religions, were the builders and creators of all of the most important buildings of the ancient world, which were the temples and monuments dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses of ancient religion. By overlooking this aspect of the nature of the work of ancient stone masonry, the non-co-masonic student of Freemasonry usually misses the point that Freemasonry is likewise centered around God, the Supreme Architect of the Universe.

operative

The religious, philosophical, and spiritual nature of Freemasonry is the reason as to why the meeting place of any group of Freemasons is called a temple, which is defined in everyday language as being a building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the house or dwelling place, of a God or Gods.

On the other hand, a masonic temple, as was already mentioned, is also called a lodge, and this is because ancient stone masons (who were literally travelers, or “traveling men” and “traveling women,” due to the nature of their work, which often required them to leave behind their families and homes for long220px-Schwind_-_Sabina_von_Steinbach periods of time as they traveled from place to place and worked on various building projects all throughout the country) would always build several temporary houses, called “lodges”, near their work site, which they used as both shelters and workshops.

Although this obviously gives us the superficial reason for which we symbolically call our temples “lodges”, it would be very unwise of us to automatically conclude that this is the reason for this ancient universal custom in its entirety, since we know that Freemasonry is essentially philosophical and spiritual, and uses its symbols as its main method of teaching and expressing important life lessons that are based on timeless philosophical principles and truths. It is therefore very highly likely that the word lodge is a masonic symbol that indirectly expresses a very deep and fundamental lesson for us about the true nature of our existence.

Since the word lodge is synonymous with the word temple in the symbolic language of Freemasonry, we must logically conclude that they both symbolically refer to the human body as the “house” that God lives in. As is said in I Corinthians 3:16 of the Holy Bible, asabovesobelowwhich is another one of the many symbols of masonic philosophy and spirituality: Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God lives in you?

By applying the masonic and hermetic principle of correspondence* (“As within, so without”), which is a universal law of Nature, to the human body, we discover that the human body can be symbolically and very accurately described as being a miniature replica of the Universe, or existence as an infinite whole. This lets us know that the masonic temple, or the masonic lodge, is a symbol of both the Universe and the human body; and this is very powerfully hinted at us in the symbolic description of the lodge in the ritual of Freemasonry’s first degree. Now that we know that the masonic lodge is symbolic of both the Universe and the human body, and that Freemasonry thereby likens or compares the Universe and the human body to a lodge of ancient stone masons, all that remains is for us to figure out why this is so.

Once again, a lodge, by common definition, is a temporary house or home, as opposed to a permanent house or home, which would make a lodge a very fitting symbol of the Universe, since the Universe is not only “the house and home of humanity,” but a temporary house and home for us, as we will not be living in this world forever. We will all, one day, die. But until then, we must continuously come together and unite as luxorskeletonschwallerdiagramFreemasons to do the work of Freemasonry (which is to evolve and perfect humanity) within the “lodge” or “workshop”, meaning within the Universe or world of everyday life. This is perhaps the most basic of all of the valuable life lessons that we are indirectly taught by the masonic lodge being a symbol of the Universe or the macrocosm (the “big Universe”).

When we look at the masonic lodge as being a symbol of the human body or the microcosm (the “little Universe”), we learn an equally valuable life lesson. In the same way that the Universe is a temporary house and home for humanity, so is the human body for the Spirit of God. And just as we must continuously come together and unite as Freemasons to do the work of Freemasonry within the workshop or lodge of the Universe collectively, so must we also do the work of Freemasonry on an equally constant basis individually, within the secret, inner lodge or workshop of ourselves as individuals, thereby achieving balance and harmony between the two opposite poles of selflessness and selfishness within us.

As we can now see, the use of the word lodge as a symbol of Freemasonry contains some very useful and valuable life lessons for us, indeed. So let us take heed. And let us continue to work both collectively and individually, but most important of all, unceasingly, toward the evolution and perfection of humanity.


For a deeper understanding of the masonic and hermetic principle of correspondence, which is mentioned in this article, and to help expand the Great Work of the Masonic Philosophical Society, purchase the book, The Kybalion.

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.

I’m Offended…

I’m Offended…

What is a Masonic Offense? A lot of Masons and Non-Masons have used this term, offense or Masonic offense, in various ways, and in a recent conversation with a friend, this came up as a huge question mark for them. Where does the term offense come from and how is it variously applied?

Offend has varied meanings, from extremely strong (“to strike against”) to the fairly mild (“to be displeasing to.”) It can also mean “to commit an illegal act.” In this case, with a Masonic offense, people are referring to this last designation – to break some law, either written or unwritten. What may surprise non-Masons is that Freemasonry has its own jurisprudence.

The legal system of Freemasonry is governed by its specific degrees and dependent upon the structure of each individual Masonic obedience, for example The United Grand Lodge of England is an obedience, or The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry is another. An article on The Masonic Trowel explains, in broad terms for one obedience (a Grand Lodge structure) what that jurisprudence may be. For obediences that have a Supreme Council structure, the written laws and general customs may be different, as may be Masonic Orders that allow all genders. In fact, technically, each Masonic Order has their own set of rules, regulations, and laws.

Then, one must ask again, what is a “Masonic offense?” It seems to be something that is, in general terms, identified by Masonic authors to be a Masonic crime. Different than public and private crimes, where the laws of the country rule, Masonic crimes have to do with a violation of the duties of a Freemason, to the ritual, the constitutions, the by-laws, and to a Freemason’s moral and literal obligations. In other words, any time a Freemason goes against his consecrated and accepted obligations, the rules of his own order, the instructions of his ritual, or the by-laws of his Lodge, he has committed a Masonic offense. He becomes a potential Masonic criminal, subject to the Masonic punishments his order dictates.

What does a Masonic crime look like? Mackey states, on Page 511 of his Masonic Jurisprudence book, “Disobedience and want of respect to Masonic superiors is an offense for which the transgressor subjects himself to punishment.” In other words, to willfully ignore or counter a superior’s direction is considered a Masonic crime; likewise would be making fun of them, or disparaging their character to others, in private or public. A Freemason may be censured for arguing with another member in a meeting or for being aggressive during a public study session. Freemasons have been expelled from their orders for divorcing their spouses, having personal fights in public, bringing legal actions against other members, or stealing funds from their Lodges. Expulsions happen due to actual physical or verbal abuse. An act committed just once is enough to have Masonic charges brought forward by the offended member or members.

A question recently was posed during a discussion, “Does this apply to actions outside of the Lodge?” In other words, does Masonic jurisprudence stop at the door the Lodge? The answer is an unequivocal “no.”

Freemasons hold themselves to a high moral code. There are no physical boundaries on being a moral and upright human being, one would hope.

The ritual, moral, and constitutional charges to Freemasons interject into every aspect of a Freemason’s life. The rules of the Order and the dictates of the rituals and Lodge heads do not stop once we’re amongst non-Freemasons. In fact, the very fabric of Freemason’s charges, to help the world be a better place, dictates that they must bring Masonic ideals to the public – to non-Masons. This does not mean that they exemplify the positive and ignore the offenses they do while in public. Freemasons obligate a submission to Masonic discipline; this is a 24×7 task and does not end when the Temple lights are turned off.

In a recent article on Indiana Grand Lodge jurisprudence, the author made an argument for a roll-back of some fundamentally silly “Masonic law” involving a bowling team and the use of Lodge names for bowling teams. He asked, “Is this really a rule for High Moral Conduct?” Or course not. He went on, “There is a reason that there are only Ten Commandments. Breaking these rules results in the loss of your soul.” Masonic law should remain “higher” than common, every day public offenses as Freemasons are working to make the common world better. You can only do that if you’re striving to achieve something better than what you already have.

The above author’s solution also included the more rigorous enforcement of Masonic punishment. “Simplification of the rules. Let lodges govern themselves. Yet, enforce them to the letter. Suspensions and trials should be as much of the common lodge landscape as the preverbal fish fry and degree work. We cannot be a society of greatness until we raise the bar and put it back up where it belongs.” I agree.

Culture of the United States tends to shy away from enforcing laws and rules. In general, there is a fear of retribution or loss of membership, or in some cases, rules are enforced on some and not others. This is a societal problem which permeates our consciousness, Freemason or not. People will leave the group if we actually enforce the rules.

Hogwash.

Freemasons become Freemasons to become better. If a Freemason submits himself to Masonic discipline, he submits himself the the jurisprudence of Freemasonry. Why wouldn’t the officers and leaders of the Lodge enforce those rules and laws? Why be afraid of creating a better society? People will leave groups for various reasons and perhaps someone enforcing the rules, like the Lodge leadership, may cause departures. That is to be expected because Freemasonry isn’t for everyone. A Lodge survives these departures because those that remain love Freemasonry and respect its higher purpose. What the Freemason should expect is that his Lodge hold him and all members to a high standard, to challenge their moral compass always, to entrust them to do the right thing, even if it is difficult or troublesome. This fulfills the basic tenant of Freemasonry: the perfecting of humanity.

Hidden Mysteries of Science

Hidden Mysteries of Science

Science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” We all perform scientific acts each and every day. Being aware and present in our actual work, home life, educational pursuits, and leisure all encompass some aspect of “science,” as described above. Do we not learn relationship interaction through observation and experimentation? Of course we do! Do we study others and then experiment with things like cooking, clothing ourselves, cleaning the house, and raising children? Absolutely. Life is science.

And yet… there are the science doubters. The Washington Post did an article, in 2015, on science doubters. Entitled, “Why is Science so Hard to Believe?” the article goes on to discuss confirmation bias, the discipline of the scientific method, and why so many people would rather believe media hype or misinformation from friends rather than actual science. Media is not science and it is not gospel. We consume the media that’s easy to consume rather than do the work for ourselves. It’s easier to doubt than to verify.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has an interesting quote: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” He also said that “the universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” Both of these quotes speak to the hubris of humans – we think we know much more about the word than we really do.

In a quote from an article on National Public Radio, the author quoted his friend, a professor of Jewish philosopher, as saying “science tries to make magic real.” The author goes on to specifically outline activities, now commonplace human activities, as ones that we once thought of as magical, for example, flying. We fly without a second thought; yet, 500 years ago, to say one flew was heresy, possibly leading to death. Other examples are the knowledge of “invisible” animals capable of making humans ill, or being able to see great distances into space (the past) through a telescope. The ability for our phones to “think” and talk with us would have been quite astounding to the medieval mind.

The author continues his journey with the main difference between science and magic: his belief is that the power of magic originates within us, where as science’s power originates outside of humans. Science is a set of immutable laws of the universe. Right?

Well, no. Science updates theories based on knowledge gained from further expressions of the scientific method, and then new theories are postulated. Science is evolving, a never-stagnant set of data that we are constantly testing and proving or disproving. Magic is generally seen as not obeying the laws of nature, being outside of those “rules” or “metaphysical,” as it were. Yet, we’ve all said it: couldn’t what we see as magic just be unexplained scientific laws that we do not understand quite yet?

Why are Freemasons charged to examine and study nature and science? Nature AND science? It seems that it might be because the world is made up of both the understood and the mystery. We have many questions to answer about nature and we use science to get there. Perhaps we could say we have many questions to answer about magic and science is the method. There’s no reason we can’t have wonder and reason hanging out together in our minds. We can appreciate the brilliant stars and the awe of an eclipse and still want to know how it happens. Knowledge does not take away wonder.

I want to believe that perhaps science and magic are part of the same evolutionary cycle – what starts out as magic becomes understood by science, which breeds questions within our curious minds, wonder at something unknown, triggering us to embrace the tools of science to explore. Freemasons get to play in both realms, being co-creators on the path of humanity.

Hidden Mysteries of Nature

Hidden Mysteries of Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Sources:

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

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

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

Huson, Paul. Mastering Witchcraft. Perigee, 1970.

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

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

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

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

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

Traversing Transitions: Where Freemasonry and Tibet Meet

Traversing Transitions: Where Freemasonry and Tibet Meet

“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 could use 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