Dogma, Change, and Freemasonry

Dogma, Change, and Freemasonry

When the Norse arrived in Greenland, in the mid 10th Century, they found a land that was experiencing a global warming trend with green fields, retreating ice floes, and oceans teaming with fish and mammals. They built settlements, farms, and began hunting walrus for the ivory trade and beach-dwelling seals for food. They imported most of their day to day goods: iron, grains, wool, and livestock.

By the end of the 13th Century, the Norse had begun struggling with soil erosion and trade shortfalls.  At this time, the Inuit had arrived, migrating from Canada through Nova Scotia to Greenland, as their drifting whale population and food supply moved through the melting ice. The Inuit enjoyed a thriving culture in Greenland yet had little positive contact with the Norse. The Norse viewed the Inuit as “skaelings” or “wretches.” The Inuit did perform some raids on the Norse and vice versa; however, for the most part they kept apart from each other.

Within a few decades, in the 14th Century, a minor ice age began again, the globe cooled once more due to a volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Grass began to be harder to grow and the continued erosion of the land was impossible to abate. It was more difficult to raise livestock or farm the land and using soil for sod buildings became tougher to gather. The Black Plague had ravaged mainland Europe and while it didn’t hit Greenland, it decimated the population with whom the Greenland Norse traded, particularly Norway. Ivory prices also plummeted due to the more elephant ivory being imported from sub-Saharan Africa. With sources of income drying up, the Norse had no real way to continue to import the goods they felt they needed to survive, primarily iron and livestock.

By the end of the 14th Century, the Greenland Norse had disappeared. The Inuit continued to thrive on the island and thrive there to this day.

What happened?

Dogma happened.

We typically hear dogma in relation to religion and religious teaching, but it is anything which limits our scope of possibilities. Dogma is some principle or set of principles which some authority has set as being unquestionably true. That is the key word: unquestioning. People who are enslaved by dogma rarely realize that they should question what they are doing. Dogma may, or as typical, may not depend on facts. Dogma is that which enslaves us to a belief, not a fact. It also crystallizes our world view and leaves us shut off from possibility.

The Norse could have adapted wholly to their new surroundings. They were not traditional hunters but the climate forced them to learn adapt or die. Yet, they could not bring themselves to become whalers and learn how to navigate the waters in kayaks, which were for the heathen Inuit. They found it impossible to move toward a very different society, one which could have helped them survive and thrive in the changing world conditions. Rather than learn from the Inuit, they chose to remain separate, slaves to their “old ways.”

hvalsey_church_greenland_-_creative_comonsAs we know, “growth and comfort cannot coexist (Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM).” Adaptation is dynamic and evolutionary. It involves shedding skin, ideas, thoughts, language, and sometime rules, mores, and laws. Adaptation and change require a flexible personal philosophy, agile thinking, and the ability to not take change personally. Had the Norse embraced the ways they felt as wretched, they might have created a new culture which encompassed the ideals of both the Inuit and Norse, thereby creating something greater than each was individually. The Roman Empire adapted and changed to the pulse of Christianity, thereby creating one of the most potent theological forces in history; by adaptation, the essence of both survived.

Our current times are rife with chaos and while the banners of Freemasonry proclaim, “Ordo ab Chao,” the final piece of this saying is “Chao ab Ordo.” Change and strife and chaos are necessary to be able to form new order and new ways of thought. A forest fire destroys the substantial, old trees but also brings life to new growth.  Freemasonry as an institution requires both order and chaos to survive. There are those, especially in malecraft Freemasonry, who state that Freemasonry is a dying institution, membership is down, it’s difficult to get interest, or the education of Freemasonry is antiquated. Freemasonry as an entity isn’t and won’t be dying. What is dying is the Freemasonry as they knew of it. And this is good.

I was recently asked, “why do we need all this change? Why do we need a new ritual? Why should we think about how we change our world?” Someone commented recently on another article regarding Freemasonry in Africa, “why would we be in a place where there is so much corruption and hatred?” I say, who better to lead the way in change than those of us who should, could, or would be most able to do it? Isn’t it Freemasons, warriors of Truth, Freedom, and Knowledge, who should set the example?

This isn’t the first time Freemasonry, regardless of the Order or Obedience, has faced change.

During the Morgan Affair, membership in Freemasonry in America dwindled and nearly went extinct in the fires of the Anti-Masonic Political Party. In 1994, Le Droit Humain’s American Federation changed dramatically, with a new name, new structure, and new purpose. Even now, there are conspiracy theories about Freemasons taking over the world or specific governments.

“Over the centuries, masons have gathered in conclaves, meetings, lodges, and congresses–all to debate the changes they faced and the direction they should move. In an earlier period, a rough conglomeration of stand-alone lodges in England organized themselves in a tavern to become the United Grand Lodge of England and the progenitor of American Freemasonry,” states a 2018 malecraft Freemason’s article.

Change comes generally in an era of upheaval, of chaos, on the waves of a stormy ocean. This kind of change requires a different way of thinking than current paradigms. It requires the death of dogma.

Humanity in the 21st Century is at this same cusp of dynamic evolution. In a technologically-vibrant era of #metoo, LGBTQ rights, globalization, world resource constraints, and materialism, humanity hungers for something more than holding fast to outdated and antiquated modes of thinking. Freemasonry must stand at the precipice of that change and be willing to jump. We cannot hold onto rigid words, thoughts, and actions without tolerance and service to the ever-changing needs of humanity. Freemasons are the Chaos and the Order. Freemasons understand that without one there is not the other. They need to understand what chaos and destruction are before they can form new paradigms and thought patterns, thus changing society.

Freemasons represent the totality of possibilities, not simply what we deem “the best” by our own personal standards. Freemasons embody adaptability as well as honor and tradition; they follow a framework of ideals that are the unchanging Truth of Nature as well as variation that is Nature. Changing for change’s sake is ridiculous; change to adapt to the needs of humanity is true evolution. Thoughtful and conscious change moves us all toward the goal of perfecting humanity.

Ordo Ab ChaoWhat happens when you adapt? The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry recently changed its name to The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry, adding United Federation of Lodges. Inboxes and voicemails have overflowed with contacts from around the world, interested in Freemasonry – India, China, Hong Kong, Serbia, Sweden, Greece, Romania and the Congo to name but a few. Groups in England and Lebanon have sought out the Order. There is explosive activity in Costa Rica and interest is peaking all over Latin America. Study centers of the Masonic Philosophical Society, especially online, are full of seekers of knowledge and Truth. Change in technology and format made this happen. Changing the name opened up the possibilities to those who are seeking global comraderies and led them to the Order’s porch. Yet, many were not ready to face this change and raise themselves the possibilities Universal Freemasonry would find. The interaction of these new voices forces Freemasonry’s membership to adapt – to learn new languages, to travel to many places, to challenge their own beliefs about racism, globalism, gender issues, education, family, and morality. Meeting this challenge and change requires tolerance and introspection as well as brotherly love toward all of humanity. Freemasons learn that they are no different from others and that all are sprung from “the same stock.” The Freemason begins to see what the core of his ritual is and learns to exercise his own philosophy applied to that framework. That is growth. That is the shedding of dogma.

So too, ritual adaptations and reinstatements, not innovations, reinvigorate the ideals that Freemasonry preserves and puts them in tune with a modern mind. If Freemason’s primary care is to keep the mysteries, they need to be able to do that with a mindset of being present and current, not reenacting the dogma of what we’ve done in the past.

People leave Freemasonry for one main reason: disappointment. Freemasonry either doesn’t seem relevant, inviting, or current. Perhaps their expectations were not met. Perhaps their expectations were not properly set. While Freemasonry should not adapt to individual preferences and needs, it can and should adapt to the changes in humanity whilst never forgetting its true purpose: keeping the mysteries for the generations to come. What does our world need? What does humanity need? Can we, in keeping with our ideals, assist in that Work?

Freemasonry, and Freemasons, need to focus on the perfecting of all we do – ritual work, service, brotherly relief and agape, as well as maintaining the material aspects of Freemasonry – clothing, regalia, our temples. This doesn’t mean, however, that these outward trappings – clothing, ritual, regalia – will always be the same. It is in how Freemasons go about employing the Craft that should stand the test of time, while adapting to the change without. This adaptation keeps us all flexible and malleable, able to weather the strong tides of hatred, fanaticism, bigotry, and falsehood. It enables us to withstand the fear of chaos and the boredom of order.

darwinartistinresidence“Organisms that possess heritable traits that enable them to better adapt to their environment compared with other members of their species will be more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass more of their genes on to the next generation,” said Darwin.  It should the the focus of Freemasons to be able to pass on that “genetic material” of Freemasonry to the next generation and the one after that by learning to adapt, to think differently and celebrate the change that undoubtedly will come to us all, willingly or not.

Why Alchemy Failed But Didn’t

Why Alchemy Failed But Didn’t

The study of the changing of base metals into gold seems to reach the top favorite of occult topics for many. Steeped in a rich history, all who study it have their various reasons for loving Alchemy and why not? What’s not to like? The idea that one can start out with an imperfect substance and through labor and effort transform it into one of the most precious and perfect metals desired is to be desired itself.

Alchemy has a long history that modern science has reduced into one sentence of otherwise large and heavy textbooks — Alchemy failed.

This statement hardly gives any indication that there were brilliant minds involved in this once noble science. Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were no sycophants or charlatans and they were deeply respected (and still are) for their enormous and varied contributions to science. Why, then, did Alchemy not make the cut? The answer is quite simple — well kind of — Alchemists were playing with the wrong stuff.

Fundamentally and generally speaking Alchemy is based on transformation. This is the process of taking a metal, like lead, and changing it into another metal, such as gold. In order to do this, an alchemist would need to reach into the center of an atom, into its nucleus (or essence if you would like to call it), and add or take away one of its major components: protons.

Protons at the Center of a Nucleus

This is no easy task. Atoms tend to really like their protons right where they are – at their center. This is because the number of protons provides the atom with a level of stability while giving them their identity. For example, hydrogen has one proton, helium has two, lithium has three, and so on. You can imagine how very important protons are. So much so, that atoms protect their nucleus with layers of small but really powerful particles called electrons.

These super tiny subatomic particles are what alchemists were working with back in the day instead of the needed protons. To put it metaphorically, alchemists were working on the peel of an avocado rather than inside the seed. At the height of Alchemy, in the High Renaissance, the existence of protons wasn’t known so alchemists weren’t able to change their tactics to get things right. This is the reason transmutation continually evaded them… and why Alchemy eventually failed. Or did it?

Modern science owes much to Alchemy. If Newton’s statement holds true that he saw further only because he stood on the shoulders of giants, then Chemistry today stands on the shoulders of Alchemy. It is because of Alchemy that advancements in the periodic table took place, that the nature of metals is more thoroughly understood, and the development of the atomic theory progressed from its proto-theories into our current quantum understanding.

Can it be called coincidence that the Father of Chemistry is none other than the beloved alchemist Robert Boyle? I do not believe so. What the alchemists gave us, among other things, is better knowledge of chemical behavior. So did Alchemy fail in its purpose of transmutation? Yes, it did. But it didn’t fail us all together.

An Alchemist in His Laboratory

Imagine an old laboratory room full of musty and sour scents with bubbling concoctions of a variety about it. Sitting at his workbench is a hunched-over bearded man, deep in contemplation as he stares intensely at the flask in front of him. It isn’t a difficult scene to picture but what is harder to imagine are the silent and mysterious thoughts of this unknown man. Why is he looking at the blackened substance with such complexity? With such expectation?

It is because that mass of material represents his very essence, and he doesn’t understand it. Not one bit. You see Alchemy isn’t just about transformations of materials like its successor Nuclear Chemistry. It is about tying one’s personal evolution and transformation to that lump in the flask. This prima materia, as it is called, is the proxy of the alchemist and he will make it undergo numerous experiments. The constant subjecting of the substrate to fire, acid, and time is emblematic of the alchemist unlocking the conditions and behaviors that block him from reaching perfection or the Philosopher’s Stone.

This stone is achieved only through the agony of self-scrutiny and long hours at the workbench. It represents gold or the perfected material and is the ultimate achievement of any alchemist, if accomplished. There is something profound and beautiful about this intense exploration and application. Alchemy is the very symbol of Man realizing that he, at his most basic level, is no more understood than the substrate he has captured in his round bottom flask. And that he can become more than this undefined mound if he truly works for it.

The Alchemist by Sir William Fettes Douglas

Alchemy failed on one level but it has found supremacy on another. There is more than value in trying to understand our human nature through the nature of other things. That value is purpose and we find it through personification. Personification of our universe has been our means of communication with it. The laboratory has been and can be another way we personify our hidden nature. It enlivens our senses like no textbook can. And our senses are the gateway to experience and authentic knowledge.

We should look to Alchemy as a spiritual method of self-discovery and actualization and not a valid empirical science of transmutation. The latter holds no future in its outdated form, but the former holds the potential of all of our greatness.

The Merovingians

The Merovingians

This is the third of a rambling three-part exploration of Middle and Dark Age Europe, birthplace of much myth concerning Western religious and esoteric teachings. Never was myth and make believe more true than with the Merovingians. There is a pain over my left eye when people talk about how the Merovingians were the descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. It begins as somewhat of a sinus headache, moving into full blown brain burn as the person goes on about how it was possible and descendants of Christ are alive and well and are French. They go about this by tying the fish symbology of the early Christians to the name Merovech, assumed founder of the Merovingian dynasty.

Thanks, Dan Brown, And Christopher Knight. And Robert Lomas.

clovis-iIn my younger days, I too went down this path of how-history-gets-corrupted-by-pop-culture and fell down a deep rabbit hole researching the Knights Templar. Inevitably, this lead me to the Cathars and Merovingians, Lomas and Knight, and yes, I was a swirling mess of mythology masquerading as fiction masquerading as fact. Of course it could have happened. Of course. It’s right here on the Internet.

I finally grew up, after a few smackings from real historians, and got on the bandwagon of facts. Like a reformed smoker, I went whole hog into finding out “true” history. My library is a testament to finding a glimmering moment of fact amongst the ashes of primary sources. Primary sources and logical research are the keywords everyone who wants to know about history should revere. The sensational is fun but it certainly isn’t always, maybe usually, true. Another historian and researcher taught me early on that “real history is generally way more interesting than what people make up.” He was right.

With the Merovingians, the history is nowhere near as exciting as most people think. The founder of the dynasty was Merovech, whence the name Merovingians emerges. Merovech was the first to unite the barbarian Franks into a kingdom commonly known as Francia, later France. The Franks were, up until this time, a loose confederation of different tribes, warring as the Roman Empire fell apart. Around 458, Merovech’s son Childric I successfully won ground against the Visigoths, Saxons, and Germanic tribes to unite the Franks into common cause. However, it was his son Clovis I who united most of the northern Franks into a single kingdom to battle against the remaining Romans and Germanic tribes to form Francia. The dynasty continued for three hundred years, when they finally succumbed to inter-kingdom strife, the influence of the Christian Pope, and personal feuds. It wasn’t a particularly glorious end to a long-ruling empire; it was more a very human one.

frenchkingsMany people believe that the beginning of the country of France began with Clovis uniting all of the different Frankish tribes under his rule, and he set the tone for how the future of France would evolve. Hence, the Merovingian dynasty has a place in the heart of the modern French psyche. It’s no wonder that a strong, late 20th century mythology built on a hoax would stir the French as well as the rest of the world.

Pierre Plantard, in the mid-20th Century C.E., created a hoax which involved forged documents, a “secret” of regal lineage, and co-conspirators that would make even the best con man proud. Over the course of thirty plus years, Plantard promoted an organization named the Priory of Sion, purported to  have created the Templars, discovered hidden documents found in Rennes-le-Château proving the bloodline of Christ was really Merovingian, amongst other things. The entire setup was an elaborate hoax that perpetuated until the late 1990’s when the entire fraud was brought to light. Not before, however, several “historians,” fiction writers, and even “60 Minutes” were dragged into strengthening this mythology.

Books like “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” and “The DaVinci Code” have perpetuated and sensationalized the stories until the claims have become a little insane. Rennes-le-Château was in the heart of Cathar territory and claims about the Church of Mary Magdalene increased the myth. As we discussed previously, the Cathars revered Mary Magdalene, so it is no surprise that there is a church in her honor in the Cathar “homeland.” By tying the mythology of the Merovingian fish, an elaborate birth tale of Merovech’s parents being part woman and part sea God, the idea was this must be a secret message that the Merovingians were tied to the lineage of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene, who brought herself and the Christ’s unborn child to France when Jesus was killed. You add to this the spice that Mary must have carried the Holy Grail, or that she was the Holy Grail, sprinkle it with a few false documents and true biblical references, and you have the makings of a great feast of fiction and conspiracy theory.

Killjoy, I hear you say.

Let’s just say, I think the facts make a much better story. We don’t need to sensationalize to get a good dose of interesting intrigue and human strife, tragedy, and hope. The Merovingians were an interesting story unto themselves, having been really the first rulers of a modern France. They established cultural identity that lives to this day and can be seen in the remnants of laws, mores, architecture, and language. They established a rule that was the precursor to feudalism and were strong supporters of the early and medieval Catholic Church. Dozens of Merovingians were prominent church leaders and/saints. The Merovingians were the seeds of a long and deep nationalism that affects world thought today. This is why they are really to be remembered and discussed.

Meister_des_Sakramentarium_Gelasianum_001Freemasons search for truth and in their own origins, I would think they would search hardest. There are elements of the Knights Templar, the Cathars, and even the Merovingians in the foundation stones of Freemasonry. How could there not be? These were groups whose ideas and ideals were radical for their time; groups of people who formed new ways of being and thinking in their time periods, from the early 5th Century all the way through the late Middle Ages. Rebels. Mold breakers. Liberators. For people who are themselves trying to change the world for better, I can’t really think of better icons.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” – Colton

Who Were the Cathars?

Who Were the Cathars?

Whenever the Templars are mentioned, the Cathars are generally not far behind. Tied together with some interesting data and facts, they tend to be the focus of intense esoteric and mystical knowledge. Taking a look at them with the facts we have may answer questions, or create deeper ones.

The Cathars were the followers of a 12th to 14th C.E. Gnostic movement in Southern France and Italy. This movement, Catharism, comes from the Greek word katharoi, or “Pure Ones.” Scholars agree that the people who practiced this religion did not call themselves by this name; in all honesty, it seems unclear what they did call themselves except “The Good Christians.” The movement first took hold in the small town of Albi, in France, and the followers were also known as the Albigensians, especially to the CatholicsThe ideas of Catharism were around for centuries before this larger movement took place, and possibly has its roots in what is called Paulicianism.

In the Paulicianism belief system, the adherents do not believe in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and in fact believe that Jesus was “adopted” by God to be his “son” and endure the necessary trials. Paulicianism was vibrant around the 7th to 9th centuries C.E., particularly in Armenia. Cathars, like the Paulicians, primarily believed in a dualistic Christian system, wherein the were two “Gods,” one good, one evil, as well as deeper Gnostic concepts. The basic tenants of the Cathar religion seem to have come from a single priest, Bogomil, during the First Bulgarian Empire in the 10th century C.E. as a response to the rise of feudalism. In other words, the oppression and slavery of Feudalistic ideas spurred this priest and his followers toward a mindset of individual freewill and worth. Like later Cathars, Bogomilism did not believe in the ecclesiastical hierarchy nor did they believe in the need for church buildings. In a sense, Bogomils, and then Cathars, were an itinerant religion, spread by men and women of the church elite – Travelers.

Most of their beliefs were radical to a still-struggling Catholic Church, and in a time prior to Luther, Catholic ideas were the only “Christian” meal to be had. The church had struggled for over a thousand years to get itself “right,” and it did not need yet one more renegade group to get in its way. Cathars believed in reincarnation of humans and animals, and did not eat the flesh of animals for this reason. They had a vibrant tradition in their troubadours, and were traveling craftsmen of many trades. Men and women were mainly seen as equals, although it is thought that their last incarnation needed to be male in order to be “close to God.” Their Good God was the creator of all that was spiritual, ethereal and thought, while the Evil God was the creator all that was material. They did not believe in hell, it being the earth in which we currently live, but heaven was populated by angels and spirits performing the will of the Good God. By living their aesthetic life, they believed themselves to be the truest Christians, where the Catholic Church was a corruption of all of the Christian teachings.

Cathars had two levels of knowledge, for lack of a better term, to distinguish the teachers from the lay follower. Know as “Perfects,” or “Parfaits,” both men and women could be come one of the elites and were both known to travel and spread the doctrine. This seems to mimic some of the early Christian sects, who also adopted from the Cult of Mithras, Bacchus, and a few other mystery schools.

What is important to note as that for the first 500 to 700 years of its life, Christianity was nowhere near the juggernaut that it became in the 14th to 19th centuries. Out of the remains of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church rose to reinvent itself to be that empire once again, using religion instead of soldiers to find its way. There was not just one Council of Nicaea but seven over the course of 400 years.

The doctrine of the church was not set in stone – more like several tributaries that were flowing to a single great river. It took hundreds of years and thousands of theological discussions to get to where it is today – still fragmented but fairly solid. It is in the period of the Bogomils and Cathars that we see the Catholic Church coming into its own power, and asserting its right as the divine authority over layman and royalty alike all through Western Europe. It is also important to remember that this was a time before Luther – before the idea that the human could come to God in other ways and not via their connection to a priest. At this time, the spiritual afterlife of every person lay in the hands of the Catholic Church.

Clearly, the Catholic Church had money. And royalty. There was not much that was going to get in the way of it becoming the dominant force in Western Europe. In fact, many new ideas of suppression were tried on the Cathars, tools the Catholic Church would further expand as it moved through Europe imposing its will. The Catholic Church did see the Cathars as a heretical sect; yet, they debated whether they were even Christians. Either way, they could not survive.

In 1208, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade on the Albigensian region of Languedoc, which was not part of France at the time but its own kingdom. Known as the Albigensian Crusade, or later by the name of Cathar Wars, the killing of human beings was indiscriminate. Many Catholics, Jews, and Cathars died in these wars. This genocide bred the first use of the now-common phrase, “Kill them all. God will know his own.” This was the first time a crusade had been waged within the confines of conventional Western Europe, and by all accounts the Catholic Church called it a success. This was followed by what would be called the first Inquisition, whereupon torture and death were used to force conversation back to the true religion, Catholicism. The Crusade itself was ended in 1244, the date when the castle at Montsegur fell to the crusaders. The Inquisition continued well into the 14th century. The last known Cathar elite (called Perfect, as was their custom) was burned there in 1321 C.E..

Cathars did continue to exist in hiding and by all accounts, had eventually died off as a continuing sect. There are some who believe that that elements of the Cathar religion rose with Luther and Protestantism but there are no real supporting documents or links to this supposition.

Additionally, there was and is a supposition that the Cathars held a secret “treasure” which was spirited away prior to the fall of Montsegur; no evidence has been found of this treasure, although some believe it is knowledge rather than an actual treasure. There is also an idea that this treasure went to the Knights Templar, who were just being formed. Indeed, the one link between the Templars and the Cathars was Bernard of Clarvaux, later St. Bernard. Bernard is seen to have held some of the same ideas of the Cathars, even if he did see them as heretics to be eradicated. He had continued correspondence with a bishop of the Cathars and indeed visited. Bernard was also prominent in bringing the worship of the Virgin Mary to popularity, which was in keeping with Cathar beliefs.

The Cathars were and are an interesting off-shoot of the Christian religion from its earliest days, and it is a shame that not more of its own writings exists. Many have speculated if the Cathars still exist and if so, in what form. It may just be a single, dead branch of a tree that has its roots in far older and mysterious teachings. There are a few books about the Cathars; the one by Malcom Barber, who also wrote about the Templars, is interesting and factual. There is also another book about a woman who remembers her past life as a Cathar, in the 13th century C.E., titled “The Cathars and Reincarnation,” by Arthur Guirdham. It is relatively short with some descriptions of places and drawings associated with them. It is an entertaining read, and will leave it up to the reader to validate their own beliefs about the teller’s story. There is also a very thorough website, which has a lot of great references for anyone who wants to know more.

The Nature of Fractals – Part I: The World Around Us

The Nature of Fractals – Part I: The World Around Us

Man continually seeks deeper understanding of the world around him. From the deepest reaches of space, to the depths of our oceans, to the smallest particle, Humanity seeks to gain ever more profound insight into this world we all experience together. However, what if the clues to gaining some insight into our existence lie right before our eyes?

As I journey through my life, it continues to amaze me how complex and yet simple our existence really is. Humans have a remarkable ability to discern patterns. Repeating patterns are a phenomenon seen throughout nature, such as the fractal. Could our ability to discern those patterns and their existence be an indication of deeper truths for this reality?

Example of a Fractal

A fractal is defined as a “natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” No matter what magnification the observer uses, the same pattern is evident, just at a larger or smaller scale depending on the magnification used. The Mandelbrot Set is one such fractal and is illustrated to the left. Mandelbrot described the fractal as “…a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole…” (New World Encyclopedia, n.d.)

One example of a fractal is seen in a hyperbolic fractal tessellation. A tessellation is a closed, countable set of tiles arranged so that they do not overlap with a repeating pattern. They essentially form a two-dimensional shape within the Euclidian Plane. A hyperbolic fractal tessellation combines the traits of a tessellation and a fractal in a manner similar to the illustration at the right.

Fractals can be seen in our daily lives. The manner in which this article was assembled has fractal patterns – start at the highest level, build a framework (outline), select one of the subsections and write to that, inserting a sub-framework around which the words are assembled, repeat until the depth of detail desired is reached. The antennas used in cell phones are fractal in design as well. This design was selected to solve an early problem with cell phones – the large number of different frequencies each phone had to receive. The length of an antenna must be a whole fraction of the wavelength of the signal for the signal to be received. Dr. Nathan Cohen discovered in 1988 that an antenna designed as a fractal could receive multiple signals because a fractal antenna realized antennas of multiple different lengths, either matching or a whole fraction of the wavelengths of the received signals.

Fractal Pattern in Nature

Fractals are ubiquitous throughout nature as well. From a certain perspective, the fractal antenna above was successful because it replicated the concept seen in nature. Some of the more commonly seen fractals include trees and ferns. For trees, think about how the trunk is the base for multiple large branches, which form the foundation for smaller branches, so and so forth to the leaves at the end of the smallest branches. Certain sea shells also exhibit a fractal pattern. You may wonder why natural systems behave in this manner. As quoted from Dr. David Pincus:

Essentially, fractal systems have many opportunities for growth, change and re-organization. Yet they also are very robust. They maintain their coherence; they hold together well, even under tough circumstances. They are balanced in this respect, between order and chaos. They are simple, yet also very complex. This balance is often referred to as “criticality.”

And the term “self-organized” is often added because systems tend to become fractal on their own, simply by putting a lot of system components together and allowing them to exchange information. Think of a party. All you need to do is come up with enough people at the same place and time and they will start to form complex patterns of connection with one another.”  (Z.McGee, n.d.) I like to think that fractals are so complex that they are simple.

Fractal Pattern in the Brain

It turns out that the brain is fractal, both in the way it is organized physically and functionally. On the physical level, at the smallest scales are the pyramidal neuron, which is the most common neuronal structure in the brain. These form into cortical columns, consisting of numerous pyramidal neurons. Finally, the Columnar Complex consists of a number of cortical columns. All of these structures exhibit branching both into and out of the arrangement.  (The Fractal Brain Theory, n.d.)

Indeed, illustrations of the neuron and its surroundings depict a fractal type of construction. Even the way the brain works is fractal in nature. Psychologists discovered in recent years that behavior patterns and social behavior adhere to those principles. So Humanity exhibits a fractal nature from the smallest to the most gross scale, which may explain our connectivity to Nature itself. One author describes this connectedness as “broadband connectivity” and explains how that may be related to our consciousness.  (Ph.D., 2009)

 

With Passion

With Passion

I recently attended a Masonic Philosophical Society discussion about compassion – what was it, what is it, and how did it get from there to here. In the course of the discussion, many people discussed kindness and manners but little discussion about compassion took place.

The word comes from the roots of ‘with’ and ‘passion.’ The modern, Webster’s version of the word means, “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” As language evolves, and many of the things that philosophers study are dusty with age and wear, it was important to see where the word began. From its Latin beginnings through Old French, the word actually meant “suffer with.” From the 14th Century C.E. backward, the word is associated with suffering. To look at meanings, suffering and sympathy/concern are two wholly different experiences. What is interesting is the the word “suffer” also comes from the Old French, in about the same time period as compassion, and the word originally meant “the be under the burden of something, to ensure, to hold up.” The word sympathy shows up much later in vocabulary, around 1570, and is of two Greek roots – “together” (sym) and feeling (pathos).

compassionrockIn his book, “Sympathy: A History,” author Eric Schliesser puts the confusion between sympathy and compassion to rest. He breaks down, right in the introduction, the differences between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Sympathy and empathy, which are often confused for one another, are different breeds. Empathy, a word from the 12th century C.E., was created, the author states, to describe the German concept of Einfuhlung, or the state of entering into someone else’s feelings. That is, in empathy, the person is actually “in” the emotions of others, whereas with sympathy, the person experiencing it is recreating what their imagination can create, from the building blocks of society, family, and learned experience. The person in sympathy is not actually feeling the same emotions as the person conveying the experience.

So, the question bears asking: are compassion and empathy related? How can one suffer without actually feeling the suffering?

The Chopra Center has an interesting distinction for the word compassion. They state:

“When you’re compassionate, you’re not running away from suffering, you’re not feeling overwhelmed by suffering, and you’re not pretending the suffering doesn’t exist. When you are practicing compassion, you can stay present with suffering.”

In other words, you need to have both empathy and sympathy to be able to motivate yourself to compassion. Compassion is also action; it is the desire to relieve the suffering of the other person with real and meaningful work.

pairThe interesting difference between kindness and compassion is in the suffering. It is kind to hold the door open for people. It is compassionate to bring someone into your home and away from the cold. Kindness involves a gentle mindset and may be necessary for compassion; however, compassion demands more. It demands action that is substantial enough to relieve true suffering, a true burden. It’s not taking the burden off someone’s shoulders, or living the pain with the person. That achieves nothing. It is not only lifting the burden with someone but working on ways to bring the cause of the suffering to an end. The compassionate person has distance from the emotional weight and can therefore see more clearly what may be accomplished. In conjunction with the other, that clear-headed person can provide a guide through the suffering.

Compassion requires a higher thought, a higher attention to the greater good. It also seems to require an integrated person – someone who can truly see the person in all their different forms and deliver what is required. Compassion isn’t kindness.

Kindness is a quality of being gentle and generous. Empathy is the ability to actually feel the suffering of another, while sympathy is the ability to imagine that suffering. Compassion takes all of those facets and creates an action plan. We might equate kindness with the physical, empathy with the emotional, sympathy with the mental, and compassion with the spirit, if we were breaking this down in the sense of human experience. The highest emotion, in this human drama, then, is compassion. It requires the most energy, delivering the most gain. In other words, sometimes the kindest, and toughest act of compassion may appear to be harsh of difficult for the person to achieve. Saying “no” to the alcoholic is compassionate, as is saying “no” to the person who always wants the answer. Telling the intelligent person that their poor work is the result of laziness is kindness, empathy, and sympathy rolled up into a greater purpose – it is compassion. Enablement is not compassion: it is destruction.aroundcompassion

Freemasonry teaches you how to act but not how to think or feel. Freemasons are regularly taught to be kind and compassionate, yet subdue strong emotions in favor of thoughtful discourse.

Freemasonry also teaches you to act instead of standing on the sidelines and watching and simply thinking about a thing. Freemasonry provides opportunities for its adherents to be able to speak openly and view themselves authentically. Everyone requires a second set of eyes and experiences to become better, and it is in the bonds of fraternal love that compassion can be delivered. It requires different thought than the general society. It expects the Mason to not only learn to be compassionate but also to be able to receive that compassion. It becomes a true bond of fraternity, when honesty is the cement that not only binds us but supports us.

Are Freemasons perfect? Not by a long shot. It is in the compassion found in fraternal bonds that Masons can become better human beings and thereby better members and examples in the larger society.

The Templar Fate: A Primer

The Templar Fate: A Primer

On Friday, October 13, 1307, the French King, Philip (Philip IV) the Fair, arrested and charged with heresy the various knights, monks, and households of the Knights Templar, in defiance of the then-current Pope Boniface VIII’s authority. Thus begins the most famous or infamous, depending on your belief, trial of Medieval times: the trial of the Knights Templar, or the Poor-Fellow Soldiers of Jesus Christ.

The Order of the Knights Templar was beholden only to the Pope as was set out in their formal inception as a military-sacred order in 1129 C.E. at the Council of Troyes. The Knights had a strict Rule of Order, written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, emphasizing chastity, obedience, and poverty. Originally charged with guarding the pilgrims who came to a newly-won Christian Jerusalem, the knights performed further duties over the course of their approximately 190 years of existence: they fought in the Crusades, took in younger sons of nobles and trained them in monastic and chivalric duties, and acted as monetary brokers to the pilgrims. Due to the interest in securing the Holy Land for pure Christian purposes, many European nobles and royalty gave large sums of money, younger sons, and land to the Order, who also acted as bankers for several members of royalty.

jacquesAt the time of their arrest, the Templars were one of the richest organizations in Christendom. They were money changers and deposit bankers, one of the largest religiously sanctioned banking functions in the Middle Ages. Being beholden to the Pope, and only the Pope, did not hurt their lofty status; they were answerable to no King or Duke, ostensibly working for all of the Christian faith. That is, they had little temporal control over their comings and goings. This apparent secrecy hurt them, in the end, as false charges were difficult to disprove. Yet, their status as protectors of pilgrims never wavered, even when the Crusades were beginning to fail. As Christians lost control of the Holy Land to other religions, the Templars pulled back their protection efforts yet still retained their status as bankers and pious warrior monks.

This was a group that did not know how to reinvent itself. Indeed, their last Grandmaster, Jacques de Molay, was seen as both pious and inefficient. Lacking vision, the Grandmaster pushed for a new crusade as their original charter dictated, perhaps to the Order’s detriment. There was tremendous political upheaval within the Catholic church, and this entered the period of the French papacy, puppets of the French royalty. There are some scholars who believe the Knights Templar lost their humility and shifted the way of the powerfully rich, feeling that money and their connection to the Pope would save them from all political or temporal concerns.

placa_en_el_lugar_de_ejecución_de_jacques_de_molayIn the end, we have to rely on contemporary reviews of medieval writings, from everyone but the Templars, on their motivations and defense. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of contemporary writings about the Knights Templar, with nearly as many theories of “why” and “what.” Grand schemes involving treasures and magic have surfaced with little substantiation behind them. The truth can be found, we hope, in the primary resources and period writings. At least in part.

From his book, “Trial of the Templars,” Malcolm Barber seeks to lay out how the Templars met their downfall. From the introductory material, we read:

The Templars fought against Islam in the Crusader East for nearly two centuries. During that time the original small band grew into a formidable army, backed by an extensive network of preceptories in the Latin West. In October 1307, the members of this seemingly invulnerable and respected Order were arrested on the orders of Philip IV, King of France, and charged with serious heresies, including the denial of Christ, homosexuality and idol worship. The ensuing proceedings lasted for almost five years and culminated in the suppression of the Order. The motivations of the participants and the long-term repercussions of the trial have been the subject of intense and unresolved controversy, which still has resonances in our own time.

Barber first published this book in 1978, with a second edition in 2006, one year before the Vatican released the official documents they had on the Templar trials. More on this below. Barber endeavors to explain in clear terms what was going through the minds of the main players of the story. For those who are interested in a scholarly rather than sensational approach to the story, this is the goto accessible book. You can download a copy from Academia.edu Much of the downfall of the Templars, their “secrets,” are very fanciful ideas with no supporting evidence. Sensationalized by “The Da Vinci Code,” among other media, the facts regarding who the Templars were, what they achieved, and what ultimately led to their downfall have been somewhat lost.

philippe_iv_le_belAs to the reason for the arrests and trial, two theories reign. The first is that the Templars were arrested on the charge of Heresy as that is the only charge that could force the organization to deliver all its material wealth to the regional authorities: in this case, Philip IV in France. Philip was broke, after having seized monies from all his available sources and this source, the Knights Templar, were the last richest group he could possibly tap. Having some control over the Pope afforded Philip the ability to take the step of arrest without the Pope’s approval. The Pope attempted to control the situation by issuing the arrest warrants for all Templars throughout Christendom, and force the trials to be run by the Papacy rather than the regional monarchs. This did little to help the Order survive as the defaming, true or not, caused a general apathy towards the original goal of the Knights Templar.

The second theory for the arrest is slightly less supported, although also possible. In this second theory, Philip was being fed information about the Templar’s heresy by French members of the Order. Philip was known as a devoted Catholic and husband, and when his wife died, he turned his bitterness into hate for the Templars’ supposed heresy. In this single-minded desire to rid France of all things un-Christian, he issued the arrest for what he deemed to be a heretical group living in his domain, a reason for God to punish his household and kingdom. Whether money factored into this decision or not is not known.

Ultimately, we only have the few written documents of the time to try to suss out what really happened. Barber’s conclusion is that whatever the reason for the arrests and subsequent trial, the forces which brought down the Knights Templar were external, not a glaring internal insufficiency.

saint-bernard-of-clairvaux-10For people who are really interested in how the Templars began, a copy of the work of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, The Rule of the Knights Templar, can be had from your bookseller. St. Bernard was a leading theologian of his time, attending popes and royalty alike. His rule came out of the work he did in the Council of Troyes, and became the ideal of the chivalric orders. The book is a dry read but it does outline what it meant to be a warrior and a monk, a new professional and religious vocation in medieval society. Another book written by Bernard and edited by historian Malcolm Barber, is “In Praise of The New Knighthood: A Treatise on the Knights Templar and the Places of the Holy Land.” In this second book, St. Bernard gives us an expose on the ideals of the warrior-monk life and how this new medieval knight serves the greater good.

In early 2007, the Vatican announced that the papers regarding the trial of the Templars had been found, and in October of that same year, they published 799 copies of “Processus Contra Templarios” or the Processes Against the Templars. In this book are contained copies of original manuscripts and papal bulls, decrees, and transcripts of everything the Church would allow published of the Templar trial. It can still be found for sale, at prohibitive sums; it would be a good solid read for any true scholar of the chinon_parchmentTemplars if it could be found available to the public.  One can hope that the Vatican, someday, releases it to a far wider audience. Some scholars on academia.edu’s reference site have placed papers about the Templars, some of them referencing this Vatican book, including one treatise on the Chinon Parchment, the written conclusion of absolution of the charges of heresy against the Order written by the then-pope, Clement V and the college of cardinals. “The document contains the absolution Pope Clement V gave to the Grand Master of the Temple, friar Jacques de Molay and to the other heads of the Order, after they had shown to be repented and asked to be forgiven by the Church; after the formal abjuration, which is compelling for all those who were even only suspected of heretical crimes, the leading members of the Templar Order are reinstated in the Catholic Communion and readmitted to receive the sacraments.”

What began in glory ended in sadness and death. The Rule of the Order, and many of the moral tenants live on today in Freemasonry, if perhaps a shadow of what they were. Freemasons endeavor to lead a nobly simple life, focusing on Service rather than reward. Additionally, there are groups of Freemasons who participate in rituals dedicated to the Knights Templar and continue to work toward the ideals of the original Templars.

For hundreds of years, the Knights Templar seemed to be a shamed group, shrouded in mystery and falsehood. Now, after seven hundred years, the Order of the Templars are absolved of their heresy and can rest an eternal, peaceful sleep of justice.

Egregore and Freemasonry

Egregore and Freemasonry

Egregore (also egregor) is a collection of thoughts put forth from a group mind. That is a simplistic explanation of a complex concept – at least to me. Psychologically speaking, an egregore is that “atmosphere” or “personality” that develops among groups independent of any of its members. It is the feeling or impression you get when walking into a restaurant, store, or neighborhood that something feels… different. It’s not wrong or odd, just… different. Whatever that feeling is, it is the entity’s “egregore.”

“The word “egregore” derives from the Greek word egrégoroi meaning “watchers.” The word appears in the Septuagint translation of the Book of Lamentations, as well as the Book of Jubilees and the Book of Enoch. Gaetan Delaforge, in Gnosis Magazine in 1987, defines an egregore as a kind of group mind which is created when people consciously come together for a common purpose.” Think of groups coming together to build something, like Habitat for Humanity, or like the feeling of a synagogue that prays together for a common cause. Even those examples might not be quite right. It’s more of the feeling that comes from doing the work in a group, of like-minded people. Being in the midst of the common mind working for a specific purpose, which feels powerful. Transformative, even. Egregore implies, by its definition, spending time and energy to create something.

BeehiveThis word, egregore, came up recently in a conversation with a fellow Mason, and I wondered at its true meaning. It isn’t a word in my everyday vocabulary and not one I had heard or used more than maybe once. It was time to brush up. I found an astounding number of occult meanings and, to be frank, made up ones as well. The word was first used by Victor Hugo, and the root is noted above. But, the idea of egregore is, I think, difficult to put into exact words. It’s kind of like other concepts of “good” and “bad” – you may not have the adequate words but you know it when you see it. Egregore is similar: We might “know” what it means and we have seen it, and felt it, in action. Yet, saying the meaning of the word, as a feeling, feels, frankly, a little “woo-woo.” A little fluffy, new-agey, and weird. Yet, all of us knows that it does exist.

There are some who feel that an egregore is an entity unto itself; the being is a collection of spiritual, emotional, and mental energies put forth by a group of people with a single purpose in mind. We don’t know that it has a consciousness of its own; rather, it could be that it ebbs and flows as the group “moves” through its work. In well-done ritual, the egregore can be felt moving among the members of whatever group is working toward the goal.

In Freemasonry, we might think of egregore, as the pinnacle of a Freemasonic ritual: all members working together to achieve the goal of promoting the best welfare of humanity, combating ignorance and hate, and striving to bring beauty and wisdom into the light. Think of any ritual, religious or otherwise, that felt incredible and think of what made it feel that way – THAT is egregore. I think that Leadbeater alluded to it in “The Science of the Sacraments” in his discussions about censing the Church space.

A Masonic blogger, E.C. Ballard, wrote the following, “So, what does any of this have to do with Freemasonry? The symbols, rituals and meetings of a group, when repeated over time, develop an egregore or group mind which binds the members together, harmonizes, motivates and stimulates them to realize the aims of the group, and enables the individual members to make more spiritual progress than if they worked alone.”  This is why, perhaps, all symbols have meaning – more than the one we discern from their location or use in Lodge, church, or temple. We smell the ritual incense and this brings our hippocampus to a place of Order and Structure – the temple or church room. It’s the shivers we all get up our spines during any initiatory ceremony, when certain names or elements or musical sounds are invoked. The Freemason’s ritual, by its very nature, followed correctly creates this egregore.

ocsmpgfuiyogwpwowghuThis is really what I mean about being able to identify a Masonic egregore. I once wrote, in a personal essay, “I don’t know exactly how Freemasonry works, but it does work. I am a far better person today than I was before, by applying Masonic principles and being open to learning. Had those two things not come together, Freemasonry would not have worked.” So, for me, egregore is the “work” achieved by a group mind, coupled with the willingness to receive that work. Sounds remotely like discipline, doesn’t it?

Interestingly enough, both group mind and willingness are addressed by the structure of Freemasonry. First, the willingness to work, well, that’s a given. Members come to the group of their own free will, and they can leave of their own free will. Freedom of choice is the purest example of a willingness to work. If we don’t want to do the work, learn the lessons, or put in time, why do we stay? We shouldn’t. Freemasonry doesn’t or shouldn’t bend to our will. It’s not about us. It’s about us conforming to the rules and regulations and more than that, being willing to be honest with ourselves about being there. If we’re not willing to submit to Masonic discipline, why the heck are we there? Why spend the money, time, and effort to attend? It’s far better for the individual and the group if the person chooses one way or the other and then just does it.

masonicsymbolsThe second item suggesting egregore, creating the group mind, is far more difficult to qualify. In contemporary articles on leadership, there is a concept called emotional intelligence. “Emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) is the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal(s).” The term has been thrown around psychologists for fifty years but it has only recently (1990s) been the subject of business and leadership roles. The basic premise is this: in order to build effective teams, everyone must be working at their highest level of emotional intelligence, which develops trust, and eventually creates a team that is able to do anything towards which they put their minds and efforts.

Emotional intelligence develops “corporate culture”, which is like Masonic egregore.  The ritual brings a physical demand in our lives; study and philosophical discussions bring mental stimulation. Many forget the emotional component to Freemasonry and that is emotional intelligence – how we dispense justice, how we reprehend, our voices when speaking with people – things the ritual instructs us in on how to live. By combining the first two, physical discipline with study and mental exertion, with the third, well-regulated emotions, we get Freemasonic egregore. At least, it appears that way. Maybe the concept of the “Lodge” or maybe even “Freemasonry” is itself an egregore.

I think we have to test this Masonic egregore theory for ourselves. How does Lodge make us feel? How does well-rehearsed ritual sound and express itself? Do we feel satisfied when the pieces work well together? How do we feel when they don’t? How does it feel to stand in a Lodge room alone? What about with other members? What happens when there are three people attending a meeting versus fifteen? What happens to the Lodge when one or two members are not “hooked in” and trusting the Lodge, the Master, or the Order?

egregore-groupWith Freemasonry, it feels as if one needs to be “all in” in order to even start to build a true Masonic Lodge: a curated collection of people coming together in a thriving and growing group that finds, eventually, its own brilliant egregore. Perhaps that is what we are searching for and why Freemasonry appeals to us human beings. The mystical experience that some members hope to find is really this egregore that, in some ways, we are all hoping to find. We all want to make a place in the world – leave our mark or our legacy. As Freemasons, that is a better humanity. Masons seem to be searching for that community that brings us hope, trust, and peace. Finding it takes a lot of work, it seems. Touching the egregore for a moment provides perhaps a brief insight into what the Divine really is like.

Freemasonry’s Approach to Critical Thinking: Bald’s Leechbook and the Superbug MRSA

Freemasonry’s Approach to Critical Thinking: Bald’s Leechbook and the Superbug MRSA

When we encounter what seems impossible, the solution can often be found where we might least expect it. By expanding search parameters to include information that appears paradoxical or unconventional, we can create a shift to innovation. To many, the concept of mining ancient medical texts for cures to modern diseases might seem like a waste of time. One woman’s curiosity, however, led her to do just that. When she joined forces with other open-minded researchers, they were shocked to discover that one ancient recipe was uniquely effective on the modern superbug, MRSA.

The MRSA Problem

During the past four decades, the public health impact of antibiotic-resistant bacteria has evolved from a controllable nuisance into a serious concern. Staphylococcus aureus or “staph” bacteria commonly live on our skin and in our environment, however, they can get inside the body and cause serious infections. When common antibiotics cease to kill the staph bacteria, this type of staph is referred to as MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).

The symptoms of MRSA depend on the infection site. In the majority of cases, MRSA causes mild infections on the epidermis, like sores or boils.  However, the bacteria can also lead to serious infections of surgical wounds, the bloodstream, the lungs, or the urinary tract. Allowed to develop into mature growths, MRSA infections can become deadly. MRSAthreatInfographicCDC Perhaps the most worrisome component of the bacteria is that it is spread by contact: touching another person or objects that have the bacteria on them.

Referred to by scientists as a modern superbug, MRSA has become a worldwide problem due to the inability of antibiotics to effectively treat the bacteria. Epidemiological studies in the United States and Canada demonstrate a 17 percent increase in reported MRSA cases over an eleven year period beginning in 1995. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 94,000 people developed their first invasive MRSA infection in the United States in 2005. Of the 94,000 infected, 19,000 of the infected individuals died.

Acknowledged by the CDC as ‘public health’s ticking time bomb,’ antibiotic resistance threatens to return our world to the time when simple infections proved fatal. A 2014 study commissioned by the U.K.’s Prime Minister reported that by the year 2050, antibiotic resistant infections are expected to kill 10 million people each year, which is more than currently die from cancer. In response to this growing crisis, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget requested a doubling of the amount of U.S. federal funding for combating and preventing antibiotic resistance to mDoctorLeeore than $1.2 billion.

The Innovative Solution

Dr. Christina Lee had an idea. A Professor in Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham, she was curious as to whether remedy’s from an ancient medical text, Bald’s Leechbook, might prove effective against modern diseases. Containing Anglo-Saxon recipes for medicines, salves, and treatments, Bald’s Leechbook is one of the earliest known medical textbooks, which is thought to originate from the 10th Century.

With her translation of Bald’s Leechbook, Dr. Lee turned to her colleague, Dr. Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the university. Together with other researchers from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, the team decided to recreate an “eye salve” recipe from the text that listed two species of allium (garlic, leek, or onion), wine, and oxgall (bile found in the stomach of a cow). The recipe included precise instructions for the concocting of topical solution, includEyeSalveRemedying the use of a brass vessel for brewing and a specific type of purifying strainer. The mixture was then to be left for nine days before use.

“We recreated the recipe as faithfully as we could. The Bald gives very precise instructions for the ratio of different ingredients and for the way they should be combined before use, so we tried to follow that as closely as possible,” said microbiologist, Freya Harrison, who led the work in the lab at the School of Life Sciences. The researchers made four samples of the “eyesalve,” while also creating a control treatment. While none of the individual ingredients alone had any significant impact, the combined “eyesalve” almost totally obliterated the MRSA infection. Approximately one bacterial cell in a thousand survived in mice wounds.

One member of the team, Dr. Steve Diggle, stated, “When we built this recipe in the lab, I didn’t really expect it to actually do anything. When we found that it could actually disrupt and kills cells in the (MRSA) biofilms. I was genuinely amazed.” For while modern antibiotics can treat early infections, MRSA’s impenetrable reputation comes from the biofilm it builds around mature infection sites which antibiotics cannot breech. Thus, Bald’s “eyesalve” demonstrUniversityofNottinghamResearchersated the ability to do what antibiotics could not. The U.S. National Institute for Health (NIH) reports that biofilms are implicated in up to 80 percent of all chronic and recurring infections.

Biofilms serves as shields that protect bacteria from attacking antibiotics and other treatments. In addition, Biofilms allow bacteria to stick to medical implants, tissues, and other surfaces.

The University of Nottingham’s team then turned to Dr. Kendra Rumbaugh, Associate Professor at Texas Tech University, to see if their research could be replicated. Dr. Rumbaugh carried out in vivo testing of the Bald’s remedy on MRSA infected skin wounds in mice at Texas Tech and reported, “this ‘ancient remedy’ performed as good if not better than the conventional antibiotics we used.”

Dr. Christina Lee explained, “We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings. But the potential of these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science.”

Freemasonry’s Approach to Critical Thinking

Freemasonry rejects dogma, teaching individuals to think for themselves. Merriam-Webster defines dogma as “a belief that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” Since the germ theory of disease was not really fully developed until the 1870s, what new information could be gained from a medical text from the 10th century? While dogmatic scientific thinking may have precluded research into text such as Bald’s Leechbook, the team of researchers from the University of Nottingham in England and Texas Tech University stepped outside the realm of conventional sources for scientific study.  Their efforts provided a needed catalyst in solving the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA.

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