Is Freemasonry a Spiritual Practice?

Is Freemasonry a Spiritual Practice?

In keeping with the discussion surrounding soul and spirit, I wanted to complete the examination in a part 2, looking at Freemasonry as, to use the “new age” term, a spiritual practice. Freemasonry has been called many things in its lifetime: a fraternal group, an esoteric organization, a cult, a charity organization, and a religion, among other things. Whatever the masses call Freemasons or the Freemasons call themselves, their mission has been the same from the beginning: to create a better world starting with the improvement of humanity at the individual level.

“Remember always that all Masonry is work”, says Albert Pike, a prominent 19th Century Freemason. The Masonic “work,” in my view, is the internal, oblique ritualistic work by which Masons are made and educated for the exoteric work, which consists of activities for the welfare of mankind according to Masonic principles. It is in this mysterious, hidden ritualistic work where much of the speculation of what Freemasonry does and does not do begins. Indeed, sometimes Freemasons themselves may have a difficult time understanding what the “secret” things of Masonry are all about.

In at least one Masonic Order, and probably many others, it is specifically stated that Freemasons have a special charter to input esoteric knowledge into the Masonic members. By esoteric, let’s use the basic form of the word, meaning “knowledge meant only for a few.” Freemasonry, being a select organization, is “esoteric” in this way. That is, generally speaking, the percentage of the overall, human population that belongs to Freemasonry is extremely low. Esoteric, in its uncomplicated form, does not connote anything spiritual, religious, or occult. While some aspects of those forms of study may be “esoteric,” the word “esoteric” does not mean spiritual, religious, or occult.

AstralProjection3Be that as it may, many people find that Freemasonry lends itself toward “spirituality.” “Spiritual” means, quite simply, “pertaining to spirit.” This begs the question, then: what is spirit?

To be simple and clear, for this I’ll use the dictionary.com definition, which is “the principle of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, animating the body or mediating between body and soul.” Could it mean “the soul as it is separated from the body at death” or even “an angel, demon; sprite?”

Yes, absolutely; however, when speaking in relation to philosophical discussions, the first definition is the one to which most people seem to refer. It is the one that for the purposes of this exposition that we will accept and use. The “principle of conscious life” or spirit, and its existence or non-existence, has been for all of human existence the core of much conflict.

What is spirit? Why do people, cultures, and religions view it differently? Is the spirit of humanity divine? Why is this so important? What about the spirit of animals, trees, and rocks? Whence does this spirit emanate? What is its birthplace? The source of many people’s idea of “spirit” seems to be either what many would call God, or gods and goddesses, and the qualities or virtues we assign them accordingly. If we are animated by this “spirit,” and we ascribe this to “God” and say that this part of our being has “godly attributes” or it is “divine.”

However, as is defined above, the term “spirit” is not demarcated by some kind of divine or godly source. It simply is an animation or “vital principle in humans.” It is when we ascribe this spirit’s existence to a specific external entity – be it God, Allah, the Tao, Jehovah, or Zeus – that we run into human conflict. If one is right and true, all others must be wrong and false. Wars have been and continue to be fought over such questions as the origin of “spirit.” Yet, do humans fight over “spirits,” or do they fight over “souls?”

This is where the subject of spirit becomes confused and perhaps convoluted; it is when the word “soul” is interchanged with “spirit.” Wars have been fought over “souls,” not “spirits.” When we discuss soul, I feel we must continue to be very clear about the terms that we’re using, and that the meaning of the word should be as neutral as possible.

“Soul” to a Catholic is very different than a “soul” to a Wiccan, Neo-Platonist, or an Atheist. Resorting to Merriam-Webster for common ground, and looking at this from a purely English literary and linguistic sense, both “soul” and “spirit” originate from a core meaning of “breath, life.”

The major difference between the two seems to be that one is immortal (soul) and one is pure animation and life (spirit) with a specific beginning and ending event. The idea, from these definitions, is that the soul lasts forever while the spirit comes into existence at birth and expires at the death of its human host.

In the base meaning of the word “soul,” there is also the inference of “life giving” qualities. Given that both concern themselves with the essence of life and seem to inhabit the same physical space, it is easy to see that these could be confused and muddled in discussion, debate, and theology. I hear many Freemasons refer to Spirit and Soul interchangeably, but I am unclear whether or not they mean the same thing or spiritual eyesomething different. I do believe that Freemasonry helps provide us a path toward an answer.

We do not normally say we perform a “soul practice”; what we are concerning ourselves here with is the idea of a spiritual practice, as most Westerners use the term. As a verb, to practice is to do something again and again until we’re better at it.

Interestingly, the word “practice” is not a noun – it is in all cases a verb. It is an active principle; as we’ve noted above, so too is Freemasonry. A spiritual practice, using the terms we’ve outlined here, would really indicate “to regularly or constantly work at bettering the vital principle of conscious life.” The term “spiritual practice” is something which we might say develops, by repeated efforts, that vital principle animating humans, “animating the body or mediating between body and soul.”

As the soul is the vital “breath” of humans, one must ask whence it comes, in order to understand if it can be developed. Yet, if this principle is just that, a principle, can it be “trained?” Is it not already perfect how it is? There have been many philosophers, Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, and Socrates that have all debated this very question – the immortal and thus incorruptible nature of the “soul.” Can something which is, at its core, incorruptible and pure, be “trained?”

Again, if we examine the word soul, as a vital and immortal principle emanating from a divine source, then one must assume that it is something that is pure and pristine as it is. If the Divine is infallible, is not the soul then also infallible? However, if the spirit, being that conduit between or mediator of the body and soul, is truly a breath that can expire at death, then perhaps it is this part to which we are seeking refinement. It would be the washing away of the film of emotions and desires that cloud the conduit that would be the province of a spiritual practice. This is very clearly outlined in some allegorical journeys of English Rites, particularly the higher degrees. In truth, we see it in all allegorical journeys, and stages, that the Freemason takes throughout their entire Masonic career.

Perhaps, what we call a spiritual practice is something that is not to improve or better the spirit itself but to find a way to remind our bodily world of what spirit, and soul if one believes in this, really is. Perhaps it is not to develop the spirit or even a relationship to the spirit but to be conscious and aware of it, to be cognizant of what clouds, conceals, obstructs, or harms that clear pathway of information between body and soul.

If our Divine self, as the soul, is to speak in the material world, the spirit must be clear to enable this to happen. Perhaps this is the reason that Freemasonry does not concern itself with a single religion but with Religion as a whole; if one is to know there is a soul, then there must be a reason for its existence. Perhaps this is also the reason that one must have a belief in a divinity to even be a Freemason. Why would you want to improve Stone_Masons copythe channel between body and soul if you did not believe that one of these pieces did not exist?

To develop the spirit first means to remove those things which impair the conduit and support that which assist the spirit in its duties. This practice would not concern itself with the reason for the soul’s existence – only that it would be able to communicate clearly with the other members of the human world.

This is where Freemasonry interests itself, specifically. As we progress through the degrees, different stories and symbols speak to us; based on our experience, one may find resonance more in one than in the other. They bring forth ideas and discoveries that enhance the channel between body and soul; by bringing forth triggers which illustrate our own blockages, we can identify the reasons and clear the path.

Being self-aware is the first step. As we rise in Freemasonic degrees, the perception and understanding of what bars our way becomes more subtle and refined, and practice of clearing the way becomes more layered. Freemasonry teaches its adherents, with many varied messages and depths, how to clear and keep clear the conduit; it teaches us how to act according to “the Great Law” which permeates the idea of human existence.

One reason Freemasonry builds upon itself, in my opinion, is that you must be able to remove the common, grosser obstructions in communication before you can work on the subtleties. Yet, if we slip, we need to start again. Practice. Hence, the reason Freemasons consider themselves to “always be in the first degree.”

In addition, Freemasonry seems to concern itself with all aspects of the human being, refining and finessing as we progress deeper into its teachings. That is, it concerns itself with our mental, physical, and emotional well-being and actions. One must learn the fundamentals of the physical world, via ritual and memorization, before he navigates into the emotional world: subduing passions, for example. Then, only by understanding and mastering these worlds can he hope to achieve any sense of stability and growth in the realms of the mental.

Most, if not all of us, struggle at any one of these levels and have to pick ourselves up from a setback, working at their rough courser nature again and again. Is this not practice?

Perhaps, then, all of this work we do in all these degrees is the aspect of Freemasonry which seeks to refine the spirit. If one views the degrees as a spiral of life, then one can see the practice built into each of them, culminating in a birth/death. Not only does Freemasonry teach us how to improve the spirit it also tells us why.

Freemasonry does not ascribe a specific religious or theological source to the soul or the body or the spirit – it accredits the supreme & sovereign manifestation with the lessons of the degrees –  a divine source. It assists us to understand how to let the unique symbols_masonic_collagemessage of our individual Divine sparks to be heard and enables us, through the lens of Freemasonry, to understand why it exists in the first place.

There are many ways to understand the soul; religions provide manifold reasons for its existence and purpose of being. While some religions also teach us through their ritual how to access the soul, they may or may not allow for the rich diversity of human culture and multifarious modes of understanding.

I believe, in their dogmatic and rudimentary way, they seek to remove the moral obstacles which block the spirit (conduit) from achieving its goal, which is the free flow of Divine essence from the soul to the expression within this physical, emotional, and mental realm called Earth. Where they might fall short is the lack of cultural messaging that seeks to embrace all, with different messaging tailored to the different human stories that arrive at their doorstep.

Freemasonry seems to provide support for not only a diversity of “soul origins” but also finds that middle-path, the neutral ground in order to develop that pathway that connects between the world we live in and that world in which the Divine resides. The repeated journeys of the degree system seek to teach us, in a variety of ways, what the blocks might be and how to remove them, in straightforward, non-confrontational, and non-segregated language.

Freemasonry allows us as individuals find our own path to the Voice of whatever Divinity speaks to us, and encourages us to express it as who we really are – without pretense, illusions, or corruption. The Work of Masonry is the Work on our self – repeated trials and approbations, developing, cleaning, clearing, and recognizing the path which connects the Divine Soul to our human host. In this way, to me, nothing else could be more spiritual.

Masonic Soul Food

Masonic Soul Food

“What is a Soul? What is Spirit? What is Energy?” We begin to engage in conversations about such esoteric terms as soul, energy, and spirit without being cognizant that we are not speaking the same language. The words may be the same but meanings span the spectrum. We can debate these questions all night, all month, and for the rest of our lives and never come to understanding. Do people really know what they mean when they talk about energy, soul, or spirit? While these are common discussions amongst Freemasons, they are sometimes the most difficult subjects on which to remain impartial and fair.

Humans seem to have a lot invested in the idea of their souls, and in other people’s souls, too.

Many  people join Masonic groups so they can “have an energetic experience” or “touch something mystical.” Some talk about experiencing something that touches their soul or provides a spiritual meaning to their lives. Some Freemasons mention how they “love the energy of Lodge” or how it’s our job to “raise the vibration of our material world and send out ‘healing’ energy.” Many people start their Freemasonic career looking for something mystical, something secret that only they have learned, that no one else knows, that provides them a conduit to perhaps special insight that no one else has. Because Freemasonry deals with the questions of life and death, the neophyte may be looking for Freemasonry to unlock all those special secrets and have the answers. They use terms like soul, spirit, and energy without defining them for themselves and in their communications with others.

energy1It seems that many times, the conversations are about what people want to believe rather than reasoned conclusions. Discussion and debate are the way we educate ourselves and grow. Transformation requires thought.

To those who let go of preconceived desires and wishes, Freemasonry is transformative in many ways. It does discuss these questions of life and death. It leaves the aspirant to mull over symbols and meaning and yes, come up with personal insights on perhaps souls and spirit and energy. Freemasonry provides us the opportunity to to convert from a polarizing human nature to one of balance. We need to learn to deal with all aspects of our temperament in order to understand all the features of this life – material, emotional, mental, and spiritual.  It is this last realm, spiritual, that trips many up.

Most Freemasons accept the presence of a greater power, something undefined that connects us all to a single purpose. Most would agree with the idea of the multi-faceted nature of human existence, struggling with the balance of brain, mind, body, and this idea of “connectedness.” Many have experienced things they can’t explain, the nudges of intuition, and the sudden flashes of insight that seem “deep.” These are all valid experiences. It’s taking them from the experience to meaningful communication that humans struggle. We throw out a word like “soul” or “spirit” or “energy” and assume that the people we communicate with understand what they mean. Freemasons are philosophers,  and any good philosopher will not abide a discussion with random, undefined terms. When asked about souls, there are vague allusions to something energetic, mystical, unique, and connected to some form of god/goddess/force/Tao. A soul is what makes us individuals. A soul is something that is part of God. A soul is our energetic self.  “When our eyes met, our souls touched.”

What does any of that really mean?  For each individual who speaks on these subjects, there is a different answer. Pinning people down about souls and spirits and such can be quite agitating for people. Some people get downright angry.

Can we define any of it? Perhaps. Perhaps we can start with energy.

socratesUnless you wholeheartedly dismiss science, there can be no doubt for one second that we are energetic beings. Neurons use electrical impulses and neurotransmitters (chemicals) to enable our bodies to function in its entirety: to think, feel, heal, sense, breath – everything. Without energy, our hearts would not pump, we would cease to be able to think and process information, and we would die. Mitochondria, in a weird symbiotic relationship with us, enable us to live by helping us process the material world around us into energy. Every cell has mitochondria and every cell is able to produce energy of some sort. Life is energy.

Okay, we’ve established we’re energetic beings, and by the nature of the material world, energetic beings are everywhere. We communicate with our senses and receive communication with our senses. Abraham Hicks said, “We talk with words but communicate with energy.” Cyndi Dale, author of “The Subtle Body: An Encyclopedia of your Energetic Body,” states that “energy is information that vibrates.” This latter definition is a little more trustworthy, it seems, than the former. We can test it. We can retest it. We can play with it and work to define examples. However, this is also where it gets tricky, right? Let’s take a page, well, a short paragraph from Wikipedia: “In physics, energy is the property that must be transferred to an object in order to perform work on or heat the object. It can be converted in form but not created or destroyed.”

BB_timelineWell, okay then, simple question: where did the energy that makes up us come from? Ouch, right? In a recent conversation, I posited this question to a fellow Freemason. He answered, “the stars.” I said okay, get me from B to A. He said “Stars created the elements that trapped the energy that went into making us.” I replied that I agreed, but then, what makes up the stars? He said it must be “the Big Bang.” Humans are the trapped energy of the material created during the Big Bang. To him, we all derive from the single moment that created time, matter, and energy. Physicist or philosopher, the topic of energy is where we converge. We can conclude from this that elements that make up the material world are trapped energy. Is this trapped “energy” spirit? Is that our “soul?”

If we are trapped energy of stars, as is everything around us, then we have far more in common with other matter than we think we do. If we are all made of the same matter, we should be able to recognize one another by way of transferring energy. Or, so one would think. What is interesting to note is that many psychologists and philosophers considered love to be a transference of energy. Freud dwelt on the physical aspects of love while Plato talks about spiritual or unselfish love; but one in the same, what we call love is, to them, a transference of energy. When we love something, we do put energy into it, and it into us. Perhaps this is the idea of spirit. Spirit, Plato said, that that way we communicate emotionally with other humans. Is this not love? So, love is spirit. We can also say love is energy.

So if love, life, and elements are all energy, can we draw any conclusions about the soul?

Many philosophers have tried to explain ‘soul.’ Just one example, Plotinus, the first Neo-Platonist, did his best to help us along in understanding that the soul doesn’t necessarily need a body; yet, without a body, it can’t exist in the “intelligible realms and express itself in the visible realms.” This concept tells us how he thought the soul expressed itself, but not what it is. In a very basic sense, Neoplatonists call the soul “consciousness” or “psyche.” Still, it’s unclear even in modern terms what consciousness is. If we thought defining “soul” in religion is difficult, try the philosophical bent…Truly angst-ridden. It seems that Plotinus and Plato are already agreed that there is a soul, even if they can’t agree on its definition. Maybe it’s something that we all have to debate on until we get to learn for sure. Maybe we’ll never learn for sure, at least not in this world. galaxy-wallpaper-preview-4

One solid conclusion is that the meaning of a soul does not seem to be the meaning of a soul for everyone, and spirit is not something we can agree upon, either. If nothing else, the myriad world religions would illustrate that. The phrase “our souls speak to each other” doesn’t mean much if you can’t really explain to someone else what it means. “We communicated ‘energetically’ is really worthless unless you can really understand clearly what you intend. It doesn’t even matter if you can explain it to someone else; do we even understand ourselves?  A wise Freemason once said that if you can explain something to a five-year-old, and the five-year-old gets it, then you really understand the concept of it. Simple terms, clearly defined, done. We definitely need more five-year-olds around us to keep us honest and clear.

Freemason, scientist, philosopher, or physicist: regardless of what you believe about soul, spirit, energy, or anything else esoteric, definitions are important and personal understanding moreso. The exploration of life’s meaning is, whether we agree on terms or not, something we all share.

Why are we here? Because we’re here. Roll the bones.” – Neal Peart

diceroll

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Why Beauty? The Splendor of Truth

Is beauty important? Why does it even exist in the first place? Everyone has a definition of beauty, and they are all different: A beautiful body, a beautiful painting, a beautiful sunset. It captivates and arrests the gaze. Beauty shines through the whole universe. When confronted by true beauty, one cannot turn away one’s eyes. We aspire to be beautiful so people will love us. It captivates all the senses, the soul and the spirit.

Maybe the question is not “what is beauty,” but “why is beauty?” Why is it any use to us at all? How do we know it? As Freemasons, we are taught that Beauty adorns all great and important undertakings. Beauty in the arts gives pleasure through inspiration. A gentle obsession with beauty is a source of much in our lives. Let us muse together on beauty.

How does one decide if something is beautiful or not? The Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato are said to have been the first who tried to define beauty. They thought that an object is inherently beautiful. Other philosophers argued that beauty is subjective. Beauty is not the quality of the object but it is an experience of our own, thus the popular phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” For example, after seeing a starry sky, a gorgeous painting, or a mystical rainbow, a person may feel wonder and awe by the beauty in it. But not everyone may feel the same way about those same things.

Is beauty objective or subjective? Does our perception of beauty define us?

Plato’s Ladder

Plato uses the symbol of a ladder to show different levels of beauty in his dialogue in The Symposium. Each rung of the ladder gives a different perspective. On the first step or level, a person loves a body, and then all bodies. By the third step, he relates to the beauty of souls over that of bodies. This leads to the love of laws and institutions, leading to the love of certain types of knowledge. It ends in the pursuit of knowledge, or the love of wisdom. Upon reaching this, the person will see Beauty in its purest form or Beauty itself.8154643392_20cf304518_z

Step 1 – A beautiful Body
Step 2 – All beautiful Bodies
Step 3 – Beautiful Souls
Step 4 – Beautiful Laws, Institutions
Step 5 – Beautiful Knowledge
Step 6 – Beauty Itself

Looking at this it seems that beauty is not just about pretty things, but it’s something much deeper and vaster. It involves some sort of process of transformation. There is a saying In Italian, “bello da morire” which means “beautiful to die for.” The presence of beauty creates the possibility for a shift in us. If we change too much, we die of our old selves. According to philosopher David Hume, “Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”

I think that beauty is like love in that it is one of those big realities in our life. Our relationships may be complex and at times contradictory and difficult. For example, we know that someone who looks traditionally very beautiful could be very dreadful indeed.

Ultimately, we face a paradox. Beauty may be important because it has strength and the power to transform us. But there are parts of us that resist that; we are attached to our old images of ourselves, old dogmas, and habits, and therefore, we prefer not to let in too much to beauty. It can be dismissed or ignored, and life goes on anyway in quiet desperation.

Do we even dare climb the ladder to this ineffable beauty? Plato said that beauty is truth. For example, if a statement is true it will also be beautiful. But there is even a problem 3913221135_a6918bf8cf_zwith this. We might see a statement that is beautiful to us, yet if we test it we find out it is not true. Beauty is a very complicated relationship.

Beauty in Freemasonry

In Freemasonry, we learn the concept of beauty cannot only be of a material beauty. If we go deep enough we will indeed find out that beauty is the splendor of truth. Inner beauty is goodness, and inner goodness is beauty. At some point, comes a decision to tread the way and be a better person. Embracing beauty helps with that.

Plotinus, one of the most influential philosophers in the ancient world, talks about fostering an inner vision:

Cut away that which is superfluous, straighten that which is crooked, purify that which is obscure: labor to make all bright, and never cease to fashion your statue until there shall shine out upon you the godlike splendor of virtue, until you behold temperance established in purity in her holy shrine.

By making “crooked things straight,” it seems that we can begin to experience a portion of those beautiful truths. Raise your consciousness and beauty will unfold before you. Attending a beautiful masonic ceremony or engaging in the creative arts can be enlightening and so can eating a box of chocolates. Divine!

I recently was listening to an interview by the late poet John O’Donahue. Something in his words and in his haunting deep Irish voice touched my soul ever so beautifully. I closed my eyes to as if to pay homage to the gods of poetry and philosophy. It was one of those rare encounters with beauty. We have all had them. In a moment of sublime Beauty, we are all rendered speechless. Beauty is ineffable. Why Beauty? It conveys something Divine that book knowledge doesn’t. Beauty gives way to contemplation. Admittedly, the very heart of Beauty cannot be captured in words.

Beauty does not linger, it only visits.
Yet beauty’s visitation affects us and invites us into its rhythm,
it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world:
to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.

– John O’Donahue     

 

The Quadrivium

The Quadrivium

What scholars call the “foundation of Liberal Arts” – the Trivium – is taught in order that one may expand to other subjects, building upon the skills learned. These subjects have been varied over time, based on the philosopher teaching them but they are now generally accepted as mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy – the Quadrivium. While these subjects were taught by ancient philosophers (Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, etc.), they became “the Quadrivium” in the Middle Ages in Western Europe, after Boethius or Cassiodorus had a go at translation.

(Encyclopedia Britannica has an excellent article on Mathematics in the Middle Ages, which discusses the Quadrivium briefly.)

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (usually known simply as Boethius) (c. 480 – 525) was a 6th Century Roman Christian philosopher of the late Roman period. Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 – c. 585), commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theoderic the Great, king of the Ostrogoths.  The former, Boethius, did a great deal to translate most of the ancient philosophers from Greek to Latin. Many of his works on Aristotle were foundational learning in the Middle Ages. Cassiodorus made education his life’s passion, particularly the liberal arts, and worked diligently to ensure classical literature was at the heart of Medieval learning. Both men have been credited with coining the term “Quadrivium,” or “where four roads meet.” Adding to the mix of Medieval education “influencers” is Proclus Lycaeus, one of the last classical philosophers and an ardent translator of Plato. He is considered one of the founding “fathers” of neoplatonism and had a great influence on Medieval education as well. His translations of Plato are peppered with his own ideas of education and philosophy. One of his most interesting books, considered a major work, is “The Platonic Theology.”

sevenLA1For the serious student of the classics, all of these philosophers, in their original Greek or Latin (with English translations alongside the original) can be found in the Loeb Classical Library series. Many used book stores, especially near universities, carry these books and they can be had for about 10$ each. There are hundreds of books but all are quite good as original references (See NOTE below) Back to the Quadrivium…

While many see the Trivium and Quadrivium as “separate,” I think this is a manufacture of our modern educational system. The Trivium are the basics for communicating thought, generating ideas, and conveying those thoughts clearly; yet, like Freemasonry, I don’t know that you would have jumped completely away from your foundations. Plato, in The Republic, does note that the quadrivium subjects, as identified above, should be taught separately. The Pythagorean School divided the subjects up between quantity (mathematics and harmonics, or otherwise known as music) and magnitude (geometry, cosmology or astronomy.) Personally, I find it difficult to talk about music without first having at least fundamental mathematics and exploring both together makes sense. I have not delved into the curriculum of the universities of the Middle Ages in Europe but if someone else has, it would be interesting to hear about it. sevenliberalarts

What I find most fascinating about the art surrounding the Quadrivium (and the Trivium, for that matter) is that nearly all of the plates, pictures, or engravings represent the subject matter as female or feminine. Perhaps it has to do with the receptive qualities of studiousness, or the idea of fecundity or maybe gentleness; whatever the reason, many of the Medieval and Renaissance European depictions show all subjects with a feminine demeanor. Since nearly all scholars in the middle ages in Europe were men, perhaps it was simply a bleed-over of the Medieval ideal of women. I am sure this is another subject for another time.

On an additional side note, I searched for representations of the Quadrivium and Trivium in Islamic art, also knowing full well that Islam is aniconistic. Islam really had begun to gain ground at the last part of the classical period in North Africa & Europe and as such did not really experience the same type of “downfall” or Dark Ages, that Europe did. The schools of Islam continued to develop the subjects of the quadrivium and trivium uninterrupted until Europe “caught up.” In fact, many of the mathematics, geometry, and astronomy texts of the latter Middle Ages were translated from Greek to Syriac Aramaic or from Arabic to Latin, and later taught in Latin universities in Europe.  Suffice to say that Islam did have an impact of the learning of the West, probably much more than most people today are aware.

So, why would the Freemason study the Quadrivium? The answer, to me, is obvious. If the one of the primary studies we must take on is Geometry, we need to understand how number fits into this process. We need Mathematics to understand Geometry, and Music to understand relationship of numbers, working in harmony. Astronomy teaches us our place in universe, and allows us to expand our knowledge of our own earth toward the heavens. Geometry, or the study of the measurement of the earth, is far more than the squares and triangle theorems we all know…and love. It’s about how to apply these numbers to the world around us. As we will see in each of the subjects, they can be taken for their base modern “ideas” or we can expand and overlap them, apply them to the natural world, and thereby become better caretakers of not only the earth we live on but the beings who live on it with us. The idea of a Renaissance Man is one who is well-versed in these foundations and has ideas that expand the world around us. They make the world a better place to live in, now and for the future. The Freemason, to me, embodies this idea completely.

Next stop, the subjects of the Quadrivium. Thank you for joining me!


NOTE For those interested in more of the Loeb Classical Library, but limited access to purchase these books, Harvard University Press has been working to put them online. The link is here: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/features/loeb/digital.html.

Individuals can subscribe for a yearly cost, with subsequent years being cheaper, and non-profits can also subscribe for a reduced cost. If you are a serious researcher and you would like primary sources, this library is an excellent resource.

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

The Seven Liberal Arts – The Trivium

There is a real affinity for the goals of Freemasonry and the Seven Liberal Arts. From earliest teachings, we see that they are the foundation of many degree rites, the first of which is the FellowCraft Degree. To understand why this is, I think we must first understand the structure of the Seven Liberal Arts and what their history is.

The Liberal Arts have been, from antiquity, been the foundation stone upon which knowledge of the natural world rests. The seven liberal arts have been utilized since ancient Greece. Plato and Pythagoras were first in codifying their importance; the flowering of our western understanding of the liberal arts took place in medieval education systems, where they were categorized into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric are the Trivium, and Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy are the Quadrivium. The Trivium combines the use of the senses with knowledge to lay the foundation for further study. The Quadrivium was considered to be the higher level education for the philosopher, and employed the use of the Trivium to be able to compose higher ideas and thereby, expand the knowledge of the human condition.

Freemasons the world over have expounded on the Seven Liberal Arts ad infinitum. All you need to do is search Freemasonry and Seven Liberal Arts, and you get a great deal of regurgitated drivel. That is not what I am striving to do in this next series. Here, my goal is to simply explain why the Seven Liberal Arts seem to have a kinship with Freemasonry, and perhaps provide small examples of each – withsevenliberalarts and without a Freemasonic connection. It’s up to you, the reader, to decide what you’d like to do with the information.

Plato’s Dialogues explain the curriculum outlined in detail and for any serious student of liberal arts, Plato is required reading. I, therefore, will not relate these concepts here. Suffice to say that the study of the Liberal Arts is more of a study of knowledge than it is of any specific actual data and information. As we may have learned by now, knowledge without application is dead and useless. Knowledge in the pursuit of higher ideals and higher ideas is more valuable than… than… well, you get the idea. Remember, one of the goals of Freemasonry is to better the human condition while standing up in defiance of falsehood, ignorance, and hatred. How do we do that if we are not searching to better our communication and knowledge, and the ways to bring both to life?

The Trivium is, as I said above, the foundation stone of the Seven Liberal Arts and really provides us the method and ability to communicate. It is composed of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

  • Grammar: Knowledge and Learning of Language
  • Logic: Reasoning, Questioning, and Thinking with Language
  • Rhetoric: Directing, moving, and Persuading using Language

While these all seem to be in relation to language, they are much more than language. They are the skills involved in achieving these ends. Therefore, the study of Grammar is also the study of history, geography, reading, and writing. It is basic, absolutely, but more encompassing than simply learning one’s ABCs and how to put pen on paper and write. Logic is about how we learn – we use our senses to experience, put our minds to thought, question, and experiment. We learn to ask the correct questions to achieve the answers we seek. They are not provided to us – we must seek them out and test for ourselves. Finally, rhetoric is the ability to take what we have learned with grammar and dialectic and put them firmly into the hands of an audience we are attempting to persuade. Rhetoric uses emotional discourse, thoughtfully created and properly applied, to communicate new ideas.

If it is not clear to the Freemason now why at least the Trivium is not important, one might want to question what they have actually learned while being a Freemason. Many may think that Freemasonry is all about enlightenment, walking in squares, or religious meanings. It might be those things to some but I think the true goals of Freemasonry are to provide a framework of how to be in the world, to make that world better for those that follow us but more importantly, for our own betterment. We cannot communicate lofty ideals via ritual alone – we need to be able to express what we have learned to a wider audience, to bring new thoughts to a wider world. To me, when we talk about service to the world, there is no greater service than being a hand-up to the betterment of the human condition and we do that by “teaching a man how to fish.” Study of the Liberal Arts is by one means to catch that “fish.”

Hortus_Deliciarum,_Die_Philosophie_mit_den_sieben_freien_Künsten

The Lego Movie: The Master Builders and Freemasonry

The Lego Movie: The Master Builders and Freemasonry

Every once in a while a movie comes along that is so rich in symbolism and allegory that its message can be applied almost universally. In 2014, Warner Bros. Pictures released the computer animated “The Lego Movie,” which received widespread critical acclaim for its humor, visual style, voice acting, and positive message. Co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “The Lego Movie” tells the story of Emmet, an ordinary Lego construction mini-figure who, aided by a team of Master Builders, fulfils a prophecy to save the universe from the tyrannical Lord Business.

The Master Builder’s Prophecy

Described as a children’s version of “The Matrix,” the “The Lego Movie” is set within the Lego universe where a group of Master Builders are fighting to protect the realm from the nefarious Lord Business. Led by the wizard Vitruvius, the Master Builders wthe_prophecyork to keep the “Kragle,” a secret super weapon, out of the hands of Lord Business who devises to use the weapon to freeze the subjects of the Lego world. When Vitruvius is thwarted in hand to hand combat, he prophesies that one day a person will find the Piece of Resistance and save the universe.

One day, a talented lass or fellow, A special one with face of yellow, will make the Piece of Resistance found from its hidden refuge underground.

And with a noble army at the helm, This Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm, and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times. All this is true, because it rhymes. – Vitruvius

The Hero Emmet

Moving the narrative forward eight years, Emmet Brickowski enters the scene laboring as a contented construction worker in the heavily commercialized town of Bricksburg. Perfectly obeying his instructions, he cheers for the local sports team, listens to pop music, eats at chain restaurants, and drinks overpriced coffee. Subliminally craving escape from this monotony, Emmet must first learn that his soul is being crushed before he can summon the inner strength to do something about it.

The Lego MovieAt his construction site, Emmet comes across one of the Master Builders: a woman named Wyldstyle. Falling down a hole, Emmet finds and touches the Piece of Resistance, whereby he experiences visions and passes out. Awakening in Police Custody, Emmet is shocked to find the Piece of Resistance attached to him.

The Villain: Lord Business and his Weapon of Choice

During his interrogation from Bad Cop, Emmet learns of Lord Business’ diabolical plans to freeze the world with the “Kragle,” i.e. a tube of Krazy Glue with a partially rubbed off label. Business seeks world domination and operates a successful business that creates music, TV shows, surveillance systems, history books and voting machines, in addition to all dairy products and coffee.

Training to be a Master Builder

Believing Emmet to be “The Special” from the prophecy, Wyldstyle compellingly states, “Come with me if you want to not die” and praises him for pretending to be “a useless nobody.” While rescuing Emmet and taking him to Vitruvius, Wyldstyle informs him that he actually lives in a Multiverse that includes many parallel universes including his own, Bricksburg. He finds out that Vitruvius and Wyldstyle are Master Builders, a team of individuals capable of building anything they need without instruction manuals.

Disappointed to discover Emmet is not a Master Builder, Wyldstyle and Vitruvius are convinced of his potential when he explains his vision and belief of a deity he refers to as “the Man Upstairs.” Similar to Morpheus from the Matrix film, Vitruvius believes in Emmet and counsels him to let go and follow his instincts. Vitruvius instructs Emmet that the key to being a true Master Builder is to believe in yourself and follow your own set of instructions inside your head.

The trio then evade Bad Cop’s forces, meet with a council of Master builders, escape a dying world, and devise a plan to infiltrate Business’ headquarters and disarm the Kragle. Unfortunately during the attack, Emmet and the Master Builders are captured and imprisoned. Although killed by Lord Business, Vitruvius reveals he invented the prophecy but informs Emmet that it his self-belief that makes him the Special. Believing himself to be Special, he flings himself off the edge of the tower while strapped to a self-destructing mechanism.  Thus, Emmet saves the Master Builders and the universe, fulfilling the prophecy. Inspired by Emmet’s sacrifice, Wyldstyle issues a rallying cry to all the people to use their creativity to build and stop Lord Business.

The Real World

After his self-sacrifice, the lego figurine, Emmet, finds himself in the real world: a Lego filled basement of a house. The father, “the Man Upstairs,” reprimands his son for ruining his Lego sets by not following the instructions, deconstructing parts, and interchanging pieces from different set. Thus, the Father represeLegoBasementnts “Order” and the son represents “Chaos,” which ultimately represent a dichotomy that need each other to exist. Angered by the changes to his world, the Father proceeds to use Krazy Glue, i.e. the “Kragle,” to permanently lock his perceived perfect creation. Realizing the danger, Emmet wills himself to move and gains the son’s attention. The son picks up Emmet and returns him to the set, where he now possesses the powers of a Master Builder and confronts Lord Business.

Looking at his son’s creations, the Father realizes that he was his son’s inspiration for the evil Lord Business. Through a speech Emmet gives Business, the son tells his father that he is special and has the power to change everything. Father and son reconciling “above,” plays out “below” as Lord Business having a change of heart, capping the “Kragle” with the cap to the Superglue, i.e. the “Piece of Resistance” and using a solvent to unglue the Lego world.

The Masonic Message: The Role of Truth

While the use of “Master Builders” within the Lego Movie is an obvious nod to Freemasonry, the movie is also full of Masonic symbolism in the themes of teamwork, self-improvement, and service to all of humanity. Like Emmet, we are all special and capable of amazing things if we have the will to try.  Freemasonry rejects dogmatic teaching and helps the individual to learn to think for themselves.Emet-Truth

The film also contains many esoteric references including the hermetic principle of “As above, so below.” Everything that happens in the superior world of the real world basement is reflected in the inferior Lego world. Moreover, the movie contains references to the Kabbalah. According to Jewish tradition, one name of YHVH, the God of the Bible, is Emet, which means truth. Emet is spelled with an Aleph, Mem and Tav: the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Ironically, the movie also asks the audience to consider what illusions are keeping them from their goals, including the siren song of materialism. The writers deftly hint at the philosophy of Karl Marx,  “to call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” In the Allegory of the Cave, the Philosopher Plato also describes our world as a world of illusion. In the movie, the Lego universe represents the world of shadows, or the Cave. In order to perceive the real world, Emmet follows his inner truth through spiritual perception, which ultimately leads him to divine enlightenment, i.e. experiencing the real world of the basement.