The Real Reason a Masonic Temple is Called a Lodge

The Real Reason a Masonic Temple is Called a Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Buddhism: A Primer

Buddhism: A Primer

Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world. It is also one of the most ancient. Buddhism has it origins in the person of Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince who seemed to have everything – a loving wife, an adorable infant son, and a kingdom he would someday inherit.

However, Siddhartha was not happy, because he had come into contact with all manner of human suffering, and saw how fickle fortune can be, and how even the wealthy and powerful still endure sickness, old age, and death. The Vedic Brahmanism of the time was not providing the answers he was seeking, so he left his wife, child, and kingdom, and turned to increasingly rigorous forms of asceticism – the practice of renouncing material possessions, physical pleasures, and most forms (even all forms) of food and drink. During this time he also studied with two masters of yogic meditation. After six years of this, Siddhartha realized that extreme deprivationBuddha-Weekly-Shakyamuni-under-bodhi-tree-Buddhism wasn’t going to help him reach enlightenment any better than the posh life he had before.

At that point, he decided to get a bath, have a meal, and meditate in a comfortable spot under a sacred fig tree – now known as a Bodhi tree – vowing not to get up until he had attained enlightenment. Forty-nine days later (or after one night full of demons and temptations, depending on which early Buddhist text you read), he finally reached Nirvana (“blowing out,” “quenching,” release from the cycle of rebirth). He then became known as Gautama Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, and simply Buddha.

What came to Buddha under the Bodhi tree was what would become the basic foundation of Buddhism – ending attachment to that which is impermanent, which produces karma (action driven by intention which leads to future consequences), which in turn keeps us caught in the endless cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth. This ending is accomplished by embracing The Four Noble Truths and The Eight-fold Path.


The Four Noble Truths

1. The Truth of Suffering: Life is full of that which upsets us, from natural disasters, to illness, to aggravating mothers-in-law.

2. The Cause of Suffering: Our reaction to events or circumstances, our interpretations and perceptions, and how we deal with it all. Our attachment to things or outcomes, our desire for life to be other than what it is

3. The End of Suffering: Letting it all go, relinquishing the attachment.

4. The Path that Frees us from Suffering (or how to actually manage to let it all go):Becoming aware of our illusions, our ways of thinking, the ruts we’re in, and our Eightfold-Path-final-webunrealistic expectations, which is made possible by following the Eightfold Path.

The Eight-fold Path

1. Right View: Acceptance of the fundamental teachings.

2. Right Resolve: Having a positive, constructive outlook. Freeing your mind from ill will, cruelty, and lust.

3. Right Speech: Constructive, productive, honest, sincere speech. Avoiding abusive, idle, or divisive speech.

4. Right Action: No intentional killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct.

5. Right Livelihood: Avoiding professions that harm or cheat others, like slavery, trafficking, weapons dealing, shady business dealings, etc.

6. Right Effort: Avoiding distractions, overcoming laziness, lack of sleep (or avoiding being sleepy in the first place), checking your attitude at the door, etc.

7. Right Mindfulness: Being aware of what you’re feeling, thinking, and doing at all times.

8. Right Concentration: Cultivating clarity and heightened alertness of mind.


Buddha would spend the next forty-five years teaching others what he had learned. He formed a monastic community that eventually included women in his lifetime. He and his monks and nuns traveled all over Nepal and rest of the Indian subcontinent. Buddha died at age 80, sometime between 486 and 368 BCE, depending on whether you are using the corrected long chronology, modern scholar consensus, or the short (Indian)elorabuddha chronology.

After Gautama Buddha died, his monastic community chugged along quietly, writing things down and going about the business of establishing a religion. Historical evidence suggests that Buddhism was a minor but accepted religion, until the 3rd century BCE, when Ashoka the Great, the Mauryan Emperor, took an interest. The Mauryan Empire at that time encompassed what are now the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and part of Iran.

When Emperor Ashoka saw the devastation caused by his annexation of Kalinga, he began to feel remorse, and became a follower of Buddhism. His royal patronage enabled Buddhism to spread more quickly all over the empire, down to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and even all the way to what is now Libya. This is due to the fact that this was the Hellenistic Period, when the empire of the late Alexander the Great was still in Greek hands, allowing Ashoka to sponsor Buddhist emissaries all over the Hellenistic world.

Around this time (150-100 BCE), Buddhism, which had several little offshoots by now, developed a major branch. This branch was known as Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhism and, unlike the original Theravada, emphasized the Bodhisattva path, which seeks to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, and holds that PeaceBuddhaenlightenment can be attained in a single lifetime, and can even be achieved by a layperson, not just a member of the monastic community.

By the 1st century CE, Buddhism had moved all the way up Central Asia and snaked over to China. Vajrayana Buddhism, also called Mantrayāna, Tantric, and Esoteric Buddhism, developed during the 4-6th century CE. It featured new practices such as the use of mantras, dharanis, mudras, and mandalas, as well as the visualization of deities and Buddhas, and developed a new class of literature, known as the Buddhist Tantras. Vajrayana is a variant that some consider to be a sub branch of Mahayana Buddhism, while others think it’s a completely separate branch. While Vietnam, Korea, and Southeast Asia had Buddhism several centuries earlier, it didn’t arrive in Japan until the 6th century CE. The 7th century saw Buddhism finally arrive in Tibet with a mixture of equal parts Mahayana and Vajrayana ending up as the dominant form. Tibet was a theocratic state, headed by its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Although India was the birthplace of Buddhism, Muslim incursions, and the growth of Hinduism – which had added the Buddha to their seemingly endless list of gods – cause it to all but disappear.

In the modern era, the colonization of Asian Buddhist countries by Western states weakened the traditional political structures that supported the Buddhist religion and subjected it to criticism and competition from the Christianity those states brought withIntelligentPeopleIgnore them. Other significant pressures have come from communism, the growth of capitalism, large-scale wars, and regional conflicts. In 1950, a Chinese communist invasion forced Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama to feel the country, and eventually establish a Tibetan exile community at Dharamsala in India.

The Tibetan diaspora is also helping to spread Tibetan Buddhism in the United States, helped along by the popularity of the still-exiled 14th Dalai Lama, who has mastered the art of throwing gentle, elegant shade. Other forms of Buddhism have been finding homes in English-speaking countries since the 19th century, powered by intellectuals from the Theosophical Society, as well as, well-known Hollywood performers. From its humble beginnings, Buddhism has truly become a worldwide religion.


Sources

“History of Buddhism.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Buddhism

“Gautama Buddha.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gautama_Buddha

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

Thorpe, Charley Linden. “Four Noble Truths.” 12, April 2017, Ancient History Encyclopedia, https://www.ancient.eu/Four_Noble_Truths/

Violatti, Christian. “Siddhartha Gautama.” 9, December 2013, Ancient History Encyclopedia, https://www.ancient.eu/Siddhartha_Gautama/

Violatti, Christian. “Buddhism.” 20, May 2014, Ancient History Encyclopedia, https://www.ancient.eu/buddhism/

What is Enlightenment?

What is Enlightenment?

In the past, some individuals have been critical of the term “enlightenment” and its application toward the human race. This term was, in a previous blog post, used in conjunction with the “Age of Enlightenment,” something altogether different from our modern American use of the term. Students of History understand, know, or at least have heard of the Western European “Age of Enlightenment,” so called because of the explosion of knowledge, science, and access to those tools that brought forward many of our modern inventions and way of thinking.

According to Websters, enlightenment is explained thus:

inˈlītnmənt/enˈlītnmənt/

noun

1. the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened. “Robbie looked to me for enlightenment”; synonyms: insight, understanding, awareness, education, learning, knowledge.

2. a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition. It was heavily influenced by 17th-century philosophers such as Descartes, Locke, and Newton, and its prominent exponents include Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Adam Smith.

Someone very wise once told me that Freemasons fall into two general “modes,” if you will, with regards to their approach to Freemasonry: intellectual and devotional. This is a wide spectrum; and, we all have elements of both within our personalities while some people will fall more towards one side than the other. It’s difficult for someone who leans more toward an intellectual bent to understand a devotional way of being, and vise versa.

An intellectually-bent person might look at Freemasonry as a tool to intellectual discovery, a place for concrete fraternal relationships, and a more inward view of life. Analysis. A devotional-bent person may want to explore the esoteric and occult side of Freemasonry, feel more reverential toward their deity through their Masonic work, and perhaps be more inclined toward personal, service-oriented relationships. Feeling. Each person has to some degree these modes of operation. Yet, as a Freemason, they are perhaps brought visible. 


Why does this matter when discussing enlightenment? It seems that each of these people view enlightenment in very different ways.

  1. By Analysis: Is Knowledge derived from a pure scientific approach?
  2. By Feeling: Is Knowledge derived from a pure empirical approach?

The interesting thing is the judgement that goes along with how each other views the opposite approach. There’s an intellectual snide comment here or there when the devotional Freemason approaches enlightenment with an emotional response. There’s harsh condemnation of science when the intellectual produces a theory based on their analytical approach and disregards the “human” element. What is interesting is how each immediately judges the other’s approach to enlightenment, as if there is only one way. Even the non-religious discussion can evoke a dogmatic high-horse.

Is it so difficult to imagine that you can have both approaches, and both are valid?

There’s also this “great quest” toward enlightenment, as if it’s something that can be achieved through one method, one voice, or one frame of mind. Some think that we can achieve enlightenment in a lifetime, like a Buddha or Christ. Some think that scientists could never achieve enlightenment, no matter how intelligent, because they have no “devotion.” Some think that only scientists could achieve enlightenment because they have “purer” processes. Some think that humans can achieve enlightenment one being at a time, and still others insist that it must be an all or nothing endeavor. I think enlightenment is far greater than the individual, and enlightenment isn’t something sparkly, pretty, easy, or fun. There’s no flash of sudden godhood nor individual ascension into the realms of all-knowing, having-no-use-of-bodies beings that will provide us some unknown fascinating wisdom. I don’t think that we get out of this corporeal manifestation anytime soon.

The idea of enlightenment, as in The Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th C., is really about letting go of the shackles of tradition. It’s about embracing change and using knowledge to propel us, individuals and humanity, forward. Enlightenment isn’t everyone achieving godhood. It’s about all of us realizing that we are already in control, and have the tools inside of us to solve those problems. Deepak Chopra said, “I was an atheist until I realized that god was inside of me.” When asked about his religious views, Einstein replied:

“Your question is the most difficult in the world. It is not a question I can answer simply with yes or no. I am not an Atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a Pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. May I not reply with a parable? The human mind, no matter how highly trained, cannot grasp the universe. We are in the position of a little child, entering a huge library whose walls are covered to the ceiling with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written those books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books, a mysterious order, which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of the human mind, even the greatest and most cultured, toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that sways the constellations. I am fascinated by Spinoza’s Pantheism. I admire even more his contributions to modern thought. Spinoza is the greatest of modern philosophers, because he is the first philosopher who deals with the soul and the body as one, not as two separate things.”

aristotle

Is finding “God” enlightenment? Born just prior to the Age of Enlightenment, Baruch Spinoza laid the groundwork for radical thought (in 17th C Europe) regarding the existence and definition of God. Much like Mozart as the pinnacle of Baroque music, Spinoza was the pinnacle of Latin academic writings in rationalist philosophy. According to Spinoza, God is Nature, and Nature is God.

The fascinating thing about Spinoza is that he worked, day to day, as a lens grinder. His passion was philosophy, ethics, religion, and the question of the divine. He did not content himself with or define himself as his day-to-day paying job. He did not accept honors or rewards based on his writings and thought. He died young, at the age of 44, but seems to have accomplished a great deal for the human race in that short of a time. One can read Ethics and Spinoza’s other works at Project Gutenberg.

One would like to think this is true enlightened human being. Spinoza was an everyday man who engaged in deep thought, the search for Truth, and produced that Truth in service to Humanity. He propelled the next generation, and several after, to continue to explore and discover knowledge. He was an individual who kept the greater species in mind, literally. He was not concerned with some idea of heavenly admittance, some monetary gain, or some brilliance that only he could attain. This is someone who is on the path to enlightenment and bringing others along with him by virtue of sharing what he thought. It’s not purely the result of his work that causes him to be enlightened; it is the fact that he is bringing the entire species up to a level of awareness not previously found. He’s enlightened because of his humility and selflessness. Perfecting the human to perfect humanity.

The Age of Enlightenment did that as well; it brought different cultures to new heights of thought, awareness, and knowledge. As a species, it was a leap forward. Each leap of knowledge is usually obvious but not always grand. One cannot leap from the valley floor to the top of a mountain in one go. It also is visible in hindsight, rarely in the present. Enlightenment seems, to me, to be gently incremental. There are no five easy steps to enlightenment, no matter what anyone says. There is no golden knowledge at the end of all the degrees. Enlightenment is work. Hard work by many, many people. And…we can only bring humanity up if we work toward its good, bringing it all up with the talents and gifts that we have, be it a lens grinder or a philosopher.

lightbulb

And why not both? What is stopping us from pushing away from the TVs and video games and doing what Spinoza did? Nothing, as far as I can tell, except our own laziness. We are tempted by many things which bring down our humanity, or at the very least, stagnate and stall our progress. We need to be self-discovering, exploring ourselves, our environment, nature, our own natures, the universe, looking at things we know and don’t know, with both our natures – intellectual and devotional. Science and nature. Analytical and feeling. We might not find “enlightenment” at the bottom of a test tube but we may find wonder, delight, and wisdom on the journey. The results, of the destination and the journey, are the seeds of Enlightenment.

Silence: A Way to Wisdom

Silence: A Way to Wisdom

What happens in silence? Many argue that silence can invite reflection, contemplation, and discipline. In other words, silence  — along with inquiry — engages learning. It makes you wise. The significance of silence has been highlighted in practically all mystery traditions. Secrecy and silence play a big part in the masonic teaching. Pythagoras, one of the best known champions of silence, is thought to have said:

Silence is the first stone of the temple of wisdom. Listen and you will be wise; the beginning of wisdom is silence.

Silence is generally considered to mean quietness or not making any sound. And while this is indeed silence, I do not think it is everything silence is. It can also mean to preserve a secret, calm the emotions, or still the mind. There is no real silence when emotional tides are raging within us and when we find our monkey mind chattering to itself. 

Is cultivating silence a way to becoming wise?

I think it would be fair to say that for many Greek philosophers, the quest for wisdom was the be all and end all of philosophy. Basically, many of us want to be wise. To know the truth. To know thyself. To know others. To know our beliefs. To know answers Silence 2to questions. To know, know, know.

However, I am not sure we all want to know silence. Why?

The practice of silence invites us to not-know. Is there room in our seeking for not-knowing? Is there space in our pursuit for un-knowing? Listening? Unlearning? For dumping how we have come to cherish our beliefs? To dismiss the knowledge that we carry in our small boxes of understanding? To be open to a magnificent, wondrous world of undiscovered realities? To hold a mystery?

Can we embrace a secret? Can we live in the question?

The Pythagoreans were huge advocates of secrecy and silence. A wonderful little book called Divine Harmony describes the Pythagorean way of life as it is thought to have existed, although we know little for sure. To become a member, an Initiate took an oath of silence for two to five years. Novices were called “listeners” and were not permitted to partake in class discussions. The ancient brothers were quite serious about silence, believing it develops powers of attention and memory.

The school curriculum consisted of developing a host of virtues in the students. Silence 3Knowledge was transmitted symbolically, through cryptic statements and riddles.

The Pythagorean Y

One of the symbols studied was called the “Pythagorean Y.” Manly P. Hall explains:

The famous Pythagorean Y signified the power of choice and was used in the Mysteries as emblematic of the Forking of the Ways. The central step separated into two parts, one branching to the right and the other to the left. The branch to the right was called Divine Wisdom and the one to the left Earthly Wisdom.

This symbol reminds me of the fork in the road that Robert Frost talks about in his poem,  “The Road Not Taken.” Earthly wisdom or Divine Wisdom? Each path corresponds to a different direction his life may take. He must choose carefully. Left turn or right turn? Mundane or spiritual?

I look back on my own life, wondering how many times I have faced that fork (and still do). I do not always take the road “less traveled.” Sometimes it is just easier to be busy with the mindless daily grind. Wise people are people who make the hard choices, who know things – things that matter. They put that knowledge to good use in practice. I saw a saying the other day on someone’s T shirt that said:

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.

Confucius, another wise person, once said that there were three ways to learn Wisdom:

First, by reflection, which is noblest;

Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and

Third by experience, which is the bitterest.

As we can see the ancient philosophers thought a lot about the nature of wisdom and silence. But what relevance does it have for our modern times?

Silence in a Modern World

First, it seems to me that silence is a very good thing. The powers of observation can lead to truth and wisdom. Moreover, seeking truth and finding wisdom both have Silence 4instrumental value to the modern world.

On the other hand, not all silences are created equal. Some silences don’t lead to truth. We could, I suppose, spend all our time in silence seeking to know every possible truth, but that does not seem like the path of wisdom. What we want to know are silences that matter, that lead to those truths that are relevant to our practical projects and society. Some truths are clearly more actionable than others.

I find encouragement in the exemplary lives of those who have practiced silence, people like Gandhi, the Indian civil rights leader. He is one of the wisest people I know that did great things while being dedicated to spending one day a week in silence. For him, it was a choice to continue to redeem the world and to save the world from our own selves. He knew that a person cannot be wise if he arrogantly over-estimates the power of his own beliefs and judgments. There needs to be humility: to listen and learn, and to give other voices their due.

Thomas Carlyle, philosopher and writer, speaks of a Ghandi type of silence in Sartor Resartus:

Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together; that at length they may emerge, full-formed and majestic, into the daylight of Life, which they are thenceforth to rule.

The great things are not “over there” somewhere. They are all right here, where we are, waiting in silence, the element of not-knowing. Vast. Majestic. Subtle. No knowing them. No rushing them. No trapping them. Only accepting the silence for what it is. And what it will become.

 

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

The Brotherhood of the Crypt

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

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

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

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

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

The Dawn of Mithras

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

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Mithradates Eupator VI

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

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

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Mithras slaying the bull

The Cult of the Invincible Sun

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

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

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A drawing of Aion found at the mithraeum of Ostia

Under the Canopy of Heaven

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

The Degrees of the Crypt

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

 

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

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

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

-Khalil Gibran, Lebanese poet and Freemason