The Mystery of the Masons
May 2, 2011 § 22 Comments
So far as I am acquainted with the principles and doctrines of Freemasonry , I conceive it to be founded in benevolence and to be exercised for the good of mankind . ~ George Washington
What do Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Mark Twain, Volatire, Oscar Wilde, Buzz Aldrin, Nat King Cole, Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill, Duke Ellington, John Wayne, Mozart, and Isaac Newton all have in common?
They are all great men, most of them polymaths, adept in multiple disciplines. All famous, admired (with the exception of the controversial Crowley). And they are all Freemasons.
So what is the origin of this “secret society,” so wildly speculated over, which has secured the favor of such diverse and fascinating men?
Though the official origins of Freemasonry are a blurry and much debated matter (the first documented reference dates back to a 1390 poem, and the first Grand Lodge was founded in England, in 1717, ) the spiritual roots of the fraternity are often linked with the ancient Egyptian mystery schools, a pagan tradition of esoteric knowledge handed down from generation to generation, which included astronomy, astrology, geometry, and spiritual teachings.
32nd degree Freemason, Thomas D. Worrel, affirms that the fraternity’s “roots are dug deep in the Mystery Schools of Antiquity,” detailing:
“Freemasonry continues an initiatic tradition whose beginnings are lost in antiquity. This statement cannot be proven historically.Yet the more you study Masonic rites and its symbols, the more you become convinced that you are dealing with something ancient, maybe even primordial. It becomes clear that this tradition is much older than Masonry’s institutional beginnings in 1717, older than the cathedral builders and medieval guilds, older even than King Solomon’s Temple or the Egyptian Pyramids.
It is not easy to define what Freemasonry is. Any definition would be inadequate, because Masonry has a deeply individual meaning to each member of the fraternity. No doctrine is expounded inside the lodge; there are no sermons, no interpretations. Even though teachings are incorporated within the rites, the meanings and interpretations are for the most part left to the candidate, whose task it is to integrate them into his own past and future life.
An initiate’s personal involvement with Masonry may change during his lifetime as well. For some it may be just a social club, a charitable institution, or a way of promoting education and the arts and sciences. For others it may also be a way of probing for the deepest truths.”
The Lodge initiation for the third degree (the first inner circle by invitation only, the beginner levels are open to all,) consists of a ritualized allegorical reenactment of the murder of Hiram Abiff, the priest-architect of King Solomon’s Temple. The Hebrew bible corroborates this basic story, relating a formal request from King Solomon of Jerusalem to King Hiram I of Tyre, for workers and materials to build a new temple. King Hiram responds:
And now I have sent a skillful man, endowed with understanding, Huram my master craftsman […] skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, purple and blue, fine linen and crimson, and to make any engraving and to accomplish any plan which may be given to him, with your skillful men and with the skillful men of my lord David your father (2 Chronicles 2:13-14 )
The story goes that Hiram Abiff, a keeper of ancient mysteries, was constructing a temple for King Solomon to house the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem, now reconstructed as the Temple Mount or Mount Zion (check out PARALLAX’S investigation of some very strange UFO activity surrounding this sacred shrine in “Spaceships Over Jerusalem“) when his own workman murdered him in a failed attempt to extract his priest-architect secrets.
It has been said that the ritual serves as a reinforcement of the idea of loyalty, because Hiram died because he would not share the secrets entrusted him.
The single eye, known as the “All-Seeing Eye” takes its meaning from the ancient Egyptian “Eye of Horus“ an emblem of protection and inner sight. The legend goes that Horus, depicted most often as a falcon, lost his left eye in a fight defeating Set, god of the underworld. This left eye (The Eye of Horus) became the moon, (representing occult knowledge/hidden wisdom,) while his right eye, called “the Eye of Ra” became the sun.
The symbolism of the pyramid traditionally represents man’s climb towards higher knowledge, the evolution of spirituality upwards. However, at the same time there is an undeniable suggestion of caste system symbology, with the masses as the wide base at the bottom, and the select few, elite initiates, represented by the tippy-top, closest to heaven.
Though we are taught in school that America was founded on Christian tenants — and this is not necessarily in conflict with being a Mason — it is beyond conjecture that the founding fathers also incorporated a massive amount of Masonic imagery into the architecture, symbolism and signifiers of our country. It wasn’t hidden — newspaper accounts from the day ran descriptions of Masonic ceremonies in Washington as naturally as they reported any other governmental activity.
The most famous example of this type of symbolism, of course, is the all-seeing eye and pyramid displayed on our one dollar bill. Supposedly, the detached top symbolizes the heights we have yet to reach.
But the most widely identifiable symbol for Freemasonry is the “square and compass” — architectural instruments used to calculate the movement of the heavens. The G is most often ascribed to God, or The Great Architect of the Universe, to use the secular, builder terminology of Freemasonry. But it has also been connected to Geometry.
The two triangles are also said to represent the star of David, or “Seal of Solomon,” which signified the union of opposites, embodying the alchemical/hermetic axiom, “As above, so below” — a concept, denoting the microcosm within the macrocosm, first laid out in The Emerald Tablet of Hermes:
That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing.
Although Freemasons are often accused of Devil worship, to become a Mason, one must first profess faith in an undefined Higher Power/Supreme Being. In an attempt to foster brotherhood and tolerance within the fraternity, matters of religion are prohibited from being discussed within the Lodge.
One of the primary accusations of conspiracy theorists is that the Masons worship the devil, specifically a goat-headed humanoid figure called Baphomet. The Knights Templar were accused of worshipping the same creature, and ultimately persecuted for non-Christian activity. Though the confessions — extracted under torture — are considered dubious by scholars today.
Originally a symbol of Christian folklore representing pagan idolatry, Baphomet first appeared in 11th century Latin as a corruption of “Muhammad” (‘Baphomet’ = Mahomet = Muhammad). Later the terms shows up in trial transcripts of the Inquisition of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century.
Crusade scholar Helen Nicholson writes that the charges were essentially “manipulative,”and typical of witch-hunt-style smear campaigns. Medieval Christians falsely believed that Muslims were idolatrous and worshipped Muhammad as a god, with mahomet becoming mammet in English, meaning an idol or false god.
In the 19th century, the name of Baphomet became further associated with the occult when Éliphas Lévi published Dogmas and Ritual of High Magic, in which he included the now-famous image of Baphomet, a depiction he had drawn himself. Levi explained the figure in symbolic terms, the goat-head representing “the sinner,” while the fire above his head represented man’s potential to obtain higher knowledge.
The Baphomet of Lévi was then further utilized in supposedly symbolic terms by occultist (and Freemason) Aleister Crowley in the early twentieth century. Crowley described the goat-headed figure as representing the Union of Opposites, and hence spiritual perfection.
Baphmoet’s connection with Freemasonry, however, remains dubious, as the first accusation — by Christian evangelist Jack Chick, who claimed that Baphomet is a demon worshipped by Masons — was based on a 1890’s hoax by Léo Taxil. Taxil employed a version of Lévi’s Baphomet on the cover of his sensationalized paperback “exposé” of Freemasonry — which, in 1897, he revealed as a hoax satirizing ultra-Catholic anti-Masonic propaganda.
Misunderstanding another creed or culture’s symbols is a common source of prejudice. While a human skull on a scholar’s desk might strike some as morbid, even death-worshipping or evil, to an old-world alchemist, or even a modern day occultist, it can represent a meditation on impermanence, and the inevitability of death; the goal of which is to better live one’s life.
That being said, to a Theistic Satanist, it could also represent the Dark Lord. Such is the mercurial and fascinating nature of symbols. Considering the men who have been involved in Freemasonry (Einstein, Franklin, Washington, Twain,) I am inclined to personally disbelieve the Baphomet accusation.
With all the conjecture and speculation about the Masons, it is rare to have any personally verifiable fact relating to the fraternity. And so, to close, the author will share a true family story about an experience her mother had with a bona-fide Freemason occult ritual.
My maternal grandfather was a Freemason. My mother does not think he was very “high up” and remembers him only involved to the extent of a newsletter correspondence course (though how many little girls know the full nature of their father’s nocturnal activities?)
As my mother remembers it, she was around nine years old, when her father asked her to come “help him with something.” She entered his bedroom, which was darkened by closed blinds, a single candle lit on the left-hand corner of his vanity mirror. Without further explanation, her father sat down in the corner of the room and asked her simply to gaze into the mirror.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later, my mom was bored out of her nine-year-old mind. Just as she was thinking about how much she’d rather be playing outside, her reflection in the glass suddenly transformed from a freckly nine year old visage into the head and shoulders of an unknown black woman in a turban. The image, she said, was as clear and real as her own reflection had been a few seconds before.
She screamed with surprise to see her own face replaced with a stranger’s. Her mother came running into the room, crying, “What are you doing with my child!” and with all the commotion, the image promptly disappeared.
My mother found out later it had been a Masonic exercise to see past lives — her father had been trying the exercise without success, and decided to see if it would have a better affect on a child without expectation.
*Addendum: I have been informed by a Mark Master Mason who read this post that this mirror exercise is not strictly Masonic. He himself has never heard of it, adding that there are some unsanctioned lodges, of which it may be a part of their catalogue. Also, he says, often the same type of people drawn to Masonry will dabble in other aspects of the occult. See comments.
The Death and Resurrection Show
May 10, 2011 § 13 Comments
By Tai Carmen
“Beat the drum and sing songs. If you are an ordinary man, nothing will come of it; but if you are to be a shaman, you will be no ordinary one.” ~ Siberian shaman
“The unfathomable experience that humanity has symbolically expressed for millennia through myths, fables, rituals and ecstasies, remains one of the hidden centers of our culture, of the way we exist in the world.” ~ Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies
“Listen, wait, and be patient. Every shaman knows you have to deal with the fire that’s in your audience’s eye.”~ Ken Kesey
The word shaman, originally Siberian, is an anthropological term. In the Tungus language, a saman is a person who “beats the drum, enters into trance, and cures people”(The Cosmic Serpent, Jeremy Narby).
Almost universally, indigenous people have sought meaning and clarity through ritual ecstasies. The word “ecstasy,” despite its modern connotation of supreme bliss, originally meant “to be out of ones head.” The Greco-Roman Dionysian Mysteries (aka the Cult of Dionysus) parallel the shamanic practices of tribal cultures — a systematized disorganization of the senses via trance states induced by intoxicants/hallucinogenics, music and/or dance, with the goal of personal transformation/liberation from social constraints, and communion with a divine or supernatural principal.
(If that sounds like a pretty good time, keep in mind that there are tales of humans being hunted like animals and sacrificed by wild Dionysians).
“In intoxication,” muses Bertrand Russell in A History of Western Philosophy, “in physical or spiritual, the initiate recovers an intensity of feeling which prudence had destroyed; he finds the world full of delight and beauty, and his imagination is suddenly liberated from the prison of everyday preoccupations. The [Dionysian] ritual produced what was called ‘enthusiasm’, which means etymologically having the god enter the worshipper, who believed that he became one with the god.”
The idea of the shamanic ritual was to go through a symbolic death of sorts, to shed old psychic skins, and emerge, in a sense, reborn.
Interestingly, rock shows and raves more closely resemble these archaic rituals than modern religious services. Show business has taken the place of shamanism.
Celebrities are the medicine men and women of modern society. The shaman addresses the collective psychic state of the participants through ceremonial performance, guiding the group through a transformative experience, usually accompanied by hypnotic rhythm. Archaic man’s ecstatic mysteries have much in common with modern man’s rock shows.
John Lennon famously complained about the vast amount of godlike power assigned him and his band-mates as Beatles. People would show up in wheelchairs wanting Lennon to heal them. “The Beatles,” relates Rogan Taylor, “had been mistaken for medicine-men. Soon they began to look and act like medicine men.”
“By the mid-sixties,” continues Taylor,”something strange was happening on a scale never previously seen. Rock’n’roll had burst out of its adolescent shell to become a full-blown sacred cult.
“[…] The star performers were being hailed as culture heroes and worshipped with an ecstatitic intensity more usually reserved for religious rites […] soon they even began to look like weird prophets from another age.
“Their bizarre regalia and wild manner were framed in fantastic lifestyles and their powers acclaimed as extraordinary […] it was as if the old shamans had cast away the last vestiges of disguise to stand openly on stage at last.”
And just as gods must journey into the underworld, modern celebrities do what they can to do this mythic requirement justice, often living in a ceaseless Dionysian frenzy until they self-destruct and die young, as so many young musicians and actors have so tragically done. But such is the price of a shaman.
A shaman gets his powers in some way from the other worlds he journeys to, from his strange lifestyle, and through his ability to transform and articulate transformation to the tribe.
Just as spirits often “possess” the shaman during his trance, musicians often report feeling possessed by a greater spirit than themselves on stage. R & B singer Beyonce has said of her alter-ego “Sasha Fierce:”
I have someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m on stage, this alter ego that I’ve created that kind of protects me and who I really am.
Religious Historian Mircea Eliade sums up the vast anthropological literature on shamanic ritual as “the death and mystical resurrection of the candidate by means of a descent to the underworld and an ascent to the sky.”
Some of today’s most mainstream performers re-enact these ancient transformative rituals with startling precision. Take for instance shock-pop icon Lady Gaga’s infamous MTV Video Awards performance wherein she smeared her white dress with (hopefully fake) blood . . .
. . . and then walked around looking like a living sacrifice for the rest of the night.
In a strange interview Lady Gaga acknowledges her awareness of her role:
What are you looking for? What you’re looking for is magic…magic is what happens on the stage … I’m here to entertain you and I’m here to be a martyr for show business… I will die in front of all of you so that you can watch and enjoy.
But a coked-up, gyrating, scantily clad pop star singing about sex is a far cry from a peyote-smoking medicine man pounding a drum and guiding the tribe through a night of cathartic dance, ritual and sacredly framed drug-induced vision questing.
One primary difference is training and tradition: archaic medicine men and women had the tradition of their tribal elders to draw upon, trained often for years to become the spiritual guides of their community.
Today’s would-be rock shamans have only the mantra of “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” chanted by their hedonistic heroes to go by, and stardom is a map-less road known for inspiring egomania, isolation, addiction and suicide. These are our shamans, the blind leading the blind, and millions of children aspire to be just like their heroes.
“We live in a culture where everything tastes good,” says Daniel Pinchbeck, author of Breaking Open The Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Modern Shamanism, “but nothing satisfies.”
In today’s culture of distraction, where humankind is increasingly isolated from nature and from a sense of visceral community, we can still pursue the sacred art of the vision quest (for inspiration, check of The Modern Vision Quest on Parallax.)
We must make our own reality-maps, as those leading are blind themselves, our healers, wounded. We can create new ceremonies and transformative techniques that have meaning to us personally.
The important thing is to take the time to stop and commune with our inner visions, tap into the greater cosmic wisdom, etc — in short, to take the time to dream. In a culture of media overload and technological gadgetry, we must remember to honor our need for deeper meaning.