Sunday, March 14, 2010

From Darkness to Light

Many new Freemasons today complain that Freemasonry does not live up to the hype or its potential or to those supposed 'secrets' it is alledged to impart. Following their 3rd Degree initiation, a number of men feel they have simply joined a social order governed by antiquated and repetitive rituals along with weathered allegories, dogmas and moral platitudes. In short, men enter the lodge with hopes of learning something they couldnt learn anywhere else...and find they could have simply Googled it all...and saved themselves the time and the dues.

What's going on? And why arent the bodies of Freemasonry, particularly the Grand Lodges, paying more attention to this?

The problem lies in the true Lost Word of Freemasonry. Most Freemasons simply lack the knowledge of their own Order or resist its implications after they have labored to study it. How many men have read 'Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite'? How many men have poured over the massive Masonic libraries or the wisdom of the Lodge of Research?

I daresay very few indeed. If they had...they might realize that such wisdom, though perhaps readily accessible, cannot be simply processed with a keystroke query on an internet search engine.

Long ago, Freemasonry represented something of a quest. Great men of learning cast their very lives upon the shores of this quest and many of these men died to protect what they had learned against brutal despots and tyrannies. Today, most Masons all but flee from even the very idea of what they slander as 'esoteric' Masonry. For these men, it is enough that Freemasonry is a social order; a charitable institution; and, for many more, something of an honorable addendum to their own cherished religious beliefs.

This quote might surprise these men then...

"The purpose of Freemasonry is not charity nor is it a fraternal society. These are but attributes which have developed. The real purpose of Masonry is the eternal search for truth, the truth about God, and the immortality of the soul. The various degrees represent the different levels through which the human mind passes while moving from ignorance to knowledge. The collecting of all the symbols and mysteries throughout the ages is but man's search for the divine truth. As we say in our ritual, 'from darkness to light.'"
- Rt. Ex. William Adrian Brown (Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Virginia), 'Facts, Fables and Fantasies of Freemasonry.' Missouri Lodge of Research. 1968.

There are certain facts about Freemasonry that cannot be dismissed or denied. While academics and Masonic scholars argue incessantly as to Masonry's origins, one glaring reality stands steadfast under the aegis of the Light...Masonry is an esoteric society.

Indeed, as men utter the proficiencies and repeat the myriad of rituals of the Lodge and the Rites, how can it escape the reason of so many of them that Masonry has a purpose? It has a doctrine. And it does, after all, possess secrets for the worthy.

Quite to the contrary of many of the modern religious pundits influences upon the image of todays, and especially American, Freemasonry, Masonic teachings as they are presented in rituals and degrees owe their estimable beginnings to the ancient philosophical mystery schools; teachings of Jewish mystics and Kabbalists; neoplatonic idealists and renaissance thinkers; eastern and asian religions; and even world myth.

Within the Rites, the philosophies of Masonry seem to exist as a distillation of the ancient mystery teachings of those 'esoteric' societies that coexisted with the mainstream reigning theocracies of the day. And in those days, that 'dark age' of religion over reason, those very philosophies were anathema and forced into secrecy. Is it really so very different today? In some lodges one might be fearful to ask for any book but the Bible to be placed upon the altar though it is Freemasonry's primary dictum that it is open to those of all religious creeds. Perhaps the age is still a bit dark?

Albert Pike, the great Masonic writer, composed a virtual opus of Freemasonry in his 'Morals and Dogma'. But as much of it was a philosophical treatise on comparative religion, mystical studies and 'esoteric' sciences, this book is now casually passed off among the brothers as dense, obscure, difficult and simply in outdated for our more modern understanding of Masonry.

Modern understanding? Just who are we kidding here? Those ritual characters of Masonry are not modern men at all. These stories and truths are ancient. Solomon? Hiram Abif? With their inclusion, these are specifically Jewish stories. And are they understood at all? How many Masons are aware, for instance, that the name Solomon derives from 'Sol' and 'Amun' ... both names for the in Amun Ra. How many others realize the deep connection between Egyptian and Jewish mysticism? Maybe those of you familiar with the Scottish Rite degrees will recognize a bit of what I am mentioning here. But do you understand what it means to teach you?

At its heart, Masonry is philosophy. But it is also an arrow in flight. It has an aim. It possesses a purpose. This purpose of Freemasonry remains the purpose of the Egyptian priests, the Jewish mystics, the Buddhist teachers, the gnostic seekers, the pythagorean sages, the Greek philosophers, the sufis, the alchemists, the Rosicrucians...and the scientists.

Truth. Knowledge. These are well and fine. But truth without purpose and knowledge without aim are lackluster Promethian gifts from the sacred that have no need of an angel with a flaming sword to guard the gates. The first Tiler.

The aim of Masonry is to raise a man from darkness to light...from death to life. Knowledge alone does not suffice. A man must walk the way laid out before him.

Freemasonry is a map for those with 'ears to hear ... and eyes to see'. It is a revealing of the human condition, the meaning all men seek with their lives and the guideposts of those who have gone ahead of them.

To that end, where is Freemasonry leading us? Stories; Myths; Rituals; Histories; Methodologies? Masonry leads its seekers to the Light that lies beyond truth or knowledge in a passive state, though very few will reach so far.

All too many Freemasons endlessly repeat rituals they dare not deem to understand. These men content themselves with the darkness and the mere possibility of light beyond. They content themselves with their religions and stupify themselves with the fear that Masonry may indeed possess that forbidden fruit. Many fundamentalists, Masonic or otherwise, fear a certain 'craftiness' in the Craft and are wary of a serpent in Masonry's tree of knowledge.

And so, generation after generation, the 'Craft' erodes and devolves to better suit the comfortable beliefs of the men of the times. It is more palatable to some as an innocuous social fraternity...or a charity. God help the man who questions the blazing star.

The Center. The Light. The Great Architect. It is only a concept and certainly no idol. It is as blank as the white page, as bright as the suns rays. And virtually no man, Mason or otherwise, comprehends its mysteries.

Behold a man lost in the desert. If a stairway should descend from the very heavens above should he fear it? Should he study it? Or should he ascend upon its steps to what lies beyond? For is not the stairway alone a grace...and an invitation?

And so Freemasonry is an invitation. We are invited to understand ourselves, our place in the cosmos, our equality as men and, most importantly, our relation to nature and the Divine. The degrees themselves are metaphors and allegories whose teaching, like the parables of a spiritual teacher, can be revealed and yet kept secret for those who are truly prepared to understand them. They are acts of submission and of sacrifice. They are the stairs to be climbed. They are the path to be followed.

What one will find outside of his own search is simply interpretation. When a man resolves himself to the Center he will not find his own reflection there but the reflection of every other man so resolved. For the Light is the face of all men who at last recognize that Universal Point, that steadfast and unwavering foundation that all living men are raised upon.

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