Saturday, August 13, 2016

Experiential communication

One of the hardest elements of Freemasonry to communicate to others is what it communicates. There are parts of the communication that are easy to understand. You can read exposes of the degrees online. You can chase the historical, philosophical, religious, educational, literary and technical allusions that they have to offer, and spend a lifetime in doing so. You can listen to lectures on their deeper meanings on YouTube and read the dissection of them by notable Masons, scholars, enthusiasts and raving conspiracy theorists alike.

All of this will have varying amounts of return on the investment of your time, and to some extent I think it would be worth doing for the person who is not and feels they never will be a Mason.

But after all of that study, you still won't understand what Freemasonry communicates!

That's a kind of bold statement, and it really does need to be defended, so let me first explain some technical details before I circle around to defending my claim.

In the 1960s, a man by the name of Noam Chomsky developed a startling linguistic theory. His theory, backed up by the first successful mathematical approach to all languages, demonstrated that all human languages together only covered a small subset of possible languages that might be developed.

From this arose the popular idea that even the set of all possible languages has its own limitation on expressing all possible ideas.

If we take that as given, then my statement about Freemasonry becomes a bit clearer. What I'm really asserting is that, while language cannot communicate certain ideas, the combination of language and an experiential setting that goes with it gives us the ability to communicate ideas that we cannot then divulge to others without the same combination of language and experience.

I call this "experiential communication," and it has been the secret hidden in plain sight of Freemasonry for hundreds of years. In fact, it is one of the hidden secrets of all initiatory organizations, religions, orders, societies and so on. Not all of them are communicating the same ideas, though. Obviously a Christian baptism is seeking to communicate something different from a Masonic initiation, but both are ideas for which language is (in my opinion) insufficient and always will be.

But, I hear the careful reader saying, "you said that this was true only if we took as given that there are ideas which cannot be expressed through language." This is true. And it should never be taken as an absolute given that what we Freemasons claim to communicate is truly impossible to communicate any other way. But what I will say is that, thus far, I have never even come close to finding a way to do so. I could write for ages on this blog about how I feel "connected" to the Brethren of my Lodge or how the degrees evoke a gestalt that I can't quite put my finger on and has lead me to a deeper and more intuitive understanding of the philosophies and other ideas that the degrees connect to.

But ultimately we come to the fact that I can never tell you what it is that I can't tell you.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The position of the Grand Lodge of Franklin with respect to recent developments in Georgia and Tennessee

Sunday, March 27, 6016 AL

Worthy Brethren,

Since its founding in 5784 AL (1784 by AD reckoning), the great State of Franklin has been seen world-wide as a symbol of the universal love and harmony espoused by our namesake, M.W. Benjamin Franklin. But in recent days, that harmony has been sorely tried within the distinguished halls of Freemasonry. A rift has appeared in our ranks over the interpretation of scripture and its relevance to our Craft. Specifically, the VSL which is a Great Light of Masonry here in Franklin admonishes a man not to "lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman," so there can be no doubt that such an act is in contradiction of the moral principles of our Craft... or can it?

We cannot fail to acknowledge that not all Christian orders within our sovereign jurisdictional borders concur with this assessment of the Holy Bible and more relevant, the Grand Lodge of Franklin has many a worthy Brother who are not Christian. Even within other Abrahamic religions, conservative Judaism, for example, has ordained homosexual rabbis and obviously this Grand Lodge is in no position to question their practice of their own faith.

Rather, this Grand Lodge takes the position that these are matters of sectarian religion and of profane politics. The purpose of a Grand Lodge is to oversee the regularity of the work of its Lodges and to represent their interests in the larger community of Freemasonry. That role does not require us to peer into men's bedrooms or to adjudicate their creed. Indeed to do so would rightly be deemed un-Masonic as it tears down one of the most fundamental of Landmarks: the universality of Freemasonry; that we do not accept or reject the political or religious views of the Brother we sit next to in open Lodge, but rather love him for the Brother he is, regardless of whether we agree or disagree in the profane world.

But our good neighbors in Tennessee and their neighbors in Georgia have taken such a position. As such a call has been made from some quarters for us to suspend recognition of these two Grand Lodges. We will not take such an action. To do so every time we believe a Grand Lodge has strayed from the Landmarks would result in a state of uncertainty on the part of all Franklin Masons. Rather, we will selectively fail to recognize the suspension or expulsion of any Georgia or Tennessee Mason for the sole reason of their sexual orientation or marital status. Any such Brother, being deemed worthy in the eyes of the Grand Lodge of Franklin by a committee to be appointed, shall be given honorary status as a Brother in this Grand Jurisdiction, should the Brother so desire.

This leaves the choice of recognition entirely in the hands of those two Grand bodies. Should they desire, they can suspend recognition of Franklin over what I am certain they will see as a violation of our jurisdictional rights. This is their choice, and we will not question their right to take such action, should they deem it necessary.

However, let us always remember that Freemasonry is about more than our inter-Grand Lodge politics. Freemasonry aims to make good men better, and as such we will now return to our Craft with the hope that we can proceed with that more sublime task and leave this issue in the background where it belongs.


Washington C. R. Frater,
Grand Master
Most Allegorical Grand Lodge of Franklin

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Beyond conspiracy

I think that there comes a time in the career of every Freemason who earnestly pursues the Craft where he will focus on conspiracy theory and anti-Masonry in general. It's an itch... an irritant to any man who feels strongly about the good we do, and we want to explain to others why these ideas don't work. I still do that to some extent, but I've crossed a Rubicon of sorts.

A month or so ago, I engaged a conspiracy theorist directly online and he became... unreasonable. It ended in death threats from him, and I disengaged completely, of course. But it forced me to ask why I cared what he thought in the first place and what my goal was in engaging him in debate.

I think that it has become time for me to return to Freemasonry for its own sake, rather than trying to counter the antis. Yes, I'll continue to respond here and there if I really feel that there's value, but that will be much rarer and this blog will probably return to a more directed investigation of those six ideas that I brought up in the very first posting, here: Brotherly love, the spiritual bond of Freemasonry, the eternal edifice of the Fraternity, a sacred duty to mankind, stewardship of the past and present and  the allegories and ritual of Freemasonry and their meanings.

To that end, I'm going to put off part 2 in my Use of Knowledge series of articles and tackle a different set of ideas first. Expect to see a new series begin in the next couple of weeks about taking on responsibilities within the Fraternity. I've really been deep-diving into taking on responsibility and I think I have something to say about that that's more than just a surface-idea.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Use of knowledge, Part 1: Pike on Lucifer

One of the most common quotes that conspiracy theorists bring up, and one of the most confusing to Masons is Albert Pike's comments about Lucifer in Morals & Dogma, which go:

Lucifer the Light bearer. Strange and mysterious name to give to the Spirit of Darkness. Lucifer the Son of the Morning. Is it he who bears the Light and with its splendors intolerable blinds feeble sensual or selfish souls? Doubt it not!

Now, Pike is a scholar of esoteric interpretation of the highest order, so I'm absolutely unqualified to fully unpeel that, and the context from the book and from the degrees is certainly necessary, but here's my personal views just based on the quote alone:

Lucifer the Light bearer.

This is simply a translation of the Latin word, derived from lux ferre which literally means "to bring light". There's no interpretation at all, here.

Strange and mysterious name to give to the Spirit of Darkness.

This isn't all that deep, interpretation-wise. It is strange that the spirit of darkness has a name which relates to Light. In the Bible, Light almost always refers to the divine, starting in the very first passage of Genesis.

Is it he who bears the Light

Now Pike is getting into deeper symbolic waters. He's introducing the double meaning of "Light" both in the sense of the Bible and the history of the Western initiatic tradition where Light has generally referred to knowledge and understanding. So, this amounts to (if I can so boldly pare Pike down to modern lingo), "if Lucifer is the light bearer and we talk about Light all the time, WTF?!" and he continues...

and with its splendors intolerable blinds feeble sensual or selfish souls? Doubt it not!

Okay, so here's the punchline. You have this idea that knowledge and understanding come with this spirit of darkness. Is that true? Of course it is! Look at any aspect of life from physics to personal relationships. The more you truly understand, the more you are entrusted with potentially harmful capabilities. Physics can give you the key to solving the world's energy problems or building a bomb of horrific potential. Understanding personal relationships can lead you to helping others or to Red Pill-style manipulation of them.

So my own interpretation, here, is:

The Mason is engaged in a quest for knowledge and understanding, but beware: what you bring to that process is your moral compass, and those who fail to apply that compass and seek "feeble, sensual or selfish" ends will undo all of the work that they have done to get there and end up with nothing (being "blind" to the Light).

Doubt it not, indeed.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

When he holdeth his peace, is counted wise...

Conspiracy theorists often forget that by speaking out about something that they understand only superficially, they confirm their lack of understanding to the rest of the world. The most common example of this is the assumption that Freemasonry has a single organizational structure either in terms of its governance or the progression of degrees. When I tell them the truth, they are either left speechless or assume that I'm lying because it immediately disarms their entire rationale for despising the Fraternity.

But this is only the most common example. Interpretations of symbols is another common case where conspiracy theory goes off the rails. For example, a recent "Above Top Secret" posting analyzed the art of Freemasonry. Its conclusions were absurd, but it's important to understand why they're absurd. It's not because they're wrong. In fact, an argument could be made that they're not wrong because there's no such thing as "right" when it comes to interpreting Masonic symbolism. At best, one has a better claim to understanding the symbolism if one has been initiated, but that's only because they symbols are intended to relate to the initiatic experience.

So, here are a few examples from that article:

The compass and square ... As we can see the compass (Female) is on top of the square. Indicating that the female is the Stronger of the sexes.

First off, the interpretation of the Compasses (compasses is never singular) as female is arbitrary. I could make an argument that it does represent the female, but it's a thin argument (based on historical associations of circular vs. squared shapes in art). It's certainly not a slam-dunk assertion that this is the correct interpretation of that symbol.

As an example let me provide a second interpretation: the square is a tool for measuring the real world. Is this stone square? Let's check... But the compasses are a tool for measuring intent. You use them on paper to lay out abstracts. The abstract is above the concrete (no pun intended) because this is how we view our metaphysical situation.

That's my interpretation, but it's not "right" either. There is no right interpretation.

The all seeing eye is in actual fact. The Holy See. The Vatican. Because Freemasonry is just another extension of the Vatican.

This one is fairly silly, but I'll point out that this is contradicted by the fact that the Catholic Church has, in the past, sentenced Freemasons to death for their association with the Fraternity and still considers membership in the Fraternity to be a "grave matter" (otherwise known as a "mortal sin," preventing the Mason from receiving communion).

Another side point, the correct name for the "all seeing eye" is actually the "Eye of Providence" and it is not merely a Masonic symbol. Centuries before it was used by Freemasonry it was a symbol of the Christian conception of divine providence. It later became a generic symbol of the omnipresence of deity, and that is why Freemasonry alludes to this symbol.

[In the artwork depicted] The leaves represent fractals.

Fractals are a concept that really were not fleshed out until fairly late in the 20th century, and even their initial introduction as an abstract concept wasn't until the late 19th century. Freemasonry has been around for at least 200 years longer than that, possible 3 or 4, depending on how you measure and which historical evidence to take as indicating the existence of something that could reasonably be called "Freemasonry."

Symbols do not have to have just one meaning. It is what makes them so interesting.

This is the only insightful comment in the article, and yet the author does not appear to understand it...

There are 33 degrees in Freemasonry. Because there are 33 vertebra in the Human spine.

This would be fascinating... but there's a problem. There are many more than 33 degrees in Freemasonry. There are 33 degrees in the Scottish Rite... well, that's not strictly true, but there are 33 numbered degrees. But they're broken up into a sequence that has no mapping to the spine. As a result, I'm inclined to assert that this is a coincidence only, but there's certainly room for allegorical ideas about the spine and the Scottish Rite due to the presence of this coincidence. It just can't be treated as a sole interpretation.

Unfortunately, this is the point at which the author lost their own thread and started trying to interpret the sacred art of various world religions instead of the art of Freemasonry. It's sad, really, because it punctuates what might have been a passable attempt at giving one interpretation of the symbols of Freemasonry with what amounts to a rambling torrent of gibberish ranging from the Apse of St. Peter's Basilica to Levi's Baphomet (not a Masonic figure at all until it was associated with Freemasonry by the Taxil Hoax) to the Swastika to the Yin/Yang to various random examples of sacred geometry.

In general, here's a good rule: Even a fool, when he holds his peace, is counted wise. (Proverbs 17:28) If you are not certain that what you know is true, it is best not to say anything, but if you must, do not say it with an air of veracity and authority.

Friday, January 22, 2016

What is initiation, why is it secret and how does society benefit from it?

The Initiation Chamber
Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii
I've made the outrageous claim before that society makes great strides when the initiatic tradition is intact and widely adopted and that civilization suffers when this is not the case. In order to even begin investigating the validity of that claim, we need to understand what it is we mean by "initiation" and how it works. This is the goal of the present article.

So, what is initiation? In its simplest form, it is the recognition of entry into a new role or subculture in a larger society, using a system of ritual, performed exclusively by those who have previously been initiated.

Let's look at some examples to clarify what that means: When a man is going to be married, most Western cultures have some sort of ceremonial celebration at which the man is prepared for his new role in society as a husband. In the US we usually call these "bachelor parties." Similarly, when one joins the military, there are many distinct rituals of bonding and acceptance performed as a part of "basic training."

Within the societies which perform stand-alone initiations such as Freemasonry, Rotary and so on, the role of the initiation is not merely a demarcation which one experiences and then moves on. It is an entry into a fellowship, but the process is still very much the same.

We now have a sense (if only by example) of what initiation is, so why is it almost always secret?

Certainly, there are elements of many initiations that are considered private matters (bachelor parties might involve watching a "stag film" or, more commonly in the modern day, hiring an exotic dancer; military initiations might be considered violent by outsiders; etc.) but this is not the primary reason for secrecy.

Rather, secrecy is a part of the reason for initiation. Forming a hidden "token" of belonging between the initiate and the existing members of the group makes the act of initiation meaningful. We see this in every trivial act of initiation from the proverbial "keys to the executive washroom" to the programming communities where contributors who have been accepted into project are given permission to submit new source code.

This gives us a reference point from which to begin to talk about how initiation benefits the individual, the group and society at large.

For the individual, initiation is a signpost. Before and after initiation one leads different lives: the exoteric and the esoteric. By creating and valuing an esoteric context, we promote the notion that there is meaning and value in belonging and contributing to something which is more than just the sum of its individual members. This idea, in turn, is the hallmark of functioning societies.

To quote Yeats' poem, The Second Coming, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." It is this lack of conviction on the part of those who have the most to contribute which initiation is meant to address and resolve; not simply by bonding the initiate to the existing members, but by bonding them to the initiatic body itself and teaching them that they can add value to their cultural context by seeking the acceptance of their peers.

In a future update, I will address specific historical examples of societies with and without strong initiatic traditions....

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Eye of Providence, Freemasonry, Illuminati and the Great Seal of the United States of America

Last Supper at Emmaus
Jacopo Pontormo, 1525
There's a great deal of misinformation around the eye in the triangle symbol and what it means. I'd like to clear that up. FIrst off, it's called "The Eye of Providence."

The Eye of Providence inside of a pyramid is not "the Illuminati logo". The symbol of the Illuminati was the Owl of Minerva. The Eye of Providence was a symbol of the Christian notion of divine providence circa the 15th century in art, but was adopted by many different organizations in the 17th and 18th century as a symbol of the omniscience of deity without being specifically of any one religion.

It was in this sense that Freemasonry, not the Illuminati, used the symbol (though, also not as their primary symbol or logo, which was the Square & Compasses), but it did not appear inside of a pyramid. The conflation with the pyramid probably arose from The Great Seal of the United States where the Eye of Providence represents the providence of God with respect to the founding of the nation from 13 individual colonies (hence the 13 stones making up the base of the pyramid). This providence is clearly explained in the Declaration of Independence, where it is clear that one of the most important aspects of the founders' claim to the right of self-rule, in the face of centuries of monarch-lead claims of divine right to rule, was divine providence. But note that the eye is not inside a pyramid on the Great Seal either! It's actually inside of a triangle. We'll get to where the eye started to go in a pyramid later on...

The Great Seal, like many other uses of the Eye of Providence in the 19th century, had little to do with other uses, so much as it generically represented the philosophy of one group (the framers of the early US system of government). Was it used because of Freemasonry's use? Probably not, but we can't know for sure. Freemasonry was one of many groups that routinely used that symbol in the 18th century, and it was probably used more to avoid specifically referring to any one group or philosophy than the opposite.

The eye is routinely associated (by conspiracy theorists as well as well-meaning enthusiasts) with the Eye of Horus, a symbol from ancient Egyptian mythology. The problem with this theory is that there is absolutely no evidence to support it, and the eye as a symbol of the awareness of deity has cropped up in many isolated systems of iconography from Eastern religions such as Hinduism to the Western aboriginal folk art. There is therefore no particular reason to assume that the Eye of Providence had to be based on some previous icon, and there is no evidence to cause us to do so.

So, why are we so convinced that the Eye is a symbol of the Illuminati and that it was displayed inside a pyramid? Well, that all gets to a funny little thing that happened in the 1970s. Robert Anton Wilson published a story called The Illuminatus! Trilogy which was a comedic, science fiction take on just about every brand of conspiracy theory, and it based its titular organization on what had been a relatively obscure bunch mostly of interest to historians for their alleged influence on the later Jacobins: the Bavarian Illuminati. The book developed most of the sorts of memes that we're familiar with today regarding the Illuminati including absurdly broad influence over governments, religions and secret societies; contact with aliens; the whole works!

It also featured on its cover the Eye of Providence inside of a pyramid... probably influenced by the Great Seal.

The Eye of Providence is an important part of the history of post-enlightenment symbolism and it's sad to see so many people ignoring its actual history in favor of comedy/sci fi. I love good sci fi, but I try not to confuse it with history.