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.