FIAT LUX - SOME THOUGHTS ON MASONIC LIGHT
by John W. Alexander, WM (Britannia Lodge No. 18)
I ought to begin this paper by stating that what follows is the fruit of my own personal search and no brother is obliged to accept it. For that matter, he is not obliged to accept the findings of any other brother. He cannot even say, ever, that he, himself, has discovered the last word on the meaning of any symbol or allegory, for the tapestry of Freemasonry is so rich and so vast that no one man's lifetime is long enough to comprehend all of it.
Masonic research can be divided into two broad categories: Historical Masonry and Symbolic Masonry. Now I have the greatest respect for the Masonic archaeologists. Their painstaking work is slowly, but surely, filling in the blanks in our knowledge of Masonry's origins. However, fascinating as the development of the Gentle Craft undoubtedly is, I am rather less concerned with where we came from than with where we are going. And where we ought to be going can best be found, I feel, from a thorough understanding of the lessons Freemasonry has to teach us. For that reason, my major interest lies along the Symbolic branch of the research tree.
I have always felt that, for a Lodge of Research, this Lodge is very appropriately named. And so, when Worshipful Brother Jones asked me to make a presentation, it didn't take me long to come up with a topic. Fiat Lux! - Let There Be Light! Three times we hear that proclamation on our journey from the Neutral World to the High and Sublime Degree. A sure sign that the anonymous brethren who compiled our ritual believed that the acquisition of Light was the highest activity in which a man could engage. In keeping with this belief, therefore, I would like to share with you this afternoon, some thoughts on Masonic Light: what it is, where we can find it and how we benefit from it.
WHAT IS LIGHT?
At first glance it would appear that we should begin by asking "What is Light?" Over the seven years that I have lived in Alberta, I have come to love the Ancient York Rite. I will strive to the utmost to defend it for I believe that it contains the last existing vestiges of the work of our ancient Operative brethren. Nevertheless, I have to concede that it does have one glaring omission. One that our Canadian Rite brethren will instantly recognize. Every other ritual for the High and Sublime degree that I have ever read or seen worked, contains the statement: "I beg you to observe that the Light of a Master Mason is Darkness Visible." The Light of a Master Mason is Darkness visible. I put it to you, Brethren, that this is the most accurate description of Masonic Light that you will ever find.
In keeping with our normal Masonic practice of burying our important truths deeply, the ritual sets out immediately to disguise this truth by speaking of in terms appropriate to physical light: "Yet even by this feeble ray . . . etc." But, if we interpret the statement in the light of our understanding of the symbolic meanings of Light and Darkness, we find that, far from being a "feeble ray," it is, in fact, a veritable searchlight aimed at Truth. The extent of our enlightenment is determined by our ability to recognize ignorance or error. So our first question ought, more appropriately, to be not "What is Light?" but "What is Darkness?"
For primitive man, the absence of light, by impairing his ability to see, seemed to plunge the world into nothingness. Thus, even from the earliest times, we find darkness, as the negation of light, regarded as a cause of fear and, therefore, of evil. The Ancient Mysteries, which coexisted with and underlay the conventional religions of those far-off times, developed the idea of Light as a symbol of Knowledge and Truth. Thus we find that they all regarded its opposite as representative of Ignorance and Error. It is in this form that Freemasonry, the heiress of all the Systems of Initiation, has received the concept.
Our candidate, like those of the Ancient Mysteries, enters the lodge room enshrouded in darkness. This is not to hide anything from him. After all, once he has assumed the necessary obligations, he will be shown everything. No, it is to impress him with the idea that he is blind in spirit, that he lacks knowledge, that he is in a State of Darkness. Hopefully he comes to understand that it was not the lodge which was darkened but he himself and will realize the truth that he brought his own darkness in with him! The item that we use to blindfold him is called, Masonically, a hoodwink. But a hoodwink means more than a simple blindfold. The Peerage Reference Dictionary defines the verb 'to hoodwink' as 'to deceive' thus the candidate's condition on entry is considered to be that of a man deceived. Deceived by Ignorance.
From Masonry's point of view, Ignorance is a sin. (1) It is a sin because it promotes human unhappiness. It is responsible for most of the tension and unrest in the world. Men fear what they do not know and they hate what they fear. Political leaders, more interested in maintaining their positions than in promoting peace, use their lack of knowledge to justify belligerent stances that will encourage votes instead of going to the bargaining table which might cost votes. Parents, uncaring, perhaps even unaware that parenthood is a vocation, produce undisciplined children barely able to keep their passion in check. Inattentive and frequently disruptive in school, they emerge in their turn semi-literate, bigoted, the ready targets of the next generation of demagogues who will prey on their fears and prejudices to foment religious and racial strife. All the while, they produce children of their own to perpetuate the dismal situation. Suspicion, dislike, envy, intolerance and a host of other detrimental emotions are all the bitter fruit of Ignorance.
Often you'll hear them attempt to justify their lack of knowledge with claims like "I had no opportunity to learn." or "My parents didn't care," or "I had to leave school early." Balony! In 1826, the great Scottish missionary doctor and explorer, David Livingstone - and there's a name for Masons to conjure with went to work in a spinning mill as a 13 year old boy. He used his first week's wages to buy a Latin Grammar. Propping it up beside his machine, he taught himself Latin as he worked. Today we have evening classes, correspondence courses, why, you can even get yourself a university degree without having to interrupt your earnings. There is no excuse for Ignorance and the only possible reason for it is lack of application.
(1) Harry L. Haywood, The Great Teachings of Masonry Explained, (Macoy Publishing, 1971) 143.
The LIght of a Master Mason is Darkness Visible. If he can see the effects of malice, envy and self-seeking, the corroding influence of prejudice and intolerance, if his search for the Lost word serves increasingly to show how much he, himself, still has to learn, he will retain his enlightenment. He will also
WHERE DO WE FIND LIGHT?
The first time I spoke in this Lodge, was to make a remark to a presentation by Brother Love who was then the worshipful master. Brother Love was replying to a question from the Question Box which asked what books a new Mason could read in order to learn about Masonry. The tenor of my remark was that Jones, Carr, Claudy, Haywood and Pike notwithstanding, the most important book any new Mason could read is the one we give him when we raise him. It is the one which has the central position in any lodge The Great Light in Masonry. The name we have given it indicates the opinion we have of it as a source of instruction.
The Worshipful Master tells the new-born Entered Apprentice that within the covers of the Holy Bible are contained those principles of morality which lay the foundations upon which to build a righteous life. Quite properly, he does not go on to enumerate those principles. That isn't his business. Nor is it Masonry's. Each brother must find the Lost Word for himself. The best he can receive from his brethren is a Substitute Word. However, that Substitute Word would be valueless if it did not, at least, point the brother in the right direction, if it did not, at least, move him one more step along his way. That is why we refer our new brethren to the Bible from the very beginning of their Masonic lives. That is our Substitute Word for them.
It has often been pointed out that the Bible is not one book, but many. So it is. And it was written by many people, each with his own imagery and his own style. John was a mystic, Moses a lawyer, Ezekiel a dreamer and David a poet. But they all had this in common: they were the protagonists, not spectators. Each page in their stories was lived before it was written. Actually,
this diversity of authorship is crucial to the Bible's credibility. Had it been written by one man only, all we would have been able to say is that what he had written was his own opinion. But soldiers and statesmen, priests and sinners, kings and shepherd boys, the obedient and the rebellious, each living his own life in his own way, learned the same lesson and, in learning it, points it out to us: a man reaps what he sows, whether the harvest be for weal or for woe. Even when the harvest is sorrowful, the fact that it always comes confirms the conclusion.
1 Hosea 6: 6
2 Jeremiah 31: 3
3 1: 5
As we read these accounts of those ancient, long-dead lives, we become conscious of a sense of kinship with the protagonists. For we have known those same emotions in our own lives. Joy is joy, pain is pain, fear is fear and death is death in every land and in every age. And so we conclude that if we are their kin, if their emotions are ours, then, if we live our lives the way they lived theirs, their rewards will be ours too. Yet this lesson of the iron law of destiny is suffused with reassurance. It comes to us as a gentle warning from a kind Father, not as an implacable threat from an inflexible Judge. Again and again, He sends us this message of hope: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."(1) "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love." (2) "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee." (3) And so we come away from the Bible not with a catalogue of moral precepts, but with a glimpse of the everlasting truth of one God who is Love and who requires men to act justly, be merciful, keep themselves untainted by evil and walk humbly before Him.
Men are said to be in pursuit of knowledge. They are said to search for knowledge. They are said to be on a quest for knowledge. They describe themselves as seekers after knowledge. All these idioms suggest the same thing: that the knowledge already exists but men haven't found it yet. No man ever says he has created knowledge, for, of course, he cannot. What he does is to observe certain facts. He then draws conclusions from these facts, tests the conclusions in practice and, when they are proven to be true, he calls the conclusions knowledge. Our ritual tells us that knowledge is obtained by degrees and that wisdom dwells in contemplation. This tells us straight away that there is a distinction between the two. Of course, we could work that out for ourselves anyway. After all, it was knowledge that gave us the use of tobacco. Given its effects on our hearts and lungs, by no stretch of the imagination could it be called wisdom. Knowledge taught us to refine iron and then to smelt it, to make steel. But steel can be used as readily to make swords as to make ploughshares. And the same principles of aerodynamics
that keep a 747 in the air, kept the Lancaster bomber there, too. Knowledge is not an unmixed blessing. It blesses or curses us according to how it is used. And the discoverer is not always
the eventual user. Moreover, the uses to which his work is put are not always what the discoverer intended. Einstein is reputed to have said that had he known that the Theory of Relativity would have been helpful in making an atomic bomb, he would rather have been a locksmith than a physicist.
Knowledge, you see is only half the story. It is only the awareness that certain facts are true. The other half - the more important half - is the understanding of the implications of that awareness; the understanding of how the data are connected; how the facts relate to one another, how they affect one another and how their application will affect men and their environment. This understanding is what we call wisdom. It can be measured by the use to which knowledge is put, the user showing more or less wisdom according to whether his use of the knowledge helps or harms his fellows.
If this is true of physical knowledge, how much more so is it true of spiritual knowledge or enlightenment. A wise brother describes wisdom in this way: "Merely to know certain facts about the hidden side of life profits nothing, unless the knowledge is allowed to influence and adapt our method of living to the truths disclosed." Then the knowledge becomes transmuted into wisdom.(1)
(1) Walter L. Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry, (Bell Publishing Company, 1980), 182.
The Light of a Master Mason which is Darkness Visible will enable us to measure how much or how little progress we have made in allowing our lives to be adapted and influenced by the message about God's requirement of us which we found in the Bible.
THE BENEFITS OF LIGHT
Brotherly Love is the Principal Tenet of our Profession. It is the subject of the first instruction every Freemason receives. It is also one of the Great Truths, which can be deduced by the fact that the ritual disguises it; in this case by speaking of it in terms of alms-giving. Charity has nothing to do with alms-giving. It comes from the Latin word "caritas" which means "Love." Caritas is also the root of our verb "to care." Alms-giving may, from time to time, be a part of loving or caring but it is never the whole of it.
More than half of the New Testament comes from the pen of an itinerant Jewish tent-maker called Paul of Tarsus. There can be no doubt that he was an initiate of one of the Great Mysteries because even the most casual scan of his writings reveals that they are peppered with allusions to Initiation symbolism. If you require further confirmation, read the Epistle to the Ephesians in the light of your understanding of the symbolic meanings of Light and Darkness.
For our purposes, this afternoon, I would like you to consider the thirteenth chapter of his first Epistle to the Corinthians. How many of us have come away from Paul's great exposition of Love with the feeling that stately, almost musical, even, as the English may be, it describes an ideal impossible to achieve?
I put it to you, Brethren, that this conclusion arises from the fact that few of us understand what Love really is. For most of us, it means the pink-clouds-bells-and-rosy feeling we experience when we discover that the word 'girl' can also be spelled with a capital 'G.' To use psychological language, this condition arises from a spontaneous collapse of the ego boundaries, and psychologists call it 'cathexis.' Sooner or later, the ego boundaries reestablish themselves. When that happens, the unenlightened may feel that he has "fallen out of love." Since most marriages and other similar liaisons nowadays are contracted on the basis of cathexis rather than love, this may be the reason why so many of them end in more or less acrimonious separation. But, until the ego boundaries are back in place, the effect of their absence is to foster the belief that one can take the cathected object - usually another person - inside oneself, to contain them, as it were. This is where cathexis differs from Love. If something is contained, enclosed, it cannot grow. And growth is the birthright of every living creature. If I contain another person, I prevent that person from developing spiritually except, perhaps, in a manner or direction that is acceptable to me. And that might not be acceptable to them.
With this in mind, let's reread Paul's thesis. This time with Love shorn of its romantic trappings. Now we see that the descriptive clauses are not things to be felt, but things to be done. Love is not a feeling, not an emotional experience, but an act of will. Love is the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth. (1) The desire to contain another, the characteristic of cathexis, is the antithesis of Love.
God works for man through man and seldom, if at all, in any other way. (2) The facile explanation that we give the Entered Apprentice in the North East Corner, that he is deprived of minerals and metals to remind him of his poor and penniless situation when approached by another for assistance, is true only at the shallowest level of understanding. There is another, deeper, lesson here. He is deprived of material wealth to teach him that, despite what he lacks, he still has himself to give. And the gift of himself is the best gift he can give. Material poverty is of no consequence. A man who is broken-hearted, who is spiritually destitute, is in the most abject poverty regardless of how much material wealth he commands. And, if a loving brother gives himself to the comfort of such a man, he has given a greater gift than all the treasure of SKI and HKT combined.
We cannot be unjust to someone we love. It is impossible to be unmerciful to someone we love. We will automatically subordinate our own needs and desires for the promotion of those of someone we love. So we may conclude that Justice, Mercy and Humility are
attributes of Love. They are also attributes of God, even humility, which He shows in His offer to us of kinship with Him. Notice, further, that we learned in the last section that God desires us to display these God-attributes in our dealings with our fellows. These are the qualities they desire Him to show to them so what He is doing is offering us the chance of doing His job, of being partners with Him in running the universe. He is also asking us to be God-like ourselves. And since we know that He would never expect us to do anything we were not capable of, we have to conclude that it is possible for us to be God-like.
To carry out this work, we have to Love our fellows, that is, we have to extend ourselves for the purpose of nurturing their spiritual growth. Remember that this is an act of will, Brethren, not one of emotion. Nevertheless, we still have to achieve a personal transformation. The Lecture of the First Degree tells us that Love is the greatest rung on the Symbolic Ladder. Why? Faith can be lost in sight. Once we have assurance, we no longer need faith. Hope can end in fruition. Once we have achieved our desire, we no longer need to hope for it. Faith and Hope imply a desire to get something. Love, on the other hand, requires that we give something. As we achieve the transformation, as we cease to be creatures of getting and become creatures of giving, our understanding of each other grows, our fear and suspicion of each other departs, our differences diminish and we realize that we are one, that we are united and that we always have been. And so, as we participate in the spiritual growth of our fellow men, we grow spiritually ourselves and we prove that in giving we have received. In dying to our own personalities we become one with the life of the universe. As the Lecture puts it, Love extends beyond the grave through the boundless realms of eternity.
(1) M. Scott Peck M.D., The Road Less Travelled (Simon & Shuster, 1987), 81.
(2) Alphonse Cerza, A Masonic Thought for every day in the Year (The Missouri Lodge of Research, 1972), 6.
The Light of a Master mason, which is Darkness Visible once again shows us how well we have achieved the personal transformation by revealing how much justice, mercy and humility we still have to achieve in our dealings with our fellow men.
Moses Maimonides was a rabbi who lived from about 1131 till about 1209 of the Christian Era. We don't know if he was a Mason, but given the antisemitic prejudice of those days and the exclusively Roman Catholic character of the Operative Craft, it is very likely he was not. Nevertheless, speaking of profound religious truths in the Mishne Torak, which he wrote, he describes the germ of the Masonic method of teaching:
"The sages of old have directed that no one shall expound these subjects except to a single person, who must also be wise and intelligent by his own knowledge; and after that, we may only give him the outlines, and convey to him mere hints on the subject, and he, being intelligent by his knowledge, may become acquainted with the end and depth of the matter." (1)
Although there is more than one person here, I believe I am being true to that ancient injunction by submitting this paper to Masonic Brethren, I thank you for your patient hearing and hope that I may have inspired you to set your Fellowcraft tools to the perfecting of this rough ashlar.
(1) Robert Race, "Genuine Ancient Landmarks" in British Masonic Miscellany Vol. I (David Winter and Son, 1917), 134.
Mackey, A. G. Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry. Chicago: The Masonic History Company, 1927.
Haywood, H. L. The Great Teachings of Masonzy Explained. Richmond: Macoy Publishing, 1986.
Hammond, W. E. What Masonry Means. Richmond: Macoy Publishing, 1975.
Wilmshurst, W. L. The meaning of Masonry. New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1980.
Cerza, Alphonse. "A Masonic Thought for Every Day in the Year." The Missouri Lodge of Research, 1972.
---British Masonic Miscellany. Vol. I. Dundee: David Winer and son, 1917.
Peck, M. Scott. The Road Less Travelled. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1978.
Jampolsky, G. G. Love is Letting go of Fear. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.
---Holy Bible, King James version.
---Peerage Reference Dictionary. London: Octopus Books Ltd., 1986.
One of the members of FIAT LUX Lodge of Research is the subject of the following news item.
August 29, 1987 will be recorded as a day of a unique event in the history of Freemasonry in Tasmania. At the semi-annual Communication held in Hobart, four brethren received their commissions as Grand Representatives of other jurisdictions. One was V. W. Bro. John L. Girard, who received his commission as Grand Representative of the Grand Lodge of Manitoba, at the hands of R. W. Bro. Brian Roundtree of our Mystery Lodge No. 174, who personally presented it to him.
Bro. Rountree is in Tasmania on a Teacher Exchange Program for 1987. He is teaching Grade 4 at Rocherlea Primary in the city of Launceston. He has enjoyed the opportunity of visiting the many lodges in the area, having attended 12 of 15 city lodges and seven in towns outside the city. Bro. Rountree has been invited to speak to five lodges about Masonry in Canada, and particularly Manitoba. He tells us that many of the concerns in Manitoba (membership, funds), are evident in Tasmania. He will be returning to his teaching post in Thompson MB in January 1988.
From "Masonry in Manitoba."