January Temple Topics

Happy new year, Brethren, and congratulations to our newly initiated entered apprentice, Bro. E. L.!


Upcoming events can always been seen on the lodge website, http://www.berwynlodge.org. There are a series of finance committee meetings planned for some of our first Tuesdays, and Masonic discussions for upcoming fifth Tuesdays, in addition to our usual stated meetings and degree work.

Esoteric Masonry: Some thoughts

Masonry is without a doubt the largest and most successful fraternity in the world. Although its numbers have dwindled in the past few decades, the years since the turn of the century have also seen an upswing in young men coming to Masonry. In many cases, these men are looking for something – something more than a social club or even a charitable cause.

In the past, many men learned of Masonry through its presence in their community or by having a family member in the Craft. Unfortunately, while lodges may have been visible in their community work, individual members were often unnecessarily secretive about lodge practices, and did not provide their children with the knowledge or motivation to seek out membership. Now, however, new introductions to Masonry have emerged. Many young men, introduced to the Craft through the books of Dan Brown, the National Treasure movies, or the voluminous literature available on the internet, are approaching local lodges with interest in the Craft and its esoteric teaching. And yet, few lodges are equipped or committed to provide what these men seek.

Esoteric literally means “inner”, and refers to teachings which are shared or advanced by an inner group of practitioners within a group and are thus private or secret from others, and particularly from those who are not in the group. The opposite of “esoteric” is “exoteric”, meaning “outer”; “public” is another good antonym (and “profane” is a traditional one, although less understood now in this sense). Another word that might be used is “sacred”, which means “set apart.”

In one sense, Freemasonry as practiced anywhere is esoteric. Masonic rituals and modes of recognition are held private, and accessible only to those within the Craft. In another sense, however, many scholars distinguish the public trappings of Masonry from the inner lessons and practices which Masonry was designed to teach and inculcate in its practitioners. Truly esoteric Masonry is inherently private, and must be shared and experienced, rather than written about. But I’d like to suggest some ways that an esoterically oriented lodge in Illinois might conduct itself differently from a lodge not interested in these ideas.

Before proceeding further, I should make it clear that I do not intend to cast a value judgment on the practices of any lodge, esoteric or otherwise. Many men come to Freemasonry seeking the exoteric benefits of the Craft, which are considerable: good fellowship, interesting ritual, and service to one’s fellow beings. That a Mason or a lodge chooses to focus on the esoteric aspects of Freemasonry does not accord it higher status, greater importance, or more success. But for those who come to the Craft seeking wisdom and spiritual development, an esoteric lodge may better fit their needs.

Stated plainly, the goal of an esoteric lodge is to help each Mason discover the inner secrets of Masonry for himself, and to use those secrets for the benefit of humanity. Masonry points to these secrets through symbol, allegory, ritual, and a rich tapestry of practices; it also provides exoteric explanations and interpretations for each of these. The esoteric lodge helps teach its members to recognize that symbols are less important than what is symbolized, and that they will have to discover deeper interpretations that lie behind those provided, to assist one another in that journey, and to provide the proper conditions to make the discovery and use of esoteric power possible.

My interest is not only how to conduct an esoteric lodge, but how to do so within the boundaries of the mainstream United States Grand Lodge system. For example, mainstream Masonry admits only men, and yet there are clearly esoteric traditions that fully incorporate women and that are well worth consideration. Similarly, wine and beer have a history of use in esotericism in and out of lodges, but U.S. lodges, in particular, prohibit the drinking of alcoholic beverages at lodge functions. The esoteric lodge should not be seen as the sole focus of any Mason’s practice, but rather as a way to use the existing Lodge and Grand Lodge system to support and enhance that practice. Here are a very few ideas.

A Masonic lodge, like Solomon’s Temple and Moses’s Tabernacle, is, at heart, a division of space between the everyday world and the world of the sacred. In his book The Sacred and the Profane, Mercea Eliade lays out this idea with respect to ancient religion. In short, the lodge represents the world, and provides a means of connection between the profane and the sacred. It is consecrated (by means of rituals endorsed by its particular Grand Lodge) in order to be recognized as a space in which this connection can occur.

Thresholds are an important concept in sacred space; at the threshold, Brothers cross from the exoteric world to the esoteric world. The threshold is marked in two important ways in lodges.

First, many lodges that have representations of the two pillars of the Temple, themselves potent esoteric symbols, place them within the lodge on the left and right sides of the inner (lodge) side of the Tyler’s door; lodges that place them elsewhere might consider relocating them here. Even better might be to place them on the left and right sides of the outer side of the Tyler’s door, where lodge members are more likely to notice that they are passing through them.

The second mark of the threshold is a guard, sometimes on the outside of the door (the Tyler), and sometimes also on the inside of the door (the Inner Guard, in some jurisdictions, or the Junior Deacon). Those who wish to cross the threshold must confront the guard, prove themselves worthy, and be invited within. The symbolism of this passage can be enhanced in several ways. The Tyler or outer guard carries a naked sword as a symbol of his ceremonial function, but in many lodges, the sword is left leaning against the wall. If, instead, the Tyler uses his sword (carefully) and confronts each Brother seeking admission, the significance of the passage is much increased, both by interposing an actual barrier and by reminding the Brother of their initial reception into the Lodge.

If the lodge is the world, the ceiling of a lodge is naturally a representation of the sky, where divinity symbolically dwells. The vision of Jacob’s ladder ascending into the heavens strengthens this metaphor. The esoteric lodge can seek to reinforce the association even further. For example, in many Masonic temples, particularly outside of the United States, the ceiling of the lodge is decorated with stars, constellations, and perhaps the moon, and U.S. Lodges can recover this practice. Painting the ceiling is perhaps the easiest way to provide this decoration, although a lodge that is already having electric work done in the ceiling could also considering installing a set of led or fiber optic “points of light”.

The altar represents the axis mundi, or center of the world. It – or the volume of the sacred law (VSL) that rests upon it – is the interior source of Light in the lodge, and, in U.S. lodges, is positioned in the very center of the room. Metaphorically, it is through the altar that the lodge and its candidates communicate with heaven; accordingly, the ceiling above the altar should provide a strong connection with the heavens, the exterior source of Light. In many lodges, this is done by installing a spotlight in the ceiling above the altar that is lit when the VSL is open; a skylight would also be quite appropriate.

The Bible, Square, and Compasses are described as the three Great Lights in Masonry. The Holy Bible, or Volume of the Sacred Law, is the primary of this triad, resting on the altar and serving as the first transmitter of divine light from the heavens to the lodge. The square and compasses, resting thereon, focus this divine light into the particular shape required for Masonic work – adjusted by the square and circumscribed within the compasses. Although there are many paths to the divine light, the Masonic Craft uses its working tools to facilitate a particular approach to moral and esoteric development.

During the Lodge opening, as the Great Light and Lesser Lights are lit, I try to visualize the divine essence pouring from the heavens down upon the VSL, reflecting it to the East, then West, then South, and from thence diffusing it to all the brethren in the lodge. While the lodge is at work, it is continually overseen and empowered by the reflections of that divine Light, and it is the final duty of the brethren to see that at the closing of the lodge, the Light returns upon its path and the lodge room becomes once again four walls, a floor, and a ceiling, until it is next called upon to fulfill its sacred function.

Answers to Masonic word puzzles

From November 2010: Hidden in each sentence below are words related to Freemasonry. These words may appear within other words, or across two or more words. How many can you find? The first sentence is solved for you.

  1. ThoMAS ONly eats fish. (MASON)
  2. The privates salute as the non-com passes by the reviewing stand. (COMPASSES)
  3. Will Eve like the fruit more than Adam? (LEVEL)
  4. We can’t cash large bills here. (ASHLAR)
  5. She will slap Ron if he repeats that word again. (APRON)

Comments are closed.