Review of Freemasonry

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A Speculation into the Divinity of the Right Angle and Compasses
by Bro. Ronald J. Watkins
Wayfarers Lodge #50
Grand Lodge of Arizona.

            In the millennium before recorded history, mankind sought to understand the world in which he lived. To do so is in our nature and constant to all times and to all people. Manís observations of his world were for tens of thousands of years limited to that which he could see with his naked eye and judge for himself on earth by direct observation. Just as so much of human behavior is embedded within us based on ages long, prehistoric experiences, so too did the natural rhythms and harmony of the world implant themselves within us. Despite the discoveries of physical science we continue to relate to nature based on our history as a species.

            From this springs our appreciation of things natural. A sunset is always awe inspiring. Waterfalls never cease to excite. A rainbow is nearly magical in its beauty. It matters not if we know the science behind any of these, we still stand in wonder at their glory. These behaviors and responses are fundamental to us. These, and much, much more, are primaeval in origin and are as much a part of our daily life, perhaps more so, than our behavior influenced by logic. We respond to representations and the symbolism of them on an instinctive level, often unaware of their calming or inspirational effect.

            Much of the restlessness of our time can be attributed to our attempt to divorce ourselves from the natural rhythms of the world in order to conform to our technological age. Consider for a moment how we behave towards the hours of the day. Until not much more than 100 years ago, our day was measured by sunrise and sunset and we were compelled by the existing technology to conform to it. To remain awake significantly after dark was rare as the candles and other means of illumination were limited and expensive. We retired early and rose with the dawn. Our daily life was regulated by the natural length of the day. This natural pattern was deeply embedded within us.

            With the industrial age all this changed. The clock, and with it the rigid conformity of our daily life to each passing hour, became a new way of living. Accurately measuring the hours of the day was essential if the trains were to run on time, if the new factories could operate on a profitable schedule. Today, we arise with the alarm clock and go to bed at a certain hour. We are largely unaware of how artificial this is to our nature. Each day we compel ourselves to live as would a machine, and we pay a price for that artifice.

            The 24 hours of the day are set artificially. They are rigid, to provide the uniformity an industrial and technological age requires. Because it is inflexible the sun seems to rise and set each day at a slightly different time. Though we awaken at 7:00 each morning, the hour of 7:00 is actually different every day in relation to the natural world. Our internal clock and our needs as a species have not been readjusted in the last 100 years. Though we rise from our bed at the same hour in the autumn, to our body we are awakening at an earlier and earlier time each day.             Through the ages our sleep patterns have been determined by the seasons. The concept that we require a certain number of hours sleep, the same number, year round is an artificial one. For thousands of years we slept more during the winter when nights were longest and the days cold, while we slept less in the summer when the work day was extended, the nights short, and season warm. Today we awaken and go to bed at the same hour, regardless of these natural rhythms. Our bodies still long to be in harmony with the world our ancestors knew and which has been embedded within us.

            Though we can understand the interference of the rigid hours in each day set by clocks, we experience the adverse effects no less. And so it is throughout our existence. Logic does not overcome history. To know the earth revolves around the sun does not undo millennia of believing and accepting the contrary. We respond as a species to what is in our nature, and it is from our nature, based on these millennia long experiences, that we respond to symbols which serve as representations of these events or as reminders of them.

            Freemasonry is, at its core, the repository of ancient symbols. That is likely the most compelling reason for its powerful and lasting appeal. While we are also drawn to its fraternity, to meeting on the level, and to our charitable works, there is much more to our love of the Craft. These symbols, those depicted and exemplified in ritual, speak to us on our natural, pre-history essence. Without conscious thought, we gathered Masons find ourselves attuned with life in a way we are not in our existence outside of the lodge. It is for this reason brothers observe that the lodge is a special place.

            Understanding what we do, and why we do it, in Masonry is often conditioned on understanding the origins of the symbols we use. Consider the appearance then of the world and the universe to the observant man in nature, beginning with the most basic observation, that of night and day. Darkness brings the cold, limits vision, conceals what is not known. Light brings warmth, vision, greater certainty. In simplest form, darkness is bad, light is good.[i]

            Light comes from the sun which brings the day and is the most important presence in the world because without it there is no life. Observing the sun, attempting to understand it, is universal. The simplest observation soon establishes that the sun is not constant in its path. It does not rise from the same point on the eastern horizon each morning, nor does it set at the same place in the west. The number of hours of daylight are likewise not constant and are self-evidently connected to the changing path of the sun across the sky.

            The sun is most directly overhead during the productive summer months. But in the northern hemisphere slowly the sun moves towards the south and each day is a bit shorter than the one before, while each night is longer. The arc of the sunís path across the sky becomes increasingly shorter from the high point of summer until we reach the winter solstice which occurs about December 22. At this point the night is the longest of the year, while the hours of light are the shortest. There, the sun seems to hover for three days before it begins itís perceptible move to the north, a march that takes six months, culminating in the summer solstice when the day is the longest and night the shortest. Three months into this journey day conquers night, that is, light conquers dark, when the hours of daylight begin to exceed those of night. The process is reversed in the autumn and at those two points we have the equinox -- equal light, equal dark.

            This course is repeated each year and is readily observable without scientific equipment or other special means. To record this passage is essential to all societies since the planting of crops must come a certain period of time following winter solstice. Be fooled by a period of unusually warm weather and plant too soon, then a spell of cold may come and kill the newly budding crops. Plant too late and in many places there is not enough summer to allow a harvest and starvation follows. In either case you will likely miss the annual weather patterns on which crops depend. Identifying the winter solstice and the spring equinox have been vital to civilization since time immemorial.

            To accurately mark the passage of the sun and record its turning points, the method employed was to erect a pillar of stone positioned by a plumb. At the rising and setting of the sun at each solstice, stones were placed to mark the location, most likely by using the shadow. This may well be at least one source of the perceived Divinity of such pillars which led to the construction of so many obelisks in ancient Egypt and it is for this reason that a church spire inspires awe to this day.

FZC01.jpg - 5158 Bytes            Examining the stones in the cycle completed a pattern that was self-evident. By connecting the four points of the rising and setting sun at the two solstices through the center pillar two intersecting lines are created, angled at precisely ninety degrees. The uniformity of this pattern was not lost on the ancients. It provided a visible symbol of the laws of nature, of the Divine, which governed the world and served an equally significant purpose along with the practical one of identifying the essential turning points of the seasons.

            The movement of the sun, however, is not the only measurement available when observing the sky. There is also that of the moon, a paler, less constant force in the heavens. For reasons which were certainly a mystery to the ancients, the moon moves through 12 obvious faces of death and rebirth, of light and of dark, within each solar year. And so as it is the sun and its path in the heavens that marks the year, it is the moon and its changing shape which divides the year into 12 months.

            But there is more in the sky than the sun and moon. There are also the stars which with but few exceptions are unchanging in their relationship to each other and so form fixed patterns. Studying the heavens the ancients saw the changing position of stars as a great wheel overhead; certain patterns, or constellations, appearing and dominating at specific times of the year, during predictable months, and completing a turn once each year. Twelve of these patterns were selected to coincide with the number of phases of the moon and around each constellation was created a  story. The most obvious of these is Aquarius, a man always seen pouring water from a pitcher, announcing the beginning of rain and planting with the coming spring.

            The movement of the stars is also an arc across the heavens as witnessed from earth. And it was no great feat to depict each of the twelve signs of the Zodiac in a circle, for that appeared to be its true shape. The circle is not common on the earth and is always special when it does appear. It is significant to note that a perfect circle is created by man with the compasses. The sun, of course, is the daily, perfect circle, and as all things in the heavens were perfect so was the imagined Zodiac.

FZC02.jpg - 11300 Bytes            The Zodiac was said to be at itís point of origin and return when the four points of the cross indicated Scorpio, the Eagle; Leo, the Lion; Taurus, the Bull and Aquarius, the Man.[ii] Depicted then by the ancients in a perfect Zodiac circle, it was self evident to connect the four great points of the year which also designated the seasons. By drawing a straight line from solstice to solstice, connecting the two equinoxes in the same way, again a cross was formed, known as the Zodiac Cross. The first priest, or adept, to depict the heavens in this fashion was surely overcome by what he saw. Both the sun and the heavens formed the same right angled cross. This was surely a Divine measure.

            As learning came to be passed down the generations and the means of measurement established, it became apparent to the ancients that the seemingly permanent celestial Zodiac itself changed each year. By careful measurement and meticulous calculation, they determined that the Zodiac would revolve on itself to return to its point of origin once every 25,920 years. During that time there would be twelve Ages, as they are known. We have been in the age of Pisces and will soon enter the age of Aquarius.

            By depicting the Precession of the Equinoxes, as this slow revolution of the Zodiac is known, and marking the appropriate points, once again a cross with four right angles was created. The evidence was unmistakable. For these reasons, since times which long predate the Christian era, the cross has been a representation of the Divine.

            Even casual examination shows the use of the Zodiac circle with the cross contained within since ancient times. The Celtic cross is a symbol of the Celtic Christian Church, borrowed from the pre-Christian Celtic Pagan emblem of the God Taranis. The Lauburu (four heads) is a traditional Basque emblem which is also a form of solar cross. The Canterbury Cross and the Coptic Cross are also crosses with circles. The Zodiac Cross has been found in caves, the depictions dating to Neolithic times. It appears repeatedly, throughout time, in nearly every culture, in one form or another.

            This much is well known and has been written about, though not often in the context of Freemasonry. Consider now that cross within the perfect Zodiac Circle which depicts the heavens and is an earthly picture of the universe. We have right angles, a horizontal and perpendicular, all familiar to Masons. With these the circle is divided into four equal parts.[iii] If the two lines did not cross at perfect angles the heavens would be askew, all would not be right in the world, meaning the universe. But they do cross at exactly four ninety degree angles because that is how the world is ordered. They cannot intersect in any other way. This earthly depiction of the heavens is a representation that all is right in the universe according to plan and, significantly, can be seen as right.

            Each of the right angles, or square as we often call it, represents an aspect of the Divine order of the universe. When the square is right, all is well; the universe is as it should be. And so the square alone is likewise a representation of the Divine, of truth as it truly and eternally exists.

            Consider also that the right angle is unusual on earth, all but nonexistent in nature. It is nearly always an artificial creation of man. In itís depiction, then, it is always a recreation of an aspect of the Divine.

FZC03.jpg - 8322 Bytes            At first glance it would seem there is little connection between a circle and a right angle, but in fact they are part of the same. Take a vertical line and place one point of the compasses there. Now circumscribe a perfect circle. This is, you will note, a point within a circle. Now move that point a short distance on the line and circumscribe another perfect circle. Now draw a horizontal line connecting the two points at which the circles over lap. You have created, once again, a cross with four ninety degree angles.

            This is a technique our ancient operative brothers employed to create or test a right angle. This was one of their most valuable applications and one of the causes for secrecy. The technique itself had to be protected and the place where it was performed had to be covered from prying eyes.

            For our purposes, we see that from the circle comes again the cross with four right angles. So it is that right angles and the circle are intimately connected and are equally representations of the Divine on earth. It is for this reason we as Freemasons say that signs are right angles, horizontals and perpendiculars. What signs? Why signs of the Divine.

            Now examine the cross within the perfect Zodiac circle and picture truth, perfection emanating from the center, from each square outward towards the circle itself. This is a depiction of the flow of the Divine, a representation of the will and presence of God. It proved possible to recreate this effect on earth by, in essence, flipping the four right angles and forming a square, or in four dimensions a perfect cube, what is Masonically named a Perfect Ashler. This is likely the source of that symbol in representing the Divine order, the perfect moral code, by which all men, especially Masons, should live and towards which they should strive.

FZC04.jpg - 4045 Bytes

            With the creation of the cube, from each corner the direction of the Divine representation is no longer outward, toward the circle, but inward, toward the center. Every Masonic lodge as a representation of King Solomonís Temple is an elongated square, or extended cube. For this reason, and because such a place is a representation of the world, of the Divine universe, it denotes the universality of Freemasonry, but in a different context than customary.

            The tabernacle of the Hebrews which contained the Ark of the Covenant with Godís holy law, and King Solomonís Temple which was built as a permanent tabernacle, were constructed as structures with eight corners of square angles. Each corner contains three right angles for a total of 24. Divide three into 24 and you have eight; 24 and eight being numbers which are first introduced to all Masons in the First Degree but are understood here in another, and perhaps their original, way.

            It is generally agreed that the ancient Egyptians established the 24 hour day. On its face this seems an odd number to select. It is usually held that it comes by doubling the Zodiac, though no special evidence exists to support that theory. It is just as likely, perhaps more so, that it comes from the 24 right angles in the Divine, transferred first from the Zodiac Cross to the holy temple and from there to the sacred day given us by the Divine, the passage of which is marked by each sacred representation.

            Consider now the position of the candidate, known as the pedestal, in each of the three Craft degrees. A certain arrangement in the First Degree is a representation of half of the intersecting lines within the Zodiac circle, while a certain position in the Second Degree is a representation of the other half. Taken together they are the whole, a recreation of the Divine order, a representation of the universe in its perfect state, manifested by the candidate himself. No clearer demonstration occurs in the three Craft degrees to convey to the candidate their ultimate purpose.

            The position assumed by the candidate in the Third Degree encompasses that quarter of the Zodiac circle that represents Man. Facing the East, the source of light, he stands as a man in a representation of the right angle, the moral code to which the candidate has hereafter obligated himself to live.

            All three positions come from the cross within the perfect circle of the Zodiac and in the Masonic ritual serve to position the Mason in harmony with the universe and the Divine. It is for that purpose every candidate of Masonry advances by one, two, then three regular steps, and places himself accordingly. He has been set in accord with the self evident nature of the world as our species has long believed it to exist. It is said that the candidate is in order, in order that is, with the Divine nature of the universe as depicted on earth.

            Revisit the cross, or intersecting lines, within the perfect circle and the four parts or sections thus created. You now have the answer the question that has surely been formed in the minds of every new Fellow Craft Mason because you see the fourth part of a circle and understand its significance. It likewise is a depiction of the Divine, or the natural order of the universe, and that is the reason it is referenced.

            In this scientific age it is easy to dismiss such conventions while failing to understand their profound influence on us. At some level these symbols and representations are deeply embedded within us as a species, and have been since time immemorial. When we are placed in harmony with them it draws upon our better nature, it serves to remove us from the perceived confusion of our daily world, it reminds us that a natural, Divine order does exist and that our purpose in life is to place our every action in harmony with it. The positioning of the candidate is at least as significant as the words uttered in the ritual and is every bit as profound as is his exposure to our other more commonly known symbols.

            This is why an angle of ninety degrees, or a square, is a measure of truth and morality, and why it is the standard against which we measure our conduct which should conform to the Divine. Could a Freemason return to the ancient world he would discover that all of this would be well known to those who made such a study of the heavens and depicted them on earth. Through our ritual, and the use of such symbolism, we connect modern man to our pre-history past and ancient manís understanding of the Divine nature of the universe.

            But most of all, for those precious hours within the lodge, especially during our ritual, we are in greater fellowship with the Divine nature of the universe than we are in any other place.

[i] Albert Pike in Morals and Dogma, pp. 441-445, provides a compelling examination of this process.
[ii] The Sphinx, variously dated at 5,000 B.C. to 9,000 B. C. in origin has the head of a man, the paws of the lion, the tail of an ox and the wings of an eagle. This is just one example of their depiction in the ancient world.
[iii] It is said that from this comes the concept of the ancients that the world was made up of four elements Ė Water, Air, Fire and Earth. The Four Fixed Signs of the Zodiac were attached to each, these being the Eagle [water], Man [air], Lion [fire], and Bull [earth]. These continue in Freemasonry represented in the Royal Arch.

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