Questions about Freemasonry
What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is at the same time an exoterical Institution and an initiatory Communion.
The exoterical Institution is the association of moral and prejudice-free men and women, with an inborn sense of justice and a striking tendency to self-government and intellectual freedom, which rejects any form of ideological exploitation that can limit or repress the right to freedom. At a later stage, an ‘initiatory choice’ involves the determination of processes which are not necessarily overlapping or shared by everybody. The most obvious and commonly path is the symbolic, exoterical and virtual one.
By devoting his attention to the exoterical aspects of the symbolic process, the Mason can reach its ending keeping most of the original profane essence of his personality, perhaps beautifying its aspects and intellectualizing its expressions.
It is impossible to study this process unless we operate a clear transmutation of the personal imprinting of every candidate.
Initiatory transmutation is the metamorphosis of the physical and individual conscience that processes common mental perspectives; by elevating them, the individual conscience can transcend the settings given by the first collective visions.
The so-called first vision is the suggestion of the first cultural conditionings (imprinting). It is the bond with the social habits and inhibitions of the models that join personal emotion to collective passion. Collective models are all those habits to which men and women conform (conformism), in the search for approval from the society or group where the individual believes he belongs.
An intimately advanced individual conscience (process of self-conscience and identification of self) is able to choose and decide; it is able to express ‘free will’, which is a gift of the higher and transpersonal ego. In an advanced conscience free will replaces ‘freedom of choice’; the latter marks the experiences of the physical ego.
Once it’s free from the inhibitions of collective models, cultural bonds and habits far from its nature, the conscience ascends to a mental state where every element, starting from itself, is observed from a more objective and therefore truthful perspective.
On the other hand the reaching of an objective vision is the first symptom that we are accomplishing an expansion of conscience.
The opening to a deeper and more impersonal vision also involves the ability to perceive a new image of ourselves and to penetrate our conditions. The result is that we can objectively distinguish, without any illusion or hope, the values of our sense of life, which will be more and more in synchrony with the universal values of the sense of existence.
In the celebration of the lesser Mysteries the candidate is taken through a sequence of psycho-dramatic representations. The key to interpret the value of these representations is in the fact that the neophyte ‘is taken’; ‘being taken or accepted’ in the action implies that the applicant is in a condition of passivity, waiting and surprise. Indeed the surprise is the ultimate goal of initiatory psycho-dramas.
In the psycho-drama the candidate undergoes participation to facts which are not familiar to him; therefore he has few chances to reach the meanings hidden by allegories which he undergoes. He will participate only as a spectator in a representation where he will assist to the mime of the apparent meanings of the Masonic degree or ritual to which he is admitted.
By re-living old events, the neophyte should take the moral requirements that are expressed and then transfer them to the meanings he wants to give to his life. A transfer as short as a representation can hardly be considered efficient. Especially if the transfer is not supported by true emotional pressure or some sort of empathy with the events represented.
The adept is then driven to study the symbolic meanings of his degree, re-iterating the fundaments of the psycho-drama, repeating its contents during every meeting and through the instrument of ceremonial representation.
If we follow only the representative method (of mysteries) during all the meetings, though, the initiatory meanings we want to represent are never reached, because they are hidden in the allegories used in the symbolism. Furthermore, if we focus on the apparent form of the symbol or the representation we lose the sense of what we are trying to express; if the apparent meaning of the representation is mixed up with the meaning that it re-veils (veils twice) a ritual misunderstanding is created and institutionalized.
Many Institutions use moral forms to represent the ‘mysteries’ on absolute Good; they normally use psycho-drama in their exoterical ceremonies, where sacred and mysterial morals are based on systems full of history, myths and oneiric legends. If the attention of the spectator is focused on the exoterical representations of the mysteries or on its interpreters, the forms used to ‘build’ the psycho-drama cover the substance and make the heart of the subject invisible. Therefore, by assimilating only the surface of the psycho-drama, the passive viewer will only hold the exoterical meaning of the ceremony, with the result that the exterior form of the psycho-drama is mistaken for the subject of the representation.
Another way is the path of the man who crosses the symbolic segment with lively and vigilant conscience.
The initiate uses the esoterical enquiry to strip every meaning from its appearance. He then seizes the ‘message’ contained inside words, symbols, dreams and allegories. Freeing a message from its form brings the researcher back to the thought of the person who conceived it.
Such intellectual communion dissolves for a minute the time and space that divide the present thinker from the past one, generating a spark of emotion that sometimes grazes spirituality. This flash breaks the darkness of ignorance enlightening it and it stays forever in the heart of the initiate. These intellectual and sometimes spiritual communions are the sparks which express the true initiatory transmission,which is the fundament of the so-called occult teaching.
Every contact with parts of perpetual knowledge re-composes with a new link the perennial Union Chain which joins the initiates beyond time and space, as the esoteric catechism of Freemasonry say.
In conclusion, symbolic Freemasonry encloses a complex system of representations. It is a theoretical-speculative continuum where it is contemplated the unwinding of 33 psycho-dramas that hide meanings; the latter must be distinguished from the exterior sense of the forms ‘built’ to represent them. This re-proposes the postulate that there are several realities overlapping: archaic, ancient and modern realities, all true and usable. At a first glance, the overlapping of more realities can seem like an example of syncretism. If we follow a more attentive analysis of the structure, though, we can catch a glimpse of the extraordinary ductility of a didactic instrument suitable to every stage of evolution. It has teachings that, starting from simple symbolic representations suitable to the exoterical childhood of the initiate, are studied in deep in the following levels of ability and sensitivity, up to the threshold of initiatory maturity of the true masterhood. It is not a simple masterhood, but the Magister vitae, the ‘Master of life’ who offers himself for the common welfare; this is the true initiate.
Freemasonry hides in the principles of Ars Muratoria the joining link between the paths that characterize the levels of the postulants. These distinctions originate from the ‘free choice’ to which the initiatory Rule undergoes.
The initiate-Freemason who has a high self-esteem will be satisfied with the symbolic process; saving himself from hard inner transformations he will become a Mason but he will still remain what he was before he entered Freemasonry. In this case, he will be able to dedicate himself to subjects close to the exoterical Institution, such as solidarity, historic-social moral and the exaltation of human Rights, without studying the esoteric aspects of Masonic symbolism.
On the other hand for those people who tend to have a deeper realization than that characterized by sashes and decorations, the ‘Steps of the Work’ are hidden in the alchemic meanings of the Masonic colors.
The Mason who wants to go beyond his symbolic and virtual side will have to recognize the stages of the initiatory Work implied in the stages of transmutation shown in Blue, Red, Black and White Freemasonry.
From the outline of the lesser mysteries to the level of the greater ones we must cross three initiatory ‘Steps’ hidden in the esoteric meanings of:
Ars Muratoria. Water element (plane of the emotional reason):
Work that edifies and vivifies the physical personality, whose moral fundaments are perfunctorily shared from the symbolic process.
Ars Regia. Air element (plane of the super-rational reason and intellect).
Work where every principle of materialistic egocentrism will be annihilated and ‘putrefied’, re-establishing the power of the mind in the act of initiatory will.
Ars Pontificia. Fire element (ascetic plane of intuitive comprehension).
Work of sublimation of the mental substance of physical personality (material sub-stanziam) in the union with the metaphysical essence that joins material and spiritual intentions of the initiate. This is the work of the pontifex, the builder of conscience bridges who places himself between his own inner ‘heaven and earth’ and joins them in a unique domain.
The initiate blends in himself the 5 kingdoms of nature (mineral-vegetable-animal-man and spiritual); he becomes himself a first unique Kingdom where the animal-man amalgamates with the spiritual-man through the psychic-man making up a unique soul.
Q: What are the goals of Freemasonry?
The ultimate goal of Freemasonry is the knowledge of man. It searches for reality in his history, in the defects of his attitude, in the virtues of his thoughts and in the true reasons for his actions. The goal is to understand his causes and origins, the reasons for his exterior emancipation and the means for his inner improvement.
Furthermore, its purpose is to refine every instrument that can build a Chain that is brotherly initiatory and therefore universal.
Q: Who can belong to Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is open to Men and Women who can access both its exoterical and its initiatory part. The distinction will be due to the qualities they demonstrate, from the will to persevere on their path to the quality of work that they will be able and willing to do on themselves.
The aspirant must demonstrate a keen attitude towards beauty and fairness, besides a good degree of tolerance towards whom or what appears different from his principles. Masonic tolerance is also expressed in accepting as a brother or a sister the representative of any race, class or religion or also people who don’t belong to any exterior cults. Anyway the aspirant must be first of all recognized by his peers as a person free from prejudices, conscious and respectful of his duties. He must be willing to know himself in order to improve, welcoming the moral and initiatory purposes of Freemasonry.
The symbolic side of Freemasonry is the exoterical shadow of an initiatory reality; an application or a degree of seniority is not sufficient any more to access it; it is necessary to be recognized. This recognition occurs inadvertently, due to the happy conclusion of a first work of inner transmutation. This metamorphosis only will confirm the symbolic initiation awarded to the candidate.
The teachings are hidden in old symbolic and exoterical representations, therefore their transmission uses esoteric enquiry, which is emphasized by the willingness of the candidate to intuition and to the development of his mental dynamic abilities. This allows to see what can’t be seen by someone who perceives his life exteriorly.
Q: Is Freemasonry a secret association?
Freemasonry as an illuminist Institution has tenaciously fought against absolutistic monarchic and theocratic sovereignties, incurring in their anger and hatred.
Strong opposition to the dictatorship of those sovereignties was at first a very dangerous action. If we think about the revolutionary movements in France and America and the Carbonari movements in the Italian Risorgimento, it is understandable how conspirators, patriots that risked their lives, kept extremely secret their belonging to liberal and republican ideals. The tradition of the ‘secret of belonging’ remained for a long time to honor the memory of the Mason martyrs that sacrificed their lives for ideals mostly represented by the right to emancipation and self-determination.
In order to avoid slanderous misunderstandings and challenges, we can certainly say that for a long time Freemasonry hasn’t had any inheritance from the old secret association.
As it happens for any other kind of free association, every Masonic establishment is communicated to the civil authorities. Nevertheless it is still widespread the habit to give misleading information. The intention is to confuse an often indolent and slavish public opinion by creating misunderstandings on the idea of initiatory secrecy(whose inaccessibility is guaranteed by its intrinsic difficulties to reach the spiritual planes of initiation), mixing it up with the principle of individual confidentiality (which is guaranteed by the law) and trying to join them with the idea of deviated secrecy as a synonym of conspiration.
Even after decades someone tries to involve the public opinion in the memories of squalid events of mercenary-politics which involved the ‘small accountant from Arezzo’ with a large group of ‘servants of the Government and the Church’ whose interests were in common with mafia groups, perhaps sometimes unawarely. These disparaging attempts make us think that someone makes a scandal in other people’s houses to hide the shame in his own house.
Q: Can Freemasonry be considered a religion?
In symbolic Freemasonry and in the greater Rites we go through subjects studied by the major esoteric, mystic and chivalrous traditions. Furthermore the Masonic catechism declares that it supports virtues and it digs deep prisons for vices.
As we can see it all goes back to an ideal aspect which is moral and ethical but not religious. The commitment shown in supporting the socialization of human Rights strengthens the idea of a laic and liberal group, certainly immune from every form of fideism. On the other hand Freemasonry in its initiatory aspect recognizes gnosis, instituted the instrument of ritual consecration, pursues inner illumination, formulates every oath on the Bible, it represents in a ceremony the spiritual resurrection of the Master, there is mention of spiritual progress of the humankind and dedicates every action to the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe.
We can see that if we look at it from this angle, the gap between religion and Freemasonry seems to narrow down; this is perhaps the reason for the ill-concealed resentment of the Roman catholic Church. However the subject deserves a quick study.
Religio-onis (from lating religere: to tie) means to gather all men around the same ideal. In the religious field, though, we must establish if we are talking about unconditional faith or truth; often the two words are separate. In the treaty of Augusta (1555) for example, it is stated that: cuius regio eius religio (the religion of a country will be the religion of the man who rules it). This makes us naturally cautious towards those who want to produce absolute certainties in the contest of unconditional and indubitable truths.
Freemasonry as well gathers Men and Women around an ideal: the ideal of a brotherly Communion built on truth, altruistic love, freedom of thought and tolerance towards the non simile. Although these elements have an obvious universality aspect they must not be related to the common religious feeling.
On the other hand religious emotiveness belongs to those who need to believe rather than those who just believe. The search for consolamentum originates from a feeling commonly professed by a faith that puts boundaries, because it is limited to a particular cult.
We must remember that in the history of devotion the latter has often been transformed from thesis to antithesis of itself, able to postulate love and at the same time to express disdain for men and hatred for the non similes. If we compare the impartial attitude of the Masonic ideal to the limits drawn by popular creeds, we can rule out that Freemasonry contains any aspect in analogy, antithesis or opposition with the common religious sense. If the psychological barriers of nationalism fell, we could see the annulment of sectarianism of religions; mysteriosophic and mystic universalism could find in man their natural conjunction link.
Freemasonry leads the adepts of any level, degree and initiatory setting towards a consistent practice of virtue. It states the existence of a Supreme Being – ONE from which all comes and to which all goes back. His existence, though, is not an article of faith, but a statement that must be reached through the heart first and the intellect later.
If religions are ‘heterogeneous groups of rules and cults created and respected by men to propitiate the favor and the benevolence of the Divinity’, Freemasonry admits their coexistence. They must be contained in a suitable form, though; viz. the individual feeling must not hurt other people’s sensitivity. In order to avoid religious sectarianism Freemasonry called the Principle Creator with the name of Great Architect of the Universe, without designating it with any exterior cult. Apart from names, though, it is undeniable that every initiate, although maintaining his own individuality, is driven to the search for the Principle Creator in the fraction of self that he shares with the Whole living world.
The Mason looks for God through the knowledge of himself, being ‘only a transient vehicle without particular importance but with immense value for what he has of God in himself’ (Porciatti, ‘Introduction to Freemasonry’). This is the spiritual fundament that most strikingly appears from the Masonic teaching.
Q: What are the reasons for such a hostile attitude from the Roman Church towards Freemasonry, which we don’t see in any other creed?
Freemasonry might inspire hostility in a profession of creed that doesn’t recognize to the individual any own spiritual prerogative. Although many religious people, sometimes well known ones, have sat on Masonic chairs, the high ranks of the Roman hierarchies have always been hostile to any laic that doesn’t place intermediaries between himself and God. The true initiate uses his own free will and even in his imperfection he tends to truth, beauty and fairness. He works in full freedom of conscience and he delegates his inner progress only to himself, his will and ability. This is the core of the Masonic sacrilege: to have made superfluous the intermediation of a man in the spirituality of another man.
We must not forget that the Roman Church, and not others, considers Freemasonry guilty of having harmed its Majesty for fighting and beating its sovereignty on its ‘subjects’. The only exception is Italy; this is the only laic Country where the Roman Church can still influence political choices to suit their religious principles.
Q: Do Masonic Lodges commit sacrilegious acts?
For a long time this has been the anathema thrown by detractors of Freemasonry who base their opinion on the well known cliché that different always means ‘dangerous or bad’.
It has been blamed because at the opening and closing of the Lodge’s meeting a Bible is opened and closed, representing every sacred Book written by men. Also, all Masonic oaths are made on a Bible, again representing every Book sacred to men. At the beginning and at the end of every ritual or administrative activity it is declared that all that has been done or written is for the honor and glory of the Great Architect of the Universe. In actual fact, though, outside Freemasonry as well the sacredness of the creating Principle is evoked; a sacred Book is opened in many public and social occasions, to highlight the sacredness of the place or the time.
The antinomy between Church and Freemasonry didn’t originate because of such ‘sacrilege’. More likely the deep conflict that separates the two Institutions is to be found in some similarities that oppose them in supporting the meanings of their ethic and spiritual charisma. For the Church the Initiate-Mason is guilty of dealing autonomously with symbols and using theurgic and ceremonial instruments; he is also blamed for liberalizing some teachings and using some words or distinctive signs as if they were his, without following the directions of the ecclesial authority.
The reasons for the antinomy between the two Institutions seem unsolvable; paradoxically, though, on the common levels of both, where the conflict is stronger, the perfection of the initiatory charisma and of the ceremonial theurgy is still unknown. As an exception to this rule, both in the past and today, adepts from the two sides take a conciliatory attitude, for the sake of truth and ideals of the spirit. They understand the geometries that join mind and spirit interpreted with re-veiled (veiled twice) messages in the distinctive ceremonials and signs. It is natural that the conciliations between different sides of the same initiatory and spiritual reality, even when cautiously accomplished, known but not seen, are understood. This creates more hatred and jealousies in the people who don’t enjoy a steady initiatory light yet and wobble in the gloom of themselves and their ideas.
Q: Can Freemasonry be considered the same as a political party?
Freemasonry doesn’t have any interest in any particular political power, apart from defending its principles and convictions from an outside power. Freemasonry is a worldwide Institution and Masons, thanks to the faculty of self-determination that distinguishes them, are present in every political and religious alliance, even in high rank positions. The widespread presence of brothers in coalitions even very different from each other doesn’t demonstrate any unrealistic attitude; indeed, as we have already said, the fundamental principle of a Mason is Brotherhood. Brotherly solidarity creates the principle of desistence, which originates from an attitude of reciprocal realistic recognition.
We must say, however, that the principle of brotherhood next to the obedience for his Institution stands between the Mason and a proper political or religious militancy.
Q: To my knowledge there are a ‘female’ and a ‘male’ Freemasonry (The Eastern Star); is this because the rites are different for men and women?
The distinction between masculine and feminine is not a rule but man’s convention. The idea of separation of the sexes doesn’t belong to an initiatory sphere, which considers the being as words, thoughts and spirit. Therefore their prerogatives are expressed with forms that go beyond the sphere of animal attributes.
A distinction for sexual gender can be found in the limits of its surrogates, viz. in a sphere of convictions where there is acceptance of the conditions of separation, which are the basis for principles of ‘inequality a priori’.
Inequality a priori is not a principle but a kind of pre-established classification based on the idea of class. It is one of the many unreal classifications belonging to the lower planes of ordinary mysterial, metaphoric and devotional sense, where sexual distinctions are also a very strong and present conceptual reason. The latter derive from cultures and religious practices with a sexual background, viz. patriarchal (phallic) and matriarchal (vaginal) religions. Phallic and vaginal visions are the reversal of what has been perceived in the most intellectual planes of mysterial esotericism, where the masculine-feminine symbiosis is recognized as the basis of natural expression. Only to the metaphysical planes of spiritual thought is recognized the androgyny of the being. But ‘androgyny’ means synthesis and not prevalence of one or the other aspect. Synthesis means ‘definitive fusion’ and not separation or distinction.
In the natural expression every element is ‘animated’ by an energetic polarity made by + and -, that is the union between masculine (plus in an energetic sense) and feminine (menus in an energetic sense). Without separation every living creature is marked by + and -. Likewise is the brain with its two hemispheres. It reflects the symbiosis between active and passive, dynamic and attracting, like the whole structure of the physical body.
It is true that the generator of every activity is dynamic (masculine) but it is also true that if there wasn’t the generating element (feminine) that holds its energetic drive, the motion would disappear. Every material form would dissolve if it wasn’t held by its own energetic structure. The thought as well would disappear if it wasn’t retained by a status of mental concentration, because only concentration holds and focuses the ability of reflection and analysis of the physical mind. The greater the ability to concentrate, the more penetrating and able the mind appears. This is one of the many possible results of the embrace between masculine and feminine.
Therefore the generating energetic ring (feminine) holds the dynamic activity of the generator. The effect in this enclosed space is the constitution of an energetic form; the latter is generated by the dynamic impulse and it is protected from dissolution by the generating ring. From this concept is derived the metaphor of universal composition. The Father is the anthropomorphic metaphor (in man’s likeness) of the dynamic generator; the Mother is the metaphor of the generating ring that holds the form, viz. the Son, in its space. Only at a later stage the Mother (Mater mundi) disappeared from Western religious practices, because of a wish to be different from older traditions; they believed they could cancel the universal feminine from the world through a dialectic artifice. Indeed, the act of separating feminine from masculine in any circumstance is the result of an arbitrary and unnatural act which is not confirmed in any plane of reality, but only in the artifice of human conventions.
It is true that part of modern Freemasonry (which is itself an often heedless daughter of an old tradition) stigmatizes the distinction between Man and Woman, discriminating its essence, which is equal in both because it is neutral, androgynous or spiritual. This fundamentally artificial distinction creates in actual fact a separation that makes impossible the evolution of the + and – energy in a ritual aspect; only in their fusion it generates the ceremonial synthesis called theurgy.
Theurgic synthesis is the only basis for the edification of an Eggregore. This is one of the ritual forms that can be expressed in the sacredness of a Temple and it is the simplest to obtain from a ring (Chorda Fratres) made by many little initiates. If the Masonic instrument lacks even this simple ritual Form, what’s left is only a symbolic and initiatorily inanimate artifice.
Together with people who distinguish and discriminate there are also others who recognize the same dignity to Men and Women, especially considering their inner essence, which can’t be mortified in any way. Another type of Freemasonry, then, welcomes what others repudiate and joins social and Men’s and Women’s initiatory Rights. This Freemasonry recognizes the human and universal Right to access an inner viaticum that can’t be reached by any exterior differentiation. We are talking about conscience overcoming reason.
Depending on the perspective, human conscience can be seen as the first or the last link that joins the material substance of the being to his metaphysical essence, androgynous and asexual. Conscience can become the spiritually illuminated viaticum in the name of the same Unique Creating Being, which we all come from and we all go back to. For this Being a distinction based on the gender is unacceptable.
In Europe Cagliostro was the first to knock down the wall of superstition that separates the ‘fairer sex’ from the initiatory sphere. He is one of the people who were misunderstood and defamed by those who still consider the woman different and unequal and accept her only as a subject of their pain or as a muse and an inspirer of their passion.
Cagliostro, the Great Coptic, opened the mysteries of the Egyptian Rite to Men and Women; he initiated the Queen of France first of all. Most of the wall that separates Women from the initiatory sphere still exists. It is not only due to male misogynous prudery, because the moral segregation that afflicts the feminine part of the humankind is somehow created by its own emotional barycenter.
Many women suffer but also defend the transfer that attracts them more than man to the earth Element of which they are depositary, generators and loyal guardians. The woman who wants to emancipate on the inner way must stop identifying herself only with the Earth Element, from which she is used and coveted to create new physical forms.
Without denying her natural function, woman must be able to recognize herself for what she is, not only physically and morally, but also interiorly. By emancipating from the elementary functions of her own nature, she will find them on the plane of a higher spiral, such as the role of Educator. Only when woman recognizes herself as an essence of thought and emotionally undifferentiated will, she will be able to be recognized and accepted, forcing any segregation.
She will gain intimate confidence only when she will be free from the model that every woman is imposed since childhood from a mother who is just as subdued to her sexual role. Since the worst evil of the humankind is ignorance, the mother-Educator can give her contribution to the solution.
In order to reach this goal, men and women must grow together, not only in their physical wellbeing, but also with inner development, contributing to the plan of Common Welfare.
Nobody can understand and love such an impersonal plan as much as an Initiate. To reach a common goal, though, it is necessary to have a common journey, where Men and Women grow and recognize each other; they must re-discover their reciprocal harmony in characteristics and qualities that look separated. Man can then recognize and nurture the advantages of intuitiveness and empathy (characteristic of the feminine mind) and woman can appreciate incisiveness and schematism of action (characteristic of the masculine mind). It is easy to see the advantages for the future children of the humankind with such an advanced couple of Educators.
This is the ‘challenge’ that White Freemasonry must win in the 3rd Millennium.
By Athos A. Altomonte