In Dan Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol, Freemasons are portrayed as a mysterious group of conspirators who have been secretly ruling America from its very creation. Of course, we have to remember that this is a fictional book, which uses certain elements of truth in a creative way in order to develop the storyline of the novel.
Freemasonry is a very old fraternity that has members worldwide. At first glance, its secrets may seem very insignificant. Every single ritual has been published. In fact, anyone can go online and read the text of the ritual meetings or even get an outline of the "mysterious" initiations. It is true that some parts have been deleted from these public documents, such as secret passwords or signs. However, 0.4 seconds on Google will give you access to all this information; with a little effort, the most important secrets of this fraternity can be unveiled to anyone. Recognizing that all of its secrets have been published and are accessible to anyone, it is hard to understand how this fraternity continues to exist and grow.
It is true that Freemasonry is a powerful and useful philanthropic fraternity. The local Masonic Lodges, as well as the Scottish Rite Lodges and the Shriners, work hard to provide charitable help to communities in many important areas: orthopedics, education, etc. They help those who cannot afford critical surgeries and treatments. The aid they provide to the poor and to children in need is essential work that really helps our communities. Yet Freemasonry claims to accomplish something more. They assert the existence of a spiritual secret, some kind of mysterious esoteric process that allows the apprentice to get in touch with his own spiritual self. This quest of the soul, the search for the "inner divine," begins during the initiation process and continues during the rituals that are practiced regularly in Masonic lodges.
From the time of the ancient Mysteries, initiatic Orders offered many different ceremonies that are capable of altering an individual’s state of consciousness. From a certain point of view, I may say that initiation is a "divine play." At the base level, initiation is a method that introduces symbols through ritual movements in order to act on the subconscious mind of the initiate. The ritual use of symbols causes the person to react psychologically: he begins to pay attention to the archetypes present in his subconscious, and this activates the bond that attaches him to the spiritual and divine planes. If a properly carried out ritual can make you gain consciousness of your divine inner nature, then it is truly considered self-sufficient.
However, the process cannot stop there, because this method does not work perfectly each time. The candidate is symbolically designated a "rough stone." Some stones will remain rough throughout their entire Masonic course. Indeed, it seems that some stones are not easy to polish. Is this the fault of Masonry and its rituals? Not entirely.
The rituals are generally performed in a very beautiful external Temple. You have to remember that, in the Platonic tradition, beauty is consubstantial with goodness and justice. Thus the cultivation of beauty, when associated with the study of philosophy and the practice of virtue, elevates the candidate towards the Divine. However, one should not assume that the beauty of an external Temple automatically enables the candidate to connect with the Divine; indeed, such an illusion would lead you to forget the nature of the true inner Temple. Ritual owes its reason for existence to the reality of the inner life, as do all of the elements that surround the initiate during the ritual.
It is appropriate that the student should learn how to rebuild the Temple of Self, and in this section, you will learn how to fashion an inner Temple from your external Temple, in order to give it a true reality in your heart.
Regarding the esoteric use of Masonic symbols (or any other symbol): from the moment a symbol becomes alive to you as a practitioner, it becomes possible for you to give it life in the external world. Thus, you cannot act on the outside world, if you have not first accomplished the necessary work in the inner world. Before lighting a candle in your outer Temple in a ritual, you must first light the candle inside of you (in your creative imagination). Thus, if you want to be able to bring light into your Temple, it is essential that you begin by illuminating yourself from within.
The techniques of internalizing symbols and then acting on the symbols by way of rituals are extremely old. The use of these techniques over the intervening centuries helped to elaborate various, even more ancient initiatic systems, of which Freemasonry is a part. In the ancient world, the orator used to recite most of the lectures from memory, so there were special techniques to help them memorize the work as perfectly as possible. One such technique was to create a mental representation of a place, where the orator would then put the various elements that were part of the speech that he was memorizing. Such a representation is actually a physical reality into which it is possible to put specific objects, individuals, or particular scenes. At the moment when the orator recited his speech, it was sufficient that he re-visualize the scene, while mentally holding that scene in his mind so that the picture would correspond to his original text. Over time, this system of mental representation gave rise to an increasing number of well-known constructs. During the Renaissance period, these became known as "the theatre of memory."
The initiates of this period (Sixteenth Century) began to make an ever stronger connection between this internal representation of the symbol and the nature of the symbols that I previously described. The inner Temple gradually became a place where the initiate was able to stand at the center of the symbols on which he was working. Later the ritual began to take form in this inner Temple and was gradually elaborated into a conscious transformation of the self, in which the initiate attempted to reconnect with the upper levels of his consciousness through an exaltation of his soul. The symbols that were used in the rituals were created from what is observed and understood of our daily lives. The ritual was conceived internally, on the spiritual level, using that symbolic knowledge, but in full consciousness, and according to genuine principles of transformation. The operative or Theurgic rituals were always worked out in this way. It was according to these very principles that later an interpretation of the operative tools of Freemasonry was to be formulated. These developments gradually gave life to what I now call Freemasonry. One may therefore understand why these principles of inner work are fundamental. Yet, even if the representation is of the highest quality, without those principles, the initiations and rituals would be nothing more than a mere "stage performance," performed without heart.
With the introduction of the inner dimension, the initiate is able to place himself on the spiritual level and to really act on his own being. However, it is important to emphasize the fact that this ability to act on our own beings is not an automatic by-product of every such attempt: it only comes about by the use of traditional techniques of visualization, pronunciation, concentration, and ritualized ways of moving about in the inner Temple; this elevation only occurs when the initiate takes control of all of the aspects of the ritual, first on an inner level, and then, secondly, on the external level. This inner work offers the initiate the inspiration to transform the ritual performance in a Masonic lodge into such a powerful method of transformation that contemporary Freemasons would find nothing to envy in the numerous traditions of the East.
This period in history is unique. It is critical that we learn to use the initiatic keys from a worldwide Western Tradition. My book Secrets and Practices of the Freemasons will show you the main principles of these practices and how to use them. In fact, most of the principles of the Masonic heritage can be used at home, individually (not solely in a group meeting). Whether or not you are a Freemason, you will be able to use these individual meditations, rituals, and spiritual practices.
The Inner Use of a Masonic Symbol: The Compass
Almost everyone knows that the primary symbols of Freemasonry are the square and the compass. As essential symbols of Freemasonry, they can be used in many ways as part of inner practices.
Here is an example of how you can immediately experience the inner power of this symbol. Imagine that you are an architect or a modern apprentice who is trying to chisel your first sculpture out of stone. Before you can begin, you must learn how to use the chisel and the hammer. If you try to chisel a block of stone in physical reality, the stone will resist your initial efforts and you will quickly learn what works and what does not. As you proceed you will immediately see the results of your efforts; your errors will also be apparent. Strangely, these principles also apply to the inner work we are discussing. If you perform this esoteric work (described below) alone in a quiet place, you will be able to feel internally what you would have felt outwardly, if you were trying to chisel a real block of stone. In other words, you will see the results of your errors and you will know when you are getting it right.
For this ritual, we recommend that you use the three main Masonic symbols that are used in every Masonic Temple, for every ritual.
Choose a book that is sacred to you. If you are a Christian, it will be the Bible; Buddhists would use the Dhammapada; Hermetists would use the Corpus Hermeticum (and so on). Open the book to a page that seems essential to you.
On top of the book, place the compass and then the square. (We recommend putting the square on the top of the compass, which is the first step in Freemasonry.) You will find a representation of the proper arrangement for those symbols on my website (http://www.debiasi.org) and in Secrets and Practices of the Freemasons. If you cannot use a real book and tools, you may draw them on white cardboard, or even just visualize them.
Seat yourself comfortably on a chair facing these three symbols.
Begin the exercise with a period of relaxation. When you feel the moment is right, open your eyes (or you may open then halfway) and just look at the symbols without holding any particular thoughts in your mind. Just look at the symbols and breathe deeply and regularly. Look the shape of the sacred book. After a few minutes, look at the compass. Feel its shape, its position on the book. Do not analyze these symbols, but just look at them. You will start to understand why the beauty of these symbols is important in this kind of spiritual process. Keep in mind that, for Hermetists, Beauty helps us to ascend to the divine.
Close your eyes and begin to create these three symbols inside of you. You do not have to imagine a real picture (like a poster on your wall), but simply imagine and focus your mind on these symbols.
If necessary, open your eyes and look at the symbols in front of you for a moment, then close your eyes and increase the clarity of your visualization.
After a few minutes, when the symbols are as clear as you can make them (no more than four or five minutes), breathe deeply, and, maintaining your state of relaxation, stand up. Stand up straight, with your spinal column as vertical as possible. Your arms should be relaxed on either side of your body. It is important to remain relaxed. Your legs should be in contact one with another. Your feet should be close together. Your position is a representation of compass when it is closed. Your head is the axis of the compass. Straighten and strengthen your legs for a while, as you remain aware of the thoughts and feelings that will emerge when you assume this "closed" posture. Take your time; breathe and relax your body during this exercise. Do not speculate; allow your thoughts to arise as they will, and let your body speak freely to you. Don’t worry if you do not receive any specific thoughts. This kind of spiritual work is intended to manifest the symbol in your body. In fact, this is a kind of incarnation of the symbol through your physical form. Over time, as you continue to practice this exercise, you will progressively improve in your abilities. You may experience various phenomena, including psychological, psychic, etc.
After a while, open your legs so that they are about your shoulder width apart, with your weight balanced between your legs. Your arms and hands will remain at your sides.
Hold this new position. Breathe and be aware of any new feelings and thoughts.
In this context, it is interesting to note that the Masonic tradition uses precise numbers related to the opening of the compass. The numbers they use include 180 degrees (a straight line), as well as forty-five and ninety degrees.
We will now use this knowledge to achieve an esoteric third step in our incarnation of the compass. After a while, when you are ready, open your legs more widely, to an angle of approximately forty-five degrees. If it is helpful, you can place two markers on the floor prior to beginning this exercise. However, mathematical precision isn’t important here. Adopt the posture and make it resemble the forty-five degree opening of the compass, and all will be well. Also, before proceeding, it is important to note that, in Qabalah, the number forty-five can be represented by a name: "Mah" – hm (Mem = 40 et He = 5).
You can spell this word out by visualizing certain shapes in our minds, which have been long associated with these letters. Thus, Mem can be seen as a beautiful Cup, a symbol of the first manifestation, the feminine principle, that which surrounds, gives form, and shape (Binah/Saturn). There is also a connection between Mem and the element Water (Mayim in Hebrew). The second letter He represents the vital breath, the spirit that moved above the Waters of creation in the book of Genesis in the Bible. (A more complete explanation of the symbolism of the Hebrew letters can be found in Secrets and Practices of the Freemasons).
When you have opened your legs to this angle, close your eyes and visualize a Cup (five feet tall) at heart level, approximately the distance of your extended arms in front of you. The Cup should be blue or indigo.
Stretch your arms forward gently, palms towards the Cup. Extend your hands, as if to take the Cup between your two palms.
Visualize the Hebrew letter Mem (m) in the water of the Cup, feeling the energy course through you. Vibrate the sound “MAH” into the Cup so that your breath touches the water.
Breathe deeply as you hold this Cup in your mind, visualizing it directly in front of you at arms length. Reach out with your hands and take the Cup. Imagine putting the Cup inside the center of your breast, in your secret heart center, your solar center. You can actually do this! When you are done, place the palm of your right hand on the center of your chest, and then place the palm of your left hand on top of the right one. Maintain this position for a while. Continue breathing deeply and regularly. Be aware of the presence of this mystical Cup inside your heart center, providing health, energy, and light to your whole body. Receive this energy and allow any thoughts or feelings that arise to manifest for you.
When you are ready, move back to your first position, with your legs together, and your arms relaxed at your sides.
Be seated and meditate for a while.
When you are ready, you may write some notes, if you feel the need.
Your first step on the discovery of practical, individual, and traditional Masonic teachings has begun.