J.L. de Biasi a été initié Franc-Maçon en 1990 et élevé à la Maîtrise en 1992. Il est Maître Maçon et Passé Maître.
Il fait aujourd'hui parti de la Franc-maçonnerie dite régulière canadienne et américaine. Il est également 32° du Scottish Rite ( S.J. USA ), F.G.C.R., et Royal Arch. Il est aujourd’hui invité régulièrement par des Loges de différents pays pour donner des conférences et séminaire sur les sujets philosophiques et traditionnels qu’il développe régulièrement dans ses écrits.
Il est l'auteur de plus livres. Quelques uns concernent la Tradition maçonnique :
- Les Rites Egyptiens, philosophie et morale, 2001.
- ABC de la spiritualité maçonnique, 2006.
- ABC de l'ésotérisme maçonnique, 2008.
D'autres titres sont rattachés à ce thème, comme :
- ABC de Kabbale chrétienne, 2007.
Tous ces livres sont disponibles sur le site de l'Academia Platonica.
Rio de Janeiro - 2008 - Distinction Maçonnique "Leon Denis"
A LECTURE IN LODGE (WASHINGTON DC)
What is the true meaning of our Masonic ritual?
A discussion on Masonic spirituality, in the light of the Western esoteric and philosophical tradition
Freemasonry is a very rich tradition, but its message is in reality simple and universal: Be Good Men! This injunction, so often repeated, lies at the heart of the moral commitment of every Mason. Honesty, forthrightness, respect for others and the institutions of the state, of trust and faith must become the foundations of our inner being: these are the very values that a Mason is expected to uphold in the outer world. It is according to these values, that we as individuals, and Masonry as an institution, shall be judged.
Admittedly, they are also fundamental principles of other groups, as well as most religions. However, freemasonry is devoid of the dogmas which can sometimes alter the fundamental message. And it is peculiar because it concentrates this moral message in a ritual setting, which gives it a true intensity. Despite the briefness of the initiation ceremony, the Mason is expected to ponder these principles often so as to gradually integrate them into his daily life.
However, the very simplicity of this message might sound like a real paradox for each of our newly initiated brothers. If the values we transmit are that simple, then why do we need a ritual initiation? What is the meaning of “working” in a lodge? And why should we need to regularly perform complex rituals? Why do we refuse to open our lodges to any but the initiated? Why should serious men like us keep performing such complex ceremonial rituals, if the message is so easy to communicate? If a profane was to enter our Temple walls, wouldn’t he be struck by the apparently obsolete and useless character of our rites and symbols? What do we have to say to our fellow human beings who find our rites and symbols anachronistic in the 21th century? My Dear Brethren, it is obviously essential for us to be able to respond to these questions, and this is what I shall attempt to do here in my lecture.
Nature and the role of symbols
We are all well aware that discussing about the nature and usefulness of the symbols contained in the Masonic rituals is difficult. One of the reasons is that some of the symbols have evolved, so that they may be used and interpreted differently, depending on the rite being practiced. For example, let us consider the case of the Square and Compass which rest on the Book of the Sacred Law. In ancient times, there was little thought given to how they are intertwined and what it meant. Those interpretations were added much later, and it is easy to see how multiple meanings can weaken or call into question the value of the rite and the very meaning of the symbols it was trying to transmit.
In order to be able to understand the role of symbolism in the Masonic ritual, one needs to return to the origins of humanity, to a faraway time when man was a defenseless creature in a dangerous environment. Our ancestors were much more exposed to the imposing phenomena of nature. Whenever a natural disaster occurred, whether a storm thundered and shook the sky, or a volcano began to erupt, everyone would wonder about the cause of these manifestations. They would try to figure out what the “intelligent” intention behind them might be. These phenomena were impossible to control, and man was left to wonder why these natural forces would kill human beings. It was natural that they would come to the conclusion that such a terrible demonstration of power came from some divine beings. Trying to explain the unexplainable, our ancestors so established a causal relationship between the frightful demonstrations of divine power they observed, and the divine beings that must be causing these evils. If a volcano erupted and destroyed lives, it was undoubtedly because it was hungry. And thus the only reasonable thing to do was to offer the god a human sacrifice in anticipation, so as to maybe prevent further eruptions. If the underground gods obtained what they wanted, perhaps they would spare the remaining members of the tribe.
As humanity evolved into civilization though, this kind of direct compensation was abandoned, and so symbolic or notational representations were devised as replacement. Thus the volcano was replaced by the image of Fire, the flood by the image of Water, the earthquake, by that of the Earth and so on. What our ancestors were doing was to intellectualize these natural phenomena into a symbolic system.
At this stage of evolution, the original meaning of these new symbols was still relatively clear. For instance, I may offer a libation of water or wine in order to calm down a storm so that my ship may complete its travel without difficulty. Songs might be declaimed at the time of pastoral offerings. It is in this way that the basic ritual gestures that one can find in all human cultures were born. There was still no attempt to analyze the meaning of the symbols used in the rite, although the direct relationship is very easy to see. For example, the wine or other liquid which is poured into the sea is obviously linked to the shipwreck I am trying to avoid. Same if I light a flame to represent a volcano, and so on…
As this development of symbols gradually occurred, it was inevitable that gradually, the explicit link between the original phenomena and the natural symbol would become blurred. Thus, the cup which holds the water became associated with water, and it is no longer necessary to have water or wine in the rite. The image of the cup truly becomes the symbol of Water, a disc of stone that of the Earth, a Sword, that of the Air. And so we gradually arrive at a level of pure abstraction which, while rooted in an objective reality, begins to create a world of pure representations which have symbolic meaning.
It is easy to see the two levels of symbolic systems which we have just evoked, in this temple, all around us. Let us take the sword for example. It may be associated with the ancient myths of fire through the image of a blacksmith, but it may also be associated with air or the power of the Word if we have reference to the biblical text. So can one discourse endlessly about the meaning of symbols, but that is not our task here.
The fact that our symbols hold various layers of meaning and interpretation is something that all accomplished Brother knows. We are well aware that the simple objects and tools which surround us in the Lodge represent something more. But is this is obvious for us, it is not necessarily so for the new candidate. We should therefore not be surprised that some may feel disappointed at the sight of what could be perceived as the poverty of our symbols. Imagine for a moment if a profane was to witness our secret initiations, and what he would think of the simple tools which are at the heart of our mysteries. Now let’s be frank: this question over the apparent poverty or our symbol does not assail only the newcomer. Masonry counts among its brothers men from every profession and for many, whether they are manual laborers as well as university educated men, the tradition that is presented look like an intellectual (speculative) and operative (practical) desert! But this does not mean that there is nothing in our Masonic tradition. But it veiled and the new Brethren must rely on his inner intuition that there is more, but that this more is hidden, and that there is something deep that animates masonry. The concept of symbol will continue to be our guide as we continue our research.
The first question that one might ask when confronted with a new symbol is whether it has any meaning. So what about the compass, the trowel, the square and the apron? Do they contain anything beyond the obvious? We intuitively feel that this assumption is not satisfactory. If the symbol has nothing to offer beyond the obvious, we could make symbols the object of our phantasms and intellectual projections. If the symbol has nothing to offer beyond the obvious, then any fantasy would be allowed and we could say anything about them. Our ritual practice makes us have a presentiment that this is not true. But the ability to feel it, to understand it and then to explain it to others are quite different things.
These questions are certainly not new: they have been in fact discussed extensively by the philosophers of ancient Greece, who were themselves initiated into, and worshipers of the Mysteries. Obviously their analyses would require a detailed explanation which we will not be able to give today. However, it is possible for us to extract from their theories, the principal idea which will enable us to advance in our own analysis. The theory is about the spiritualization of natural symbols. This reasoning is based on the following: as we said before, the tempest was link to the symbol of the cup, so must we rise from the world which surrounds us to the world of idea, from the material planes to the divine planes above. And it means something very important: that just like our body is a manifestation of our spirit, and not the other way around, the symbols must be searched for their true spiritual value, as opposed to their mere material significance.
But searching for the spiritual value of symbols is not easy, and this is where our Masonic rituals come into play. Their regular practice makes an inner conviction to grow, a faith to emerge in us, in short something of a higher nature that makes us willing to accept the existence of another reality beyond the material: a spiritual reality. As Freemasons we believe in God and the immortality of Soul, and we cannot agree that our Spirit is reduced to only our body, and that it disappears with death. I am not speaking here about a scientific demonstration, but about an inner conviction, a strong inner feeling. And the Masonic practice gradually makes us realize deeper and deeper that the symbols of the Temple are also those of the Inner Temple, analogous to the heart (which stands for the soul) and to the cosmos, behind which we see God. What the mystical tradition of the West, from the Platonist and Neo-Platonist philosophers to modern theurgists, has always taught is that manifestation, or the first stirrings of the creation of the world, occur in a movement from above to below. Our corporeal body is just a visible aspect of a more subtle reality. And as the soul descends into the body, so does an idea descend into a symbol. This downward movement has nothing to do with a fall from Heaven or from grace: it is about the envelopment of the soul into a body, just like a body envelops itself into some clothes before going outside. And so is a symbol in reality nothing but the most subtle clothing of an original and unique idea, emanated from the world above. So the natural representation of water and fire for example, is just the most external clothing of the archetypal unity it represents. This change of perspective leads us to a very important truth: that there is a consubstantial and original bond which the symbol establishes between these two dimensions. The symbol becomes the nexus, or meeting point, of the exchanges that take place between the material and divine planes.
So, let us now reconsider for a few moments, the principles which we have just stated. According to Platonic philosophy there is an ideal or spiritual world which contains the root principle, or archetypal ideal, of all that exists around us. As Plato told us in the myth of the cave, we live in an obscure world of darkness and illusions. I am not saying it is a bad world, but it is a deceptive world which could lead us to believe that the greatest pleasures are immediate physical pleasures, and the only satisfactions of the soul are to be found in this world. One of our objectives is to leave the cave and abandon these illusions. Not to understand what we are saying about the spiritual world, which is the place of Ideal Forms and First Causes, let us take a simple example. There are many varieties of trees in this country, such as maples, oaks, pines and birches, but if I say the word “tree” in a conversation, you will grasp immediately my meaning without having to resort to a particular representation to the word. This is because you already have in your mind an idealized concept of what a “tree” means, even if this idea cannot really be represented in details. This same principle applies to our understanding of human beings. The Holy texts speak about Adam and Eve or the Kabbalah of Adam Kadmon who is defined as being some kind of Ideal Man. Let us not forget what we have just said: there is a generic ideal which predates every created thing and which generates everything that follows. And so the idea of humanity existed on the higher planes before it came upon this Earth, and what the Holy texts do is help us connect to it via another symbol.
This theory over symbols was very much confirmed by the research of Carl Gustav Jung and his school. It is well known that he was deeply interested in the universality of symbols. Let us take an example that Jung offers in one of his books. During a visit at his hospital, he saw a mental patient in crisis, looking intently at the Sun and beginning to express great excitement. As Jung questioned him the patient declared that a "green snake was leaving the sun!" This sounded like another sentence from a fool, but then a few years after this episode, Jung heard the same account from the mythology of native peoples of South America. This is what started him to formulate his theory of archetypes, that there are universal symbols or archetypes present in what he called the collective unconscious. This is why no matter the geographical location, the symbols used in various cultures share a similar appearance: because they are essentially the same and drew from our collective unconscious of humanity. Admittedly they can differ somewhat in detail, but a more attentive observation can usually bring us to an awareness of their underlying similarity.
Up to this point we have been speaking about symbols as something external to us, something we can see in our Temple or the places of worship of various religions, even though we may try to interpret them. However, our Tradition reminds us that the true object of our work is ourselves. As our ancient Masters said: "Know yourself and you will know the universe and the Gods", and so must we learn how to know ourselves to be able to perfect ourselves. This is about polishing our own stone. We are like the image of a divine statue that has fallen into a seabed and became covered with encrustations. It is up to us to reveal what lies beneath and to restore the beauty and purity of our original form. As Plotinus of the second century of our era said: "Although you do not see your own beauty yet, (you must) work like the sculptor of a statue who knows that what he is sculpting will be beautiful: he removes this bit, scrapes that part, and cleans another part until he reveals the beautiful face in the statue that was hidden beneath. In like manner, you must also remove all that is superfluous, righting what is oblique, purifying all that is murky. You must continue in this way until you restore its shine, and do not cease carving your own statue until the divine clarity of virtue shines in you. "
The Hermetic tradition teaches us that: "that which is above is as that which is below, to achieve the miracles of the one thing." Thus, we are one with the image of the universe and, as it says in the Bible, we are made in the image of God. The Temple and its symbols are a dual representation of the universe (macrocosm) and of the human being (microcosm). The Temple therefore symbolizes each of us and all of the representations which we find are present in the ideal world which is internal to each of us. This implies that any action performed on any external symbol will also act on and have an effect on what the symbol represents inside of us. If we gaze at a burning candle, or look at a holy book resting in a place of honour, then our subconscious shall respond by acting upon the corresponding internal force or archetype. Thus, the fact of looking intently at a flame will have a real impact on our inner fire-nature.
Imagine a musical instrument, something like a lyre with three strings. If you pluck a string on one side, the string next to it will also start to vibrate. This is exactly what occurs when you look at any true symbol. As for the “string” on the other side it will also begin to vibrate. The blended sound which rises from the vibration of these two strings will the have an impact on the first string which you initially plucked. It is the same in our work with symbols; each action we take interacts with every other action at various levels. However, although we have just been speaking here about symbols and the effect of looking at symbols, we know very well that our work in the Temple is not a motionless contemplation. We act through the ritual to transmit our tradition by the intermediary of initiations which develop over several degrees. And so we might say that each particular ritual is a system of symbols which is put into motion in a particular way.
For example, we could discuss the symbolism of a candle, or we could also light the candle. We may analyze the symbolism of the Compass, but we may also open it. Instead of just thinking about the symbolism of the Mallet and the Chisel, we can also use them to strike a stone and so “feel” the symbols. The rituals thereby amplify the resonance phenomenon which we illustrated with example of the lyre with three strings. The fundamental principle is that we proceed with resonance from a single note (the symbol) to a symphony of sounds (the ritual). And so the impact on our psyche will be that of a symphony instead of just that of a single note…
In this way, we start to understand very well how a false note (or false symbol) destroys the quality of the music, and how a continual succession of false notes make the musical composition completely cacophonous and unable to stir the (higher) emotions, or have the effect desired by the composer. The ritual is not an entertaining game for grown-ups, but a very serious matter. It has been specifically designed to achieve a precise goal in our deep psyche, and so put to us in relation to the highest spiritual planes. It is for this reason that the ritual can not be something that we merely improvise; the way the ritual is designed and performed is of the utmost importance.
From the time of the Greek mysteries, initiation has used the form of many different ceremonies to alter an individual’s state of consciousness. From a certain point of view, we may say that initiation is a divine play. On the first level, initiation is a method which introduces symbols through ritual movements in order to act on 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 which attaches him to the spiritual and divine planes. And so if a properly carried out ritual can make us gain consciousness of our divine inner nature, then it is truly self-sufficient.
However, we cannot allow the process to stop there, because we realize that this method does not work perfectly each time. The candidate is symbolically a "rough stone", and we must accept that 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 ritual? Not entirely.
As we have explained earlier, we perform our work in a very beautiful external Temple. We 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 us towards the Divine. But one should not assume that the beauty of this external Temple automatically connects us with the Divine. Indeed such an illusion would lead us to forget the nature of the true inner Temple. Ritual owes its reason for existence to the reality of inner life, as do all of the elements which surround us. It is appropriate that, just as Hiram, we rebuild our Temple, and so we fashion an inner Temple from the external Temple, in order to give it a true reality in our hearts. Those brothers who perform a ritual from memory (which is one of the main principles of the Emulation ritual) achieve this kind of effect by vivifying their inner nature, because at each moment the Temple and the ritual are present within.
It is from the moment when the symbol becomes alive in us, that it becomes possible for us to give it life in the external world. Thus, we cannot act on the outside world, if we have not first accomplished the necessary work in the inside world. Before we light a candle outside of us, we must first light the candle inside us… and so if we want to be able to bring light into a Temple, it is essential that we begin by illuminating ourselves internally. This means that what makes for a real and effective Masonic initiation - that is, one which has the ability to really affect the candidate - demands a real continuity between the inner work and the external work.
The techniques of interiorizing symbols and acting on the symbols with rituals are extremely old and they helped to elaborate some even more ancient initiatic systems, of which Freemasonry was a part. In the ancient world, the orator used to pronounce most of the lectures from memory, and there were special techniques to 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 different elements present in the lecture. Such a representation is a physical reality into which it is possible to put specific objects, individuals or particular scenes. At the moment when the orator gave his speech, it was sufficient that he re-visualize the scene and mentally hold that in his mind so that the picture would correspond to his original text. Over time, this mental representation gave rise to increasing constructs which became known, during the Renaissance period, as “the theatre of memory.” Thus, in the 16th century, in a work bearing this same title, Giulio Camillo describes a strong theatrical symbolic system. Camillo said of this place that it is the representation of the soul, of what we cannot see with our carnal eyes. The number seven is omnipresent in that presentation, and is present in the number of columns, doors, lines of steps, and so forth. The columns (for example) are associated with planets, and then with angels and the Sephiroth from the Kabalistic Tree of Life, and so on. This is, at one and the same time, an image of the world and the spirit.
The initiates of this period began to make an ever stronger connection between this internal representation of the symbol and the nature of the symbol which we previously described. The inner Temple gradually became the place where the initiate stood at the center of the symbols he was working on. 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 Brother 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 we observe and understand of our daily lives. The ritual was conceived internally, on the spiritual level using that symbolic knowledge, but in full consciousness, and according to the genuine principles of transformation. The operative or Theurgic rituals (as they were called) 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. And it gave life to what we now call speculative freemasonry. It is clear in the writings of somebody like Albert Pike, that the bond with ancient initiations was conscious and intentional and that these techniques were used to conceive our modern system of rites and initiations. One may therefore understand why these principles of inner work are fundamental. Without those principles, we would be doing nothing else than a mere “stage performance”, performed without heart even if our representation is of the highest quality. And this is what “working in the lodge” is truly about.
With the introduction of the inner dimension, we become able to place ourselves on the spiritual level and to really act on our own being. But it need to be emphasized that this is not an automatic by-product: it only comes about by acting upon traditional techniques of visualization (or mental representation), of pronunciation, concentration, moving about in the inner Temple, or, (more succinctly put) this elevation only occurs when we take control of all of the aspects of the ritual, first on an inner level, and then, secondly, on the external level. So my dear Brethren, truly nothing is without reason in our ritual. This inner work offers us the inspiration to transform our ritual performance in lodge into such a powerful method that we would have nothing to envy to the numerous traditions of the East.
For now, we have just considered symbols and rituals together, without any more precise analysis. However, one of the characteristics of our initiatory system is that it is built upon levels of various degrees. It was the same in the oratory technique, where the speaker mentally envisioned several parts of a building he would walk around. Each part of the building corresponded to a part of the lecture. On the spiritual level, the connection between the material world and the spiritual world is something that is gradually built over time. These degrees of evolving connection are called emanations in the Neo-platonic tradition: they represent our advance on the upward path, bringing us back towards the source of our soul.
Thus, Freemasonry also developed specific and progressive initiations. Each one has its own representations, symbols, passwords and myths… Each degree offers a particular message, while remaining in relation to the whole. Each degree is associated with a specific and personal inner working which continues to deepen the initiation which has already been received, and this is true both for the first three degrees and the “side degrees”. Each stage brings us closer to the source from whence we come and awakens in us the memory of our celestial origin.
In ancient times, the initiates of the mysteries of Eleusis gathered together in a room of the mysteries, which was called in Greek the Telesterion. There the divine rites were played-out or ritually performed in front of them on stage. Thereafter, they were supposed to apply more specific individual techniques which would enable them to assimilate these rites and to go through each of these stages in their inner body. Participation in a ritual is not adequate in and of itself; one needs to continue the work in the privacy of our inner Temple in order to make this process fully operative. Of course, this is possible by organizing teachings of basic techniques and special practices that are specific to each degree.
In conclusion, my dear Brethren, let me say once again that we can all be very proud that our fraternity is still, even today, the living expression of a very old Western tradition. This tradition comes from classical philosophy, as well as from the ancient schools of the mysteries, and is able to transmit a very rich heritage to us. However, we must perpetuate and reactive it unceasingly in order to reveal all of its facets. With this essential moral step as our foundation, our initiatory progression can, as the Platonists and Neo-Platonists would say, literally lead us out of the cave, viewed as a representation of the world and our body. Our common grades mark the essential stages of our progression while our individual work will complete our evolution and assimilation. Our periods of lodge practice, together with individual meditation on the symbols, provide us with a complete system to carry out the true construction of our inner world, something able to elevate us to the highest degrees of consciousness. This is how our participation in both our fraternity and the profane world shall take its true meaning: to help this world become a better place for all of us.
Jean-Louis de Biasi – 32°