Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Temple in Memory: Masonic Meditations

It is easy to believe, if you have spent any time observing contemporary Esoteric communities and traditions, of almost any stripe, that there exists a mysterious alchemical process whereby whenever anyone has a new or creative idea, the ethers take ahold of it and by the time they have a chance to share this new technique or vision with another, it has magically been converted into an ancient and timeless tradition. Gnostic and Hermetic traditions, being the closest in those circles to Freemasonry are no exception to this occult phenomenon. At least that is my independent judgment. Of course, the same may be said of Freemasonry itself, where when all else fails, it is possible to raise Frederick the Great from both his coma and his death bed to sign a charter for your fledgling obedience.

One such time honored technique of magical practice is that which today is commonly identified by the name of Pathworking. It is a fanciful term to describe a meditation based upon visualization. It is one technique, which if not originally grounded in Hermetic arts, is certainly in harmony with Hermetic principles. The basic concept is that if you can visualize forcefully, you can enter into an inner experience convincingly enough that for the duration of the exercise, you actually experience the events you visualize, or at least an emotional or spiritual equivalent of them. Any child who has ever daydreamed, or any avid movie buff, has experienced this, so there is no outlandish claims in this, at least on the surface. The fact that I had already been married for the second time before this word was first seen publicly in print, apparently does not affect its hoary antiquity as a technique.
To go beyond that, of course requires the assumption of metaphysical components or impacts deriving from these practices. I make it a habit to offer two observations whenever such matters come up in public. The first is to assert that I do not attempt to influence nor debate anyone else's belief or skepticism concerning spiritual matters. The second is to quote, depending on your adherence or non-adherence to certain conspiracy theories, either Shakespeare or Bacon,  "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

My skepticism of the antiquity of the technique not withstanding, there is some justification for its adoption in Western Mystic traditions, and even for its use by Freemasons. Of course, we have to ignore the fact that when the first Grand Lodge convened in London in 1717, they clearly stated in the documents, which you can see today if anyone ever finds them, that Freemasonry is only a social club, and besides initiation ceremonies filled with obscure symbolism, its only legitimate purpose is to read treasurer's minutes and to hold fish fries. Cigars and Single Malt may be consumed on premises only if you are in Scotland.

So, why would I claim that there's some legitimate connection between Freemasonry and the modern esoteric practice known as Pathworking? Quite simply due to the ancient, still remembered by at least a handful of people, practice known as "The Palace of Memory." That is the name of a technique first enunciated by the ancient Greek orators to assist in recalling lengthy speeches.

The long and short of it is that the technique refers to mentally associating elements of your lecture or speech with items or locations in a building you have imagined. This can also be used to remember or contemplate any other materials you may choose. This location may be your home, a public building, or even a path through the woods. In the examples we will discuss below, we will suggest the Chamber of Reflection and the Masonic Temple.

Let me first note that while I am not suggesting that any Masonic Obedience that I know of currently has formal teachings relating to meditation, apart from the active stage of initiation in those rites where the Chamber of Reflection is part of the initiation, which may legitimately be considered a contemplative process of intellectual and psychological meditation, I consider it a useful thing for Freemasons to consider, perhaps privately and quietly if they are members of obediences that pride themselves on being BBQ masters only. 

Further, one need not be committed to any form of spiritual or metaphysical practice to justify the exercise. If you are purely a materialist in outlook, a Masonic meditation can be adapted to some rather practical outcomes. An active visual meditation based upon the concept of the Palace of Memory may be used to aid an individual in memorizing ritual, or exploring the symbols used in Masonic practice and teaching. Imagine creating your own mental movie in which the ritual may be carried out with commentary provided by your inner voice, or in which the symbols come to life and explain themselves, or if that is too fanciful, where you can view them as if in a hologram while reviewing their meanings. All in all, it's a dramatic technique that remains a lot cheaper than producing your own educational videos.

If you are of a more metaphysical turn of mind, you can enact the rituals in full in your imagination, creating an experience on whatever higher plane you consider to be real, and strengthening, if your belief system includes such things, a masonic egrigore. If you are working with a lodge where the members are open to such ideas on any level, and not restricted by more intrusive regulations, you may well find that such a practice has practical implications for the energy and vibrancy of your more brick and mortar meetings when they occur. At the least they may inspire a more spirited participation when you meet for the "real" thing.

I realize that such an idea may appear fanciful to some masons, and that is fine. In spite of the attempts of some obediences to micro-manage what is acceptable practice, I feel that Freemasonry is at a juncture where some creativity in how we approach masonic education is called for. Since in our day and age, even quite mainstream psychology, thanks in large part to the imaginative work of Carl Jung, whose grandfather after whom he was named was Grand Master of Switzerland during his lifetime, recognized the value of contemplative practices including a variety of meditational forms, such an idea needn't be merely the reserve of the more esoterically minded Freemason.

Lastly, lest I be accused of "borrowing" other people's ideas, allow me to recommend a couple of published resources where such ideas, in one form or another are developed. There is an excellent little book, available as far as I know only in French, and only electronically, entitled "Meditation Maçonique: Le Secret du Ritual de Méditation Maçonnique" by Franck de Magellan. The other, which is more of a traditional application of Cabbalistic techniques, is available in English. It is Jean-Louis de Biasi's "Secrets and Practices of the Freemasons: Sacred Mysteries, Rituals and Symbols Revealed." I leave it to the individual reader to address for themselves the merits of these author's views of Freemasonry. However, I am interested in the practical techniques presented by these authors in the broadest interpretation possible as potential tools in personal education and in seeking more light. Fiat Lux!

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