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In the first half of this post we started to look into the symbol of the compass in Freemasonry. It turned out to have a complicated backstory, so we split it in two. We left off with speculative Freemasonry - an 18th-century esoteric society with the kind of deist ideology that was typical of the Enlightenment, but based on a mythical history concocted by late Medieval masons from a variety of sources. The idea was that masons - the architects of their day - worked with sacred geometries that aligned with the fundamental nature of the cosmos.
Rock of Masonry, 1871, lithograph by Bencke & Scott
The legend was that their secrets predated Noah's Flood, were rediscovered by Pythagoras and Hermes, and passed down through the ages through various secret societies.
God the Pantokrator, circa 1220-40, illumination on parchment, 37.5 x 26.2 cm, Bible of St. Louis, f. 1v., Toledo Cathedral
The compass and square were tools used to calculate these sacred geometries, so they became symbols of divine creation - just as God created the world, masons use a human version of this knowledge to create material reflections of His achievement.
This lengthy quote shows how this all tied together into a Masonic mythology:
"Freemasonry was founded around the image of the secular architect shaping the world and himself within it so as to provide both with a sense of moral order. Stonemasons, forerunners of modern architects, not only provided the symbolic tools :this reshaping process, but because of their past, particularly their association with the building of the great cathedrals in Europe, supplied the link with religious certainty and order. But it was the building of Solomon's Temple which was the central myth of freemasonry. It embodied spatially a utopic of moral order in which individuals might lead a virtuous life and come to create the social conditions of trust required in the contractual society that was emerging around them."
Kevin, Hetherington, The Badlands Of Modernity: Heterotopia And Social Ordering, Routledge, 1997, p. 86-87
This post will look at how esoteric ideas from the Renaissance - a basket of Hermeticism, alchemy, Neoplatonism, etc. - enriched this Medieval tale in modern speculative masonry. These gave the Freemasons their interesting imagery, but also opened the door to the occult. Because at heart all Satanic manifestations share pursuit of worldly power and/or fulfillment of worldly desires, without moral constraint.
Aleister Crowley as Ordo Templi orientis (OTO) leader, 1916
Consider Aleister Crowley's "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law". Crowley and other occultists in the likes of the Order of the Golden Dawn or Ordo Templi Orientis had various connections with unorthodox Freemason groups. Obviously, official Freemasonry disavows any connection, but acknowledge Crowley was initiated into splinter masonic groups. The link is empowerment through supernatural sources, where esoteric study easily becomes occult worship. Crowley's concept of True Will derived in part from occultist Baphomet inventor and Freemason Elphias Levi.
William Blake, Satan Exulting over Eve, 1795, pen and ink, watercolor, 42.5 × 53.5 cm, Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Of course, "do as thou wilt" is just an echo of the Satanic claim from Paradise Lost: "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
The Italian Renaissance was a cultural and intellectual movement based on the revival of ancient learning that started a complete transformation of Western culture.Humanism was the new idea that society could progress through human knowledge - in this case, texts and art from Greco-Roman antiquity. It is true that empirical knowledge has greatly improved our qualities of life, but the humanists were thinking more abstractly. Ancient wisdom was held up as a way to improve morality, arts and letters, civility, good government, and anything else the humanists could market.
Raphael, School of Athens, 1509-11, fresco, Vatican Museum
This did bring a flood of great art, literature, and thought back into the West...
...but that came with a lot of weird late antique mystical pseudo-philosophy from the first few centuries AD that claimed to be much older. Hermes had already been mythologized by this point as Trismagistus or Thrice-Great, a mix of the Egyptian god Thoth and the Greek Hermes reimagined as an incredibly ancient sage. For Renaissance humanists, the older something was, the better, and Hermes Trismagistus made it seem like Neoplatonic ideas were as old as Moses.
Hermes Trismegistus philosophorum (Thrice-great Hermes, father of philosophy), circa 1475, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ashb. 1166, fol. 1v.
A Renaissance picture of Hermes. Belief in his wisdom was part of a school of thought called prisca theologia. This held that all religions were imperfect reflections of an original lost wisdom. This included Christianity, which was seen as having some basis in truth, but no more the whole story than the Hermetica. By piecing together all the bits of wisdom, humanity could restore itself to a state of true knowledge.
This is the origin of the irritating "all religions are great teachers of virtue" bullshit popular with the more "spiritual" progressives. It is also the basis of Unitarianism and any number of esoteric and occult orders like Theosophy or Freemasonry.
Hermeticism was based on the Neoplatonic idea that reality is a projection from an infinite godhead - the One, ultimate reality - that takes the form of a hierarchy or series of levels. This accounted for angels, spirits, gods, and other supernatural beings by placing them on higher planes of existence between us and the One. Humans were unique in creation because the had bodies and souls - a spark of the One in a material form. Because of this, we don't have a fixed place on the existential ladder - we can wallow like in animals, die, and crumble to dirt, or cultivate our spiritual/intellectual sides and ascend to the source.
Title page to Oswald Croll, Basilica chymica, continens philosophicam propria laborum experientia confirmatam descriptionem et usum remediorum chymicorum selectissimorum è lumine gratiae & naturae desumptorum... Frankfurt, 1609
This title page includes thinkers from different traditions around symbols of a metaphysically connected heaven and earth.
Here's a close-up of Hermes with a plaque stating "as above so below". This is the connection between heaven and earth that allows humans to move up and down.
Neoplatonism was somewhat compatible with Christianity in this way, because Christian dualism - body and soul - has similar choices and outcomes. But Christian salvation was ultimately an act of God - without grace, the world is hopelessly fallen. Hermeticism was like any Neoplatonic mysticism in that reunion with the One came by entirely human means. The One was utterly indifferent rather than a light and a way, so ascension happened through knowledge, ritual, meditation, spells, and so forth. Christian Neoplatonism removed the esoteric ritual stuff and turned the idea of returning to the source into salvation through Christ. Hermeticism joined with alchemy and other esoteric branches to put the potential power of attaining a higher state of reality in human hands.
Frontispiece from The Hermetical Triumph: Or, The Victorious Philosophical Stone, pub in French in 1689, translated in 1723.
The Hermetic world is balanced, and ascending requires effort and secret knowledge, not faith.
This is where the occult/esoteric distinction gets blurry. Hermetic knowledge is esoteric, in that it is something hidden that is learned and not direct contact with the supernatural. But Hermetic mysticism is intended to attain a literally supernatural outcome. It is Neoplatonic, which means that all forms of the supernatural are just different rungs on the same metaphysical latter. When Hermetic sources refer to "becoming gods", they mean mystically entering the higher planes where the more spiritual entities that were known historically as gods existed. This is occult.
Renaissance Humanists thought they could discover the grand theory of the universe - the meaning of everything - if they could get back far enough. Their culture had declined in learning from ancient Greece and Rome, so Greco-Roman antiquity must have declined from something purer - prisca theologia. Hermeticism and other esoteric schools taught that restoration was possible. So how do you do it in practice? Lots of ritual survived from antiquity, but number symbolism was important. Kabbalah was one ancient esoteric form of numerology and Pythagoreanism another.
Salvator Rosa, Pythagoras Emerging from the Underworld, 1662, oil on canvas, 131.2 x 189 cm, Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX
Pythagoras is shadowy mathematician and philosopher who inspired a cult of followers who mythologized him over time. His supposed descent and return from the underworld became a metaphor for a mystical ascent that didn't involve Christian concepts or figures.
It is impossible to determine how much "Pythagoreanism" actually came from Pythagoras and how much from his followers, so the Band will just use Pythagorean for all of it. The Pythagoreans believed that the earth was at the center of a universe of concentric rings that were spaced at regular intervals. As they spun, they emitted an imperceptible music - the music of the spheres - that could be perceived mystically by someone sufficiently enlightened.
Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris [On the Two Worlds, namely, the Major and the Minor], Oppenheim, 1617-21
The Harmony of the Spheres in one image. Understanding the ratios leads to understanding the cosmos. The distances between the spheres corresponded with the changes in string length on an instrument needed for the notes on the harmonic scale. Earth to the fixed stars was one octave and the planetary subdivisions are simple ratios that can be visualized with basic shapes.
Pythagorean geometry was the tool to unify occult threads because it provided a clear, rational way to express the fundamental nature that humanity and the universe shared. Click here for more on esoteric number symbolism.
Leonardo da Vinci, Vitruvian Man, circa 1487, pen and ink with wash over metalpoint, on paper, 34.6 × 25.5 cm, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
The circle and square were the most basic shapes with long histories of symbolizing heaven and earth. This is the idea of the microcosm - that the human is a miniature image of the universe. Ideal human proportions are shown to align with the fundamental harmonies of the universe.
Palladio, Villa Capra Rotonda, 1566-71, Vicenza, Italy
These concepts could be given physical form with architecture. The simple proportions and classical style associated with the Renaissance was partly a reaction to Pythagorean and other esoteric ideas about geometry.
The great chain from Fludd's Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet et minoris, vol. 1, fol. 4-5
Fludd tied the esoteric threads together - Hermeticism, Pythagorean geometry, alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Kabbalah, Neoplatonism, etc.
You can see the Hermetic progress through the spheres, surrounded by ordered symbols of the Zodiac, planets, elements, and other esoterica. The human figure straddles the spheres with an ape - an animal - on the world at her feet, and the divine mind above. Note that God had no Christian identifiers.
When the actual Freemasons formed in the early 1700s, they filtered the stories of Pythagoras and Hermes in the Medieval Old Charges through this Hermetic Renaissance esoterica. As with any group, we have to remember that not everyone who joined a fraternal lodge thought they were commencing a Hermetic ascent. Masonic principles just call for brotherhood and good citizenship under a generic God. The problem is more of an ideological one - what does the group actually stand for, and how is this of use to elite occultists?
Masonic Passport from Toulouse, France, 1785
This would have been given to a new member. There's the Classical architecture - working as a gate to a hidden world of symbols lit by an animated sun. Initiation is literally a lifting the veil to the same sort of esoteric symbolic path found in earlier Hermetic and alchemical writers.
Rising towards a non-Christian God rings a few alarm bells on the potential for occult subversion.
What is this secret knowledge that is promised?
Jacob Böhme, Earth and Heaven Mysterium, frontispiece to his Theosophische Werke (Amsterdam, 1682)
From Darkness to Light, Masonic poster by Hazen (New York, 1908) with symbols based on 19th century sources.
Böhme was another peddler of esoteric connections between heaven and earth. Considering that the "G" is a Masonic symbol for their non-denominational God, his vision is remarkably similar to early 20th century Freemasonry. Specifically Masonic symbols appear in the poster - the pillars of knowledge, the Temple of Solomon as an architectural path to divinity, and, of course, the compass and square for sacred geometry.
So the path behind the veil is a Hermetic one, where it is secret knowledge that leads to an indifferent, deistic, Enlightenment "God". But Hermeticism talks about becoming gods, or at least like gods, by your own means - studying your way to the divine, so to speak. This is utterly incompatible with Christian ontology, since it claims unfallen pure knowledge can be accessed without need of God's grace. Metaphysical authority transfers to human knowledge and ingenuity. But you don't have to be Christian to realize that human knowledge is limited in scope and that the enlightenment they are peddling is human status-seeking and vanity. Doubtful? Take a look:
William Blake, The Ancient of Days, frontispiece to copy K of Europe a Prophecy, 1794, hand-colored etching, 23.3 x 16.8 cm, British Museum, London
Blake was a strange mystic who gets thrown in with the early Romantics for his visionary images and un-Classical themes. This is a fairly late example of the divine creator with his compasses.
Lee Lawrie, Wisdom, with Light and Sound, 1933, entrance of 30 Rockefeller Center (GE Building), New York City, photograph by Jaime Ardiles-Arce
Rockefeller was a Templar, who have connections with the Freemasons and embrace similar esoterica. Take a closer look at the central figure over his building:
Looks familiar, only it's an electric god of human progress creating a maze of gear wheels and other mechanisms. It's not faith that can bring the new Golden Age, but human ingenuity.
We can be gods.
Harvey Wiley Corbett, George Washington Masonic National Memorial, 1922-32, Alexandria, VA
This monument was raised in the early 20th century with Masonic funding to celebrate their most important American member.
But look inside...
The conclusion? Freemasonry is not openly Satanic, but it's esoteric traditions and Enlightenment myth of human perfectibility through knowledge makes it vulnerable to those who want to seek darker knowledge. Members like Albert Pike and Éliphas Lévi don't speak for the movement officially, but nor were they expelled for their ideas (some quotes). Some smug decievers will point out that this is "Lucifarianism" and not Satanism, as if an idol becomes meaningfully different because you've given it a different name.
Is Freemasonry occult? Depends on your opinion of "Lucifer".
John Martin, Pandemonium, 1841, 123 x 185 cm, Louvre Museum