Masonic Dissonance

Michael Jarzabek recently guest-edited an issue of the Masonic magazine Fraternal Review. Unusually, Jarzabek wanted it to have the look and feel of a punk zine. Notably, the cover has an illustration by Bob Gorman of the heavy metal band GWAR (though he’s not a Freemason) and the theme is on dissonance. Below is an interview with Jarzabek on why he decided to do this.

The Spiritual Survival:

Why were you inspired to write about dissonance and to give the magazine a punk-look?

Michael:

Freemasons tend to compartmentalize “the Craft” into neat little boxes. We obsessively labor to make it safe and comfortable. Every step we take in this direction makes the true teachings of Freemasonry harder to access. Inadvertently, we strip it of its meaning and effectively reduce it to a mere hollow fetish. I think in a way this mirrors society in which humans are reduced to serve as robotic consumers.

We buy Masonic books, paintings, and other ephemera that, instead of challenging us, only serves to solidify our safe world view. When that isn’t enough, we join another [Masonic] body and take another position [in the lodge]. We restart the cycle. We descend down the winding stairs into empty materialism. We get caught up in a rat race of what Angel Millar calls in his new book of the “Iron Age.” We consume until it consumes us, and we burn out or fade away. We never find that answer we’re looking for.

That’s because Freemasonry isn’t an answer it’s a system of questions. We could debate what those questions are but ultimately, I think there are a few essential ones:

Who are we?
Why are we here?
Will anyone care when we’re gone?
Do we have free-will?
Most importantly, however, do we have the courage to exercise our free-will?

In each moment of our lives do we have what it takes to be free-born? The antithesis of rampant consumerism, mindless groupthink, and the status quo in Ancient Greece was Socrates, Plato, and Pythagoras. In the Renaissance, it was Michelangelo, DaVinci, and Pico della Mirandola. In colonial times it was Thomas Paine, Joseph Warren, and Thomas Jefferson. In modern times it was the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash.

These men all chose to be builders. They chose to cast off their chains and live as free men. They chose to create rather than consume.

They were philosophers, Renaissance men, Revolutionaries, and punks. They all shared a do-it-yourself attitude. As the adage goes, all you need is “three chords and the truth.”

I truly believe in that and I wanted to inspire other Masons to stop listening to other people’s “music” and pick up their “guitar,” grab a couple of friends and create their own. I could think of no better vehicle for this than a punk zine.

The Spiritual Survival:

Yes, well, during the 18th century (and even into the 19th century), many Freemasons made their own regalia, painting Masonic symbols on it themselves or getting their wives to embroider them. If you look at most of this hand-made regalia, it looks quite naive, but there’s something really cool about it too. It reminds me a lot of punks who used to paint their own leather jackets with band images and emblems.

Of course, during the 18th century, as well, sometimes Freemasons made up their own rituals and compiled their own Masonic rites. And so you end up with competing factions, especially in France and Germany — the Strict Observance, the Egyptian Rite, the Asiatic Brethren, etc. — but you also have this really wild, confusing, vibrant mix, with these rites and rituals being influenced by alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Christian chivalry and mysticism, etc.

So, with all this symbolism, how does dissonance fit in? Or does it?

Michael:

Heavily alluded to in Freemasonry is Aristotle’s Golden Mean. However, we are only shown virtue and almost never vice. This puts us at a disadvantage. The Golden Mean is about finding balance or harmony between opposites, but we’re only given one side of the story.

Take the Four Cardinal Virtues. If I have too much fortitude, I am not being harmonious. I’ll rush foolishly into danger rather than finding a logical strategy or tactic where I may avoid it. Likewise, if I had too little fortitude I’ll cower in fear and anxiety, crippled by inaction. Harmony is not found in the extreme polar edges of virtue. This is where dissonance lives. Since true harmony in an examined life is a moving target, it would be prudent for the true student of the craft to examine what harmony is not. I think by understanding dissonance we can find true harmony or that Golden Mean.

The Spiritual Survival:

Right. Symbolically, you have the two columns at the inner door of the lodge, with one signifying the earth and the other the celestial or the heavenly, and there are the symbols of the rough ashlar or stone and the perfect ashlar or the building block, for example. And the initiate of Freemasonry is supposed to chip away at his bad habits and bad thoughts, etc., to become perfectly himself or to embody his higher consciousness, we might say. So the emphasis there is on the higher aspects. But do you propose exploring the negative aspects? For example, a Freemason isn’t supposed to eat or drink alcohol to excess. Should he understand drunkenness and losing self-control, maybe in a psychotherapeutic way, looking at his own vices? Or are you suggesting something else?

Michael:

That’s a really good example. I’m not saying that people should act like Nicholas Cage in the movie Leaving Las Vegas. They should definitely know the effects of drunkenness to understand what drinking to excess is. They should also understand that the same amount of alcohol may affect them differently in different situations. For instance, the Bowling Green State University document, “Factors That Affect Intoxication,” states that, “If you get five or fewer hours of sleep for four nights in a row two drinks will start to feel like six drinks. Another way to describe this: lack of sleep reduces tolerance, so impairment will be experienced at lower BAC levels than normal.” That’s a pretty big swing and one that could end up affecting your life forever. Other factors on intoxication include medication use, amount of food intake, illness, and mood. That’s a lot to understand but if you’re going to drink responsibly it’s pretty important knowledge.

We can take this line of thinking and apply it to any number of morals, virtues and character traits with the same results. Most things aren’t simply black and white like the mosaic pavement. We should also understand what emotional triggers may affect our desire to drink. If we can identify them we can work on understanding them. If we can understand them we can work on truly healing ourselves.

The Spiritual Survival:

Yes, well, if you’re going to drink alcohol, you should be conscious of how it’s affecting you, and not drink to excess. There’s a line from the Hávamál of the medieval Icelandic text the Poetic Edda: “Shun not the mead, but drink in measure.” Drinking alcohol, within measure, has been a part of Western social culture for thousands of years. But, nevertheless, I think some people would say just don’t drink at all. Former alcoholics won’t drink a glass of wine because they know that they will end up binge drinking if they do. But, I know the issue of Fraternal Review isn’t about alcohol per se. So perhaps tell us what practical steps you’re envisioning, either in a lodge or group setting or as an individual practice. And how is dissonance a part of that?

Michael:

I hope this issue in some way inspires individuals to realize that Freemasonry isn’t a fetish or Golden Calf that exists simply to be admired. It isn’t a costume that we wear to go to a party. It is a collection of some of the world’s most beautiful and useful philosophy, literature, and mythology. Freemasonry isn’t something you are; it’s something you do and it’s time that we started doing it.

In his article, Dissonance as Transformation Towards Harmony, Eric Marks writes, “Dissonance is a clue, a symbol, a signpost, that an internal problem exists and therefore, an invitation to transform.” Erik goes on to share three strategies from Leon Festinger on how to accept this invitation.: One, “reduce the importance of the cognitions, attitudes, or beliefs.” Two, “acquire new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs.” And, three, “change one or more of the attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors to make the relationship between the elements a consonant one.”

I hope Lodges, Districts, and Grand Lodges will work to create and to sustain a living culture (whether that’s launching a Masonic event, Masonic podcast, creating a Masonic education program in the lodge, etc.). All this starts by identifying the dissonant beliefs we hold as individuals and institutions and to be courageous in resolving those beliefs in healthy and constructive ways. It starts in this moment and each successive moment for the rest of our lives.

Greg Kaminsky’s article, “Dissonance: A Late Night Revelation,” provides an example. He discusses “the clash between older brethren who essentially ran and administered the fraternity and believed their institution was a bastion of fraternal camaraderie and outlet for philanthropic and charitable endeavors and younger brethren who joined Freemasonry to learn about the esoteric symbolism.” This is nothing new as Jedidiah French states in the introduction to the book that he co-edited, The Art and Science of Initiation. If I’m not mistaken, the harmonization of these polar factions was one of the main goals of this project. The Ancients and the Moderns, the academics and the esotericists, the pancake makers and the Kabbalists are all thought to be diametrically opposed. We would do well to apply Festinger’s three strategies to these divisions in order to foster harmony in the craft where we find dissonance. If we could find ways to do this in the microcosm of the Craft I have no doubt that we could also use these same tools to heal similar divisions in the macrocosm of the greater world.

The Fear That Can Push Us Forward

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” The quote, attributed to Plato, reminds us that to varying degrees fear is with each of us from childhood.

Ordinary people feel fear. Great leaders sometimes fear. So do great warriors, great artists, great men and women who are leaders in other fields. For the higher man and the higher woman, I believe, the question is not so much can we overcome fear? but what is worth fearing? If we can answer that then we will live a life worth living. 

Some time ago, in my Kung-Fu class, I was asked to spar with a new student. I went very light. Then my instructor told me to me go harder. He was concerned that, if I went light, he might get a false sense of security in facing an attacker on the street, who of course wouldn’t hold back. After he told me to go harder on the student, (although far from using full force) I could see that he was nervous. But he immediately put all his effort into sparing with me, and landed some punches and kicks on me.

Most people see fear as a negative thing. But that depends on what we chose to be afraid of. Fear seems to grip us, to terrorize us, sometimes making small things into mountainous obstacles.

There are several reasons why most martial artists have a healthy outlook on life. Exercise causes the body to release endorphins, which makes us feel positive. (We’ve all experienced feeling stressed or low before working out, and then realizing that this has evaporated after just ten minutes or so of sweating.)

But I think the major reason is that martial artists have chosen to fear something greater. In choosing to fear — or to face — something greater do we overpower and destroy the ordinary fears that overwhelm so many people.

I’m not a Christian, but I always remember Proverbs 9:10: “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Perhaps this is shocking in a world that wants everyone to feel “safe” and with no pressure to change or improve. This is a great trap, and a great loss to anyone who falls for it.

From a certain perspective “fear of the Lord” is one of the most important teachings in the Bible. Although no doubt misused by religious authority, the command is not to fear the priest, minister, churchgoer, or church establishment. It is to fear nothing other than God. 

And whether conceived as the Christian God, or Krishna, Kali, Buddha, as a pagan European deity, or as the Tao, or as Truth, etc. — if you fear “the Lord” — then you will not fear man. This is the essential lesson.

Fear is inevitable. But the higher man chooses to fear higher things. Yes, it is difficult, but we must choose not to fear the opinions of others, but to fear not speaking the timeless truth. We must not fear making a mistake, but not trying. We must not fear failing, but not pushing, developing, and elevating our understanding, our spiritual practice, body, skill, and character, forging ourselves into a our image of our higher and noble Self.

Angel Millar is the editor of The Spiritual Survival and the author of several books including The Three Stages of Initiatic Spirituality: Craftsman, Warrior, Magician (available for pre-order on Barnes&Noble, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

The Sickle of Titan Kronos: Archetypal Symbol of Power and Progress

The idea that a weapon has power beyond what can be understood scientifically or through the laws of nature is very old. Nobody really knows the historical origins of the tales and myths surrounding such magical objects. While speculating, we can suppose that a logical place to look for the beginning of such mythical narratives would be the communities of the early metallurgists and craftsmen who created these weapons, as well as the legendary men, heroes, and Gods who wielded them.

In the west, the concept of a “weapon of power” originates in the Greek tradition where a number of magical weapons are mentioned, such as the sickle of Titan Kronos and the harpē of Perseus, his grandson. In the Theogony, Hesiod mentions that the sickle of Kronos was fashioned out of gray adamant by Gaia (Earth) herself and was given as a gift to Kronos who castrated and overthrew his father Ouranos (Uranus) taking his place as the ruler of the Cosmos:

But huge Earth groaned within, for she was constricted, and she devised a tricky, evil stratagem. At once she created an offspring, of gray adamant, and she fashioned a big sickle and showed it to her own children.

(Hesiod, 16) [1]

Soon after, Hesiod clarified the reason for the plot:

And Gaia spoke, encouraging them while she grieved in her dear heart: “Children of mine and of a wicked father, obey me, if you wish: we would avenge your father’s evil outrage. For he was the first to devise unseemly deeds.”

(Hesiod, 17) [1]

It is important to understand the symbolic meaning of the sickle of Kronos because it is the archetypal weapon of power in the west and its influence as a literary device on later mythological traditions is immense. When it appears in the writings of the ancient Greek authors, the sickle is almost always used in the context of mythology.

Philosophically speaking, in Greek cosmology the sickle of God Kronos symbolizes the immense powers through which the Primordial Space-Time became a condition of change and progress in the material Cosmos and its evolving state. For that reason, the sickle is also a phallic symbol, denoting the fertile powers and creative forces in the universe, therefore becoming a symbol of transformation, progress, and renewal. The deployment of a weapon of power, in Greek myth and in relation to the killing of a God by another, operates as a symbol of the co-interaction of the cosmic forces, which eventually assists into the birth of a more evolved state of the Universe.

In Greek mythology, the sickle was later passed down to God Zefs (Zeus) who in turn also castrated and overthrew God Kronos, his father, in order to take his place as the ruler of the material universe, in very much the same way as Kronos did to his father. The symbolism of the sickle as an instrument initiating progress is retained through the mythology of succession of the Gods: Ouranos – Kronos – Zefs.

In terms of theology, Kronos stands primarily as a symbol of the purity of space (and time) that the rest of the Gods are born into. For the Greeks, space has always been sacred and this case is not any different. The space-time, where the above-mentioned genealogy of the Gods takes place in the Greek Theogony, cannot be impure and polluted. As Socrates explains in Plato’s dialogue Cratylus:

Zeus is the offspring of some great intellect; and so he is, for κόρος (for Κρόνος) signifies not child, but the purity (καθαρόν) and unblemished nature of his mind.

(Cratylus, 49) [2]

The Dual Nature of a Forged Weapon

The philosophical implications deriving from the inherent duality of a forged weapon during ancient times are enormous. The weapon was not only a testament of the skills of its creator, but it also reflected the qualities of the person, hero, or God wielding it. Its shape and materials are also very important when considering it as a symbol. God Kronos, in the Greek and later in the Roman tradition (see Saturnalia), is an agricultural deity as well as the lord of Space and Time.

The gray adamant, which the sickle was made of, being one of the hardest materials on earth, denotes the firmness of Kronos’ powers and his completed and perfected state as a force in the universe. The word adamant comes from the Greek word ἀδάμας, which translates to “untamable” [3]. With that piece of information, we have a more complete understanding not only of the powers of Gaia who created the sickle, but also of the origins and nature of the powers of her son, Kronos. As a tool, the sickle is associated with agricultural societies and was used by farmers to cut crops for thousands of years. Symbolically, it denotes the moment a person has achieved a high level of cultivation. The individual who has planted and cultivated the seeds of knowledge for a long time is now ready to reap what they sowed, and that is of course none other than the gift of wisdom, one of the four classical virtues.

In regards to the forging process and the materials used, the symbolism is also very deep. The raw materials such as iron and steel used to forge weapons come from the earth in a rough form, but they are molded and perfected through fire, air, and water by the weapon smith. This act of the transformation of matter into something useful is the point where the real process of forging a sword, a tool, or a weapon becomes a symbolic one.

Contemplating on the powerful symbolism of ancient archetypes such as the adamantine sickle and how they operate in the various mythological narratives can become a powerful agent of change and transformation for the seeker of wisdom. If we want to create a “weapon of power”, a tool for our progress, we have to see ourselves as the rough material coming from the earth to be molded appropriately in order to produce perfection and beauty in the form and in all aspects of the self.

This transformation is not only spiritual but it is also a physical one. Its process can be summarized in the three acts already mentioned in relation to the planting, cultivating, and sowing of the crops: First comes the “planting of the seeds of knowledge,” then we nurture and cultivate these seeds further, and finally we master this knowledge and share it with the world for the benefit of all (the sowing). An example of this is the philosopher who transforms his/her life through the art of dialectics, meaningful contemplation, theurgy and dietics. Another example is the martial artist who transforms the self through the martial art of his/her choice, by adopting the philosophy and all physical aspects of the art.

Closing Thoughts

By contemplating on the sickle as a weapon of Divine power and as an instrument of cultivation we take away its main attribute, which is that of an instrument of death, so that we can transform it into a powerful symbol of progress that will assist us toward what is known as the philosopher’s death. Philosophical death is a condition where the seeker finds him/herself egoless, reaching out with the powers of the mind towards the divine, while detached from the physical body and its needs, as much as this is possible of course. Using an image such as the sickle of Titan Kronos to meaningfully transition, through contemplation and inner dialectics, from the physical world to the noeric world of the mind, is a very important step in the process of achieving the philosophical death and “planting” the first seeds of knowledge.

Like in the mythology of Ouranos, Kronos, and Zefs, which symbolize three different states of the progressing Cosmos, the “weapon of power” can be used as a great symbol of progress through the aforementioned three-step reformation. However, only when the transformation is done meaningfully, with self-honesty and completely, will we manage to “kill” our former and less evolved states in our “battle” towards renewal and perfection.

References:

[1] “HESIOD, Theogony.” Loeb Classical Library, 25 Oct. 2018,
http://www.loebclassics.com/view/hesiod-
theogony/2018/pb_LCL057.17.xml?result=2&rskey=XGZM6v
[2] “PLATO, Cratylus.” Loeb Classical Library, 24 June 2019,
http://www.loebclassics.com/view/plato_philosopher-
cratylus/1926/pb_LCL167.49.xml?rskey=Qb4bVO&result=2
[3] ἀδάμας. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://logeion.uchicago.edu/λογεῖον

Tony Crisos is a guitarist, educator, philosopher, and esoteric arts practitioner, born in Greece and now living in the USA.