Death in Freemasonry
How about death... ?
The philosophical testament to a successful initiation death
The Master and Death
Death, beyond the symbol, a reality!
Death in the Legend of Hiram
It is an important topic for reflection for laymen as well as for initiates; we publish personal contributions; you too, if you wish, can contribute!
The philosophical testament for a successful initiatory death
Most of the time the lay person who has made the request enters a process of meetings, followed by the passage under the band, before being announced the date of initiation; in total, it can take between a few months and a year. It is an ambiguous period: we are not yet but we will be soon; so that apart from the readings that one may allow oneself, discussions with the godfather or godmother (when he or she exists), or with Freemason friends (whose spouse sometimes) often revolve around generalities: one must wait!
But this period is very important! When we live through it in feverish expectation of a "happy" event, we miss something that we can no longer relive!
Initiation, in the first sense of the term, is above all an immersion in a new conceptual universe: the vocabulary, the ritual, the faces, everything is going to be to be discovered! It is this encounter with novelty that characterizes the initiation.
Masonic rituals, like all initiation rituals, formalize this encounter through a ceremony that is also called initiation.
The meditation in the reflection room is one of the prerequisites to this ceremony; during this meditation the lay person will be asked to write his or her moral and philosophical testament; It is a question of answering three questions; according to the lodges and the obediences several formulations are possible; as an example, here are three possible formulations:
What is your belief on the existence of a creator God and unique principle of all things; on Providence and on the immortality of the human soul; and what do you think of the Christian religion?
What idea have you formed of virtue as it relates to God and to religion, to yourself and to your fellow men?
What is your opinion of the true needs of men, and in what do you believe that you can be most useful to them?
What does a man owe his fellow man?
What does man owe to his country?
What does man owe to God?
1. What are man's duties to himself?
2. What are man's duties to his Family?
3. What are man's duties towards the City?
4. What are man's duties towards humanity?
5. Moral and Philosophical Testament: At his last hour each one leaves a part of himself to posterity; he leaves in particular the memory of his moral behaviour and the expression of his philosophy. And you, what memory would you like to leave? How will you go about it?
The tendency of most laymen is to take these questions at face value and imagine themselves writing an end-of-life will as it can happen to any individual knowing his near end.
However, we don't say enough that we're here in a completely different situation. It is a death of a profane state that will mutate into an initiatory rebirth. Initiation acts like a moult: we are going to get rid of one state to put on another habit.
The moral and philosophical testament of the profane must be understood as an awareness of this will to change towards perfection. There is no need to make declarations of intent about what might be virtues to which one attaches a certain importance.
If this testament must have value it is because it could contain everything that the layman wants to give up because he could be aware that another dimension awaits him with other values much more motivating than those to which he was attached.
By helping the lay person to prepare himself or herself for this exercise prior to his or her change of state, one could facilitate his or her understanding of initiation and consequently the "success" of this initiatory death that he or she wished to achieve.
The Master and Death
I propose to address this evening a subject that we don't talk much about in the Lodge, even though it is one of the central elements of the mythology of the F.M. and the culmination of the master's degree.
Going back and forth between my personal experience, my symbolic perception and our ritual, I am going to submit to you the current state of my reflection on Death.
To begin with, here is a humorous, yet realistic and instructive definition for those who wish to hear:
"Life is a deadly sexually transmitted disease."
I like this sentence very much as it reminds us with humour of what the Roman Stoics said long before us:
which we quickly translate as:
"Remember you're mortal."
which I prefer to translate as:
"I must remember that I'm going to die."
Indeed, my brothers, in this unstable world where nothing is ever certain, where crisis, illness, unemployment, accidents can upset our best assured plans, only the outcome of our earthly journey is certain.
We are all going to die, you and I. If we don't know the date, we know the deadline.
This common and inexorable lot unites us more closely than the brotherhood we have chosen.
It even seems that this awareness characterizes our humanity. The animal is not aware of its own end, even though it seems to feel the approach of death around it.
Every teenager has to face one day this troubling evidence and he overcomes it as best he can, as the deadline seems very far away.
Then the adult manages to keep his mind sufficiently occupied, usually in a professional and social over-activity to try to forget the final appointment.
The first family deaths bring us back to this obvious fact and can lead to many personal disorders.
Religion, whatever it may be, offers a solution to this anguish through an act of faith in a life of retribution in the afterlife. The dogmatic counterpart that it imposes, the fundamentalism that it often displays, have gradually pushed the population and its youth first and foremost away from its temples.
In the West, Death retains a terrifying aspect, all the more so as our technological civilization pushes it back behind every screen it can imagine.
Our society favours the myth of eternal, rich and beautiful youth, at a time when young people are finding it increasingly difficult to find their place in society and many adults cling to their professional activity for fear of emptiness.
Instead of integrating it into life like many civilizations before us, our society hides Death, hiding it like a child tries to hide his fault.
This phobia of death relegates people at the end of life to hospitals as if it were a disease. We try hard to maintain in a semblance of life the dying whom we no longer know how to accompany quietly on the threshold of their great departure. Their simple natural death is experienced as a failure, an insult to our therapeutic arsenal, while our presence on our porches at the moment of their death is both an act of true brotherhood and an extraordinary experience in the primary sense of the word.
This frenzy chases away any real representation of death, while at the same time, violence spreads it on our television screens where it disguises itself as a video game as if to conjure up reality.
Disenchanted religion offers little certainty except to a few relentless people who dream of feathered angels and golden seats in clouds of Chantilly.
Even the philosophy of the last century has fallen back on a materialistic and scientific vision, more cynical than stoic, based on chance and necessity, in which Death has no more importance than Life.
The word itself is no longer pronounceable in living rooms as if it had become indecent: one no longer dies, one leaves.
Death is no more than a clinical state that allows society to strike us out of the picture.
However, Tradition has always told us that Death is something else.
I must admit that, as I was not confronted with death early on in my family environment, I didn't think much about it until my mother-in-law killed herself in a car accident in 1980.
I had to take care of the funeral rites for my father-in-law and my wife, who were both too distraught to deal with the paperwork. I had to support my wife for several months, fearing for her mental health, as she was so disturbed by her mother's refusal to accept her death.
I suddenly realized the fragility of everything I thought I had built solidly for my family: my situation, my assets, and even, suddenly, the emotional ties that my wife's violent grief had broken.
I faced up to it, like so many others, but without really going any further.
And then, a few months later, when I least expected it, I had a near-death experience: the light tunnel in a great black void.
In fact, I did not see a light tunnel, but I was confronted for an indefinite time with another state of consciousness in an unknown elsewhere.
This radical experience transformed me forever and I brought back from this journey knowledge in the full sense of the word that I had no access to before. Like all personal experiences and more, this one is untransferable.
However, it has given me keys to a better understanding of Life and Death. She also gave me a furious desire to continue this initiation and pushed me to knock on the door of the Temple.
Let us now look at the side of our rite.
Since the Masonic initiation and then the elevation to the second degree, the whole ritual helps to prepare the impetrant for the ceremony of exaltation.
While from the first degree, everything is warmly fraternal, suddenly I am accused of the murder of the Master and then murdered in my turn by three of my brothers, betrayed by those who have my confidence but who, by ignorance of their true nature, by ambition of a vain power, by fanaticism of their own adoration, believe that they can forcefully obtain the intimate transmutation, fantasy of their desires.
Then I am buried and I return to Mother Earth. My body of flesh corrupts to the point that my bones disassemble:
"I will be under the earth and fantaume without bones:
By the myrtle shadows I shall take my rest. »
Pierre de Ronsard
This mystery, in the sense of those who were represented in the Middle Ages on the forecourt of the churches, this mystery must oblige us to measure the vanity of our egotistical quests: whatever our rank, our birth, our erudition, our material power, our office, our rank, our fate is common to that of all our brothers in humanity as to that of Master Hiram.
And at this moment, whatever our personal belief, we will have to assume the eternal moment of the GADLU's gaze on our total nudity.
Then suddenly, by the glory of GADLU and the love of my brothers, I am lifted by the five perfect points of mastery and I reappear as radiant as ever.
Through this scenography, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite joins the ancient mysteries which all proclaim the death of the innocent (that is to say also of the one who does not know) for the birth of the initiate, the one who enters the path.
This is what all the ancient myths tell us:
Thus Mithra who, Sol Invictus, reappears in full light, Persephone whose mother obtains the periodic return of the kingdom of the dead, Atys, emasculated, who, emptied of his blood, is reborn in an evergreen coniferous tree, Osiris whose corpse is scattered by his murderous brother and whose wife, Isis, reconstitutes and revives the body, Jesus who descends into hell and rises again on the third day.
In all these myths, Death is only a door open to another facet of Life, as William Blake poetically writes:
A sailboat passes in the morning breeze and sets sail for the ocean.
He is Beauty, he is Life.
Just when someone close to me says, "He's gone",
There are others who, seeing him dawn on the horizon..,
He exclaimed with joy: "There he is! ».
This is Death.
The ritual does not take an exoteric position on the afterlife. So in the funeral ritual, it says:
"In the face of this mystery, let us humbly bow our heads, conscious of the extent of our ignorance and the infinity of that which is beyond our knowledge. But let us not confuse this night with nothingness, etc... "
The ritual of exaltation speaks in turn of rebirth and then resurrection without further detail.
For my part, this staging sent me back forcefully, not to say violently, to my own experience of apparent death and "rebirth" more radiant than ever, full of new knowledge, or more exactly of eternal knowledge to which I had access again and which put me on the path towards the Found Unity.
I understood better then the insistence of the Tradition to push us again and again to know ourselves: this inner plunge joined the biblical meaning of the verb "to know" because it is truly a loving penetration into the innermost depths of ourselves that leads to a constantly renewed wonder.
But beyond the new condition of awakening that the master must have acquired, the Rite, like the ritual, like the Tradition, tells us other things.
The Righteous One who has been murdered returns to life, but he returns as resplendent as ever, transfigured by the intimate knowledge of his true spiritual nature. This re-birth is also a re-recognition for himself and/or his environment.
It is precisely this re-knowledge that makes him shine and transforms his deepest nature: "Nolli me tangere" says Christ to Mary Magdalene who, like Thomas, reaches out her hand to touch the One she thought was dead. "Don't touch me" because my nature has changed and, symbolically, the divine and the profane cannot coexist on the same plane. In my present energetic state, you cannot reach me, perhaps even physical contact would be fatal to you.
This revelation has two implications:
The GADLU, the creative principle, has pulled the cosmos (in the sense of order, beauty) out of chaos (in the sense of shapelessness, undifferentiated). This creation has a meaning, even if it escapes the understanding of our present condition. This creation is governed by a plan of which I am co-artisan and which guarantees that my life, too, has meaning.
Coming from the ONE as does the entire Universe, the divine part in me makes me participate ontologically in the Divine ONE, in His love for His creation, in His eternity and in the entirety of His knowledge. In other words, I am eternally loved (whatever the form of this eternity), I possess all Knowledge but I do not know it as Socrates already said. And we find the "Know thyself" again.
This is what the exaltation to mastery tells me: go up the last steps of the altar (ex altare) and contemplate your true nature; you participate in the eternal plan of GADLU, your Shepherd, you are immortal and you possess all the knowledge of the Universe buried deep within you, of what Jung calls the unconscious, that is to say what we possess in common heritage of our humanity without being conscious of it.
This truth is deep in our hearts, where the Vedas tell us that Brahmâ hid it so that the common man would not find it.
The word is lost, which would allow us to know it directly.
We are left with only substitute tools, no doubt less efficient, but nevertheless capable of helping us in our quest.
We are left with the Masonic method, the symbolic way and work.
Then, for those brothers who really wish to embrace the Royal Art, the path of work, meditation and realization opens up.
Realization in the world of our true nature and, by progressive osmosis, transformation of humanity.
This transformation will come, one day, and there is no need to hope to undertake nor to succeed to persevere. One day, as with the atomic reaction, the critical mass of the awakened will be sufficient for Man to come.
This is what the footsteps of the Master say when he passes over the tomb and overcomes Death to open himself to dazzling contemplation : Ah! Lord, My God!
This is what our instructions to the future master say:
"It is time to make you equal to your Masters. Consider that now it is no longer enough for you to learn and instruct yourselves, but also to instruct your brothers and sisters and to serve as a living example to them. »
Death is then no longer that grimacing skeleton that brandishes a scythe and frightens the layman, but the half-open door of the ultimate earthly initiation that allows us to access our true homeland, that of the GADLU, that of the Spirit.
I end my remarks tonight with a quote from Durkheim:
"When he embarks on the Initiatic Way, man recognizes that he has turned away from his eternal origin and he begins again to search for union with the Being. This is the Path on which man, until then unconscious of his quality of expression of Being, discovers the possibility and the strength to manifest Him. This path supposes a total reversal, a death and a rebirth. »
Death, beyond the symbol, a reality!
Death is first of all a biological reality that imposes itself on everyone.
The closer we get to the foreseeable age of its implementation, the more this reality becomes an obsession.
When one observes and listens to older people, one quickly realizes that in many cases, death is not necessarily experienced in an agonizing way; it can even be expected as a normal deadline and a desired deliverance.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has described the seven stages of agony in great detail:
1. The shock of the evidence
7. Decathexia (the 10th and last stage in ancient Greece for which Mrs Kübler-Ross wished to retain the name).
Very often, death is a taboo subject which is hardly ever discussed: each one preserves the other, thinking that talking about it would be embarrassing. This is true among friends and even more so in families.
As much as the myth, in its function of evacuating an affect that is considered painful, may have meaning for young and older subjects who are not directly confronted with this problem, as much as for subjects in a palliative care situation who are entering the next seven stages, the myth seems to lose all meaning: "It's good for nerds, not for me! »
When the end of life is announced in successive waves, few people can live the acceptance stage to the fullest: to achieve this, help is needed from a person who knows how to behave appropriately.
It is a pity that work in a third degree lodge only very rarely touches this phase of life: it would be wonderful to be able to prepare together in the quiet place that is the middle room, offering sisters and brothers in an incurable situation to benefit from fraternal help.
Death in the Legend of Hiram
The legend of Hiram, the founding legend of primordial Freemasonry (see the page dedicated to him) gives us to live during the elevation to the 3rd degree the death of Master Hiram, killed by three bad companions who demanded the disclosure of the sacred word; this death is not quite one since the ritual teaches us that Hiram lives again in the new master.
Is this a parricide or a fratricide? Different interpretations can be stated; what is certain is that for the writers of Masonic rituals, death is a passage into another world; after the profane death which, at the time of initiation, introduces initiatory life, the "biological" death introduces life into a sacred world; the rituals do not go too far into the nature of this sacred world where an all-powerful God would reign, to spare the opinions of different believers.
This explains why the mourning battery always follows the "Moaning" with the "Hope" formula!
One can also interpret Hiram's death according to the thought of René Girard (see the paragraph devoted to him).