Qi Gong and Masonic Gestures
Reminder on gestures
The movement of the body is by definition the gesture; it is not only the hand as one might think. We can define eight major functions in body movements; they are:
-The food intake,
-The fight for life,
-Preparing for rest,
In modern societies, the movement linked to the fight for life has changed in nature; we will speak of productive and creative activity, sport or play.
In this preamble, let us evoke three related subjects in relation to gestures: the link between gestures and language, the influence of transference on gestures, and gestures in the symbolism of Ancient Egypt:
Strictly speaking, language is part of movement but we have become accustomed to distinguishing language and gestures as the two components of communication: it is classic to say that a communication consists of 20 to 30% verbal elements and 70 to 80% non-verbal gestural elements. Spontaneous gesture is richer in meaning than language for the simple reason that it is often more authentic.
Transfer could be defined as the unconscious preoccupation that, in each of us, makes a link with the first objects of our investment; this, of course, affects our early childhood. This unconscious preoccupation affects our behaviour and therefore our gestures.
We can examine the gestures in the symbolism of Ancient Egypt by studying iconography; for example, everyone here knows that for the Egyptians the hands refer to a binary code: active for the right hand or receptive for the left hand; we will therefore see representations of characters with two right hands or two left hands to indicate which polarity is involved. We could also talk about the attribute of the beard that allows to affix it to a goddess without shocking her in the least; but all this is beyond my modest work.
The gestures are utilitarian, but they are also intended for enjoyment and of course for reflection, philosophy and religion. Tonight's subject refers to two gestures imbued with philosophical thought. I practiced Qi Gong and I have a very good memory of it; Masonic gestures are not unknown to me: but while working on this subject, I was surprised to discover new things that I had not imagined! I will try to share them with you !
Qi gong is often presented as a simple gymnastics providing joint flexibility and muscle relaxation. In reality, this apparent simplicity hides the complexity of the relationship between the symbolic content of the gesture and the notion of Qi (also called Chi).
The Qi (often translated as energy) is a concept derived from the intuitive knowledge of natural phenomena possessed by the ancient sages of ancient China. For them, Qi is at the origin of the world; each element of the Universe results from its movements and modifications. Thus it is written:
"All beings and all things result from the Qi of Heaven and Earth. »
The Qi is one of the three treasures (or San Bao) with the Jing assimilated to the body and the Shen which relates to the spirit. As far as the gesture is concerned, the shen (the spirit) gives an order (the intention), the qi transforms this into an "impulse" and the jing (the body) triggers the physical manifestation of this order.
This Taoist conception, which dates from several centuries before Christ, offers an original reading of the functioning of the living being: the transformation of vital energy, the notion of healthy energy and the influence of perverse energies explain its disturbances.
Qi Gong, through appropriate gestures, allows the individual to become aware of his immersion in the energetic universe; in doing so, he can distance himself from his daily life and seek harmony with the Universe. Nowadays, Qi Gong is practiced with a wide variety of modalities depending on the degree of knowledge of the participants and the facilitators of the sessions.
There is even a simplified use that has facilitated its practice in all continents beyond the geographical cradle of origin. Without exegesis, the chosen path of gesture, breathing and concentration is sufficient to produce its effects.
It sometimes happens that Europeans who discover the qi gong are fixed on the gesture to be accomplished as the teacher shows it to them; for them, the whole session will consist in trying to reproduce the gesture in a perfect way if possible.
Stretching out the right hand by placing the palm upwards can be a gesture to be carried out; in the first degree, it is a banal gesture without meaning; if I give a content to this gesture, for example by presenting it as an offering, and if, in carrying it out, I concentrate on this hand, on the meaning I have given, by practicing a ventral breathing, all negative parasitic ideas disappear, the hand becomes the offering!
The intelligence of Qi Gong is not to ask for a perfection of gesture but to put in the gesture a perfection of intention.
Moreover, it so happens that as a result of the scientific work carried out since the 1980s, we know today that this intention, by realizing a mental concentration on the symbolic content of the gesture, provokes a specific cerebral activity with a significant increase of the alpha activity on the electro-encephalogram. This cerebral activity has several consequences: it provides, in particular :
-A greater capacity for concentration,
-And a feeling of relaxation and release.
As the gestures of Qi Gong also aim to facilitate the energy flow, we can better understand the gestures practiced by visualizing the path of the meridians and the direction of the energy flow.
Let us recall that, according to the Taoist conception, energy circulates in the 12 main meridians of each hemicorps and in the specialized circuits (the 8 so-called curious meridians and the 12 so-called distinct meridians). The energy permeates the meridian for one Chinese hour (which corresponds to two classical hours); the day is thus divided into 12 hours. The passage of energy through a meridian is always at the same Chinese time.
Globally, Qi Gong, through adapted gestures, allows a better concentration, a greater capacity of adaptation and a felt well-being. It essentially relates to the functions of communication, fighting for life and care.
One can wonder about the care function present in Qi Gong: in fact, Taoism has the great wisdom to model the fragility of the functioning of the human being! This fragility is a scientific reality, but we are not always aware of it!
Physical but also psychological and mental frailty which explains how much human madness is a companion that does not hesitate to come and influence our thoughts ... without our knowledge of our own free will, to use a famous expression!
Through this function in the treatment, Qi Gong helps us to become aware of our energetic dysfunction, to remedy it and helps us to protect ourselves.
One word about a particular gesture that, in my humble opinion, could symbolize the success of a Qi Gong session when you get there: it is the inner smile. When harmony is restored, the "inner smile" shines.
The Masonic gesture
We'll look at it in turn:
-Masonic gestures integrated into the rituals,
-And the one that is practiced by the Freemasons outside the rituals,
A - Masonic gestures integrated into the rituals
In the operative freemasonry of the stonemasons, in the 15th century, if the gestures are numerous, two ritual gestures seem essential:
-the gesture of recognition specific to each corporation;
-And the oath in relation to safeguarding the Master's secret; we now know the nature of this secret which was vital to him.
In the first meetings of speculative freemasonry, in the 17th century, the ritual gestures remain the gestures of recognition and the oath; then, gradually we will see the addition (especially under French influence) of a proliferation of compositions. These additions often denote the desire to influence the Masonic approach by integrating gestures borrowed from other currents of thought or fashions.
Today, the Masonic gestures of the first degree are subdivided into about thirty specific gestures. Certain gestures are intended to produce a sound: for example, the striking of a mallet, the clapping of hands, the slapping of the shoulder or the laying of cannons; they had precise meanings but they are still practised.
Apart from the lengthening of the last apprentice, the kneeling of the recipient during the consecration and the request to speak, the Masonic gesture is mainly practiced in a standing position.
It is not possible to detail the symbolic content of all the gestures practiced during the rituals. There would be so much to say. Let us limit ourselves to the sign of order and to observations on other gestures.
1 / The gesture of the command sign
In England : it is called SIGN OF AN ENTERED APPRENTICE ! I quote from a translation of the instructions: "He is to stand with both feet at right angles, right arm horizontally bent, palm of hand facing down, thumb at right angles to the neck."
It is classic to read in textbooks that this order sign means: I quote:
"I control and appease my instincts, I learn to moderate my words, to control my passions... »
"The right hand, placed squarely on the throat, seems to contain the bubbling of the passions that are stirring in the chest and thus preserve the head from any febrile exaltation that might compromise the lucidity of the mind. The Order of the Apprentice means that he seeks to be in possession of himself and to judge impartially."
To tell the truth, these interpretations have no biblical or historical reference; they are free speeches due to authors such as Boucher and Wirth; they are, moreover, frequently taken up in the instructions of apprentices.
This sign of the new apprentice or sign of order is historical for two main reasons:
It was practiced by the members of the Companion Lodges long before the creation of the Grand Lodge of London in 1717. It thus proves our filiation compagnonnique.
It is the ritual gesture common to all the Masonic fraternity of all countries and all continents!
In the ancient companionship rituals, its existence is consubstantial with that of the penal sign; the important thing was first of all the oath to keep secret what one could know; then, the penal sign was a confirmation of the oath by a sacrificial commitment; in the end, the sign of order is understood as an obligatory passage in the understanding of the penal sign.
However, the absence in the rituals of any explanation as to the meaning of the sign of order in itself challenged me. After having searched a lot, and having found nothing in the works of masonology, it is by analyzing the Hebrew terms used in the Bible that I came to elaborate an explanation that I would like to talk to you about.
This interpretation is based on the importance of the symbolism of the throat in the Bible; it is deduced that the sacred impacts the human body in this body area: the throat is not only the passage of the breath, that is to say the spirit, but also what enters the body whether it is air or food!
The Hebrew Bible refers to the throat in different ways; the use of the word Nephehesh deserves our full attention. One study lists 754 references to Nephehesh in the Old Testament. Most often, Nepheesh is translated as spirit, soul, or life force. But in Hebrew the meaning is much broader; Daniel Lys in his work "Nèphésh, Histoire de l'âme dans la révélation d'Israël au sein des religions proche-orientales" published in 1959 by PUF, puts us on the track when he notes that, in several passages, Nèphésh must be understood as meaning the throat. Nephesh means the throat but also the thumb!
To put the hand to the throat is to bring the hand closer to the vital breath and one could add, it is to give to the hand this vital breath; this transmission is done through the thumb placed on the throat: the same word is found in the three elements: the spirit, the throat as a container and the thumb!
Putting the hand to the throat by leaning on the thumb is to transmit to the hand a part of sacredness that comes to us from the breath!
What could be more logical when we know that this hand is going to transform the rough stone into a cut stone that will be a constituent part of the temple of Solomon; and this hand is ours, ours as Freemasons, we who have this genius in our genes!
This symbolism of the sign of order continues in the symbolism of the first work of the new apprentice who takes possession of the mallet and chisel to cut the rough stone: if we are aware of the meaning of these two gestures, could we not affirm that with them everything is said?
Starting from a divine inspiration, our initiators guide us towards a dynamic of construction, a construction which among the operatives was religious and military, and which, in the Masonic lodge, becomes a social construction based on solidarity imbued with spirituality.
The sign of the new apprentice, which we call a sign of order, with the thumb on the throat, is a fundamental and meaningful gesture: it is a sign that identifies us! It is a sign that implements an intention and a realization!
2 / From some personal observations :
As everyone can realize, the gestures practiced in the lodge is very diverse and not always specifically Masonic; to illustrate this remark here are two examples (knowing that it will be easy for you to find others):
1st situation: if while reading a board, I look at my ipad or my smartphone to watch for the arrival of a post or an email, my gestures make me doubt the interest I have in the follow-up of the work;
2nd example: By imposing certain elements of their gestures in rituals, ideologies wanted to annex us! As examples, let's quote the Napoleonic, aristocratic or Templar symbolism, to name only the most blatant and unfortunately still current deviations.
But let's talk about four subjects that allow us to allude to other contributions of the gestures.
a / about the four trials of initiation :
In initiation, as in other phases of the ritual, one can compare the verbalization of the ritual and the gestures; during the four trials of earth, water, air and fire, the ritual evokes a purification; but these four elements, by their biblical symbolic content, refer directly to Christian initiation: from the earth, the profane is put in contact with Jesus Christ (through the symbolism of the water), then with the healthy spirit (through the symbolism of the breath, i.e. the air) and finally with God (through the symbolism of fire and the flaming sword, which you know that in the Bible it is, through the cherubim, an element of the divine gesture); everything happens as if the gesture completes the verbalization of the ritual by adding a hidden meaning.
b / about the gesture in relation to the brotherhood :
If fraternity is an element of Masonic language, the gestures bearing fraternity appear a little fixed and reduced: only the chain of union is an exception.
Therefore, how to explain that the rituals have so few gestures practiced with a real intention of brotherly love?
In truth, fraternity should not be confused with brotherly love; today when we speak of fraternity we introduce an affective content; it does not seem to me that this was the case in the 17th century; at that time fraternity was an essential concept of sharing the object common to all brothers, that is, the love of God. When the Bible speaks of love, love for God is first of all emphasized.
c / about the gesture of the penal sign
Evoking the penal sign helps to recall that it is part of a particular gesture encountered in Masonic rituals: the gesture of ritual punishment.
In the book Masonry Dissected by Samuel Prichard, published in 1730, it is written: I quote the translation:
- "Knowing that I would have my throat slit, my tongue torn out, and my body buried in the coarse sands of the coast at low tide, heckled by the daily ebb and flow of the waves, could I knowingly violate my obligation as an Apprentice? "
Without being able to develop this chapter, we can note that in the ritual, the threat of having one's throat cut, affirms the assurance of a spiritually horrible death because it will be without burial!
To make the penal sign is also to renew the commitment to respect the oath, this obligation of secrecy which we know is of companionly and not biblical origin!
Let us also point out that the penal gesture is not specifically Masonic; it is found in the secular world either with the hand or more often with the index finger or thumb: it means the threat of murder by slitting the throat, generally for revenge, or out of a desire to frighten in particular those who would not respect the law of silence!
d / about the harmony column
The harmony column, heir to the Shofar, is a very particular gesture; it only takes on its full meaning if it is provided for in the ritual and produced in the lodge by the members of the workshop.
It would surely be interesting to conceptualize the contemporary use of the contribution of sound in the ritual so as not to reduce it to what it tends to become today, i.e. entertainment!
B - Masonic gestures practised outside of rituals.
Outside the ritual, we speak of Masonic gestures because they are gestures practiced by Freemasons or Freemasons; it is very interesting to observe and analyze; we discover in particular our secrets; as previously we will be able to distinguish :
-a ritualized gesture used by one or more groups of freemasons;
-and a spontaneous gesture specific to each one of us.
These gestures, more or less discreet, vary greatly depending on the country, the orients and the lodges; I think in particular :
-to finger and hand touching depending on the degree of the interlocutor,
-with a triple tap of the right shoulder
-at the sign of order,
-to the use of clothing accessories.
Many other gestures also exist.
This Masonic gesture has essentially a function of recognition; but the pat on the shoulder is also an encouragement and an expression of sympathy. It is moreover classic to see a modulation of triple taps according to the mood and the bond existing between brothers and sisters who greet each other.
In this chapter, a word about smiling! A gesture not foreseen in the ritual, omnipresent in the lodge and outside the lodge.
Physiologically, the smile corresponds to the muscular activity of the 13 facial muscles that affect the lips, eyelids, nose, eyebrows, ears and skin muscles themselves; this musculature is mainly under the influence of the facial nerve. In adults, the implementation of the smile is dependent on voluntary action; through social learning the smile is also part of community behaviour.
In the lodge, people often smile; most of the time, they are smiles of facade, reflexes, usual in the commercial or political sphere; but it also happens that it is a real affectionate smile testifying of a real brotherhood.
Schematically we will speak about sincere smiles or composed smiles; we could distinguish them because in reality they do not involve the same musculature but it supposes a specialized glance.
Rediscovering the symbolic content of the gesture reinforced my adherence to a renewed ritual: this is the first conclusion I draw from this work.
Qi Gong and Masonic gestures have four points in common:
-Their gestures are full of meaning,
-We find, on the part of the initiators, the spiritualist inspiration,
-These two gestures come to us from the past but are still relevant today,
-These two gestures today benefit from a renewed approach with freedom of conscience.
And also differences; I will limit myself to two:
-Qi Gong has a healing function that does not exist in Masonic gestures;
-Masonic gestures are very diversified and impose different reading grids.
Evoking the healing function of Qi Gong refers to the recurrent debate on whether or not Masonic commitment can transform an individual. Could we not imagine that the Judeo-Christian voluntarism of the Masonic approach benefits from the contribution of deep Taoist humility? This contribution could perhaps make it possible to favour the beneficial transformation of new and old initiates!
In any case, I have taken a great interest in this work; of course, in everyday life, we know that most of our gestures are executed mechanically and we attach little importance to it; but in the lodge, like in Qi Gong, don't the gestures deserve to be performed in "full consciousness", to use an expression of puddhic origin?
Personally, I dream of a Masonic gesture free of what I would call anachronisms:
-The bearing of the sword;
-The Roman salute which has become a Nazi symbol; its replacement by the sign of fidelity would be more in line with our symbolism;
-The movement in the temple with its martial allure with militaristic connotations could evolve towards a more intimate and fraternal wandering regaining the primary meaning of circle and orientation;
-The theatrical attitudes, not very credible here.
Moreover, if a process of truth and authenticity was sought in the consensus, the lodge could collectively re-invest two body positions:
On the one hand the listening position: looking at the mosaic paving stone, hands on knees, doing a belly breathing and concentrating on the words heard without letting oneself go to a spontaneous reactivity.
On the other hand, the position at order: practicing it by focusing on this relationship between the mind, throat, thumb and right hand should reinforce its content.