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Sunday, July 21, 2013

A LADDER OF LIGHTS: KABBALAH FOR APPRENTICES - Bro. P.D. Newman, 32°


Valley of Corinth, Orient of MS

 
I recently took it upon myself to learn the third section of the Entered Apprentice lecture as the same is given under the Jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, Free and Accepted Masons. I have heard and read this lecture a great number of times, but it was not until I took to memorizing it that I realized there were certain points present within the lecture which seemed to me to be indicative of Kabbalah, that mystical Jewish practice that is said to be the esoteric or secret aspect of the revealed Law, Torah. It has been suggested by many authors, most notably Brethren Alphonse Louis Constant and William Wynn Westcott, that Kabbalah is the Key to the Mysteries of Freemasonry. Indeed, this notion is carried to its fullest fruition in the Secret Master degree of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, where the Kabbalah Tree of Life is given alongside or perhaps as, depending on one’s interpretation of the degree, the Clavis ad Mysterium or Key of the Mysteries. However, beyond certain vague and loose particulars, these claims are rarely supported by any solid evidence and it is left for the most part to the ingenuity of the contemplative Mason to divine these Mysteries of his own accord.
 
As I said, it was to Kabbalah or, to be more specific, that symbol of Kabbalah known as the Tree of Life, which I felt certain of the symbols in the pertinent section of the lecture were referring. On the other hand, also present within the lecture are references to other symbols which I felt were less likely to be directly indicative of the Kabbalah Tree of Life, including the Furniture, Ornaments, and Jewels of a Lodge, etc. Additionally, some of the symbols which I felt did relate were ordered quite differently than one would expect when treating of the Tree of Life. As I did not want to be guilty of picking and choosing the symbols which I felt did refer to the Tree of Life, while rejecting those that to my knowledge did not, and thus run the risk of misinterpreting the work as a whole by missing the forest for the Tree, so to speak, I decided to look back to the work of William Preston, from whom I understand our lectures as we know them ultimately came, to see if his version of the lecture in question might be ordered differently than that which we receive in Mississippi. To my surprise, in Preston’s version, every single symbol which I confidently felt referred directly to the Tree of Life was grouped into the same section, while all of the other symbols present in the third section of Mississippi’s version of the lecture are found under completely different headings. Not only that, but in Preston’s version they appeared in the order which seemed to me most appropriate based on what limited knowledge of the subject I do possess.
 
Before getting into the particulars of the lecture in question, it will be helpful to provide a small background on Kabbalah and the Tree of Life for those of my readers who may be unfamiliar with this most engaging topic. According to Jewish tradition, Kabbalah was received by Moses alongside the Torah while on Mount Sinai, but where the Torah is said to be the revealed aspect of the Law of the Jewish deity, Kabbalah is said to be its concealed aspect. As a means of gaining a glimpse into the concealed truths of the Torah, the Kabbalists make use of a number of mystical techniques and diagrams, chief among the latter being a schematic termed the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is an arrangement of ten spheres or lights, known as sephirot or emanations, which are indicative of the ten creative utterances of Deity. These ten sephirot are connected by twenty-two netivot or paths which correlate to the twenty-two letters of the aleph-bet. It is by these ten sephirot and twenty-two letters that the Kabbalists believe the universe was by Deity created. By extension, the Tree of Life is also viewed by many Kabbalists as a symbolic representation of the physical and spiritual planes, providing a map or schematic of sorts whereby one might maneuver the various worlds and heavens. In addition to being viewed as a series of ten spheres, the Tree of Life may also be approached from a number of different angles which are equally useful in understanding its various functions. The other applications of this arrangement include a set of three triads with an additional pendant or fruit (the fruit being the final, tenth sephirah), four olamot or worlds which are constituted by various clusters of sephirot at ascending levels, and most notably, a group of three columns or pillars, on each of which are distributed and supported certain of the various sephirot. More will be offered on this later.
 
I explained above that all of the symbols which I felt confident related directly to Kabbalah generally and to the Tree of Life specifically were grouped by Preston into a single section; namely, Section IV in The Lecture in the First Degree, the same of which consists of six Clauses, including the Inner Chamber, the Form of a Lodge, the Foundation, the Situation, the Roof, and the Ladder. The remaining symbols which appear in the third section of the Entered Apprentice lecture as the same is given under the Jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi are grouped by Preston into the fifth and sixth sections of the lecture, thereby indicating that all of the symbols lumped into the fourth and pertinent section refer to one specific topic, while those symbols and emblems which are grouped together in the remaining sections refer to others. This is not to say that the symbols are not related, only that they have been separated by Preston into categories of relevance. In the case of the fourth section, the relevant subject would appear to be Kabbalah.
 
In the first clause of the fourth section in The Lecture in the First Degree, after informing the candidate that “[e]very mark, character, and emblem portrayed in the Lodge had a moral tendency,” and that “it was a duty incumbent on every Mason to make daily progress in the art,” Preston explains that the Master is able to illustrate and explain the various emblems and figures which are delineated in the Lodge before the Brethren by the assistance of “three great lights.” Today, what most Masons know as the Three Great Lights in Masonry, The Holy Bible, Square and Compasses, were known in the earliest days of the organized Craft as simply the Furniture of a Lodge. At the time of the formation of the first Grand Lodge however, the three great lights referred instead to the lights found in the east, south, and west of the Lodge. On the Tree of Life, the three upper sephirot, the same of which rule and govern the remaining sephirot below, are known as the supernal triad. The supernal triad consists of the sephirot keter, hokmah, and binah, translated respectively as the crown, wisdom, and understanding of Deity. If the Tree of Life is viewed as a ladder of lights, which the diagram is oftentimes called, then it is easy to see how the supernal triad might be referred to as three great lights. While all of the sephirot are individual and have their own unique functions, the three sephirot which comprise the supernal triad are said to work as a unit insofar as they represent the tri-fold aspect of the one Deity. This would explain the situation of these three great lights being in the east, south, and west of the Lodge. For, just as those directions allude to the three principal periods or phases of the sun in its diurnal course, so too is there but one Great Luminary which in His course is revealed in and by those principal phases. Preston also added that “these three great lights represent…[t]he sun, the moon, and the Master of the Lodge.” Where keter is indicative of the un-manifest point of the Deity’s pure creative potential, hokmah signifies the great light of creation which actualizes the pure potential of keter. This light of hokmah is transmitted to the passive and receptive sephirah binah, the third in the supernal triad, where it (the light) is then passed down to the seven sephirot below, thereby sustaining and illuminating the inferior spheres beneath the supernal triad, much like the silver face of the moon reflects the golden light of the sun to the darkened earth beneath them. The functions of hokmah and binah may therefore be compared to those of the great luminaries, sol and luna, respectively, while keter may be safely compared to the Master of the Lodge, the same of whom rules and governs those functions. As one early Kabbalistic text phrased it, “[t]he singular Master, God faithful king, dominates over them all from his Holy dwelling until eternity of eternities.”
 
The second clause of the fourth section in Preston’s Lecture in the First Degree goes on to discuss the Form of a Lodge. “Its length,” the candidate learns, “extends from East to West. Its breadth…fills up the whole space between North and South. Its depth [is to t]he centre of the earth. Its height [is to t]he heavens,” an arrangement which comprises the three spatial dimensions of height, width, and depth. Significantly, in the Sepher Yetzirah, one of the earliest Kabbalistic texts known, the six sephirot immediately below the supernal triad are referred to as “[a] depth of east,” “[a] depth of west,” “[a] depth of north,” “[a] depth of south,” “[a] depth of below,” and “[a] depth of above,” in effect covering those same three dimensions of space which, as we just saw, constitute the Form of a Lodge. Insofar as both the Masonic Lodge and the Kabbalah Tree of Life are said to be symbolic representations of the created universe, it is no wonder that references to the three dimensions of space have found their way into the classic descriptions of each.
 
Preston’s third clause concerns the Foundation of a Lodge. After learning that, in the art of building, the first objective of the architect is to determine the nature of the soil on which he intends to build, the candidate finds that the architect’s next objective is then to “take care that the foundation of the building corresponds with the nature of the soil.” In this instance, soil is very likely an allusion to the tenth and final sephirah malkut, the kingdom, the same of which signifies the material plane or earth. Above this soil, we read, is the foundation. Conveniently, immediately above malkut is the sephirah yesod, literally meaning foundation. If there was any question or concern as to the correspondence of the foundation and soil of a Lodge to the two final sephirot, yesod and malkut, these remarkable consistencies should help to set the same to rest. Preston’s third clause also mentions that the ground on which the “masonic mansion” is raised is “holy ground” because the name of God has been thereon impressed. As malkut is the sephirah wherein the descending light of the supernal triad (our three great lights) reaches its culmination, it takes little stretch of the imagination to see how this sephirah, whereon the name or essence of Deity has been veritably impressed, might constitute holy ground.
 
The fourth clause in the fourth section of Preston’s Lecture in the First Degree has been slightly more difficult to link up with Kabbalah and the structure of the Tree of Life. However, a quick reference to Brother Colin Dyer’s Symbolism in Craft Freemasonry has gone a long way in clearing this up. Preston’s fourth clause treats of the Situation of a Lodge. This situation, the candidate learns, is “[d]ue East and West.” As Dyer explains,
 
“[t]here is again a possibility that [the situation of a Lodge] was influenced (as some other points have been shown to be) by the Cabala; in the Jewish Encyclopedia there is a reference to an essential doctrine of one particular school: His [majesty]…sits on a throne in the east, as the actual representative of God. His throne is separated by [curtains]…from the world of angels; the side on the west being uncovered.1
 
The same clause goes on to teach the candidate that the tabernacle which Moses erected in the wilderness was, by especial command, situated due east and west in conformity to the plan which Moses is said to have received from Deity on Mount Sinai. If the reader will recall, as explained in the short paragraph provided above on the background of Kabbalah and the Tree of Life, it was on Mount Sinai that Moses was said to have received the Torah and, more especially relevant to our present purposes, Kabbalah.
 
Preston’s penultimate clause in the fourth section of the lecture in question concerns the Roof of a Lodge, the proper covering of which is said to be a “clouded canopy of divers colours” that it may represent “the heavens which are clouded and never to be screened from the view of the contemplative mason.” This canopy, we are told, is supported by “three great pillars,” the same of which have been denominated wisdom, strength, and beauty. It was explained above that an arrangement of three columns or pillars is one of the most common applications of the structural design of the Tree of Life, and the denominations given these pillars in Masonic ritual provides us with a further proof of their Kabbalistic correlation. As regards the Tree of Life, the nature of each pillar is largely determined by the influence of the sephirah which most properly defines it. The defining sephirah of the pillar located on the right hand of the viewer is hokmah or wisdom. The defining sephirah of the pillar located on the left hand of the viewer is gevurah or severity, indicative of strength, while that of the middle pillar is tipharet or beauty. This remarkable consistency between these two fantastic symbols seems to this author to be far beyond pure coincidence. Indeed, Kabbalah would appear to be part of this lecture’s intrinsic design, for Preston seems to be literally constructing the Tree of Life before the candidate.
 
The focus of the sixth and final clause in Preston’s fourth section of the Lecture in the First Degree is the Ladder, by the means of which it is said that we as Masons may arrive at the summit or covering of the building; that is, arrive at the heavens. The present clause tells us that this ladder, while consisting of many rungs or rounds, “is strengthened by three principal steps,” the same of which are situated “at the bottom, in the middle, and at the top of the ladder.” Conveniently, the Tree of Life also is possessive of many rounds or paths, of which only three might rightly be called principal and are similarly positioned at the bottom, middle, and top of the diagram. If the reader will recall, the Tree of Life consists of ten sephirot or emanations and twenty-two netivot or paths. Traditionally, three of these paths are arranged horizontally, seven of them vertically, and the remaining twelve are situated diagonally. To these twenty-two paths are allotted the twenty-two letters of the aleph-bet, the same of which are divided into three principal or mother letters, seven double letters, and twelve simple or elemental letters. As one may have gathered, to the three horizontal paths are attributed the three principal letters. To the seven vertical paths are attributed the seven double letters, and to the twelve diagonal paths are attributed the twelve single letters. Without going into too much detail and thereby potentially confusing and losing the reader, it will suffice to say that the only three paths on the Tree of Life which, like the rungs of a ladder, are horizontal, are the same three paths which correspond to the principal or mother letters of the aleph-bet. Not unlike the ladder of a Lodge, the Tree of Life “is strengthened by three principal steps [which are positioned] at the bottom, in the middle, and at the top” of the Tree.
 
It has been repeatedly asserted that Kabbalah played a vital role in the development of our rituals and lectures. However, until now no explicit evidence of the same has to my knowledge been provided.2 It is my sincerest hope that this small contribution to the literature of the Craft may serve to tie up some loose ends, and more especially, to motivate and pique the interests of the contemplative Masons of our future generations. For, it is only by their labor and ingenuity that we may ever hope to rediscover those precious and elusive lost secrets, in search of which we as Free and Accepted Masons are endlessly traveling.
 
END NOTES
1Dyer, p. 66 2 Since the time of writing this paper I was exposed to and had the pleasure of reading several remarkable and pertinent articles by W. Kirk MacNulty. While less explicit than the Kabbalistic references in the third section of the Entered Apprentice degree that have been outlined above, MacNulty has done an absolutely exquisite job of explaining the furniture, ornaments, and jewels of a Lodge (and more) in terms of Kabbalistic philosophy. His outstanding papers Kabbalah and Freemasonry, Masonic Tracing Boards and the Western Metaphysical Tradition, and The Secret Identity of Freemasons cannot be by me recommended more highly to the contemplative Mason.


REFERENCES

De Hoyos, Arturo Scottish Rite Ritual Monitor and Guide Dyer, Colin Symbolism in the Craft Freemasonry Dyer, Collin William Preston and His Work Gilbert, R.A. The Magical Mason Kaplan, Aryeh Sephrt Yetzirah Levi, Eliphas The Book of Splendours Levi, Eliphas Transcendental Magic Mathers, S.L. MacGregor The Kabbalah Unveiled Mississippi Blue Lodge Text Book The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Vol 1
 
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Disclaimer: This paper entitled. "A LADDER OF LIGHTS: KABBALAH FOR APPRENTICES", was submitted to Tupelo Masonic Lodge No. 318 F&AM for publication by the author, P.D. Newman. The printing of this or any other writing does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Tupelo Masonic Lodge No. 318 F&AM or the Grand Lodge of Mississippi. Please read our Terms of Use for full details.
 
 
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