Public Lecture: Masonic Tracing Boards and The Ancient Mysteries

I will be speaking at The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Library and Museum, NYC, on February 23. The talk will start at 6:30 pm, and, with questions and perhaps a bit of hanging out after, it should go on until around 8 pm.

I will be discussing Masonic symbolism, and showing a few of my painting (which will be used to illustrate the talk).

If you’re interested to attend, you can find out more details, and RSVP, here.

Esoteric Orders, Magic, and Persevering to Authenticity

Esotericism — or at least the appearance of esotericism — is now everywhere. New Age and occult stores exist in probably every city in the West, as do countless Yoga studios (many of them selling books on Kundalini), and so on. The rituals of occult Orders can sometimes be found in mainstream bookstores and, of course, on the net. We do not have to go far out of our way to learn — at least superficially — about the alchemical process, the Kabbalah, the meaning of the runes, or anything else once considered the preserve of adepts.

What, then, are esoteric Orders for? Continue reading “Esoteric Orders, Magic, and Persevering to Authenticity”

The Limits of Tradition — And Going Beyond

Though drawing from older spiritual traditions and movements, “Traditionalism” — the doctrine first articulated by French metaphysician Rene Guenon — has come to be adopted by a number of groups and individuals in modernity, and has influenced, among others, Prince Charles to Russian geopolitical theorist and neo-Eurasianist Aleksandr Dugin.

I should say, up front, that I do not consider myself a Traditionalist — though some others might. I believe — though perhaps not in quite the same way as he Traditionalists — in a primordial tradition. And I also believe that there is such a thing as counter-initiation (initiations that appear ancient but that draw the “initiate” ever further into modernity, and away from authentic spiritual life), which is another belief of the Traditionalist school. Like them — though this is certainly found in initiatic schools throughout history — I also believe that knowledge has to be passed down by degrees, and through esotericism and exoteric doctrine.

However, what I want to speak about here is the limits of Traditionalism. While “Tradition” has become more popular or influential in recent years, it is, in my opinion, sometimes used for anti-Traditional (perhaps one might say “counter-initiatic”) purposes. To be clear, I am not critiquing either Prince Charles or Dugin here, nor am I attacking any specific group, but merely aim to inform readers about what is and what is not Traditionalism (and, more importantly, the pre-modern, spiritual, heroic spirit), and to illuminate ways in which we can become stuck and, indeed, unstuck.

I will talk about solutions later. But here I want especially to point certain wrong turns.

Academic Traditionalism:

Unlike most other spiritual movements, Traditionalism believes that one must practice within one of the major religions: Islam, Judaism, Christianity (if it is not too liberal and modern), Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Freemasonry could prove another possibility, according to Guenon, if it were to become re-Christianized and more overtly metaphysical.

As such, Traditionalism can tend to become very official, academic, and snobbish — designating some religions, metaphysical movements, and philosophies off limits. One accepts one of the major religions, and studies its teachings, always understanding that one is somewhat beyond them since one is interested, ultimately, in the primordial Tradition. But what else?

All expression other than the religious orthodox is too modern, and, therefore, decadent and degenerate — this is true for spirituality, art, and politics, etc.

There are a few notable exceptions to this reasoning — (1) Frithjof Schuon, who embraced the native American faith late in life, and who rose above academia by being, also, an artist, and (2) Julius Evola, a Dadaist painter in early life, a practitioner of “Magic” later on, a controversial political — and to an extent anti-political — theorist (who was close to Mussolini’s regime), a “Pagan” (a term he later rejected), and thinker who wrote about Heidegger and Nietzsche, as well as about ancient religion and so on.

Again, Prince Charles patronizes the Temenos Academy, and, though not Traditionalist per se, there is also a “Eurasian Artists Movement,” influenced by Dugin’s ideas.

In contrast to the above, “academic Traditionalists” do not wish to make art or adopt spiritual practices outside of the major religions. Nor do they wish to cultivate an art, or the arts, or to improve their physical body.

To me, such an approach is in sharp contrast to the traditions of all civilizations, where the superior type of man has always cultivated himself through the martial arts and those of painting, calligraphy, etc.

Post-Modernist Traditionalism:

This may seem oxymoronic, but there are several groups claiming to be Traditionalist who posit the most modern of ideas. These groups tend to want to a traditional or conservative society, yet they often focus on the most modern of ideas: IQ. That is, they believe that IQ is the marker of the value of a society or person and that it is the key to a more traditional (or “Traditional”) society. This I completely disagree with.

In ancient and classical societies, IQ wasn’t a factor. When Tibetan Buddhists looked for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama they asked tested the child to see if, among a number of objects, he picked out his previous incarnation’s possession. They did not give him an IQ test. Of course, they did want an intelligent guide, but they wanted one who was in touch with Buddha nature, natural law, and who would cultivate mind, body, spirit, morals, etiquette, ritual, the practice of meditation, etc.

Nihilist Traditionalism:

“Nihilist Traditionalists” (as I am calling them) see everything in black and white — mostly black: Everything is in decline. We are in the Kali Yuga (the age of materialism), and nothing can be done. To think that anything can be improved is cowardice. Nothing has meaning. Everything is in decay. We just have to sit and wait things out, though there is no light at the end of the tunnel, so we’re really just waiting for things to get worse.

To borrow a phrase that some Rightist groups have used in regard to Evola’s Traditionalism, this is an “incapacitating myth.” It is the mentality of those shaped by events and not the thinking of those intent on shaping events, shaping the world, shaping tradition, moving tradition forward (as authentic traditions demand) or molding themselves.

This does not mean that we are not in the Kali Yuga, or in an age of decline. We may well be. Massive pollution, the dissolution of the family, atomization in society, materialism, massive prison populations (and “for-profit” fines and imprisonment), and political rallies that resemble evangelical religious events, all indicate a massive departure from ways of life that have sustained humanity for tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of years.

Solutions:

The idea of Tradition (and, more broadly, traditions in the best sense of the word) is that it provides us with tenets, beliefs, and ideas that can be contemplated, and works that can be studied, through which we can mold ourselves, and, ultimately, that can be reinterpreted for each era. This is not a modern idea. Shi’a Islam, for example, asserts that in each era (after the Prophet Muhammad) there must be an Imam to interpret the Qur’an for the people and the issues of his time.

Traditions are living, breathing things, that must be lived. And like all living things, they demand energy and express energy in their own pculiar ways.

In regard to art, martial art, music, theology, etc., it is possible for us to push the tradition forward, not into abstraction, not toward dead ends, not toward profanity and dreariness, but to where the tradition is pointing us — toward new, or renewed, Beauty, new heroicism, new expressions of the spiritual. It is essential to express the essence and meaning of the tradition in more refined and, yet, more dynamic forms.

Here, then, are some suggestions for tackling the above-mentioned problems:

Too Academic:

Academia has its place. But it can also become an excuse for snobbery. Elevating the past, the academic can tend to look down on the present. If he fetishizes medieval minaitures, for example, he probably dismisses the possibility of art today.

This is different to culture creators, who are inspired, by the past, to make something as valuable for the present and for the future.

Likewise with spirituality. We should neither accept a tradition wholesale, unquestioningly, nor dismiss one totally if there is something of value in it. We should be discerning enough to be able to take the five or the ninety-five percent that is good and leave what is not.

For those whose life revolves around study and meditation, or academic-like expressions of the spiritual, my advice is simple: Make art. Embrace a certain rebellious, radical energy to push yourself to new expressions of the archaic. Instead of speaking in the usual gloomy academic tone, speak with passion, fire, and even a bit of humor — life is for living, not for theorizing about in relation to ideology. Become a person of action as well as one of thought.

Focussing on IQ:

The mind develops at different stages in different people’s lives. I have seen brilliant people give up and become utterly mediocre, and I have seen ordinary people excel later on. The mind responds to stimulus. If someone grows up in poverty or goes through a poor education system, then they will struggle more than someone who comes from a healthy environment or that received a good education. But that can change, very dramatically.

IQ emphasizes the intellect. It tells us nothing about physical ability or strength, or morality, or the spirituality of the individual. It is the most modern, and anti-Traditional way of looking at people. In a certain sense, IQ is a modern trap, making us focus on the rational intellect.

Instead, cultivate the mind, body, and spirit. Develop yourself morally and ethically, and in regard to social interactions, by studying religious thinkers. Meditate and read ancient texts. Eat healthily and take up a physical discipline, such as a martial art. Create a community of comrades, Brothers and Sisters, and treat parents with respect.

Nihilism:

For me, traditions are about spirit and vigor. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about “Tradition,” the classical Ways of cultivation, or a specific tradition of fine art, martial arts, theology, etc. If we inherit a tradition that is five-hundred- or a thousand- or ten thousand-years-old we have an obligation to it — not to be slavish to it, but to give it life, as it gives us energy and orientation.

A part of this is hope. Society may be in a slow collapse. The world may be in decline. We may be living in the Kali Yuga. But we still have power over our own thoughts and actions.

Throughout history, when things have seemed impossible, individual men and women — often the most unlikely of people — have appeared to do the impossible. One need only think of Joan of Arc, a teenage girl with no military experience whose swift victories in battle turned the tide in the Hundred Years War, leading to the victory of the French over the English.

The seeds of new movements and ways of living and thinking are accepted by societies decades later. The Sixties Hippie movement, for example, has its roots in late 19th century Germany.

We should neither wallow in self-pity nor wait for a savior but should work toward becoming one of those whose name and deeds will outlive them, and who will inspire others now and in the future. What we think, say, and do today may become the norm tomorrow.

Hope is not a soft, flaky, fluffy, modern idea. Always hope, or “Ever hope,” is one of the tenets of Shaolin Nam Pai Chuan Kung Fu. And it is one of the theological virtues of the Catholic Church. According to St. Thomas it is one of the three virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity) that lead us toward God. But, hope is also what will lead us to renew older traditions or to create, organically, new traditions and, eventually, new, more spiritually-oriented, more Nature-oriented groups, societies, and ways of being.

A Brotherhood of Rebels

There was an ancient French trade guild (or collective of various guilds) called the Commpagnonage (Companions). According to their myths, a master or maitre Jacques was murdered, either by the disciples of a former employee, Pere Sorbouse, or by Jacques’ own workers — convinced to commit the act by the workers of Sorbouse.

The murderers wanted more than they were getting from the master. They wanted the secrets and the rewards of mastery, though they had not risen to the level of master.

If ever there was a myth to explain the modern age, surely this is it. Today, as we look around us, we notice that society has killed the best of our culture:

Fast food has replaced real food, with real nutritional value and taste. We are ignorant — and seem to delight in our ignorance — of the traditions of art, philosophy, and religion, that for thousands of years explored what it was to be human, and what it was to be a man or a woman.

From the strong, extended family, to the nuclear family, to the one-parent family, and so on, the family has effectively collapsed (85% of men in prison come from fatherless homes), becoming ever more atomized and ever more adhering to whatever bizarre ideas are en vogue.

Fast food has replaced real food, with real nutritional value and taste. Instead of participants in life, men and women are increasingly spectators, living through the net, or through the latest ideology.

Instead of participants in life, men and women are increasingly spectators, living through the net, or through the latest ideology.

Manhood itself falls under suspicion.

Brotherhood is regarded as “outmoded.”

Let’s face the fact. The workmen have killed the master, and now they run society.

Those of us who stand against the plebian nature of culture today, and who know something of higher culture, and something of what makes us not only human but great, we find ourselves among the emotional and intellectual ruins, and, yet, we nevertheless find ourselves like maitre Jacques, under seige. This is both a blessing and a curse.

It means that, like all masters, we must continue to learn. To put aside the ego when something is in front of us that will help us grow, as men, as creators — artists, martial artists, Brothers in brotherhoods, and so on.

But, it means that must also share what culture and understanding we have, with others who want to learn. That we must, at every level, take charge of our own self, and become as a master.

There is a tendency to think of the alpha male as a constant state of being. But, in one circumstance one acts as an alpha, a master, and, in another, as someone lower down the food chain. This is simply because, in a complicated would, we cannot know everything or always be in charge of others.

Brotherhoods still exist. Some are just emerging. Some have been around for centuries. Some are loose networks of friends who have set themselves the aim of self-overcoming. Others are structured and ritualized.

But, in each, what we need in this day and age, are rebels — rebels who are not only against the system outside, of dumbing down, of cultural ignorance, of ever-shifting ideas of what we can and cannot do or believe; but rebels who are for the Brotherhood in its essence.

No matter what we level of knowledge or experience we have, we know something that others — even our Brothers — do not. Now is the time to stand up.

I encourage you to rebel, not only against what is wrong, but for what is right. If there is a hierarchy in your group, respect it, and act to make it stronger. If there is a tendency to push people through the ranks, ask yourself if you are suited to that or if your group would be better off with you sharing your talents. Rebel against the sloth and stasis that hierarchies tend to fall into.

If you can speak well, or know something of culture, give a rousing speech or a talk of relevance to your group — on history, spirituality, metaphysics, myth, self-improvement, and so on. (Remind the group of its purpose and meaning.) If you can help your brothers with their fitness and health, do that.

If you’re an artist or musician, create something that will express the group spirit — something that will live on, and something that can be passed down, from one generation to the next like a banner or torch that will continue to light the way in dark times.

Freemasonry and Traditionalism in the East and West

I recently gave a talk titled “Freemasonry and Traditionalism in the East and West” at The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library in New York City. I discuss a range of subjects from Freemasonry to Traditionalism and from Islam to Gnosis, as well as such thinkers as Rene Guenon, Julius Evola, and Aleksandr Dugin. You can watch it below: