Saturday, July 27, 2013

Origins of Freemasonry in Sacred Architecture

Whereas Freemasonry has some documented evidence of its origins prior to the early 18th century, there is a skein of proof in stone, that put to the test of logic and probability, suggests that the fraternity could indeed have origins back to the time of Egypt.
Logical premises must be acknowledged to outline the limits of the argument. First, that ancient architectural knowledge found to be economically useful would be jealously guarded, and that its prevailing use and dissemination would be determined by the limits of wealth, commerce and technology. The Art of Architecture would therefore be held secret to a degree and would only burgeon at times of economic prosperity when an organized system of government generated the excess capital necessary for great public works. It would be disseminated only to those proven worthy of its power and only to the limits of the educated society. Western culture has a continuous line of empire echoing back, from the Gothic-Christian era to the Greco-Roman and even to the Phoenician-Egyptian. So it is certainly possible that a body of growing architectural knowledge could have accumulated and been passed on. If so, then  geometric symmetry in design must resonate in harmonic analysis of  great monuments in all these eras. In other words, the designs of  buildings must have common blueprints and shared themes. This indeed proves to be the case.

The Great Pyramid and the tomb of Rameses, show a sublime proportioning theme. The mathematical and geometrical proportion known as the golden section is strongly projected in its construction. Known as "phi" and equal to 1.618, called simply the section by the Greeks as reported by Proclus "On Euclid" and considered by Kepler, in Mystericum Cosmographicum, in the 16th century "a gem, one of the 2 treasures of geometry "  The golden section is within the geometric pentagram,  found in every line with its intersects, and was said to be employed as a secret sign of brotherhood by the Pythagoreans, as Lucian writes "On Slips of Greeting."  The Great Pyramid triangle, with 1, being base edge to base center, phi, being the hypotenuse with angle of 51'50, and square of phi, apex capstone to base center, is the only right triangle, or triangle of equity, whose sides are in geometric progression. The Pythagorean theorem, with which we are all familiar, is also inherent in the Great Pyramid design. The Tomb ofRameses includes Phi within its geometric plan, using the golden rectangle, another extension of the phi theme. It is safe to say that the Egyptians utilized the section phi and that its priestly class of architects knew of the proportioning theme. We know that Pythagoras traveled there in his search of philosophy and may have been an initiate long before the Alexandrian school brought together learned men from all over the civilized west.

The Pythagorean viewpoint of reality naturally led to number mysticism which could easily have been transmitted mouth to ear, into cabbala, operative and speculative masonry, and Christian mysticism. So closely were the geometric secrets of the pentagram held and the constructions derived from it, that it is written by Iamblicus in his "Life of Pythagorus" that Hippasus, a Pythagorean, upon publishing the construction of the sphere of 12 pentagons, the dodecahedron, perished by shipwreck for his impiety, having been given credit for its discovery, whereas it really belonged to HIM (Pythagoras). Founded in Sicily and Calabria around 500 BC the brotherhood and school with its several degrees had great influence throughout Magna Graecia, to such extent that many of the Greek philosophers such as Plato, were said to be initiates.  The Parthenon is a virtual study in design using the golden section. Plato articulated the esoteric schools creeds, in Timaeus he writes, that "It was then that all these kinds of things thus established received their shapes from the Ordering One, through the action of ideas and numbers. That the vision that the universe is a harmoniously ordered whole, that analogy and symmetry, proportion and ratio govern the cosmos or order is much worked out by Plato and the Pythagoreans.

The Roman empire, reached even into England with its language, commerce and grand planned cities. The Pantheon of Rome  resounds with the use of Phi, in its construction.The practical secrets of building were transmitted by the corporations of stonemasons from the Roman "Collegia Opificum" and continued through the monastic architectural shops of the Benedictine Carolingians, to the secular guild craftsmen of the gothic age.

It is noted that the explosion of Cathedral building coincided to a degree with the returning Templars. Adding mortar to the secrets of design , new heights in building were achieved. Gothic designers added the cruciform theme, in praise of the sacrifice of the Anointed One. The predominant leitmotif which by dividing a circle into 5-10 or 20 parts automatically introduces the  potentials  of the golden ratio in harmonic design.  A substantial majority of Gothic cathedral plans  can be set within the fundamental Gothic Master diagram, based on the proportions of the Cut, T, Tau. The explosion of building occurred with great experimentation, closed arches and new techniques of ribbing and groining literally raised the roofs, advances in stained glass brought in the light.

The Lodges at Strassbourg and elsewhere gave out marks to second degree companions at the end of their probationary period, which remained for life their password and they had to be able to prove the mark with underlying lattice when traveling to other lodges. These master marks and their proof never shows the pentagram, pentagon or decagon and were not secret, and yet their proof was supposed to be close held, that would suggest that the golden section was not to be taught willy nilly. These marks did in fact get full use throughout cathedrals in Europe on keystones. The whole development of European and western Architecture with theme, As above, so below ,micro and macro cosmos with temple and savior perhaps linking the two is borne out in the geometry of the "divine "proportion Phi. The oldest Masonic documents from England suggest the king Athelstan established the first guild of Masons at York. The Cooke manuscript in the British Museum, a copy circa 1430 of an earlier document quotes Pythagoras (aka  Peter Gower in Mackey) and Hermes as having revealed the secrets of Euclidean Geometry to the human race and the same document obliges the mason to hermetic silence regarding the secrets of his craft.

It seems that the secrets of  sacred geometry kept winking in and out of view throughout the long western history, and this was logical too as given the tumultuous times, groups of craftsman scholars, and monastic brotherhoods, bound to silence would have largely been out of the struggles of power and public attention. These closed lodges would have been a magnet for people who desired the privileges afforded the journeyman stonemason.
Throughout the 19th century architects and archeologists tried to find the keys for the beautiful proportions of the Greek and gothic monuments, to find builder rules and canons of proportion. The secret of  greek symmetry and gothic harmonic composition resides in the Pythagorean pentagram and  denominates the golden section, which we find way back in the Great Pyramid and in the proportions of the rose, from the logarithms of the sea shell to the proportions of the human body. Take a measure from your feet to your belly , then a measure to the head. By means and extremes compare this to the numbers 1 and 1.618. Look at the joints of the fingers, see the divine proportion, a ratio found only in organic growth.
If you care to learn more about this, acquire the book " The Geometry of Art and Life" written in the 50's by Matila Ghyka, from which this article is largely taken, of a more recent vintage Mario Livio's The Golden Ratio is very well written.

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