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ESOTERIC ORDERS - AN OVERVIEW
by W.B. Ray Hudson
My paper for this month is in continuum of my earlier paper dealing with the Christian Orders, and on this occasion deals with a few of the esoteric orders that abound within our Fraternity. All these orders need to be approached with care and caution, for reasons that I hope will become clear as this paper unfolds.
As usual, I must state that I make no claim of originality, neither am I judge, particularly of these specific orders, as they are, as you the reader will perceive, I hope, especially personal and different to each individual. Each member finding a different level of interpretation depending on where his depth of inspiration and appreciation determines his particular path.
In defining what is actually exoteric or esoteric, we should, at first, perhaps, examine both words carefully, as to their true meaning and definition, so that we are all on the same wavelength.
Generally, most dictionaries appear to give very similar definitions, as one might expect, with varying accompanying aspects. These generalities define EXOTERIC as that which is, open and apparent, and available to all. ESOTERIC is defined as being closed or secret, available only to the "informed", or available to only those with the ability to pursue this aspect.
Personally I would basically agree with these definitions apart from the fact that ESOTERICISM, in the concept we will discuss, is not actually "secret", but is quite open and available for those who choose this direction. One, at first, just needs the inclination and then the "means" to apply and develop this inclination along the specific path of your choice.
It would also be prudent to emphasise, although it may be clear to many, that this form of personal development is closely akin to SPIRITUALITY, as in the personal sense, and should in no way be connected or associated with SPIRITUALISM, which is vastly different, and certainly not the subject for discussion here. This may be obvious to many readers, but my experience has proved that many others do confuse these two quite different aspects, and this misunderstanding has led some not to pursue their full spiritual awareness.
Any knowledge that assists in a greater awareness of oneself, whether physically or spiritually, must be of ultimate benefit to the individual, and ultimately to those that are closest around him. For a basic example, a reasonable knowledge of your physical make up, and its potential to "break-down", or become subject to illness etc., must enable you to take the necessary precautions to avoid such a calamity, and assist in guiding those closest to you, who may be without this sensible knowledge, along a like path, thereby safeguarding them from such calamities that life may hold in store, or at the least, a form of preparation should such a calamity be inevitable.
Spirituality can be alluded in a like manner. The heavy stresses of modern life, now have a tendency to create as many emotional and mental problems as it does the more physical ones. Medical science now greatly appreciates the positive link of the mind and ones inner self with the chemical processes of the body that enable it to function at a greater level than it might do under normally accepted circumstances.
For example, FEAR at the sight of an on-rushing bull, charging directly at you, will make your body produce sufficient adrenalin to enable you to run faster than you have ever run before in order for you to effect a safe escape. ANGER is another powerful emotion that will produce the right chemicals for you to fight your enemies, whether they be positive or abstract, physical or emotional. ANGER has the potential for you to overcome FEAR itself.
The Ancients had a greater understanding of these powers of the mind or spirituality, even if they did not fully appreciate the intricate chemical processes that occurred. The Indian philosophy demonstrates this quite visually in their ceremonial body piercing and walking on hot embers, without experiencing any physical pain. The ability to "turn off" the physical aspect of their body and nature, and to concentrate purely on the mind or spiritual aspect is quite remarkable, and is the only logical explanation for such feats of daring.
I have demonstrated here just a couple of examples, the whole subject being far to complex to go into further detail at this time, it should be sufficient to lay the ground for the particular path I wish to venture down.
As in every subject of human nature, be it physical or mental, there are extremes. These we will pass over as it is only generalities and the "norm" that we wish to look at within the concept of the esoteric degrees within Freemasonry.
Of these there are many. Some different than others. Some going in one direction others in another. One will find whatever you are looking for to develop or exploit somewhere.
Consider the subject of religion, for a moment. There are many churches and "avenues" one can go down in search of portraying whatever your religious beliefs may be. Some are low key; others enjoy a more flamboyant and extreme approach. A simple perusal of the "Bible Belt" in the Southern States of America will exemplify this point.
It has also been proved that some of these exist for the good of the congregation, whereas others are for the good of the so-called religious dignitaries that purport to represent them. There are also "churches" that explore the darker side of human nature together with the darker and opposite side of accepted religious worship. There being good and bad in everything.
Esotericism, unfortunately experiences a similar exploitation over the full range of the human psyche, from the exceedingly excellent, all the way through to the downright evil and dastardly. It is the custom and habit for the latter groups, whether religious or strictly esoteric, to claim an affinity to something that is held in respectability. By this claimed allegiance, it is hoped that they will attract a "congregation" which might otherwise be deterred.
Some of the "esoteric" orders that frequent the "fringes" of Freemasonry, make a like claim for similar reasons, but in reality, their claims have absolutely no foundation whatsoever, and should be ignored at all costs, by all members of society, especially Freemasons, who are already on a particular path anyway.
When dealing with these intangible aspects, one has to exercise extreme caution and common sense. As I explained to a question on the Forum recently. The extreme elements of this complicated field of experience, do not, I am sure, fully appreciate the fullness of the potential of what they are dealing with.
I quoted "devil-worship" as a similar extreme example. What gives me the greatest concern is that in "calling up" the devil, they might just succeed, and what the hell are they going to do then. You may feel, with some justification, that this is a pure fantasy and whimsical, but if these supposedly intelligent people are practising a rite that is supposed to attract the devil, they obviously believe that it should work. What do they propose to do if and when it does?
The mind and its full powers is still unknown and not yet fully understood. If you open a door, any door, then as well as letting something out you have an equal chance of letting something in. Ask any decent Hypnotherapist, those of the medical persuasion, rather than the entertainment type, and they will confess to this possibility, and of their awareness of it. A close personal friend is a Medical Hypnotherapist, and is fully aware of his responsibility in this connection.
He is fully conscious that when he "opens" a persons mind, whilst in "Regression", to release perhaps a childhood fear, that there could possibly be lurking around this "open" atmosphere, an evil spirit, just waiting for the opportunity to enter this mind, through this very open door, and "change" this person into a serial killer.
Impossible you say, maybe, but who really knows the full power of these intangibles? Who would take the responsibility, should it actually occur? Who can say for sure that it has not already occurred? When there is little knowledge, it is wiser to be cautious and give an open mind to all potentialities, real or unreal. We accept God, in whatever form we hold him. We pray to him, supplicate him to become involved with us in some way, implore him to enter our lives. Some believe, and they could be right, that He has entered their lives, without their imploring him to do so. Why is it so impossible for the reverse, EVIL, to effect the same.
One of the prime teachings of esoterics is the DUALITY of LIFE, so if you accept the reality of the goodness of God, you should accept the potential, and therefore the dangers, of evil. God, as goodness, seems to be fair and reasonable, EVIL is not, quite the opposite. So for it to grab the innocent opportunity to invade the mind, should be considered at all times. This why I consider the extreme elements of this area to hold potential danger for the innocent aspirant.
This is the best advice I can offer to any willing aspirant to this fascinating aspect of esoterics. Coupled with the advice that the aspiring candidate would be wise to stick to the more recognised and truly Masonic Orders of this science, until he has acquired a reasonable amount of experience to be able to sensibly discern the creditable from the incredible.
Returning to the actual meanings of these two important words, EXOTERIC and ESOTERIC, it would be fair and entirely correct to say that all rituals in Freemasonry, including the basic Craft degrees, and H.R.A., contain profound elements of both factors. One just has to "tune-in" to discover them. Many eminent scholars have expounded on these aspects, and there is much available to read for the interested Mason.
Kirk Macnulty and his explanations of the Symbolism of the Craft, is one who springs to mind, but there are many, and once again, Brethren, there are those that have a sensible approach, and there are those that go completely "over the top". As in most aspects of Freemasonry, you must be selective, take and pursue only that which lies comfortable for you, let nothing knock you off your personal path, whatever that may be.
As I have mentioned, all Orders in Freemasonry, and I belong to most of them, if not all, contain elements of both the aspects under discussion, but similarly as Freemasonry is rightfully a progressive science so is spirituality or esotericism.
There are excellent Orders that explore this aspect in varying degrees, with slightly different approaches, but ultimately with a single objective, and that is total knowledge of yourself, and an awareness of the forces and power of nature and the elements, and the wise use of this ultimate understanding for the good of yourself and finally the welfare of mankind itself. You may say, a laudable but impossible claim, an unreachable objective. Yes, I said these very things myself a few years back, but my experience now tells me I was wrong!.
The stars may actually be unreachable, but what sense is there in not trying to discover what is there. We spend so much time, effort and finances in developing different methods of destruction, a little time and effort at hardly any cost, in self improvement and the improvement of life in general, if not for the whole world, then for those immediately close to us, cannot be a waste.
This should be sufficient foundation to now explore some of the accepted esoteric degrees within our wonderful Order.
Without diminishing any of this Order's ultimate aims, or that of the "regular" Orders of Freemasonry potential for esoteric content, this is an admirable place for the aspiring candidate to start.
The primus requisite is that you be a Master Mason. There is a religious requirement, but no more or no less than Rose Croix or Knights Templar.
Its place of holding is called a "College", as opposed to a Lodge or Chapter. After all it is a place of learning, and profound learning at that.
It holds various degrees. These degrees are expressed as stages of learning acquired. For example. "Zelator", one who is zealous for knowledge. Theoreticus, one who has acquired the "Theory". Practicus, one who applies the practice of the acquired theory. Etc. etc.
The teachings involved at the varying levels are geared to the Qabbalah.
Initially you are introduced to the four elements, Earth, Fire, Air and Water, and their respective spiritual connections. You are taught and instructed, basically, on the power of numbers, and their spiritual implications. There are lectures in most Colleges.
You are introduced to the potential power of yourself, and in its simplest form, I would suppose you would refer to it in its modern expression as "Kinetic Energy", and the magnetic fields that are within the Earth itself, and therefore within yourself. Modern parlance deems these as Ley Lines or Meridians, and the science of Acupuncture revolves on this particular aspect.
You are given access to a fantastic library of material held at the Grand College, but if inconvenient to attend, then particular books are recommended for study. Obviously the Qabbalah itself, or any of the many disquisitions that purport to be an introductory to the Qabbalah itself. I would recommend one of these "forerunners", particularly Dion Fortunes' "The Mystical Qabbalah".
There is a time factor regarding your progression here, should you want it, but Rank and Title are of little comparative importance, as the main factor is the acquisition of esoteric knowledge and its application. One should not progress to quickly anyway, full advantage of the wealth of knowledge and instruction should be regarded as the priority.
There are the usual signs and words that are synonymous with "regular" Freemasonry, pertaining to each degree. Here you will discover some perhaps surprising explanations for other aspects of Freemasonry, including the Craft etc.
There are no tests or examinations of the level of knowledge acquired; it is completely at your own level and pace, although encouragement is given. It is after all a "College".
Candidates and participants can go as far or as near as they choose, there is no "forced" or obliged progression. One can even join, and not take office, just attend and listen. Knowledge is the main objective, as well as understanding that knowledge, and applying it to yourself.
This is a marvellous Order for the willing aspirant in this area. It attracts many enthusiastic Masons, and as I have said it is restricted to Master Masons only, and that is Master Masons from a recognised Constitution that is in amity with UGLE.
Having established what is perhaps the best place to start for the study of this side of Freemasonry, we will now progress to what I consider the next best step. This is the:
Hermetic Order of Martinists or as it is more popularly referred to HOM. The members are referred to as Martinists. It is held, when small, in a Heptad, and in a Lodge when larger.
This is a truly esoteric Order, and probably my own personal favourite, as it tends not to restrict itself to any particular specific writings, such as the Qabbalah, as mentioned in the discourse on SOCROS. Its primus requisite though, is, that you must be a member of SOCROS, therefore including your qualification as a recognised and accepted Freemason.
I feel that this is a necessary requisite, in that you have the basic fundamentals of the correct approach to spiritual investigation within yourself. It would be expecting too much for any aspiring candidate to immediately adopt to the principles of HOM, without any basic understanding of esoteric teaching or knowledge.
Similarly it makes sound sense to be a Master Mason before venturing into HRA. It would, perhaps, in many cases, be too much to comprehend and make much sense of, if you went straight into HRA without the fundamentals of Craft Freemasonry. Underlining, once again, the progressive science of the whole structure and the need to respect that.
All reading material, and any subject matter is virtually up for grabs. There are certain recommendations in this area of course, but in reality, virtually anything is perfectly suitable, even the popular press. It is perhaps not what you read but how you read it, and how you read into it, and obviously what you read from it. The Order takes its name from Louis Claude de St. Martin, who was regarded as a true philosopher. He was a very active Freemason in France, and gradually progressed through the various orders to join the Elus Cohen. This Order takes its name from the elite sect of Jewish Priests known as the Kohenim, as opposed to the wider known Levites or Zadoks. The word Elus meaning Elect. So the title means Elect Priest.
He had a philosophy on life, and an approach to it that resulted in a great number of followers.
The Order of the Elus Cohen, apparently, started
to move in nefarious areas that did not lie comfortable with St.
Martin. So he left and the Order reformed, and to this day there
appears a certain amount of uncertainty as to the real validity of
its re-formation and aims. And NO!, I am not a member, I declined
the invite. It may be that I am being a little unfair in making
these comments, as I have no actual experience of the Order of Elus
Cohen, but from what I hear, and it may be true or may not, it does
not seem the sort of thing I would be interested in.
He continued independently, teaching his philosophy on self and life. His following grew to outsize the original Elus Cohen. After his death, his followers continued his teachings and eventually formed the Order of Martinists. The Order came to England and grew. It has at least three variations, each claiming original authenticity.
The two most popular being HOM and OMS. The latter includes women. I personally see no reason why women cannot be as spiritually inclined as men, but for my own personal choice, I prefer to work only with men, with a true Masonic heritage for the Order. I am eligible to attend the OMS, but as yet, have not taken the opportunity, maybe I will later, if only out of curiosity.
The HOM functions along the lines of a traditional Masonic Order. There are three degrees and certain words.
The ceremonies are quite esoteric in structure and performance, and can at first appear quite daunting. But the slow process of introduction quickly settles the new candidate onto a positive path of self awareness.
This practise of the spiritual awareness of yourself can take many forms, and indeed does, in the various esoteric degrees, but in the HOM it follows strictly to the form and structure laid down by St, Martin. It is a very careful and detailed approach and leaves no doubt in the aspirants mind as to where he is going and why he his doing what he is doing. This I find the most sensible approach to this delicate and far-reaching subject. Not only are you taught and encouraged how to acquire self awareness and spirituality, but, most importantly, you are taught how to put it to good use for yourself, and for the good benefit of others.
Collective Kinetic energy is practised to good purpose, and I had serious doubts to begin with of its efficacy, but after my first experience, realised that there was something positive there, something I definitely felt, but didn't understand. I was immediately comforted and reassured by my fellow Martinists, and learned that there WAS something more to the individual apart from flesh and blood. This all took place under the careful supervision of experts in this field, who knew exactly what to do when the door of the mind and soul were opened. It was certainly not a distressing experience, quite the opposite.
I learned a lot about my inner self, aspects that I did not realise were there, but now know were there all the time, but never had the right opportunity to come forth. A door did certainly open up for me, and I feel that I am a better person for it. I do now look at the world differently, I do have a greater appreciation for the wonders of nature, especially the human being.
After the official meeting there is a discussion which lasts about an hour, amongst all the gathered Martinists. The subject matter can be anything in the world, or even beyond. This is a free debate, and everyone contributes. It always amazes me how much people do know, also how much you seem to know yourself about a myriad of subjects, and how much everything in this universe is so intimately linked, and how interdependent they really are in one way or another. I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about many things, but chiefly, and possibly most important, about myself.
For those who wish to travel down this path, this is the way in which it should be done. Ensure that you know the people involved well. As far as you can, make sure that they are expert in this field, as I imagine the wrong handling of this "power" could prove detrimental, or even worse, dangerous. The door to the mind or inner self must be opened carefully and with total regard for the individual.
Mishandling of this precious potential, is what leads to the accusations of "Cult Rites", "Incantation Ceremonies", and the like, as we have witnessed in the form of questions and concerns expressed in the Forum. In the hands of well intended people intent only on the good things in life, it can be a pleasurable pursuit, an excellent path to wisdom, and eventually a personal satisfying fulfilment. In the hands of the foolhardy, like any other pursuit, it can have its dangers. Aleister Crowley, brilliant Mason, superb poet and artist, pushed the limits too far, and eventually went "off his rocker".
The other esoteric Orders, are primarily not as definitive in their content as the two that I have detailed above, and are clothed in other aspects, either religion or chivalry, but have similar objectives regarding self awareness and spirituality. So therefore, although in a slightly more "sterile" form, follow similar principles as the above, so a lengthy discussion on them would prove unnecessary and perhaps a little boring.
Freemasonry is open to all sorts of men, and of course women. Some individuals wish to express their Masonic ideals in a more overt Christian manner, therefore the Christian Orders are available to them. Like wise some wish to explore these same precepts in a chivalrous or military manner, this facility is also available. And there are those who wish to explore deeper, but still keeping within the basic principals of the Masonic structure, this also, is at their disposal. As I have said many times, you take what lies comfortable for yourself. You have to be cautiously selective, and aware that those in charge know what they are doing.
I hope this paper proves of use to those that have wondered about the esoteric orders and the aura that surrounds them. Like anything in life, Brethren, proceed with caution, respect life, respect Freemasonry, but above all, respect yourself.
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