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The beehive as a focal point for masonic meditation
by Jeffery E. Marshall
The title, “The Beehive as a focal point for Masonic Meditation” really requires us to address three major subject areas. First, we must define what “Masonic meditation” means—at least for the scope of this paper. Then, we must discuss the concept of a focal point. Then, once these two issues are resolved, we can discuss the symbolism of the beehive and how it can be used as a focal point in Masonic meditation. Since the primary focus of this paper is on the beehive, we will cover Masonic meditation in an abbreviated format as this study is a major topic itself.
So what do I mean by “Masonic Meditation”. The short answer is meditation on Masonry. Thus, we really have two sub-topics to discuss under the heading “Masonic meditation”. First, what is meditation? Second, what is Masonry? Each of these topics is by nature somewhat imprecise and many people will have differing ways of approaching these topics.
Broadly speaking, meditation comes in a variety of flavors, but this paper will only deal with the two most fundamental types. There is an “empty mind” approach to meditation and a “concentrated mind” approach. There are some that pursue one approach only—and some of these will say their way is the only legitimate form of meditation. Others may use both approaches, depending upon their objectives.
The “empty mind” approach seeks to empty the mind in order to enter a state of high relaxation or to become receptive. In some respects, this technique is somewhat along the lines of “Speak Lord, your student listens”. This task is far more difficult than might initially be supposed. The mind constantly wants to fill the void of the empty mind with stray thoughts that seem to enter of their own volition. It may take several minutes for the mind to “calm down” and even then random thoughts can intrude into the silence. There is truly a discipline required to calm the mind and keep it quiet and open. Mastering this skill can potentially help the Mason to rapidly calm the mind in crisis situations.
But this approach raises the question—open the mind for what? How does the Mason know the random thought that crept in was not the message for which he calmed and opened his mind? If one of the purposes of the “empty mind” technique is to listen, how do we know what we are listening for and know how to separate it from the “noise” when we hear it?
Perhaps at first, the goal of the new Masonic meditator is simply to clear the mind and learn to master his thoughts. As such, the Mason seeks to “hear” nothing. Rather the Mason seeks mastery over both conscious and subconscious thoughts and to be simply able to enter into the void of calm. Once this mastery is obtained, the Mason is then able to perhaps ask a question and then empty the mind to “listen” for the answer.
Perhaps the answer to knowing the answer from a random thought lies in knowing yourself.
The “concentrated mind” approach takes a different route. Here, the Mason focuses upon a specific object or symbol and concentrates all thought—both conscious and subconscious upon it. As thoughts appear in the mind, the Mason either relates them to the symbol or banishes them. The goal of this form of meditation is two-fold. First, like the “empty mind” approach, it teaches discipline. While the “empty mind” approach seeks a void, the “concentrated mind” seeks intense concentration upon one specific symbol. In both cases, they seek to gain discipline and control over the mind.
But why does the Mason seek to do this? The simple answer is to lead a “Masonic life”. The more complex answer is to lead a “Masonic life”. So what then is a “Masonic life”?
Here again, the same answer is both simple and complex. I think a Masonic life is one led in accordance with the tenets of “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth”. This is at once both simple and profound. It is very simple to speak the words “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth”. It is something perhaps different to completely ingrain these principles within your life so virtually every action and thought is in accordance with them. I think most fundamental esoteric truths are very simple. But this simplicity is deceptive. While the concepts are simple, their mastery is difficult. By the same token, because the concept sounds so simple, it is often dismissed.
Perhaps this is the true meaning of the alchemists’ statement that the philosopher’s stone is all around us and we dismiss it because it is common. Perhaps sometimes we need to take a complex journey in order to appreciate what we find at the end. The simple may, in fact, be more complex than what at first seems complex. In order to understand the simple, perhaps we have to delve into its parts, separate them, analyze them and then put them back together again into a cohesive whole. This is the alchemical process of solvé et coagula.
So what does this mean to Masonry and the Masonic life?
Consider for a moment how we act and feel in lodge. It is a different space…really a different mindset. When we enter the lodge, we change somewhat. We become more aware of Masonry and what Masonry means. Virtually everything we do in the lodge is dictated by the tenets of Masonry. Leading the Masonic life means we never leave the lodge. We take the lodge wherever we go.
In the Entered Apprentice degree, we are told “to make use of it [the common gavel] for the more noble and glorious purpose of divesting our hearts and our consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life; thereby fitting our minds as living stones for that spiritual building, that house ‘not made with human hands, eternal in the heaven.”
Perhaps what we do in Masonic Meditation is to create a virtual lodge that we take with us wherever we go. The Mason builds this lodge, stone-by-stone and then dwells in it always. The Mason that masters the builder’s art develops a state of consciousness that is always operative, employing the tenets of our art. Perhaps that is why the tools are called ‘working tools’. We use them to build the virtual lodge in our minds.
But how do we use these tools?
The ritual tells us, at least partially how to use them. In the FellowCraft degree, we are told, “Tools and instruments of architecture, and symbolic emblems most expressive, are selected by the Fraternity to imprint upon the mind wise and serious truths; and thus through a succession of ages, are transmitted unimpaired the most excellent tenets of our Institution.”
These tools ‘imprint upon the mind’ certain truths. So how do they do this and what are these truths?
I think the process of imprinting upon the mind is the process of focused Masonic Meditation. By focusing upon the tools and ‘symbolic emblems most expressive’ we gain insight into their use. We can also link concepts to them. When we imprint powerful images in our minds it allows us to do two things. First, the process of meditation on these symbols and the concepts we attach to them will change our lives as their ‘truths’ are ingrained into our minds and we build the lodge. Second, we create images that we can ‘call up’ throughout the day as required. When we ‘call up’ these images, we immediately bring into consciousness their lessons and applications—those concepts that we have linked to the symbol.
For example, recall the meaning of the compasses we are taught in the Entered Apprentice degree. They teach us to circumscribe our desires and to keep our passions in due bounds. Now, if we have truly imprinted this image and lesson on our mind, in times of strife or conflict, when we feel ourselves losing control of our passions, we can call this image up in our mind and use it to compose ourselves.
But this does not come easily. It does not come from simply hearing the lesson in the lodge. Rather it comes from focused meditation—the building of the virtual lodge. Then, it comes from unfocused observation of our daily lives. That is, being conscious of what we are doing at all moments and having the capacity to alter our conduct. This is far easier said than done. How many of us do something or say something then immediately wish we had not? Or when asked why we did something can only shrug our shoulders and say we do not know? These are examples of living our lives in an unconscious, rather than fully conscious state. Many, if not most, people spend most of their lives in an unconscious state.
The virtual lodge is a state of heightened, perpetual consciousness.
Let me now try to illustrate this process with one of the Masonic emblems from the Master Mason degree, the Beehive.
Symbols operate on multiple levels, from the physical to the sublime. Thus, as we contemplate them in Masonic meditation, we should delve into the various levels of the symbol, immersing ourselves in each level we identify and working through an understanding of it. As we contemplate one level of symbolism it may lead us to other levels that we had not originally identified. There may be long periods of free association and linkage of symbols with other symbols. Then, our task is to integrate the various levels of the symbol into a cohesive whole. As we progress through the levels, perhaps we should ask ourselves questions about how the meanings we investigate affect and our lives. As we contemplate the answers to these questions, then perhaps we can identify concepts that we want to link to the symbol and issues that we want to work out within our lives.
Let us start with the physical level of the beehive symbol. First let us imprint its form and texture upon our minds. Our goal is to be able to see the beehive in our mind’s eye. We want to be able to call the image up at will and see all of its details. We want the image to be so clear that we can touch the beehive, feel its form and texture and hear the bees as they fly in and out of the hive and taste the sweet honey it contains.
As we contemplate the beehive’s form we begin to notice several things.
First consider the domed shape. Perhaps this shape is an arch spun about its vertical axis. Consider the form of a dome and how the inward pressure is applied precisely so it supports itself. If this pressure is not balanced, the dome will collapse. Like the arch, there is a center point in the dome in which all comes together. In the arch, this is the keystone. Can we find it and use it to balance this dome? What is the keystone of our lives? Is it that simple substance that is often rejected?
Second, consider the three images shown below. The first is the beehive. The second is the omphalos at Delphi and the third is the Sokar from ancient Egypt.
Notice that all three have a similar domed shape. Perhaps this shape is part of the ‘key’ of the symbol itself and we can bring in these images and their concepts into our meditations.
The omphalos stone means the ‘naval stone’. It was meant to mark the center of the world. The stone at Delphi was cited at the place where two birds that Zeus sent to circle the world met again. Many of the ancient temples had a ‘naval stone’ or a foundation stone that served this purpose. Notice that the Sokar from Egypt has two birds on it. As we reflect on the virtual lodge or temple that we create, we begin to see that it is, for us, the center of the world. Thus, the beehive sits in our temple as its omphalos. What is the center of our lives?
Now, consider that the beehive is the repository for honey and the home of the bees. Honey is a sticky, sweet substance. It is also a preservative and does not spoil. Honey made thousands of years ago still retains its qualities. It is made from the nectar of flowers, that may be seen as a product of the sun.
Bees somehow seek out the flowers that allow them to make this honey, find their way back to the hive and then communicate to other bees the flowers’ location. They always return home and share what they have found. Do we seek out the sweet nectar of life and share it?
Finally, look at its texture. It appears to be made from a rope. In fact, this form of the beehive is made from one continuous cord. Perhaps this cord can be related to the cable tow. If so, our omphalos is made from our cable tow. What does this say about its length? Does the honey it contains affect its use?
Now, let us move to the next level of symbolism, the brief mention of the beehive in our ritual. We are told:
The beehive is an emblem of industry, and recommends the practice of that virtue of all created beings, from the highest sereph in heaven, to the lowest reptile of the dust. It teaches us, that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them, without inconvenience to ourselves.
That’s all we’re told. The rest is up to us. As we meditate upon the beehive, we should also meditate upon what this passage tells us. I think there are 3 important aspects to the above explanation:
As we reflect on the first part, perhaps we may relate it to the theme of the development of consciousness. In this light, Humanity is not as a flawed and fallen creature. Rather we are intelligent and capable of making rational and conscious choices. Are we rational and conscious or do we allow our passions to dominate our actions?
The second part relates to industry. How should we use this gift? How we fit into the order of the Cosmos and what is our part in it? What is the part laid out on the trestleboard for our labor? How do we relate to the Grand Architect to understand our part in the plan?
The final part relates to carrying out this labor and the mention of both heaven and earth. I think the task of each Mason is to help make earth more like heaven. We see this in two ways with the symbol and explanation of the beehive. First, the explanation says we are never to sit down while our fellow creatures are in want. We are charged with a responsibility, which is echoed in the Masonic tenet of Relief. Second, the beehive is the omphalos of the Mason’s virtual lodge. The lodge or the temple is the link between heaven and earth. As we become the lodge, perhaps we also become part of that linkage. What kind of linkage point are we? What do we communicate by our thoughts and our actions—or our inaction?
Now, let us see if we can explore the beehive on some further levels, connecting it to other images.
In the FellowCraft ritual, we are told of the three wages of a FellowCraft. In the Master Mason ritual, we are told of the wages of a Master, but they are never defined. The wages of the FellowCraft are corn, wine and oil. But we need to ask ourselves—why these wages? Do they come from a specific source or mean anything beyond what the new FellowCraft is told?
If we turn to 2 Chronicles 31 in the Bible, we find these are part of the ‘wages’ of the priestly class. This chapter tells us the people were to set aside the first fruits of grain, wine, oil and honey for the priests so they could devote themselves to the law of the Lord. Here, we find the three wages of a FellowCraft, plus one other—honey. Why is honey left out in the FellowCraft degree? Is it somehow different than the others?
The first of the wages, grain, can be likened to the body. We can see this in several mythic systems, with corn gods and other aspects of fertility. Hiram Abiff may be likened to one of these corn gods in some senses. The word used for corn in the Hebrew text is ]gd. Interestingly, this word is also the name for a fish-like deity, Dagon worshipped in the ancient Middle East. The fish-gods are often the givers of civilization (we can see this in Virachoca in the New World; Dagan, Oannes, Ea and others in the old world). The vesica pisces is the fish. Thus, in grain we may also see a mastery of the body that is control over its impulses. How well do we control our impulses?
The second wage, wine, can be likened perhaps to the emotions. The Hebrew word for wine used in this passage is >vryt. This word can perhaps be translated as ‘new wine’, i.e. freshly squeezed grape juice that has not fermented yet, rather than fermented wine. This distinction is perhaps important on an esoteric level. The “new wine” has the potential to be wine. Likewise, since it is not fermented, it has a far lower probability of being an intoxicant. One can drink it and not lose control. Thus, with corn and new wine, we perhaps circumscribe our desires and keep our passions in due bounds. Do we control our emotions or do they control us?
The third wage, oil, can perhaps be likened to knowledge or perhaps consciousness. The Hebrew word used for oil, rhjy can imply the meaning ‘shine’. Here we see the concept of Light. Light is, after all, what the Mason desires. If we engage in a little play with the word—which I think many esotericists do—we find something perhaps interesting. If we remove the h, we have rjy. This can have a figurative meaning of a conception, thought or mind. Thus, we may link light, which is symbolic of knowledge, and the mind symbolically to the oil. Is our mind a brightly burning lamp or is the wick shriveled and a distance from the oil?
So in the wages of a FellowCraft, perhaps we have mastery of the body, the emotions and the mind. Let us now return to Honey. Perhaps the wages of a Master Mason are the wages of a FellowCraft, plus honey.
So what of honey? Recall that honey is a preservative as well as a sweetener. Honey also comes from a hexagon-shaped cell. The hexagon can be seen as the interior of two interlaced triangles—the hexagram. This was used by esotericists to indicate a linking of two concepts, perhaps as seen in the Emerald Tablet of “as above, so below”—the linkage of heaven and earth. It is essentially the same symbol as the vesica pisces and thus linked to the interlocked Square and Compasses as well. One of the roles of a temple is to serve as the linkage point between heaven and earth. Perhaps the first temple deliberately constructed was the Sumerian Duranki, which literally means ‘bond heaven and earth’. We may, perhaps see in the Masonic degrees, the transformation of the Mason into a temple. In that light, perhaps the symbolic payment of corn, wine, oil and honey to the Master Mason can be interesting. The first three help to build the temple and the last makes the Mason a priest in his own temple.
Thus, perhaps honey is emblematical of the spirit, the Divine presence with us. It is this presence, which makes life sweet and preserves it after death.
Death is an important symbolic part of the Master Mason degree. After a symbolic death, the Master Mason is raised upon the lion’s paw. So how does the beehive relate to the Master Mason degree?
Perhaps an insight into the answer can be found in the Bible in Judges 14:8, “and he [Samson] turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion.”
Both Samson and the lion are solar in nature. The name Samson is directly related to the Hebrew word for the sun, >m>, which in turn is related to the Mesopotamian solar deity, Shamash. The lion is often used as a symbol of the sun, throughout many cultures. The sun is clearly important in Masonry. There is also anecdotal evidence that in many of the ancient mysteries, the candidate personified the sun. The sun was seen to die and be risen both at the end of the day and at the winter solstice. Perhaps in the death of the lion, we have the birth of something else.
So what of the bee, the lion and the raising?
The bee and the lion are linked by more than just the passage from Judges. One of the key symbols of Mithraism was a lion with a bee in its mouth. In the Lion degree of Mithraism, the initiate used honey to wash his hands and anoint his tongue. Porphyry, a Neoplatonic philosopher, wrote “But when the Persians [referring to the rites of Mithras] offer honey to the guardian of fruits, they regard its preserving power as a symbol of its similitude to a divine nature.”
Porphyry also tells us that souls were likened to bees and says, “souls are, indeed, the authors of all the pleasure peculiar to our nature.” Some philosophers also related the soul to the bee because the bee constantly goes about the world and then returns to its home. Porphyry then explains that the priestesses of Ceres, as ministers to the terrene goddess, were formerly called bees and that her daughter, Proserpine, was called ‘meltitoode’, or delicious, alluding to the sweetness of honey. He also tells us the ancients related the bee to the bull and to the moon.
The bee and the honey are thus symbolic of the soul and our divine nature. This is perhaps echoed in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” If so, this nature is sweet, rather than bitter and reflects our rational and intelligent nature we are told of in the Masonic explanation of the beehive. How well do we reflect that image? Is our mirror brightly polished or is clouded and hidden?
With the references from Judges and Porphyry, we find the juxtaposition of the lion and oxen/bull. The lion is the symbol of the sun and the bull the symbol of the moon. They are two poles, perhaps reflecting the conscious and subconscious minds. Robert H. Brown, in Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy, says the two pillars in Masonry are associated with the sun (Boaz) and the Moon (Jachin). The bull and the lion have been represented together—often in conflict—since ancient antiquity. They have also been paired to form gates. Perhaps the balance of conflicting forces to create a gate echoes the balance of forces inherent in a dome.
If we return again the Cave of the Nymphs, Homer and Porphyry tell us the cave has two openings. The one in the north is for humanity to descend into and the one in the south is for the immortals to ascend from. He tells us this cave is a symbol of the world and that it has two openings, one in the north through which mortals descend and one in the south from which immortals ascend. He likens these gates to the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. He then tells us, “Plato calls them two gates. Of these, they affirm that Cancer is the gate through which souls descend, but Capricorn that through which they ascend, and exchange a material for a divine condition of being.”
Messier object 44, Praesaepe, often called the Beehive, as well as the Manger, is located in the constellation Cancer. Here then, we see a representation of birth in Cancer, reinforcing the image of Cancer as the symbol of birth. Perhaps the beehive then can be seen as the manger or womb of the soul. If the beehive is the omphalos of our temple this may be an apt image. That the bees come from the carcass of a lion in Judges, perhaps tells this is the rebirth of the soul after the physical death.
Let us now turn again to the symbol of the point, circle and two parallel perpendicular lines. The two lines, we are told in the ritual, represent the Holy Saints John. These two saints in turn represent the two solstices, which are marked by the two tropics. The circle with a point can represent the sun itself. This symbol—Q is both the alchemical symbol for the sun and the Egyptian hieroglyph for Re or the sun. Fideler, in Jesus Christ Sun of God, writes, “In Greek sacred geography, the symbol 1 represents the central omphalos.” These lines can perhaps also represent competing forces within our lives that we seek to balance, much as the imagery of the lion and bull can convey. How well do we balance the forces in our lives? Have we opened ourselves to our subconscious mind in order to know ourselves better?
Now consider the directions we use in the Masonic ritual. In Masonry, we are told the north is a place of darkness. It is reminiscent of the womb and hence of birth. The moon, is its light, and the moon is linked to the menstrual cycles and hence to birth. This seems to tie to the northern entrance to the cave. The south is a place of light. The sun in the south is exalted in its glory. Perhaps this is the reborn soul ascending from the cave.
We can also compare this to the Egyptian ideas of the soul and rebirth, as they linked it to the sun. The sun descended into the underworld in the north. This ties in the Sokar image shown above. The Sokar image was associated with the Memphis necropolis and the Apis bull. In Latin, the word for bee is ‘apis’. Thus, we another symbolic linkage to the bee and the bull that echoes what Porphyry told us. The god Ptah was also associated with the Sokar and was part of a triad of Sokar-Ptah-Osiris. He was called the Master Builder and was associated with building and architecture. His wife was Sekhmet, the lion-headed goddess. Ptah was also closely associated with Maat, who perhaps can be likened as a personification of truth and justice. Thus through an exploration of the Sokar symbol, we find symbolic links to the Grand Architect of the Universe and the Masonic tenet of Justice.
Were we reborn by our Master Mason raising? Has this birth created the beehive that is our naval stone and balanced all the forces within our lives? Is it the birthplace and home of our soul and the source of our cable tow? Is the cable tow now different after that Master Mason degree?
To complete our journey through layers of symbolism, let us return to the honey, the reason for the beehive. Honey is sticky and sweet; it preserves and purifies. Perhaps this is an apt symbol for love. For love seems to possess these qualities as well. Let us now recall the working tool of the Master Mason, the trowel. The trowel is used to spread the cement, which unites the stones of the building. The Master Mason ritual tells us this cement is symbolic of “Brotherly Love and Affection”. Perhaps this cement is represented by honey. Honey, which is produced in the beehive, which is the omphalos or centerpiece of our virtual lodge and the birthplace of the soul. And through the symbol of the bee, which makes the honey, we are connected to the Master Architect. We are, perhaps, the living embodiments of the temple, which joins heaven and earth. How well do we shape our lives so we are linkage point between heaven and earth? Does our symbolic bee seek out the flowers that it then turns into honey in the hive? What are these flowers that we use to create our honey?
Perhaps it rests upon each Mason to delve in the quarries of the soul and the mind to gain self-knowledge in order to build the virtual lodge and place the omphalos within it. This, I think, is the purpose of Masonic Meditation. We reflect upon the symbols of the craft and explore their various levels of meaning in deep meditation. As part of this process, we examine our life and how we live it and relate to the rest of the cosmos. In the process, we learn something about both the cosmos and ourselves. And in the process, perhaps we hear that still voice that seeks to instruct us. Perhaps this is the journey of the bee to the flower…
 This is a modification of 1 Samuel 3, “Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth”. I personally relate to Deity more as parent/child and teacher/student than as master/servant. Another reason I have taken this approach is an ‘esoteric’ reading of Genesis 5:24 “Enoch walked with God and was no more, because God took him away.” In Hebrew, Enoch is ;vnx, which can mean initiate. The Hebrew word used in the passage for ‘walk’ is ;lht, which can also imply ‘converse’. The Hebrew word used for ‘took’ is tql, which can also imply ‘instruct’. Hence we can have a hint of instruction and initiation. Enoch’s two pillars and his underground vault may be the root of the Royal arch degree and the hint in the FellowCraft degree about records secured in the pillars.
Take also the "fire," and in it you will find the Stone, and nowhere else in the whole world. It is familiar to all men, both young and old, is found in the country, in the village, in the town, in all things created by God; yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle it every day. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it. Yet no one prizes it, though, next to the human soul, it is the most beautiful and the most precious thing upon earth, and has power to pull down kings and princes. Nevertheless, it is esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things. It is cast away and rejected by all. Indeed it is the Stone which the builders of Solomon disallowed. but if it be prepared in the right way, it is a pearl without price, and, indeed, the earthly antitype of Christ, the heavenly Corner Stone.
 See John Michel, City of God (Ballantine Books: New York, 1972), page 78. Also see David Fideler, Jesus Christ Sun of God (Quest Books: Wheaton, IL, 1961), pp 70-71 and page 117.
 See “The Hermetic and Alchemical Roots of Masonic Symbol and Allegory”, Jeffery Marshall, 1998 transactions of the Maryland Masonic Research Society.
 For better or worse, Hebrew has been used since the Middle Ages as a ‘magical’ or sacred language. Therefore, quite a few esoteric works include Hebrew words, often mangled or used in a symbolic way that is not strictly grammatically or linguistically correct.
 See http://www.crystalinks.com/mithra.html for a reference on Mithraism. Porphyry refers to this as well, in “On the Cave of the Nymphs”, when he wrote, “On this account when in the sacred rites called ‘leontika’, those who are initiated pour honey instead of water on their hands, it is signified by this practice, that their hands should be pure from every sorrowful, noxious, and abominable concern. Thus, others purify the initiated by a purgatorial rite from fire, but are averse from water as the enemy of fire. Besides they purify the tongue from all the defilement of evil with honey.”
 The priest of Artemis at Ephesus was known as Esshn—the King Bee and the priestesses were known as Melissa—the bees. See The Liddell-Scott Lexicon, available online at http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/lexindex?lookup=e)ssh/n&display=&lang=greek
 Porphyry, “On the Cave of the Nymphs”. This work may well have been very important to philosophers of the 16th and 17th centuries as they rediscovered the Neoplatonic writings. Porphyry’s “On the Cave of the Nymphs” is an analysis of a passage in the thirteenth chapter of Homer’s Oddessy, in which he describes a cave in Ithaca.
 Robert Hewitt Brown, Stellar Theology and Masonic Astronomy (Kessinger Publications), page 75.
 Their feast days are June 24 (Baptist) and December 27 (Evangelist), which are very close to the solstices.
 Fideler, page 359.
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