SGC SC for Latvia

The presentation for the conference “Freemasonry in the World and Lithuania: the tradition and the Present” in Vilnius. November 2010

Our interest in history is always linked to our present interests.  There would be little importance in any discussion about the history of Freemasonry if this had nothing to do with the present day.

The Enlightenment and Mysticism – the essence of Freemasonry

In articles about Freemasonry, it is usually presented as a past that has been completed, as a phenomenon which has no present and no future.  The only existence in the present relates to media scandals and sensational articles.

There are good reasons for this. Let’s return to the initial essence of Freemasonry.

Freemasonry as such was established in the early 18th century when traditions from the Enlightenment and mystic Christian teaching came together.

The Enlightenment and Mysticism are two contrasting philosophies that have been brought together. That is the essence of Freemasonry.

A new tradition and an ancient tradition
The rational and the irrational
Consciousness and unconsciousness
The external and the internal
The left brain and the right brain
The part of Freemasonry which relates to Mysticism cannot be expressed with rational language.  It is a matter of experience and adventure. It is a matter of symbols and rituals. It is also a language of arts and music.

Only the external manifestations of Freemasonry are visible and to be analysed in historical terms.

I can offer one historical example which applies to the entire Baltic region:

Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was a philosopher and poet who is a well known participant in the world’s history of culture.  He spent five vivid years of his life, between 1765 and 1769, in Rīga.  

Herder’s personality was a sort of mixture of conflicting case. He was a protestant priest, he was excited and was very deeply in the pagan Latvian culture. He was German. He fighted for the rights of Latvian peasants. I think and, to be honest, I’m sure that this contradiction might be one of the reasons why Herder was affiliated in freemasonry. Later on he was the one who had a great influence on the grand Goethe, who by the way – later also became freemason. 

This historical example illustrates the many different ways in which Freemasonry can become integrated.  Would anything similar be possible today? 

Has modern-day Freemasonry maintained this essence?

The European conference of Freemasons took place in Athens in 2009, and the subject was “From its creation up to date, is Freemasonry unaltered?”

We live in a completely different world than the one which existed in the 18th century.  The Industrial Revolution had not begun, and we are now living in the post-industrial age of the Information Society and globalisation.  There are a number of public organisations which pursue the external goals which Freemasonry proposes – the tradition of rational enlightenment, for instance.  In this sense, Freemasonry has lost its initial importance. 

The conclusion at the Athens conference was very simple – we must constantly change to maintain our initial essence. That is very easy to understand and very difficult to do. 

There is, however, the second fundamental aspect – the mystical and transcendental aspects of the right lode of the brain.  That is a matter of how people improve themselves internally.

Would anything similar be possible today?

The achievements of the Enlightenment and rationality have led humanity to the point of enormous problems.  Or, perhaps, a better word would be enormous challenges.  These global challenges cannot be resolved by those whose thinking is dominated by the left lode of the brain.  Here we are talking about new synergy between the traditions of the Enlightenment and Mysticism. It is new synergy of left brain and right brain. 

This era also provides the good challenge of allowing Freemasonry to be reborn at a new level of quality.

In today’s context of the global world, I would like to point to something said by the Dalai Lama:  It is important for everyone in the world to realise how very interlinked we are with one another, how very much we are dependent upon one another.  This is a thought which must not only be understood; it must also be strengthened throughout the world.

I would like to apply this thought to the current mission of Freemasonry – to promote dialogue and understanding among various spiritual traditions.

This would only be historical continuity under present-day circumstances.  Members of the Order of Templars who tried to build a link between the West and the East were the ideological forerunners of the Freemasons. The influence of different religions and spiritual traditions can clearly be traced through the rituals that exist in various Freemasonry systems and levels.

What might be the actual mission of Freemasonry here and now in the Baltic region?

In our cultural and historical situation, the first and most important issue is the relationship between Freemasonry and Christianity.  For that reason, the issue of Christian traditions in Freemasonry has been the central issue for the past two years when the Supreme Councils of Baltic Freemasonry bodies have met for conferences.

In the history of regular European Freemasonry, there have been two historical traditions – the Christian and the universal tradition.  The former exists largely in Great Britain and Scandinavia, while the latter exists on the Continent. The Christian tradition links its rituals to Christian teachings and demands that Freemasons be members of a Christian church.  The universal tradition, too, has a powerful element of Christianity, but it remains open to other spiritual traditions – Buddhism, Zaraostrism, Islam, Confucianism, and so on.

The most sensitive issue is the attitude of the Roman Catholic church toward Freemasonry.  It is clear that partnership and changes which involve understanding could only begin at the Vatican, but historians in the Baltic region should do a lot of work in explaining the relevant historical situation.

Here I would like to focus on an issue which may seem surprising at first.  During the 18th century Latvian and Estonian peasants were eager to join congregations of brethren which were known as the Hernhutian movement.  My hypothesis is that this was a unique example of how the worlds of Christianity and Freemasonry could come together.  It was a melding of early Christianity and pietism.  The movement was not supported by the official church, and it did not have any formal links to Freemasonry, but this is an issue which Baltic historians should continue to study. I could call it – “folk-freemasonry”.

Another example. This is more actual for contemporary situation in Lithuania - the Order of Jesuits and Freemasonry. We know many versions about the collaboration between Jesuits and Freemasons in 17th and 18th century. This has been described in the history. We can accept or can not accept one or other speculation. But we can still see many similarities between Jesuits and Freemasons. I mean similarities in  goals, similarities in philosophy, similarities in methods. But the education of the society still remains the main external goal. The contemplation and the meditation is the shared method for internal goal, for the unity with God and with the Universe.

Freemasonry cannot be an alternative to religion, nor is it a movement that can synthesise different religions. Instead, Freemasonry offers a good foundation for dialogue among different religions and spiritual experiences.

“Discover yourself!” and dialog between different spiritual traditions

The Supreme Council for Latvia of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite has had practical experience via a group of participants in contemplation and meditation.  It is open to people with different spiritual experiences.  Freemasonry there is merged with Christian meditation.

The central element in meditation is “discover yourself”, “know thyself”  That is also the fundamental issue in Freemasonry.  Indeed, it is an issue that is of great importance in all spiritual traditions. Essentially, it is a matter of discovering God.

The contemporary American philosopher and psychologist Ken Wilber:  “Meditation is a spiritual practice.  The Kingdom of Heaven is within, and meditation, from the very beginning, has been the royal road to that Kingdom.  Meditation is first and foremost a search for the God within.”

The Freemasonry also is a search for the God within.

This year, the World Conference of Supreme Councils of the AASR was inaugurated by the Past Sovereign Grand Commandeur of Canada’s Supreme Council, priest Norman E. Byrne, who delivered a profound speech about the role of God – the Highest Being – in freemasonry. 

This is the basic question in Freemasonry. This is the basic question for a dialog and connecting element between:

-         different global spiritual traditions
-         between freemasonry and other spiritual traditions 

This dialog is self-explanatory and possible because all of these traditions have one and the same questions. Who am I? Self-awareness. Self-improvement. My place in the Universe. Our place in the Universe – seemling trivial questions... but!

I afford to repeat words of Dalailama: “…how very interlinked we are with one another, how very much we are dependent upon one another.”

Can Freemasonry become a force of unity and harmony in our current global world?  Freemasonry absolutely does not try to present itself as the only correct and irreplaceable way of unifying humanity.  It all depends on specific people and what they do.  In ideological terms, Freemasonry does have the potential to engage in such this historical mission.  

In conclusion

If we would like to speak about the history of the Freemasonry, about the future of the Freemasonry – we can not forgot about the mystical essence of the Freemasonry. This dimension was very important in the history. This dimension will be determinant in the future. This can not forgot historians. This can not forgot freemasons.

Freemasonry is a unique discreet public organisation which has managed to survive for 300 years.  This is an area of serious research for historians.

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