Temple Lodge No. 33 will be conducting a Fellow Craft Degree for two members of Temple Lodge No. 33 on 22 January 2019 at 7:30 p.m. This ceremony will be held at the Duncan Masonic Temple, 163 Canada Avenue, Duncan, B.C.
Although the Four Cardinal Virtues – Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice – figure prominently in the Entered Apprentice Lecture, the lecture itself does not go into any detail about their significance or give much explanation of their importance. This post is intended to provide some additional information about the Four Cardinal Virtues. [note: this post is based on a presentation at our January 2018 Regular Meeting by our District Education Officer]
The Four Cardinal Virtues are deeply rooted in Western philosophy. A stained glass representation appears below.
The figures below show the Four Cardinal Virtues as they are presented on stained glass windows in Freemasons Hall, London.
Here is a brief overview of the development of the Four Cardinal Virtues in Western philosophy.
The Four Cardinal Virtues originate specifically in Books 4, 6, and 7 of Plato’s Republic (circa 380 BC)
In Plato’s Republic, the four cardinal virtues are wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. These reflect the nature of the soul, which has three parts:
1. Reason: Our reason thinks; when it does this well, it has wisdom.
2. Appetite: Our appetite desires; when it does this well, it has temperance (self-control, soberness). Think of this as “passions”.
3. Spirit: Our “high spirit” shows emotions (fear, anger, respect, etc.); when it does this well, it has courage.
For Plato, Justice consists of the proper interplay of the three parts of the soul. In the just person, reason controls the “high spirit” — and both control the appetite (passions).
Plato then applies this to society as a whole:
Society mirrors the individual soul. And the virtues of society mirror the virtues of the individual soul.
Plato divides society into three groups.
1. The aristocrats are the educated; they should be wise [Prudence].
2. The workers (merchants, commoners) do the work; they should be temperate (have self-control) [Temperance].
3. The soldiers (guardians) protect the city; they should be courageous (brave) [Fortitude].
For Plato, Justice in society is the proper conformity of the three groups to their social roles. Each group has its own place, according to its natural abilities. The aristocrats are to rule wisely, and the other groups are to obey and to do their own tasks. This will promote the happiness of the city and of its members.
The Four Cardinal Virtues were adopted by the Roman and Greek Stoics, circa 200 BC.
As an example, here is a short extract from Cicero (106 BC – 46 BC), On Duties
“….there is not a shadow of a doubt that man has the power to be the greatest agent of both benefit and harm towards his fellow men. Consequently it must be regarded as a vitally important quality to be able to win over human hearts and attach them to one’s own cause…..But to gain the goodwill of our fellow human beings, to convert them to a state of ready activeness to further our own interests, is a task worthy of the wisdom and excellence of a superman…. [note: for Cicero this means behaving with Justice]
This brings me back to moral goodness. It may be held to fall into three subdivisions.
The first is the ability to distinguish the truth from falsity, and to understand the relationships between one phenomenon and another and the causes and consequences of each [note: Prudence]
The second category is the ability to restrain the passions and to make the appetites amenable to reason [note: Temperance]
Third…is the capacity to behave considerately and understandingly in our associations with other people. [note: for Cicero this was Fortitude]…..”
Note the similarity to Plato’s three parts of the soul, tempered by Justice, or the interplay of the three parts of the soul.
For the Stoics, all other virtues were grouped – or hinged – around, or under, the Four Cardinal Virtues. The word “Cardinal” comes from the Latin “cardo” meaning “hinge” and “cardinalis” or “acting as a hinge”, hence the name Cardinal Virtues.
The Four Cardinal Virtues appear in Jewish writings about 200 BC in the Book of Wisdom. Although the Book of Wisdom is attributed to King Solomon, the earliest known written references to it date from about 200 BC in Alexandria.
“For [Wisdom] teaches temperance and prudence, justice and fortitude, and nothing in life is more useful for men than these” (Book of Wisdom 8:7).
[Note: although the Book of Wisdom is presented as having been written by King Solomon, it is thought to have been written in Alexandria, by a Jewish author, circa 200 BC. At that time, Alexandria was ruled by the Ptolemy dynasty, which was of Greek (Hellenistic) origin.]
“To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence)….”
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) ranked the four Cardinal Virtues in what he considered their priority or precedence.
St. Thomas Aquinas ranked prudence as the first cardinal virtue because it is concerned with the intellect. Aristotle defined prudence as recta ratio agibilium, “right reason applied to practice.” It is the virtue that allows us to judge correctly what is right and what is wrong in any given situation. When we mistake the evil for the good, we are not exercising prudence—in fact, we are showing our lack of it.
In St. Thomas Aquinas‘ view, it is very easy to fall into error, so Prudence requires us to seek the counsel of others, particularly those we know to be sound judges of morality. Disregarding the advice or warnings of others whose judgment does not coincide with ours is a sign of imprudence.
Justice, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, is the second cardinal virtue, because it is concerned with the will. As Fr. John A. Hardon notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, it is “the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due.” We say that “justice is blind,” because it should not matter what we think of a particular person. If we owe him a debt, we must repay exactly what we owe.
Justice, wrote Saint Thomas Aquinas, is also connected to the idea of rights. While the term “justice” in a negative sense (“He got what he deserved”), justice in its proper sense is positive. Injustice occurs when we as individuals or by law deprive someone of that which he is owed. In St. Thomas’ view, legal rights can never outweigh natural rights, a concept which is enshrined in, among other places, the US Declaration of Independence.
The third cardinal virtue, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is Fortitude. While this virtue is commonly called courage, it is different from what much of what we think of as courage today. Fortitude allows us to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of obstacles, but it is always reasoned and reasonable; the person exercising fortitude does not seek danger for danger’s sake. Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it.
Temperance, Saint Thomas declared, is the fourth and final cardinal virtue. While fortitude is concerned with the restraint of fear so that we can act, temperance is the restraint of our desires or passions. Food, drink, and sex are all necessary for our survival, individually and as a species; yet a disordered desire for any of these goods can have disastrous consequences, physical and moral.
Temperance is the virtue that attempts to keep us from excess, and, as such, requires the balancing of legitimate goods against our inordinate desire for them. Our legitimate use of such goods may be different at different times; temperance is the “golden mean” that helps us determine how far we can act on our desires.
Here are some videos for research and information purposes. Note that, although some of them are from particular religious viewpoints, we have included these videos here for research purposes only and their inclusion here should not be viewed in any way as a promotion of any particular religious or theological viewpoint:
Here is a video on Plato’s view of the Four Cardinal Virtues in Book 4 of The Republic (note: audio isn’t great):
Here is a video on the Stoic philosophers’ view of the Four Cardinal Virtues
Cicero, On Duties and General Issues Concerning Duty
Here is a short video on the Four Cardinal Virtues from a Roman Catholic perspective:
Here is a short video on the Three Theological Virtues from a Roman Catholic perspective:
Here is a video on the 4 Cardinal Virtues from an Islamic perspective:
Faith, Hope and Charity / Faith, Hope and Love a.k.a. The Theological Virtues
Are Connected to the Four Cardinal Virtues
Here are two videos on the Theological Virtues from a Roman Catholic perspective:
Here is a video on The Ladder of Ascent, based on Jacob’s Ladder:
Here is a depiction of the Four Cardinal Virtues taken from a 10th century Masonic chart:
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This Brackman-Ker Milling Company mill pictured in the advertisement stood on Victoria’s Outer Wharf, now Ogden Point. It has since been demolished.
Although this mill has been demolished, several Victoria buildings built by David Russell Ker and his Brackman-Ker Milling Company are still standing in downtown Victoria. Here are the ones we know about:
Elias Ashmole (1617 – 1692) was not the first Speculative Freemason. Nor was he the second, third or even tenth! The first Speculative Freemasons were William, Lord Alexander, his brother Anthony Alexander (the King’s Maister o’ Wark – Master of Works) and Sir Alexander Strachan of Thornton. They were Initiated on 3rd July 1634, in the Lodge of Edinburgh, that is more 12 years before Elias Ashmole. (1) To understand the importance of this and to set Ashmole’s ‘initiation’ in context some background information is necessary.
At the time of these events Scotland was a country entirely independent of England. The 1603 ‘Union of the Crowns’ (James VI of Scotland became James I of England) provided the Kingdoms of Scotland and England with single monarch but did not unite the two countries in other respects. For example Scotland retained its’ own parliament, monetary system, laws, religion and, of course, Freemasonry. In 1534 Henry VIII of England instituted a religious reformation, by making himself the head of the church in place of the Pope in Rome. His motivation for doing so was his need to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon and the Pope’s refusal to grant such an annulment. The motives were therefore legal, jurisdictional and political rather than religious. (2) Once set in motion Henry took the opportunity to confiscate most of the church’s money and property. Lay organisations which supported and encouraged pre-Reformation religious practices were swept away, their money and property were confiscated and this included English guilds. The situation in Scotland was quite different. The Protestant Reformation took place in Scotland in 1559 and was religious in nature. The Catholic Church and many of its’ practices was replaced by an entirely new system of religious observance based on Calvinism. MORE? Unlike England, Scottish Guilds (known as Incorporations), were not abolished but their religious support for the pre-Reformation Church simply ceased when the new Protestant faith was established. (3)
Scottish Incorporations (rather like the extinct English Guilds) therefore functioned in Scotland before and after the Reformation. (4) The main purpose of Incorporations was to advance the interests of their members. Considering them as a form of proto-Labor Union goes some way to understanding ‘what they were about’ but they did more than negotiate with employers. They were responsible for regulating their members to the extent that they tasked with controlling wages, supervising ‘quality control’, setting the terms for apprenticeships, burying deceased members, looking after their widows and orphans and even improving the morals of the members. All the major trades had an Incorporation including Baxters (bakers); Cordiners (shoemakers); Fleshers (butchers); Hammermen (iron workers); Wobsters (weavers) and of course Masons (stonemasons). When new members admitted to an Incorporation certain secrets were communicated to each new member. (5) However, and most importantly, only the Incorporation of Masons had an additional level to the incorporation – the Lodge. In this the Masons were unique. The reasons why an extra body was required was due to the fact that the Incorporation of Masons also included other trades such as Wrights (carpenters) and Coopers (barrel makers) and communicating stonemasons’ secrets could not be done in a body were non-stonemasons were present. The Lodge was therefore a place where secrets were transmitted from stonemasons to stonemasons and no one else. Incorporations were an acknowledged and accepted part of Scottish society in other words they were the public face of stonemasons but the Lodge was secret – the private face of the craft. Incorporations kept written records of their activities whereas Lodges did not.
That changed in 1598 when the King’s Maister o’ Wark, William Schaw (c.1550 – 1602) wrote what are now known as the First Schaw Statutes and which were followed by the Second Schaw Statutes in 1599. It is because of these documents that Schaw is known as the Father of modern Freemasonry. Without going into detail as to what these documents contain it is important to appreciate that they were instructions issued to all the Lodges in Scotland. They contain a large amount of interesting information regarding stonemason Lodges but it is sufficient here to state that they formalised an existing organisation. Schaw was a primarily a civil servant and one can understand his dismay at being in charge of a informal, perhaps disorganised, system of Lodges spread across Scotland. His statutes instituted a much more organised system including the keeping of written records and this is why the oldest Lodge records date from soon after his statutes. (6) The establishment of a national system of stonemasons Lodges was no doubt of benefit to Schaw, certainly from the point of view of efficiency, but it seems certain that the statutes were actually a subterfuge for esoteric matters which space does not allow for discussion here. Schaw died in 1602 leaving behind his national system of Lodges, as detailed in his statutes, which can be seen continuing to the present day. (7)
One of the inevitable consequences of Schaw’s instructions was that Lodges became fixed, permanent, institutions. They were no longer casual, meeting when thought necessary (usually to initiate a candidate or conduct Lodge business). After Schaw’s death Lodges now met at particular times (the main annual meeting being on 27th December – Saint John the Evangelist’s Feast Day) and kept written records. An identifiable body of men meeting in every Scottish town on a regular basis almost certainly attracted attention. Whether these Lodges admitted non-stonemasons before Schaw formalised them we have no way of knowing for they did not keep written records until instructed to do so by him. It is a very interesting, if speculative, thought that Schaw may have been the first non-stonemason (that is a Speculative Freemason) to be initiated into a Lodge.
Soon after Lord Alexander, his brother and a friend became members of the Lodge of Edinburgh other non-stonemasons also joined the Lodge. In 1635 Archibald Stewart of Hesselsyd became a member. He was followed by David Ramsay (a ‘special servant’ to the king – who was by now Charles I (1600 – 1649) in 1637 and later that year Alexander Alerdis [Allardyce of that Ilk] joined the Lodge. Henry Alexander (the brother of Lord Alexander and Anthony who had been admitted to the Lodge in 1634) became a member of the Lodge in 1638. (8)
Initiation of these non-stonemasons is of major significance for our understanding of the origins and development of modern Freemasonry but the Initiation of Sir Robert Moray (1608/09 – 1673) in 1641 even more important for several reasons. He was the first Speculative Freemason to be Initiated on English soil. Briefly, Moray was part of the Scottish army that occupied after besieging Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, during the so called ‘Bishops Wars’ (1639 – 1640). Members of the Lodge of Edinburgh were pioneers attached to the army to build bridges, fortifications etc. and they held a special meeting to initiate Moray and another army general, Alexander Hamilton. There is nothing unusual in this as this was a common practice known as ‘out entries’ as attested by a number of similar Initiations noted in various Lodge records. It also accords well with Scottish Masonic belief that a Lodge is not a place but is a gathering of like minded men who come together for the purposes of Freemasonry. This record of Moray’s Initiation means that he was therefore made a Freemason five years before Ashmole.
Moray was a prime mover in the founding of the Royal Society and became its’ first president. The society’s inaugural meeting was held on Wednesday, 28 November 1660, at Gresham College, London, attended by 12 eminent gentlemen. Ashmole was not one of them. These 12 prepared a list of 40 other eminent gentlemen to be invited to join the new society. Ashmole was on that list and therefore, although one of the earliest members of the society, he was not a founder member. (9) The Royal Society still holds its’ annual meeting on Saint Andrew’s Day (30th November) in honour of the Scot who was the first president. (10) Moray and Ashmole must therefore have met each other but there is nothing extant which casts light on the nature of their relationship. Whether they ever discussed Freemasonry is also unknown. The absence of evidence can, occasionally provide some insights as they permit us to compare ‘silence’ with what is known.
As we have seen Moray was Initiated into a Lodge of a fixed, permanent, type as directed by William Schaw in his statutes. (11) Ashmole by comparison was Initiated in a Lodge the evidence for the existence of which is an entry in Ashmole’s personal diary. It seems therefore that the Lodge at Warrington, England, was at best an occasional Lodge and was consequently quite unlike Scottish Lodges. Whether they were the same, or more specifically, conducted the same ceremonies of Initiation is unknown. It has been claimed that we know nothing of Masonic ritual in use before 1717. (12) This is incorrect as there is a large amount of written material on that very subject. (13) These rituals comprise a family of very similar documents of which the Edinburgh Register House MS of 1696 is the oldest. (14) The existence of these rituals allows us to see the form of ceremony used by Lodges in Scotland before the existence of any Grand Lodge and raises the question as to what kind of ceremony did Ashmole experience? Was it the same as that practiced in Scottish Lodges? If so, then he would have been Initiated, like Moray, ‘Scottish style.’ If not, then it was not according to the established practice of the time.
Ashmole’s interest in Freemasonry was fleeting at best. His detailed and meticulous diaries show that he was ‘initiated’ in Warrington on 16th October 1646. He never again attended a Lodge meeting. The only other Masonic occasion relating to Ashmole is again found in a diary entry for 1682 when he attended a gathering of Freemasons at the Masons’ Livery Company. Ashmole’s Masonic career is in stark contrast to the Speculative Freemasons referred to above who continued to attend Lodge meetings for several years after their Initiation ceasing only on the outbreak of war. Ashmole wrote nothing about Freemasonry other than the two brief entries in his diary. Moray on the other hand wrote a large amount mainly describing, interpreting use of his Mason’s Mark (I can provide a high resolution image of this for illustrative use) and what Freemasonry meant to him. (15) He did not reveal what would be considered to be Masonic secrets and was not concerned about people knowing that he was a Freemason. (16) In comparison to Ashmole Moray considered his membership of a Lodge to be important and that Freemasonry and particularly his Masonic Mark had mystical and symbolic significance.
Moray and Ashmole did share something in common – an interest in Alchemy. Moray built an alchemical laboratory within Whitehall Palace. The rooms were gifted by the king. He was a personal friend of Charles II (1630 – 1685) and it was this friendship that was instrumental in gaining royal approval for the Royal Society in 1662. (17) One of his experiments was an attempt to extract lead from rock and then to turn that lead into silver. In this he was partly successful and reported the results of the experiment to the Royal Society.
We can see from the very brief outline of the Scottish Lodge system described above that more than 100 years before the existence of any Grand Lodge, stonemasons’ Lodges were Initiating non-stonemasons. They did so for a variety of reasons and once they did so there was no stopping the admission of non-stonemasons into their Lodges. Modern Speculative Freemasonry was born although there were to be many subsequent additions, changes and elaborations. The change from stonemasons’ Lodges into modern Masonic Lodges is known as the ‘Transition Theory’ and is something that can be clearly seen taking place in the written records of Scottish Lodges. The details of the actual individuals, Speculative Freemasons, initiated as early as 1634 are part of the extant written evidence. Information such as this underlines the importance of these Lodge records.
1) The Lodge is still in existence and is now known as The Lodge of Edinburgh Mary’s Chapel), No. 1. The Lodges Minutes commence on 31st July 1599 and are continuous to date.
2) The Act of Supremacy of 1534 ended Papal authority over the church in England and transferred to the crown.
3) Many of these Incorporations continue to exist in Scotland to this day including, for example, the Incorporation of Masons of Glasgow which has a recorded existence from 1475. CHECK They are now confined to being charitable bodies.
4) There are very few references to Lodges before the Reformation but the most important occurs in 1491 when the Masons of Edinburgh were permitted to use the Lodge for ‘recreational purposes.’ See Appendix 1, The Masonic Magician, p. 246.
5) For example a member of the Incorporation of Hammermen of Dundee was expelled in 1653 for revealing the Hammermen’s secrets to a non-member. See: The Burgh Laws of Dundee, p. 493.
6) The first are those of Lodge Aitcheson’s Haven which commence on 9th January 1599.
7) The statutes have most recently been reproduced in The Rosslyn Hoax?, Appendix 1 & 2. pp. 330 – 335.
8) Later the 2nd Earl of Stirling.
9) See: ‘From Elias Ashmole to Arthur Edward Waite’ in Philalethes, Winter 2011, pp 22 – 23.
10) Saint Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland.
11) For this reason these are occasionally referred to as ‘Schaw Lodges.’
12) See: ‘From Elias Ashmole to Arthur Edward Waite’ in Philalethes, Winter 2011, pp 24.
13) These rituals or catechisms have been known of since 1930 when the oldest of them, the Edinburgh Register House MS dated 1696, was discovered and announced to the Masonic world in ‘Ars Quatuor Coronatorum’ (AQC) Vol. 43, pp 153 – 155. (This is the annual journal of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076 the oldest Lodge of Research in the world).
14) Others pre-Grand Lodge rituals in this family of documents are dated 1700, 1705, 1710 and 1715.
15) These discussions are contained within the Kincardine Letters written 1657 – 1659.
16) From the historian’s point of view it is a pity that he did not discuss any aspects of Lodge ritual including the so called ‘secrets’ but it is perhaps an indication that he took his oath (obligation) to heart.
17) The society was in fact granted three Royal Charters: 1662, 1663 and 1669 all within the lifetime of Moray. In the second of these ‘the King declares himself to be the Founder and Patron of the Society.’ See the society’s web site at: http://royalsociety.org/about-us/history/
From the Grand Lodge of Antient Free & Accepted Masons of Scotland, Facebook page
Here are some links to more information on people and topics mentioned in this article:
While doing some research on various topics, our Temple Lodge No. 33 Historian came across this advertisement for the subdivision of Corfield Farm, which had been established by George Corfield and, until 1913, had been one of the largest family run farms in the Duncan area.
Using the map in the above advertisement, we have tried to replicate the location on this Google Map by using the South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club, 2290 Cowichan Bay Road, located at the intersection of Cowichan Bay Road and Tzouhalem Road, as a central location since it is located within the area shown in the advertisement map of the Corfield Farm subdivision.
Here is a Google Street View of what the area of Corfield farm looks like today:
In 1913, when the subdivision of their family’s Corfield Farm was being undertaken, Norman Tressidor Corfield was building the Duncan Garage for his automobile dealership and garage business, Duncan Garage Ltd.
While doing some historical research we came across this 1926 advertisement for Dodge Brothers Motor Cars, showing the Vancouver Island Dodge dealers of the time, including the Duncan “Associate Dealer”, Thomas Pitt Ltd. owned by Temple Lodge No. 33 memberThomas Pitt (1870-1937).
Thomas Pitt Ltd. seems to have been operating in downtown Duncan in the triangular block bordered by Government Street, Jubilee Street and Kenneth Street.
Although this seems an unlikely location for a car dealership today, it would have been a prime location for a car dealer and garage in 1926 because Government Street was part of the Island Highway through Duncan. It would have made complete sense to have automobile related businesses located on the Island Highway, in the same way that most Duncan car dealers are located on the current Island Highway today.
Here is a map showing the location of this downtown Duncan block bordered by Government Street, Jubilee Street and Kenneth Street. We know there were car dealers operating at 261 Government Street until the 1950’s.
After Thomas Pitt‘s death in 1937, there was other car dealers operating on this block, primarily where 267 Government Street (now Habitat For Humanity) now stands, until the 1950’s or early 1960’s.
In 1929 Thomas Pitt retained architect Douglas James to design and build a new office for Thomas Pitt Ltd. at 231 Government Street. , on the south east corner of the triangular block bordered by Government Street, Jubilee Street and Kenneth Street. The building is still standing today, although the arched windows in Douglas James‘ original design have been removed.
Here is Douglas Godfrey Ferguson’s online obituary. Please accept Everhere’s sincere condolences.
Sadly, on December 12th 2018, Douglas Godfrey Ferguson (Duncan, British Columbia), born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan left us for a better place. Family and friends are welcome to leave their condolences on this memorial page and share them with the family. He was predeceased by : his parents, William Douglas Ferguson, Mary Jane “Mae” Davidson; his sister, Virginia Marjorie “Dargie”; his son, Robert “Bobby” Leslie Douglas.
He is survived by : his wife, Jennifer; his children, Sandie, Julie, Dan; his grandchildren, Danielle, Blake, Janel, Lachlan, Marshall, Anneliese, Aidan, Haele; and also, Owen, Janet, Beth, Emily. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Cowichan Hospice Society’s Hospice House Project in his name would be most appreciated, or to a charity of your choice. For the visitation and funeral service information please see event section below.
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The theory that modern Freemasonry is in some sense a direct descendant from the ancient Mysteries has held a peculiar attraction for Masonic writers this long time, and the end is not yet, for the world is rife with men who argue about the matter up and down endless pages of print. It is a most difficult subject to write about, so that the more one learns about it the less he is inclined to ventilate any opinions of his own. The subject covers so much ground and in such tangled jungles that almost any grand generalization is pretty sure to be either wrong or useless. Even Gould, who is usually one of the soundest and carefullest of generalizers, gets pretty badly mixed up on the subject.
For present purposes it has seemed to me wise to attention to one only of the Mysteries, letting it stand as a type of the rest, and I have chosen for that purpose MITHRAISM, one of the greatest and one of most interesting, as well as one possessing as many parallelisms with Freemasonry as any of the others.
I – HOW MITHRA CAME TO BE A FIRST-CLASS GOD
Way back in the beginning of things, so we may learn from the Avesta, Mithra was the young god of the sky lights that appeared just before sunrise and lingered after the sun had set. To him was attributed patronship of the virtues of truth, life- giving, and youthful strength and joy. Such qualities attracted many worshippers in whose eyes Mithra grew from more to more until finally he became a great god in his own right and almost equal to the sun god himself. “Youth will be served,” even a youthful god; and Zoroastrianism, which began by giving Mithra a very subordinate place, came at last to exalt him to the right hand of the awful Ormuzd, who had rolled up within himself all the attributes of all gods whatsoever.
When the Persians conquered the Babylonians, who worshipped the stars in a most thoroughgoing manner, Mithra got himself placed at the very center of star worshipping cults, and won such strength for himself that when the Persian Empire went to pieces and everything fell into the melting pot with it, Mithra was able to hold his own identity, and emerged from the struggle at the head of a religion of his own. He was a young god full of vigour and overflowing with spirits, capable of teaching his followers the arts of victory, and such things appealed mightily to the bellicose Iranian tribesmen who never ceased to worship him in one form or another until they became so soundly converted to Mohammedanism centuries afterwards. Even then they did not abandon him altogether but after the inevitable manner of converts rebuilt him into Allah and into Mohammed, so that even today one will find pieces of Mithra scattered about here and there in what the Mohammedans call their theology.
After the collapse of the Persian Empire, Phrygia, where so many religions were manufactured at one time or another, took Mithra up and built a cult about him. They gave him his Phrygian cap which one always sees on his statues, and they incorporated in his rites the use of the dreadful “taurobolium,” which was a baptism in the blood of a healthy young bull. In the course of time this gory ceremony became the very center and climax of the Mithraic ritual, and made a profound impression on the hordes of poor slaves and ignorant men who flocked into the mithrea, as the Mithraic houses of worship were called.
Mithra was never able to make his way into Greece (the same thing could be said of Egypt, where the competition among religions was very severe) but it happened that he borrowed something from Greek art. Some unknown Greek sculptor, one of the shining geniuses of his nation, made a statue of Mithra that served ever afterwards as the orthodox likeness of the god, who was depicted as a youth of overflowing vitality, his mantle thrown back, a Phrygian cap on his head, and slaying a bull. For hundreds of years this statue was to all devout Mithraists what the crucifix now is to Roman Catholics. This likeness did much to open Mithra’s path toward the west, for until this his images had been hideous in the distorted and repellant manner so characteristic of Oriental religious sculpture. The Oriental people, among whom Mithra was born, were always capable of gloomy grandeur and of religious terror, but of beauty they had scarcely a touch; it remained for the Greeks to recommend Mithra to men of good taste.
After the Macedonian conquests, so it is believed, the cult of Mithra became crystallized; it got its orthodox theology, its church system, its philosophy, its dramas and rites, its picture of the universe and of the grand cataclysmic end of all things in a terrific day of judgment. Many things had been built into it. There were exciting ceremonies for the multitudes; much mysticism for the devout; a great machinery of salvation for the timid; a program of militant activity for men of valour; and a lofty ethic for the superior classes. Mithraism had a history, traditions, sacred books, and a vast momentum from the worship of millions and millions among remote and scattered tribes. Thus accoutered and equipped, the young god and his religion were prepared to enter the more complex and sophisticated world known as the Roman Empire.
2 – HOW MITHRA FOUND HIS WAY TO ROME
When Mithridates Eupator – he who hated the Romans with a virulency like that of Hannibal, and who waged war on them three or four times – was utterly destroyed in 66 B.C. and his kingdom of Pontus was given over to the dogs, the scattered fragments of his armies took refuge among the outlaws and pirates of Cilicia and carried with them everywhere the rites and doctrines of Mithraism. Afterwards the soldiers of the Republic of Tarsus, which these outlaws organized, went pillaging and fighting all round the Mediterranean, and carried the cult with them everywhere. It was in this unpromising manner that Mithra made his entrance into the Roman world. The most ancient of all inscriptions is one made by a freedman of the Flavians at about this time.
In the course of time Mithra won to his service a very different and much more efficient army of missionaries. Syrian merchants went back and forth across the Roman world like shuttles in a loom, and carried the new cult with them wherever they went. Slaves and freedmen became addicts and loyal supporters. Government officials, especially those belonging to the lowlier ranks, set up altars at every opportunity. But the greatest of all the propagandists were the soldiers of the various Roman armies. Mithra, who was believed to love the sight of glittering swords and flying banners, appealed irresistibly to soldiers, and they in turn were as loyal to him as to any commander on the field. The time came when almost every Roman camp possessed its mithreum.
Mithra began down next to the ground but the time came when he gathered behind him the great ones of the earth. Antoninus Pius, father-in-law of Marcus Aurelius, erected a Mithraic temple at Ostia, seaport of the city of Rome. With the exception of Marcus Aurelius and possibly one or two others all the pagan emperors after Antaninus were devotees of the god, especially Julian, who was more or less addle-pated and willing to take up with anything to stave off the growing power of Christianity. The early Church Fathers nicknamed Julian “The Apostate”; the slur was not altogether just because the young man had never been a Christian under his skin. Why did all these great fellows, along with the philosophers and literary men who obediently followed suit, take up the worship of a foreign god, imported from amidst the much hated Syrians, when there were so many other gods of home manufacture so close at hand? Why did they take to a religion that had been made fashionable by slaves and cutthroats? The answer is easy to discover. Mithra was peculiarly fond of rulers and of the mighty of the earth. His priests declared that the god himself stood at the right hand of emperors both on and off the throne. It was these priests who invented the good old doctrine of the divine right of kings. The more Mithra was worshipped by the masses, the more complete was the imperial control of those masses, therefore it was good business policy for the emperors to give Mithra all the assistance they could. There came a time when every Emperor was pictured by the artists with a halo about his head; that halo had originally belonged to Mithra. It represented the outstanding splendour of the young and vigorous sun. After the Roman emperors passed away the popes and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church took up the custom; they are still in the habit of showing their saints be-haloed.
Mithraism spread up and down the world with amazing rapidity. All along the coast of northern Africa and even in the recesses of the Sahara; through the Pillars of Hercules to England and up into Scotland; across the channel into Germany and the north countries; and down into the great lands along the Danube, he everywhere made his way. London was at one time a great center of his worship. The greatest number of mithrea were built in Germany. Ernest Renan once said that if ever Christianity had become smitten by a fatal malady Mithraism might very easily have become the established and official religion of the whole Western World. Men might now be saying prayers to Mithra, and have their children baptised in bull’s blood.
There is not here space to describe in what manner the cult became modified, by its successful spread across the Roman Empire. It was modified, of course, and in many ways profoundly, and it in turn modified everything with which it came into contact.
Here is a brief epitome of the evolution of this Mystery. It began at a remote time among primitive Iranian tribesmen. It picked up a body of doctrine from the Babylonian star worshippers, who created that strange thing known as astrology. It became a mystery, equipped with powerful rites, in the Asia Minor countries. It received a decent outward appearance at the hand of Greek artists and philosophers; and it finally became a world religion among the Romans. Mithraism reached its apogee in the second century; it went the way of all flesh in the fourth century; and flickered out entirely in the fifth century, except that bits of its wreckage were salvaged and used by a few new cults, such as those of the various forms of Manicheeism.
3 – THE MITHRAIC THEORY OF THINGS
After overthrowing its hated rival, the early Christian Church so completely destroyed everything having to do with Mithraism that there have remained behind but few fragments to bear witness to a once victorious religion. What little is accurately known will be found all duly set down and correctly interpreted in the works of the learned Dr. Franz Cumont, whose books on the subject so aroused the ire of the present Roman Catholic Hierarchy that they placed them on the Index, and warned the faithful away from his chapters of history. Today, as in Mithra’s time, superstitions and empty doctrines have a sorry time when confronted with known facts.
The pious Mithraist believed that back of the stupendous scheme of things was a great and unknowable deity, Ozmiuzd by name, and that Mithra was his son. A soul destined for its prison house of flesh left the presence of Ormuzd, descended by the gates of Cancer, passed through the spheres of the seven planets and in each of these picked up some function or faculty for use on the earth. After its term here the soul was prepared by sacraments and discipline for its re-ascent after death. Upon its return journey it underwent a great ordeal of judgment before Mithra. Leaving something behind it in each of the planetary spheres it finally passed back through the gates of Capricorn to ecstatic union with the great Source of all. Also there was an eternal hell, and those who had proved unfaithful to Mithra were sent there. Countless deons, devils and other invisible monsters raged about everywhere over the earth tempting souls, and presided over the tortures in the pit. Through it all the planets continued to exercise good or evil influence over the human being, according as his fates might chance to fall out on high, a thing imbedded in the cult from its old Babylonian days.
The life of a Mithraist was understood as a long battle in which, with Mithra’s help, he did war against the principles and powers of evil. In the beginning of his life of faith he was purified by baptism, and through all his days received strength through sacraments and sacred meals. Sunday was set aside as a holy day, and the twenty-fifth of December began a season of jubilant celebration. Mithraic priests were organized in orders, and were deemed to have supernatural power to some extent or other.
It was believed that Mithra had once come to earth in order to organize the faithful into the army of Ormuzd. He did battle with the Spirit of all Evil in a cave, the Evil taking the form of a bull. Mithra overcame his adversary and then returned to his place on high as the leader of the forces of righteousness, and the judge of all the dead. All Mithraic ceremonies centered about the bull slaying episode.
The ancient Church Fathers saw so many points of resemblance between this cult and Christianity that many of them accepted the theory that Mithraism was a counterfeit religion devised by Satan to lead souls astray. Time has proved them to be wrong in this because at bottom Mithraism was as different from Christianity as night from day.
4 – IN WHAT WAY MITHRAISM WAS LIKE FREEMASONRY
Masonic writers have often professed to see many points of resemblance between Mithraism and Freemasonry. Albert Pike once declared that Freemasonry is the modern heir of the Ancient Mysteries. It is a dictum with which I have never been able to agree. There are similarities between our Fraternity and the old Mystery Cults, but most of them are of a superficial character, and have to do with externals of rite or organization, and not with inward content. When Sir Samuel Dill described Mithraism as “a sacred Freemasonry” he used that name in a very loose sense. Nevertheless, the resemblances are often startling. Men only were admitted to membership in the cult. “Among the hundreds of inscriptions that have come down to us, not one mentions either a priestess, a woman initiate, or even a donatress.” In this the mithrea differed from the collegia, which latter, though they almost never admitted women as members, never hesitated to accept help or money from them. Membership in Mithraism was as democratic as it is with us, perhaps more so; slaves were freely admitted and often held positions of trust, as also did the freedmen of whom there were such multitudes in the latter centuries of the empire.
Membership was usually divided into seven grades, each of which had its own appropriate symbolical ceremonies. Initiation was the crowning experience of every worshipper. He was attired symbolically, took vows, passed through many baptisms, and in the higher grades ate sacred meals with his fellows. The great event of the initiate’s experiences was the taurobolium, already described. It was deemed very efficious, and was supposed to unite the worshipper with Mithra himself. A dramatic representation of a dying and a rising again was at the head of all these ceremonies. A tablet showing in bas relief Mithra’s killing of the bull stood at the end of every mithreum.
This, mithreum, as the meeting place, or lodge, was called, was usually cavern shaped, to represent the cave in which the god had his struggle. There were benches or shelves along the side, and on these side lines the members sat. Each mithreum had its own officers, its president, trustees, standing committees, treasurer, and so forth, and there were higher degrees granting special privileges to the few. Charity and Relief were universally practised and one Mithraist hailed another as “brother.” The Mithraic “lodge” was kept small, and new lodges were developed as a result of “swarming off” when membership grew too large.
Manicheeism, as I have already said, sprang from the ashes of Mithraism, and St. Augustine, who did so much to give shape to the Roman Catholic church and theology was for many years an ardent Manichee, and through him many traces of the old Persian creed found their way into Christianity. Out of Manicheeism, or out of what was finally left of it, came Paulicianism, and out of Paulicianism came many strong medieval cults — the Patari, the Waldenses, the Hugenots, and countless other such developments. Through these various channels echoes of the old Mithraism persisted over Europe, and it may very well be, as has often been alleged, that there are faint traces of the ancient cult to be found here and there in our own ceremonies or symbolisms. Such theories are necessarily vague and hard to prove, and anyway the thing is not of sufficient importance to argue about. If we have three or four symbols that originated in the worship of Mithra, so much the better for Mithra!
After all is said and done the Ancient Mysteries were among the finest things developed in the Roman world. They stood for equality in a savagely aristocratic and class-riddled society; they offered centers of refuge to the poor and the despised among a people little given to charity and who didn’t believe a man should love his neighbour; and in a large historical way they left behind them methods of human organization, ideals and principles and hopes which yet remain in the world for our use and profit. It a man wishes to do so, he may say that what Freemasonry is among us, the Ancient Mysteries were to the people of the Roman world, but it would be a difficult thing for any man to establish the fact that Freemasonry has directly descended from those great cults.
(Note: Kipling, who has never wearied of handling themes concerned with Freemasonry, often writes of Mithraism. See in especial his Puck of Pook’s Hill, page 173 of the 1911 edition, for the stirring Song to Mithras.)
[We have reproduced here the list of works consulted by that late Brother Heywood as it contains some interesting titles. It also provides sources on the subject that some people my not previously have been aware of – Ed.]
WORKS CONSULTED IN PREPARING THIS ARTICLE
The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry, Vol. II, Waite.
Vol. 1, 1915. – Symbolism, The Hiramic Legend, and the Master’s Word, p. 285; Symbolism in Mythology, p. 296.
Vol. II, 1916. – Masonry and the Mysteries, p. 19; The Mysteries of Mithra, p. 94; The Dionysiaes, p. 220; The Mithra Again, p. 254; The Ritual of Ancient Egypt, p. 285; The Dionysiaes, p. 287.
Vol. III, 1917. – The Secret Key, p. 158; Mithraism, p. 252; Vol. IV, 1918. – The Ancient Mysteries, p. 223.
Vol. V, 1919. – The Ancient Mysteries Again, p. 25; The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites, pp. 143, 172; The Mystery of Masonry, p. 189; The Eleusinian Mysteries and Rites, pp. 218, 240.
Vol. VI, 1920. – A Bird’s-Eye View of Masonic History, p. 236.
Vol. VII, 1921. – Whence Came Freemasonry, p. 90; Books on the Mysteries of Isis, Mithras and Eleusis, p. 205.
Vol. VIII, 1922. – A Mediating Theory, p. 318; Christianity and the Mystery Religions, p. 322.