A Mason’s Studied Comments on the Soul

By: Dr. Jim L. Seeger, Ph.D

XIR181964

The immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life…the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe…. an immaterial force within a human being thought to give the body life, energy, and power <many religions teach that the soul is immortal> [Merriam-Webster, 2011]

...many words and names do not tell us what “it” is, but they do confirm that “it” is.  They also point to its mysteriousness.

We cannot know what exactly we are referring to because its nature remains shadowy, revealing itself mainly in hints, intuitions, whispers, and the sudden urges and oddities that disturb your life and that we continue to call symptoms.  [Hillman, 1996]

The original purpose of this paper was to seek a better understanding of the soul in relation to my inner-self - the paper began as an effort to better understand what the word soul means, or perhaps more accurately, implies.  Rather than delve into ancient Greek or Egyptian philosophy as a starting base, I decided to approach Soul from my own ‘naked’ perspective.  The more I read the more expansive and frustrating the effort became.  Related questions arose:  What is a soul, the soul – does it really exist?  If it does exist, from where does the soul originate?  Can a soul die?  Is immortality a trait of a soul, of all souls?  Do souls move among and between corporeal bodies?  Do all souls have the same intrinsic value?  Does each species of life as we know it have a soul?   Hall (1928) stated:  Every existing creature manifests some aspect of the intelligence or power of the Eternal One (p.86).  I soon realized how difficult it was to develop a typical paper that moved sequentially from beginning to end since I could not with clarity of thought determine the beginning or the end of the soul itself.

Mason-oriented publications (Grand Lodge of Oklahoma, 1997) are replete with information that supports the belief that “Masonry is a process of self-discovery and self-awareness” [p.3].  It is a small step to suggest that a search for the meaning of our soul parallels that of one’s search and process of self-discovery – that masonry inculcates the charge that it is our duty to seek and understand our soul as a means of self-awareness and understanding.  Perhaps one of the early foundations for this belief can be attributed to Jesus Christ in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (Meyer, 1984) that was unearthed in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt.  Thomas quotes Jesus in Saying 3 - which suggests that we must study ourselves and seek self-knowledge in order to attain a richness of life:   

“…The kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you.  When you know [emphasis added] yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are the children of the living Father.  But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and embody poverty [p.19].

What follows are a series of comments, in no particular order or sequence, that represent the thoughts I am able to place on paper – each “comment” represents a “mini-essay” on the subject of the soul.

Comments:

 ·       An enigmatic subject:  What is the Soul?  Addressing this question requires a determined and serious commitment and an admission, or at the very least an insight that at some level one cannot know or factually comprehend, or may not be capable of comprehending the mystery – or the answer to the question.  Soul is a term that is little understood, difficult to ponder, and for this writer, seemingly impossible to accurately describe - yet there is general concurrence in science, religion, philosophy and, in Masonry, that a soul exists and that it represents a profound impact on an individual’s life.

·       As Masons, we tend to accept a premise that each soul is created by a Grand Architect of the Universe (GAOU).  It is posited that every soul is a child with a common source yet each soul represents an individualized uniqueness within each of us (within its corporeal container?).  We like to believe that our soul is unique yet we often seem indifferent to its source or to its origination or termination – we choose to believe that it is eternal.  Hillman (1996) stated:  “The [soul’s] home is not on the earth; it lives in an altered state; the body’s frailty is a basic precondition of the soul’s life on earth…” [p.57]. Is it of substance to say that the soul is incorporeal, yet has the ability to reside within the materiality of the human being?

·       As living beings, we sense a presence of a soul as an animating essence, perhaps independent from the body, perhaps dependent on the body.  Similarly, we can sense the absence of a soul (as in a corpse) - yet we remain inadequate when attempting to convey its meaning to ourselves or others.  The soul may indeed be an invisible engine. Perhaps it is only ours during our very brief lifetime, after which it is suggested that it transitions to another vessel or milieu.

·       We speak, read or write the word soul almost every day, yet an understanding of the term in relation to its actuality remains a mystery.  In print, music or everyday language, the word is frequently used, yet rarely defined – because it is utilized so often, it would seem that there is an assumption that each of us knows what it means, yet many of us are unable to define or even feebly attempt to describe its meaning.

·       The soul drives us, it may even shape our character, yet we seem unable to describe it. Understanding its true mystery from a human perspective may not be possible.  It is posited that the soul has no mother and father nor can it acquiesce to death, except to the extent that as humans we understand death – it cannot be destroyed, nor, once created, can its energy cease to exist.

·       Souls, it can be posited, are not pre-wired - meaning that as it may be exposed to certain environments, teachings or other influences it may be shaped toward certain characteristics or distinctions.  Then again, perhaps souls are pre-wired.  Hillman (1996), stated: 

The soul of each of us is given a unique daimon before we are born [emphasis added], and it has selected an image or pattern that we live on earth.  This soul-companion, the daimon, guides us here; in the process of arrival, however, we forget all that took place and believe we come empty into this world [John Locke].  The daimon remembers what is in your image and belongs to your pattern, and therefore your daimon is the carrier of your destiny [p.8].

As with drinking from the river Lethe, as the ancient Greeks believed, we are not able to remember from whence our soul came, nor can we remember the time our soul was created, patterned and sent forward in our body to reside.  Why can we not remember this period of our creation?  Is it possible that we once knew but have since forgotten—or perhaps as once suggested by Brother James Tresner [2012], repressed it?  It is posited that this can serve as one of the deepest and most profound mysteries that can be conceived by the human mind.

 ·       If one believes that the soul is indeed patterned before we are born and that that pattern carries one’s destiny, is it reasonable also to believe that the pattern can be kneaded through study, contemplation, reflection, experience and/or the continual acquisition of knowledge?  Clearly, it is easier to accept the notion of a self-made man than, as Hillman states, “….than the story that you may well be loved by this guiding providence, that you are needed for what you bring…” [p.12] 

Albert Pike [1871] analogized a tree that takes carbon from the air and transmutes that carbon into sap, ….so the soul imbibes knowledge and by a divine alchemy changes what it learns into its own substance, and grows from within outwardly with an inherent force and power like those that lie hidden in the grain of wheat [p.115].  Pike’s thought, thus, is suggestive that, unlike Hillman [1996] who suggests that the soul is pre-wired, indeed the soul, like the tree, is capable of change through the acquisition of knowledge.

·       If one believes that the GAOU is in each of us, is it of substance to say that the GAOU may be the soul in each of us?  Is it of substance to say that when we die, our soul, assumed to be immortal, transitions from its current container and returns to the broader universe, as we humans understand the universe?  An equally complex question is the definition of the GAOU – if one assumes the existence of a common definition, then it may also be assumed that one’s quest for an understanding of the soul may be equivalent to one’s quest for an understanding of the GAOU – is it of substance to say that the two are one and the same? (cf. Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Saying 3)

·       Discussion of the soul immediately reminds us of the great mystery that surrounds this dimension, this realm of life.  Although she does not use the term soul, the Harvard Cosmologist, Dr. Lisa Randall (2013), references “consciousness” as a continuum; that it is not a binary “on” “off” thing.  When speaking of consciousness being present in all life, Dr. Randall states:  “I think there’s a spectrum of consciousness and I think it’s interesting to study that….the difference between a plant and a dog….the difference between a dog and a baby, between a baby and a slightly older human….I think it’s sort of a continuum.” (p.28) 

The conceptual symbolism depicted by the space under the theoretical Bell Curve may serve as a Masonic Tool to aid in comprehending the human soul (or perhaps human consciousness) in relation to the soul (consciousness) of its animas relatives.  Think of the individual soul-consciousness located somewhere along the continuum of an infinite Bell Curve – the horizontal plane representing “sophistication of ability, of function”, a vertical axis representing perhaps the number of a given species.  The Bell Curve can symbolically represent a part of the understanding that we search for – the idea of a continuum of levels of “soul ability”, “soul sophistication”, “soul intelligence”, or other levels of “soul differentiation”, emanating from a common source – related yet different.  The Bell Curve as a construct may be a useful tool in attempting to visualize and describe the human soul-consciousness in relation to a larger universe of non-human souls.  The Bell Curve locus of a soul could symbolically depict or suggest, or distinguish, whether it is a soul of a human or that of another species.  As Hall (1964) has suggested, …it is evident to the scientist that mathematics is not a man-made science, but a discovery by man of science that exists in the universe (p.59).  See Figure 1:

Figure 1

<__________less sophistication of abilities…….increased sophistication of abilities__________>

Finally, let each Mason confront the question, the Quest (Tresner, 2008) if you will, of What is my Soul?  When we are able to answer that question for ourselves, and internalize its meaning, I submit that our character will be more clearly defined, and that we will be better able to prepare for our inevitable death.  As Masons, you must not only be able to ask the question that defines your soul, but you must be able describe the circumstance of your soul.  If you can, then you will have bettered yourself as a man and as a Mason.

Should we be on our death-bed, this question about the soul, if left unstudied, will perhaps haunt each of us as we draw that final breath.  My Brothers, as you absorb the meaning and depth of your answer to this question, you, and no one else, must address the answer according to your study and to the uniqueness of your ability.

To close the comments, the following passage is accorded to Jesus Christ in the Gnostic Gospel aka The Book of Thomas (Meyer, 1984); this seems to not only address the beginning of this paper, but its end as well:  ….for whoever does not know self does not know anything, but whoever knows self already has acquired knowledge about the depth of the universe. [p.41]

This paper has deepened my understanding and appreciation of my own self.  I believe that I am now better prepared to address and understand the Greek notion of Soul which can be traced from the Homeric poems and the Egyptian notion of Soul which can be traced from the hieroglyphics and beyond.

REFERENCES

Grand Lodge of Oklahoma.  Correspondence Course II – General Masonic Information.  The M:.W:. Grand Lodge of Oklahoma.  1997

Hall, Manly P.  The Secret Teachings of All Ages.  Los Angeles, California.  1928

Hall, Manly P.  Words to the Wise – A Practical Guide to the Esoteric Sciences.  The Philosophical Research Society.  Los Angles, California.  1964

Hillman, James.  The Soul’s Code – In Search of Character and Calling.  Random House.  1996

Merriam Webster Dictionary.  www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/soul.  October, 2011

Meyer, Marvin.  The Secret Teachings of Jesus – Four Gnostic Gospels.  Random House.  1984

Pike, Albert, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, The Supreme Council of the Inspectors General Knights Commanders of the House of the Temple of Solomon of the Thirty-third degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of America, Washington, D.C., 1871

Randall, Lisa.  Quoted in the article Welcome to the Dark Side by Ron Rosenbaum.  Smithsonian Magazine, Volume 44, Number 3, June 2013.

Science Daily.  www.sciencedaily.com.  August 23, 2011

Tresner, James.  Further Light.  The Masonic Service Association of North America.  Silver Spring, Maryland.  2008

Tresner, James.  What Has Been Lost?  The Quest.  An oral essay-presentation given as a part of the Albert Pike Lodge # 162 Education Plan.  Guthrie, Oklahoma.  March 12, 2012

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Wor. Seeger is a Past Master of Guildhall Lodge No. 553, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He is also a member of the Scottish Rite and York Rite. Wor. Seeger is a 6th Generation Mason, in an unbroken Line.

In his professional life, he is Co-Founder of Newby-Vance Mobility in Guthrie, OK. He is former Chief of Staff, Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), Assistant State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSDE), Executive Director - Oklahoma Disability Law Center, Inc., and former State Director of Special Education, New Mexico State Department of Education.

Wor. Seeger's education background includes a Ph.D.  Gallaudet University, Post Grad Studies:  George Washington University, American University, University of Iowa, M.S. University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and a B.A.  Northwestern Oklahoma State University

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