Death

Death: An End and a Beginning

                                                                                                              Photo Credit:  Wor. Matthew D. Anthony

                                                                                                              Photo Credit: Wor. Matthew D. Anthony

(Originally Published in the March 2012 Edition of Living Stone's Magazine)

This piece will explore Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of death (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), in order to explore how the Masonic system prepares us for our current physical and spiritual state of existence, while simultaneously preparing us for whatever awaits us after we shed our mortal coil.

Death and resurrection, “your last great change- your transition from Time to Eternity”[1], are prominent themes in the Masonic system. On the physical and material level, the Masonic system  provides valuable lessons and tools to each brother so that he can live a full life, as well as prepare him for the inevitable death of his physical body.  In the Entered Apprentice degree because your old self must begin to wither away and die so that you can leave the world of darkness and ignorance in order to pursue the path of light and knowledge. The spiritual world, where we each go after death, is present in the Fellowcraft degree because the brother must leave the material realm in order to undertake intellectual, philosophical and spiritual pursuits during the staircase lecture, only to once again re-enter the material world in order to apply that knowledge for further work and refinement. Finally, both physical and spiritual death and resurrection take center stage in the Master Mason degree, where the Master must complete his spiritual transformation by dying in the material realm, so that he may be resurrected in the spiritual realm.

The first stage of death in Kübler-Ross’ model is “Denial”, during this stage the person does not want to admit that they are dying, so they tend to try and will themselves back to good health.[2] This sense of denial could come from the fact that many people don’t ever think about death until they actually have to confront it. So when someone finds out that they are terminally ill, this might be the first time that they have been confronted with the reality of their own mortality. Part of this uneasiness and fear about death could be caused by the fact that many of us wrap ourselves up into our occupations and material possessions to such an extent that these things become our identity, they become our earthly treasures. When we spend all of our time focusing on our earthly treasures, we neglect our spiritual treasures, and therefore tend to avoid thinking about the fact that our earthly treasures will be useless to us when we die.

Just as we first entered the Lodge poor and destitute as an Entered Apprentice, we will leave this world poor and destitute, without any material possessions. According to the Gospel of Luke Jesus taught, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys”.[3] By gaining an understanding of our mortality, and using the working tools provided in the degrees, we can focus on living a full and productive life, as well as develop our spiritual treasure in heaven.

The second stage of the Kubler-Ross model is that of “Anger”. The person who knows that he is about to die becomes angry at himself, his current situation, those around him, and sometimes the entire world.[4] This anger could often be the result of his own feelings of a wasted or unfulfilled life, or a feeling that his life has been too short. According to Bro. Albert Pike, “We think, at the age of twenty, that life is much too long for that which we have to learn and do; and that there is an almost fabulous distance between our age and that of our grandfather. But when, at the age of sixty, if we are fortunate enough to reach it, or unfortunate enough, as the case may be, and according as we have profitably invested or wasted our time, we halt, and look back along the way we have come, and cast up and endeavor to balance our accounts with time and opportunity, we find that we have made life much too short, and thrown away a huge portion of our time.”[5]  The key to not looking back at our life and being remorseful, is to live our life to the fullest, which includes spending time with friends and family, as well devoting time to earnest study and reflection. The working tools of an Entered Apprentice allow us to make the most of our life by “divesting our minds and consciences of the vices and superfluities of life”, as well as teaching us to correctly divide our time.[6]

The third stage of the Kubler-Ross model is that of “Bargaining”. During the bargaining stage the individual may try to bargain with God to extend his life somehow by doing good deeds, reforming his life, or helping others.[7] This could be the result of either a selfish desire to continue living, or a fear of what happens after death. The well prepared Mason, like our Grand Master, will not need to bargain for the extension of his life, because he will have already lived a full life, helped others, and become comfortable with the journey that he will take after his physical death.  The working tools of the Fellowcraft degree assist us in living a moral, just, and fulfilled life, no matter how brief, by instructing us to live and act virtuously, morally, and uprightly in our interactions with God and man, as well as reminding us that we are each constantly, “traveling upon the Level of Time, to that undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns."[8]

The Fourth stage of the Kubler-Ross model is that of “Depression”. After the person realizes that they are going to die and that they cannot extend their life, or somehow bargain their way out of death, they become depressed.[9] This can be caused by their belief that they are abandoning loved ones and friends, or that loved ones and friends have abandoned them. The Master Mason’s use of the trowel, which spreads the “cement of brotherly love and affection”, can ease this stage during physical death because his brothers will not only support him during his transition, but he has the assurance that his brothers will be there to support his family after his passing.[10] On the Spiritual level, the brother can use the bonds (the mystic ties) created by the trowel in order to learn spiritual Truths from his brothers, as well as share his own wisdom, which will not only help his current spiritual development, but will continue to help others after his passing.

The Fifth and final stage of the Kubler-Ross Model is that of “Acceptance”. During the acceptance stage the dying person will have come to accept their fate.[11] The acceptance stage is the most critical stage because it allows the person to die peacefully. If the person does not come to the stage of acceptance before their death, the process of death might be harder not only on themselves, but the loved ones who will be by their side. Again, reaching the stage of acceptance is much easier if the brother has already spent time contemplating this inevitable moment, lived life as fully as possible, and is comfortable that his spiritual house is in order. Brother Ben Franklin conveyed this well when he wrote his own epitaph, although it was never used, “The Body of B. Franklin, Printer, Like the Cover of an Old Book, Its Contents Torn Out and Stripped of Its Lettering and Gilding, Lies Here, Food for Worms, But the Work Shall Not be Lost, For it Will as He Believed, Appear Once More In a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author”.[12]

The Kübler-Ross model can also be applied to the drama of the Master Mason Degree, which instead of being interpreted as the physical death of our Grand Master, can be interpreted as the completion of the spiritual transformation that we each began to undertake as an Entered Apprentice. When viewed in this light, the actions of the three ruffians represent the last vestiges of our old self desperately clinging for control. The denial and anger stages are represented by the ruffians as they commit their acts out of anger and frustration, because they cannot be a part of the Master’s transformation, because they are the final rough edges that must be cleaved from the Master’s ashlar. As the Master’s transformation becomes more eminent, the ruffians enter into the bargaining stage as they try to bargain and even threaten our Master in an attempt to gain that which they seek. However, their attempts are useless because the Master does not fear death, and if need be he is even prepared to embrace death. After their deeds have been committed, the ruffians know that the final stages of transformation have begun, so they flee and enter into the depression stage, hence the recital of their lamentations, which leads to their capture. Finally, when brought before King Solomon, they enter into the acceptance stage, and receive punishment for their crimes. After the three ruffians (the remnants of the old self) are permanently dealt with, the Master can be resurrected in his new form, thus completing the spiritual transformation.

Almost every religion teaches that the soul will be resurrected either in a spiritual realm, of one form or another, or reincarnated into another form after the death of the physical body. Death is also present in our spiritual transformation, because parts of our old self (our old psyche) must die so that we can continually resurrect ourselves into higher states of consciousness (awareness). Since death always has a resurrection aspect associated with it, it is not an end, it is a beginning. Death is merely a transformation from one state into another.  The beauty of the Masonic system is that it provides teachings and support that will aid the brother during physical and spiritual deaths, as well as the brother’s subsequent resurrections, so that the brother will continually evolve as a living stone, and even a spiritual stone, until his work is ultimately completed. This is accomplished because the Masonic system provides spiritual Truths that aid the brother in this current material realm, as well as in the spiritual realm, where all resurrections ultimately take place.

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[1] Shaver’s Masonic Monitor – E.A. Preparation Room Language

[2] Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1970. Page 51

[3] Luke 12:33, NIV

[4] Kübler-Ross. Page: 63

[5] Pike, Albert. Morals and Dogma. Washington D.C.: Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, 1872. Page 115.

[6] Shaver’s Masonic Monitor – E.A. Working Tools Lecture

[7] Kübler-Ross. Page: 93

[8] Shaver's Masonic Monitor–F.C. Working Tools Lecture

[9] Kübler-Ross. Page: 97

[10] Shaver’s Masonic Monitor –M.M. Working Tools Lecture

[11] Kübler-Ross. Page: 123

[12] Mapp, Alfred J. The Faith of Our Fathers. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005. Page: 31.

 

How to Dispose of a Dead Body- Resurrection and Freemasonry

 

Spoiler Alert- This Piece Involves a Discussion on the Master Mason Degree. While we love all EA's and FC's, this may be one that you need to tab and save for later.

There is a question that Masons have learned to ask themselves. It springs from our Ritual and our common experience. Many a Mason has lay awake at night pondering the question I will pose to you this evening. We have each wondered, If it were required, how would I dispose of a dead body?

Now, this is not one of our more serious questions, but it has entered the thoughts of many a mason, because I have been present at the discussions. I do not wish to imply that the men I associate with are particularly morbid nor more likely to find themselves in possession of a dead body which needs disposing of. Rather, it springs from the example given in the third degree.

First comes the requisite dead body, followed by a short-term solution, that of concealing the body. This has immediate benefits, but a permanent solution must be found - an isolated area in which the body will not later be discovered. When the body is discovered, the gig is up, and yet the problem is then transferred to the other party who again faced with the prospect of how to dispose of a dead body.

In the end, we aren't explicitly given the answer. And so we must ask ourselves: How do I dispose of a dead body?

To be sure, there is a final solution to the problem given in our ritual. The search party gathers around the grave, laments the sad state, sends a plea to the heavens, and finally pokes around at the body like an eight-year-old with a stick and a dead raccoon. They discover - to no one's astonishment - that a body left to rot for several days begins to disintegrate - which means it loses its integrity. Horror befalls the searchers, and so they try various means to overcome this process. We witnesses of the story, however, are pulled from the tale and brought back to reality just at the moment in which a solution is proposed.

It will surprise no one to find that on a dead body, the skin will slip from the flesh, and that the flesh will cleave from the bone. So why did these men attempt to pick up the body? We are told that it was to find more decent interment - but we are never shown that the body was interred afterward. In fact, we are left with the distinct impression that the the body no longer required interment.

The description given is one of Resurrection, or the second rise of the body. Resurrection is a familiar term used in Abrahamic religions, though it is not exclusively used there. Resurrection is commonly misunderstood by those who claim to believe in it.

Some followers of Judaism believe in a collective resurrection of all the faithful. Other ancient Israelites protested, calling death Abaddon, which means “Destruction.”[1] It is also called the “place of silence.”[2] Still others believed that the soul separates from the body at death, and while the unrighteous are abandoned to Sheol, the soul of the righteous is called back to God.[3]

The Koran explains that though every bone but one might decay, Allah will send rain to grow new bones from the one seed bone, which will be used for resurrection.

In Christianity, the term is most commonly applied to its namesake, though it was not universally held to be literal or factual. It was a controversial topic in Christianity's early years, though the belief was preceded in Judaism. In their interaction among the Romans, early Christians earned a reputation for being infatuated with the dead. They were witnessed holding dinners in graveyards and maintaining the graves of the deceased. This was a carryover from early Greek culture, in which tubes were installed into graves so that an animal might be slaughtered, the blood given to the dead, and the meat consumed by the living. Grave reliefs at Sparta show the dead holding a cup into which libations might be poured through these tubes. The covering slab of tombs were often used as meal tables.[4]

As the earliest Christianities often assembled in tombs, their agape meals would be consumed among the dead. Further, there is evidence that early Christians constructed their grave slabs to accommodate meals at the grave, with indentations for bread, cakes, and fish for the living, and wine for the dead. These actions were the result of a common belief in physical resurrection - that the dead body was still associated with the living soul.

Greek philosophy, however, generally argued against physical resurrection. A common grave inscription read, "I was not, I was, I am not, I don't care."[5] Plato argued for the separation of the soul from the body at death, and that the soul was one’s true identity - not the body.[6] In fact, there is no evidence of the Greek concept of a bodiless soul before Plato, who coined the term “a-soma-tos,” or “bodiless, immaterial.” Epicurus maintained therefore that "the soul is a finely-particled body;' and in reference to the disciples of Plato, that "those who say that the soul is incorporeal are speaking nonsense"[7] The Stoics likewise maintained that the soul itself was physical, but not immortal.[8] Greek philosophers would, however, most certainly object to the idea of a resurrected body. One need only view a decayed body to see that it decomposes quickly beyond any use. The best one could hope for was reincarnation into a new body.

Concepts of resurrection continued in Western culture despite the adoption of Greek philosophy. Both Christianity and Judaism have traditions of watching over the dead until burial. The tradition of Judaism is called “sitting Shiva,” where one mourns the loved one and cares for the family for seven days after burial. A watcher, called a “Shomer,” will watch over the body of the deceased and read Psalms until burial, which usually occurs in 24 hours.[9] This evolved from the idea that the soul continued to wait by the body, with the expectation that it might be able to rejoin and continue living. When the body shows its first sign of decomposition after three days, the soul realizes the hopelessness of returning, and goes on to rest until the future resurrection. [10] Loved ones might sometimes continue to visit the grave for those three days with the belief that the soul might also be present.

Ideas of resurrection are common to many religions and philosophies. It is often associated with the idea of an immortal body, as in the glorified body, the light body, the body of bliss, the Soma Athanaton, and the most sacred body.[11] These bodies often are represented as similar to our physical bodies, but with supernatural qualities. They are incorruptible. They are beautiful. They can pass through doors, move faster than wind, and shine brightly.

In the Middle Ages, guilds acted as burial confraternities, in which the guild carried out funeral rites at the death of one of their members.[12] And so, it is natural to assume that those guilds would develop rituals for the care of deceased bodies, pulling from the religious and cultural beliefs common to its members. Since Freemasonry maintains various traditions from these guilds, it has also developed funeral rites. More importantly, as we are all aware, Freemasonry discusses these concepts in the ritual of the third degree.

And so we find ourselves at the grave. It has been discovered to contain the body of our lost brother. Planted nearby is a sprig of acacia, which we are told symbolizes immortality. This is a surprising symbol, considering the sight of the body causes the FC to turn away in horror. The men determine that the indecent burial is not sufficient for such an esteemed brother, and so they endeavor to move the body to a proper grave. Their attempts prove difficult, since they cannot lift the body without destroying it completely.

In this hopeless condition, they find themselves at a loss to remediate the situation. Recall with me the words of Job Chapter 14 in the Hebrew scriptures.

1 Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble.

2 He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.

3 And doth thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee?

4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.

5 Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;

6 Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as a hireling, his day.

7 For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.

8 Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground;

9 Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.

10 But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?

11 As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:

12 So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.

Here is where our prayer might end. And yet, the verses continue, recalling perhaps one of the earliest concepts of resurrection in the Jewish scriptures.

13 O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!

14 If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.

In this, the FCs find new hope. They reach once more into the grave, and with faith and hope, draw out the body.

And thus the story ends. We are not told of the second burial. The plain fact of the ritual shows the body getting up and walking away, having a seat among the brethren. If our imagination has not failed us, we would see his skin falling off his bones, and limbs dropping around him. It would be a most grisly thought. Instead, the implication is that the problem has been resolved. The brother is whole, and his body gets a second chance. He has been resurrected.

But there is the conflict. The goal of the searchers was to find more decent interment. Have they failed? Or was their goal unnecessary and short-sighted?

I propose the resolution to this conflict is that the body was not reinterred in the ground. Rather, the soul was reinterred into the body.

As most of us generally understand, the initiatic experience is one in which a change is made on the catechumen. We see no physical change, and so the implication is that the change occurs in the psyche or soul of the man. He is hoodwinked and led around, caused to speak the words of others (though within his will), made to experience things without his effort. In this act, we do our best to separate the soul of the catechumen from his body. We move his body for him, and thus his soul is left to tend to itself, and to experience the ritual without the distraction of deciding what to say, where to walk, and how to stand. His eyes are unveiled to see the light of the lodge, but more importantly, the eyes of his heart are opened.

When we have completed our work, the soul, who has stood near the body, observing its death, is left to decide whether it will return to the body or remain at rest. It, too, is filled with horror at the prospect of the darkness in which it had lived for so long within the body, and this soul knows that it will never again tolerate that former darkness. It can only live in light. The body will pass, but the soul is immortal. The soul now sees itself for what it truly is. It finally agrees to the resurrection.

The soul is thus reinterred into the body.

We find ourselves in bodies that are slowly dying. We cannot prevent this deterioration, but we hold hope that we are more than this physical form. As the Greeks taught through the phrase, Soma Sema, the body is a tomb. Our souls are immortal. With that knowledge, we can face our question: How do I dispose of a dead body?

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End Notes:

[1] Psalm 88:11

[2] Psalm 115:17

[3] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12697-resurrection

[4] Gregory;J Riley. Resurrection Reconsidered (p. 46). Kindle Edition; Ante Pacem, Snyder, Grayden F. Ante Pacem (p. 90-92, 170) Online link: http://books.google.com/books?id=swtI9Cpyl3kC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA91#v=onepage&q&f=false

[5] Gregory;J Riley. Resurrection Reconsidered (p. 38). Kindle Edition.

[6] Gregory;J Riley. Resurrection Reconsidered (p. 32). Kindle Edition.

[7] Gregory;J Riley. Resurrection Reconsidered (p. 37). Kindle Edition.

[8] Gregory;J Riley. Resurrection Reconsidered (p. 39). Kindle Edition.

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva_%28Judaism%29

[10] http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/John/Jesus-Raises-Lazarus

[10]http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article125.html

[10]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shemira

[11] Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism, Kriya Yoga, Hermeticism, and Sufism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_of_resurrection

[12] “Throughout the Middle Ages the guilds to a very large extent were burial confraternities; at any rate the seemly carrying out of the funeral rites at the death of any of their members together with a provision of Masses for his soul form an almost invariable feature in the constitutions of such guilds.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_burial