SHORT TALK BULLETIN - Vol.VIII March, 1930 No.3

SUN, MOON AND STARS

by: Unknown


     We have more right to be astonished that the astronomical references  
 are so few, rather than to be surprised that there are so many! 
 We are taught that geometry and Masonry were originally synonymous  
 terms and geometry, fifth of the seven liberal arts and sciences, is  
 given more prominence in our Fellowcraft degree than the seventh,  
 astronomy.  Yet the beginnings of astronomy far antedate the earliest  
 geometrician.  Indeed, geometry came into existence to answer the  
 ceaseless questionings of man as to the "why" of celestial phenomena. 
 In these modern days it is difficult to visualize the vital  
 importance of the heavens generally, to early man.  We can hardly  
 conceive of their terror of the eclipse and the comet, or sense their  
 veneration for the Sun and his bride, the Moon.  We are too well  
 educated.  We know too much about "the proportions which connect this  
 vast machine."  The astronomer has pushed back the frontiers of his  
 science beyond the inquiries of most of us; the questions which occur  
 as a result of unaided visual observations have all been answered.   
 We have substituted facts for fancies regarding the sun, the moon,  
 the solar system, the comet and the eclipse. 
     Albert Pike, the great Masonic student "who found Masonry in a hovel  
 and left her in a palace" says: 
     We cannot, even in the remotest degree, feel, though we may partially  
 and imperfectly imagine, how those great, primitive, simple-hearted  
 children of Nature, felt in regard to the Starry Hosts, there upon  
 the slopes of the Himalayas, on the Chaldean plains, in the Persian  
 and Median deserts, and upon the banks of the great, strange River,  
 the Nile.  To them the universe was alive - instinct with forces and  
 powers, mysterious and beyond their comprehension.  To them it was no  
 machine, no great system of clockwork; but a great live creature, in  
 sympathy with or inimical to man.  To them, all was mystery and a  
 miracle, and the stars flashing overhead spoke to their hearts almost  
 in an audible language.  Jupiter, with its kingly splendors, was the  
 Emperor of the starry legions.  Venus looked lovingly on the earth  
 and blessed it; Mars with his crimson fires threatened war and  
 misfortune; and Saturn, cold and grave, chilled and repelled them.   
 The ever-changing moon, faithful companion of the sun, was a constant  
 miracle and wonder; the Sun himself the visible emblem of the  
 creative and generative power.  To them the earth was a great plain,  
 over which the sun, the moon and the planets revolved, its servants,  
 framed to give it light.  Of the stars, some were beneficent  
 existences that brought with them Spring-time and fruits and flowers  
 - some, faithful, sentinels, advising them of coming inundations, of  
 the season of storm and of deadly winds some heralds of evil, which,  
 steadily foretelling. they seemed to cause.  To them the eclipse,  
 were portents of evil, and their causes hidden in mystery, and  
 supernatural.  The regular returns of the stars, the comings of  
 Arcturus, Orion, Sirius, the Pleides and Aldebaran; and the  
 journeyings of the Sun, were voluntary and not mechanical to them.   
 What wonder that astronomy became to them the most important of  
 sciences; that those who learned it became rulers; and that vast  
 edifices, the pyramids, the tower or Temple of Bel, and other like  
 erections elsewhere in the East, were builded for astronomical  
 purposes? - and what wonder that, in their great childlike  
 simplicity, they worshipped the Light, the Sun, the Planets, and the  
 stars; and personified them, and eagerly believed in the histories  
 invented for them; in that age when the capacity for belief was  
 infinite; as indeed, if we but reflect, it still is and ever will  
 be?" 
     Anglo-Saxons usually consider history as their history; science as  
 their science; religion as their religion.  This somewhat naive  
 viewpoint is hardly substantiated by a less egoistic survey of  
 knowledge.  Columbusís sailors believed they would "fall off the  
 edge" of a flat world, yet Pythagoras knew the earth to be a ball.   
 The ecliptic was known before Solomonís Temple was built.  The  
 Chinese predicted eclipses long, long before the Europeans of the  
 middle age quit regarding them as portents of doom!  
 Astronomical lore of Freemasonry is very old.  The foundations of our  
 degrees are far more ancient than we can prove by documentary  
 evidence.  It is surely not stretching credulity to believe that the  
 study which antedates "Geometry, the first and noblest of sciences,"  
 must have been impressed on our Order, its ceremonies and its  
 symbols, long before Preston and Webb worked their ingenious  
 revolutions in our rituals and gave us the system of degrees we use -  
 in one form or another - today. 
     The astronomical references in our degrees begin with the points of  
 the compass; East, West,  and South; and the place of darkness, the  
 North.  We are taught the reason why the North is a place of darkness  
 by the position of Solomonís Temple with reference to the ecliptic, a  
 most important astronomical conception.  The Sun is the Past Masterís  
 own symbol; our Masters rule their lodges - or are supposed to! -  
 with the same regularity with the Sun rules the day and the Moon  
 governs the night.  Our explanation of our Lesser Lights is obviously  
 an adaption of a concept which dates back to the earliest of  
 religions; specifically to the Egyptian Isis, Orsiris and Horus;  
 represented by the Sun, Moon and Venus. 
     Circumambulation about the Altar is in imitation of the course of the  
 Sun.  We traverse our lodges from East to West by way of the South,  
 as did the Sun Worshipers who thus imitated the daily passage of  
 their deity through the heavens. 
     Measures of time are wholly a matter of astronomy.   
 Days and nights were before man, and consequently before astronomy,  
 but hours and minutes, high twelve and low twelve, are inventions of  
 the mind, depending upon the astronomical observation of the Sun at  
 Meridian to determine noon, and consequently all other periods of  
 time.  Indeed, we are taught this in the Middle Chamber work, in  
 which we give to Geometry the premier place as a means by which the  
 astronomer may "fix the duration of time and seasons, years and  
 cycles." 
     Atop the Pillars representing those in the porch of King Solomonís  
 Temple appear the terrestrial and celestial globes.  In the  
 Fellowcraft degree we are told in beautiful and poetic language that  
 "numberless worlds are around us, all framed by the same Divine  
 Artist, which roll through the vast expanse and are all conducted by  
 the same unerring law of nature." 
     Our Ancient brethren, observing that the sun rose and set, easily  
 determining East and West in a general way.  As the rises and sets  
 through a variation of 47 degrees north and south during a six  
 monthís period the determination was not exact. 
     The earliest Chaldean star gazers, progenitors of the astronomers of  
 later ages, saw that the apparently revolving heavens pivoted on a  
 point nearly coincident with a certain star.  We know that the true  
 north diverges about from the North Star one and one-half degrees,  
 but their observations were sufficiently accurate to determine a  
 North - and consequently East, West and South. 
 The reference to the ecliptic in the Sublime Degree has puzzled many  
 a brother who has not studied the elements of astronomy. 
 The earliest astronomers defined the ecliptic as the hypothetical  
 "circular" plane of the earthís path about the sun, with the sun in  
 the "center." 
     As a matter of fact, the sun is not in the center and the earthís  
 path about sun is not circular.  The earth travels once about the sun  
 in three hundred and sixty-five days, and a fraction, on an  
 "elliptic" path; the sun is at one of the foci of that ellipse. 
 The axis of the earth, about which it turns once in twenty-four  
 hours, thus making a night and a day, is inclined to this  
 hypothetical plane by 23 and one-half degrees.  At one point in its  
 yearly path, the north pole of the earth is inclined towards the sun  
 by this amount.  Half way further around in its path the north pole  
 is inclined away from the sun by this angle.  The longest day in the  
 northern hemisphere - June 21st - occurs when the north pole is most  
 inclined toward the sun. 
     Ant building situated between latitudes 23 and one-half north and 23  
 and one-half south of the equator, will receive the rays of the sun  
 at meridian (high twelve, or noon) from the north at some time during  
 the year.  King Solomonís Temple at Jerusalem, being in latitude 31  
 degrees 47 seconds north, lay beyond this limit.  At no time in the  
 year, therefore, did the sun or moon at meridian "darts its rays into  
 the northerly portion thereof." 
     As astronomy in Europe is comparatively modern, some have argued that  
 this reason for considering the North, Masonically, as a place of  
 darkness, must also be comparatively modern.  This is wholly mistaken  
 - Pythagoras (to go further back) recognized the obliquity of the  
 worldís axis to the ecliptic, as well as that the earth was a sphere  
 suspended in space.  While Pythagoras (510 B.C.) is much younger than  
 Solomonís Temple, he is almost two thousand years older than the  
 beginnings of astronomy in Europe. 
     The "world celestial and terrestrial" on the brazen pillars were  
 added by modern ritual makers.  Solomon knew them not, but  
 contemporaries of Solomon believed the heavens to be a sphere  
 revolving around the earth.  To them the earth stood still; a hollow  
 sphere with its inner surface dotted with stars.  The slowly turning  
 "celestial sphere" is as old as mankindís observations of the "starry  
 decked heavens." 
     It is to be noted that terrestrial and celestial spheres are both  
 used as emblems of universality.  They are not mere duplications for  
 emphasis; they teach their own individual part of "universality."   
 What is "universal" on the earth - as for instance, the necessity of  
 mankind to breathe, drink water, and eat in order to live - is not  
 necessarily "universal" in all the universe.  We have no knowledge  
 that any other planet in our solar system is inhabited - what  
 evidence there is, is rather to the contrary.  We have no knowledge  
 that any other sun has any inhabited planets in its system.  Neither  
 have we any knowledge that they have not.  If life does exist in some  
 other, to us unknown world, it may be entirely different from life on  
 this planet.  Hence a symbol of universality which applied only to  
 earth would be a self-contradiction. 
     Real universality means what it says.  It appertains to the whole  
 universe.  While a Masonís charity, considered as giving relief to  
 the poor and distressed, must obviously be confined to this  
 particular planet, his charity of thought may, so we are taught,  
 extend "through the boundless realms of eternity." 
     Hence "the world terrestrial" and "the world celestial" on our  
 representations of the pillars, in denoting universality mean that  
 the principles of our Order are not founded upon mere earthly  
 conditions and transient truths, but rest upon Divine and limitless  
 foundations, coexistent with the whole cosmos and its creator. 
 We are taught of the "All Seeing Eye whom the Sun, Moon and Stars  
 obey and under whose watchful care even comets perform their  
 stupendous revolutions."  In this astronomical reference is, oddly  
 enough, a potent argument, both for the extreme care in the  
 transmission of ritual unchanged from mouth to ear, and the urgent  
 necessity of curbing well-intentioned brethren who wish to "improve"  
 the ritual. 
     The word "revolution" in this paragraph (it is so printed in the  
 earliest Webb monitors) fixes it as a comparatively modern  
 conception.  Tycho Brahe, progenitor of the modern maker and user of  
 fine instruments among astronomers, whose discoveries have left an  
 indelible impress on astronomy, made no attempt to consider comets as  
 orbital bodies.  Galileo thought them "emanations of the atmosphere."   
 Not until the seventeenth century was well underway did a few daring  
 spirits suggest that these celes-tial portents of evil, these  
 terribly heavenly demons which had inspired terror in the hearts of  
 men for uncounted generations, were actually parts of the solar  
 system, and that many if not most of them were periodic, actually  
 returning again and again; in other words, that they revolved about  
 the sun. 
     Obviously, then, this passage of our ritual cannot have come down to  
 us by a "word of mouth" transmission from an epoch earlier than that  
 in which men first commenced to believe that a comet was not an  
 augury of evil but a part of the solar system. 
     The so-called "lunar lodges" have far more a practical than an  
 astronomical basis.  In the early days of Masonry, both in England  
 and in this country, many if not most lodges, met on dates fixed in  
 advance, but according to the time when the moon was full; not  
 because the moon "Governed" the night, but because it illuminated the  
 travelerís path!  In days when roads were but muddy paths between  
 town and hamlet, when any journey was hazardous and on black nights  
 dangerous in the extreme, the natural illumination of the moon,  
 making the road easy to find and the depredations of highwaymen the  
 more difficult, was a matter of some moment! 
     One final curious derivation of a Masonic symbol from the heavens and  
 we are through.  The symbol universally associated with the Stewards  
 of a Masonic lodge is the cornucopia. 
 According to the mythology of the Greeks, which go back to the very  
 dawn of civilization, the God Zeus was nourished in infancy from the  
 milk of a goat, Amalthea.  In gratitude, the God placed Amalthea  
 forever in the heavens as a constellation, but first gave one of  
 Amaltheaís horns to his nurses with the assurance that it would  
 forever pour for them whatever they desired! 
     The "horn of plenty," or the cornucopia, is thus a symbol of  
 abundance.  The goat from which it came may be found by the curious  
 among the constellations under the name of Capricorn.  The "Tropic of  
 Capricorn" of our school days is the southern limit of the swing of  
 the sun on the path which marks the ecliptic, on which it inclines  
 first its north and then its south pole towards our luminary.  Hence  
 there is a connection, not the less direct for being tenuous, between  
 out Stewards, their symbol, the lights in the lodge, the "place of  
 darkness" and Solomonís Temple. 
     Of such curious links and interesting bypaths is the study of  
 astronomy and its connection with Freemasonry, the more beautiful  
 when we see eye to eye with the Psalmist in the Great Light; "The  
 Heavens Declare the Glory of God and the Firmament Sheweth His  
 Handiwork." 
 
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