Vol. XXIII No. 1 — January 1945

The Masonic Firmament

David kept his father’s sheep on the desert steppes of Judah. There must have been many star-lit nights when a quiet contemplative lad dreamed of the future which should be his and saw in the jewels of heaven a prophecy of great events to come.

But there was also the vision of beauty and the wonder of the unknown. Not even the astronomers of Chaldea knew what the stars, or the planets, moving slowly and majestically among them, might be. Not for David was there knowledge of mass or distance or orbit.

Those who live outdoors at night find much in the heavens hidden from eyes which usually see only the prosaic matters of the day. In the constellations man has always seen fantasies — people and gods, animals and things.

The constellations of biblical days are still the same; the old names, too, remain. Ursa Major (Great Bear) still points out the North Star. None can wish another name for Pleiades or Orion, Lyra or the Crosses — Southern and Northern.

David saw them even as they shine for us. If he had no astronomical knowledge he knew the stars and the constellations as beautiful, and somehow comforting, and changeless. . . .

So he sang. One of his songs has girdled the earth and is known of all men:

“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.” —Psalms 19:1

Is it but a flight of fancy to envision a Masonic firmament which also “sheweth His handiwork?”

Here, too, a “shepherd of the hills” may see constellations, and ask with a Masonic meaning Job’s question, “Can’st thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?” And one can follow the command in Amos. “Seek him that maketh the Seven Stars and Orion.”

In summer in the northern skies is the beautiful Northern Cross. More brilliant, if far smaller, is the Southern Cross, seen only in very low latitudes and in the southern hemisphere. Summer star gazers here find Lyra, brilliant with blue Vega, overhead. Ursa Major and Minor, sometimes called Great and Little Dipper, circle the pole star and winter brings the “seven stars” (Pleiades) and majestic Orion, lord of the winter skies.

In the Masonic firmament, also, are constellations as changeless, as timeless and as beautiful as those which “declare the glory of God” in the actual heavens.

David and untold thousands of early watchers of the skies saw in the heavens strange animals, gods and goddesses, heavenly things. Let us look at our Masonic firmament with equally poetic eyes, and see in its Northern and Southern Crosses Freemasonry’s greatest tenet, dearest hope and most sublime teaching . . . the certainty of immortality.

Say not that we share this with every church, every doctrine, every creed . . . indeed with all mankind. So are the Crosses in the heavens shared between all who may look, nor does any watcher take from his neighbor by his seeing. Freemasonry has her own especial way of teaching the certainty of immortality. It neither duplicates nor supplements the same inculcation of church and creed. For in Masonry you shall not find immortality is to be attained in a special way; nor does Masonry teach continued fife after death as the particular promise of each of many creeds. Freemasonry’s teaching is of no one kind; it avers only that immortality is.

Look narrowly enough at the Masonic constellations and you will see that they show not only immortality of the individual, but also of truth and good deeds and kindly thoughts. That which is struck down by error rises again beyond the Sanctum Sanctorum. When truth is beaten by vice, when brute force overcomes honor, when conspiracy wins over virtue, it is but temporary. The stars still shine, and before we finish the lesson, we find that goodness and truth and honor and character do prevail.

Few heavenly sights are more beautiful than Lyra, and no star has a brighter blue, a more brilliant twinkle, a greater loveliness than Vega.

The Lyra of the Masonic firmament might easily, then, be prayer, and its Vega the altar at which prayer is offered.

Masonic prayer differs from secular in this: save once only for every brother, it is the lodge which prays, rather than the individual. Men gather around a Masonic altar to offer united and contrite hearts. The brethren’s private faiths may be what they may; about the Masonic altar men of every religion pray as one man when in a lodge together; pray with but one thought in all minds . . . the good of their brethren. Surely this is beautiful. . . as beautiful as Lyra, shining gloriously overhead. Surely the altar . . . and there are nearly sixteen thousand of them in this country alone . . . can be the Vega of the Masonic firmament. Even as Vega the bright star gleams brightest in the summer heavens, so shineth the Masonic altar in a world of men, a place of refuge, a focus of unity, a symbol of sacrifice and unselfishness, about which men pray not for themselves but for their fellows.

The Seven Stars have intrigued the imaginations of men of all nations and all cultures since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. This exquisite constellation permeates all mythology. The ancient Greeks believed the Pleiades to be the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, and named them Electra, Alcyone, Celae- no, Maia, Sterope, Taygete and Merope. Merope, faintest of the seven and not easily seen, was married to a mortal, and so was ashamed to show herself among her sisters, all of whom had married gods!

Their influence was beneficent; Milton writes:

The gray dawn and the Pleiades before him danced
Shedding sweet influence.

Look now upon the Masonic firmament; its Pleiades is the cabletow which is “shedding sweet influence” upon all of the Fraternity. For the bond which unites the five million Masons of the world together is as unchanging and as beautiful as the Pleiades; it is, in one form or another, older than history, and its strength is the strength of its numbers.

Go where you will you will find a lodge. Its tilers door swings open at your knock. Within that portal are friends, though they have seen you never and you know them not. Between you and them is the unseen mystic tie; the cabletow which unites, the cord which binds, the strong bond which holds man to man and heart to heart.

Wilbur D. Nesbit wrote:

There are no strangers when you say
To me “I sat in lodge with you.”

Another sang:

Its wisdom, deep within the breast
Grows more as less it is confessed.
This silver cord through ages grown — My cabletow.

Aye, the cabletow is a constellation of the Masonic firmament; it is indeed among those which “sheweth His handiwork.” In a difficult and warring world of a thousand creeds, a million clashing opinions; a world in which man strives with man and father against son, there is no greater miracle than that so many, for so long a time, have willingly — even eagerly — bound themselves together in a brotherhood which can only grow in the soil of toleration, and by means of a tie the essence of which is unselfishness.

Most resplendent of all constellations is Orion of the winter skies. Mythologically, Orion was a mighty hunter, strong and beautiful as a youth. He wronged one of the daughters of Atlas — the faint Merope of the Pleiades — and as a punishment was blinded by Oenopion. Wandering about, the sounds of the hammers of the Cyclops led him to the abode of Vulcan, who gave him a guide. Thereby he was led to an oracle and from counsel given his sight was restored. Later he was slain by Diana, but set among the stars that his story might be known of all men.

Few there are who know or care about it; none can look at the winter heavens and not be struck by the inescapability of that most glorious of all the groups of stars in which men have seen visions and by which they paint pictures. For Orion dominates the skies.

What is the dominating fact of Freemasonry?

Many brethren will have many answers. Think it through; it is not in its teachings or even in its practices that Freemasonry’s dominating fact is to be sought. Other institutions teach; other institutions practice the sweet deeds of the Fraternity. But no other Fraternity has Freemasonry’s long life. No other Fraternity is so intimately interwoven with the affairs of men. No other Fraternity has had so great an influence upon so numerous leaders of all countries.

From time immemorial in one form or another Freemasonry has exerted its quiet and gentle influence upon the hearts of men. It has turned justice to look at mercy. It has abated cruelty and made it kind. It has turned quarrels to harmony, and strife to peace. It has been high in the counsels of governments of many lands in many times, and its principles and its language are found in the great state documents of mankind. It has comforted the widow, sheltered the orphan, protected the weak, girded the strong, followed the flag and been a foundation stone for the greatest institutions of men.

If Orion is the dominating and the inescapable constellation of the firmament as seen from the earth, may not these things be well considered to the Orion of the Masonic firmament? None yet have “loosed the band of Orion” in the heavens or the Orion of the Masonic firmament upon the earth.

Come we now to Ursa Major — the Great Bear. The memory of man runneth not to the contrary but what it has always pointed out the North Star — the Pole Star about which the whole heavens, to human eyes, seem to revolve. All other stars have orbits to an earthly observer and swing in slow circles of varying sizes about the pole. But the North Star circles not, neither does the Pole Star swing.

Steadfast, the one fixed point in a moving heavens, the Pole Star is the mariner’s guide, the pathfinder for the lost on plain or desert, the sign-post pointing to home for all who have missed their way.

Will you accuse these pages of being too imaginative and seeing in Masonic constellations images even more fanciful than those seen of David on the steppes of Judah? Possibly. But you will not so term the Ursa Major of the Masonic Fraternity, in pointing steadfastly and eternally to the Pole Star of the order.

For the Ursa Major of Freemasonry is “that natural religion in which all men agree” to quote the first of the Old Charges, and the Pole Star to which it points is The Great Architect of the Universe.

Freemasonry has many glories. It has much of which to be humbly proud and great accomplishments as well as great ideals. But one transcends all the rest. Call Him by what name you will, worship Him by what rites you will, think of what Book you will as His inspired word — men of all religions, of every race, of any language spoken by men, can and do unite about the Masonic altar there to worship each his own God under one all inclusive name.

Great Architect of the Universe is God and Jesus and Muhammad and Vishnu; He is Allah, Brahma and Buddha; Krishna, Shiva, Ormuzd . . . by any names, by all, the God of Freemasonry is the One True God for each individual.

Under that Great Name there is no war of sect, creed or opinion; there is no division of mind from mind or worshipping heart from worshipping heart. In Freemasonry’s “natural religion in which all men agree” is only unity, harmony and peace.

Such is the Pole Star; the teachings of Freemasonry that point to it is the Ursa Major of the Masonic firmament.

Not to many does the opportunity come often to go into the countryside at night and lie in soft grass to look at the stars. To still less comes the chance to adventure high on a mountain top where the cool winds blow, be the day never so hot, and there in the chill of a cloudless mountain night, look through dustless air to see the stars as they are never seen of city men.

But it is an experience worth going to some trouble to have.

When the spirit moves, and such a time and opportunity shall be yours, look not only for the Northern Cross, but the Pleiades, for Orion, and for Lyra with Vega, beautiful blue point in the black sky. Then let Ursa Major’s pointers lead your eyes to the North Star — and think of the firmament of Freemasonry and these poor words and it is possible they may not seem too fanciful even for practical men in a workaday world. . . .

The Masonic Service Association of North America