Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 in Scotland and Ireland, over a quarter of a million under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England and just under two million in the United States.
The fraternity is administratively organised into independent Grand Lodges or sometimes Orients, each of which governs its own jurisdiction, which consists of subordinate (or constituent) Lodges. The various Grand Lodges recognise each other, or not, based upon adherence to landmarks (a Grand Lodge will usually deem other Grand Lodges who share common landmarks to be regular, and those that do not to be “irregular” or “clandestine”
There are also appendant bodies, which are organisations related to the main branch of Freemasonry, but with their own independent administration.
Freemasonry uses the metaphors of operative stonemasons’ tools and implements, against the allegorical backdrop of the building of King Solomon’s Temple, to convey what has been described by both Masons and critics as “a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.”
Principles and activities
While Freemasonry has often been called a “secret society”, Freemasons themselves argue that it is more correct to say that it is an esoteric society, in that certain aspects are private. The most common phrasing is that Freemasonry has, in the 21st century, become less a secret society and more of a “society with secrets”. The private aspects of modern Freemasonry are the modes of recognition amongst members and particular elements within the ritual. Despite the organisation’s great diversity, Freemasonry’s central preoccupations remain charitable work within a local or wider community, moral uprightness (in most cases requiring a belief in a supreme being) as well as the development and maintenance of fraternal friendship, as James Anderson’s Constitutions originally urged amongst brethren.
Ritual, symbolism, and morality
Masons conduct their meetings using a ritualised format. There is no single Masonic ritual, and each jurisdiction is free to set (or not set) its own ritual. However, there are similarities that exist among jurisdictions. For example, all Masonic ritual makes use of the architectural symbolism of the tools of the medieval operative stonemason. Freemasons, as speculative masons (meaning philosophical building rather than actual building), use this symbolism to teach moral and ethical lessons of the principles of “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth;” or as related in France, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.
Two of the principal symbolic tools always found in a Lodge are the square and compasses. Some Lodges and rituals explain these tools as lessons in conduct: for example, that Masons should “square their actions by the square of virtue” and to learn to “circumscribe their desires and keep their passions within due bounds toward all mankind”. However, as Freemasonry is non-dogmatic, there is no general interpretation for these tools (or any Masonic emblem) that is used by Freemasonry as a whole.
These moral lessons are communicated in performance of allegorical ritual. A candidate progresses through degrees gaining knowledge and understanding of himself, his relationship with others and his relationship with the Supreme Being (per his own interpretation). While the philosophical aspects of Freemasonry tend to be discussed in Lodges of Instruction or Research, and sometimes informal groups, Freemasons, and others, frequently publish, with varying degrees of competence, studies that are available to the public. Any mason may speculate on the symbols and purpose of Freemasonry, and indeed all masons are required to some extent to speculate on masonic meaning as a condition of advancing through the degrees. There is no one accepted meaning, and no one person “speaks” for the whole of Freemasonry.
Some lodges make use of tracing boards. These are painted or printed illustrations depicting the various symbolic emblems of Freemasonry. They can be used as teaching aids during the lectures that follow each of the three Degrees, when an experienced member explains the various concepts of Freemasonry to new members. They can also be used by experienced members as self-reminders of the concepts they learned as they went through their initiations.
The Supreme Being and the Volume of Sacred Law
Candidates for regular Freemasonry are required to declare a belief in a Supreme Being. However, the candidate is not asked to expand on, or explain, his interpretation of Supreme Being. The discussion of politics and religion is forbidden within a Masonic Lodge, in part so a Mason will not be placed in the situation of having to justify his personal interpretation. Thus, reference to the Supreme Being can mean the Christian Trinity to a Christian Mason, Allah to a Muslim Mason, Para Brahman to a Hindu Mason, etc. While most Freemasons would take the view that the term Supreme Being equates to God, others may hold a more complex or philosophical interpretation of the term.
In the ritual, the Supreme Being is referred to as the Great Architect of the Universe, which alludes to the use of architectural symbolism within Freemasonry.
A Volume of the Sacred Law is always displayed in an open Lodge in those jurisdictions which require a belief in the Supreme Being. In English-speaking countries, this is frequently the King James Version of the Bible or another standard translation; there is no such thing as an exclusive “Masonic Bible”. Furthermore, a candidate is given his choice of religious text for his Obligation, according to his beliefs. UGLE alludes to similarities to legal practice in the UK, and to a common source with other oath taking processes. In Lodges with a membership of mixed religions it is common to find more than one sacred text displayed. In lodges that follow the Continental tradition other texts may be used, including texts that are non-religious in nature.
The three degrees of Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry are those of:
- Entered Apprentice – the degree of an Initiate, which makes one a Freemason;
- Fellow Craft – an intermediate degree, involved with learning;
- Master Mason – the “third degree”, a necessity for participation in most aspects of Masonry.
The degrees represent stages of personal development. No Freemason is told that there is only one meaning to the allegories; as a Freemason works through the degrees and studies their lessons, he interprets them for himself, his personal interpretation being bounded only by the Constitution within which he works. A common symbolic structure and universal archetypes provide a means for each Freemason to come to his own answers to life’s important philosophical questions.
There is no degree of Craft Freemasonry higher than that of Master Mason. Although some Masonic bodies and orders have further degrees named with higher numbers, these degrees may be considered to be supplements to the Master Mason degree rather than promotions from it. An example is the Scottish Rite, conferring degrees numbered from 4° up to 33°. It is essential to be a Master Mason in order to qualify for these further degrees. They are administered on a parallel system to Craft or Blue Lodge Freemasonry; within each organisation there is a system of offices, which confer rank within that degree or order alone.
In some jurisdictions, especially those in continental Europe, Freemasons working through the degrees may be asked to prepare papers on related philosophical topics, and present these papers in open Lodge. There is an enormous bibliography of Masonic papers, magazines and publications ranging from fanciful abstractions which construct spiritual and moral lessons of varying value, through practical handbooks on organisation, management and ritual performance, to serious historical and philosophical papers entitled to academic respect.
Penny’s ‘Checkered Floor’
4×05 – “The Constant“
Desmond experiences a consciousness time-shift to 1996, he visits Penny and pleads for her phone number. After entering the flat he tells her that he needs her phone number so he can call her in eight years.
On the floor of Penny’s flat, the iconic Masonic black and white checkered pattern can be seen as Desmond enters.
1×02 – “Pilot, Part 2“
Charlie sits in his seat on Oceanic Flight 815, grimacing, sweating, and impatiently tapping his ring on his armrest. He flees his seat and rushes to the restroom, once inside he locks the door and removes his shoe, from which he takes a small bag of heroin and ingests it.
Charlie’s shoe can be seen to have the Masonic black and white checkered pattern printed on the material.
The Flame Computer (Chess Game)
3×11 – “Enter 77“
Inside the Flame Station, Locke uses the computer to play several games of Chess. After winning the second game, a video clip from Pierre Chang appears with various options available through the computer.
The game of Chess uses the Masonic black and white check pattern as the game board. This computer version had a blue hue overlaid on the pattern.
The season and episode number (3×11) for this episode can be seen as another reference to Freemasonry. The sum of multiplying 3 x 11 is 33, in Freemasonry the highest (official) degree one can obtain is 33°.
Scottish Rite of Freemasonry
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry (the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction in the United States often omits the and), commonly known as simply the Scottish Rite, is one of several Rites of the worldwide fraternity known as Freemasonry. A Rite is a series of progressive degrees that are conferred by various Masonic organizations or bodies, each of which operates under the control of its own central authority. In the Scottish Rite the central authority is called a Supreme Council.
The thirty-three degrees of the Scottish Rite are conferred by several controlling bodies. The first of these is the Craft Lodge which confers the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason degrees. Craft lodges operate under the authority of Grand Lodges, not the Scottish Rite. Although most lodges throughout the English-speaking world do not confer the Scottish Rite versions of the first three degrees, there are a handful of lodges in New Orleans and in several other major cities that have traditionally conferred the Scottish Rite version of these degrees.
The Scottish Rite is one of the appendant bodies of Freemasonry that a Master Mason may join for further exposure to the principles of Freemasonry. In England and some other countries, while the Scottish Rite is not accorded official recognition by the Grand Lodge, there is no prohibition against a Freemason electing to join it. In the United States, however, the Scottish Rite is officially recognized by Grand Lodges as an extension of the degrees of Freemasonry. The Scottish Rite builds upon the ethical teachings and philosophy offered in the craft lodge, or Blue Lodge, through dramatic presentation of the individual degrees.
The double-headed eagle is a common symbol in heraldry and vexillology. It is most commonly associated with the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. In Byzantine heraldry, the heads represent the dual sovereignty of the Emperor (secular and religious) and/or dominance of the Byzantine Emperors over both East and West. In the Holy Roman Empire’s heraldry, it represented the Church and the State. Several Eastern European nations adopted it from the Byzantines and continue to use it as their national symbol to this day, the most prominent being Russia. However, the design was in use in the East for centuries before it was officially adopted by the Byzantines, and was independently adopted as the symbol of several other historical states, such as early medieval Armenia and the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm or even similarly met as the Berunda bird in South Indian historical states (Vijayanagara Empire).
Double-headed eagles have been present in imagery for millennia. The two-headed eagle can be found in the archaeological remains of the Sumerian civilization and through the Hittite civilization, dating from a period that ranges from the 20th century BC to the 7th century BC.
Cylindric seals discovered in Bogazkoy, an old Hittite capital in modern-day Turkey, represent clearly a two-headed eagle with spread wings. The aesthetics of this symmetrical position explains in part the birth of this religious figure: It originally dates from circa 3,800 BC, and was the Sumerian symbol for the god Ninurta, son of Enlil. It can also be seen in the same region in three monumental settings: Circa 1,900 BC during the Hittite surge from north-central Anatolia down into Babylonia; in Alacahöyük around 1400 BC and in Yazilikaya before 1250 BC. Here the context looks slightly different and totally religious: The eagle returns to its ancient origins as a symbol of divine power. The two-headed eagle is seen less and less during the last Hittite period (from the 9th century BC to the 7th century BC) and totally disappears after the end of the empire.
The double-headed eagle was also in use by the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia and the Mamikonian family in the 3rd to 9th centuries.
Constantinople was the successor of Rome, and the Byzantines continued the use of the old imperial “single-headed” eagle motif. Although the roots of the transformation to double-headed are almost certainly connected with old depictions in Asia Minor, the details of its adoption are uncertain. It was, however, already in use during the first centuries AD and certainly before the 10th century AD by Armenians and Persians, appearing in their art (see above).
The Ancients used no flags in the modern sense. The Romans used various signa, such as the bronze aquilas (adopted as the legions’ symbol by Marius) and vexilloids, and, if the emperor was present, pikes or banners with the emperor’s portrait. With the adoption of Christianity as state religion during the later Empire, the Chi-Rho and the cross became more and more used in military standards, such as the labarum. The Roman single-headed eagle however continued to be used as a symbol of imperial authority.
According to the most prevalent theory, the single-headed eagle was modified to double-headed by emperor Isaac I Komnenos (1057–1059) being influenced from local traditions about such a (mythical) beast (the haga) in his native Paphlagonia in Asia Minor. Local legends talked about this giant eagle with two heads that could easily hold a bull in its claws; the haga was seen as a representation of power, and people would often “call” it for protection. Isaac Komnenos, deeply influenced by these beliefs, had already used it as a family emblem.
Use in Freemasonry
The Double-Headed Eagle of Lagash is used as an emblem by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. There are many meanings attached to this symbol. It has been introduced in France in the early 1760s as the emblem of the Kadosh degree.
Desmond’s Polo Shirt (Emblem)
2×01 – “Man of Science, Man of Faith” | 2×23 – “Live Together, Die Alone”
In Los Angeles, Desmond is preparing to run the steps of a sports stadium, Penelope arrives unexpectedly, having tracked Desmond down and confronts him.
Desmond can be seen wearing a white polo shirt with a red Double-Headed Eagle emblem on the front. This emblem is somewhat stylised with its wings facing upward and has no crown above the two heads.