Since ancient times, humanity has gazed up at the stars in awe and wonder. The night sky presents a portal into the vast mysteries of the universe, stirring philosophical thought about our place in the cosmos. This universal human experience has also played a profound role in the symbolism and rituals of Freemasonry. As Masonic initiates progress on their spiritual journey, they are continually encouraged to look upwards towards the heavens.
The lodges themselves are oriented to the cardinal points of the compass and symbolically placed under a celestial canopy decorated with a blazing star, the sun and moon, and lesser stars. Why does Freemasonry direct its members skywards? By contemplating the heavenly bodies, Masons connect to divine principles and the Great Architect of the Universe. The stars represent the source of illumination guiding the way as Masons seek truth and light.
Ancient Philosophies and the Influence of the Stars
Masonic symbolism shares resonance with ancient cosmological philosophies that recognized an influence or connection between the celestial realm and earthly affairs. Plato believed the orderly motion of the planets reflected a cosmic harmony that shapes human destinies. The 3rd-century philosopher Plotinus viewed the stars as emanations from the divine source, possessing higher intelligence than humans. But he believed the human soul could transcend earthly limits and reunite with the divine through philosophical contemplation.
Hermes Trismegistus taught the stars transmit spiritual knowledge and energies as intermediaries between the earth and the divine. While aspects of these philosophies were mistaken, such as astrological determinism, they pointed towards a profound truth – the interconnection between the divine cosmos and the human mind. The ancients believed aligning one’s life to the harmony of the spheres allowed our highest selves to shine through.
The Blazing Star – Inner and Outer Light
The Blazing Star is one of the most prominent Masonic symbols, representing the light of Divine Providence that guides the Masonic initiate towards truth. It first appears as a faint glimmering ray in the 1st degree tracing board, but later reveals its full splendor, like the Morning Star heralding a new dawn. The Blazing Star represents the apex of Mason’s spiritual ascent, having perfected himself to become a light unto the world.
One theory proposed by Masonic scholar Albert Pike identifies the Blazing Star with Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Sirius was associated with Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god who escorted souls to the afterlife. This Sirius-Anubis connection highlights Masonry’s illumination from ancient esoteric traditions centered around the heavens. Just as Anubis guided dead souls through the night sky, Masons looked to Sirius, the Blazing Star, as the guiding light on their quest for truth.
But the Blazing Star holds more symbolic meaning than its astronomical identity. It embodies the oneness of the Supreme Being, representing omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. Masonic initiates follow this light within their inner journey toward knowledge of the self and the divine essence at the core of their being. The star guides masons to look within and find the inner light of conscience. By lifting their eyes to the celestial canopy, Masons are reminded that the mysteries of the universe can be found within and without. The star shines its light down into the darkness of material existence, but the mason must also look up to glimpse its divine source.
Ascending the Pathway to the Gods
In ancient mythology, figures like Hermes, Thoth, and Anubis represent the archetype of the messenger or wisdom keeper, initiating humanity into esoteric knowledge of the gods. They stand for the tools of initiation that facilitate the construction of an inner Spiritual Temple. The Egyptians associated Sirius and Anubis with teachings on the immortality of the soul, the law of karma, and the influence of the stars on human evolution.
There are signs these teachings originate from the Egyptian mystery tradition, which venerated Sirius as the source of celestial wisdom. The 19th-century author H.P. Blavatsky called Sirius “the great instructor of mankind” and the secret doctrine hints at its role in humanity’s spiritual history. Masonic light may also be kindled by the spark of Sirius, the flaring signal fire that has burned across centuries and cultures.
While Masonry’s ancient origins may be veiled in mystery, its call to contemplate the heavens is universal. Throughout history, geometric alignments of temples and monuments to the stars have shown how humanity strives to connect the earth with the cosmos. The first traced steps of ritual and architecture attempted to harness divine powers and bring astronomical rhythms down to earth. In Freemasonry, the Lodge’s alignment to the four cardinal directions and stellar ornamentation continues this tradition.
The Compass and Square: Navigating by the Stars
In Freemasonry, the compass and square are essential tools for orienting one’s purpose and constructing moral living. As a guiding emblem, the compass directs our steps and circumscribes our desires to keep us within proper bounds. The square teaches us to approach life and our deeds with rectitude. When applied to the celestial realm, these tools hold deeper significance.
The compass allows Masons to draw a circle linking the celestial with the terrestrial, mapping the cosmos within the confines of the Lodge. The movements of the stars provide fixed reference points for aligning earthly bodies and activities. The square establishes the straight path of virtue, righteousness, and enlightenment. Just as the square sets the 90-degree angles of architecture here on Earth, the fixed stars provide the constant squares and angles in the sky for aligning temples and monuments since time immemorial.
By following the compass and the square, Mason can discover his proper place in the cosmic order. He transcends his earthly beginnings but also recognizes the glory of creation in the heavens above. In navigating by the stars, the Mason journeys both beyond and back home again.
Seeking the Lost Word
Central to the Masonic journey is the search for “that which is lost”- the lost word or the hidden gnosis of life. The astronomic symbolism in Masonry reveals that gaining this transcendent knowledge requires guidance from above. By following the movement of the stars – the solar year, the lunar month, and the daily east-west passage of the sun – a Mason learns the rhythms of eternity. The heavens provide the temporal means to glimpse the eternal, using the very boundaries of earthly existence to look beyond them.
As the Daystar rises in the East to dispel the darkness of night, so too does the inward sun dawn over the mind and heart of a Mason. He realizes the loss of light throughout humanity’s long-suffering in darkness is ultimately a preparation for the eternal light yet to come. The quest for the lost word is a pilgrimage leading upward through the starry canopy towards that Word, who stands at the apex and end of the journey.
The Philosopher’s Stone – Giving Form to Formlessness
Alchemists interpreted the seven classical planets and luminaries as stages of transformation in the alchemical Great Work of achieving enlightenment. They sought to synthesize the divine forms signified by the wandering stars into the unified primordial matter – the Philosopher’s Stone. This metaphoric process reflected the Masonic journey of working upon the rough stone of the ego self in order to polish and perfect it into a shining, luminous stone reflecting the light of heaven.
Just as the alchemists extracted the animating soul out of substances by dissolving and coagulating matter, so too must the Freemason break down the rigid thoughts and structures that conceal the radiance of Being. By harnessing the patterns above to the work below, the uneven matter of creation is remade into that First Matter from whence it arose. The sparks of divine light within the stone are brought forth by the alchemical work. Ultimately, the Freemason, like the alchemist, seeks to unify the microcosm with the macrocosm – to align human endeavor with the cosmic patterns above.
References to planets and stars in Masonic symbolism are not meant to imply astrological determinism between celestial bodies and human lives. Such superficial analysis misses the ultimate aim of unity that underlies the apparent divisions of creation. The Masonic work is to harmonize all these diverse energies into an orchestrated whole, making music of the spheres from the raw sounds of space and time.
By elevating human love to divine love, faculties of desire to selfless service, and disciplined skills to the needs of the Great Architect, the Mason progresses in their spiritual evolution. We are like stars in the process of becoming, whose outer forms change over time while our inner essence grows brighter. By giving form to formlessness, the Mason sculpts rough stone and square into a shining ideal.
The Journey Continues…Look Up!
Freemasonry’s rich astronomical symbolism encodes the ancient perennial wisdom at the heart of all the mystery traditions. While the true origins may never be known, it hints at the presence of an esoteric transmission through the ages, passing the light forward in alignment with the heavens. This spiritual lineage appears as a guiding star for humanity, moving ever brighter along the horizon.
Although the contemporary study of the cosmos may reveal new and astonishing facts, it is the contemplation of infinity that humbles the mason. The celestial canopy’s glimpses into timeless eternity remain breathtaking and baffling. While new discoveries may further prompt us to admire the handiwork of the Creator, fundamental questions about the purpose and destiny of consciousness in the universe still stir within.
The Masonic initiate is instructed to follow knowledge wherever it leads. The mystery religions of antiquity offer a lamp to light our way as we confront the unknown. By searching for ancient wisdom in the patterns above, and aligning to those patterns here below, the Mason works to achieve harmony between the two realms. He comes to know himself as a microcosm of the macrocosm – a little world mirroring the greater universe. Over the ages, Freemasonry’s initiatic journey has remained focused on the heavens where signs of God’s presence are continually revealed, but its ultimate goal is the perfection possible within human nature.
As we follow this meandering stellar pathway forward, it is easy to become distracted by the tangled growth of the lower world that threatens to obscure our vision upward. But if we lift our eyes to the sky, the stars can still reveal the Way, just as they have done for countless centuries. Their unfolding story directs our attention beyond the temporal landscape to the eternal cycles of creation. By contemplating the cosmos through the web of mythology and symbolism ascribed to the heavens, a deeper understanding unfolds.
So, brothers, let us remember to look up! Keep your eyes focused above the mundane in order to glimpse the Glory of the Grand Architect. Follow the planetary path to discover Wisdom so that like the Blazing Star, your own Light may also shine. Make haste for the hourglass is draining. The secret lost word is waiting to be discovered. The celestial gnosis calls to us from above! May we raise our collective consciousness to mirror the heavens so that our Lodges might become sacred sanctuaries for mystical awakening. Only by gazing upon the cosmic splendor above are our minds opened to the vast potential within.