Masonic View of Time – Stated Meeting Short Talk
Alan Gatlin, Orator
Novus Veteris Lodge, #864
June 9, 2018
The concept of how man views the passage of time has changed through the millennia. Over the course of history we have seen the evolution of the concept of time and its relationship to history from chaotic where history has no path and both time & history are disconnected, to cyclical time where the ancients linked natural cycles of planetary events and history related to cycles of human activity, to linear where time and history have a unique and usually progressive story with an absolute beginning and an absolute end. Today we will review these conflicting viewpoints and how we might understand Masonry from a perspective that we can use today to square our actions in the days, weeks, months and years that lie ahead of us. At the end of this presentation, you will have an opportunity to discuss this view and how it may impact your worldview and personal actions.
As a reminder, the study of esoteric perspectives is not covered in our Masonic code and tonight’s lecture does not represent any “official” viewpoint only that of the speaker. Esoteric studies deal with such topics that many call mysteries and how one understands the time and personal actions represent one of the foundations of that work. Remember that your opinion is as valid and worthwhile as mine and you are encouraged to examine tonight’s content and measure any “truth” that may be applicable for you using the working tools of your Degree.
So let’s begin. Does history repeat itself or are time and events separate paths that we walk throughout our lives? Let’s consider the California drought. We are in the 1st year of marginal rain, after 1 good year and 8 previous “poor” rain years. and snow but in the 9th Century, tree ring evidence shows a dry period lasting 183 years and then 10 years later another 200 years! Right now, we may be on track to see the longest drought since 1583 if this lack of rain lasts another 4 years but is our current weather we are experiencing a repeat of the past or totally unrelated to previous historical events and is drought predictable? Another case; Arizona real estate values have been on a 7 to 10-year economic cycle of “boom and bust” since before World War 2. Is this real estate “swing” a series of disconnected events or part of a “historic” trend that is “predictable”? How you answer these questions can determine your view of time and how time is or is not connected to history and if you can act on events that have not yet occurred but have happened in the past. Also, remember that none of these viewpoints of time we will cover are “pure” and each has elements of the others that bled and weave together like a wave in the sea.
We tend to view the relationship between time and history in one of three ways:
Chaotic Time – This would be classified as the perspective of primitive man that lived a life filled with threats and terrors we can scarcely imagine today. Wild animals, disease, the environment, and other human forms competed for existence and often restricted natural resources. Each individual acted for themselves and, at times, for their immediate family unit. Life was short & hard from an outside perspective and while we cannot know their thoughts and have no narratives as to the life these people experienced, the records show that life was short and death often met from a violent end. The practical shortcoming of chaotic time is that there are no societal bounds, no connection to the past and little hope for the future. Life and events were “random” reflecting nothing more than how interactions unfolded. This triad of lacking social bonds, connection to previous generations/experience, and little hope are the reasons that no society has given more than a limited endorsement to this concept.
Cyclical Time – When man made a link between natural cycles of the planetary system (diurnal rotations, lunar months, solar years and zodiacal precessions (hence the designation of astrology as one of the classical disciplines rather than astronomy) with the related cycles of human activity (sleeping, waking, gestating, birthing, planting, harvesting, hunting, and feasting). Unlike chaotic time, cyclical time endowed classical societies with a prescribed moral dimension, a measure by which each generation could compare its behavior with its ancestors. Rights and rituals were given “by the gods” and man was reenacting these “morality plays” tied to the passage of various cycles, to exemplify behavior of the society and the place of the individual in that plan. One person “knew” what their responsibilities were and how they “fit” into the bigger plan. The monuments of the Pyramids, Stone Circles, and other edifices were erected to alien with solar, lunar, and other celestial events. Life revolved around these times to plant, harvest, procreate and die with a “time and place under heaven”
Linear Time – is the third option, a story with an absolute beginning, middle, and end. The monotheism of the Persian, Judaic, Christian, and Islamic cosmologies all embraced the radically new concept of personal and historic time as a unidirectional model independent from the world lived in. The establishment of European settlements in the Americas reflects the extreme expression of progressive linearism. The European explorers saw the Americas as the New Atlantis, El Dorado, or Utopia with the focus to “start again fresh” and remake society to the “end of history”. The end result of this progression of a linear view of time has been a reshaping of Western and especially American civilization. Before, at the height of cyclical time, people valued patience, ritual, the relationship of part to the whole, and the healing power of time within nature. Passages and ceremonies existed to reflect change and recognition of the individual from birth to death. Today what do we value? Haste, iconoclasm, the disintegration of the whole into parts, and the power of time outside of nature. Young people express, as do many adults, a sense of “lose of place and value” The disconnection from place can also have an expectation that things are only getting better or conversely worse on a trend with the only end being the end of this earth. Not a very optimistic setting. The repression of nonlinear studies has also occurred. These represent issues of alchemy, astrology, and other “sciences” that are probably not what you think or have been told in the past.
There is also another way of framing these three views of time. It is to look at the position of the individual in the world. In chaotic time man is below nature, in cyclical time man is an equal partner with nature, and in linear time man places himself above nature. The consequences of each can also be compared to the ideals of survival, symbiosis, and domination. Compare this with how we as Mason’s perceive and act on the position of the individual in respect to nature, each other, and ourselves (Obligation & Lecture of the 1st Degree).
Here are a few questions to consider: Are we beneath, a part, or above the natural cycle and history of the past and how we relate to each other? At the close of a Lodge, how are we instructed to meet, act, and part? How could you apply the concepts represented by the Square and Compass to the view of time and our position under the “whole canopy of heaven”? Symbolism is the basis of the “mysteries” of Free Masonry. The personal exploration of these aspects and using the Book of Sacred Law as a guide can take us on a journey that we can use to understand ourselves and how we relate to others and our worlds we are a part of.