“Feasts and Solstices and the “Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem”
Novus Veteris Lodge
Whence Came You?
In masonry we have two of Christendom’s most revered and venerated saints as our patrons. They are, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and in almost every lodge in our jurisdiction of California you will see a representation of these most Holy Saints depicted standing side by side of the “Circle and the Point” with Parallel Vertical Lines placed on either side of this device, surmounted by the Holy Bible, an enigmatic and powerful symbol, upon which one may reflect for many hours, days and years.
The layers of symbolism embedded in this emblem are representative of the many layers of subtlety and wisdom that our fraternal forefathers crafted into our degrees. Fore, it is only through degrees that we begin to pull back the veils of ignorance and through diligence and perseverance the scales of darkness are lifted from our eyes as we build our own temples by practicing masonic principals and virtues in all our affairs.
(Slide/Point within Circle)
The “Point” within the Circle in some descriptions is identified as the Earth and the “Circle” was said to represent the surrounding heavens. This is an allusion to the medieval belief promoted by the church that the Earth was the center of the known universe and all else in the heavens surrounded her.
(Slide/Proto Sun-Star Vergina-Greek)
In the more arcane sciences and occult, and the astrological and astronomical fields of study the “Point within the Circle” was representative of the Sun. It is a very ancient glyph and can be identified as such in many proto languages and early hieroglyphic symbolic alphabets.
The parallel vertical lines on either side of the “Point within the Circle” were said to be emblems of the Solstices and were represented by the two Saint Johns, St. John the Baptist, the elder, aside the parallel line associated with the summer solstice and St. John the Evangelist, the younger, standing next to the parallel line representing the winter solstice.
Now let me take a moment to explain what the physical solstices are. The Latin word for solstice was “solstitium” and means “sun stopping”. It is that point in the calendar year when the sun appears to stop moving, and after approximately three days, appears to move back again in the opposite direction from whence it came.
The summer solstice is that time when the sun’s zenith is at its furthest point away from the equator and the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere. This event usually occurs around June 21st.
The winter solstice happens when the sun has moved to its zenith in the southern direction and is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere. This usually happens around December 21st.
Now let’s return to the discussion of the masonic symbol represented by our two Sts. John and their importance to our work.
The symbol and the two Saints John come to us by way of the Old York Lecture from 1770 in England and was passed to American lodges first through Preston’s lectures and then by way of Thomas Smith Webb in the early 19th century. My studies indicate that the reference made in the “Old York Lecture” come from comments made by Chevalier Ramsey in his orations concerning the antiquity of masonry.
(Slide/ Saints John)
More commonly this symbol is interpreted as the “Point” representing the man and the “Circle” described as “circumscribing our passions and keeping our desires within due bounds”. There is also the “Book of the Law” sitting atop of this diagram and this is usually explained as all things being ruled by the “Word”. This idea is eluded to in our degrees.
However this symbol may have been interpreted in the past I have my own beliefs about its true nature and significance, which I will discuss later in this presentation.
(Slide/Summer Solstice at Giza)
As most of you know, this is the time of year of the Summer Solstice, that time when the Sun reaches the mid-point of the heavens in the northern latitudes, where it has reached its zenith, and represents the longest day of the year and slowly begins to recede in declination and the days become shorter. Because the transition of the season is upon us I thought that I would take some time to discuss the “Feast of St. John the Baptist” that in Masonry is celebrated at this time.
Feasts played a large role in the lives of people for countless ages in all parts of the world. Religious feasts, particularly in the Christian faith were used to not only to mark the calendar and the change of seasons, but as a reminder of importance of the many acts of the Saints revered by the church and the many holy acts performed by them, and so, was a liturgical tool employed by the clergy in managing the lives of their flocks and teaching desirable lessons meant to influence society.
These “Feasts” were used as civil tools as well as religious tools for knitting the community together in celebration and in communion. They were a time for conducting lodge business and civic and religious business. It was often a time utilized to elect new leaders and allocate new duties and tasks for the brethren. They acted as a focal point for the people to take a break from the toil of everyday life, but they were also used as a tool of the church and the crown to leverage the people and their labor for the benefit of both.
It is not my intention to denigrate the clergy, the church or the monarchs of ages past. My intent is to draw attention to the dynamics of the time and the politics of the crown and the church. Many of these feast days can be traced too much earlier celebrations that had their roots in the pre-Christian era of the conquered Germanic and Celtic tribes and clans of Europe and British Isles.
Suffice it to say, that much of our knowledge and experience of holidays and yearly celebrations have very ancient roots that predate the church. Many of these celebrations owe their establishment to ancient practices of Bronze Age and pre-Iron Age nomadic peoples and early agricultural civilizations, who were so closely tied to the earth and the cycle of seasons for their survival and continuance.
These holidays and celebrations have naturally come down to us through the broad channel of shared cultures and beliefs of our current civilization and through her civil and religious bodies.
(Slide/ St. John the Baptist)
It is easily verified and recorded that the “Feast of St. John the Baptist” has always been celebrated in masonry. By “Always”, I mean that in modern masonry, as tied to the establishment of the United Grand Lodge of England. At the formation of the United Grand Lodge in England in 1717, the first public Grand Lodge of England was “born” on St. John the Baptists’ Feast Day, June 24th.
St. John the Baptist was the “voice in the wilderness” that preached to the people to “Prepare the Way of the Lord and make his paths straight”. He is mentioned in all 4 of the Gospels, and in the Gospel of Luke Jesus is quoted, “Among them that are born of a woman, there has not risen any greater than John the Baptist”.
He was so ardent and intransigent in his beliefs that it is recorded that King Herod had him imprisoned and he eventually was beheaded. So we may take from his story of sacrifice that fidelity to ones’ beliefs is of the highest order, even unto the loss of possessions, freedom or your life.
Even if you do not consider yourself a historian or much of student, his example is easily recognized in our degrees with the story Hiram Abiff, and if you have some experience in the other appendant and concordant bodies you will be familiar with the story of Jacques De Molay.
It is believed by many that St. John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus and that his father was from the line of Aaron. The scripture describes a zealous, faithful and an earnest man. Do these traits sound familiar?
(Slide/ St. John the Evangelist)
Without detracting from this story is the parallel of St. John the Evangelist who is the other Patron Saint of our Craft. Together these two Saints represent the supporting and twin nature of the Word and the Light. Thus we have the Circle, the Point and the Parallel Lines counterpoised by these two Most Holy Saints, and all under the rule of Law.
St. John the Baptist preached the Word and the Coming of the Christ, and St. John the Evangelist preached the Light and Glory of the Christ.
St. John the Evangelist is considered by many sources to be the brother of St. James, both of whom followed John the Baptist in the wilderness of Jordan where he preached repentance. The scriptures of the New Testament show that he followed the Master Jesus to Cana at the wedding and also followed him to Capernaum, and was with the Master in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It was St. John and St. Peter who first heard the Word from the Magdelane of the Resurrection. After the Ascension of the Master and the Assumption of Mother Mary he traveled to Ephesus. Irenaeus claims that this occurred after the deaths of St. Peter and St. Paul, and St. Jerome states that he was the head of the Churches in Asia.
Before the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 there are early records of lodges of masons in Scotland who identified themselves as being from a “Lodge of the Holy St. John at Jerusalem”. When a brother identified himself this way, during that time period, it is likely that he meant he was from a Scottish Lodge.
There is some dispute and confusion about these brothers and it has been recorded that even though they proclaimed to be masons, they were not considered “Regular” or possibly even to be working under the “Old Charges”, which caused much consternation in 18th century England. Many of you know of the rifts in masonry in the British Isles during this time. But that is a story for another day.
(Slide/Saint john the Almoner)
From historical texts it has been determined that the “Lodge of the Holy St. John at Jerusalem” may also have been a reference to St. John the Almoner who, it is purported, was the son of the King of Cypress during the period of the Crusades. It is said that he forsook his title to the throne and went to Jerusalem to assist the Knights and the pilgrims by aiding the poor and the destitute, and that he built hospitals for the sick and suffering. He has been canonized by both the Greek and the Roman Catholic churches, but his feast days have been listed as November 11th and January 23rd. An Interesting note about this St. John is that in some jurisdictions he is the Patron Saint of the Masonic Order of Templars’ because of his charity.
(Slide/ Druid Priest)
There is a school of masonic study and thought that suggests that the “Lodges of the Holy St. John of Jerusalem” were actually a twist on the ancient beliefs of the Druids, who were the Wise Men and Priests of the Celts and Gaels. These Druid priests venerated the Sun and their celebration of the Solstices eventually morphed into the celebration of the “Feasts of the St. John’s” at the solstices of summer and winter. This may be a far reach, but the fact of the matter is that the regularity and ability to measure the constancy of the seasons by identifying and venerating these quarter measures of the year was a vital tool in regulating their lives. Surely the ability to measure and to regulate our lives are masonic virtues if ever there were any.
There are some interesting historical notes and questions that arise with regard to the choice of the Saints Johns being chosen as Patrons of the Craft, and the record is virtually extinguished in this regard. In the 1430’s in Cologne there existed “The Fraternity of St. John” which in truth is found to be a Carpenter’s Guild. In the minutes of a masonic lodge in Edinburgh in 1599 there is noted a reference to St. John the Evangelist.
Also in the early records of the Lodge of Scoon and Perth, they identified themselves as the Lodge of St. John and there was a large mural of the Saint painted on the lodge wall. As yet I have not been able to determine which St. John was depicted in this lodge. Some jurisdictions have declared that the St. John’s Days are “Landmarks”, and others note them as “from Time Immemorial”.
(Slide/St. John the Baptist Feast-Nativity)
It is my opinion that the “Feasts of the St. Johns” are truly recast celebrations of the ancient Solstice celebrations of the pre-Christian era which dominated Europe before the “Christianization” of the Continent.
(Slide/ St. John the Evangelist Feast)
We have no certain extant historical record that proves or disproves my belief, but what we do have is the celestial and spiritual fingerprints of the Great Architect in Whom We Live, Move, Breath and Have Our Being, his all encompassing creation, and two of his most revered measures and symbols, the Solstices and their Christian representatives the St. Johns as evidence to support my claim.
(Slide/ Point within the Circle-Solstices)
The symbol they guard and support is all the evidence necessary to support that claim. The “Point within the Circle” chambered between the Parallel Vertical Uprights have been defined and described by many. My understanding and belief is that the “Point within the Circle” represents the “One”, the principle of Eternal Unity and Oneness encased in the Orphic Egg.
(Slide/ Orphic Egg-Rebis)
The center male principal joined to the all enfolding female principle, which in total describes the life giving energy of the Ever Living Sun, the source of all creation and all life as we know it. The “Point within the Circle” is symbolic of the union of these principals and the gateway from the “Unity” to the “Duality” that births all life as we know it.
The Upright Vertical Parallels are descriptive of the trueness of the scales used to measure this cycle that rules all life on Earth, and which are figuratively guarded by “His” most devoted servants, the Holy Saints John, the guardians of the summer and the winter solstices.
And finally, but certainly not the least, is that this Most Holy Glyph is surmounted by the “Book of the Law”, which is undoubtedly the essence of the Most High and his deific forces that Rules All Life and All of Creation.
(Slide/ St. Johns-Final)
So this most sublime and holy depiction encompasses the most clear and fundamental of forces that describes and circumscribes the world and creation as we know it. It is truly a most complete and holy cipher and you owe it to yourselves to study it most carefully.
For our purposes in Novus Veteris UD, this “Feast of St. John the Baptist” serves in a way as our baptism into a new era of Masonry in the 21st Century. By reinvigorating the “Old” with the “New” we have embarked on a new adventure, and a new trial. It has taken great vision and a greater faith and hope to see this new masonic life birth and begin to take shape. The dreams of the brothers who began this journey can really and only be described as “Inspired”.
I am sure many brothers have had hopes for starting a new and inspiring lodge. I, myself am one. But for whatever reason or for lack of resolve on my part nothing came of it. It is our great fortune to be a part of this new chapter and new beginning in Masonry.
The facts are clear, the world and the Craft are ripe for this work. No one could argue that there isn’t a cause or need for this kind of endeavor in the world we live in today. In the most tumultuous and dangerous times our fraternal forefathers stood at the crossroads and vowed and obligated their fortunes and their lives to promote the cause liberty and freedom.
We now stand at a similar crossroads where the cycles of “His” Great Wheel and the Hand of Destiny point to an uncertain future. But we are assured of “His” guidance and protection in perfecting “His” Great Work”, and we humbly beseech “His” blessing in these endeavors.
I doubt there is a single soul in this room today who would argue otherwise. We have a mandate and we are obligated to support and serve the Great Architect in His Work, the Craft and our Brothers. But we are also admonished and charged in our degrees to defend and support those who cannot do so of their own accord. So this is Novus Veteris UD’s baptism and mandate, as it is truly the mandate of all Masonic lodges, to serve the Great Architect of the Universe in all of his Work.
By freely engaging in this duty we exemplify the Holy Saints John in the example they laid before us, by Standing Uprightly and Supporting “His” Great Work.
Your Humble Servant,
St. John the Evangelist was reported to have survived being boiled in oil, he was exiled to Patmos by Diocletian, wrote the Apocalypse there, later went to Ephesus and supposedly lived until the reign of Trajan circa 100 ad.
The Summer Solstice and Feast of St. John the Baptist is actually to celebrate his nativity.