The Vinca Symbolim still used in Freemasonry
The earliest forms of the Epic of Gilgamesh had been written using the symbols of Vinca script. When reviewing them I was surprised at how many of the shapes of that Old European Script are still used as symbols to illuminate the lessons taught in a Freemasons' Lodge. I decided that I needed to review the main steps of the ritual teaching and link it to the symbols used in the Masonic tracing boards to drive home the lessons of the ritual.
The motivational strength of this ancient myth is most clearly expressed in the ritual we carry out during the opening and closing of the Lodge in the Third Degree. (The ceremony of opening is a ritual for calling the meeting to order, and the closing is a formal dismissal. The rituals are different for each of the degrees of the Craft.) This ritual reveals the ancient philosophy of this Masonic system.
It says that the human spirit originated in the eternal East, where the Worshipful Masters sits-which in Freemasonry signifies the world of the spiritual, rather than any geographical direction-and that from there it has directed its course towards the rational West (the material world), which is the opposite of the spiritual. Its purpose in journeying from spiritual to physical conditions is a quest to recover something it has lost, but which by its own industry and suitable instruction it hopes to find. What it is that has been lost is not explicitly declared, but is described as the genuine secrets of a Master Mason. It is the loss of the essence of our own being. In other words, the spirit has ceased to be aware of its place in the cosmos, and has degenerated into a limited terrestrial consciousness and fear of its own death. But this path, which at first appears to be a circle turns out to be in fact a spiral, although this is not explained until the Second Degree. This story is said to be "illuminated by symbols" which are displayed on lodge furniture and revealed in Tracing boards.
The Masonic square is a multi-faceted symbol (being in turn shown as a cubical altar, an instrument for measuring the uprightness of a building, or the fourth part of a circle) and is used in the ritual to show the influence of the outside cosmos on the searching spirit, the force that teaches it how to evolve. The circle was used by the old Initiates to demonstrate the microcosmic and all-comprehensive nature of a human. The symbol of a circle within a square shows the candidate simultaneously as a square-finite, material, and form-fettered-and yet as potentially a circle-spiritual, infinite, and free. It indicates that when your outward temporal self attains balance with your inward immortal spirit, when the square of the former becomes equal to, and in equilibrium with, the circle of the latter, your evolution is complete. You must gradually digest the Masonic teaching in the closed circle of your own mind to extract its final value. When you do, you will square the circle. The square drawn within a circle is the symbol of this stage of initiation. The circle denotes the universal deity, and the square within it represents the human spirit. It expresses the mystery of Initiation within an individual's spirit, and the dawning of the light of understanding of your spirit's place in the world.
The next layer of Masonic symbolism places a triangle with its apex downwards and base upwards inside this square-within-a-circle. This form of the equilateral triangle or delta, is ancient and known as the water triangle. It is interlaced with a fire triangle (which has its apex upwards and its base downwards), which is a symbol of the spirit which imparts functional energy. Masonic symbols illustrates that of itself, the spirit would be passive. It is shown as a negative quantity unbalanced by a positive opposite. Its active properties are the product of its union with an underlying and inspiring basis, modified by the good or evil tendencies of the personality. So, by the interaction of the individual qualities of the personality, represented by the interlaced triangles, (often called the Seal of Solomon) the spirit may hope to find the glory at the center within the square creation of the cosmos. Wilmshurst's tracing board of the center, is a plan of this symbolic path, and shows that the symbol is first encountered in the Southern part of the Lodge, the area dominated by logic and learning. It is also found on the cusp point where the religious inclinations of the spirit meet the rational arguments of the material mind.
Here is the point where you, the Masonic pilgrim traveling the spiral path towards the center, are forced to rationalize your longing for spiritual understanding. What do you seek? What are the lost secrets that you hope will lead you to the brightness of the Center, which you first glimpsed dimly through the imbalance of your emotions and rational mind? To find answers, you must move on towards the West. This is the point where your emotions and reason will come into intimate contact with one another in the most material region of the Lodge-the West, the region where the sun sets and the light of day is no more.
In summary, this Masonic spiral, passing in turn through the East, South, West, and North regions of the Lodge, leads from the fading light of the West and the dark inner thoughts of the dying ego, towards the black ignorance of the North then back to towards the faint light of the East. After passing through the dark night of the spirit, we must strive for balance, first within ourselves and then in our relationships with the cosmos. When we do, we see the symbol of the fire and the water triangles interlaced around the Center, showing that we have balanced our mind and emotions with our urges and spiritual impulses at a point where we can fit our newly balanced mind into the rest of the world. Now the symbol of the two interlaced triangles appears again. But this time, we are not studying it, we are living it. It shows our personality to be in balance with the cosmos, and our mind to be perceiving the Center, and so allowing us to reach a new level of consciousness. Our previously unopened path is now opened by the dawning light of the spiritual East and the rising of that herald of the sun, the Bright Morning Star.
It is the point in the Lodge where the faint light of the Bright Morning Star begins to rise in our spiritual East, Wilmshurst's tracing board shows another symbol of balance and harmony. It is two squares set at an angle of 45° to each other. This symbolizes the balance of the individual spirit set within a balanced universe. At this point, we know and can accept our place in the cosmos. The square of our spirit is merged into the square of the cosmos, as represented by the Lodge, and we are now at harmony with ourselves and our place in the world.
Now we can settle in the East, and the final symbol of the pilgrimage is revealed by the tracing board. This is a circle with the center now surrounded by two other triangles: a large upward-facing fire triangle containing a smaller downward-facing water triangle, each centered on the point which is always equidistant from the center. This is the center, the point from which no Mason can err, the point of cosmic consciousness where our mind expands to understand our place in the cosmos and accepts the physical mortality of our body.
Like Gilgamesh after he had traveled round the circle of the world-rim, at the culmination of his adventures, we see how the different elements of the world come into balance and how we fit into this life. As Gilgamesh did, we accept it and see that it is good. The core myth of Gilgamesh lives on in the ritual of Freemasonry. By an accident of political machination in the fifteenth century, we have been given one of the most satisfying answers to the dilemma of the human condition that has ever been developed. It is the myth that inspired s hundreds of generations of Mothers of the Neolithic Revolution to bring nature into harmony with their own needs to understand the intentions in the mind of the Goddess.