Masonic Astrology and the Fixed Square of the Zodiac
Thoughts on Masonic Cosmology
The original Masonic tradition that is traceable to Scotland, Ireland, and England had its roots in the medieval obsession with cathedral building. Cathedrals were the most sacred of spaces, for obvious reasons. The Gothic cathedrals of Europe were wonders of craftsmanship, but expense or neglect left many of these incomplete. Cathedrals also acted as solar observatories from which the proper date of Easter could be determined. Easter was astronomically defined as the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox. This fixed rule was established by the Council of Nicea, but was not put into widespread practice through most of Europe until the Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th and 9th Centuries. Only by correctly observing the soli-lunar phenomena could the drama of Christ be enacted universally across Christendom on the proper date. This astronomical tradition empowered the very soul of the Church in the sense that Christ could be "reborn" again yearly when the Sun and Moon were fully returned to the northern half of the heavens in the signs of Aries through Virgo.
Finding the exact date of the equinox was of prime ecumenical and political importance, but this was no simple feat in the Middle Ages. The Julian calendar under-measured the length of a solar year by about 11 minutes - an error that threw the calendar out of sync with the seasons one complete day every 125 years. In addition, without today's precise measurement tools, mathematicians were unable to measure "Delta T," or the gradual slowing of the Earth's rotation. Over the course of 15 centuries, the Sun's transit of the cardinal points-originally March 25, June 24, September 24 and December 25-was slowly slipping ahead of itself. The 11-minute discrepancy coupled with the challenge of astronomical calculations resulted in the calendar being about ten days out of sync with the tropical zodiac by the 16th Century.
By erecting the cathedral itself as a solar observatory, the resident priest could determine visually that the equinox was indeed occurring. For this reason, cathedral doors had to face east.14 The craftsmen who built the cathedrals employed a rather simple technique that allowed the floor of a cathedral to be platted with the above in mind. Two pillars were placed in line with the north-south meridian. Next, the shadows cast by the rising sun (not exactly reliable in the oft-cloudy European realms) were measured and marked. By measuring the shadows of the Sun's most northern rising, what we now call the summer solstice, and the Sun's most southern rising, or winter solstice, the dimensions of the cathedral could be reckoned. The point where both of these shadows crossed was then marked on the floor, and from there a star could be inset into the marble flooring.15
The Julian calendar that was to become standard in Christendom marked the winter solstice, the symbolic birthday of Jesus, calendrically by December 25. Conversely, the summer solstice was celebrated as June 24, and was ascribed as the Feast of St. John, a holy day to John the Baptist, the first Saint and Christianity's second-most important individual. Cathedral platting emphasized the importance of this date to Masonry. The contemporary "Royal Arch Mason" is so named to celebrate the arc of the ecliptic that stretches from 0º Aries to 0º Libra, with the focal point of that arch being where the Sun is on St. John's Day, theoretically 0º Cancer.
As operative Freemasonry evolved in post-Medieval Europe, it attracted men of high distinction who were not laborers, but instead learned and noble, into its ranks. As the art of cathedral building matured, Masonry's infusion of non-craftsmen brought a new dimension to the craft-what is now referred to as "speculative" Masonry. The aims of speculative Masonry were to take the craft beyond practical concerns of construction, and into the realms of introspection and social cultivation. Masonry, truly a cult of the Sun, was the mystical link back to the Sun-centered religious traditions of certain realms in Pagan Europe that influenced the astronomies of Medieval Christendom. Within the ranks of the guild were held the secrets of the workings of God's creation, which simplistically can be seen as the cycles of time via the luminaries. 300 years ago, this knowledge was far beyond the reach of the vast majority of the populous, and the craft guild of Masonry being a natural repository for this wisdom was attractive to the social elites.
Speculative Freemasonry began in earnest, not surprisingly, on June 24th, 1717, at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in London, when four local lodges joined to form the Grand Lodge of England (See Figure 2). Although England was a Christian nation, it was outside of the realm of the Holy Roman Catholic Church and did not officially adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Because England waited to adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, the 1717 date is Old Style (OS), and is concurrent with July 5th of the Gregorian calendar. The noon chart for London on this date is remarkable and suggests that this date was elected astrologically, perhaps many years prior. The Grand Lodge itself consisted of four local lodges, perhaps symbolically representative of the cardinal points that are so prominent in Masonic symbolism and architecture.
Not only is Jupiter cazimi in this chart, but it is also directly behind the disc of the Sun in what is a rare solar eclipse of a planet. The disc of the Sun averages about 34 minutes of arc in diameter, and any planet that is within 17 minutes of the ecliptic while cazimi is technically in eclipse. Jupiter tends to stay relatively close to the ecliptic, more so than the other planets (except for Uranus). Astrological tradition states that planets in cazimi are strengthened, oddly, in contrast to planets that are consumed by the aura of the Sun - within 16 or 17 degrees of longitude.16 Still, we can see the culminating eclipse in the following table:
This rarity suggests that the chart was elected, and we do know that precise astronomical tables were available from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which had been in operation under the direction of Flamsteed since the late 1670s. With the technology and tools of the day, such an "eclipse" was easily predictable for an expert in astronomy, including any learned and elevated brother of the Masonic tradition.17
Saturn is rising in this chart, exactly square to the Sun/Jupiter eclipse. Saturn and Jupiter are both in their exaltations by sign, as is Luna, who is conjunct the Pleiades. Saturn and Mars are in sextile, and thus rendered mostly harmless via the old rules of election.
Uranian astrologers would find the 8th harmonic interesting:
This spectacular astrological setup is relevant to Masonic symbolism as well. The square and compass that have become the moniker of the craft finds its roots in the older traditions of European astrology. Not only were the square, representing an angle of 90º, and compass, spread at the angle of 60º, necessary tools for architectural craftsmen, they were also allusions to the nature of the earth and heavens, and the basic measurements of the whole of the cosmic works (See Figure 3).
These angles are represented in the 1717 chart as well, and Mars' angle to the eclipse is the sum of both angles, 150º (See Figure 3-a). Quoting a perennial Masonic work from 1946, "Without some knowledge of astrology it is impossible for any one to fully understand the symbology of ... Freemasonry, for it is replete with astrological references. The theory that the earth is flat and square and that the heavens are a great inverted dome is attributed to the ancients. The earth being material it was natural to adopt the square as the symbol of the earth, and eventually it came to be used as a symbol for all material things including material, of physical man. As triangulation is used in measuring spheres, a sequence of reasoning is that the "Heavens" are spherical; they are the abode of the gods; the gods are spiritual, hence a triangle symbolizes heaven, Deity and things spiritual, including spiritual man."18
The Carolingian Renaissance was largely responsible for the standardization of cosmological models across Europe, but it took over 500 years for Christian festivals to replace the Pagan traditions of earlier urban origin.19 While the Byzantine and Arab astronomies evolved largely from Ptolemaic models, the Latin courts, after Charlemagne, pulled mainly from Pythagorean numerical models that were a mix of mythology, computistics and ritual timekeeping. Their astronomy was mainly observational, with less emphasis on precision geometry, and it was only later, after the Byzantine influence had reached the Latin academia, that the observational and calendrical models were reconciled with the mathematical disciplines. Even Copernican heliocentrism did not bring about the demise of epicycles, as they were an excellent method of calculation, provided one knew the "place" of the "spheres." The radius of all spheres was given as "60º," regardless of motion or size, and avoided the tedious and needless measure of lineal distance. Recognizing that one can arrange six radii in a hexagon circumscribed within a sphere, with the corners tangential to that sphere in intervals of 60°, this strange practice, coupled with the geometrical "squaring of the circle," is probably the origin of the symbolism associated with astrology.20
The word geometry literally means "earth measure," but what exactly were the world's mathematical limits in Aristotelian circles is unclear. What is know is that terrestrial measurements were tied closely to stellar measurements from at least the time of Ptolemy. Ultimately important to Masonry was how to design ceremonies for the initiation of every undertaking that would take moments of harmony between earth and celestial spheres into consideration; this required skill in geometrical calculation and computus, disciplines that have remained central to Masonry to the present day.
These mathematical and astronomical traditions were so important to the Western European nobility that they eventually considered their feudal heritage to be ordained and sanctioned by the movement of the stars. The astronomical tradition that had evolved from the Frankish court of Charlemagne up to the Enlightenment became the very rallying point against the Monarchies that threatened the Feudal system.21 It was this set of values that helped fuel the American Revolution against the Monarchy of England, and then America's role in the French Revolution in which Masonic conspiracies abounded.
Freemasonry's Cosmic Cross and the American Revolutionaries
Returning our focus to the American Revolution, it is no secret, but perhaps underreported, that the majority of the "Founding Fathers" of the USA were Freemasons. "By reading of the Masonic literature, we have long since become familiar with the fact that Masons of those days played an important part in the founding of our government. It will be a revelation to discover that practically all the leaders in the movement were members of the Craft, who feared not to fight, bleed, and die to carry out those splendid principles which established freedom of thought, speech, and action for future generations."22
And, so was the case with Mr. Benjamin Franklin, who was instrumental in the early days of Philadelphia Masonry, and with the political circles of the Revolution. It was Franklin who published lodge meetings in his newspapers as early as the 1730s, and in whose handwriting we find "July 4, 1730" penned at the top of the ledger of his lodge, "St. John's Lodge," in Philadelphia, in its formative year.23 Was Franklin keeping time in the Gregorian calendar, or is this just a coincidence?
Franklin also sought official recognition from the London Grand Lodge via the colony's appointed "Provincial Grand Master" sometime in 1733. After the lodge had fallen into a state of disrepair some years later, Franklin applied to the London body directly, in 1750, for an official dispensation, which he was granted. There is no question, therefore, that Franklin and his brothers were aware of the astrology inherent to the London body. In fact, this astrology may be the most important facet of that Grand Lodge's authority and respect.
On June 24, 1776, another Sun/Jupiter eclipse occurred in Cancer about 10° earlier than the eclipse in 1717 (See Figure 4), and Franklin, perhaps defiantly but not surprisingly, imposed the astrological signatures of the 1717 body onto the assembly at Philadelphia in 1776:
Noon, June 24, 1717 (O.S.) London
Noon, June 24, 1776, (N.S.) Philadelphia
MC ------- 13º10' Cancer
MC ------- 03º35' Cancer
Sol ------ 13º10' Cancer
Sol ------ 03º35' Cancer
Jupiter -- 13º06' Cancer; Lat. +0º06'
Jupiter -- 03º37' Cancer; Lat. -0º05'
Saturn --- 13º08' Libra
Saturn --- 17º35' Libra
ASC ------ 10º05' Libra
Luna ----- 10º24' Libra
Notice that 1776 Luna is transiting the 1717 ASC.
Due to the calendar changeover from Julian to Gregorian in England in 1752, we find that the Sun/Jupiter eclipse enigmatically manifests on the same sacred date while in different decans of Cancer. Again we find Jupiter and Saturn in their exaltations, Saturn having returned to Libra as well; Jupiter on his fifth, and Saturn on his second return since 1717, highlighting the ~60 year chronocrating cycle, but in that magical square from Cancer to Libra. The summer of 1776 was indeed viewed as the destined time for the Masonic brotherhood to take gigantic step in their lengthy quest to enact a new government based on the values of those Europeans who dared to challenge the oppressive monarchies of Europe with the liberating and higher ideals of democracy and freedom.
The actual vote to adopt the D of I did not occur until July 2nd. Thomas Jefferson began to pen the D of I only after June 7, when Richard Henry Lee submitted his Resolution Proposing a Declaration of Independence.25 It is not unthinkable that the new nation was intended to be a subsidiary concern of the Masonic body in London, rather than an isolated entity without any connections to the non-monarchial powers in the Old World. This would ensure continued economic and legal ties with most of England's empire. A noon chart for July 4, 1776 boasts a near-exact solar return of the original Grand Lodge of London, only this time at Philadelphia as seen in this next table and charts:
Why would Franklin and company, if interested in the astrological benefits of a good Sun/Jupiter cazimi, not want to plan the signing of D of I around the 24th of June? One reason may have to do with the rivalry between two camps of Freemasons, the "ancients" and the "moderns." For nearly 25 years before 1776, a schism in the realm of Freemasonry grew to a fevered pitch. The "moderns," meaning Freemasons who were beholden to the Grand Lodge of England of 1717, and who also were a rather elitist group with only a handful of lodges in the principal port cities in the Colonies, began to wane in both numbers and relevance. This was mainly due to efforts of "anceint" Masons, who considered themselves the true adherents to the earliest historic roots of the craft's Medieval heritage, and who proliferated their own brand of Masonry into a broader demographic class of Americans. By the time the Revolution was in full swing, "modern" Freemasons such as Franklin were finding their Masonic poisitions to be less relevant in their social standing. At Franklin's funeral, there was little mention or reverence to his long and substantial career as a Freemason.24 This may be a reason for the choice of July 4, as it was a solar return of the chart for the 1717 Grand Lodge, and thus a way to subvert the rising influence of "ancient" Masons who held little respect for the 1717 Grand Lodge.
Franklin had been a proponent of colonial union in 1754 for the purposes of trade, defense and legal continuity. The so-called "Albany Plan" was authenticated on July 10, 1754,26 under an unusual alignment of Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Regulus (see Figure 6). On this date, Luna anti-culminated while it was at 0º Aries, providing an astrological energy perfect for starting a new enterprise.
14 For more on the topic, see Heilbron, J. L., The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, Harvard University Press, London, 1999.
Copyright © 2002 Edward Kohout. All Rights Reserved.