The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Elements of Euclid: A Prolegomena

If you spend enough time in Masonic discussion groups, you will find Masons who are interested in Kabbalah, in astrology, in alchemy, in Tarot and many other arcane sciences. Some are very knowledgeable in these fields, and are keenly aware of how these areas of knowledge shape Masonic ritual; but many more, while they might be eager to learn, do not yet know much about these fields. Do these fields have an influence on Masonic ritual? Quite clearly they do, although more as allusions than as central sources. These ideas are very attractive to the esoteric Mason, and the tantalizing hints in our ritual dropped by Preston, Webb, Cross, Gleason and others make the Masonic study of these fields something like a treasure hunt.

And yet, there are things explicitly in our ritual that are of profound spiritual importance that we seem not to notice. We don't have to speculate as to whether the authors of our ritual intended for us to contemplate these ideas; they tell us directly to study them. I would like to see more works of Masonic spirituality take advantage of what is explicitly in our ritual for topics of study that will both enlighten us and make us better Masons.

Tom Worrell's essay, A Spiritual Vision of the Liberal Arts and Sciences, published in Ahiman: A Review of Masonic Culture and Tradition, Vol. 1 is a good example of this. We all know that Fellows of the Craft are told during their Passing that they are to study the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences for the rest of their lives, and to thereby improve themselves in Masonry. But how many do? The essay gives us an inroad into starting a study of these arts and sciences, and an excellent explanation of the spiritual imperatives for doing so.

In that spirit, I would like to engage in an extended study of The Elements of Euclid. Although our ritual talks about Pythagoras, it mentions the 47th Problem of Euclid (actually, Proposition 47 of Book I of The Elements). Until about 1900, an educated man studied The Elements in every society that had access to the text. We know that the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks and Europeans studied The Elements, and there are translations and commentaries on Euclid in every major language in the Indo-European language family. Therefore, pretty much all the framers of Freemasonry studied Euclid. Preston tells us that of the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, Geometry is most essential to Masonry. He even goes so far as to say that Geometry is Masonry. No Mason can claim ignorance of Geometry, and yet few Masons actually study Geometry. I would like to change that. I would like to use my years of mathematics education, both as a student and as a teacher, to encourage Masons (and people in general) to gain a grasp of this subject so central to both Operative and Speculative Masonry, and give them a hand getting started.

To this end, I'm going to be blogging about The Elements a lot for a while. I'm also going to be preparing a Euclid class. While I encourage Masons to attend, there will be nothing in my Euclid class that would violate my Obligation for a non-Mason to hear, and so I'm going to open it to whomever wants to attend, and do the work. Over the next few months, I am going to blog about Euclid, and especially The Elements, a lot. If you want to follow along, I cannot recommend more highly the three-volume paperback translation by Sir Thomas L. Heath, published by Dover. I am not sure a more exhaustive annotated version exists in English. I will also be using an online version. My goal is to make reading Euclid easier for someone without a background in geometry, so that they can tackle this work of immense profundity.

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