Bad Linguistics

This was originally posted to a private lodge Facebook group for Fort Worth Lodge № 148.

Recently, I tried to translate “Mind and Conscience” into both Latin and Hebrew. The Latin translation was very easy: mens et conscientia. Hey, you can see how similar it is, right? When it came to Hebrew, I didn’t get to “conscience” for a long time because of the rabbit hole that “mind” lead down. The Hebrew word for “conscience,” by the way, is מַצְפּוּן or matspon, which means “conscience” or “scruple,” and anciently meant “hidden treasure.” That’s a discussion for another time, I think.

Well, that’s not a simple question with a simple answer. Both in contemporary Hebrew and the Hebrew of the Tanakh / Old Testament, there are many words which are translated to English and the Romance languages as “mind,” but do not actually have the meaning of “mind.” You see, the word “mind,” as we understand it in English, is uniquely colored by the fact that it is a Romance language word.

In Spanish (and Portuguese & Italian) we say “mente,” in Romanian, it’s “minte,” and so forth. However, this isn’t shared into other language families, or regions, or even into other Romance languages! In French (Romance language family), for example, the word is “espirit” from the Latin “spiritus” (“breath,” “breeze,” or “ghost”). In German (different language family, same region) it’s “Geist” which means “spirit” first, then “ghost,” then “mind.”

Then we get to the Semitic language family. Whole different ballgame, folks. As far as I can tell, there is no one word in Hebrew that, strictly speaking, actually means “mind” as we understand it, only words that can be acceptably substituted. I have compiled a small list of them, and what I’ve learned about them. Some of these words were used anciently in the Tanakh / Old Testament, and some of these are more contemporary. I hope I have written this respectfully in an academic context.

Heart – לבב

The word לב or leb (also לבב or lebab) refers to the literal organ of the heart, with secondary, figurative meaning as the seat of emotions and appetites, specifically that of Courage. It can also mean “inner person” or “[the] will.”

Spirit – רוח

Another possible translation is רוח or ruach. It primarily means “wind,” but it can also mean “breath.” It has a tertiary meaning of “spirit” (but still not “mind”).

It also has a prophetic form, רוח הקודש (ruach hakodesh), which is the name of the Holy Spirit in the Tanakh. There are other forms & words of which ruach is a component. רוח אלוהים (ruach Elohim) and רוח-אל (ruach-El) also refer to the Spirit of God. רוח יהוה (ruach Adonai) means “The Spirit of the Lord” and רוח אדני יהוה (ruach Adonai Adonai) means “The Spirit of the Lord God,” which are both commonly and improperly translated as “The Sprit of Jehovah” and “The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah,” respectively. The YHWH discussion is a whole different rabbit-hole.

Soul – נפש

The spirit of a person or an animal is נפש or nepesh, which is directly translated as “soul.” It can also mean “life,” refer to a person / human being, or will/intent. It also has an antiquated meaning of “breath,” which reminds us of רוח / ruach. It can be used to define life and consciousness as we understand it in humans and animals of higher intelligence, which is a very close approximation (but not exact) of “mind.”

Marrow – מֹחַ

More commonly spelled מוֹחַ, but anciently מֹחַ or moach, this word is biblically used to refer to bone marrow (and still is in some contexts), and more recently, primarily in reference to the brain. It closely relates to ruach, “spirit.”

Consciousness – תודעה

A closer word still is תודעה or toda’a, which can refer to an awareness or a consciousness. This is one of the most commonly used words to substitute for mind, but still isn’t a catch-all. The “mind-body problem,” for example, is the “guf-nepesh problem,” while something like “a state of mind” is translated as “a state of toda’a.

Reason – תבונה

The word תבונה or tevunah primarily stands for “reason.” It can also stand for a wisdom, or intelligence. The word for “understanding” is derived from tevunah. The words for prudence, discreetness, knowledge, etc, are also derivations of this word. In Mishlei/Proverbs 3:19-20, we read:

Hashem / God laid the earth’s foundations with wisdom (chochmah), by understanding (tevunah) he set the heavens in place; through His knowledge (daat) the depths were cleaved, and the clouds let drop the dew.”

In this case, Rabbeinu Yonah explains that chochmah is the lowest form of learning – the information that is conveyed to you from someone else. Tevunah is the information or understanding that one arrives to after meditating upon the chochmah one has been taught.

Intelligence – שכל

Shared in Hebrew and Yiddish with slightly different meanings, שכל or sechel means intelligence, brains, wisdom, or in wisdom. Recently, it has also come to refer to common sense and “smarts.” However, it doesn’t just quite translate to any of those, just like “mind” doesn’t translate to it or the other previously-discussed words. In older Hebrew usage, the word had very serious moral and ethical connotations that it does not really have today. In contemporary Yiddish, the word denotes a very respected quality regarding one’s pursuit of knowledge and ability to leave the world a better place.

As you can see, there’s no one word that means exactly what we conceive of as “mind.” This is not uncommon, as many languages have words that don’t quite translate well, like the Portuguese “saudade,” the Spanish “sobremesa,” the German “Weltschmerz,” etc. The closest word, in my opinion, appears to be תודעה (toda’a), which is most commonly used in contemporary Hebrew. Other words I found to be close in the semitic language family are שכל (sechel, Yiddish for “understanding,” shared with Hebrew but with a slightly different meaning), and عقل (*eaql&, Arabic for “reason”).

Online Resources


Appendant Body Elitism

I attended a function of [Non-Specified Appendant Body] recently as the guest of one of my Brothers, along with a MM from one of my sister lodges. Was not able to attend the meeting itself, obviously, but was allowed to join in for a hearty dinner and listen to a pretty good talk on the book of Ecclesiastes. Fascinating stuff. Shook a lot of hands, met a lot of new people.

Anyway, I had two exchanges, one short and one long/frustrating, with Brothers I already know. The short one feels like it played into the longer one.

After the dinner, I talked to a Brother I knew, commenting on how well we had been received. “Oh, absolutely, I had no doubt that you’d love it. [NSAB] is the best, friendliest body in all the Fraternity. You just can’t compare.” I brushed this one off because we had very definitely been greeted with open arms. I didn’t even think about this until I was meditating on the other exchange.

The other exchange was with a Brother who I know even better. He’s a very influential brother in our Temple. We’d been talking about different opportunities in the appendant bodies after my raising. He’s very keen on seeing people join [NSAB], which is great, and I plan to join it eventually, but I also want to take some time and “soak” in Blue Lodge. We talked about our line officers and I mentioned how outstanding I think our JW has been.

This is when things started to get more frustrating. This line got busted out (paraphrased from memory): “Well, he’s a very innate leader, and I’m very proud of him, but he doesn’t know the true secrets of Freemasonry. If he’s going to be an effective leader, he needs to ask more questions about what happened in his Master’s Degree, and have them answered, and he can only do that in [NSAB]. That’s where he’ll gain leadership skills, too. Ninety percent of what you hear in the Blue Lodge is bullshit unless you follow up on it elsewhere. We have the answers. You can’t be a good Officer without having learned from [NSAB], and when you sit in the chairs, I want you have done that first. You’ll gain a lot of leadership skills that you need if you do that before getting in the chairs.” This is a sentiment I have heard before from a lot of older Brothers in [NSAB].

I was pretty frustrated by that. Right now, none of our line officers have been through any of the appendant bodies, including some that have been in Lodge for a while now, and the vast majority of them have been doing an incredible job. We have some Blue Lodge Only guys, but we also have some that are considering joining up with the appendant bodies when it’s the right time. I feel like it’s very dismissive from my Brothers in the appendant bodies to place so much emphasis on things outside of Blue Lodge in specific relation to the running of the Blue Lodge.

I’m neither really hear nor there on the appendant bodies, because I’m really interested, but I want to wait for a while, and I have no plans or machinations set on getting into the Chairs because it is waaaaaaay too early for me to have that kind of discussion. I just feel like this a really common sort of sentiment among guys in appendant bodies, and that it’s incredibly dismissive/disrespectful of Craft Lodge in general.

Am I out of line in feeling a little miffed about this? I don’t know for sure, but I am.

The Prep Room – Jason Mitchell

These are some notes on a reddit comment by M∴I∴ Companion Jason Mitchell, on the subject of how the Room of Preparation should be set up. All I’ve done is format it for ease of reading.

The Prep Room is ritual space. It is not a closet. It is not storage. It is not a utility room. It is just as “sacred” as the Lodge room proper, the altar, and the VSL itself. Clean out your prep room, and make it “sacred” ritual space.

The Prep Room experience is part of the ritual. It should be one candidate at a time (never exceed one candidate). It is not a locker room. The Candidate should feel mildly unwelcome, and the Officers present need to be coldly professional and oppressively silent. There are no smiles in the prep room. There is no joviality in the prep room. Before the Candidate knocks on the door, he needs at least one heartbeat of hesitation and fear. He needs to look at the exit and make the choice to stay.

The prep room should be dark or dimly light. One light bulbs roughly 20W with a color temperature 2700-3000K (or LED or florescent equivalent) is enough. Bright bulbs, white bulbs, or colors are to be avoided. Candles are another matter, but most temples won’t cover the insurance for open flame.

Paint the town red. The prep room walls should be neither white nor black, but a neutral earth tone. With the proper illumination, the proper effect is achieved. Black and white walls ruin the effect. Neutral colors. Always use neutral colors in ritual environments. They just work better with illumination and colors, especially in low-light conditions.

Symbols. Only ever include symbols directly reference in your Grand Lodge’s Work, lectures, or monitors. The idea is to foreshadow things to come.

Know your work. It should go without saying that the prep room is the first ritual experience of the candidate. If you have to read the Work, you’ve already lost him.

Osirian Musings

This was originally posted to a private lodge Facebook group for Fort Worth Lodge № 148.

I’m reading Robert Herd’s the Initiatic Experience. In the second chapter (which is as far as I’ve gotten so far), there’s a lot of talk about the basics of the Egyptian death/afterlife mythos, including the resurrection/rebirth of Osiris, who was buried far in the West. After reading this, something kind of clicked for me and I tried to remember what I learned about Egypt in school!

According to the ancient Egyptians, the West was representative of Death. So much so, in fact, that people would traditionally build homes and regular temples on the East side of the Nile (the land of the living, where the Sun rose) instead of on the West side where tombs and funerary temples were built (the land of the dead, where the Sun set).

In the Lodge, or at least in Texan Lodges (as well as many others, I’m sure), the door through which the candidate enters is on the western side of the room, just north of the Senior Warden’s chair. Here we see that he’s in a dark place, being on the “west bank” where the sun sets (as well as towards the North of the Lodge). By receiving the candidate, we bring him through the doors of the Lodge, from West to East.

Taking the West as Death, the direction of East as Life, and the doors as the barrier between those two worlds, not only is the candidate brought from darkness (western sunset) to light (eastern sunrise), but he is also reborn from death (west, outside the lodge room) to life (east, into the lodge room) as a new man and Mason.