The widow’s son: the dead father in the work of freemasonry

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P.D. Newman
Tupelo Lodge No. 318, F&AM

Fatherless now, you must deal with the memory of a father. Often that memory is more potent than the living presence… (Donald Barthelme, The Dead Father)

The term Widow’s Son is one with which every Master Mason should be familiar. Not only has it been explained to him that Hiram Abiff was “the son of a widow,” but insofar as he was made to represent Abiff in the dramatic portion of the Master’s Degree, so too can the Master Mason rightly be called a widow’s son. Aside from the rather obvious fact that in order to be a widow’s son one’s father must first have (symbolically, at least) died, what is it that is potentially being implied by this most curious yet unassuming of Masonic terms, one that is as deceptive as it is revealing? Superficially, it denotes a relationship between a widowed mother and her male lineal descendent; just below the surface however is the implication of an invisible third party, whose telling absence has colored both the surviving mother and child. In Lacanian psychoanalytic terms, this missing third party is known as the Dead Father.

Otherwise known as the Name of the Father, the Dead Father is a term used by French psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan to denote the place which has been reserved within the psyches of both the mother and the son for the memory and perpetuation of the familial ‘law,’ the same of which the father instituted and enforced during his lifetime. According to Lacan’s thinking, while the father is still alive, the son obeys his rules solely out of the fear that if he does not, the father will punish him. This then leads the son to view the father as something of a tyrant, oppressing him and restricting his freedom. Following the father’s death however, far from taking advantage of the fact that the once-tyrannical father figure is nowhere present to judge or punish the son’s behavior, the son then begins to follow the father’s rules of his own accord. In the words of psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek,

[i]t is not enough to have the [dead] father return as the agency of symbolic prohibition: this prohibition, to be effective, must be sustained by a positive act of Will.”

It is not out of the fear of punishment that the son now complies, but rather out of a) his love for the father, and b) the guilt of past disobedience and anger which was harbored during punishment inflicted by the father. In psychoanalytic terms, this phenomenon is known as deferred obedience, and it is one of the outcomes of the successful resolution of what Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, called the Oedipus Complex.

The voluntary acceptance of the responsibility for one’s own actions, and the possession of the moral conviction to do that which one knows to be right for its own sake, is considered by many cultures to be the marks of a mature, masculine adult. In the field of psychoanalysis, it is understood that this burden of responsibility cannot be taken on so long as the father, and not the child’s conscience, remains as the sole deciding factor in the latter’s behavior. In one of his commentaries to his highly illuminating films, Chilean psychoanalyst and avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky once exclaimed: ‘In order for the child to become a man, he must first castrate his father!’ Jodorowsky’s metaphorical exclamation is no doubt off-putting to those not already familiar with the concepts employed within the field of psychoanalysis. However, the notion of paternal castration, a scenario which actually signifies a psychological transfer of power and the attainment of individuality, also echoes a motif so often seen in various mythologies and folklores, where the son himself is forced to castrate or murder his own father in order to acquire the power of authority which the latter had formerly exhibited. According to Greek myth, for example, where we find our literary precedent for this theory, it was not until he castrated his father Uranus that Cronus was able to become the king of the Titans. Nor was Zeus able to ascend to the title of lord of the Olympians until he succeeded in murdering his father, Cronus. As a Jungian analyst might put it, ‘In most cases, it is not until the passing of the prominent father figure in a man’s own life that he is able to actively begin the process of incorporating or reintegrating the paternal archetype which had been projected onto, and up until that point had only been able to find its expression within the imago of his own biological or figure father.’

It is impossible to discuss Lacan’s concept of the Dead Father without first mentioning something on Freud’s notion of the Oedipus Complex. Coined after the play Oedipus Rex by Greek poet Sophocles, many assume that the term Oedipus Complex refers to a psychological disorder wherein a given son harbors an unconscious desire to murder his father and unite romantically with his mother. However, this couldn’t be further from the case. For Freud, the Oedipus Complex was something through which we all must go, and its successful resolution was believed to have beneficial repercussions on psychological, as well as sociological levels.

On a psychological level, the successful resolution of the Oedipus Complex is believed to ensure the son’s identification with the gender of the father. Before the emergence of the Oedipus Complex, the child exists in a world that is psychologically indistinguishable from the mother. She is the source of all of the child’s satisfaction and pleasure. Upon the emergence of the Oedipus Complex, on the other hand, she also becomes the source of anxiety for the child. For, when she is not present, the child is naturally left with a feeling of incompleteness, as though a major portion of its self is missing. Lacan called this feeling of incompleteness Lack. As he matures, the child begins to ascertain that the mother’s absence is directly connected with the presence of the father. “When she is not with me,” he formulates, “she is with Daddy.” Upon this revelation, the anxiety generated by the mother’s absence is thenceforth progressively transferred onto the father. The son’s unfulfilled desire to not only unite with his mother, but also to be that of which she is most desirous, leads him to develop feelings of anger and resentment toward the father. According to Freud,

[i]f a little boy is allowed to sleep beside his mother when his father is away from home, but has to go back to the nursery…as soon as his father returns, he may easily begin to form a wish that his father should always be away, so that he himself could keep his place beside his dear, lovely Mummy. One obvious way of attaining this wish would be if his father were dead; for the child has learnt one thing by experience – namely that ‘dead’ people, such as Granddaddy, are always away and never come back.”

Freud likened the separation which the father wedges between the son and his mother,
i.e., what in psychoanalysis is referred to as the son’s Object of Desire, to a symbolic castration, severing the pleasure-driven connection which binds them, in favor of a more wholesome, socially-accepted bond. And, it is upon this symbolic castration that the child is faced with the crisis of his desire to overcome the father, i.e., kill him and unite with the mother, or to actually be the father and thus to be privilege to that which is presently the father’s, i.e., conform to his ‘law’ and potentially incur his mercy. If the child chooses the latter, then he will begin the process of psychologically identifying with the gender of the father, and thus aspiring toward all things masculine. Conversely, should he opt for the former, he will be faced with a lifetime of neurosis, perversion, and finally psychosis. As mythologist Joseph Campbell explains,

the most permanent of the dispositions of the human psyche are those that derive from the fact that, of all animals, we remain the longest at the mother breast. Human beings are born too soon; they are unfinished, unready as yet to meet the world. Consequently their whole deference from a universe of dangers is the mother, under whose protection the intra-uterine period is prolonged. Hence the dependent child and its mother constitute for months after the catastrophe of birth a dual unit, not only physically but also psychologically. Any prolonged absence of the parent causes tension in the infant and consequent impulses of aggression; also, when the mother is obliged to hamper the child, aggressive responses are aroused. Thus the first object of the child’s hostility is identical with the first object of its love, and its first ideal (which thereafter is retained as the unconscious basis of all images of bliss, truth, beauty, and perfection) is that of the dual unit of the Madonna and Bambino.

The unfortunate father is the first radical intrusion of another order of reality into the beatitude of this earthly restatement of the excellence of the situation in the womb; he, therefore, is experienced primarily as an enemy. To him is transferred the charge of aggression that was originally attached to the “bad,” or absent mother, while the desire attaching to the “good,” or present, nourishing, and protecting mother, she herself (normally) retains. This fateful infantile distribution of death (thanatos: destrudo) and love (eros: libido) impulses builds the foundation of the now celebrated Oedipus complex, which Sigmund Freud pointed out…as the great cause of our adult failure to behave like rational beings.”
It is because of his direct connection to the notion of ‘law’ that the father was for Lacan representative of what he called the Symbolic Order, i.e., the entire social paradigm into which one is born, including all of the laws, language, and cultural expectations. Therefore, to reject one’s own father is to reject the entire social paradigm as a whole.

The Symbolic order is dominated by the repressive figure of the Father. We enter the Symbolic order by accepting his name and prohibitions…. A symbolic castration occurs when the Father restores the phallus as the Mother’s primary desire, no longer the child’s compliment to what is lacking in her. The child finally overcomes this when it comes to terms with the patriarchal law. The Father’s prohibition projects the child into a world of differences (masculine/feminine, father/son, absent/present), allowing it to distinguish itself from the others and to approach a self of its own. But Lacan goes beyond Freud’s discussion of the Oedipal complex and transforms it into a linguistic phenomenon….In learning the inner workings of language, the child apprehends the grammatical category of the “I” and, in doing so, enters the Symbolic order of singularities.”

While it is true that the son’s unconscious desire to remove the father from the familial equation is generated by his Lack for his mother, the desire is also inclusive of the drive to possess that which allows the father to have access to the mother, i.e., the Phallus. The Phallus is the symbol of the generative power par excellence, and as such it represents the Ideal in masculinity. It is not the physical genitals to which the Phallus refers, but rather to the very archetype of Paternalism and Masculinity. In the child’s mind, possession of the same would not only make of him an Ideal man, but it would also give him uninhibited access to the Object of Desire.

It is no secret that Masonic ritual exhibits some decidedly phallic imagery. One famous example comes from British Freemason and Spiritualist J.S.M. Ward who wrote in his Entered Apprentice’s Handbook that

[the Worshipful Master] represents the male aspect of the Deity, as is shown by the tau crosses, called levels, on his apron, and by the use of his gavel, which represents the same emblem.” [emphasis added]

In his 1921 classic Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods he wrote further:

“the hammer or gavel, and the Tau, were originally the same, and this is a natural evolution of symbols, for the Tau Cross is evolved from the Phallus, and that is the symbol of God the Creator…” [emphasis added]

As Ward aptly demonstrates, the Masonic gavel, like the Phallus in the psychoanalytic model, is emblematical of power, authority, masculinity, and law.

Returning to the subject of Lack, it should be noted here that while Lack emerges along with the absence of the mother, once emerged, it cannot be filled by the mother. It is the infant’s first formation of the concept of ‘loss’ or ‘incompleteness,’ and as such it is absolute in itself. It is an inherent notion, the emergence of which creates a void that no amount of filling can satisfy. Thus, the emergence of Lack in an infant is believed to generate its (the infant’s) very drive toward pleasure and satisfaction. The Object of Desire is therefore not limited to the mother alone, as is the case with the infant, but can expand with maturity to include romance, inebriants, food, shopping, power, or even travel. Indeed, in his book Freud’s Self-Analysis, French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu discussed Freud’s so-called Rome dreams, a series of dreams wherein Freud found himself viewing the city of Rome under different scenarios. In the first dream, Freud spies Rome from afar as he feels a sensation of prohibition and punishment for his longing to arrive there. In another dream, he passes his father while trying to get to Rome, and revealingly asks of him (his father) how one might go about arriving at Rome. While it is insignificant to our purposes whether or not Freud ever arrived at Rome in these dreams, the fact that it was Freud’s father who knew the way to Rome, i.e., it is the father who possesses certain privileged knowledge of the Object of Desire, is highly significant. And, it demonstrates neatly the notion that Freud’s concept of the Object of Desire is not fixed to one’s biological mother alone.

Drawing from the recapitulation theory, Freud postulated that the developmental process of the psychology of the child was directly reflected in and could be ascertained by the developmental process of the entire human race. In his presentation of this theory in Moses and Monotheism, Freud touched upon a factor in the development of both the child and the race that, in the author’s opinion, is of paramount importance in regards to the reader’s comprehension of the full relevance of the Oedipal crisis within the work of Freemasonry.

Under the influence of external factors into which we need not enter here and which are also in part insufficiently known, it came about that the matriarchal social order was succeeded by the patriarchal one – which, of course, involved a revolution in the juridical conditions that had so far prevailed….But this turning from the mother to the father points in addition to a victory of intellectuality over sensuality – that is, an advance in civilization, since maternity is proved by the evidence of the senses while paternity is a hypothesis, based on an inference and a premise. Taking sides in this way with a thought-process in preference to a sense perception has proved to be a momentous step.” [emphasis added]

What Freud suggests is that the leap from a matriarchal society to that of a patriarchal one signifies a veritable progression from an instinct, sense based consciousness to one of intellect, logic, and rationale. Is this not the same “momentous step” which every Master Mason takes as his faculty of circumscription, signified by the compasses, gradually overtakes that of the senses and materiality, represented by the square, on the altar upon which he was obligated? Is this not an example of what we as Masons refer to as passing from the Square to the Compasses? Carl A.P. Ruck, the professor of Classics at Boston University, also argued for the existence of a matriarchal society somewhere in the distant past of the human race. Given certain archaeological evidence provided by Prof. Ruck in support of his argument, Freud’s theories may not be too far off the mark!

The sociological import of the successful resolution of the Oedipus Complex is the very perpetuation of our entire social construct, i.e., the universal taboo against murder and incest. In illustration of this point, we will need to make reference to a myth which, while quite dissimilar from the legend of Oedipus, was nevertheless for Freud analogous to it. It is not difficult to ascertain why that was so. In his book Totem and Taboo, Freud discussed the mythos which accompanies the male initiation rites of the Sambia, a tribal people located in the highlands of Papau, New Guinea. This myth speaks of a horde of brothers whom were subjected to the absolute rule of a primordial father. This figure not only dominated all of the brothers, but he also keept all of their sisters and mothers as his own, prohibiting any of them to have a woman for himself. According to Freud, that which gives a father the power which he holds over his sons is the former’s possession of what in psychoanalytical and anthropological terms is known as the symbolic Phallus. In order to obtain this Phallus, i.e., in order to obtain that which will provide them access to their Object of Desire, the horde of brothers conspired to murder the father, and in effect be freed from his oppression. The plan was that each would then take a wife for himself. However, immediately following the father’s murder, instead of celebrating their freedom and taking their women, the brothers instead began to mourn his death and experience the guilt of having murdered one whom they loved. Not only that, but for each brother there also was the realization that, in his newfound position of power, the same fate could just as easily be visited upon him; that, after taking for himself a woman, one of his brothers or even his very own son might just as well aspire to murder him too. To remedy this, the brothers each took an obligation to not strike or kill another, and to not have sexual relations with their brothers’ sisters or mothers. The brothers’ new obligations were commemorated in the erection and consecration of a phallic totem, a veritable ancestral idol which would serve as a substitute for the authority once exhibited by their father. The totem therefore served as a new, substitute Phallus which no individual brother could or would possess, but which they all of them nonetheless revered equally as the new substitute word or law of the primordial father.

In this myth, through the phenomenon of deferred obedience, the father has become more powerful in name than while living. According to Freud, by entering into this covenant, the brothers effectively laid the groundwork for our current social paradigm, wherein murder and incest are unquestionably universal taboos. Referring to Dr. Rosine Perelberg:

The killing of the father brings the realization that this renunciation and sacrifice needs to take place if society is to survive. It lies at the origins of the social contract: the unconscious nucleus of all religions becomes the ‘parental complex’ with the stress on ambivalent feelings of love and hate towards the father. Freud argues that this is the beginning of society, culture and religion….The origins of society, according to Freud, emphasize the control that mankind had to exercise over its sexuality and desire, excluding force and violence." [emphasis added]

For psychoanalysts like Maurice Godelier and Rosine Perelberg who have continued the research initiated by Freud and Lacan, these notions of renunciation and sacrifice are central to the successful resolution of the Oedipus Complex, and indeed, to the perpetuation of our entire social order.

Godelier perceives the disjunction between desire and reproduction in the development of human sexuality as a consequence of the loss of the oestrus in the woman that in turn led to the independence of sexual relations from reproduction. Desire and the potential for a generalized sexual exchange that from then on became possible represented a threat to society and the reproduction of social relationships. There was thus a contradiction between sexuality and society. The sacrifice of sexuality that then takes place, Godelier suggests, is a sacrifice of the potential of the generalized sexual exchange and results from the repression of the asocial character of sexuality itself. Godelier emphasizes a sociological type of explanation for the sacrifice of sexuality: society subordinates desire to the social order and places reproductive sexuality under societal control.”

Freud likened this notion of the sacrifice of sexuality to the concept of opted circumcision, a type of symbolic castration, which many scholars associate with the idea of self regulation and the subduing of one’s passions. According to Rabbinical scholar Moses Maimonides, the same of which, as Brn. Rabbi Hirsh Geffen and Peter Paul Fuchs both demonstrate in their contributions to Philalethes, was a potential influence on the development of the Craft, this interpretation is in perfect alignment with the function of the rite of circumcision as it is practiced in the religion of Judaism.

"As regards circumcision, I think that one of its objects is to limit sexual intercourse…and thus cause man to be moderate….This commandment has not been enjoined as a complement to a deficient physical creation, but as a means for perfecting man's moral shortcomings. The bodily injury caused to that organ is exactly that which is desired; it does not interrupt any vital function, nor does it destroy the power of generation....And who was the first to perform this commandment? Abraham, our father!” [emphasis added]

It has been suggested that the Masonic apron is directly indicative of sexual purity as it covers the genital region of the Mason. As the Entered Apprentice is told that he is to "wear his apron with the flap turned up to prevent soiling of the clothes but Masonically to prevent daubing with untempered mortar," one wonders if the implication here is not an injunction to celibacy on the part of the Entered Apprentice. Celibacy is a common practice among probationers and neophytes in numerous mystical and religious traditions. Under such an analysis untempered (literally meaning 'not moderated or lessened by anything') mortar would appear to allude particularly to the sexual passions. Mortar then is that which binds together the various stones of the familial unit. If that mortar is "not moderated or lessened by anything" then the familial structure is naturally weakened by a father's untempered passion, the same of which, once moderated, is the very thing which creates and binds a family. This naturally raises the question of whether circumscription of the passions is actually symbolically indicative of the circumcision of the phallus, the same of which is equally indicative of keeping the passions in due bounds. As Maimonides explained, "one of its [circumcision] objects is to limit sexual intercourse…and thus cause man to be moderate." [emphasis added] Recall that the word untempered literally means not moderated. Thus, carried a step further, the ashlar would appear to be suggestive of the phallus; the rough ashlar being the uncircumcised virile member, and the perfect ashlar, the circumcised member. It is on the former which the Entered Apprentice must 'work.' This hypothesis is further supported by the fact that the earliest descriptions of the perfect ashlar were not of a cubical stone but rather of a cube surmounted by a pyramid, a design known as the broch'd thurnel. The similarity of this image to the 'sharpened pencil' appearance of a circumcised penis is readily apparent and may even explain the position in which an Entered Apprentice wears his apron, i.e., with the triangular flap atop the square apron.

Returning to the Sambian legend described above, the fact that it accompanies an indigenous male rite of passage has led scholars like Gilbert H. Herdt, an associate editor for Journal of Men and Masculinities, to suspect that male initiation rites may in some cases function as social catalysts for the successful resolution of the Oedipus Complex. Not only do they serve to sever the child from his mother on whom he wholly depends, but they also make of the child a man by providing him a place within the social order. And, it is no coincidence that Freemasonry too is considered by many members and outsiders alike to be a rite of passage for the modern Western man.

It is here that we return to Lacan’s notion of the Dead Father as a representative of the very concept of ‘law,’ i.e., the Symbolic Order. As an infant, before the emergence of the Oedipus Complex, when the child’s entire world is inseparable from the mother, the child is immersed in what Lacan called the Imaginary Order. Upon the emergence of the Oedipus Complex, he is faced with the dilemma of clinging to either the Imaginary or the Symbolic Order, the latter of which being representative of all of law, language, and social order.

According to Lacan, individuals enter a preexisting system of signifiers which only acquire significance within a particular language system. Cultural and linguistic structures, therefore, precede and shape the subject’s entrance into the “Symbolic” order. Before that entry the subject, as a child, has been living in what Lacan calls the world of the “Imaginary.” In this world there is no difference between subject and object. Since the self is not yet fully formed, the child cannot distinguish his own form from that of others. Its only possible identification is with the Mother. To express the strength of this liaison and dependence Lacan uses another of his trademark ambivalent expressions: Desir de la mere, implying the desire for the Mother and, at the same time, the desire to be what the mother desires. The child wants to complete all the Mother lacks – in psychoanalysis the “phallus.” This identification will be progressively displaced to the Father as the child enters the world of the Symbolic.”

Should the infant choose to ascribe to the Imaginary Order, the child’s obedience of the father, and indeed the man’s compliance to the very social order, once the child has grown to be an adult, will be purely the result of the fear that if he does not, the father or figure of authority will punish him. Should he choose instead to ascribe to the Symbolic Order, on the other hand, through the phenomenon of deferred obedience, the individual will begin to follow the rules and regulations of his own accord, accepting responsibility for his own actions. It is this distinction which designates Lanac’s concept of the Dead Father, and by association, Freud’s theories regarding the Oedipus Complex, as being significant within the Work of Freemasonry.

The instillation of the inherent will within one to subdue his passions is the precise work of the Craft. In the author’s estimation, it is this way in which the Craft accomplishes its claim or realizes the potential it possesses to make a better man of an already good (enough) one. For, anatomy alone does not designate one a man in society’s eyes. The concept of manhood constitutes an entire role which a male must embody if society at large is ever to accept him as a man. Is this not the work of the male rite of passage in indigenous tribal societies and Freemasonry alike? As a potential catalyst for the successful resolution of the Oedipus Complex, the male rite of passage provides the young man with an opportunity to work through anything which he may have missed during his own Oedipal cycle. And indeed, for those who never began the process of separation from their Object of Desire, Freemasonry may veritably be a worthy substitution for it. We have already seen that Freemasonry itself has even been frequently referred to as a rite of passage, and rightly so. For, just as we saw with the native people of the Sambia tribe, the allegorical mythos central to Freemasonry exhibits all of the features of Freud’s Oedipus Complex, all the way up to and including Lacan’s notion of the Dead Father. Mark C. Carnes, Professor of History at Barnard College in New York City, has applied the Oedipal formula to Freemasonry with startling accuracy.

"Psychoanalytic theory offers one way of bridging the gap between unconscious motivations and ceremonial practices. And the themes and symbols of fraternal rituals are often laden with the gender and familial associations on which psychoanalytical models depend. Briefly consider the basic plot of the Master Mason degree: The master of the lodge "tortured" the initiate, who was naked from the waste up, by pressing the points of a compass against his left and right breasts. The initiate was then "killed" and buried. After various mystical incantations and processes, he was raised up to a new life as a Master Mason.

A Freudian explanation which focuses on the father’s efforts to discourage Oedipal attachments in sons seems promising: Before the initiate (or son) is permitted to become a man (like his father), the master (his father) tortures him (threatens him with castration). Frightened by this display of paternal anger, the initiate ceases to identify with his mother and instead begins to identify with his father, which renders him fit to move in the company of men. But an opposed psychoanalytic interpretation which argues that puberty rites are attempts by men to break a female monopoly on reproductive powers seems equally plausible. The Masonic initiate received his wound upon his “breasts,” and, after dying, emerged from his grave (a new womb) and received a new life (rebirth through the agency of men). Either psychoanalytical explanation is credible…”
Reconsidering the Masonic legend of Hiram Abiff in light of the primordial myth of the Dead Father as the same is recounted to those pubescent natives who are passing through the Sambian rite of manhood will help to better illustrate the author’s points for those of his readers who are still asking themselves what it is that all of this has to do with Freemasonry. Under such an analysis, Hiram Abiff appears to be an undoubted analogue to the Sambian primordial Father. Indeed, for Abiff even means Father, and the band of Fellowcrafts who conspire to murder him signify his very sons. Abiff’s possession of the Word, i.e., the Phallus, allows him not only uninhibited access to foreign countries, analogous to the women in the Sambian myth, but it also allows him to work and receive a Master’s wages. As we saw with Freud’s Rome dreams, the notion of foreign countries can often represent one’s Object of Desire; they are thus in this context a type of the mother. This same motif is even repeated when the trio of murderous Ruffians is refused passage to Ethiopia due to their failure to produce King Solomon’s passport, the same being another type of the Phallic signifier. Possession of the Master’s Word therefore not only gives one uninhibited access to the Object of Desire, but it also allows for a return of wages, i.e., the very fulfillment of that Desire. However, the Desire of the Fellowcrafts, in that it is fueled by their very sense of Lack, cannot actually be satisfied any more than the Phallus, i.e., the masculine Ideal, can by them be forcefully attained. The murder of Abiff is therefore followed not only by a sense of grief within the Fellowcrafts, but also by their deferred obedience of the primordial Father’s original law.

“The dead father became stronger than the living one had been – for events took the course we so often see them follow in human affairs to this day. What had up to then been prevented by his actual existence was thenceforward prohibited by the sons themselves, in accordance with the psychological procedure so familiar to us in psycho-analysis under the name of ‘deferred obedience.’”

Just as the horde of brothers entered into a covenant wherein each was obligated to a) not inflict violence upon one another, and b) not have sexual intercourse with their brothers’ mothers and sisters, so too did the Fellowcrafts appear before the king wearing white gloves, emblematic of the first oath, and white aprons, emblematic of the second. But, what of the significance of the Word which was lost along with Abiff’s life, as well as the Substitute Word which was later adopted in its place? Psychoanalyst Jean-Joseph Goux sums up its implications nicely in his analysis of the myth of Isis and Osiris, the same of which was published in Differences: The Phallus Issue.

The myth of Isis and Osiris, as retold by Plutarch, presents such a concise scenario that the most striking aspect of psychoanalytic discourse can be deduced directly from it….The god Osiris is killed by Typhon who dismembers his corpse into pieces which he scatters in all directions. Osiris’ faithful companion, Isis, patiently retrieves the fourteen pieces to reassemble and reanimate them. However, there is one part of Osiris’ body which she cannot find: his virile member. To replace this missing piece which is irretrievably lost, Isis erects a simulacrum which she orders everyone to honor. The myth thus presents itself as the justification of a rite…” [emphasis added]

Goux’s analysis appears all the more meaningful when one considers the fact that Typhon, the deity who murdered and subsequently dis-membered Osiris, was frequently depicted by the Egyptians as the composite Horus-Set, the same of which consisted of the aforementioned Typhon or Set, as well as Isis and Osiris son, Horus. Considered in this context, it was not simply his brother, but in some mysterious way it was Osiris’ very son Horus whom was responsible for the former’s castration and murder, not unlike we saw with the Greek figures of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus in a previous discussion. And, just as was the case in the Sambian Initiation myth, a totem has even been chosen and designated as the substitute Phallic signifier. (As a side note, in regards to the complicated familial relationship existing between the threesome of Uranus, Cronus, and Zeus; the three steps which are delineated upon the Master’s carpet, the same of which, we are told as Entered Apprentices, alludes to youth, manhood, and old age, would appear to be an obvious and consistent analogue.)

In conclusion, the author would like to reiterate that a similar if not identical covenant to that made by the primordial brothers in the Sambian male initiation rite is entered upon by every Master Mason who Obligates himself upon the Volume of the Sacred Law, the same of which also is a type of the Symbolic Order in that it signifies the Dead Father or Name of the Father, i.e., the notion that the Father’s “virtues lay on perpetual record,” as the open book resting atop the totem-like broken column which stands before the weeping virgin alludes. Additionally, insofar as he willingly emulates the virtues espoused in that Law, so too can the Master Mason be said to be a Widow’s Son, i.e., to have subdued his passions, squared his actions, and circumscribed his desires of his own accord. It is potentially the very presence of the concept of the Widow’s Son within the Work of Freemasonry that provides the means by which the crisis generated by the emergence of the Oedipus Complex is resolved. Analyzed in this light, it is the author’s opinion that the Work of Freemasonry would appear to be at once validated for psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists alike. As a potential catalyst, or in some cases even a substitute for the Oedipal cycle, Freemasonry can veritably be called a rite of passage for the modern Western man, simultaneously offering him an exposure to the ever elusive masculine Ideal, while providing him a place within the higher Symbolic Order.


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Goux, Jean-Joseph. The Phallus: Masculine Identity and the ‘Exchange of Women’

Herdt, Gilbert. H. Fetish and Fantasy in Sambia Initiation

Hill, Phillip. Lacan for Beginners
Jodorowsky, Alejandro. The Collected Films

Juan-Navarro, Santiago. About the Pointlessness of Patricide: A Lacanian Reading of Donald Jung, Carl G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Kalinich, Lila J. The Dead Father: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry (with Stuart W. Taylor)
Lacan, Jaques.
Lacan, Jaques. On the Signification of the Phallus
Mackey, Albert G. The New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry

Maimonides, Moses. The Guide of the Perplexed

Newman, Phillip D. Phallism in Freemasonry: Fact or Fallacy?

Ruck, Carl A.P. The World of Classical Myth (with Danny Staples)

Perelberg, Rosine J. Murdered Father; Dead Father: Revisiting the Oedipus Complex

Shade, Frederick A. Rites of Passage and Masonic Initiation
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex

Zizek, Slavoj. Enjoy Your Symptom!

Zizek, Slavoj. The Big Other Doesn’t Exist

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