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Philosophical Considerations of Ritual

Fraternities were born out of a need.  The first fraternities were supplemental to the dogmatic, puritanical, almost sterile, atmosphere of colleges and universities in the 1700's.  Man has and always will have a desire to explore himself and his milieu. It was an effort to experience the finite universe of time, space, energy, and life. It was out of the desire to explore his universe and to find the purpose for existence.  As Joseph Campbell wrote, "People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life.  I don’t think that's what we're really seeking.  I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive." In an effort to join with fellow travelers in a quest of experiencing life, fraternities were born. Much of the symbolism and mysticism that became incorporated in fraternities came from the major religions of the day or had their beginnings in such secret societies as the Freemasons, Knights Templar, Knights Hospitallar, Order of Sion or Teutonic Knights. These secret societies had much the same purpose of the evolving college fraternities to foster intellectual questioning, exploring, doubting, and postulating about the universe and life.

Out of a need for man to understand himself and the universe of which he is a part, Sigma Phi Epsilon was born.  While protecting individuality but focusing that individuality toward a greater good, Sigma Phi Epsilon endeavors to encourage man to perfect himself.  Or more ably stated by Lecomte du Nouy in The Evolution of Man, "By laboring to perfect himself, by building an inner temple, by judging himself without complacency, man unconsciously shapes a soul which overflows and extends all around him, anxious to diffuse in that of others.  By seeking himself he finds his brother.  To progress he must find himself,  to find himself must know himself;  if he really knows himself he learns indulgence, and the barriers which separate him from his neighbor crumbles little by little.  There is no other way toward human solidarity but the search and respect for individual dignity.'

What is the goal of man?  L Ron Hubbard writes in Dianetics that "The goal of man, the lowest common denominator of all his activities, the dynamic Principle of his existence has long been sought. Should such an answer be discovered, it is inevitable that from it many answers would flow. It would explain all phenomena of behavior, it would lead toward a solution of man’s major problems, and, most o fall, it should be workable. ... The finite universe contains time, space, energy, and life.  No other factors are necessary in the equation.  Time, space, energy, and life have a single denominator in common.  As a analogy it could be considered that time, space, energy, and life began at some point of origin and were commanded to continue to some nearly infinite destination.  They were told nothing but what to do.  They obey a single order and that order is to survive.  The goal life can be considered to be infinite survival.  Man, as a life form, can be demonstrated to obey in all his actions and purposes the one command: Survive!”  The great Southern writer, William Faulkner, gave us insight into the role of man his Nobel Prize acceptance speech when he said, "I decline to accept the end of man.  It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure:. that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging timeless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.  I refuse to accept this.  I believe that man will not merely endure, he will prevail.  He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice,, but because he has a soul and a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice, and endurance."

Sigma Phi Epsilon, as you are aware, was founded upon the principles of Virtue, Diligence, and Brotherly Love, whose definitions have been presented to you. These values are worthy ones around which your life can be built, upon which governments could be based, and truly upon which the foundation of almost all religions rest.

While you may understand the words, how can you understand their deeper meaning?  We, in effect do this through our Ritual ceremony.  Through our Ritual we hope that these values will acquire a deeper meaning - that we will, in effect, infuse them into your very being – that you and these values will become one. In order to understand our Ritual you must be familiar with two basic philosophical concepts: myth and archetype.  Myths are not defined as fiction or fantasy but rather as a way to explain things - to account for reality.  Myth, then, can be defined as any systematic attempt to explain or account for reality, past or present. All systems of belief evolve and develop for the same purpose - to elucidate the order of things," to make sense of the world. Archetype can be defined as a certain elemental experience, or pattern of experience, common to all mankind - an experience or pattern of experience, which men have shared from time immemorial (e.g., birth, puberty, sexual initiation, death, traumas of war, cycle of seasons, fear, desire, yearning for spiritual home, quest for meaning).  Because such archetypes form the basis of the most elemental and primeval facets of human nature, their significance often defies the resources of language. Language is a product of the intellect and of rationality.  Archetypes and archetypal patterns extend beyond the intellect and rationality.  They generally find expression most directly by means of symbols, because a symbol does not address itself to the intellect alone, evoking resonance from deeper levels of the psyche - the unconscious.

We present the essence or “soul” of our Ritual by using symbols to deepen the experience.  This has been done throughout history with religions, tribal customs, secret societies, etc. There are of course, many levels of symbol. Symbols may be personal or they may be generalized cultural and national symbols. Individuals can function as symbols.  Archetypal symbols can pertain, also, to mankind as a whole.  The same archetypal symbol may wear the “clothes of a specific era” while representing the same characteristics throughout several eras.

Symbols can function either separately or in conjunction with other symbols which may function in concert to produce an ensemble of effects. When symbols are organized into a coherent narrative, or story-line, they - become what is called a 'myth.' Like the symbols which compose it, a myth, depending on which aspects of it are emphasized, can be personal archetypal, or anywhere in between.

Secret societies may represent an archetype. They hold reality together.  A secret society may be defined as conclave of individuals working for good or ill behind the scenes - making things happen. Sigma Phi Epsilon is an archetype for good and we communicate our purpose via the myth of our Ritual.  This speaks well of our Fraternity, in that its principles are sound and serve a meaningful purpose in the lives of our members - past and present. It also demonstrates that while our principles and philosophies remain steadfast, we have adapted to societal changes.  Much as the hero of Arthurian legend wore armor, rode a horse and carried a lance, the hero of today travels in a starfleet ship, wears a suit of some unique polymer, and carries a phasar. While they may be physically different, they still represent the same basic moral and ethical principles.

Our Ritual, then, is a type of myth. Functions of myth as defined by Campbell are (1) to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et faciens of the universe as it is; (2) to render an interpretive total image of the same, as known to contemporary consciousness. (3) the enforcement of a moral order: the shaping of an individual to the requirements of his geographically and historically conditioned social group; and (4) to provide the individual with an identity and understanding of self as it relates to the universe around him.

Thus, our Ritual is a mythological canon which can be defined as an organization of symbols, ineffable in import, by which the energies and aspirations are evoked and gathered toward a focus.  The message leaps from heart to heart by way of the brain and where the brain is unpersuaded, the message cannot pass.  The life is then untouched.  For those in whom a local mythology still works, there is an experience both of accord with the social order, and of harmony with the universe.  For those, however, in whom the authorized signs no longer work, or, if working produce deviant effects - there follows inevitably a sense of both dissociation from the local social nexus and of quest, with and without, for life, which the brain will take to be for “meaning.”

The most vital, most critical function of our mythology, our Ritual, then is to foster the centering and unfolding of the individual in integrity, in accord with himself (the microcosm), his culture (the mesocosm), the universe (the macrocosm), and that awesome ultimate mystery which is both beyond and within himself and all things.

In order to fully become one with the Ritual of Sigma Phi Epsilon you must not only know the words of our philosophy and believe it, you must also trust it. This should be the easiest part.  Man has an innate desire to trust. However, he also has a propensity to doubt, to mobilize his intellect and his critical faculties in the service of skepticism. Thus he asserts his individuality, his sense of his own uniqueness.  While Sigma Phi Epsilon respects individuality, our members are expected to live by the code of ethics - the philosophies and principles - embodied in our Ritual.  The purpose of our Ritual is to enhance the understanding of our Fraternity's foundation by presenting it in a manner that embodies all the senses. Light, dark, color, sound, scent will all be utilized quite deliberately to create a general atmosphere of 'otherness" a dimension divorced from the mundane world, a quality of “enchantment." In doing this all of your attention will be focused and your self-awareness will be enhanced.  If we are successful, then you will be absorbed into something greater - the values being promulgated.  Very often, this sensation of liberation from oneself, of being consumed by some other entity, generates an emotion so intense that it equates with ecstasy. It has many things in common with what is called a "religious experience” or a “mystical experience.” By recalling this experience the values promulgated will become more and more a part of your being.  The more you understand yourself in relation to your universe the more you and the values will become one.  Thus, the images of our myth, our Ritual, are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us.  Through contemplating these, we evoke the powers in our own lives.  The Ritual is one of the clues to the spiritual potentialities of human life.  In other words, we are closer to finding ourselves.

As T. S. Eliot wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple free
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always -
A condition of complete simplicity
 (Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of the flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


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Last Updated: 2008-03-14 18:23
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