Tuesday, March 1, 2011

¡Viva la Revolución!

In my last post I promised to link the sun and triangle in the sculpture above the door of the National Black Theater to other triangles...and the eye.  I've wandered a bit in this task and not made any startling discoveries; I thus present this less as something insightful than as a sort of record of my wanderings.  Quite a few things have already been written on the topic.  I could have developed this post a lot more extensively but don't really see the point, so my cut-off point is therefore rather arbitrary.

Flag of Argentina featuring the Sol de Mayo
Having an Argentine wife and a large number of both Argentinian and Uruguayan friends, it's only natural that when thinking of the sun as a symbol of regeneration, I thought of the Argentine and Uruguayan flags, both of which feature a jolly sun referred to as the Sol de Mayo, or Sun of May.

The Sun of May is named for the May Revolution of 1810, the first salvo in the Argentine War for Independence.  Some point to it as a representation of the Incan sun god Inti, but I think it's more likely based on European precedents.  The "sun in splendour" is a long-standing European heraldic device, but I propose that its use here was inspired by its use during the French Revolution.  Dig this quote from Wikipedia:

Eye of Providence
The sun, like the phrygian cap on Argentina's coat of arms and the triband flag, was already used as an emblem of the French Revolution. It has been speculated that groups of deputies in the French revolution used a seal very similar to the current Argentine coat of arms, including a sun symbol. In France, the sun was used especially in relation to the Cult of the Supreme Being. The sun in the French Revolution was adopted as a symbol from Freemasonic representations of the all-seeing eye, in a triangle in a burst of sunrays.

Declaration of the Rights of Man featuring fasces, Phrygian Cap and the Eye of Providence in a Triangle

Coat of Arms of Argentina featuring the Sol de Mayo 

It was a particularity of the 17th century to depict the eye in clouds or in glory, but it was used throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, often enclosed by a triangle representing the Trinity--it began as a Christian motif.  This found its way into Freemasonry and from this use was transformed into a sun.  I would also argue that, as we can see in the examples that follow, it was also transformed into a star in glory or was reduced to the triangle alone.

In the early part of the 19th century, Latin America was in a revolutionary tumult against colonial Spain.  A variety of short-lived republics popped up and fell apart, eventually settling into the more or less stable national configuration we see today.  These revolutionaries were inspired by the successful revolutions of France and the United States, so it is unsurprising their symbols popped up in the new flags and coats of arms. The Phrygian cap, for example, used extensively in US and French revolutionary propaganda, can be seen on the flags or coats of arms of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, Cuba, Bolivia and Paraguay.

Flag of Chile
Several flags reflect the US design (1777) of red and white bars, a blue canton in the upper left featuring white star or stars:  Chile (1817), the flag of the Liberating Expedition of Peru (1820), Texas (1839), the Confederate States "Stars and Bars", (1861) the first flag of Cuba had blue and white bars and a red canton (1868), the Brazilian state of Amazonas (1982).  At least five other Brazilian state flags have bars and upper left cantons with stars, but these are not necessarily red white and blue.  Other Brazilian flags feature the Phrygian cap.  The Bahia state flag is a variant upon the flag of Chile et. al., but instead of a single star, the blue canton features a triangle.

Flag of the State of Bahia
Interesting that the Sun of May (springtime) in the Argentine flag features 32 rays, perhaps symbolic of the points of the compass or the degrees of Scottish Rite Freemasonry.  Also interesting that the Argentine flag inspired that of Federal Republic of Central America (1823-1838), which has the same triband colors, but replaces the sun tin the middle with a triangle within a circle.  Within this triangle is the Phrygian cap in glory, coming out from under the mountains and under a rainbow, yet another symbol of regeneration.  This symbolism still appears in the coat of arms of El Salvador.

I have already mentioned  the Cuban flag with the star and bars, but recently came across an article about the flag of Puerto Rico.  It is essentially the same flag but the red, white and blue is in a different configuration.  The article has this interesting tidbit:  "The Cuban flag was designed by Narciso López, and the concept behind the design of the flag is based on that of a Masonic apron. López was a well-known Freemason (Solomon's Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. -- Savannah, Georgia), adventurer and soldier, famous for his attempts to liberate Cuba from Spain in the 1850s."  The author then goes on to make many of the same conclusions and links between the triangle, the sun, the star and the Eye of Providence.

The Cuban government explains the flag thusly:

The equilateral triangle which outstands is the perfect geometrical shape, because of its equal three sides and three angles, which means equality among men.

The three colours (white blue and red) are related to French revolutionary triptych of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, and besides they the ideals of justice expressed in white pureness, and altuism and highness of those ideals in blue, with the red, reflection of the blood shed in search of freedom. They also incarnate the new republican and democratic ideals that are synthetized in the citizen of the republic, free and equal, with full rights and duties, opposedly to king´s vassals, according to absolute monarchies´ conception.

Finally, the five-pointed star, with one pointing North to indicate steadiness, expresses the balance between moral and social qualities which must tipify the state, and shines by its own light, it is to say, the independent state.

So, the star symbolizes liberty, the triangle equality and the strips union, perfection and fraternity.

I'm not sure where to fit this in so I've plunked this fact down here.  I find it somehow fitting that one nickname for the U.S. flag is Old Glory.  I always thought that this referred to renown or great praise, perhaps beauty, but I can't help now but think it also refers to the glory we have been discussing, that is the representation of rays of light as from the eye, triangle, sun, etc.

If I can make another comments about another flag: that of the Philippines, another country to have thrown of the colonial yoke of the Spanish. The Katipunan (1892) was discovered in 1896, an event which sparked the Philippine Revolution. The Katipunan was an essentially Masonic revolutionary brotherhood; most of the founders were Masons and its initiation rites and hierarchy were based on Masonic models. The first system of initiation was a triangle system, whereby a member initiated two new members unknown to one another. After this proved too unwieldy, the Masonic system was established and the organization was divided into three degrees.

Flag of Puerto Rico; the Flag of Cuba has a red canton with blue and white stripes

Flag of The Philippines
The Philippines' flag is a variation upon the Cuban/Puerto Rican flag: red, white and blue, triangular canton....but instead of a single star there are three stars at each point of the triangle. A yellow sun adorns the middle. This sun is not at all out of line with our other revolutionary flags; the sun is also thought to be a reference to the flag of the Katipunan, the Masonic brotherhood that kicked off the Philippine Revolution.

The Lautaro Lodges were secret, quasi-masonic Lodges and included such revolutionary leaders as: Bernardo O'Higgins (1778-1842) in Chile; José de San Martin in Argentina (1778-1850); Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) just about everywhere a revolution was to be found; Francisco de Miranda (1750-1816) in Venezuela.... It is difficult to escape the fact that Freemasonry inspired these men. It would not be surprising then that as in France, where the Eye of Providence was transformed by revolutionaries into a sun symbolising regeneration and illumination, it would appear in the New World as well. Note also how the sun finds itself replaced by a triangle, recalling its origin, and that in the Federal Republic of Central America, as in the Argentine coat of arms, the sun becomes a Phrygian cap in glory. Triangle, Sun, Eye, Phrygian cap....each one replaces the other.

Lodge Founder Miranda was said to have been made a Mason in 1783, in Philadelphia, at a Lodge frequented by Lafayette:

There is no irrefutable data concerning the exact day and month of his initiation. It appears that, due to contingencies derived from the war, the archives of the Lodge where Miranda received the Masonic Light, were lost. What is amply known, however, is that Lafayette was his Principal Recommender or "Godfather of Initiation". There are also numerous references citing his constant visits to Lodges in New York, and his fraternal meetings with George Washington at a number of Masonic gatherings.

Actually, a lot of doubt has been shed on this. Miranda's diaries only reveal two visits to Lodges, not as a Freemason but as a curious outsider. But this was only part of his wide-ranging interests. Such visits to a variety of incongruous places are multiple. It would appear that the repetition of this story has made it appear to be an ironclad truth when in fact, it is not.

It seems obvious that Freemasons played critical roles in the 19th century revolutions of Latin America, inspired by two 18th century revolutions where Freemasons played equally important roles.  Yet this is a far cry from saying Freemasonry orchestrated them.  The sun, although used as a symbol in Freemasonry--and one should ask here what symbol isn't?--is hardly its most important.  The Phrygian cap and Liberty Pole aren't Masonic at all.  (It occurs to me that the Liberty Pole is a version of the Maypole, a rather phallic component of springtime festivities naturally celebrating regeneration).  The recurrence of triangles and suns, evoking the eye of providence, certainly make it appear as though revolutionary Freemasons had some say in leaving their mark.  None of this is "hidden".  These symbols would have been easily recognizable in their day.  Today, Freemasons make no bones about advertising the Freemasonic affiliation of revolutionaries, even when this affiliation is unconfirmed.  Indeed, one can say the both Freemasons and their critics overstate the role Freemasonry played in these revolutions.  Which is not to say that individual Freemason and Lodges didn't play important roles.  But even here we must be careful to sort the accumulation of received ideas from historical reality.  And besides, the triangle and the sun have long non-Masonic traditions.

We have already discussed how the New World had been regarded as the regeneration of the Old as far back as Francis Bacon.  In the latter-half of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th, several historical transformations came to a head.  I have identified three important historical threads.....the rise of capitalism, the beginning of the modern nation state and the development of the scientific method.  It seems clear that in business and modern diplomacy, as well as in scientific endeavour, competence needed to take precedence over privilege, and that competence needed to be cultivated.  In promoting reason over blind faith, the forward-thinking leaders of the day were in natural conflict with the Church.  In promoting capability over entitlement, they ran into conflict with the aristocracy and the nobility.  As young men, eager to make their way in society, found themselves blocked, their anger naturally grew.  As the desire to progress met resistance, something had to give. 

Naturally, some men grouped together to give history a push in the right direction.  One must also consider that the leader of the Revolutions were mostly men of means; I am always surprised to see how many Generals in the French Revolutionary Army were minor nobles.  Certainly a lot of the rhetoric was self-serving, applying equally to dispossessed masses as well as the minor nobles and bourgeoisie who, without the right name or connections, found their aspirations hampered.

Freemasonry became a tool in this struggle.  I think the doctrine of human improvement, if not perfectibility, runs counter to the idea of natural aristocracy:  the nobility saw themselves as naturally better than others, chosen by God.  The Catholic Church saw all men as born corrupt.  Various Protestant sects saw a man's fate as pre-destined.  But Masons saw things differently:  all men were created equal and can improve.  This would later be worded in the American Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I see the "pursuit of happiness" to be of special importance here.  Happiness isn't guaranteed, only the opportunity to achieve it.  I interpret this not in happiness as a mood, but as a state of fully-realized self, whether professionally, spiritually or mentally.  It is the guarantee that no social order will inhibit the industrious individual's right to realize their hopes and aspirations.  At least in theory.  Modern American Freemasons use the motto:  "Making Good Men Better."

Properly understood, therefore, when John Locke, Samuel Johnson, and Thomas Jefferson wrote of “the pursuit of happiness,” they were invoking the Greek and Roman philosophical tradition in which happiness is bound up with the civic virtues of courage, moderation, and justice. Because they are civic virtues, not just personal attributes, they implicate the social aspect of eudaimonia. The pursuit of happiness, therefore, is not merely a matter of achieving individual pleasure. That is why Alexander Hamilton and other founders referred to "social happiness".

"Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" also form a neat trinity, bringing us back to the triangle.  This trinity of inalienable rights can also be seen in the French Revolutionary motto:  "Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité".

Still, as I said earlier, one must be careful not to overstate the role that Freemasonry played in Revolutionary movements; we should instead speak of individual Freemasons.

Paradoxically then, the interests of masonic and non-masonic authors have coincided in trying to exaggerate and enlarge the role played by Freemasonry in the independence of Chile and other South-American countries. Wishful thinking replaced the critical apparatus of the historian, and the indiscriminate use of the word ‘Lodge’, without distinguishing between masonic and non-masonic organizations, has compounded the confusion.

The documentary evidence as well, has often been of a sort that raises serious doubts about its validity.  Spanish historians, some of whom are inclined to discover the hidden hand of Freemasonry in any place where Spanish interests have been affected....enthusiastically embraced the theory that the Lautaro lodges (which, for them, were regular masonic Lodges in all respects) were the root and soul of the Latin-American independence movements.

This simplistic view ignores, of course, the other factors operating at the time, such as the growing antagonism between ‘criollos’ and ‘peninsulares’, the weakness of the Spanish crown at the time, the profound influence of the ideas of philosophers such as Rousseau, Saint-Simon, Locke and Hume and the example of the North-American colonies who gained their independence from England.

Did Freemasonry then play no role in the independence of Latin-America? The answer depends, to a large extent, on what we mean by independence. If we refer only to the military actions that led to the final defeat of royalist Spanish armies and their expulsion from the continent, we must admit that the direct influence of Freemasonry was minimal. This does not mean, of course, that we should adopt a radical scepticism on this subject. There is a well-documented participation of individual freemasons in the independence struggles of all American regions, north, centre and south. For some of them, their masonic background and experience was a determining factor in their libertarian efforts. For others, masonic membership was only a minor component of their personal history and view of the world. Since we cannot enter into the hearts of men, we have no way of evaluating the true importance that ‘being a mason’ held for men such as Bolívar.

Complete independence is a long and complicated process, involving many aspects, that may take many decades to come to fruition. In this sense, the contribution of freemasons towards expanding and completing the independence process of which political independence is but the first stage cannot be overstated.

Which seems to be the most sensible view of things; after all, it supports the conclusion I had come to previously!  I was also pleased to find this article by (Freemason) Alex Davidson entitle The Masonic Concept of Liberty:

In summary, we can say that Freemasonry was one of the channels, perhaps the main channel, by which the values of the Enlightenment were transmitted from Britain to America, France, the Netherlands....The essentials of the message were liberty, tolerance and sociability, and.....the idea that through reason, all men could find a way of life that is satisfying and fulfilling.

Secondly, we can show from history that Freemasonry was inevitably the bearer of revolutionary Enlightenment ideas where liberty did not exist. We know with reasonable certainty that the French lodges did not practice politics, yet their philosophy could not but cause many of their members to be active participants in the politics of revolutionary liberation movements. Freemasonry may have been officially neutral, but its members were not. And finally, we can remark that we are all, indirectly, the beneficiaries of Freemasonry and the Enlightenment: we now regard their general political values as so normal that we tend to take them for granted. Secularism, constitutionalism and parliamentarism are their heritage, obviating the need for revolutionary action to achieve liberty.

So.  I think this concludes what I wanted to get at in this article.  A kind of meandering and at times contradictory train wreck of a post that's gone a long way from suns and triangles.  I consulted The Gid on where to go with this, and he had some good ideas, but even his sage advice wasn't enough to save us here.  Like the battery bunny, I just keep going and going and going.  And just because I'm tired of this beast, I'll plant my flag here and cry "¡Ya basta!"

See Also:  Masonic Republics


  1. Very interesting article. A few words on my dear sun...

    The sun is very often, in primitive representation, a symbol of divinity for many reasons : it is all powerful,it brings the "light", it undivided so it refers to the totality of being, and when it is not visible, comes the night with its dark forces. In the legend of Icarus, this explains why wanting to fly to close to the sun is deadly : you cannot achieve the "godly" unity as long as your on earth... you can only try... if you are to close to it, you get burned.

    by miji67

  2. With a bunch a english mistakes... forgive my french...

  3. Interesting too that this comes back to the image of the circumpunct (circle with a dot inside) as described in our post "The Found Symbol".

    This symbol originated as glyph for Ra and still represents the sun.

    For the Pythagoreans it represented the monad: ".... a term for God or the first being, or the totality of all beings, Monad being the source or the One meaning without division."

    The Illuminati used it as their symbol. So, this gets back to the sun, unity, enlightenment...just as you point out. All of which gel nicely with the revolutionary principles described in this post. Makes the sun a logical symbol for a new nation.

    As for the Icarus legend, perhaps is serves as a warning: fly only so high, citizen! You can improve yourself but don't get too close too the centerpoint from which light emanates...

    Anyway, just a few more jumbled thoughts! Thanks for the comment and your English mistakes are pretty minimal, after all. :)

  4. I was just reading about Buñuel's L'Âge d'Or and read this:

    "A contemporary Spanish newspaper condemned the film as “...the most repulsive corruption of our age...the new poison which Judaism, masonry, and rabid, revolutionary sectarianism want to use in order to corrupt the people.”"

    Which reminds me of this quote in the post:

    "Spanish historians, some of whom are inclined to discover the hidden hand of Freemasonry in any place where Spanish interests have been affected....enthusiastically embraced the theory that the Lautaro lodges (which, for them, were regular masonic Lodges in all respects) were the root and soul of the Latin-American independence movements."

  5. OK, a brief update. Peru: Tupac Amaru II (1742-1781), who led an uprising against Spain for which he was brutally executed, used the sun symbol on his personal banner. He also wore a golden medallion around his neck with a rayed sun. He may have been referring to Inti, but an essay I've read ("Túpac Amaru, the Body Politic, and the Embodiment of Hope: Inca Heritage and Social Justice in the Andes" by Ward Stavig) doesn't mention Inti....if I recall correctly; Stavig does say, however, that the sun was explicitly considered by Amaru to be a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.

    I could find no info on whether or not Amaru was a Mason, but there is a Lodge in Peru named after him: Tupac Amaru No. 42 (http://www.logiatupacamaru.org/)

    The Peruvian flag is now a motif of red and white stripes, but all earlier versions featured the sun, specifically rising. The first coat of arms was designed by José de San Martin, who belonged to several lodges. These arms bore the motto "Renació el sol del Perú" or "Peru's sun is reborn." So again, Amaru and potentially Masonic viewpoints led to the use of the sun as the symbol of rebirth. In the original coat of arms, it is specifically rising from the sea, which seems significant in that naval power would form the foundation of this new state, or an emphasis of the geographic separation of the Old World from the New.

    That said, the sun was removed in the 1825 version approved by another Freemason, Simon Bolivar. It was also removed from the flag at this time. The flag of the Peru–Bolivian Confederation (1836-39)and Republic of South Peru, (1836-39) also featured a sun. The Bolivian coat of arms on the former flag also featured a sun (specifically rising) from behind a mountain (the full coat of arms also feartures the Phrygian cap). Up until these flags, the sun was exactly the same as that of the Argentine Sol de Mayo, with 33 rays. The 1836-39 versions have 16.


    After the dissolution of the Republic of 36-39, the flag was restored to the 1825 version approved by Bolivar--without a sun. The new, simplified version dates to 1950. Why did Simón Bolívar and the Constituent Congress remove the sun? I dunno.

  6. Also, the National Pantheon of Venezuala has an Apoteosis del Libertador (1942) much like the US Capitol has an Apotheosis of George Washington (1865). Men becoming gods....

  7. "Up until these flags, the sun was exactly the same as that of the Argentine Sol de Mayo, with 33 rays."

    Errata: That should read 32 rays.


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