One morning a couple months back, I woke up and checked my email like I always do. Mixed in with the usual communications was a rather peculiar one. The message was from NASA, and the writer was looking for permission to use my artwork depicting the 16th Century Hermetic philosopher/astronomer Giordano Bruno in an upcoming presentation in Sorrento, Italy. The artwork was to be projected on screen during a lecture by Colonel Roger Hunter, program manager of the Kepler Mission, and this particular section of the presentation would focus on Bruno's theories regarding “other worlds.” After restraining my excitement and quickly verifying the information, I very happily agreed to the request.
It was obvious why NASA is interested in Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). He was an ex-friar turned natural philosopher, whose Hermetic teachings put him at odds with the dominant ideological visions of the Church. Condemned by the Inquisition as a heretic, Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome's Campo di'Fiori on February 17, 1600. Among the many theories introduced by Bruno, one of his most profound was the idea that the universe is infinite and the stars we see in the night sky are actually suns being orbited by other planets that have life on them.
It was also obvious how Colonel Roger Hunter and the Kepler Mission are inspired by Giordano Bruno's work. According to the official statement on NASA's website: “The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery Mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.”
Less obvious, to me anyway, was just how strong the Masonic connection was to all of this. I knew of astronomical references in the lectures and of Bruno's influence on memorization, relevant to our ritual studies, through his well known work on “The Art of Memory” which utilized the many mnemonic devices we all use (whether we credit Bruno for it or not). However, I didn't fully see another much deeper and direct Masonic connection until I shared the news of this project on my Facebook page. Soon after posting the update, Shawn Eyer commented asking if I had seen the old Fellow Craft lectures that related to Bruno's theory. I replied in the negative and he sent me a fantastic article he had written titled “Numberless Worlds, Infinite Beings” that had originally been published in Philalethes (Vol. 65, No. 3) back in 2012. Among the mosaic of valuable insights contained within the essay was an eloquent quote, once included in the Fellow Craft Degree, that directly corresponded to the subject. I found myself reflecting on it's meaning and implications for much of that day. The words were taken from William Preston's 1780 Lecture of the Second Degree: “Here we perceive thousands and thousands of suns, multiplied without end, all arranged around us, at immense distances from each other, attended by ten thousand times ten thousand worlds, all in rapid motion; yet calm, regular, and harmonious; invariably keeping their prescribed paths, and all peopled with a myriad of intelligent beings, formed for endless progress, in perfection and happiness.”
Ask a number of supposedly learned people about Giordano Bruno and at least half of them will reply, “Who?” Never elevated to his proper status among the historical luminaries that comprise the world's greatest thinkers, Bruno is under-appreciated and yet his enduring influence is still ever-present in the shadows. On the landing of the main staircase in the House of the Temple, chiseled into the wall, is a quote attributed to Albert Pike that reads, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” While meaningful in their own right, Pike's words echo a sentiment written 300 years prior by Giordano Bruno: “What you receive from others is a testimony to their virtue; but all that you do for others is the sign and clear indication of your own.” (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, 1584)
Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri.
Bro. Simpkins is a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32° Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar.