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INTERVIEW: Thoughts on Mystery Schools and Freemasonry (Read Article Below Picture)








{Originally Published in the Phylaxis Magazine, First Quarter – 2016}



 The editor of The Phylaxis Magazine, Alton G. Roundtree, interviewed Brother Jeff Menzise, Ph.D.  Brother Menzise has had extensive experience with Mystery Schools, and initiations.  A biographical sketch of Brother Menzise follows.

Brother Jeff Menzise is a member of St. Johns Lodge No. 3, Prince Hall White Chapter No. 1, HRAM, King Solomon Consistory No. 20, and is a member of the Prince Hall Council of Royal and Select Masters, all in Cincinnati, Ohio.  He is a doctor of clinical psychology and is one of the foremost experts on mindfulness and various other psycho-spiritual modalities of prevention and therapeutic intervention.  He is well known for his successful work with children, families, couples and adult individuals along various paths of life circumstances.  He conducts trainings and workshops internationally for governments, corporations, universities, primary and secondary schools, organizations and private groups.  Dr. Menzise has taught in the Psychology and African Studies departments of various universities and is currently working as an Associate Professor with Morgan State University’s Institute for Urban Research.  He has published five books.  His first book: Dumbing Down; Reflections on the Mis-education of the Negro was published in 2012; and his most recent book: Symbolically Speaking, Volume I, African Lodge No. 1, The Context was published in 2015.  He also recently edited the Phylaxis Society book: The Greatest Prince Hall Mason of the 20th Century.  Dr. Menzise was voted an “Actual Fellow” with the Phylaxis Society and has published several articles in The Phylaxis Magazine.  


Interview questions and answers follow:


 1.    Give a brief overview of how you were attracted to, and became involved in Mystery Spiritual Systems?


I first became interested in deeper levels of spirituality as I explored the tenants of Christianity. I went from attending Baptist church services with my aunt as a child, to having a step-father that was a loose version of a "Nationalist Muslim." I attended a Catholic high school after being kicked out of the public school system, and chose to be baptized Pentecostal while in undergrad. My wife, who at the time was my friend, invited me to my first African ceremony; an Egbe of the Yoruba tradition. I eventually became a Rastafarian, a tradition that introduced me to the deeper, mystical, and esoteric aspects of Christianity and an African perspective of the Bible and the religion as a whole. As a Rasta, I was taught of the importance of Ethiopia as a religious and spiritual center, but couldn't understand the aversion many Rastas had for Egypt and anything Egyptian, so naturally, I began to seek out and study the Egyptian culture and spirituality. I was able to teach many of my Rastafarian Bredren in the Caribbean the power of reconciling their disdain for the "biblical Egypt" by embracing the historically and culturally African Egypt. This added a practical element to the spiritual practices of my Rasta friends in the Caribbean. I had several deep and powerful spiritual experiences while performing rituals there with the Bobo Ashanti Rastafarians, as well as on my own up in the hills. From there, I began to study Kemetic/Egyptian spiritual philosophy on a deeper level and began to practically apply what I found to be important and beneficial.


2.    What is a Mystery School?


There are various definitions and interpretations of Mystery Schools. One simple statement is that the mystery is simply "my-story" as opposed to history or "his-story." This simple statement is used in reference to how so much of what we, as African descendants, currently believe is attributed to European or Greco-Roman origins. This is especially true in regards to spirituality, science, fraternal organizations, medicine, etc. The mystery is the unknown contributions of our Ancestors, the teachings of which were contained in these so-called Mystery Schools. They were/are nothing more than the systems of spiritual initiation carried out amongst indigenous peoples worldwide. They were only mysterious to those who could not gain, or simply had not gained, entrance for whatever reason.


3.    What are the African Spiritual Systems?


These are synonymous to the mystery systems...it is the practical application of what is learned while being initiated, and further perfected by the living of ones life with the newfound perspective and orientation to and with reality. The spiritual expressions of Africa vary from region to region, group to group, and culture to culture. However, the underlying spiritual philosophy and overall worldview remains the same. This is why you can find direct correlations between spiritual concepts and principles found in East Africa with those found in Northern, Southern and Western Africa. The systemic nature is found in the organized structure, the specific rites, and the formulaic approach to addressing specific situations. It is not a haphazard, superstition-based method; instead, it is a well-documented, time tested, cornucopia of scientifically applied understanding.  


4.    What is the Kemetic Mystery System?


Some claim the Kemetic Mystery Systems to be the oldest in the world, however the Ancient Egyptians themselves gave credit to their Ancestors further up the Nile River, towards the interior of Africa. The Kemetic Mysteries have received so much attention in part because they left such an amazing record, encoded in such an intriguing fashion that archaeologists, anthropologists, and linguists have sought to conquer her mysteries for centuries, if not millennia. The Kemetic spiritual system seems to be a collection of universal truths, structured in such a way that anyone pursuing mastery along these lines will become a more efficient and effective human, capable of not only mastering their own person, but also mastering all of creation. The Kemetic Mystery System is how they were able to do what they did, and why modern humans can't figure it out. It requires a very specific worldview; an outlook, conceptualization and perception of reality that allows for the experiencing of the world in a deeper, mystical, and almost fantastical manner. The person operating from this worldview is like the scientist who has used a microscope compared to one that has no idea of the microbial worldthey know of and can conceive of things that others cannot even fathom based on their current understandings of reality.


5.    What is the lineage of the Modern Mystery School?


As with Freemasonry, no one can pinpoint its actual origins with absolute certainty. Based on their [Ancient Egyptians] own records, they came from "the Foothills of the Mountains to the Moon" which is up river. Biblically, one could trace the lineage of the Kemetic Mysteries through the Hebrew scriptures and birthing the Hebrew culture and mystical sciences found in the Kabala, Zohar, and their many other esoteric traditions. It has already been made plain that the Greco-Roman societies also based their systems on those found in North East Africa, and thus, every European civilization that is based on the Greco-Roman philosophy is also directly traceable to those of the African continent. There is the story of Scota, an Egyptian princess, who settled Scotland (hence, where the name is derived). We have the indisputable evidence found on both the North and South American continents of the African mystery systems in the form of temple pyramids, iconography, and linguistic similarities.


On the African continent, you can find a continuation of the Kemetic mysteries amongst the various groups who trace their Ancestral lineage to the Nile Valley. Africans have NEVER not initiated their priesthood...even amongst the great destruction of enslavement and colonialism; thus, there was never a time where the Mysteries were lost or dormant. Several European historians and archaeologists have written about their attempts to penetrate and even disrupt this esoteric transmission of spiritual initiation, only to find themselves falling short...even if they were victorious in specific instances.


6.    Why do Mystery Schools exist?


From my understanding, Mystery Schools exist as a sort of living vessel for the preservation and transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next. They serve to keep an unbroken chain for communicating knowledge and wisdom from the beginning until the end of existence. Initiates of the mysteries are known as the caretakers of creation, and see to it that certain things remain known to humankind, even if the majority are ignorant to what the Truth actual is.


7.    What would you consider to be the defining qualities of a Mystery School?


They must maintain a tradition of actualizing the human potential, along spiritual lines, according to a set protocol that has been carried on by the Ancients. These protocols vary widely on the surface, from culture to culture, but ultimately boil down to the EXACT same universal truths. It can be found in ALL VSLs. The signs of the authenticity of the Mystery school is found in its pupilshow do they function and manifest themselves?


8.    Is it true that the teachings of the mystery schools contain the innermost knowledge of life and these teachings are deeply rooted in the old shamanic knowledge and ways of wisdom?


Yes, as far as I understand. My experiences have demonstrated this to me beyond the shadow of a doubt. Modern science is on a mission to catch up to this knowledge and is why major pharmaceutical companies spend money studying the bush doctors in the Amazon and other regions, trying to figure out what these shamans know, and how it can be medicalized and thus, monetized.


9.    At what period in time or era did people stop living by the teachings, and thinking and acting according to certain ways of the Mystery Schools?


They have never gone dormant. There is ALWAYS a critical mass living according to these ways. What has happened is that we haven't seen entire civilizations based on these teachings, openly and beneficially, since those ancient and great civilizations such as those of the Nile Valley. The United States of America is said to be a civilization based on the Mysteries, however, the masses of her citizenship are not initiated and thus, are incapable of consciously/intentionally participating in the direction of the nation.


10. Did the Mystery Schools have an influence on Freemasonry, especially esoteric Freemasonry?


Absolutely. Freemasonry is one of those living vessels for the carrying on of the supreme truth and wisdom as shared amongst all other Mystery Schools. Its just that the majority of us have no clue what we possess. This is in part because we are still waking up from that "death blow" that was delivered by the Ruffians who sought to steal the Word and Way from us. This is why understanding the origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry as AFRICAN LODGE Freemasonry is so important. It points us in the direction needed to further unlock the sealed wisdom that has been held captive and only recently re-presented to us. It is equally important, for those of us interested in reclaiming our masonic greatness, to resist the urge to separate esoteric masonry from the social, political, educational, and whatever other forms of masonry we juxtapose against the esoteric. According to the African and Mystery School tradition, there is no real separationonly the illusion that they are separate.


11. What questions do the deeper teachings of Mystery Schools help us answer?


Perhaps the most important questions are those that relate to our identity as human beings...demonstrating who and what we actually are; locating us in space and time with the questions "when" and "where;" and giving us a sense of divine purpose with the question "why," and the processes that will ensure that we live up to all of this with the question "how."


12. What is the brief history of the African Mystery Schools and their effect on the African Continent and civilization?


Many use the "human migration routes" to also trace the advance of civilization, which also includes the proliferation of the so-called "Mystery Schools." In almost every known civilization on this planet, there exists, or has existed, a method for maximizing human potential and transmitting the knowledge to do so. The continent of Africa has civilizations who boast of maintaining the systems designed by their Ancient Ancestors who migrated from the Nile Valley to other regions. The Dogon of Mali are a perfect living example. In fact, one of the Smithsonian Museums recently had an exhibit highlighting the "Mud Masons of Mali," and their blend of spiritual science with their masonry. In short, EVERYTHING that has been accomplished by Africans, both continental and diasporic, by way of their spirituality and cultures has been made possible by the adherents to their Mystery Schools. It is what continues to attract foreign nations to African soilalthough it is guised as a strict quest for their material resources; again, there is no separation of the material and the spiritual. 


13. As an initiate of a number of Mystery Schools including several on the African Continent, what transformation and growth have you experience?


Having been initiated and advanced in several African schools of initiation has afforded me an opportunity to explore and experience reality in a way that many non-initiates may only inconsistently or sporadically experience. Just like in our Craft, initiates of other orders are also "made" prior to ever formally joining the order; they too are first prepared in their h_____. This means that we are all preordained to travel these paths, even if we never make the conscious and free-will decision to do so. There are many African "initiates" walking around "uninitiated;" either because they have avoided answering the call or they have failed to recognize the opportunity whenever it has shown itself.


Prior to being formally initiated, my life was filled with mystical experience (many of which I fully recognize in hindsight). Unfortunately, many of us are not born to parents who understand the spiritual sciences of our Ancestry, and thus, they are not equipped to foster the growth and development of the same in their children. As a result, we end up haphazardly going through life; blindly stumbling upon the road of life/initiation. Once I took my first initiation, everything became clear as day. My sense of purpose was strengthened, and my path made clear.


14. What is the Kemetic Mystery System?


The Kemetic Mystery System is thought to be one of the most Ancient human sources of Wisdom. It consists of a step-by-step blueprint of reality and how humans can most efficiently and effectively: maximize their potential, navigate/master the world of the living, and safely navigate the world that comes next.


15. Did the ancient Greeks get their ideas from the Africans?


Absolutely...there is no doubt about this. Anyone who professes otherwise is either intentionally trying to deceive OR they are ignorant to the facts.


16. What is your status or position as a Priest?


I am initiated as a Priest of Olokun in the Ifa tradition, found amongst the Yoruba in Nigeria and in Benin. I have been initiated, although not to the level of a functioning "priest" in both the Ewe and Jolla spiritual sciences found in Ghana and Gambia respectively. I have also received priesthood initiation in a Kemetic Spiritual order. I am ranked to perform certain rites and rituals.


17. How many visits have you made to the African Content and what countries did you visit?


I have visited the African continent 4 times, including visits to: Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Benin.


18. What is your experience in reading hieroglyphics?


I took a non-traditional route to learning how to engage the hieroglyphic language. Before I sought to learn how to read the symbols as a written, letter-for-symbol fashion, as taught by most western schools of thought, I learned how to shift my perspective and paradigm in regards to understanding the spiritual sciences employed by the civilization and culture that created and used the language. After being well developed in these aspects of the sciences, I then went and became formally trained in the linguistics of the Egyptian hieroglyphs at a University, under the guidance of a professor who has been teaching the language for over 20 years.


Many mistakenly believe that a person CANNOT have an understanding of the Kemetic Spiritual Science WITHOUT learning the language; and conversely, because they know the language they automatically have a superior understanding of the science...that is not true.


There are many who can boast of being able to "read" the hieroglyphs, but have little TRUE understanding and interpretation of the symbolism found therein. They give a PURELY intellectual treatment to the science and thus, become arrogant in their command of information, with very little evidence of Wisdom and Understanding. They will then make presumptuous statements like: "No one knows what the Kemetic Mystery Schools were." or "The Kemetic language was lost until Champollion 'discovered' the Rosetta Stone." Like most things, this type of person gives an intellectual treatment to sciences that are based on principles and tools that reach far beyond intellectualism.


19. Has your experience in Mystery Schools helped with your Masonic travels?


 My African initiations have definitely helped me in my Masonic travels. These experiences have afforded me a rare level of insight into our Craft and have given me the use of practical tools and experiences that the average Brother may not even know exists. Certain veils are lifted with every true initiation, and thus the initiated are able to access things that those who remain behind the veil are incapable of knowing/understanding. One of my African priesthood initiations took place AFTER my being Raised. In fact, the African high priest overseeing my initiation was also a MM, 32nd Degree, and a Knight's Templar. We were able to talk about both traditions from a vantage point that many have yet to fathom.


 Based on my knowledge of African Spiritual Science, I am able to now look at our Masonic symbols in a new Light; a Light more consistent with what our Founding 15 originally called our branch of Freemasonry...the African Lodge. I am able to take our Masonic Allegories and Symbols, and unearth the embedded rituals that allow us to truly make good men better, and to advance our understanding of our Craft. For example, I have taught the "Rough Ashlar Ritual, as transmitted by a Trinidadian Brother who is also initiated as an African priest...you'd be amazed at its simplicity and effectiveness.


20.  Finally, please provide your symbolic interpretation of the image we are planning to use on the cover of this issue of the Phylaxis Magazine.


It is a very complex symbol, with many, many layers of interpretation. On one level, the sun disk with the serpent is considered to be the initial active manifestation of reality. The serpent is in an active state which symbolizes a conscious intention behind the use of the creative energy identified by the sun. This conscious intention is first set into motion by the Creator of All, and serves as the initial cause of all other causes and their subsequent effects. The sun, being the sustainer of life in our solar system, gives off an infinite and undetermined amount of energy/substance that is used by EVERY living thing on our planet (even those creatures that dwell deep within caves and/or on the ocean floor benefit indirectly from the sun’s energy). It is this initial active manifestation that gives life to everything. It is the source of the initial heartbeat; the initial spark that gets the nervous system activated; the force that inspires the seed to sprout, molecules to speed up, water to flow, eggs to hatch, and the planets to rotate and revolve. It is the movement of life.


 The rays are the various pathways through which life force travels to the various things that are the recipients of this vital force, in their various ways. It is similar to how the spectrum of light goes well beyond what is visible by human eyes, and how the properties of light go well beyond illumination. Each individual ray extending from the sundisk carries exactly what is needed to whatever needs it; indiscriminately providing for all. This particular version of the sundisk (Aten) was made popular by Amenhotep IV (1350-1334 BC), who changed his name to Akhenaten and elevated Aten over the priesthood of Amen during his reign. The artistic expression of Kemetic culture also took a shift during his reign to include a distinct way of representing the human form.


In regards to the words, what I see is the word for a student of the mysteries, which is simultaneously a keeper of the mysteries, Seba (although the Medu seem to spell out Sebai(y)t, which is simply a variation of Seba). This concept deals with a portal through which wisdom and high knowledge is brought into consciousness. Seba is literally a star, and gives the idea that our Ancestors understood the stars to be portals through which energy and consciousness traveled to those who have been duly prepared to receive; this is exactly what is portrayed by the sun disk (which is also a star) in the earlier explanation. The scroll at the end of the word denotes specific wisdom teachings that are to be imparted by a Master to their pupil. In true African fashion, it is impossible to separate the teachings from the life of those being taught; once instructed, the true initiate becomes a living example of that teaching. They no longer simply possess information, but are now complete embodiments and sacred vessels for that wisdom to survive. This is who we are as Prince Hall Freemasons. The carriers of the wisdom of our Great Ancestors. For those of us who have yet to seek deeper into Mysteries hinted at by our Founding Fifteen when they called us the African Lodge, we are like unfortified vessels, allowing the information to not be contained and thus not assimilated into our daily walks. It is time that we fortify and live up to our Ancestral expectations and honor their sacrifice.   






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