Tuesday, January 08, 2008

You must conform!

The Prisoner.

Chances are, either you're already a big fan, or you've never heard of it. The Prisoner was a British television show in 1967-8, that also aired during the summer in the U.S.

Patrick McGoohan, who rode the 1960's James Bond-era spy genre to fame and fortune on television as Danger Man (in the U.K.) and Secret Agent (in the U.S.), co-wrote and produced the "social satire" known as The Prisoner.

As in any otherwise excellent television series, a few episodes of The Prisoner are less than stellar, but many still stand on the cutting edge for their biting social commentary, thoughtful and insightful dialog, and surreal settings and backgrounds.

Though the program touched on many social issues of the day, nothing was held more sacrosanct or paramount than the primacy of the individual and the sanctity of free thought.

[Beyond this point thar be Spoilers.]

One of the most famous quotes from the program hammers home the message: "I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own. I resign."

The other day in the comments section of an article on the Taper, some of us were bantering back and forth with snippets from another memorable dialog from the show. This exchange was featured in every episode in the intro:
Number 6: Where am I?
Number 2: In the Village.
Number 6: What do you want?
Number 2: We want information.
Number 6: Whose side are you on?
Number 2: That would be telling. We want information... information... information.
Number 6: You won't get it.
Number 2: By hook or by crook, we will.
Number 6: Who are you?
Number 2: The new Number 2.
Number 6: Who is Number 1?
Number 2: You are Number 6.
Number 6: I am not a number, I am a free man.
This back-and-forth was seen each week, usually with Number 2 played each time by a different actor. Sometimes it was a man, sometimes a woman, sometimes old and sometimes young. Number 2 represents the world, society, the constant pressure to conform, to be like everyone else.

I've always been one to see multiple meanings in things, and I've long seen at least two double-meanings in this exchange.

On the surface, those who run The Village, where the Prisoner is confined, seek information about why he resigned his position as a spy for the British government. On another level, the Village (personified by Number 2) is calling for him to fall in[to] formation. In-formation. In-formation. In-formation. We want you to fall into formation.

Depending on which actor was playing Number 2, sometimes it was more noticeable than other times, the little pause between "in" and "formation."

Look [above] again at Number 2's final line, where he (or she) says "You are Number 6" in response to Number 6's question "Who is Number 1?"

Number 2 was telling Number 6 the truth. Add a comma to the sentence, and you'll understand.

"Who is Number 1?"

"You are, Number 6."

As we find out [warning — another spoiler] in the final episode "Fall Out" [of formation?], Number 6 is indeed Number 1. He is adjudged a "revolutionary of different calibre" who "has revolted, resisted, fought, destroyed resistance, overcome coercion," and thus has earned "the right to be person, some one or individual." He is given — or retakes — his throne.

All the facets of Number 6's very being are exposed — his humanity ("Dem Bones"), his animal-monkey nature, his youthful exuberance, his dark side, his compassionate side. All you need is love, we are told, as he escapes chaos to return to "normality," able to get back "on the bus," now knowing he is indeed his own Number 1.

This enlightenment is the same Light we find in our teachings of the resurrection of Jesus, and in the raising of Hiram, the new Master Mason.

This, to me, is the true teaching of Freemasonry.

The tenets of Masonry — brotherly love, relief, truth, morality — are just that: tenets, "opinions, doctrines, or principles held as being true by a person or especially by an organization." Our tenets as Masons are all well and good, but they aren't the POINT of Freemasonry.

The point is... that Point within the Circle.

That's what you were raised to the Sublime Degree to be, to become, to recognize yourself as — that Point within the Circle.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus called it being the Light of the World.

Ayn Rand called it EGO. The prophet Elijah called it the still, small voice. The Buddha called it enlightenment. Castaneda's Don Juan Matus called it the Nagual. Seth called it the All That Is. The Taoists pointed towards it, but wouldn't name it.

But whatever It is, It is the "I AM."

But as the Zen saying goes, "Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water."

All of us know It exists, and many of us have felt It, glimpsed It, and perhaps some live daily in constant unity with It, or as It.

But most of us never find It, or we lose sight of It once we do find It.

We're shown It's shadows as we progress through the Three Degrees, and we come face to face with It as we are raised. We are given It, and we become It. We are Number 1.

And then, before you know It, the dimmed lights are turned up, the brothers are slapping you on the back and shaking your hand, and you're reminded that you've just made a bunch of promises, some of which you probably didn't understand and couldn't even repeat correctly.

And again (and again and again, over time), you're reminded that you now have "obligations" to others, that you must be charitable to others, and most of all, subservient to certain others. Though you know that all brothers are equal, you're immediately given your "proper place" in this new brotherhood of "equals."

You become Number 6. Worshipful Masters and Grand Lodge officers and even the Senior Steward all juxtapose themselves in your mind and your lodge. Suddenly you're Number 6, or Number 48, or some other numbered character from The Village.

"You must conform," you're told. We want information. Learn these catechisms, and repeat them back. And we want you in formation. Sit in this chair. Conform to our ancient ways. Stand up. Sit down. Hold your hands this way. Don't think for yourself. Face the East. Pay proper homage to Number 2.

I'm not demeaning the Masonic experience. I'm pointing out that the experience, the real POINT of becoming, and being, a Freemason is quickly obliterated as we necessarily blend our minds and wills to the customs and usages of ritual Freemasonry. Little, if any, education is given, nor is self-reflection encouraged. You must conform.

I think this realization by many of us who are considered "Masonic rebels" is what has caused our rebelliousness. We were shown the Light, in fact, for a moment we were the Light... and then it's all taken away in an instant, replaced with recitations and being pushed into a steward's chair and fishfrys and patriotic gospel music, etc. What we came for — enlightened self-knowledge — gets blocked out, replaced with "you should be loving, charitable, and obedient." Our lodges are big on form, small on substance. Some lodges can't even pull off the "big on form," and the entire experience becomes a mundane greet, eat and meet in the Village Square.

It's not that we're not charitable, or willing to share brotherly love; we just want to see some Light shining from under our own, and from our brother's, bushel where It's been hidden.

Conformity is not a Masonic quality. Peace and harmony, yes. Brotherly love, yes. Protecting other people, yes. But not conformity. Conformity does not encourage anyone's Light to shine brighter. It smothers the Fire, and the Spirit.

Masonic references abound in The Prisoner.

In the opening sequence, the man who causes our hero to pass out and be captured is dressed in a top hat and black longcoat, reminiscent of my image of 19th and early 20th century Freemasonry.

And the penultimate episode, the final attempt to break Number Six, is called "Degree Absolute." Number 6 enters wearing a hat, perhaps symbolic of being a lodge's master, or of attempting to be his own master, but is told immediately to remove it. If the first three degrees didn't make him conform, perhaps Degree Absolute will.

Or maybe...

Freemasonry is indeed designed to show us how to attain and maintain that It, that Light, that becoming Number 1 that I've been talking about. But not in the way we think.

Perhaps all the things we rebels have rebelled at are designed into the system, as issues to be overcome. Perhaps what we are ultimately to learn in Freemasonry is how to evolve into a "revolutionary of different calibre" by becoming one who "has revolted, resisted, fought, destroyed resistance, overcome coercion."

This video clip shows the intro to The Prisoner, and his first meeting with the Number 2 played by Leo McKern (who reprises the role in the final episodes).

This clip shows one of Number 6's early exchanges with a different Number 2.

In this sequence, Number 6 attempts to "become one of them." He gets involved, even adopting the Villagers' strange hand gestures and ritualistic words.

This video clip is from the next to last episode of The Prisoner, and is titled "Degree Absolute." It is the final battle between the wills of Number 2 and Number 6.

Be seeing you!

Image: The penny-farthing logo of The Prisoner television program

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  1. WS States: "Conformity is not a Masonic quality. Peace and harmony, yes. Brotherly love, yes. Protecting other people, yes. But not conformity. Conformity does not encourage anyone's Light to shine brighter. It smothers the Fire, and the Spirit."

    harmony has more than one meaning, and one meaning could be the cancelling out of oppsoing forces to create a neutral/ equal field, that definition of harmony is the opposite of conformity.

    America has not taken kindly to non conformists since 1776.

    With us or against us! GWB

    When I went to prep school, they had read thoureau and emerson and how they taught non conformity, but if you, the individual, did not conform to the "rules" and "traditions"(conform)of the prep school, you were reamed.

    The hypocracy was evident as a teenager........

    Great Post WS, keep it up!

    You my friend are a Real Beacon of The Light

  2. THE PRISONER is a rich and insightful series. It's messages are deep, and the paradoxes are intentional and simultaneously unintentional. The individual strives to be so, but finds it impossible to be anything else.
    I too found the tortures of my peers in High School and reveled in it at the time. The fire provides veneer.

  3. Just showing off my jean jacket pins. Notice the velocipede bicycle akin to the Prisoner's logo, and with good reason. Of course, Green Lantern is the coolest, aside from Grimjack who is the absolute! The space shuttle pin was purchased on the day of the 2003 launching of the Columbia, which crashed over Texas two weeks later. The pieces breaking-off has always held a spiritual connection to the event for me.


  4. Enlightenment also carries with it lightening up. Notice the faces on bhodisatva. Also, enlightened sages in Taoism are often pictured fishing.
    My point being that Freemasonry is also about having fun. Disharmony can end that pretty quickly.

  5. Great analysis and observation. Its funny that you mention this, as recently, I've been reding a refresher on the Kabalah, and part of its original point (in some circles) was to find the essence of GOD. Focus on something, then focus on the idea, then the emotion, then what creates the emotion, and so on, ultimately looking for that GOD essence in it. But, in the process of doing this, a huge elaborate structure was created, my guess, to facilitate a process to help those that didn't get it easily to get it, or at least to be able to think that they were getting close to it.

    In some respects, I think thats what has happened to Freemasonry. It gets perceived now as a huge elaborate system or machine, that no one is quite sure what it does, when in fact, the tradition it was built to support was really only meant to be understood by a few.

    In design terms, form has replaced function.

    The question I suppose then is to really say, what is (was?) its purpose, and how do we reattain that.

  6. Funny you bringing up this show. As a kid of 8 when I first saw it air in prime time, it was confounding. I knew I was seeing something that needed to be studied. Ten years later, it became an obsession to get videotaped copies of the show.

    My first trip to the UK, my wife and I actually added two days to our schedule specifically so we could visit Portmeiron in Wales, the real location of the Village.


    Chairman: “We deplore your spirit of disharmony.”
    No.6: “That's a common complaint around here, isn't it?”
    --A Change of Mind

  7. The Taoists pointed towards it, but wouldn't name it.

    Yeah, we're funny that way.

    One of you most insightful posts - ever. Nice job.

  8. ...wow! A very thought-provoking article! I'm to be Raised in February, this gives me (yet more) food for thought going into it. Thank you!
    Bro. Eddie Roosenmaallen, Albion #109, Harrowsmith, ON, Canada

  9. Deeeep! W.S.,
    I love the correlation between the show (which other than a spoof on the Simpsons I had never seen or heard of) and Freemasonry. Mind bending British television at its best. By the way, was that Danny Devito's first television show?!?

  10. I really like this article. I totally agree. Wait i just remembered I don't do that . I disagree. What number am I anyway?

    I never took the conformity of the lodge that serious. Maybe that's my problem. Then again I'm one of the youngest and no one laughs at my jokes so maybe they expect me to be different.

  11. Triple M:

    That's Angelo Muscat, a British actor who died in 1977 at age 47.

    He appeared in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, in several Dr. Who episodes in 1965, a televised version of Alice in Wonderland, and as an oompa-loompa in the 1971 Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

    Be seeing you.

    — W.S.

  12. W.S. Just for the record I was kidding about Danny Devito, but I am going to break out my W.W. and the Chocolate Factory DVD when I get home!:) And thanks for adding another item to my wish list. I have to watch this show now.


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