The Rite Corner: Pura Vida


Illustrious David L. Nielsen, 33°, S.G.I.G. in Montana

My wife and I took a trip to Costa Rica in January, 2022. It was a country that we wanted to visit after hearing encouraging recommendations from family. After arriving we noticed the words "pura vida" widely displayed on signs and banners, and printed on hats, t-shirts and various souvenirs. My first reaction was that it was a cheesy marketing gimmick for non-Spanish speaking tourists. The first word "pura" resembled the English word "pure," so I thought I was getting close. "Vida" I was told means "life." Thus, it was a "pure live" in my mind. My simplistic translation was a bit off, however. Though, 'pura" and "pure" may have the same Latin-based root, they were not equivalent, I was informed. "Pura" means more like "complete, wholesome." Our driver explained that it was a widely held national belief by the people to experience a full, satisfying life, that made them relaxed and pleasant. He said, laughingly, that as a driver he used have bouts of road rage, but the pura vida in his life helped keep it in check. He further explained humorously that Costa Ricans practice pura vida until they get behind the wheel of car.

As we learned more about the history of Costa Rica, we found that for most of its history after Columbus' arrival in about 1502, ten years after his maiden discovery of the West Indies, the life for many Costa Ricans, especially the indigenous peoples, was far from being a pura vida. As a Spanish colony, the conquest of Costa Rica "was achieved with religious imposition, using arms and the crucifix." Museo de ARTE Costarricense, brochure. The union of church and state to suppress the lives of the people is one of Pike's predominate themes in his Scottish Rite writings, and here was a historical example of his warning.

Initially, the Spanish viewed themselves as superior to the native people and employed a caste system to keep them in their place. The Spaniards especially sought to maintain pure bloodlines in their offspring. However, the Spanish in Costa Rica shared the same Catholic faith as the rest of the population, and the physical characteristics of the native people were nearly indistinguishable with the Spaniards. Over time, through inter-racial marriages, the differences between "pure" Spaniards and the offspring of mixed marriages became further blurred.

In addition to the native people being used as cheap labor by the coffee plantation owners, the farming practices of the plantations were devastating to the health of the land and the jungle forests that covered them. The land was not allowed to regularly and naturally rejuvenate with new forest. This resulted in loss of habitat for birds and animals, including white-tail deer and the beautify macaws, ancient symbols of Costa Rica.

In 1821, due to the successes of the U.S. American and French Revolutions, along with influence from Freemasonry, Costa Rica, along with other Central America countries and Mexico, yearned for and achieved independence from Spain, ceasing the state of colonization. Unfortunately, independence from Spain's domination did not bring pura vide. After independence five Central America countries, including Costa Rica, attempted to form a union, but this failed mainly because each country had its own political leaders, and none wanted their government run under the leadership of another country. After this unsuccessful merger to form country of Central America, Costa Rica discontinued using the peso as its monetary unit and adopted a new money call "colones."

Costa Rica has experienced internal political power plays. After the last political insurrections in 1948, which only lasted one month but suffered human casualties, Costa Ricans said "no" to using its military against its own people. As a result, they dissolved their military totally.

In this summary of the history of Costa Rica, and its search for pura vita, we find that the people have persevered through colonization, forced labor, poverty, discrimination, desecration of its land, flora and fauna, native birds and animals, and a failed insurrection. From their trying history, they emerged showing the strength of a people dedicated to respecting all people and working together to create a country that preserves its natural environment for present and future generations.

Costa Rica is not without other challenges, but the simple national pride in creating a "pura vida" for all its people is a great starting place.

The pura vida was intriguing to me because in a way it is a short Spanish phrase that captures the essential elements of the Masonic lessons. I was pleased to learn that freemasonry was one of the guiding influences toward freedom and human equality, in helping shape the basis for pura vida for Costa Ricans.

I wish you and your loved ones pura vida in your lives.