Concerning God And Religion 5
"It points to the darkness of death and the obscurity of the grave as the forerunner of a more brilliant light, which shall follow at the resurrection of the just, when these mortal bodies which have long been slumbering in the dust shall be awakened, re-united to their kindred spirit, and clothed with immortality." (Introductory Address: Third Lecture).
"And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left." — (St. Luke, XXIII, 33).
"Thou can'st not know the Way unless thou tread it,
Nor marry Truth till thou sellist all to wed it,
Nor have thy Life till thou hast learned to shed it
In selfless service to thy kind
And till the Greater Light beyond thy mind
To lesser lights hath made thee blind."
(Way, Truth and Life, by W. L. Wilmshurst).
Part Five: THE FOURTH INITIATION.
We come now to the central mystery of our Craft, and to the climaxing initiation to which men, as human beings, can aspire. It is first necessary, however, to emphasise that our modern system of Speculative Freemasonry has a world-value, abstract, universal, and impersonal, as well as an application private to the individual. In considering the story of H. A. and His "untimely death," it is essential, therefore, that we see it in broader and more general terms than is usually the case, and we must look for its meaning beyond the limits of our formal Craft. To quote from a Paper written by the late W.Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst:-
"The Craft legend of H. A. must be recognised as pure myth. But by 'myth' is not meant an irresponsible fiction; it was the ancient and very effective way of conveying truths of life to the public mind. Our legend, though called 'traditional history,' would be better described as 'historical tradition,' for it is the Judaised and localised form of a cosmogonical doctrine expressed in numerous forms and common to every race since the beginning of time; a doctrine explaining the genesis, fall, and destiny of man, and accounting for the mystery of evil, sin, and death with which our world is afflicted, by a catastrophe which occurred out of time and space and before we and our planet assumed their present physicalised condition.
"In our own Scriptures this primal tragedy, of which the murder and burial of the Master-builder H. A. is a localised echo, is referred to in the allusion to 'the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,' but whose 'blood' (spirit or life-essence) permeates the world as a saving and redeeming energy and will eventually restore it to a state surpassing its pristine grandeur. The same truth was taught in other imagery among all the nations of antiquity. We find it in one of the oldest systems of the Mysteries, the Samothracian, where the H. A. murder appears as the tragedy of a god slain by his fellow gods. Its equivalent in Egypt is the legend of the murder of Osiris by Typhon. In Greece it reappears in the dismemberment of Dionysos by the Titans and his concealment in a secret place; and in Phoenicia by the murder of Adonis. The Norse sagas repeat it in the death of the god Baldur the Beautiful. Our ancient British tradition re-echoes it in the story of the great King Arthur, wounded and mysteriously concealed through the ages but destined assuredly to return to us, ' Rex quondam Rexque futurus.' The Teutonic legend of the mystic Rhinegold, the murder of Siegfried and fall of the gods, is another variant of the same root-doctrine. In each of these and many besides (not to mention the chief of all, that recorded in the Christian Gospels) the central facts are always those of a great and blameless being, a divine or semi-divine Master or worker for human good, who is opposed and done away with by certain rebellious 'ruffians,' Titans or Giants (all typing the crude and hostile world-spirit or the blind forces of Nature) and whose loss therefore temporarily checks the pre-ordained advance of human progress but who one day will re- emerge from concealment, and re-establish the broken fortunes of humanity.
"Connected with each cue of a murdered or smitten Master one finds a cavern, tomb, or samophagus, mentioned as his place of burial or concealment and from which he will re-rise. And usually there is a reference to some object, often a plant as a symbol of growth — placed upon it to mark its site. In the Odyssey (Bk. XIII) it is a branch of olive planted at the head of a cavern. In the Egyptian version a tamarisk plant located the grave of Osiris, as the acacia did that of Hiram; a red anemone showed the place where the blood of Adonis was split (Ovid, "Metamorphoses" X); and Virgil who, as an intitate of the Mysteries of Isis and knew the doctrine from that source, repeats it when describing the discovery of the body of the demi-god Polydorus by Aeneas accidentally pulling up a loosely planted shrub ("Aeneid" Bk. III). In one important instance it is not the presence of a distinguishing mark that signifies the place of death but the absence of one; in the Great Pyramid, the sarcophagus is without lid, and the building itself lacks its apex or chief corner stone, thus testifying to loss and incompleteness by a minus instead of a plus sign.
"So, then, in our legend, under the allegory of a temporal murder and loss of building plans, we have a repetition of a doctrine of Cosmic Tragedy affecting all humanity, a tragedy committed before time began and one by reason of which all Nature groans and is in travail, and human society exists in a state of continuous disorder and confusion. Few members of our Craft realise that in giving the sign of h . . . . they are unwittingly testifying to this cosmic calamity. It is really a sign of dismay upon realising the tragic results of the 'original sin,' while the sign of s . . . . is similarly an expression of personal contrition for it, one in which each one of us identifies himself with it, crying 'Mea culpa! mea maxima clupa'!" (The Third Degree Tracing Board, by W. L. Wilmshurst).
The precise nature of the event which produced the Cosmic catastrophe, and in the words of Milton "brought sin into the world and all our woe," cannot be entered upon in this Paper. It must suffice here to state that there are good grounds for asserting that our human race was at one time far more spiritually alive and conscious of the spiritual world and its verities than it has been in the eras which we call historic. The Golden Age, and the Silver Age, of tradition are no fables; but references to time-periods, when human consciousness differed as much from its present spiritual benightedness as the precious metals differ from iron and lead; indeed, the metallic terms have been purposely employed to symbolise corresponding degrees of spiritual consciousness. Moreover, history (especially "traditional" or spiritual history) repeats itself, moves and re-enacts itself, in cycles. The historic period has been characterised by the development in the race of the discursive reason (the rationalising brain-intellect), the growth of which has involved a corresponding occultation of the intuitive spiritual consciousness. There was, of course, a predetermined cosmic purpose in the limitation of the consciousness of the race to the brain-concepts of the "carnal mind." St. Paul well affirms this fact in saying: "the creature was made subject to vanity (i.e., to "maya," or illusory consciousness), not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans, 8, 20 and 21). The purpose of the "bondage of corruption," and the temporary eclipse of spiritual consciousness by a lower and illusory faculty, was to promote individuation; to raise the race from simple into self-consciousness; to strengthen the spiritual intellect and give us experience by bringing us into sharp contact and contrast with conditions entirely alien and unnatural; to let us bear awhile the "image of the earthy" that on re-attaining the "image of the heavenly" we may appreciate the latter in a way that would have been impossible without descending into a mode and conditions of existence the polar opposite of true life; (for here we do not "live," we "ex" -ist, existence implying not life, but a "standing-out" or "away from" real life). To feel bliss and "know" that we feel it one must have known sorrow to realise union and unity one must have experienced separation and multitude; to enjoy the "peace of God" one must have shared in the warfare of devils; finally, to know oneself spiritually conscious, to be "in the spirit in the Lords day" (the site of unobstructed, unlimited spiritual cognition) one must have had that consciousness limited to a glimmering ray," have sat in "darkness visible," passed through the "valley of the shadow of death," and have fully experienced the "dark night of the soul."
The fourth major episode in the great drama of the Mysteries is the mystical death, which is also the "peculiar object of research" in the Third Degree of our Craft, system, and the particular act whereby this is consummated and demonstrated is called the Crucifixion. The symbols of the Crucifixion and the Cross are as old as humanity. To quote W.Bro. Wilmshurst again:-
"Both the secret and the symbol of the Cross were among the most closely-guarded arcana in the Mysteries of antiquity; they became public only with the suppression of the Mysteries and the institution of Christianity as a State religion. But for ages before our era candidates for the Mysteries were taught the truth 'Via Lucis, Via Crucis' — that the path of Light involves denial, obliteration and crucifixion of one's natural self. Hence Egyptian hierophants are always shown carrying the 'Crux ansata' as the key-emblem of regeneration and mastership. Plato, in guardedly voicing the secret doctrine of the Greek Mysteries in the 'Timmaeus,' declared that the Cross inheres in the Universe as its structural principle, and that it and we are fashioned upon it by the juxta-position or binding crosswise of two contrary principles — the Irrational (or Unconscious) and the Supreme Reason — so that from their interaction may be born a new, unique godlike creature, in whom those opposites are synthesised. Our Craft still perpetuates the ancient 'Tau' — Cross on every Master's apron, whilst the secret of the Cross is concealed behind our working tools, the Square, Level and Plumbrule, which form a cross when placed together in a certain way. All these ideas are summed up in a phrase of the great Christian initiate (Thomas a Kempis): 'So bear thy cross that one day it may bear thee,' the Masonic equivalent of which is the charge given to every E.A. Mason that from the 'foundation' of his natural personality he shall proceed to erect a 'superstructure' perfect in all its parts and honourable to the builder." (The Perfect Ashlar and The Living Stone, by W. L. Wilmshurst.)
In a general sense terrestrial life is in itself a crucifixion, and tribulations inevitably incident to mortal existence are reminders and premonitions of a deeper mystery into which, later or sooner, we are all called upon to be initiated in full consciousness. We learn from the V. of the S.L. that three crosses (in correspondence with the Master's apron with the triple "Tau") stood upon Calvary, as, by a variation of metaphor, three men were cast into the furnace of the Babylonian king. Yet, for the purposes of our instruction, these three are but one. They allegorize individual man's prismatic triplicity of body, soul and spirit, each of which must suffer crucifixion, or, alternatively, pass through the superheated alembic of inward fire, ere the resurrection of the new man takes place from the grave of the old, or "the form of the fourth" becomes apparent in a regenerated "son of God." It is to the crucifixion of the soul, however, connoting by that word all that is meant by St. Paul's term "carnal mind," that the narratives of the Mystery systems point with special emphasis, thereby proclaiming a message pertinent to humanity in its present stage, of development. The key to these narratives is to be found in what St. Paul calls "vanity," and our Craft system the "state of darkness." Let us, therefore, consider the word "vanity," and analyze its meaning from a deeper and more inclusive point of view than the superficial one generally accepted. Vanity is not merely shallow pride, ambitious display, and something that belongs to the surface of life, but it signifies everything that is in vain, or that hinders instead of hastens on the true purpose of life.
It is, indeed, the "state of darkness" between the soul's eye and the divine likeness of God to which we all must ultimately awaken; for to unfold that likeness here in the flesh is the aim of evolution. From this standpoint, how many of the things of this life over which we disquiet ourselves are in vain? We have but to look with the eye of the soul at our daily lives to realise that we are walking largely, as the Scriptures truly declare, "in a vain show" (Psalm 39, 6). We strive to make an ambitious display of outer things, heaping up riches in order that we may enhance the show. Yet in the very struggle to attain them we are losing all that makes life worth living, and are forgetting why we are passing through this expression of life in a physical embodiment in a physical world. This is not to say that riches in themselves are the vain thing, for, like the physical body and its functions, wealth is necessary and holds great lessons for humanity. We see today many of the hoards of wealth which have been heaped up in selfishness being either swept away by the exigencies of war, or being taken over and administered by governmental commissions, so that the stored-up wealth, in spite of man's vain desire, is being used to gradually bring about better conditions for humanity and the whole world. And in due time, when eventually this phase of the Law (the right use of wealth) has been fulfilled and the lesson learned by the race, there will no longer be any use for monetary values, and we shall pass on to further lessons to be learned through other channels. Some day each soul will awaken to its crue mission on earth, and when that awakening comes it will find in itself the now "hidden splendour," the "likeness" of God, thus justifying the prophetic prayer attributed to David: "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Psalm 17, 15). How, then, shall we manifest the "likeness" of God?
We go on perfecting our physical bodies, seeking to unfold a godlike sature and mighty intellectual and psychic powers; but even after this is accomplished how dare we say, "This is God's likeness?"; for no matter how perfectly we have developed our body, our intellect, and our psychic powers, if we have failed to unfold and manifest our spiritual nature, we have lived in vain. We can give no technical directions here how to "behold thy face in righteousness," the face being the manifestation of the likeness that is expressed to the world, but we can affirm that in order to manifest this likeness we must put away the vanities of life. All things are in vain which do not contribute, first to the unfolding within our hearts and then to the manifesting in our lives, of the attributes of Divinity, the likeness which we each individually are destined to unfold, knowing well that the moment we manifest the perfected likeness the Great Law will place us in our true position in the cosmic scheme. It makes no difference what you have been in the past. Today you are the synthesised embodiment of that which you were, the degree to which the likeness has been unfolded. That likeness has unfolded just to the extent that you do not walk, or that you continue to walk, in the vain show of the outer life, or of mere psychic attainments without corresponding spirituality. We are placed in our present positions in life, not by an arbitrary fate, but by the degree of our own unfoldment, and by the causes we have ourselves set up. This is but the mathematical and inevitable result of our past, and the means whereby poverty and obscurity also have their vain show if their lessons are not learned, just as surely as have pomp and greatness. In the course of evolution there are three lines of unfoldment, each evolving towards its own perfection, but each of these threads of destiny must be inter-blended like a cord made up of three strands. The cord is strong and durable in proportion to the smooth and even blending of the strands; even so must the self evolve and blend its three strands or avenues of manifestation, i.e. the physical body, the mind (including the psychic and mental bodies), and spirit. And according to the individual trend or, let us say, the individual variation in the "likeness" of God breathed into each self as it was sent forth into this "far country" of earth-life, do we unfold more rapidly and easily one or other of the three threads.
Many attain great perfection of bodily development, strength and beauty, or great development of intellect and power of mind, but without a corresponding spiritual unfoldment. The result is that each one of us is today in the place where the qualities in which we are lacking are in process of development. To awaken, therefore, in the "likeness" of God we must correlate body, mind and spirit; for to manifest the image of the triune God the three must become one, "a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes, 4, 12). The three Fates (Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos — personifying our past, present and future; see the great myth in Plato's Republic) are each spinning a thread of destiny or guiding the evolution of our threefold lives. Let us rest patiently, then, in the assurance that even though the threads are seemingly tangled, and the weaving of our spiritual Seamless Robe wearisome, yet over and above all is the divine Law of Love ever unfolding within us the likeness of God which we are destined to express in its threefold perfection.
These thoughts bring us directly to the central problem around which the narratives of the Mystery systems revolve, the problem of man's "raising" from the "tomb of transgression" and his attainment of the spiritual goal termed the "at-onement." The word "transgression" signifies the walking across a boundary; it involves the displacing of "landmarks," as we express it in our Masonic terminology, or the infringement of the basic principles of living. The simplicity of this definition is almost baffling, but we must remember that the Mystery systems hinge entirely upon the postulate that man is a fallen being; fallen away from his original status, and from the true order of life appointed for him; and fallen not in accordance with an orderly evolutionary process destined to right itself mechanically in due time, but fallen as the result of deliberate perverse exercise of his will, and conscious violation of the law of his nature. They inculcate that man passed out of his Creator's hands in a condition described as "very good," and that in virtue of that qualification he was appointed to "have dominion over" this planet and its creature, to superintend its development, and control the operation of the laws and forces to which it was subject, himself as a superior being remaining subject to a still higher order of law applicable to his own lofty nature. From this "very good" condition, however, it is obvious that man has somehow now become the very reverse, and that from his original position of control he has become displaced, with the result that instead of continuing to have "dominion" over a subordinate world the subordinate world now in fact dominates him. Further, his original radiant ethereality of body has become atrophied; his heavenly consciousness eclipsed; in their place he wears a body of such gross matter that it is called "the grave of the soul," and he is normally conscious only in virtue of so limited, inferior and unreliable a faculty as the "carnal mind."
The consequences of man's fall were not merely personal; they extended to and disordered not only this planet and its creatural life; they threw out of gear the mechanism of a vast cosmic system of which this world was the pivotal point. Moreover, "Adam," the generic name of the race which fell, originally functioned in solidarity, as a harmonious whole, a synthetic unity of beings. By the fall that unity of being and action became destroyed, and from being the one Word of Life which he was and which as the Divine vice-regent, he spoke over this lower world, he became dispersed into a Babel of strange tongues, and a multiplicity of impotent words. One consequence of this degenerate and disunited condition, the Mystery systems teach, is our inability to bear the strain and fatigue of existence without periodic relief. Hence our daily activity entails nightly rest, while the total span of our years in objective conditions involves the longer and deeper sleep of bodily death, and an appropriate period of recuperation in a subjective state; in both cases the process being indefinitely repeated. But, claims the ancient doctrine, neither sleep nor his brother death has any place in a House of Life; from such a Home man fell; and to such a House will he return when he retrieves his fall; a House of which it is written: "And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day; for there shall be no night there" (Revelation, 21, 25). Recognising, and basing themselves upon these premises, then, the Mystery systems unanimously declare that since "time immemorial" providential means have been devised in order to effect the restoration of our fallen race.
A persistent tradition in connection with the Mystery institutions affirms that their several Founders were the appointed Guardians and Teachers of errant humanity. It is related that in the earliest times the Mysteries were conducted by the Teachers themselves, who provided the unalterable "landmarks" concerning ancient usages and established customs" to be followed in future ages, and promulgated the "Sacred Law"; a law valid from the dawn of time until its sunset: "As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end." As time went on however, and humanity more and more developed the faculty of reason, the Teachers gradually withdrew and the Mysteries were committed to the care of the most advanced of their pupils, who had to substitute symbols and devices, dramas and scenic representations, of what had previously been revealed by higher means. Then it was that corruption crept in, and man was left to win his own divinity by self-conquest and persistent struggling against the lower elements in his nature.
The Teachers now remained unseen, ever ready to help, but no longer moving visibly among men, to compel their reverence and worship. So runs the tradition. The institution of the Mysteries is the most interesting phenomenon in the study of religion. The idea of antiquity was that there was something to be "known" in religion, secrets or mysteries into which it was possible to be initiated; that there was a gradual process of unfolding in things religious; in fine, that there was a science of the soul, and a knowledge of things unseen. We find the ancient world honeycombed with these institutions; they were of all sorts and kinds, from the purest and most noble down to the most degraded; in them we find the best and worst of the religion and superstition of our race. Nor should we be surprised at this, for when human nature is intensified, not only the better in it is stimulated, but also the worse in it finds greater scope. When knowledge is given power is acquired, and it depends on the recipients whether or no they use it for good or evil. The Teachers of humanity have ever been opposed by the innate forces of selfishness, for evolution is slow, and mankind wayward moreover, men cannot be forced; they must come of their own free-will, "for love is the fulfilling of the law" and so again although "many are the called, few are the chosen." With varying degrees of openness and secrecy, throughout the ages, the great doctrine of man's redemption the fall has been told and taught, many times and under many different veils or modes of expression appropriate to the age, and to the mentality of those for whom they were intended.
Never has humanity, exiled as it is from its proper and native abode, been deprived of suitable signposts pointing the way home. The directions upon the signposts, being written in many tongues, and frequently in terms of esoteric cypher, are not necessarily equally intelligible to the various wayfarers, who, in "decoding" the instructions, are apt to misconceive the import of even the particular signpost intended for themselves. It follows, therefore, that Biblical interpretation of the popular, exoteric order, which proceeds upon the assumption that our Occidental version of the "Sacred Law" contains historical and biographical records in the ordinary sense, emerges and can only emerge, in a welter of unsatisfying and incredible propositions. The truths portrayed therein are truths of a spiritual order, although expressed (as in literature it is only possible to express them) in materialistic terms and metaphors. Mystical exegesis, however, by applying the esoteric standard of spiritual interpretation, opens up unexplored and invaluable mines of truth. We will apply it to the subject of the present study.
To the writers of the New Testament Scriptures the term "thieves" furnished a favourite and convenient symbol, at once expressing and veiling a fundamental truth in regard to human life. In one of the Master's allegories, He relates that a certain man, when travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among thieves. Upon another occasion He enjoined men to lay up treasure, not upon earth where thieves break through and steal, but in heaven where they do not. Again, He described the Temple, ever the symbol of the individual human being, as having become perverted into a den of thieves. Yet again, when, according to national custom, occasion arose for the release of a Jewish prisoner, the choice of the misguided mob is said to have fallen upon a robber, in preference to a benefactor. And lastly, as though to give the point final emphasis, it was between two thieves that the Master Himself is represented as having been crucified. What idea, then, lay behind this reiterated reference to "thieves"; what ulterior truth, of which human brigands and ruffians were employed as the veils or symbols? We will state the answer first and its justification afterwards ; and, as our analysis will show, the true answer is that by "thieves" was intended to be understood those material fetters, the body of flesh and the mental organisation (embracing the "carnal mind — and the emotional nature) which, whatever their genesis, constitution and purpose, now operate as restraints upon man's spirituality, limiting at all times the full functioning of his spiritual consciousness, and frequently inhibiting it altogether from awareness of its own existence. The great fiction of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10, 30-37) enunciates, as well as veils, two cardinal verities: the Fall and the scheme of Redemption. We read in verse 30:-
"A Certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead."
The journey, or "going down," from the Hebrew metropolis to a distant provincial town traditionally associated with stubborn resisting powers, is figurative of the descent of humanity, originally and essentially a race of perfect and purely spiritual beings, from a super-physical plane (sometimes spoken of as Eden, and otherwise as the mystical Jerusalem alluded to by St. Paul as "the mother of us all" — Galatians 4, 26) into the physical conditions constituting our present world, whereof the strong-walled town of Jericho was taken as a type. As the result of "coming down" to this material environment (the phenomenal world of matter, space and time), in the midst of which we now find ourselves" straightly shut up" like the town of Jericho (Joshua 6, 1), the spiritual self is so — "hoodwinked" and "in bondage" (obscured and shackled by physical and psychical limitations), that the body of flesh and mental organisation constitute veritable "thieves" waylaying it upon its journey, stripping it of its native ethereal raiment, and leaving it half "dead" ("neither n... d nor c..... d, b .... e f....t nor s......d, but in a humble, halting, moving posture "); until time or circumstances" provide for its "raising" or liberation by the Good Samaritan (the Redemptive Power pervading the universe). The physical body is a "thief" that chains the soul to the physical world; a strait-jacket, at once clothing and inhibiting the functions of that which it encloses; it is an integument, like all physical matter, innocent enough in itself — "coat of skin" or "badge," which will never disgrace the wearer so long as the wearer never disgraces "it"; but a body of humiliation as compared with the primal Edenic garment, yet capable of conversion into a temple of the Most High, and one the potentialities of which are not even realised by humanity at large. The body of mortality becomes an instrument of offence only when incited by our other great "thief," the desire-body (called also Eros, the astral nature, and the "lusts of the flesh") or organised "mind-stuff," a real enough substance, although one of a metaphysic order, and one symbolised in many religions, as it is in the V. of the S.L., by the form of a serpent. This desire-nature, embracing as it does the reasoning faculty and the lower or objective mind, is appointed to serve as a light in the natural world, but, the gift notwithstanding, it forms a cloud of darkness as regards light from the spiritual element that is both within and without us, and, indeed, may obscure all spiritual vision.
Not, therefore, until a man has learned to relegate this "lesser light" to its appropriate use in the natural world, and to surrender himself to the transformative action of his "Vital and Immortal Principle" alone, can he, walking in darkness, hope to see the "grand luminary," which, invisible to physical sense, but present in the central depths of his nature, "lighteth every man that cometh into the world," and which manifests at first in mental illumination and expanded consciousness. Indeed, unless it is controlled by the "greater light," the lesser faculty wars continually against the enthraled spirit and the things thereof, and the psychical or mental nature becomes to the spirit a veritable cross; in token whereof, and in correspondence with which fact, the body of flesh, moulded (as upon scientific grounds it is known to be) by the inner psychical action, has assumed the form of a cross, which is its shape when one stands or lies with outstretched arms. Hence, whether we be conscious of it or not, the divine spirit within humanity may truly be said to be crucified upon a cross of matter, a cross of less noble substance than itself. Now becomes apparent the profound symbolism of the crucifixion episode recorded in the Gospels.
The spectacle of the Master nailed to the cross of wood between two thieves typifies the divine Substance crucified within each of ourselves, in the midst of those two thieves, our physical and psychical bond-masters. The thieves, be it also noted, are twain because the duality of the substantial and insubstantial, of fixed and volatile, is a universal characteristic of both the natural and the spiritual order; the same dual nature of even God Himself being exhibited under the symbols of bread and wine, signifying body and spirit. One thief, it is related, died railing and impenitent, making no sign of aspiration for release or redemption; thus dies man's undisciplined body of flesh, content with its own lot, than which it knows nothing higher, and in ignorance of its own potentialities. The other thief, who recognised the justice of his lite and asked to be remembered in the hour of the spiritual nature's triumph, received assurance of translation to a plane of life transcending this world; a type of the potential redemption of the purified psychical vehicle of the spiritual Ego, and promise of its ultimate incorporation into heavenly spheres. In other words, and as the scriptural record is designed to teach, the lower self must die in order that the higher can manifest, for since God is crucified at the centre of his nature, man, to realise God, must likewise suffer himself to become crucified.
The realisation of the fact that there is a lower self to be rigorously gainsaid, and a higher self to be sedulously cultivated, is the first symptom that a man is emerging from the "state of darkness." This first conscious, as distinct from notional, apprehension of the distinction between the illusory and the real, of the not-self and the true self, is prone to generate in the aspirant an impulse to retreat from the world; an impulse, however, to be resisted because it is an indication of moral weakness. The proper course is to "steadily persevere" where one is ("without neglecting the ordinary duties of your station"); to learn to recognise that everyone's position in life is the product of cosmic energies so directed by the eternal wisdom as to determine his present environment, and to make it, and none other, precisely the situation most suited for his own development, and (since no man lives or dies to himself alone), for promoting, by reaction, the development of others. The "first regular step" towards the spiritual life is the cleansing of the "Augean Stable" — of the personality (as the work is expressed in a familiar classic myth), in order that therein, as in that other stable at Bethlehem, a certain "child" may be born, although at this stage it be but among those — "beasts" which in the scriptures always connote our animal nature.
The habits and prejudices of the rationalising intellect must be subdued; the lower chamber of the false self evacuated, and an "upper room" made ready "furnished"; preliminary exercises which constitute the grades of probation. That the work is laborious and painful every aspirant well knows; for the mind keyed up to the required attitude speedily experiences the consequences of antagonising against "the ravenous birds of the air" and "the devouring beasts of the field" (scriptural terms for invisible evil entities and intelligences infesting our planetary atmosphere — see Ezekiel 39, 4), and exposed to which he must "keep his heart with all diligence," effectively protecting it "from the attacks of the insidious." Thus with stumbling feet and much apparently ineffectual effort, through alternating sermons of spiritual exaltation and inhibition, step by step, the aspirant cautiously and consciously advances along the "Via Dolorosa" to his "hour of trial," or the crossing over from a lower state of development to a higher. His raiment of old preconceptions is stripped from him he is scourged by his own self-imposed disciplines; the gall and vinegar of tribulation are, by his own request, given him to drink when he thirsts for liberation he enters a judgment hall which, whether call that of Pilate or that of the Osiris of the Egyptian Mysteries, is within himself; he sentences himself to death, and finally is "raised to the sublime degree" in the "House not made with hands." Such is the nature of the mystical death by crucifixion, and also the condition of re-birth — of the birth of what is literally a new man, in that from this time onward his desires and motives are under the control of the higher faculty, and therefore untainted by any suspicion of sethood. The lower self, the natural man, the old Adam, man in his present unregenerate state, then, must die. These are not mere words — phrases invented by mystics to shroud an inexplicable mystery; they convey the literal fact that only by conforming with the death as portrayed in the Gospels can man reach the full life of which he is capable.
The application of mystical interpretation to the Gospel narratives is important to students of our Craft system because it provides the necessary evidence in support of the claim that both Christian and Masonic doctrine are identical in intention, although differing in method. The one says "Via Crucis;" the other "Via Lucis;" yet the two ways are but one way; the former teaches through the ear; the latter through the eye, and by identifying the aspirant with the doctrine by passing him personally and dramatically through symbolic rites which he is expected to translate from ceremonial form into subjective experience. Moreover, the Gospels themselves, like our Masonic degrees, are a record of preparation and illumination, leading up to the ordeal of death, followed by a raising from the dead and the attainment of Mastership. In his valuable book "The Meaning of Masonry," W.Bro. Wilmshurst, when speaking of the legendary account of the death of our Masonic prototype, writes as follows:-
"If you examine it closely you will perceive how obvious the correspondence is between this story and the story of the death of the Christian Master related in the Gospels ; and it is needless to say that the Mason who realises the meaning of the latter will comprehend the former and the veiled allusion that is implied. In the one case the Master is crucified between two thieves; in the other he is done to death between two villains. In the one case appear the penitent and the impenitent thief; in the other we have the conspirators who make a voluntary confession of their guilt and were pardoned, and the others who were found guilty and put to death; whilst the moral and spiritual lessons deducible from the stories correspond. As every Christian is taught in his own life he must imitate the life and death of Christ, so every Mason is 'made to represent one of the brightest characters recorded in out annals'; but as the annals of Masonry are contained in the volume of the Sacred Law and not elsewhere, it is easy to see who the character is who is alluded to. As that great authority and initiate of the Mysteries, St. Paul, taught, we can only attain to the Master's resurrection by 'being made conformable unto His death,' and we 'must die with Him if we are to be raised like Him ': and it is in virtue of that conformity, in virtue of being individually made to imitate the Grand Master in His death, that we are made worthy of certain 'points of fellowship' with Him: for the 'five points of fellowship' of the third degree are the five wounds of Christ. The three years' ministry of the Christian Master ended with His death and, these refer to the three degrees of the Craft which also end in the mystical death of the Masonic candidate and his subsequent raising or resurrection." (The Meaning of Masonry, by W. L. Wilmshurst.)
Another parallel to be observed is that the Gospels record that the Passion of the Great Exemplar and Master concluded at "the place Golgotha, which it being interpreted, the place of a skull" (St. Mark 15, 22); in other words, it terminated in the head, or seat of intelligence, and in a mystery of the spiritual consciousness. The same truth is taught, under alternative veils of symbolic phrasing, in the reference to the "sprig of acacia" planted at the "head" of the grave of our Masonic Grand Master and prototype. It is for this reason that the cranium or skull is given prominence in the Master Mason Degree; here the "grave" is the candidate's own soul; the "sprig of acacia" then typifies the latent "akasa" (to use an Eastern term), or divine germ, planted in that "soil," and waiting to become quickened into activity in his intelligence, the "head" of that plane.
There is a little treatise written by the initiate philosopher Porphyry in the third century and entitled, "On the Cave of the Nymphs," which will serve to illustrate both the Gospel tradition and our Masonic legend. The work in question is an exposition of a passage from Homer's "Odyssey," which is, as Porphyry shows, an allegory of spiritual adventure, and a story of the soul's exile and wanderings; in fine, an ancient and elaborate form of the parable of the Prodigal Son. This passage describes a gloomy but agreeable cave, through which, and from whose roof and sides (as one usually finds in caves), water continually trickles. Above it on the outside, in the sunshine, and therefore invisibly from the inside, grows a spreading olive tree. The cavern is the haunt of certain Nymphs or Naiades, spiritual beings traditionally associated with water, who are busy weaving wonderful webs and purple garments. About the cave stand a large number of bowls and water-pots; it contains also a number of urns and chests into which bees are distilling honey and nectar. The cave has two gates: one on the north side through which men come in; the other on the south side through which gods go out. In his interpretation of the passage, Porphyry points out that the cave represents this world; a not unpleasant, but a spiritually unenlightened habitation. The world, says Porphyry, is not only represented as a cave because it is literally (as modern science of the ether has disclosed) an excavation within the body of the boundless Cosmos, but because a cave is traditionally a place of spiritual initiation into Divine Mysteries.
Students versed in comparative religion and the mystical tradition will know that all the prechristian "world saviours" are recorded to have been born in a cave or (as with the Christian Master) a stable; all sacramental initiations have notoriously taken place in caves (like those of Elephanta and Egypt), symbolically darkened lodges and crypts; Plato's wonderful cave-myth in the "Republic" will also be remembered. Porphyry further explains the allegory by stating that the dark cave alludes, in the individual sense, to the human body into which the soul (a "nymph" or "water-spirit") enters and weaves around itself a garment of flesh and blood. Mystically, "water" is soul stuff, and in the scriptures of all ages it is the term given to the finer and, as it were, fluidic grades of psychic matter of which physical matter is the solidified externalisation. In the V. of the S.L., therefore, souls are often spoken of as "waters" — "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Genesis I, 2).
This metaphysical "water" is likewise the eleutheric element which "wetteth not the hands" (as the old mystics say), and yet is the veritable "AquaVitae" or "Water of Life," from the exhaustless celestial reservoir of which every soul that exists can renew, cleanse and replenish itself perpetually. Accordingly, the water constantly streaming from the roof and sides of the Homeric cave represents the "Water of Life" continually percolating into our world from the finer planes of the Cosmos. And it is this purer ether from the heaven-worlds that we can aspire to indraw into our organisms, and there store up in certain centres of our nervous system. These centres (well known to students of spiritual occultism — see Part 3 of this Paper) are alluded to by Homer under the convenient symbols of "water-pots" and "amphorae" (wine vessels); they correspond to those of which the Christian Master said "Fill the water-pots with water" (John 2, 7), preparatorily to that "water" being turned into "wine" (i.e., raised to a still higher degree of spiritual sublimation). Porphyry further explains that the nymph-soul has descended through the planes of the Cosmos until it has entered the carve of this world by the "gate of man" (i.e., by evolving to human status), and it can only leave it by passing out through the opposite gate, the "gate of the gods" (i.e., by becoming perfected and divinised). This it cannot do save with the help of oil from the olive tree planted at the top of the cavern; the oil of Wisdom which shall initiate the soul and guide it to the way out to the higher worlds and the regions of the blessed. With the Greeks the olive was the plant of Minerva who, springing from the head (intelligence) of Zeus, personified Divine Wisdom; its oil is the same as that of which we read, "What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?" (Zechariah 4, 12), and by the inpouring of which the Good Samaritan heals all wounded wayfarers (see Luke 10, 34). Porphyry's exposition continues: "In this cave, therefore, says Homer, all external worldly possessions must be deposited. Here, naked and as a suppliant, afflicted in body, casting aside everything superfluous, and renouncing all sensual energies, one must sit at the foot of the olive and consult with Minerva (Wisdom) by what means we may effectually destroy that hostile rout of passions which lurk in the secret recesses of the soul."
Instructed members of the Craft who read this parable will not fail to see a veiled reference to the preparation of candidates for initiation, or to recognise that the cave and olive tree growing above it correspond precisely with the grave of H.A., and the sprig of acacia planted at its head. Both of these allude, of course, to the human body in which the true spiritual self of man lies buried and imprisoned, and from the bondage of which it can only be freed by cultivating and lighting the oil of wisdom (or, alternatively, of causing the sprig of acacia to blossom).
We have all, as the result of our lapse from heavenly ethereality into earthly grossness, woven around our souls "amazing webs of purple hue" in the form of our fleshly purple-blooded bodies, and most of us are content, like Homer's Nymphs, to go on weaving these into closer texture according to our various self-willed desires, ambitions and inclinations, overlooking the fact that some day every thread will have to be unwoven until we have liberated ourselves from the webs cast by our thought-shuttles. Those, however, who have ceased this futile outer weaving, and have at last learned to go about their "Father's business" rather than their own and the world's, are represented by Homer's "busy bees." It is these "bees" who distil "honey" from life-experience and range abroad from "flower to flower" to extract it, depositing it in their "urns"; "Then said Jonathan, my father hath troubled the land: see, I pray you, how mine eyes have been enlightened, because I tasted a little of this honey" (I Samuel 14, 29). The significance of the Masonic symbol of the Bee Hive," now unfortunately allowed to fall into desuetude, will be apparent in the light of the Homeric glyph. Ambrosia and nectar are the Greek analogues of our Masonic corn and wine; the former, as another Platonist tells us, being "a dry nutriment signifying establishment in causes," "and nectar, the food of the Gods, a moist food enabling us to energise in a deific and super-intellectual manner."
And thus it is that those souls who have entered the cave by its North gate, the gate of generation and darkness, as men, come at last to leave their weaving and apply themselves to divine concerns and to pass out of it by the South gate, the gate of light and regeneration, as immortals, gods.
We will conclude this part of our Paper with a further quotation from a Paper written for The Lodge of Living Stones No. 4957 by the the W.Bro. W. L. Wilmshurst:-
"One word upon a final subject, for in these high reaches of the Craft one mystery grows out of another and their kingdom has no end.
"Whoso labour at the mark of this Degree is called a 'son of the widow.' H.A., was so called; he was 'a widow's son, of the tribe of Naphtali,' which means the 'tribe of wrestlers' (I Kings 7, 14, and for all who in this work wrestle — as they insuredly will have to — with those times of spiritual darkness and aridity which are known as the 'dark night of the soul,' and with us are signified by the darkened Lodge, there is provided a sign and a cry which in dire need may be used to invoke the aid of other 'sons of the widow' from behind the veil. About these we cannot speak now, but they are true Living Stones, the 'just men made perfect,' the actual Past Masters of the Royal Art, in whom the material has been transmuted into the spiritual, and who having passed from the Lodge floor of this world to the dais of the Grand Lodge Above, superintend from thence the development of the Craft below and watch the progress of its individual members.
"Both they and we have one common Mother. In Egypt she was called Isis, the universal Widow. Later she came to be called the 'Jerusalem above which is the Mother of us all.' The Hermetic texts called her 'the Virgin Mother of the world,' the collective over-soul of Humanity, out of which each of us has sprung as her individualised offspring and to whose breast we shall all one day be gathered back again into unity. She is called a widow because of the World-calamity which has left her in dereliction, severed from her true Centre and Spouse, and mourning for her children now scattered into multiplicity and discord.
"An ancient Hermetic oracle declares that to lift that Widow's veil spells death; that nothing mortal can look upon her face and live. The death meant, however, was death of the kind implied in this Degree — the death of all that is vain, unworthy, unreal in oneself. Only what is immortal in us can gaze upon Immortality Unveiled, and none who has lifted the veil of Isis can therefore continue to live as before. His old self, his old life, dies; and just as, in our Ceremony, the Candidate is made to turn and for a moment gaze back upon the emblems of mortality, so for the true Master Mason there comes the time when he looks back upon his former self as upon the memory of a dream that has troubled and passed with the night, and thenceforward he enters upon a new life with the light of his own 'morning star' given him for his guide." (The Third Degree Tracing Board, by W. L. Wilmshurst.")
SO MOTE IT BE.