Freemasonry and the Doctrine of Reincarnation
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment … for this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality … then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory." — 1 Corinthians, XV, 50-4.
It is a somewhat saddening reflection that in spite of the presumable millions of years of human life on this planet, there is no general belief as to whence we come and whither we go, or indeed as to why there is any coming or going at all. The meaning and purpose of life are still beyond the scope of physical science; they are matters of faith at best and not infrequently of despair. The pain of the world, the transparent ruthlessness of Nature, the amazing inequalities of human existence, the seeming grave injustices in the lives of the majority, are, as far as our reason goes, as great enigmas to us today in the twentieth century as they have ever been so long as we have any trace of human history. In such a state of affairs we cannot afford to cast aside without hearing any theory that attempts seriously to throw light on the darkness.
The general hypothesis of pre-existence (under which the special doctrine of reincarnation falls) does not, it is true, solve the fundamental problems but it pushes back some of the initial difficulties. It furnishes an ampler ground for the development of the individual than the cribbed, cabined, and confined area of one short earth-life, and by providing a stage or series of stages for the acts and scenes of the age-long drama of the man-soul prior to the present existence, permits us to entertain the notion of a law of moral causation conditioning our present relation to circumstances in a way that does not clash with our innate sense of justice.
As a fact susceptible of scientific demonstration reincarnation is incapable either of proof or disproof. Such evidence of it as exists is but circumstantial and tending to a probability. However, if we care to accept — what it is imprudent to ignore — the authority of the past, we find the Scriptures and traditions of Oriental races with a great spiritual and philosophic record emphatic in their inculcation of the doctrine. So, too, are the Pythagorean and Platonist systems. Outside the Greek philosophical and mystical schools the European mind has been unacquainted with the dogma, but nothing hangs upon the ignorance of it by the peoples of a continent whose civilisation is of quite recent growth and whose populace was barbarian long after Egypt and the Far and Middle East had declined from their high positions as centres of religious and philosophic wisdom. The history of civilised Europe synchronises virtually with that of the Christian Church, which has held (or withheld) the keys of information upon arcane matters, and since that Church was silent upon reincarnation, no means existed by which the idea could be propagated in the West until it became introduced by the "Theosophical" movement towards the close of the nineteenth century. Its acceptance was then facilitated by two causes: first, by the translation and popularisation among us of the sacred and philosophic literature of the East, where the doctrine is universal; and secondly, by the recognition by Western science of an evolutionary process at work in Nature, a process suggesting that all life advances by gradations and through a succession of ascending morphological changes. The mind can hardly be otherwise than gratified at observing a gradual perfecting process involving a sequence of births and deaths, and at contemplating life sleeping in the mineral, dreaming in the plant, waking in the animal, attaining self-consciousness and freedom of action in man, with the added prospect of further spiritualisation and advancement as time goes on. What the mystical mind of the East has intuitively discerned and ever held as true, the practical intellect of the West has at last hit upon by scientific inductive research, the results of which suggest that all life advances to more and more perfect consciousness, by slow patient gradation and through countless modes and forms. That one of the most powerful arguments in favour of preexistence and reincarnation is furnished by our general conception of Divine Creative Power, and by the analogy between psychological and biological evolution. If higher biological types have appeared successively and not simultaneously with the lower species — if God, refraining from supernatural intervention, derives the species from each other in a natural succession, then it seems also likely that higher psychological types within the same biological species should not be suddenly created, but produced as the result of a natural development of lower types. The true conception of Divine Creative Power, such as we know it from biology, leads to the conclusion that what strikes us as genius or sanctity must have been prepared by conscious endeavours of a free human will, and not suddenly created by God without any connection with the general evolution of spiritual life. Indeed, such a sudden creation of higher types who have done nothing to deserve that higher level would be unfair towards those who rise slowly to higher levels by conscious endeavour and effort. Why should others surpass us immediately from the beginning without having done anything to attain the goal of our own aspirations? Though every striving spirit knows the wonderful action of Divine grace within, even this experience shows us God as acting upon a living soul, lifting that already existing soul to higher levels, and not as suddenly introducing into human life angelic perfection without spontaneous effort or previous experience. We know this working of our Creator in us always as an addition to something that depends upon our own free will, and this is at least one meaning of the Gospel saying: "To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance". God acts according to His general laws, which man is able to discover and to apply. These laws do not limit Divine omnipotence; they are only a reflection of that omnipotence in human minds. To perceive a Divine law is simply to give human expression (according to the capacities of human intelligence) to a Divine reality which in God has not the shape of any human formula. With that restriction we may treat clearly conceived formulas as laws of existence and of life, and as there is a law of gravity which explains the fall of a stone, and a law of movement which explains the flight of a bird — so we gather from experience an equally universal law of the spirit, according to which within our earthly experience higher stages of intellectual or moral power are attained by effort, training, renunciation, and voluntary mortification. The mere existence of a higher stage implies, therefore, preceding efforts, and if in our actual life there has been no room for them, we are justified in admitting that the necessary efforts were made in the forgotten past of each higher spirit, and, in the case of human spirits, they could have been made only in past human incarnations, implying, as they do, a knowledge and an experience of human conditions which could be acquired in that way alone. The efforts of each individual spirit are supported by Divine grace, but only those who have attained something by themselves can expect Divine help to achieve more beyond their own deserving. The analogy between the evolution of organisms and the growth of a soul shows the necessity of many human incarnations for each individual spirit, so that the greatness manifested in a brief lifetime may be considered as having developed in the course of numerous preceding lifetimes.
Now evolution, although today freely admitted to be a universal process in Nature, is still generally supposed to be a modern discovery. This view however, is incorrect because the Ancient Wisdom, which forms the philosophical background of our modern Freemasonry, knew and acted upon it ages before scientists accepted the theory in the nineteenth century. The Ancient Wisdom teaching recognised that in all the Universe there is but One Life broken up and differentiated into innumerable forms, and evolving through these forms from less to greater degrees of perfection. In Masonic metaphor, Nature was seen to be the vast general quarry and forest out of which individual lives have been hewn like so many stones and timber, which when duly perfected are destined to be fitted together and built into a new and higher synthesis, a majestic Temple worthy of the Divine indwelling, and of which the Temple of Solomon was a type. The Ancient Wisdom affirmed that all life has issued from out of the "East" (the Great World of infinite Spirit), and has journeyed to the "West" (the Little World of finite form and embodiment), whence, when finally perfected by experience in restricted conditions, it is ordained to return to the "East". Life, then, was seen to be broken up and distributed into innumerable individualised lives or souls, and to be passing from one bodily form to another in a perpetual progression. These individualised souls were called "stones", and all down the stream of history is to be found this similitude of the human soul to a stone, together with directions for working it from a crude to a perfect state. Expressed in the language of modern Freemasonry, the lineal descendant of the Ancient Wisdom, these "stones" are designated "rough ashlars" or "perfect ashlars", accordingly as they exist in the rough or have been squared, worked upon, and polished. The bodily form with which the soul becomes invested upon entering this world, was seen to be transient, variable, perishable, and of small moment when compared with the life or soul animating it; yet it has regarded as being of the greatest importance in another way, since it provided a fulcrum or point of resistance for the soul's education and development. For this reason it was known as, and in Freemasonry we still term it so, "the tomb of transgression"; the "grave" into which the soul has descended for the purpose of working out its own salvation, for transforming and improving itself, and out of which it ascends the stronger and wiser for the experience. To enable us to grasp clearly the Ancient Wisdom teaching, it is essential to bear in mind the distinction which is made between the individuality and the personality, between life and form, spirit and body. The Secret Doctrine presupposes that man is a spiritual Being or Ego, with the triple powers of WILL, WISDOM and CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE, and that he enters into relationship with matter in order to shape for himself a succession of bodies which constitute his successive personalities, and by means of which he gains the experiences that are essential for mental, moral and spiritual growth, until gradually his real nature shines out in all its Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. Accordingly, the personality is deemed to include the soul (as this is understood in our modern terminology) as well as the body, or, stated alternatively; the personality embraces expression as well as the form. The soul, then, being the reflection of the three-fold nature of the Spirit necessarily has also three attributes (modes of expression), and these are the familiar thoughts, feelings and actions of the human personal consciousness. Hence, the soul requires, for the full expression of its triple nature, three bodies or vehicles:-
- MENTAL BODY — vehicle for thought.
- EMOTIONAL BODY — vehicle for sensation and emotion.
- PHYSICAL BODY — vehicle for action.
Finally, the Ancient Wisdom proclaims that the "centre" of Being is the Spiritual Intelligence, which is the Higher or real Self of man, and the doctrine teaches that if man would find that Self, he must learn how to retreat inwards beyond the soul consciousness.
An important part of the curriculum of the Ancient Mysteries was instruction in Cosmology, or the science of the Universe, and the intention of this instruction was to disclose to Candidates the physical and the metaphysical constitution of the world, together with the place and destiny of man in it. By this means Candidates learned of the continual flux of matter, of the transiency of bodily forms, and of the abiding permanence of the One Lift or Spirit which has descended and embodied itself in matter. There was also demonstrated to them the dual cosmic method of Involution and Evolution, by which the universally diffused Life-force involves and circumscribes itself within material limitations and physical conditions, and thence evolves and arises out of them, enriched by the experience. They were further given instruction concerning the different levels and graduations of the Universe, some of them material and some ethereal, the planes and sub-planes, upon which the great scheme is being carried out; which levels and planes, all progressively linked together, constitute one vast ladder of many rounds, staves, or rungs, a veritable "Ladder of Life". Candidates thus came to understand that the Universe consists of embodied consciousness, and that these embodied consciousness exist in a practically infinite gradation of varying degrees of perfection — a real "Ladder of Life" or "Stair of Life", stretching endlessly in either direction, for our imagination can conceive no limits except a hierarchical one; and such hierarchical limitation is but spacial, and not actual, qualitative and formal. They were shown that the "Ladder of Life" is marked at certain intervals by landing places, so to speak, which the Mysteries called "planes of being" (different spheres of consciousness, to express the idea in alternative terms). Can didates in the old systems were given instruction in these matters before being admitted to. Initiation, and the knowledge gained served to explain to them their own nature and constitution, and their place in the World-system. Today, Freemasonry, perpetuating the ancient teaching, exhibits to the Brethren a simple ladder, a symbol which when properly interpreted is calculated to open widely the eyes of their imagination. It is true that the ladder portrayed on the T.B. of the First Degree is given a moral significance in the Instruction l ecture, but, as students of Hebrew mysticism are well aware, "Jacob's Ladder" is also a symbol of the Universe with its succession of step-like planes reaching from the heights to the depths. Indeed, we learn from the V. of the S.L., that the Fathers House has many mansions, many levels and resting places for His creatures in their different conditions and degrees of progress; and it is these levels, these planes and sub-planes, that are denoted by the rungs and staves of the symbolic ladd er. Of these planes there are, for us in our present state of evolutionary unfoldment, three principal ones: —
- PHYSICAL PLANE
- PLANE OF DESIRE AND EMOTION
- MENTAL PLANE
These three levels of the world are reproduced in man; the first (physical plane) corresponds with his material physique, his sense-body; the second (plane of desire and emotion) with his desire and emotional nature; and the third (mental plane), with his mentality, which forms the link between his physical nature and his spiritual being. The Universe and man himself are therefore constructed ladder-wiser and the ladder with its three principal staves may be seen everywhere in Nature. It appears in the septenary scale of musical sound with its three dominants; in the prismatic scale of light with its three primary colours; in the septenary physiological changes in our bodily organism, and in the similar periodicities known to physics and every branch of science. The Ancient Wisdom teaches that the one universal substance composing the differentiated parts the Universe "descends" from a state of the utmost etheriality, by successive steps of increasing densification, until gross materialisation is reached, and thence, "ascends" through a similarly ordered gradation of planes to its original place, but enriched by the experience gained by its activities during the process. In like manner, we ourselves, have each descended into this world (the nadir of materiality), and we have each to ascend from it by the same steps of "Jacob's Ladder", "which reaches to the heavens" (the zenith — "an etheral mansion veiled from mortal eyes by the stary firmament"). In some Masonic diagrams and Tracing Boards there is exhibited upon the ladder a small cross, in a tilted unstable position, as if ascending it; that cross represents all who are engaged in mounting the ladder to the heights, and who, ln the words of the poem:-
"Rise by stepping-stones From their dead selves to higher things".
Indeed, each of us carries his own cross (cruciform body) as he ascends; the material vesture whose tendencies are ever at cross-purposes with the desire of his spirit and militate against the ascent. Nevertheless, thus weighted, each must climb, and climb alone; yet reaching out (as the secret tradition teaches and the arms of the tilted cross signify) one hand to invisible helpers above, and the other to assist the ascent of feebler brethren below, for as the sides and the separate rungs of the ladder con stitute a unity, so all life and all lives are fundamentally one, and none lives to himself alone. Masonic students who recognise that every reference in Speculative Freemasonry is figurative and carries a symbolic significance behind the literal sense of the words, will dismiss from their minds any suggestion that the allusion to the familiar biblical episode in the Fourth Section of the First Lecture (see Genesis, Chapter 28), was intended by the compilers of our system to indicate a subject capable only of a moral interpretation. We may be well assured that the Founders of our Order had a much deeper purpose in view than that of merely reminding us of the Pauline triad of theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity), excellent as these may be. Admittedly, the moral interpretation is both warranted and salutary, but none the less it is far from being exhaustive, while it also conceals rather than reveals the meaning of the Scriptural reference and what the symbol of the Ladder is meant to convey to discerning minds. Now, if we would correctly interpret the Scriptural account of "Jacob's Ladder" as given in the Instruction-lecture, we must of necessity have recourse to an ancient Hebrew mystical doctrine with which Freemasonry is closely allied — the KABBALAH. The Kabbalah accords a prominent place to what are called the seven kings of EDOM, and the student will find that these kings are represented in the Book of Genesis as seven ancient royalties preceding the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel; but the Kabbalah further explains that they are descriptive images of seven worlds created prior to that inhabited by man, worlds which are incapable of permanent endurance as the Divine Image is not assumed in them. The humanity which assumes the Divine Image (i.e. man perfected) is termed Israel, and the seven kings or kingdoms of Edom are shown to be seven stations or planetary worlds through which the soul must pass in order to attain perfection. Such a state of perfection is attained only when by the full restoration and exaltation of the soul to oneness with the Spirit, the masculine and feminine principles are in perfect balance with each other. These principles (masculine and feminine) are called the King and Queen, and are respectively the Archetypal Idea (Adam Kadmon), who subsists prior to creation, and this Idea realised in creation. And, as declared in the Kabbalistic "Book of Occultations":
"Until the balance is established, and while yet the King and Queen look not face to face upon each other, the seven worlds of Edom have no continuance. But when the Queen appears upon her throne, then all the seven kingdoms of Edom shall be resumed in Israel and re-born under other names, For all that is not, all that is, and that shall be; are borne on the balance of the King and Queen looking face to face upon each other."
A careful perusal of this passage from the "Book of Occultations" discloses that the condition signified is precisely that also described by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians, when he says "But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away; for now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.". (1, Corinthians, 13, 10 — 12). It is, then, apparent that the kings of Edom (i.e. Adam or earth), are an occult figure of the seven progressive dominions, spheres, planets or stages, through which the soul passes on the way to the heavenly royalty within and beyond the earthly plane, to where man perfected becomes "a Prince and Ruler in Israel". Hence, the evanescence of the seven kingdoms of Edom; they represent rudimentary and embryonic stages in the "making" (perfecting) of man. Hence also the Apocalyptic declaration: "And the seventh angel sounded, and there were great voices in heaven, saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever", (Revelation, 11, 15). Further, it is important, to enable the student to comprehend the meaning of the cryptic reference to Esau in the Instruction-lecture, to keep in mind that the V. of the S.L., informs us that, "Essau is Edom, and the father of the kings thereof" (Genesis, chapter 36). Now, Esau is the brother of Jacob, and as it is the dynasty of Jacob which succeeds that of Edom, it follows that Esau is a figure of corporeal nature, while Jacob is a figure of spiritual life. Here is the link with our symbol of "Jacob's Ladder", for we can discern that the seven staves of the ladder are also the seven temporary kingdoms of Esau, whose dominion Jacob is destined, by surmounting the ladder, to supplant and supersede; doing this, and attaining the summit (t he place of the Lord), Jacob becomes ISRAEL, or "Prince with God". Attention is particularly directed to Genesis, 28, verse 12: "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it." Interpreting this passage, the Kabbalah explains that the angels on the Ladder denote souls descending into incarnation, to the lowest degree of the Universe (matter at its nethermost point), and ascending again into Heaven. At the foot of the Ladder at hight Jacob (the pilgrim soul) lies asleep, having for pillow a stone, and as the material world is the place of the greatest darkness and division from God, the place of the vision is called Luz.(or Luza), signifying "separation". Nevertheless, the soul knows that the nethermost point is also the turning-point of the pilgrimage, and that hence forth the journey is upwards and "eastwards". This is the stage in which the soul perceives that even in the lowest abyss of matter there is no real separation from the Divine presence and life; and that in the very Valley of the Shadow of Death, the "Rod and Staff" (i.e. the Trees of Life and of Knowledge — symbolised in the Craft by the Square, a variant of the Cross) comfort it — see Psalm 23, verse 4, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me". Hence, the exclamation of Jacob on awaking, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I know it not," (Genesis 28, 16), and the consequent re-naming of the place, BETH-EL (i.e. House of God) — verse 18. The Kabbalistic version of Jacob's dream is the Hebrew expression of the Secret Doctrine upon which, from the beginning, all the great religions of East and West have been built, namely the doctrine of the "Gilgal Neschamoth", or the transmigration and progression of souls.
In many of the Ancient Mystery systems a Ladder, having seven steps or gates, was used in order to demonstrate the seven stages of the soul's progress through the world of materiality. The Greek Mysteries, for instance, represented existence by the river Styx, the "daughter" of Oceanus (water of eternity), and by some called "mother" of Persephone (the soul), as the vehicle whereby she is borne down into the under-world and carried from mansion to mansion of the dark abodes. Seven circuits are made by the Styx, each of which includes and forms a world or station. During these rounds of planetary evolution, Styx becomes the mother of four Children, who denote respectively the four divisions of man's nature the emotional, the volitional, the intellectual, and the-psychic. These children have for father the giant Pallas (elemental force), for her victory over whom the goddess Athene was called Pallas (i.e. Pallas Athone). The word Styx means literally "hateful", and signifies the imperfect nature of existence as compared with pure being; this "River of Existence" is also variously called the "Astral Fluid", the "Serpent", and "Lucifer". The seven stages of existence constitute what is known as a planetary chain, the term "planetary" denoting "wandering" (i.e. pilgrimage), and they are classified as follows:-
It must be borne in mind that those stages are not localities, but conditions, and that in the soul's passage none is left behind, all are taken up into man, one being put on (as it were) after another, and the whole being comprised in the perfected individual. Each of the seven stages has a part in the evolution of the consciousness, which, it should be noted, is single until the lowest stage (the mineral) is reached; the mineral stage is the "nethermost" point and lies at the foot of the "Ladder of Life". Here occurs the "deep sleep" of Adam (as also of Jacob), the consciousness single and not involving self-consciousness, having in this the grossest mode of matter attained its minimum. From this point there commences the process of re-duplication, or reflection of the consciousness, by means of which the soul gradually passes into the consciousness of Self and of God. The consciousness being single until the fourth or lowest stage of existence is reached (the world of mineral nature), the commencement of reduplication takes place in the fifth station (the world of vegetable nature), and it is at this stage that the soul becomes gathered up and formulated into a distant individuality. In the sixth station the capacity for "sin" originates through the awakening of a sympathetic consciousness; at this stage, "sin" first becomes possible, because so long as the individual has only the simple consciousness of rudimentary nature, he knows no will but the Divine Will expressed in natural law, and there is for him no better or worse — all is "good". Stated in alternative terms: Adam while yet alone, cannot be tempted, cannot sin, for mere mind cannot sin; only the soul can sin. It is by the advent or manifestation of "EVE" (the soul, "the woman") that there comes the "knowledge of good and evil"; and it is to her, not Adam, that the tempter, when at length he makes his appearance, addresses his beguilements. The "sin" of Eve is not in the eating of "the fruit of the tree" herself, but in the giving of it to Adam (see Genesis 3, 12), since this constitutes a retrogression on the path of evolution, in that it refers the polaric point (i.e. the One Life which is centred in the soul), backward and downward to the lower reason; for "sin" consists in a voluntary retrogression from the higher to the lower. The "serpent" which tempts to "sin" is the astral or magnetia self, which, recognising matter only, mistakes the illusory for the substantial. Yielding to the "tempter", the soul falls under the power of the lower nature ("Adam") see Genesis 4, 16 — "and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee"; like Lot's wife she (Eve; — the soul) has looked back, and forthwith becomes a "Pillar of salt" the Alchemic synonym for matter. In this subjection of the "woman" to the "man", and the dire results engendered of it, consists the "Fall", and the fact that it entails these results demonstrates that such subjection is not according to the Divine order, but is an in version of that order. The soul should ever seek upwards to the Divine Will (of the Spirit); and instead of seeking downwards to the mind, should draw the mind up with her. Thus it comes to be that in the sixth station (the world of animal nature), which corresponds to the sixth creative "day" of Genesis, man is still in the making, and in order to attain to the "measure stature of the Christ", and from man potential become man actual and perfect, he must enter upon the seventh and last world of Kabbalistic evolution, the topmost round of the Ladder of Jacob, which is the vary threshold of the Divine. The seventh station (the world of human nature) is the world of the demigods and heroes of Greek myth, of the Saints of Christendom; and of the Buddhas of the Orient. Here man is no more merely a superior animal, for the nature of the beast is expunged, and new and more subtle senses replace the old; Divine illumination and transcendent knowledge have closed the avenues of passion and sin — this is the first Nirvana, or Resurrection. But one step more, and the second Nirvana is reached, and "Regina and Rex look face to face upon each other" (the Idea and the Realisation are poised face to face); for the plane of earth and of time is wholly transcended, the indissoluble, a selfhood and life eternal are gained — the manhood is taken into God. Thus is celebrated the mystic marriage of the Immaculate Virgin (the Soul) with her spouse the Holy Spirit; the yoke of bondage to Adam is broken, and for ever the curse is reversed by the Ave Maria of Regeneration. The Greek Mysteries dealt with two subjects only, the first being the drama of the "rape" and restoration of Persephone, and the second, that of the incarnation, martyrdom, and resuscitation of Dionysos; by Persephone was intended the Soul, and by Dionysos, the Spirit. The myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone told how the maiden strayed away from Arcadia (heaven) and from her mother, to pluck flowers in the meads of Enna, and how the soil there opened and caused her to fall through into the lower dark world of Hades, ruled over by Pluto. The despair of her mother at the loss reached Zeus, the chief of the Gods, with the result that he relieved the position by ordaining that, if the girl had not eaten of the fruit of Hades, she should forthwith be restored to her mother for ever, but that if she had so eaten she must abide a third of each year with Pluto and return to Demeter for the other two thirds. It proved that Persephone had unfortunately eaten a Pomegranate in the lower world, so that her restoration to her mother could not be permanent, but only periodic. This myth, and the importance once attached to it, can be appreciated only upon understanding its interpretation. It is the story of the soul, and is of the same nature as the Mosaic myth of Adam and Eve; Persephone is the human soul, and her straying from her heavenly home and heavenly mother in quest of flowers (symbol of fresh experiences) in the fields of Enna (signifying darkness and bitterness), corresponds with the same promptings of desire that led to Adam's disobedience in Eden and his fall thence to this outer world. The eating of the fruit of Hades alludes to the further degradation of the soul by lusting after the inferior pleasures of this lower plane, which, as symbolised by the pomegranate, is filled with the seeds of illusion and vanity. Therefore, until these false tendencies are eradicated and the desires of the heart are utterly weaned from external delights, it is decreed that there can be no permanent restoration of the soul to its source, but merely periodic respite and refreshment ("from labour to refreshment") that death brings when it withdraws the soul from the realm of Pluto to the heaven-world; to be followed again and again by periodic descents into material limitations and reascents into discarnate conditions, until the soul becomes finally purged and perfected. By means of this great myth, instruction was imparted concerning the history of the soul, its destiny and prospects, and the doctrine of reincarna tion was also given emphasis.
The great drama of the Greek Mysteries enunciates, as well as veils, two cardinal verities: the Fall, and Redemption from that Fall. Thus from the sad and woeful state into which Persophone falls she is finally rescued and restored to the supernal abodes; but not until the coming of the Saviour, represented in the Hermetic parable under the name of Osiris ("the risen from the tomb") — the Man Regenerate. This Redeemer, himself of divine origin, is in other allegories represented under other names, but the idea is always defined, and the intention obvious. Indeed, Osiris is the Jesus of our Christian doctrine, the supreme Initiate or "Captain of Salvation"; He is the reflection and counterpart in Man of the supreme Lord of the Universe (Greek — Dionysos, Hebrew — Adonai), the ideal type of humanity. He is represented as in all things "instructed" and directed by Hermes; famed as the celestial conductor of souls from the "dark abodes"; the wise and ubiquitous God in whom the student recognises the Genius of the Understanding, or Divine Reason, the "nous" of Platonic doctrine — and the mystic "Spirit of Christ". As the understanding of holy things and the faculty of their interpretation are the gift of Hermes, the name of this God is given to all science and revelation of an occult and divine nature. Hermes was therefore regarded as the Messenger or Angel of the Gods, descending alike to the depths of the Hadean world to bring up souls from thence, and ascending up beyond all heavens that he might fill all things. Lactantius, (a Christian apologist of the early part of the fourth century), in his "Divine Institutions", says: "Hermes affirms that those who know God are safe from the attacks of the demon, and that they are not even subjected to Fate." Now, the powers of Fate reside in the stars — that is, in the "astral" sphere, whether Cosmic or micro-Cosmic — and the astral power was in Greek fable, typified by Argos (the hundred-eyed genius of the starry zone), "Panoptes", the all-seeing giant, whom it was the glory of Hermes to have outwitted and slain. The meaning of this allegory is, that they who have the Hermetic secret are not subject to Fate, but have passed beyond the thrall of metempsychosis and have freed themselves from "ceaseless whirling on the wheel" of Destiny. The spheres of delusion, dominated by the sevenfold astral Powers, lie between the soul and God; beyond those spheres are the celestial "Nine Abodes" wherein, say the Mysteries Demeter vainly sought the lost Persephone. For from these abodes Persephone had lapsed into a mundane and material state, and thereby had fallen under the power of the planetary rulers; that is, of Fate, personified by Hekate. On the tenth day the Divine Drama shews Dometer meeting the Goddess of Doom and Retribution, the terrible Hekate Triformis (personification of "Karma") by whom she is told of Persephone's abduction and detention in the Hadean world; thereafter Hekate becomes the constant attendant upon Persephone. All this is, of course, pregnant with the deepest significance; until the Soul falls into Matter, she has no Fate or Karma, for Fate is the appanage and result of Time and Manifestation. In the sevenfold astral spheres the Moon is representative of Fate, and presents two aspects, the benign and the malignant. Under the benign aspect the Moon is Artemis, reflecting to the soul the divine light of Phoebus; under the malignant aspect she is Hekate the Avenger, dark of countenance and three-headed, being swift as a horse, sure as a dog, and as implacable as a lion. The Tree of Good and Evil, says the Kabbalah, has its roots in Malkuth — the Moon. It is sometimes asserted that the doctrine of Karma is peculiar to Hindu theology, but on the contrary it is clearly exhibited alike in the Hebrew, Hellenic, and Christian Mysteries; the Greeks called it Fate, and the Christians know it as Original Sin.
Modern Freemasonry, in the line of succession from the Ancient Mysteries, follows the traditional method of imparting instruction by means of myths, and its canon of teaching in the Craft degrees contains two; one, the building of King Solomon's Temple; the other, the death and burial of Hiram Abiff. The story of the building of the Temple is a myth enshrining philosophic truths, garbed in quasi-historical form, and relating to the structure of the human soul, the Temple of the collective soul of Humanity. This "magnificent structure" has now been destroyed and thrown down from its primitive eminence and grandeur; Humanity instead of being a collective united organic whole, has become shattered into innumerable fragmentary parts, not one stone standing upon another of its ruined building. It has lost consciousness of the genuine secrets of its own origin and nature, and has now to be content with the spurious substituted knowledge it picks up from sense-impressions in this outer world. (See Paper, "The Mystical Quest in Freemasonry"). The Masonic myth of the martyrdom of Hiram Abiff affords us one of the profoundest mysteries open to contemplation. Students of the mysteries will discern that the true purpose of the central legend of our Craft is not to recount the temporal event of the death-agony of a murdered Master, but to narrate the parable of a cosmic and universal loss. We are here dealing with no tragedy that occurred during the erection of a building in an eastern city, but with a moral disaster to universal humanity. Hiram Abiff is slain. The high light and wisdom ordained to guide and enlighten humanity are wanting to us, and the want of plans and designs to regulate the disorders of individual and social life indicates to us all that some heavy calamity has befallen us as a race. Indeed, the absence of clear and guiding principle in the world's life forcibly reminds us of the utter confusion into which the loss of that Supreme Wisdom, personified as Hiram, has thrown us all; and causes every reflective mind to attribute to some fatal catastrophe his mysterious disappearance. We all long for that light and wisdom which have become lost to us. Like the craftsmen in search of the body, we go our different ways in search of what is lost, and many of us make no discovery of importance throughout the length of our days. We seek it in pleasure, in work, in all the varied occupations and diversions of our lives; we seek it in intellectual pursuits, in Freemasonry, and those who search farthest and deepest are those who become most conscious of the loss and who are compelled to confess, in the words of the Christian Scriptures: "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him". Where is Hiram buried? We are taught that the Wisdom of the Most High — personified as King Solomon — ordered him to be interred in a fitting sepulchre outside the Holy City. He is buried "outside the Holy City", in the same sense that the posterity of Adam have all been placed outside the walls of Paradise, for, "nothing unclean can enter into the holy place" which elsewhere in Scripture is called the Kingdom of Heaven. Our ritual in cryptic terms indicates that the grave of Hiram is ourselves; each of us is the sepulchre in which the smitten Master is interred. At the centre of ourselves lies buried the "vital and immortal principle" that affiliates us to the Divine Centre of all life, and that is never extinguished however imperfect our lives may be. In other words, Hiram Abiff represents the Christ-principle immanent in every soul; crucified, dead and buried in all who are not alive to its presence, but resident in all as a saving force; to quote St. Paul — "Christ in you, the hope of glory". Thus the temple of the human soul; primordially constituted of the three principles WISDOM, STRENGTH and BEAUTY, in due balance and proportion, and divinely pronounced to be "very good", has deflected from that state. Of the three pillars that should support it, WISDOM (Gnosis) has fallen and become replaced by a flexible and shifting prop of speculative opinion; STRENGTH (divine dynamic energy) has become exchanged for the frailty of the perishing flesh; and BEAUTY, the God-like radiant form that should adorn and liken man to his Divine Creator, has become superseded by every ugliness of imperfection. Man, then severed from conscious intercourse with his Vital and Immortal Principle, is now a prisoner in captivity to himself and his lower temporal nature. It remains for him to retrace his steps and rebuild his temple; to continue no longer a bondsslave to his self-made illusions and the attractions of "worldly possessions", but to become a free man and mason, engaged in shaping himself into a living stone, for the cosmic temple of a regenerate Humanity. Hence, to be installed in the chair of King Solomon, means in its true sense the re-attainment of a Wisdom we have lost and the revival in ourselves of the Divine Life-Essence which is the basis of our being. With the reattainment of that wisdom all that is comprised in the terms Strength and Beauty will be re-attained also, for the three pillars stand in eternal association and balance. On the other hand, not to re-attain it, not to revive the Divine Life-Essence, during our sojourn in this world, is to miss the opportunity which life in physical conditions provides, since the after-death state, as the Ancient Mysteries taught, is not one of labour at this work, but of refreshment and rest, when no real progress is possible. Labour, understood in the sense here defined, and Refreshment after it, constitute a rhythm of activity and passivity: a rhythm similar to that which we daily experience in respect of waking and sleeping, working and resting. To speak of Refreshment, however, in the deeper sense implied in Freemasonry is even more difficult than to speak of the philosophic Labour; for it involves a subject to which few devote deep thought — the subjective side of the soul's life as distinct from the objective side which, for most men, is the only one at present known to them. But to the wise, the study of the subjective half of life is as important us that of the objective half, and without it he cannot make the circle of his self-knowledge complete. Even the observant Masonic student is made aware by the formula used at Lodge-closing, that by some great Warden of life and death each soul is called into this objective world to labour upon itself, and is in due course summoned from it to rest from its labours and enter into subjective celestial refreshment, until once again it is recalled to labour. For each the "day," the opportunity for work at self-perfecting, is duly given; for each the "night" cometh when no man can work at that task; which morning and evening constitute but one creative day of the soul's life, each portion of that day being a necessary complement to the other. Perfect man has to unify these opposites in himself; so that for him, as for his Maker, the darkness and the light become both alike. The world-old secret teaching upon this subject, common to the whole of the East, to Egypt, the Pythagoreans and Platonists, and every College of the Mysteries, is to be found summed up as clearly as one could wish in the "Phaedo" of Plato, to which the student is referred as one of the most instructive of treatises upon the deeper side of the science. It testifies to the great rhythm of life and death above spoken of, and demonstrates how that the soul in the course of its career weaves and wears out many bodies and is continually migrating between objective and subjective conditions, passing from labour to refreshment and back again many times in its great task of self-fulfilment. And if Plato was, as was once truly said of him, but Moses speaking Attic Greek, we shall not be surprised at finding the same initiate-teaching disclosed in the words of Moses himself. Does not the familiar Psalm of Moses declare that man is continually "brought to destruction", that subsequently a voice goes forth saying "Come again, ye children of men!" and that the subjective spiritual world is his refuge from one objective manifestation to another? What else than a paraphrase of this great word of comfort is the Masonic pronouncement that, in the course of its task of self-perfecting, the soul is periodically summoned to alternating periods of labour and refreshment? It must be labour, and it must rest from its labours; its works will follow it, and in the subjective world every Brother's soul will receive its due for its work in the objective one, until such time as its work is completed and it is made "a pillar in the House of God and no more goes out" as a journeyman-builder into this sublunary workshop.
"Pray far the peace of Jerusalem! they shall prosper that love it. Peace is within her walls and plenteousness within her palaces. For my brethren and companions' sake I will say, Peace be within thee." (Psalm CXXII)