The Great Work in Speculative Freemasonry
"There can be no rational doubt, however, that the moral influence of Freemasonry would be much more powerful and efficient if the sources of intelligence amongst the Fraternity were augmented, and a higher grade of science substituted for the meagre outline which at present prevails in our Lodges." (Dr. George Oliver — 1846.)
THROUGHOUT the ages the spiritual doctrine which is concealed within the architectural phraseology of our modern Craft system has undergone the influence of many different traditions of the Ancient Wisdom. The student, therefore, who seeks to analyse Freemasonry as it stands to-day often finds himself lost in a bewildering maze of various tributaries of knowledge, and is apt to pore indefinitely over a mass of fragmentary facts without perceiving their inter-relation, or being able to coordinate them into one comprehensive scheme.
In this Paper the attempt will be made to present, for the guidance of Masonic students, an interpretation of the Egyptian metaphysical tradition in harmony with the teachings set forth in what are called the Mysteries; the Egyptian tradition will then be briefly discussed in the light of its transmission and ultimate incorporation in Speculative Freemasonry; finally, reasons will be given in support of the theory, which we hold to be valid, that the Great Work ("Magnum Opus") of the Rosicrucians and Spiritual Alchemists is the same as that which is symbolised in our Masonic legend of H.A. Thoughtful students may find in the references to the Old Wisdom and the Mystery tradition an introduction to a great subject; nor should the Mysteries be thought of only as institutions long vanished into the night of time; rather their re-establishment is to be accepted as inevitable. In years to come a wiser generation will restore the sacred rites which are indispensable to the spiritual, intellec tual and social security of the race. Meanwhile, preserving the witness, Freemasonry keeps burning the light of the perpetual Mysteries in a dark age. If, in comparison with former witnesses, Freemasonry is but a "glimmering ray" rather than a powerful beam of light, it is none the less a true ray; a kindly light lit from the world's central altar-flame, and sufficient at least to lead some aspirants on amid the encircling gloom until the existing "state of darkness" is dispelled by the dawn of a new era.
It is now generally acknowledged by those competent to judge, that of all the ancient peoples the Egyptians were the most learned in the wisdom of the Secret Doctrine; indeed, there are some who would have it that Egypt was the Mother of the Mysteries, and that it was on the banks of the Nile that the Royal Art was born. We can affirm, without entering into any controversy on the matter, that the wisest of philosophers from other nations visited Egypt to be initiated in the sacred Mysteries; Thales, Solon, Pythagoras and Plato are all related to have journeyed from Greece to the delta of the Nile in quest of knowledge; and upon returning to their own country these illumined men each declared the Egyptians to be the wisest of mortals, and the Egyptian temples to be the repositories of sublime doctrines concerning the history of the Gods and the regeneration of men. To the earliest period of Egyptian metaphysical speculation belongs the fable of Isis and Osiris, and we find t hat the myth of the Dying God recurs in many of the great World Religions; also it is an established fact that the life, death and resurrection of the immortal-mortal have become the prototype for numerous other doctrines of human regeneration.
The fable, as it has descended to us in the account given by Plutarch, the celebrated Greek biographer, has not been much amplified by modern research; nor has any new key been found to unlock this sublime drama, which may well be termed the "Passion Play" of Egypt. Plutarch himself, however, says that "the mystic symbols are well known to us who belong to the Brotherhood," and this intimation suggests that the interpretation of the myth as it is given by him in his "Isis and Osiris" will reveal its hidden meaning to students who are already familiar with the principles of the doctrine. Moreover, a perusal of the introductory remarks made by Plutarch discloses that these are of special significance, for if he, by any word or symbol, reveals even a small part of the sacred Mystery to the uninitiated, we may fairly claim that such revelation is to be found in the following excerpt from the text of his work:-
"Isis, according to the Greek interpretation of the word, signifies knowledge; as does the name of her professed adversary Typhon; (signify) insolence and pride, a name therefore extremely well adapted to one, who, full of ignorance and error, tears in pieces and conceals that holy doctrine, which the Goddess collects, compiles and delivers to those who aspire after the most perfect participation of the divine nature."
We have in this passage a clear indication that Osiris is to be regarded as the personification of an Order of learning, because Plutarch identifies him beyond question with the "holy doctrine," or, in other words, the Mystery tradition. Hence, we may further deduce that since, in the Egyptian system, THOTH personifies the whole sphere of knowledge (and it was through THOTH that OSIRIS came into being), so Osiris embodies the secret and sacred wisdom reserved for those who were proficients in the ancient rites. To the Elect, therefore, Osiris represented "primordial knowledge," and He signified not only divine "at-one-ment" with the Absolute (which is the end of all illumination), but by his life, death and resurrection, He also revealed the means by which mortal consciousness could attain that end. Stated alternatively, the personality of Osiris typifies the Institution erected by the ancients in order to perpetuate the deathless truths of the soul.
We will next examine the Egyptian historical tradition. According to this, Osiris is the first of the five children of the Goddess NUT; He therefore corresponds with the first of the five divine kings of China and the five exoterically known Dhyana-Buddhas of Lamaism. The five children of NUT are otherwise the five traditional root races which have populated the five continents which have appeared upon the earth. Isis is represented as being born on the fourth day, and is connected with the fourth race ( populating Atlantis-see Plato "Timaeus" and "Critias"), the tradition of Osiris (the primitive revelation of the first race) coming into Egypt through the Atlantean Mystery School, of which Isis is the symbol. From the Egyptian account of the reign of Osiris as King we glean the following philosophical history; there was a time, the Golden Age, when truth and wisdom ruled the earth, and this aristocracy of wisdom was a benevolent despotism in which men were led to a nobler state of being by the firm kindly hand of the enlighted sage. This was the dynasty of the mythological Priest-Kings, who were qualified to govern humanity by reason not only of temporal, but of divine attributes; through his priests, Osiris, representative of the hidden tradition, ruled the entire world by virtue of the perfection resident in that tradition. If, then, we may concede that Osiris is the positive pole of the universal life agent, Isis becomes the receptive pole of that activity; He is the doctrine, She is the Church; and as in Christianity it is customary to refer to the Church as the Bride of Christ, so in ancient Egypt the institution of the Mysteries was the Great Mother, the consort of heaven itself. From this interpretation we gain a deeper insight into the symbolism of the whole Osirian cycle. Isis signifies the temporal order of the priesthood, the cumulative body of Initiates; She is personified as the Temple; She is the Mother of all go od, the protectress of right, the patron of all improvement; She ensures nobility, inspires virtue, and awakens the nobler passions of the soul; like the Moon as reflector, She shines only with the light of Her sovereign Sun, even as the Temple can only be illumined by its indwelling truth.
In the Egyptian metaphysical system, TYPHON, the conspirer against OSIRIS, is the embodiment of every perversity; He is the negative creation (the AHRIMAN of Zoroaster); He is black magic and sorcery, the Black Brotherhood and his wife, NEPHTHYS, is the institution through which He manifests. The traditional history relates that TYPHON lured OSIRIS into the ark of destruction, stated to be it chest or coffin (the symbol of material organisation — the imprisonment of the soul in a physical body), at the time when the Sun entered the house of Scorpio, i.e., the 17th day of the second month of the Egyptian year (corresponding to the month of November in our calendar); hence we know him to be the type of the eternal negative, the betrayer of the Lord, namely JUDAS. In the initiation rites Typhon is also the "tester" or "tryer" ("the Lord who is against us"), personifying ambition the patron of ruin. Typhon was assisted in his "impious design" to usurp the throne of Osiris by ASO (the Queen of Ethiopia) and seventy-two other conspirators. These conspirators represent the three destructive powers, "the three ruffians," which are preserved to modern Freemasonry as the murderers of the Master Builder; they are ignorance, superstition and fear. Thus the advent of greed and perversion marked the end of the Golden Age, and with the death of Osiris, Typhon forthwith ascended the throne as regent of the world. It is further narrated that in consequence of the material organisation of the social sphere which followed upon the exile of Truth to the invisible world, Isis, the Mother of the Mysteries, was so defiled and desecrated by the profane, that her sages and prophets were forced to flee into the wilderness to escape the machinations of the evil one. At this stage, Isis, now represented by the scattered but still consecrated body of Initiates, began the great search for the secret that was lost; and in all parts of the world the virtuous in "grief and distress" raised their hands to the heavens, pleading for the restoration of the reign of Truth. Continuing their search in all parts of the earth and throughout innumerable ages, the congregation of the just at last re-discovered the lost arcana and brought it back with rejoicing to the world over which it once ruled. In this manner, we learn, Isis by magic (the initiated priests were magicians), resurrected the dead God, and through union with him brought forth an order of priests under the collective title of HORUS. These were the HERJ SESHTA (the Brothers of Horus), the chief of whom wore the dog-headed mask of ANUBIS. Anubis was the son of Osiris by NEPHTHYS (the material world) and represents the divine man, or the mortal being who rose to enlightenment.
Ambition, however, personified by Typhon, knowing that temporal power must die if divine power, in the form of Truth, became re-established in the world, put forth all its might to again scatter the doctrine, and this time so thoroughly that it should never again be re-discovered. If, as Plutarch has suggested, Typhon in one of his manifestations represents the sea, then it would appear that the second destruction of Osiris may refer to the Atlantean deluge (alluded to in the dialogues of Plato) by which the doctrine was swallowed up or lost, and its fragments scattered among all the existing civilizations of that time. According to the narrative, the body of Osiris (the Secret Doctrine) was now divided into fourteen parts and distributed among the parts of the world; that is, it was scattered through the seven divine and seven infernal spheres (the "lokas" and "talas" of the Indian tradition), or by a different symbolism, through the seven worlds which are without and the seven worlds which are within. The parts of Osiris were now scattered so hopelessly that Typhon felt his authority to be secure at last, but wisdom is not so easily to be cheated, and in due time, we are informed, Isis succeeded in recovering all the parts except one, the phallus, which had been thrown into the river and devoured by three fishes. Failing to recover the phallus, Isis is said to have substituted a golden replica for the missing organ. In our interpretation of this symbolism we must inf er that mankind itself is represented by the fish, the phallus being the symbol of the "vital and immortal principle," and so used in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The phallus, therefore, denotes the Lost Word (the three-fold generative power), and the golden replica of Egypt, which was rendered alive by magic, is the equivalent of the three-lettered word of our modern Freemasonry, concealed (in the Royal Arch Degree) under the letters A-U-M. It should here be noted that in the Egyptian rites, Isis, by modelling and reproducing the missing member of Osiris, gives the body the appearance of completeness, but the life power is not there; recourse is therefore had to magic and the golden phallus is brought to life by means of the secret processes rescued from the lost "Book of Thoth." The allusion is to the restoration of divine power through the regeneration of man himself and the Initiation processes.
Isis was the patroness of the magical arts among the Egyptians, but the use to which magic should be put is clearly shown in the Osirian cycle where Isis applies the most potent of her charms and invocations to accomplish the resurrection of Osiris. In other words, the magical power is used solely for the purpose of the redemption of the human soul. Masonic students are recommended to study carefully such magical practices as evidenced in the various types of dramatic initiatory ritual. To quote the eminent psychologist, Dr. Jung, from his commentary to "The Secret of the Golden Flower":-
"Magical practices are the projections of psychic events which, in cases like these, exert a counter influence on the soul and act like a kind of enchantment of one's own personality. That is to say, by means of these concrete performances the attention, or, better said, the interest, is brought back to an inner sacred domain which is the source and goal of the soul. The inner domain contains the unity of life and consciousness which, though once possessed, has been lost and must now be found again."
In the Egyptian rites HORUS is the saviour-avengert son of ISIS, conceived by magic (the ritual) after the brutal murder of OSIRIS; hence he is the posthumous redeemer. The destruction of TYPHON is to be accomplished by ISIS through her immaculately conceived son, HORUS, which is a term concealing the collective body of the perfected adepts who were "born again" out of the womb of the Mother-ISIS, the Mystery School. We can apply this analogy to our great modern system of Initiation, which has certainly perpetuated the outer form of the ancient rites. Freemasonry as an Institution is, in this sense, the modern ISIS, the Mother of the Mysteries, from whose dark womb the Initiates are born in the mystery of the second or philosophic birth. Similarly, all Masonic adepts (Master Masons) are, by virtue of their participation in the rites, figuratively speaking, "Sons of the Widow"; they are the offspring of the Institution widowed by the loss of the living Word, and theirs is the eternal quest-they discover by becoming.
The metaphysical significance of the death and resurrection of the Egyptian demi-god has for the most part been lost to the Craft, notwithstanding the undoubted fact that Masonic scholars of the calibre of Pike, Mackey and Oliver are in general agreement as to a definite association between the legend of Osiris and the drama enacted in the Third Degree. We may, however, attribute the failure of students to recognize the Egyptian origin of certain parts of Craft Lodge ritualism and symbolism to the transmission of the legend by way of the Hebrews who, naturally, superimposed their own terminology on the tradition they received from Egypt. In the Schools of Hebrew mysticism, the Mystery drama of the death and resurrection of Osiris became that of the slaying and raising of the Master Builder, and the Temple of Solomon took the place of the Egyptian "House of Light." With the Rabbinical mystics the erection and subsequent vicissitudes of Solomon's Temple provided a great glyph or mythos of the upbuilding of the human soul, and this secret lore also found partial, although cryptic, expression in the Hebrew public Scriptures in terms of building.
The next important influence affecting the ancient tradition was that of the Christian Mysteries, those rites of which Clement and Origen spoke so highly; and as the course of Hebrew history advanced and the stream of mystical doctrine widened into its Christian development, the same symbolic terminology continued to be used. We find, therefore, that the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse teem with Masonic imagery and allusions to spiritual building. Indeed, it is in these that the human soul is expressly declared to be the real Temple which was prefigured by the earlier historic or quasi-historic structure, while a spiritual Chief-Cornerstone, rejected of certain builders, is mentioned. St. Ignatius, one of the known pupils of St. John, is to be found expounding the teaching of the Mysteries in the following purely Masonic terms:-
"Forasmuch as ye are stones of a Temple, which were prepared beforehand for a building of God, the Father, being hoisted up to the heights by the working-tool of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, and using for a rope the Holy Spirit; your faith being a windlass, and love the way leading up to God. So then ye are all Companions in the way, spiritual temples, carrying your Divine principle within you, your shrine, your Christ and your holy things, being arrayed from head to foot with the commandments of Christ."
Ignatius: Epistle to the Ephesians
The pronounced Masonic imagery used by St. Ignatius (who was martyred at Rome in A.D. 107) tends to corroborate the tradition that the Square, the Level and the Plumb-rule, now allocated to the Master and Wardens of a Lodge, were formerly associated with the Bishop, Priest and Deacon, when serving at the secret altars of the persecuted Christians. Put together, the three tools form obviously a Cross, which, on the worshippers being disturbed by the secular authorities, could be quickly knocked apart and appear as builder's implements.
The Mysteries came to an end as public institutions in the sixth century, when from political considerations they and the teaching of the Secret Doctrine and philosophy became prohibited by the Roman Government, at the instigation of Justinian, who aimed at inaugurating an official uniform State-religion throughout the Empire. Since the suppression of the Mysteries, however, their tradition and teaching have been continued under various concealments, and to that continuation our modern Masonic system is due. To the early Middle Ages the inner Christian tradition appeared again in the Knight Templars and the Mysteries of the Holy Grail, and it is significant that these henceforth become associated with Speculative Freemasonry. But, the most profound influence which went to make Freemasonry what it is today was that of the mysterious Order of the Rosy Cross. The memory of this Rosicrucian influence is preserved, not only in the Eighteenth Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Rite, but also (and perhaps as much) in the Craft Degrees, especially in the Third Degree.
The exoteric history of the Rosicrucian Society commences with the year 1614. In that year there was published at Cassel in Germany a pamphlet entitled: "The Discovery of the Fraternity of the Meritorious Order of the Rosy Cross, addressed to the Learned in General and the Governors of Europe." After a discussion of the momentous questions of the general reformation of the world, which was to be accomplished through the medium of a secret confederacy of the wisest and most philanthropic men, the pamphlet proceeds to inform its readers that such an association is already in existence, having been founded over one hundred years earlier by the famous C.R.C., grand initiate in the mysteries of Alchemy, whose history (which is clearly of a fabulous or symbolical nature) is given. The following year a further pamphlet: "The Confession of the Rosicrucian Fraternity, addressed to the Learned in Europe" appeared, and in 1616, "The Chymical Nuptials of Christian Rosencreutz." This latter book is a remar kable allegorical romance, describing how an old man, a lifelong student of the Alchemistic Art, was present at the accomplishment of the "Magnum Opus" (Great Work) in the year 1459. From the Masonic point of view, it was obviously not without adequate reason that Michael Maier, one of the greatest of the reputed Rosicrucians (born 1568), exhibited on the title page of his book "Septimana Philosophica (et Arabias Regina Saba nec non Hyramo Tyri Principe)," King Solomon imparting his riddles to the Queen of Sheba on his right hand, and Hiram on his left. And as early as 1638 we find Adamson declaring in his Muses' Threnodie:-
"For we are Brethren of the Rosie Cross,
We have the Mason Word and second sight."
showing how intimately the two Orders were identified. We also have the later testimony of Dr. Sigismund Bacstrom, who claims to have been initiated into the Society of the Rosicrucians on the Isle of Maritius on 12th September, 1794, by the mysterious Comte de Chazal, and who has left extensive manuscripts setting forth his findings and opinions on matters of importance to Masonic students. The learned Doctor describes the transition through which the Ancient Brotherhood passed in the process of externalising certain parts of itself in the system we know as Speculative Freemasonry. His conclusions agree with the available evidence, all of which points to the fact that one definite group was behind the movement which projected the Craft system. To trace the genesis of this movement, which came into activity some two hundred and fifty years ago (our rituals and ceremonies having been compiled round about the year 1700), is beyond the scope of our present subject. It should, however, be stated here that the movement itself incorporated the slender ritual and the elementary symbolism which, for centuries previously, had been employed in connection with the mediaeval Building Guilds, but it gave to them a far fuller meaning and a far wider range. We may regard it as certain that the Craft received from this source much that the old Operative Lodges had never possessed, such as the Third Degree (with its highly mystical Opening and Closing); the Craft Legend or Traditional History; the central part of the Installation Rite (now observed in the Conclave or Board of Installed Masters); and many other allusions to occult science, mysticism, and even magic.
We must emphasize at this stage that our present Masonic system is not one coming from remote antiquity. There is no direct continuity between us and the Egyptians, or those ancient Hebrews, of whom we have already spoken. What is extremely ancient in Freemasonry is the spiritual doctrine which is concealed within the architectural phraseology of the Ritual; for this is an elementary form of the doctrine taught in all ages, no matter in what garb it has been expressed. To put it another way: Freemasonry offers, in dramatic ceremonial, a philosophy of the spiritual life of man and a diagram of the process known as regeneration. This philosophy is not only consistent with the doctrine of every religious system taught outside the ranks of our Order, but it explains, elucidates and more sharply defines, the fundamental doctrines common to all religions of the world, whether past or present. Allied with no external religion itself, Freemasonry is yet a synthesis, a concordat, for men of every race, of every creed, of every sect, and its foundation principles being common to them all, admit of no variation. The function of every phase of Masonic routine, the avowed intention of its principal rituals, and the implication of its teaching, is to assist the genuine candidate by his aspiration to find that unity of being which is variously described as the Centre, the Kingdom of Heaven, the pure essence of Mind, the Buddha-nature, the Inner Self, and the Christ within.
In the light of the foregoing, it will be seen that Freemasonry depends for its life and strength on the Ancient Wisdom teaching which is enshrined in it; a Teaching designed to answer those eternal questions as to the why, the whence, and the whither of all human existence. These, indeed, are the deepest problems of life, and ultimately we are concerned only with their solution, for sooner or later we are forced to enquire-why live at all, why exert ourselves in any personal or social endeavour, if we know not whither it all leads? The problems of the why and whither of human life are those which have ever occupied thinking men; they are at the bottom of every philosophic system, and the systems themselves are but an attempt to answer them. And yet no words can ever fully answer these problems, for no language can express the Reality of Life; this can only be experienced by the living soul of Man. As Emerson truly says: "The soul answers never by words, but by the thing itself that is inquired after." It is in the experience of Life that the answers are found, and only the man who has lived deeply is really wise. The wisdom of the sage is the sum-total of his human experience, but even he cannot impart his knowledge to others; they, in their turn, must first experience the realities of Life, for only by such means do they attain to a wider consciousness. How, then, is it possible that anything so profound and intimate as what Freemasonry calls "the Centre" in Man, can be held fast as a permanent force acting in the world of phenomena? It is possible, in virtue of the special power represented by tradition. A spiritual tradition is never objective knowledge, nor practice which has become mechanical, but a living continuance of the living impulse which created it.
Every great Initiation system, so long as its progress is guided by enlightened minds, distinguishes clearly between its Ritual and oral tradition. It is on the oral tradition that the main stress is laid; tradition alone can teach how the text of the Ritual ought to be understood, which in the end is the only thing that matters. Whosoever claims that he can extract the original meaning from the text of the Ritual without the help of tradition, is really only reading his own meaning in to it; and it is only if the two minds are specially congenial, or the one has a special gift for entering into the mind of another, that the new meaning in any measure coincides with the old. What is true of comprehension is even more generally true of being, for comprehension too is handed on as a state of being. Here the universally valid law is manifest, that everywhere like works upon like; hence the eternal validity of the relation of Master and disciple, and the traditional reference in our Masonic Lectures "To seek for a Master and from him to gain instruction" (First Section, First Lecture).
The widening of consciousness gained by direct experience is so great that, as shown in the traditional Ceremony of admission into the Craft, it is called an Initiation — "a new beginning." A new life does indeed begin for him who has been "regularly initiated" into the Mysteries; an actual change has taken place in him, and needless to add no words could ever accomplish as much. The candidate for Initiation in the Schools of the Ancient Mysteries, therefore, did not attain merely by hearing and repeating words, but always by undergoing the process conferred upon him by already initiated Masters or experts, an experience which resulted in an expansion of his consciousness. St. Clement of Alexandria testifies to this when he writes:-
"But the Mysteries are delivered mystically, that which is spoken may be in the mouth of the speaker; not in his voice, but rather in his understanding. The writing of these memoranda of mine, I well know, is weak when compared with that spirit, full of grace, which I was privileged to hear. But it will be an image to recall the archetype to him who was struck by the Thyrsus."
(Stromateis: Bk. 1. ch. 28.)
Such an experience was of necessity always reserved for the few, but notwithstanding some shadow of it was also within reach of those who, although not fully qualified to become Initiates, were none the less genuine seekers for knowledge. For them there were the Lesser Mysteries, in which the actual change in consciousness did not take place, but something of its meaning was conveyed to the candidate by his participation in a series of rites in which the chief events of the Greater Mysteries were presented to him in dramatised form.
We can now proceed to judge of what supreme importance the influence of the Rosy Cross was to Speculative Freemasonry. The mysteries of the Rosy Cross were the Greater Mysteries, as we know from the testimony of those who were admitted to them, and the contact of the Rosicrucians with Freemasonry undoubtedly resulted in the gradual importation into Masonic Lodges of teaching derived from more hidden and exalted sources. Many students of the Craft system are unaware of the great value of literary works attributed to Rosicrucian authorship. These works call for our serious study because their contents are directly related to that body of science and doctrine concerning human nature and its perfectibility, which the concealed Founders of the Craft system, subtly and under deep veils of phrasing, planted in the soil of Masonic ritual. The Hermetic Lore, as the body of the Rosicrucian teaching is often called, comprehends both a spiritual and a physical science; a Science of the Spirit, and a Science of Nature. Both of these elements of the Rosicrucian wisdom are also to be understood by the use of the term "Great Work"; and while it is true that the goal of the Hermetic philosopher included such knowledge as would enable him to transmute base metals, there was the higher or spiritual aspect in which the laboratory was Man himself, the base metals his own lower nature, and the transmutation, that change by which through mystic death ("putrefactio"), a Rebirth ("regeneratio ") took place. Modern scholarship, of course, still leaves unsolved the question of the correct classification of Rosicrucian alchemical treatises as mystical, magical, or simply primitively chemical. The most reasonable view, however, is surely that which is prepounded in the treatises themselves, namely that the physical problem of the transmutation of base metals into gold is, in essence, the same as that of Man's physical regeneration. Michael Sendivogius alludes to this conception of the work in his treatise appropriately entitied "New Chemical Light," as follows:-
"The Sages have been taught of God that this natural world is only an image and material copy of a heavenly and spiritual pattern; that the very existence of this world is based upon the reality of its celestial archetype; and that God has created it in imitation of the spiritual and invisible Universe, in order that men might be better enabled to comprehend His heavenly teaching, and the wonder of His absolute and ineffable power and wisdom. Thus the Sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror; and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the Knowledge which it reveals; he jealously conceals it from the sinner and the scornful, lest the mysteries of heaven should be laid bare to the vulgar gaze."
("New Chemical Light," Part 11, Concerning Sulphur.)
The work for which the Craft was designed is described in the language of Alchemy as the "ERGON" — primary work; the work of natural science and the making of physical gold is but the "PARERGON" — secondary work. In the sense of the primary work Gold is the attribute of divinity and is closely connected with Fire as a spiritual emblem:-
"But he knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
(Job 23, verse 10).
"Every man's work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is."
(1 Corinthians 3, verse 13).
The doctrine of Freemasonry in relation to the Rosicrucian mystery-teachings can best be appreciated after a preliminary statement of some of the basic principles on which, it is affirmed, rests all progress in the Royal Art. There is, however, independent evidence of the Rosicrucian influence on the genesis of the Craft system. Historical research indicates that the originators of Speculative Freemasonry, the members of the so-called "Invisible Society," simultaneously with launching the Craft, arranged for the formation of the Royal Society, which became chartered in 1662 for the advancement of scientific knowledge. Strictly in accordance with the Hermetic wisdom, therefore, the "Invisibles" projected two systems; one (the Craft) intended to be devoted to mystical studies and personal spiritual development; the other (the Royal Society) aiming at the promotion of natural science upon occult principles and under the guidance of qualified experts.
Science, in the popular mind, represents nothing more than the body of those beliefs, conclusions, or generalizations, which individual scientists at various times put forth in a tentative way as landmarks, so to speak, in their endless search for increasingly valid formulations of Reality. It is to these conclusions, often called "facts," that we allude when we state that "science teaches" this or that. But strictly speaking science does not "teach" anything at all. It is a method rather than a body of conclusions, and it is scientific method in Speculative Freemasonry with which we are here concerned. Let us illustrate by a few specific examples. We live in a world which the ordinary man accepts as a reality, existing quite independently of himself. To him it is supremely real, and to doubt this fact would seem to be sheer madness. Yet he cannot fathom his own relation to this world, and he cannot adequately explain how he actually perceives it. Is it by means of the senses? If so, how does the sense impression affect consciousness? When we "see" an object, all we can be sure of is that something outside us has affected our eyes by means of vibrations of a definite rate; that our optic nerves convey the impression to the brain-cells; that a chemical change takes place there, and then we "see" the object; we are aware of a certain shape, various colours and textures. What mystery has taken place by means of which the chemical change in the grey mat ter of the brain has created in our consciousness the image of the object? And, having "seen," as we say; what do we, after all, really know about the object? Similarly, in the attempt to formulate a philosophical exposition of the world and life experience, almost any first statement we may make can be seized upon and criticized as one-sided, and therefore untrue. The world is a unity; the world is pluralistic. Time is continuous; time is composed of irreducible atomic elements. The world comes to the individual from without; the world of the individual is a world of inner experience. Each of these premises is admitted to be true in one respect or another. But how are they true? In what sense are they true? In what general point of view can be set up in accordance with which the apparent conflicts are resolved? Is this world a dream world-daily existence, friends, work — is it all a fantastic illusion. Yes and no. This is a paradox the world in which we live is Real and yet Unreal; the mystery of its relation to us and its measure of reality can only be disclosed in the depths of our own consciousness. Plato compares ordinary men to prisoners bound in a cave, of which they can see only the back wall. On this wall fall shadows cast by those who pass the mouth of the cave. The play of shadows is the prisoner's world; it is reality to them; but whenever one of them succeeds in freeing himself, and sees the entrance, sees the Light and the real beings moving in it, then he realizes that he has lived in a world of illusion, that he has been "in a state of darkness," and that his eyes have been "hoodwinked." We must know ourselves in order to know the world. The man, therefore, who becomes proficient in "that most interesting of all human studies, the knowledge of himself," renounces the popular world; and he gradually attains consciousness in a world described as "not to be touched by hand or to be seen by eye", but otherwise supremely real. Withdrawal from this world of illusion, however, involves a transition from the ordinary natural state and standard of living towards what is known as the regenerate state, with its correspondingly higher standard. A word now upon the faculty to be employed in the apprehension of interior truth.
It is often remarked that a natural timidity affects those to whom is suggested a transition from old and familiar roads of study, comfortably charted and lit with the bright lamps of convention, to a new and unknown path of research striking away into the darkness of obscurity beyond the official boundaries of orthodox systems of knowledge. The earnest seeker after Truth, however, fortified by the imperative will to know, soon learns that the outer darkness on investigation reveals rare lights of its own, and is in fact but "darkness visible," although light of a quality hitherto undiscerned. In this difficult study, knowing depends entirely upon doing; comprehension is conditional upon and the corollary of action "He that will do the will shall know of the doctrine" for the doing automatically liberates an inward faculty capable of directly cognizing self-evident truth. We know not how to describe a faculty which when awakened, exists and functions in complete independence of the physical organism. In our Masonic symbolism, as in other treatises of arcane psychology, it is described, in analogy with the natural luminary, as "the Sun, to rule the day," whilst the logical understanding is "the Moon, to govern the night" and direct the merely temporal affairs of life. This latter, embracing as it does the reasoning faculty and tie lower or objective mind, is appointed to serve as a light in the natural world, but, the gift notwithstanding, it forms a cloud of dark ness as regards light from the spiritual element that is both within and without us, and indeed, may obscure all spiritual vision. Not until a man has learned to relegate this "lesser light" to its appropriate use in the natural world, can he, walking in darkness, hope to see the great luminary, which, invisible to the physical sense, but present in the central depths of his nature, lightens every man coming into the world, and which, to those who having clean hands and pure hearts, are fitted to evoke it, manifests in mental illumination and expanded consciousness.
We turn now from the psychologic to the metaphysical aspect of the Great Work. The entire object of the Royal Art of the Rosicrucians and spiritual Alchemists is said to be the uncovering of the inner faculty of insight and wisdom, alluded to above, and the removal of the veils intervening between the mind and dividing it from its hidden divine root. Not only does this science envisage an individual in whom the several constituents of consciousness are united, but it aspires towards the development of an integrated and free man who is likewise building up in the present life what is known in the technical language of mysticism as the "resurrection" or "arch-natural" body. This is also the profound idea which governs our symbolic craft of Masonry; the "raising of a superstructure, perfect in all its parts and honourable to the builder." As to the metaphysical material of which these structures are to be reared, the Hermetic and Alchemical schools adopted the mystical terms of Scripture and called it a "stone," the "philosopher's stone." It is, indeed, the "white stone" which is given "to him that overcometh" the lower nature, as that Apostle did who thereupon received the name that implies "a stone"; for it is only then that the individual aspirant becomes a "foundation," a "rock" upon which may be erected a "temple," a personal sanctuary of the Spirit whose abode is the souls of men rather than temples made with hands. The teaching of the Alchemists demonstrates how this "stone" must be "confected," worked up in the individual by a "manual art" (like our Masonic "art" not to be understood in the literal sense) from chaos to perfection. They describe the work as undergoing three stages: the black, the white, and the red, which are the Alchemical equivalents of the three Degrees of Speculative Freemasonry. Thus as, psychologically, regeneration involves the three traditional stages of purgation, illumination, and union, so, metaphysically, there are three corresponding stages of corporeal development. To each of these may be added a fourth, although unlikely of achievement in this life; the attainment of divine union in permanence, which during physical life can only be temporary and partial; and the corresponding perfecting and consolidation of the arch-natural vesture perfect holiness belongs only to the Lord."
The first stage in Alchemy "the stone at the black in Freemasonry a poor candidate in a state of darkness"; is intended to typify the benighted mind and unclarified state of the soul's vesture at the outset of the Great Work. At this stage the physical nature must be accounted an integral factor in the "work," and is to be dedicated and employed accordingly. It is the vessel or crucible in which the alchemic change is to be wrought, but the regimen enjoined is "the renewing of your mind," not the maceration of the body; for, in a deeper than the familiar sense, "corpus sanum" will ensue surely enough upon "mens sana." The second stage; in Alchemy "the stone at the white"; in Freemasonry "clothed in White Apron and gloves as emblems of innocence"; signifies that the clouded mind and the soul's black vesture of "earth" have been cleansed by the baptism of "a fall of water" — the Alchemical remedy of "the Elixir of Life." The third stage in Alchemy "the stone at the red"; in Freemasonry the sublime Degree"; symbolises entrance into the sanctuary and denotes the aspirant whose purified soul enters the experience of the divine union. Following the Alchemical precedent Freemasonry recognizes that the third stage involves two "operations," known in Alchemy as the refining of silver and gold, and accordingly the three Degrees of Freemasonry also "include the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem" as their climax. The clothing, therefore, worn in the Master Mason Degree is distinguished by silver, the first of the "noble" or "precious" metals; whereas in the Royal Arch Degree, "the completion of the Master Mason Degree," it is adorned with gold. The transmutation has now been effected; in the Holy Royal Arch the soul is "all glorious within" and the clothing is of wrought gold; "wrought," since gold indicates that holy ultimate substance, which, although always latent in each one of us, like gold-dust in common soil, needs mining, refining, and working up by skilful craftsmanship before becoming a "jewel" for the King's Treasury.
Lastly, the "gold must be tried in fire"; the growing celestial body must be perfected and fixated until capable of eternal endurance in the burning heat of the Divine "penetralia." This perfecting is scarcely to be looked for in the present life, but its achievement, as the state attained by those who become "king and priests unto God," is symbolically attested in Speculative Freemasonry by the robes worn by those who are called to corresponding rank in the outer Chapter; the prince prelates of the Grand Sanhedrin, represented "in the persons of the three Principals."
Our thought in this Paper has reached high ground, but we have laboured to be lucid in speaking of things exacting unwonted claims upon the normal understanding and that, although the subject of an abundant literature, have ever been expressed in terms of great restraint and concealment. The understanding of these things will be assisted by realising physical things to be in faithful correspondence with metaphysical, and that, as we advance from the one to the other, we employ in turn the self-blinded eye of sense, the closed eye of faith, and the opened eye of the soul. At the beginning of the Quest the aspirant is conscious only of things of the physical order. Let him, however, commit himself, with bandaged eyes, to his instinct in the possibility of a great self-transfiguration, believing that "My covenant is with your flesh," and at the end of it, as with John, the spiritual seer, the hoodwink is removed and faith passes into sight. His eyes "see" the salvation pre pared before the face of all people, but hidden from them by a passing blindness, and he can testify that in very deed "the tabernacle of God is with men," and not elsewhere. We will conclude with a quotation from Plotinus which may serve to illustrate the position of this Study Circle in relation to our Brethren of the Craft:-
"If we speak and write, it is but as guides to those who long to see: we send them to the place itself, bidding them from words to the Vision: the teaching is of the Path and the Plan, seeing is the work of each Soul for itself."
— Plotinus, Ennead VI, 9.4. tr. Stephen McKenna.
SO MOTE IT BE.