THE TRACING BOARD OF THE THIRD DEGREE
W. Bro. R. A. L. HARLAND, P.M., Lodge No. 1679
President of the Circle
But the Third Degree is the cement of the whole, it is calculated to bind men together by mystic points of fellowship, as in a bond of fraternal affection and brotherly love; 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. (Third Lecture: First Section.)
The third degree, which is the highest and most seldom attained, opens the whole inner man. It breaks the crust which darkens our spiritual eyes and ears; it reveals the kingdom of spirit, and enables us to see, objectively, metaphysical and transcendental sights; hence all visions are explained fundamentally. (Eckarthausen: "The Cloud upon the Sanctuary.")
The present Paper completes the trilogy compiled for the purpose of interpreting the meaning of the Tracing Boards of the three Degrees of the Craft system. By way of introduction to this study of the Board which is exhibited when the Lodge is opened in the Third Degree, we must first impress upon students the fact that by our opening of the Lodge to the Third Degree we are presumed to have left entirely the outer world. We have ascended, figuratively speaking, into the solitude and rarefied atmosphere of the mountain summit, where the aspirant is liable to be, and generally finds himself both mentally and emotionally, enveloped in cloud and darkness. It is this psychological condition, described in Masonic terminology as "darkness visible," which is symbolised in the Third Degree by the initial darkening of the Lodge; it is otherwise alluded to in the Volume of the Sacred Law by the cloud that rested on Sinai when Moses went up into the mountain: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud" (Exodus, chapter 19, verse 9). Accordingly, at a dramatic moment during the Ceremony of Raising, the attention of the candidate is directed to the "gloom which rests upon the prospects of futurity," and he is informed that this is the "mysterious veil which the eye of human reason cannot penetrate, unless assisted by that Light which is from above." Those who are not conversant with the records of mystical experience will need to know that the "gloom" of the Third Degree is often referred to as "the Divine Dark," and represents a state higher than that of reasoning thought. It is, indeed, the "state of darkness" which the mind must enter and pass through before reaching the ultimate Light and glory beyond. Moreover, the supreme Light to which the Third Degree, is designed to lead must always appear to us as darkness because our perceptive faculty is not yet attuned to it, the Light is, however, as the mystics say, only "dark from excess of bright."
We shall be discussing in this Paper a subject which is incapable of simple explanation, but nevertheless every effort will be made to render the interpretation lucid. Let us, then, remind ourselves that the Third Degree is an "emblematical representation" of the awakening of the spirit of man, and the Tracing Board can therefore only be translated intelligibly from the plane and by the enlightenment of the spirit. The word "spirit," however, possesses such a wide range of application that it requires considerable ingenuity to make clear all the properties which are implied. Spirit, it is said, is the principle that stands in opposition to matter, and by this we understand a mode of being which on the highest and most universal level is God. Spirit, in keeping with the original wind definition, is always an active, winged, swift moving being, as well as that which vivifies, stimulates, fires, and inspires. Spirit, to express it in modern terms, is the dynamic principle, constituting for that very reason the classical antithesis of matter, the antithesis, that is, of stasis and inertia; basically, it is the contrast between life and death. It is the mission of Freemasonry to serve the spirit by engendering a "general desire for knowledge," and where this mission is successful, Freemasonry does not engender and transmit spirit itself, but spiritual benefits and values, which may be looked upon as emanations of the spirit. Knowledge is not kindled where our desire and preference would have it, but where it is given to us, and those who are concerned merely to interpret the spirit in terms of the strictest formulation, should be reminded that spiritual knowledge is primarily an immediate experience, not of this world: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (1st Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 12)
There are three Tracing Boards used in the Craft, one appropriate to each Degree of Masonic progress, and to a casual glance the Board allocated to the Third Degree seems the simplest. Actually, it is the most cryptic, and is heavily charged with meaning. Before, therefore, we proceed to analyse the Board some preliminary matters of great significance must be mentioned, which will assist us in a brief review of the philosophic basis upon which the Craft system rests. In this Paper it will not be possible to expand the consideration of the impressive Third Degree ceremony, which can be studied more fully from other Transactions of the Circle and elsewhere. We can only indicate here the trend and implications of the doctrine enshrined within what represents the summit of the work of the Craft, and point out that our Masonic process of Initiation was designed to train suitable candidates for admission into the "mysteries and privileges" of a kingdom which is not of this world. It proclaims the fact of racial loss and spiritual impoverishment; it declares that the supreme principle of the spirit in man is "smitten" and obscured from him; but it also asserts that there is a way back by stages to the transcendent life from which he "fell"; that there is a means of recovering "that which is lost" which can be found and resurrected in him when "time and circumstances" combine in the restoration. Mastership signifies the attainment of that recovery in the case of a given individual, and the Craft graphically portrays the nature of the disciplines involved, and that "last and greatest trial," by which it is achievable. Upon this recondite subject we may anticipate that students will find statements that will confuse them and raise their doubt. We would advise them to accept provisionally in the first instance, and let the mind brood upon the Craft doctrine and symbolism. They may then come to find that what they began by doubting becomes, as it has done with many earnest seekers, the realised fact of personal experience. Like every true method of wisdom teaching, modern Freemasonry does not offer proofs or authorities for what is inculcated; it promulgates Truth and leaves the testimony to ferment in the minds of those who strive to profit by the instruction. Knowledge of this kind can never be imposed from without; it requires "a perfect freedom of inclination on the part of every candidate"; and it must well up into consciousness from within the soul of the aspirant himself: "Where Truth abides in fulness" (Browning: "Paracelsus"). We ultimately find what we seek because it is already present in us awaiting liberation.
The design of the Tracing Board of the Third Degree is a cypher embodying the Traditional History narrated during the ceremony, and in order to decipher the Board it is also necessary that we decode the Craft doctrine. We must likewise recognise that the Craft legend is pure "myth," although by classifying it as a myth does not imply that it is in any sense an irresponsible fiction. The legend is a specialised form of the ancient cosmogonical doctrine which has been transmitted to us, "veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols," by every human race since the beginning of time. It is a doctrine explaining the genesis, the fall, and the 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 before we and our planet assumed physicalised conditions. This primal tragedy, of which the myth of the murder and burial of the Master Builder is the Masonic historical tradition, was taught in appropriate imagery among all the nations of antiquity. We can trace it from one of the oldest systems of the Mysteries, the Samothracian, where the "untimely death" appears in the legend of a god slain by his fellow gods. The equivalent in Egypt was the murder of Osiris by Typhon; in Greece the dismemberment of Dionysos by the Titans; and in Phoenicia the fatal wounding of Adonis. It is repeated in the Norse sagas by the death of Baldur the Beautiful; our native British tradition echoes it in the story of the great King Arthur sorely smitten; while the old Teutonic legend of the murder of Siegfried is another variant of the same root doctrine. In each of these, and in many others besides, the central figure is always that of an eminent or blameless being, divine or semi-divine Master, who is opposed and done away with by rebellious "ruffians" or "villains," and whose loss checks the spiritual advancement of humanity. Connected with each murdered or smitten Master there is a cavern, tomb, or sarcophagus, which is stated to be the place of burial or concealment, and usually there is reference to some object, often a plant, which is placed upon it to mark the site. Homer relates that it was a branch of olive planted at the head of the cavern (Homer: "Odyssey"; Bk. XIII), according to the Egyptian version a tamarisk plant located the grave of Osiris; Ovid informs us that a red anemone showed the place where the blood of Adonis was spilt (Ovid: "Metamorphoses"; X); Virgil describes the discovery of the body of Polydorus by Aeneas accidentally pulling up a loosely planted shrub (Virgil: "Aeneid", Bk. III). The legend of the Craft includes both the location of the grave by the Craftsman who, "to assist his rising, caught hold of a shrub," and the "sprig of acacia" to mark the site, In the Craft central legend, then, under the allegory of a temporal murder and the loss of building plans, we have the repetition of a doctrine of the Cosmic Tragedy by reason of which "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Romans, chapter 8, verse 22), and human society exists in a state of continuous disorder and confusion. We are concerned in the Third Degree, however, with the recovery of "that which is lost," and for this purpose the Cosmic Mystery of the legend is reduced to a personal mystery.
When we are discussing the ceremony of the Third Degree it is generally overlooked that it is the Master who is slain, but it is the candidate who is raised. This is explained by the fact that the craft conforms to the uniform procedure of Initiation systems, whether ancient or modern, in identifying the candidate with the prototype who is in himself the Exemplar of the means of redemption. Had we been initiated in Egypt we would "have been made to represent" Osiris: if in Greece, the identification would have been with Dionysos or Iacchos; and if in Persia, with Mithra. Our system in the Craft having issued from Kabbalistic sources is expressed in the terms of Hebrew mysticism, and the prototype is the reputed Chief Architect and Master Builder who is appointed to erect a Temple for which King Solomon gives the inspiring idea and Hiram King of Tyre the building materials. For the purpose of the Craft legend these three quasi-historical characters are combined to typify the threefold creative method of the Deity; whose WISDOM (Solomon) contrives creation subjectively and ideally; whose STRENGTH (Hiram King of Tyre), or resources, projects the world of Nature as the material out of which the idea is to take shape in the creature; and whose BEAUTY (Hiram Abiff), or architectonic and geometrical power, finally moulds the idea into objective form and perfection. The prototype of the Craft is therefore the personification of the third aspect of the Divine creative energy. He represents the Great Architect, the "Tekton" or "Son of the Carpenter," to use an expression common to both the Hindu Puranas and the Christian Gospels. The name Hiram Abiff, sometimes given as Adoniram, means the representative or messenger from the Lord (Adonai) or Father (Abba); it is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek name Hermes, who was likewise the son of the All-Father (Zeus), and the messenger; and in the Graeco-Alexandrian scriptures the names Hermes and Thoth (Divine Thought or Creative Mind) are both used, and the prototype appears as the great Initiator and Teacher of hidden knowledge. Hiram Abiff, then, is not a person, but a type; a type of the great pivotal exemplars and revealers, like Orpbeus, Osiris, and the long line which culminates in the Great Master of our occidental faith, in whom all earlier and foreshadowing types are summed up. Of them all it is taught that, at different epochs, they were manifested to reveal Truth to a fallen world and help on a benighted humanity. They all encountered opposition from envious "ruffians"; were wounded in the house of their compatriots; and slain by the villainy of those they sought to serve. The tragedy of all their lives is accounted for by the fact that in each case they echo the primal spiritual tragedy which ruptured the cosmic harmony; and this remains so notwithstanding that their loss is deeply regretted and commemorated by the human race. Our own Ritual speaks of "sounds of deep lamentation and regret" from the guilty emanating from a certain "cavern" afar the death of the Master. By that "cavern" is meant our present world; and those "sounds of deep lamentation and regret" signify the cries of pain and misery of humanity which once enjoyed the Golden Age and the felicity of Eden, but now lives "in a state of darkness," exiled in a strange land, and unable to hear the "songs of Zion" of which the subconscious memory still lingers in us. Thus by deploring the loss of a blameless Grand Master we are perpetuating in the Craft legend the tradition of the "time immemorial" distress of mankind; Demeter mourning the loss of her child; the grief of the widowed Isis; Niobe, "all tears"; women wailing for Tammuz; Rachel weeping for her children; and the whole noble army of known and unknown martyrs who, in all ages and every race, have demonstrated that they "would rather suffer death than betray the sacred trust reposed in" them.
So, following the method of antiquity, in our modem Third Degree the Cosmic Mystery of the Fall and the Lost Word is brought home to us individually, and thereby becomes the personal mystery of our own salvation. Having shown us in the Craft legend that we are "fallen" beings, the ceremony proceeds to disclose how the mischief of the "fall" may be repaired, and how "that which is lost" may be found. In other words, it reveals the Path of Return, the discipline of the secret of the life eternal, and the "last and greatest trial" involving the total abnegation and dying down of the personal life. The vital lesson of the Third Degree is that whoso is content to lose the illusory self shall find his immortal self coming to birth in him. It is axiomatic that "Nature abhors a vacuum"; hence the earthly mind, the "old Adam" to quote St. Paul, must first be evacuated; then the quickening spirit, the "new Adam," fills the vacuum; and when this grace is bestowed upon the natural man, it transforms him into a spiritual man. There are many "roads," or techniques, which lead to the "Centre"; every man is free to choose for himself, but one of them he is bound to accept; and even if he elects to be driven by life effortlessly be has chosen, for then, without knowing it, he follows the insidious and artificial, although spontaneous, easy technique of unconsidered enjoyment. Every man, however, is highly pliable; by knowledge and experience, he can discover that life is not a simple biological process, and that the problem of life is not solely related to the means of satisfying elementary physical needs. He will then learn that life is the realisation of the process of salvation or redemption, and that the real problem is to find the appointed way of liberation from the natural mode of existence. The solution to this problem of the authenticity of the spiritual life is suggested by the old adage, "whoever is full of himself has no room for God." The normal life is kept within the limits determined by our sensory perceptions and emotions, and as long as it is full of these, it finds it extremely difficult to perceive spiritual forms and things divine. Accordingly, all that which occupies the natural self of man must either be made to disappear, or must be transformed in such a manner as to render it transparent for the inner spiritual reality, whose contours will then become perceptible through the customary shell of natural things. There must finally be a voluntary sacrifice of the personal self; the seals "which are impressed upon the soul must be opened" by means of spiritual contemplation; and the natural self, "by the help of God," be raised "into organic conscious union with the Divine Self.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE TRACING BOARD
The diagram illustrated on the Tracing Board is a compendium of the work of the Third Degree ceremony, and comprises the following three main features :-
- (1) A tomb, which is also a Temple, bearing certain inscriptions. This is in the form of a conventional coffin over which is laid a scroll. Various emblems are shown on the coffin and scroll.
- (2) A sprig of acacia at the head of the grave, but planted out of true alignment.
- (3) Three working tools, or "implements of destruction," placed at the foot of the coffin.
The principal feature of the diagram is the Coffin or Grave, and this depicts not only the traditional sarcophagus used ceremonially for the Third Degree ceremony, but is also intended to represent the body or human personality of the candidate himself. During the ceremony it is prescribed that the candidate shall advance "as though stepping over an open grave," signifying thereby that his life is the pilgrimage towards this goal, and with "four bold or marching steps," indicating that "the Lord of Life will enable us to trample the King of Terrors beneath our feet" when we are "finally raised from the tomb of transgression." The progress of the aspirant in many systems cognate to the Craft is often delineated by three definite stages, corresponding with our three Craft Degrees, which are called the Path of Knowledge, the Path of Love, and the Path of Death; yet, ultimately, like our Masonic series, they are shown to be one and the same Path, for Love and Death lead to Knowledge, while Knowledge, in turn, is nothing without Love and Death, which must of necessity complete the sequence. Moreover, the most general aspect characteristic of spiritual experience is that it is seen through the simile of a Path or Road, and our modern word method, which is derived from the Greek "meta" and "hodos" meaning "a way," still faintly reveals its origin in the context of this imagery. The spiritual Path is also envisaged as taking a certain direction; it leads not only onwards, but upwards in the direction of "that Light which is from above," which will perhaps explain why in the Third Degree ceremony we are exhorted to "lift our eyes to that bright Morning Star, whose rising brings peace and salvation to the faithful and obedient of the human race"; even although we know that the eye of the mind is not literally oriented to the starry sky above any more than downwards. It is therefore written for our guidance and edification: "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel, chapter 12, verse 3).
(1) THE RELATION OF TOMB AND TEMPLE
The body of mortality is regarded by the Masters of the spiritual life as a living death, and in the dialogues of Plato we find Socrates declaring: "We are walking graves, carrying our tomb about with us" ("Gorgias"). Into that body, however, we are instructed, there has been infused a soul, the psychic principle, which has had the effect of elevating the animal nature to the status of rational man. The soul is represented on the Tracing Board by the "three fives," or by the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet thrice repeated, arranged in the form of an inverted triangle. This symbolic arrangement alludes to the downward "fall" of the soul into mortal embodiment, and is in direct contrast to the three rosettes displayed on the M.M.'s apron, which are also figured in the form of a triangle, but with the apex upwards. Investiture with the apron in the Third Degree ceremony is intended to "mark the progress" that the soul has made by becoming "raised" from the "fallen" condition, while the rosettes are an apt illustration of the ancient doctrine which teaches that the former "wilderness," the body of mortality, is now blossoming as the rose: "I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys" (Song of Solomon, chapter 2, verse 1). The rosettes on the apron, however, represent not only the soul, but certain physiological centres or focal points of whirling energy called "chakras" in the East, which manifest at different parts of the nervous system as spiritual vitality increases. Thus the triangle of rosettes on the white apron is the converse of the triangle, the three "fives," on the black coffin. The four-square white apron typifies the body purified and redeemed from "deadness"; the three rosettes budding from the apron denote the evidence of the soul unfolding powers from within; and the four and the three are in combination arithmetically to make seven, the number of perfection.
The relation of the Tomb with the Temple is delineated in the Tracing Board on the scroll which is shown laid over the coffin. This pictorial design is an overt reminder that the human personality, although mortal, is nevertheless a temple of the Eternal, in which each of us must serve as high priest: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1st Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 16). The chequered floor-work prominent in the picture signifies the perpetual dualism which characterises natural existence, and the opposites and contrasts inevitable to experience in the flesh, all of which the "high priest" is to "walk upon" in the sense of keeping them under strict control, treating them as of equal value, and finally transcending them. Here is an allusion to the traditional "Middle Path" which mediates between extremes; there is a central neutral point, "a point within the Circle"; and when the aspirant stands balances upon that Point, "from which a Master Mason cannot err", he is free from opposites "with the centre." This "Middle Path" is otherwise known as the "line of union," and is symbolised in Freemasonry by the "infallible Plumb-Rule, which, like Jacob's ladder, connects heaven and earth"; it is the unique central "path" in the very midst of our being. "the strict path of virtue," all other paths, "to the right or to the left," consisting of mere side-tracks leading in various directions to particular aims, each of which has an "opposite" or compensating "shadow"; the "Middle Path" alone is the "shadowless Path" that leads "through the valley of the shadow of death," and by means of which the aspirant "may finally rise from the tomb of transgression." Every man's self is a figurative tomb, a living sarcophagus, retarding the full expression of his perfect human nature, and it is to indicate how he can avoid for ever remaining in the darkness of that tomb that the work of the Third Degree is to be directed. To achieve this object it becomes necessary, figuratively, to pass through the tomb, a process of transformation, and thereby to change his present form: "Ye must be born again" (St. John, chapter 3, verse 7), that is, a spiritual rebirth after the mystical death of the material self has been truly effected.
At first sight the dormer window of the Temple is an apparently inconspicuous feature in the picture. The pictograph on the Tracing Board shows this unobtrusive window placed high in the roof of the Temple, also that there are no other windows in the building; it is, therefore, the sole means of ingress for light, "the window which gave light" to the interior. But, as we are presumed to know, that Temple is symbolic of the human body, and accordingly the overhead and centrally situated position of the "window" typifies a corresponding interception point of illumination in our physical organism. There is, indeed, a central point at the top of the head at which "that light which is from above" can enter the human brain; the point in question is one to which three major bones composing the cranium converge and come to unity; in an infant these bones are disunited, but soon after birth they close together and ossify into the skull. We lose something vital by being born into this world, for as the poet Wordsworth declares, with our birth, spiritual consciousness "fades into the light of common day" ("Ode to Immortality"), and is battened down beneath the "hatches" of physical form. The brain is thereby afforded the necessary protection, but only at the cost of the "dormer" window becoming closed. It therefore follows that in order to recover "that which is lost," spiritual awareness, the closed "window" must be re-opened, and for this purpose we need the guidance and instruction of "a more zealous and expert Brother"; for every real Master, like the Hebrew adept of old, learns to "pay his adoration to the Most High" with "His windows open in his chamber toward Jerusalem (Daniel, chapter 6, verse 10). It is also interesting to know that an alternative symbol to the dormer window is the tonsure or shaven patch on the head of members of certain monastic orders, which signifies dedication to the special service of God, and the removal of any obstruction that might intercept the inflow of the supernal Light. Yet there is still something further to be discovered and gained from the "dormer" symbol, something which, when realised, can be both felt and sensed inwardly, later to reflect itself outwardly. This inward power of the: "True Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (St. John, chapter 1. verse 9), can be seen in others by those who see and feel the refulgence of that essence surrounding the body of a soul which is lighted up inwardly; such an one appears to those who can sense it, as a presence which glows like an electric lamp set in alabaster. The attainment or condition here spoken of is otherwise known as the possessing of the "Third Eye." and it is written in this connection: "The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light" (St. Matthew, chapter 6, verse 22)
(2) THE SPRIG OF ACACIA
Prominently depicted on the Board we may observe that evergreen sprig of Acacia symbolising that beyond the body and soul abides the spirit which affiliates man to the Universal and Holy Spirit. In the ritual of the Third Degree this sprig is said appropriately to be placed "at the head of the Grave," since it is our supreme life principle, the centre from which all our subordinate faculties issue. It is, indeed, "the Centre," the proton around which our personal characteristics move as electrons; it is our Master-light which never goes out. This emblem in antiquity was known under many names, but it is more often referred to as the Golden Bough, or Golden Branch. In the Hebrew Temple it was represented by the Seven-branched Golden Candlestick, which again is a Kabbalistic symbol of the Tree of Life, of which each of us is a branch, sharing a common sap, or life essence. Compare: "I am the vine, ye are the branches" (St. John, chapter 15, verse 5). It will be observed that on the Board the sprig is not centrally aligned, but is on one side out of exact alignment and this signifies that in our present imperfect state our personality is not in true alignment with our spiritual principle. In precisely the same way, owing to what is called popularly "the Fall," our planet Earth does not swing to its true pole; its axis has declined from its true centre to a false centre, the magnetic pole. Truly, as Shakespeare says, "the world is out of joint" ("Hamlet," William Shakespeare); in other words there is a "displacement factor" which characterises the whole world, and in sympathy with that axial fault every living creature suffers from the like distortion. Thus mentally, morally and physically, we are all out of alignment "with the Centre"; indeed, every cell in our bodies is similarly out of plumb with our spiritual pole, and is therefore subject to disease and death. We have a dramatic allusion to the "displacement factor" in the Third Degree ceremony by the prescribed method communicating the words of the Degree, in uttering which we acknowledge beneath the breath that some "heavy calamity" has befallen us in consequence of which our Master-principle is "smitten," and thereby cut off. The descriptive word used in the Lecture on the Board is a blind. The term used by the Greeks was "Akakia," which is translated "not evil," while the Septuagint uses the word "Aseptos," meaning "nonseptic." These are derived from the Sanskrit word "Akasa," the term for pure immortal substance, as distinct from the corruptible matter of this world.
(3) THE IMPLEMENTS OF DESTRUCTION
The means by which the "displacement factor" has been caused, and by means of which it can likewise be rectified, are indicated on the Board by the Working Tools, and great irony lies in the fact that the very Tools that slew the Master and served to bring about calamity and destruction should nevertheless be appointed to reconstruct and retrieve our misfortune. The difficult lesson is thus communicated to us that evil is but misapplied good, while good is transmuted evil, that it is only by our own deviations and errors we eventually learn wisdom; and that our return to grace is achieved by the right use of what involved us in disgrace. The implements depicted on the Board as those "with which our Master was slain" are therefore also the Tools which must be used in order to get ourselves back into alignment with our spiritual "head" they consist of:-
- 1. THE PLUMB-RULE: Emblem of that "uprightness" which must be applied to all parts of our being, namely the senses, the emotions, and the mind.
- 2. THE LEVEL: Symbol of the "equality," by means of which those parts must be brought into a condition of harmony and concord.
- 3. THE HEAVY MAUL: The hieroglyph of a strong and resolute will which nothing can deflect from the end in view.
One of our foremost Masonic interpreters has declared in cryptic terms: "The tools which slew the Master were the three dimensions of space" ("Steps to the Crown." by A.E. Waite). By this he is alluding to the fact that our physical body constitutes the tomb of the spiritual consciousness; each of us is, as it were, a grave wherein the Master is buried, awaiting resurrection in our personal consciousness; and that entombment is sacramentally registered in our physical body by the closing up of the three cranial bones and the inhibition of spiritual awareness. It follows, therefore, that those bones themselves are, mystically, the implements of destruction, since their closing reduces us to the external knowledge of temporal things; and this will explain why, in the Third Degree, it is upon these three bones that every "representative of the Master" is ceremonially smitten. Great, indeed, is the mysterium of our central emblem of mortality, the skull, which has been transmitted to us from antiquity, and is now perpetuated in the modern Craft under veils of allegory.
The implements of destruction depicted on the Board, which are likewise tools of reconstruction, significantly lie on the "squared pavement" which implies that the "black and white squares," denoting the opposites and dualities of our mortal existence, must be converted from "stumbling blocks" into "stepping stones" if we are to gain the summit of the Masonic quest. Why we can aspire to do so is demonstrated to the candidate in the later explanation of the Working Tools of the Third Degree, when he is told that the Skirret marks out "that straight and undeviating line of conduct" which he is expected to pursue in his Way of life. This line drawn by the Skirret is a right angle line from the symbolical Plumbline envisaged as hanging from the Eternal Centre, and just as it is written for our guidance: "Thus he shewed me; and, behold, the Lord stood upon a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in His hand" (Amos, chapter 7, verse 7); so must we, living on that line at a right angle to the vertical line of Truth, react by maintaining a straight and level course. Moreover, in the Compasses and Pencil we have sign posts, the former defining the "limits of both good and evil" which are associated with outer world experience, the latter serving as a reminder that nothing we have done is forgotten: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians, chapter 6, verse 7). But the Craft is not only insistent upon moral "uprightness," there is likewise the technique of physical rectitude. We instruct the candidate at the very outset of his Masonic career: "You are expected to stand perfectly erect," while the posture to be assumed by all present in the Lodge when standing "to order" is intended to be body erect, every limb taut and angular, every muscle and nerve tense. The reason for this exercise in "squares, levels, and perpendiculars" is because physical tension, emotional control, and mental concentration are valuable aids to the effective "labour" of the Lodge, and slackness in this important matter may render the "work" invalid.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
We have endeavoured in this and the two previous Papers to interpret the Craft doctrine and disclose the method of teaching by means of "hieroglyphical figures" as illustrated on the Tracing Boards of the Three Degrees of our system. Nevertheless, this disclosure or "unveiling" is only partial. Every real initiate, ancient or modern, has himself personally to experience the supreme ordeal of passage through "the valley of the shadow," the "darkness visible" of the unstable psychic region, before he can hope ultimately to find the Light of light. And so, with us in the Craft, every candidate for the Third Degree enters the darkened Lodge and moves thereafter through a symbolic nebulous underworld, guided only by the "glimmering ray" of his own intuitive spirit. He is ceremonially "raised from a figurative death" and entrusted with "the secrets of the Degree" only to discover, perhaps to his chagrin, that these are but "substituted secrets" which, he is informed, must suffice "until time or circumstances shall restore the genuine ones." How true this cryptic teaching is will be realised by those who have examined the Tracing Boards in an attempt to decipher them; they will recognise, as the result of their "patience and industry," that although the "veil covering the altar" has been partially drawn aside in the Craft ceremonies, yet the compilers of the Ritual have treated the Masonic subject with that profound respect to which it is unquestionably entitled and judiciously left the deepest mysteries still shrouded in a certain obscurity. This has been the wise policy of the seers from "time immemorial"; as St. Paul sagely observes regarding the Sepher of Moses: "But their minds were blinded; for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament" (2nd Corinthians, chapter 3, verse 14). The reason for this concealment, this veiling, is the intimate and sacred character of divine wisdom. The majority of us are children in the wider sense, and it is unwise, even impossible, to explain many things to young children. We must wait until we have arrived at the years of discretion. So in regard to the greater mysteries the spiritual parents of our race, the seers and prophets, veil these sacred matters in metaphor, parable and enigma, in order that only those who have faith enough to make the necessary effort needed for the development of the higher faculties of intuition and perception, can penetrate to their intrinsic or essential meaning. It is therefore written: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (St. John, chapter 16, verse 12). Thus veils are drawn to guard against the risk of "profanation of our mysteries," until by our sincere and earnest application we are "properly prepared" to express their teaching wisely in the activities of life. Life itself is a vast Initiation process slowly, with infinite patience, and by law and order, leading an intractable world from "darkness" to Light.
The progress of humanity "from West to East" is marked by a series of catastrophic events, and of these the familiar Biblical story of the "Flood" offers a wide field for commentary. Those races which have preserved the tradition of the deluge, and nearly all have done so, have not neglected to record the name of the legendary mountain upon which the mysterious Thebah came to rest, that Ark which carried the hope of man's ultimate salvation and the germs of a new existence. Nicholas of Damascus, cited by Josephus, calls it Mount Barris, a name which is not far removed from that of Syparis, which Berosus gives to this town of the Sun, in which an Assyrian monarch, preparing to suffer the catastrophe of the deluge, had placed the world's archives. We know also that the Greeks named it Luxoreos, the mountain of Light, the place of Parnassus where Deucalion was stayed. The name, however, which calls for special notice in the elucidation of the context of our Masonic ritual, is Ararat. This word derived from the Hebrew is composed of two roots; the first "AUR" is the word translated "Light" in the first chapter of Genesis; the second is "RTH," which is formed of the Hebrew signs signifying "proper movement" and "resistance." The complete word Ararat, therefore, signifies the "orb or mountain of the reflected course of Light." It is not difficult to perceive what is implied; the orb of luminous effluence, where the supernal Light becomes deflected, is none other than "that Grand Luminary the Sun" of the Craft ritual, the transmuter of intelligible or spiritual Light into physical light and energy. We have only to turn to the host of analogous or derivative words for abundant confirmation. The term Arhat in Sanscrit denotes a highly advanced intelligence, a Master. Likewise the prefix "AR" is found in Arjuna, Arthur, Artemis, Armageddon, Arcana, not to mention many others, in every case signifying spiritual royalty or elevation. The Greek form of Ararat is Armenia. We pass on to another important glyph, Ereb, the raven. The same word occurs in Genesis, chapter 1, verse 5, and in subsequent verses, where it is translated "evening," and in Greek mythology as Erebus, said to be the son of Chaos and Nox. Ereb is freely translated western darkness," the opposite pole, as it were, of "Eastern Light"; but this "darkness" is identical with that of the Lodge in the Third Degree, interior and concealed. The to-and-fro flight of the Raven signifies the prescribing of an expanse, a sphere or circle, and we are reminded of the instruction to the candidate regarding the Compasses: "you are now at liberty to work with both those points in order to render the circle of your Masonic duties complete." It may he noted here that the word Ereb is otherwise rendered "Oreb" and corresponds with Mount Horeb, the mountain of fire, cloud and darkness. The next and complementary glyph is Ionah, the dove. The Hebrew root "ION" denotes infinite being passing from potentiality into activity. Thus the Raven, symbolically expressed, stands for the circle with the point in the centre, and the Dove for the circle bisected. Observe how the root "ION" forms the basis of a number of cryptic names, for example, Jonah, John, Ioannes, Pelion, and many others, all of them "types" and bearers of the creative Word. In our Masonic system the wands borne by the Deacons are appropriately "surmounted by a dove," and with a similar import.
Again and again in this study of the Tracing Board of the Third Degree we return to the basic symbol, Light, which is central to the Craft method of teaching. This supernal Light, the universal symbol of consciousness and illumination, is also the prime object of the cosmogonies of all peoples. Only in the light of consciousness can man know, and this act of cognition, of conscious discrimination, sunders the world into opposites, for experience of the world is not possible except through opposites. The primal opposition between light and darkness has informed the spiritual world of all peoples and moulded it into shape, while the world order and the sacred space, precinct or sanctuary, were first "oriented" by this opposition. World building, city building, the layout of temples, the Roman military encampment, and the spatial symbolism of the Churches are all reflections of the original mythology of space, which, beginning with the opposition between light darkness, classifies and arranges the world in a continuous series of opposites. Through the heroic act of world creation and consequent division of opposites, man steps forth from the magic circle of the blissful paradisal state of existence, in which life was regulated by an "open" spiritual vision, and finds himself in the tragic circumstances of loneliness and discord. We may think of this paradisal condition in the terms of religion, and affirm that everything was controlled by God; or we may formulate it ethically, and say that everything was still good and that evil had not yet come into the world. Traditionally, this was the Golden Age, when nature was bountiful, and toil, suffering and pain did not exist. With the emergence of self-consciousness, the paradisal situation of man is ended. and the tradition is universal of a "fall" in which expulsion from the "Garden of Paradise" was experienced as guilt, and, moreover, as original guilt. Thus the age-old symbolism of the "evergreen shrubs," with which the "Sprig of Acacia" is associated, also embodies a deep psychological verity. It is in fact demonstrable that humanity retains in the "archetypal" race memories the knowledge of a primitive peaceful life spent among the fruit bearing trees of some terrestrial paradise. This is the reason for the quiet bliss felt by so many when walking through, and resting in, woods and forests; why we love nothing so much as picking nuts and berries, and the ripe fruits of the trees.
In recent years the phenomena of mystical experience have been classified, and the path of the aspirant bas been described, to the profit of many seekers. But of all the guide books at our disposal, there is surely none that maps the way with greater accuracy than that ancient mass of hierography we call the Volume of the Sacred Law. The language of this Book is that of hierography and not that of the popular press; the terminology used needs a special method of interpretation; and it therefore comes about that its purport is habitually and woefully misconstrued. To it, although, other writings may indeed help to prepare our minds, we turn at last, and there we find, not ancient history which can profit little, but the story of ourselves as we today pursue the path of the great quest. 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. It is in this manner that at the outset of the quest for "that which is lost," the aspirant is in a "state of darkness," being conscious only of things in the physical order. He is accordingly required to commit himself, with bandaged eyes, signifying the self-blinded eye of sense, to his instinct in the possibility of a great change to be wrought in him, no less than self-transfiguration. But during his "progress in the science" of self-knowledge he comes to know that his salvation is hidden from him only by a passing blindness; at the end of the quest the "hoodwink" is removed; and faith passes into sight. The question remains, however, as to whether, in the process of recovering "that which is lost," it is best to search in the deepest recesses of the mind to discover those elements of lost knowledge which are suggested to us in the Sacred Writings, and which, therefore, form their revelation; or whether they may not be found lying hidden behind the knowledge proper to this world. We must always remember that when we speak of "that which is lost," we do not mean absolutely lost; we know only the surface of things, while that which we are in quest of is certain to lie beneath the surface. The best of intellective knowledge of this world is superficial in regard to that deeper knowledge which is related to our spiritual nature; and no increase therein is likely to bring us to the discovery of the knowledge of divine things: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1st Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 14).
We gradually learn by experience that more than half the troubles of life arise from the fact that those we are in contact with fail to make distinction between what does matter and what does not matter; by emphasising small personal considerations, and letting little petty things worry and perturb them, to the distress of all about them. This is the surface cause of disharmony, but the basal cause is the absence of the inner Light which would show everything as it is; for when we see truly, we are in no doubt or conflict as to the comparative value of things. In the darkness we can imagine what we will; in the Light, nothing but what is there can be accepted. Here we are drawn in contrary directions by this, that and the other whims and preferences. Love of pleasures draws in one direction, fear of consequences drams in the opposite, and when conscience is active, it act as a contrary impulse to many of the things we are strongly inclined to desire. Now what causes this is the division of the whole man into "parts," namely his true self and his false self; while the latter is itself again split up into what are practically separated properties; the delights of the body and the delights of the mind, the artistic lures of music, poetry, and natural beauty; the love of ease, the love of the results of labour, the love of influence, of money and of comfort. The mark of the true man is centralisation, or in our Masonic terminology, "with the centre"; and the mark of the temporal, or "false" self, division into "parts." We are to be "perfect" in all our "parts"; alas, it is one thing to know, but quite another to be able to do; nevertheless, knowing, it is essential to keep on striving to do. The temporal world with joys and sorrows are real enough to us, and it takes an act of faith to treat them as unreal, although we know there is no other way of passing from "darkness" to Light. Let us, then, remember that the reality of the things of this world is not inherent in them, but is given to them by our false imagination; and what we give we can also take away. Every man in this life is "wrong" only because some side of him suffers through his practical identification of his whole self with one particular property of himself. When the whole man, body, soul and spirit, is in functional alignment "with the centre," this never occurs. He recognises the fact that he belongs to two worlds, the visible and the invisible, and recalls that heaven is his true home and not earth.
The laws of the Universe do not and cannot collide with each other; they interlace and interpenetrate the cosmos, law within law and law above law. The material and the spiritual planes of existence intersect, but even at the point of intersection, they never differ except to agree for their mutual elucidation. In every petition, therefore, what we distinguish as prayer implies a recognition of the inextricable interdependency of God and man and Nature, as an infinite totality. It appeals to the tribunal, and the God to whom every heart speaks, and in petitioning man merely obeys the law of his nature, a habit which he finds formed and inherited. Anterior to speech even, it does not require the vehicle of language, although the most ancient records of language are prayers. Man starts with this craving, the seeking for something or someone else; indeed, if he stood silent and solitary, he would still be a social unit and own the obligation that tends for ever to entice him out of himself to find himself. "Laborare est orare," to work is to pray; all honest, conscientious, industrious work, all sincere service, appeals to something higher, better and other than self. God, however, does not work and bestow His blessings in the ordinary finite acceptance, and in the superficial view of things. Yet spiritual verities essential to our welfare assuredly assume some form of outward and phenomenal expression, otherwise they would fail altogether to enter the province of human and temporal knowledge. By the gradual method of "here a little and there a little" are the Mysteries learned by humanity in the mass; first in the outer courts of the temple, and by means of the letter, the symbolic "simulacrum," and the official doctrine; afterwards in the "adyta," by the spiritual sense and the inward vision, the aspirant becomes aware that the acceleration of his progress consists not in evading obstacles to the spiritual life, but in their conquest and transvaluation; not in avoiding contact with the social life of the world, but in an inward freedom from subjection to illusory ideals, and in a blithe detachment from external things. "Sic itur ad astra"; After this manner is the laborious ascent of the soul to the heights; step by step upwards beneath the unsympathetic criticism and contradicting impulses of the lower nature, and amid demands from without to take the broader, easier path. In a general sense terrestrial life is in itself an initiation, and the trials and tribulations which are inevitably incident to our mortal existence, are reminders and premonitions of the deeper mystery into which, sooner or later, we are all called upon to be initiated in full consciousness.
There are many pitfalls which beset the aspirant in his journey towards the East, the Promised Land: "And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein; for I have given you the land to possess it" (Numbers, chapter 33, verse 53). God thus presents us with the title. He pronounces the promise, and He endues with the power; we must obey and perform our allotted task. The mind of the aspirant keyed up to this attitude, however, will speedily experience the consequences of antagonising against the "prince of the air," the magnetic aura which is generated by the illusions of this world. Beyond the confines of our normal conceptions of this material world there exists another world, elusive, intangible as the scent of a flower, an enchanted country, the very evasiveness of which but renders it the more alluring to the mind of man. This is the world of "maya" or "glamour," of which poets and story tellers write. Although in one sense we may speak of the world of glamour as distinct from the material world, and to this extent lying beyond us, in another and doubtless far more accurate sense, we should regard it as the material world itself, seen in a different aspect. We may then describe glamour as a species of spell, under which the world is viewed from a changed standpoint. In any consideration of glamour we must be on our guard against making a judgment of fact or origin alone to test value, as we are often conscious of the effects of glamour apparently altogether incommensurate with their causes. We see, as we come to know in our quest, in part; yet the whole is in us, and it depends upon how we have disposed our minds and formed our capacities, what part of the whole we see. Agonies of apprehension will no doubt seize the follower of the inward way as former ideals, and enchantments, crumble into futility, but equally assuredly will he discern these to be replaced by others for which the former have served as but temporary substitutes. Some veil of obscurity seems lifted which had hitherto baffled him, and the withdrawal of which alone enables him to see familiar things in their true relations and significance. Something not to be fully grasped or understood, but which he nevertheless knows to be at the back of all the beauty his senses discern; which gives them their force and meaning, and is related to them as soul to body, thought to the language in which it finds utterance.
One final word upon this profound subject. Whoso labour at the work of the Third Degree is called a "son of the widow" in allusion to that: "Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all" (Galatians, chapter 4, verse 26). An ancient Hermetic oracle declares that to lift the veil of the Widow spells death; that nothing mortal can look upon her face and live. The death, however, which is meant is the death implied in the Third Degree, the death of all that is vain, unworthy, and unreal. In this study of the Tracing Board of the Third Degree we have been drawing veils aside, the veils of allegory that shroud the teachings of the Craft, but as true Sons of the Widow we must go further than lifting the veil of the allegory, and learn to draw aside all veils of darkness clothing ourselves. Only personal labour can verify what is imparted in lectures and books; persistent desire and determination of will are essential in the quest; the Ritual affirms of the prototype that "the perspiration stood in large drops upon his forehead" when he "staggered faint and bleeding"; and we all come to know that realisation may cost blood and sweat. We are therefore provided with a sign and a cry with which in dire need to invoke the aid of other "sons of the widow" from behind the veil. Both they and we have one common Mother; she is called a Widow because of the world calamity which has left her in dereliction. At the very least each of us might labour to open his personal "dormer" window towards that "Jerusalem which is above", within those walls are peace and plenteousness of all we now so sorely lack.
She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her." (Proverbs, chapter 3, verse 15.)