The Meaning of Masonry 1

Chapter I

A CANDIDATE proposing to enter Freemasonry has seldom formed any
definite idea of the nature of what he is engaging in. Even after his admission
he usually remains quite at a loss to explain satisfactorily what Masonry is and
for what purpose his Order exists. He finds, indeed, that it is " a system
of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,"but that
explanation, whilst true, is but partial and does not carry him very far. For
many members of the Craft to be a Mason implies merely connection with a body
which seems to be something combining the natures of a club and a benefit
society. They find, of course, a certain religious element in it, but as they
are told that religious discussion, which means, of course, sectarian religious
discussion, is forbidden in the Lodge, they infer that Masonry is not a
religious institution, and that its teachings are intended to be merely
secondary and supplemental to any religious tenets they may happen to hold. One
sometimes hears it remarke d that Masonry is "not a religion "; which
in a sense is quite true; and sometimes that it is a secondary or supplementary
religion, which is quite untrue. Again Masonry is often supposed, even by its
own members, to be a system of extreme antiquity, that was practised and that
has come down in well-nigh its present form from Egyptian or at least from early
Hebrew sources: a view which again possesses the merest modicum of truth. In
brief, the vaguest notions obtain about the origin and history of the Craft,
whilst the still more vital subject of its immediate and present purpose, and of
its possibilities, remains almost entirely outside the consciousness of many of
its own members. We meet in our Lodges regularly; we perform our ceremonial work
and repeat our catechetical instruction-lectures night after night with a less
or greater degree of intelligence and verbal perfection, and there our work
ends, as though the ability to pe rform this work creditably were the be-all and
the end-all of Masonic work. Seldom or never do we employ our Lodge meetings
for that purpose for which, quite as much as for ceremonial purposes, they were
intended, viz.: for "expatiating on the mysteries of the Craft,"and
perhaps our neglect to do so is because we have ourselves imperfectly realized
what those mysteries are into which our Order was primarily formed to introduce
Yet, there exists a large number of brethren who would willingly repair this
obvious deficiency; brethren to whose natures Masonry, even in their more
limited aspect of it, makes a profound appeal, and who feel their membership of
the Craft to be a privilege which has brought them into the presence of
something greater than they know, and that enshrines a purpose and that could
unfold a message deeper than they at present realize.
In a brief address like this it is hopeless to attempt to deal at all
adequately with what I have suggested are deficiencies in our knowledge of the
system we belong to. The most one can hope to do is to offer a few hints or
clues, which those who so desire may develop for themselves in the privacy of
their own thought. For in the last resource no one can communicate the deeper
things in Masonry to another. Every man must discover and learn them for
himself, although a friend or brother may be able to conduct him a certain
distance on the path of understanding. We know that even the elementary and
superficial secrets of the Order must not be communicated to unqualified
persons, and the reason for this injunction is not so much because those secrets
have any special value, but because that silence is intended to be typical of
that which applies to the greater, deeper secrets, some of which, for
appropriate reasons, must not be communicated, and some of which indeed are not
communicable at all, because they transcend the power of communication.
It is well to emphasize then, at the outset, that Masonry is a sacramental
system, possessing, like all sacraments, an outward and visible side consisting
of its ceremonial, its doctrine and its symbols which we can see and hear, and
an inward, intellectual and spiritual side, which is concealed behind the
ceremonial, the doctrine and the symbols, and which is available only to the
Mason who has learned to use his spiritual imagination and who can appreciate
the reality that lies behind the veil of outward symbol. Anyone, of course, can
understand the simpler meaning of our symbols, especially with the help of the
explanatory lectures; but he may still miss the meaning of the scheme as a vital
hole. It is absurd to think that a vast organization like Masonry was ordained
merely to teach to grown-up men of the world the symbolical meaning of a few
simple builders' tools, or to impress upon us such Masonry elementary virtues as
temperance and justice:--the children in every village school are t aught such
things; or to enforce such simple principles of morals as brotherly love, which
every church and every religion teaches; or as relief, which is practised quite
as much by non-Masons as by us; or of truth, which every infant learns upon its
mother's knee. There is surely, too, no need for us to join a secret society to
be taught that the volume of the Sacred Law is a fountain of truth and
instruction; or to go through the great and elaborate ceremony of the third
degree merely to learn that we have each to die. The Craft whose work we are
taught to honour with the name of a "science,"a "royal
art,"has surely some larger end in view than merely inculcating the
practice of social virtues common to all the world and by no means the monopoly
of Freemasons. Surely, then, it behooves us to acquaint ourselves with what that
larger end consists, to enquire why the fulfilment of that purpose is worthy to
be called a scien ce, and to ascertain what are those "mysteries "to
which our doctr ine promises we may ultimately attain if we apply ourselves
assiduously enough to understanding what Masonry is capable of teaching us.
Realizing, then, what Masonry cannot be deemed to be, let us ask what it is.
But before answering that question, let me put you in possession of certain
facts that will enable you the better to appreciate the answer when I formulate
it. In all periods of the world's history, and in every part of the globe,
secret orders and societies have existed outside the Deeper limits of the
official churches for the purpose of teaching what are called "the
Mysteries ": for imparting to suitable and prepared minds certain truths of
human life, certain instructions about divine things, about the things that
belong to our peace, about human nature and human destiny, which it was
undesirable to publish to the multitude who would but profane those teachings
and apply the esoteric knowledge that was communicated to perverse and perhaps
to disastrous ends.
These Mysteries were formerly taught, we are told, "on the highest
hills and in the lowest valleys,"which is merely a figure of speech for
saying, first, that they have been taught in circumstances of the greatest
seclusion and secrecy, and secondly, that they have been taught in both advanced
and simple forms according to the understanding of their disciples. It is, of
course, common knowledge that great secret systems of the Mysteries (referred to
in our lectures as "noble orders of architecture,"i.e., of
soul-building) existed in the East, in Chaldea, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Italy,
amongst the Hebrews, amongst Mahommedans and amongst Christians; even among
uncivilized African races they are to be found. All the great teachers of
humanity, Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Moses, Aristotle, Virgil, the author of
the Homeric poems, and the great Greek tragedians, along with St. John, St. Paul
and innumerable other great names--were initiates of the Sacred Mysteries. The
form of the teaching co mmunicated has varied considerably from age to age; it
has been expressed under different veils; but since the ultimate truth the
Mysteries aim at teaching is always one and the same, there has always been
taught, and can only be taught, one and the same doctrine. What that doctrine
was, and still is, we will consider presently so far as we are able to speak of
it, and so far as Masonry gives expression to it. For the moment let me merely
say that behind all the official religious systems of the world, and behind all
the great moral movements and developments in the history of humanity, have
stood what St. Paul called the keepers or "stewards of the
Mysteries."From that source Christianity itself came into the world. From
them originated the great school of Kabalism, that marvellous system of secret,
oral tradition of the Hebrews, a strong element of which has been introduced
into our Masonic system. From them, too, also issued many fraternities and
orders, such, for instance, as the great o rders of Chivalry and of the
Rosicrucians, and the school of spiritual alchemy. Lastly, from them too also
issued, in the seventeenth century, modern speculative Freemasonry.
To trace the genesis of the movement, which came into activity some 250 years
ago (our rituals and ceremonies having been compiled round about the year 1700),
is beyond the purpose of my present remarks. It may merely be stated that the
movement itself incorporated the slender ritual and the elementary symbolism
that, for centuries previously, had been employed in connection with the
medieval Building Guilds, but it gave to them a far fuller meaning and a far
wider scope. It has always been the custom for Trade Guilds, and even for modern
Friendly Societies, to spiritualize their trades, and to make the tools of their
trade point some simple moral. No trade, perhaps, lends itself more readily to
such treatment than the builder's trade; but wherever a great industry has
flourished, there you will find traces of that industry becoming allegorized,
and of the allegory being employed for the simple moral instruction of those who
were operative members of the industry. I am acquainted, for instance, with an
Egyptian ceremonial system, some 5,000 years old, which taught precisely the
same things as Masonry does, but in the terms of shipbuilding instead of in the
terms of architecture. But the terms of architecture were employed by those who
originated modern Masonry because they were ready to hand; because they were in
use among certain trade-guilds then in existence; and lastly, because they are
extremely effective and significant from the symbolic point of view.
All that I wish to emphasize at this stage is that our present system is not
one coming from remote antiquity: that there is no direct continuity between us
and the Egyptians, or even those ancient Hebrews who built, in the reign of King
Solomon, a certain Temple at Jerusalem. What is extremely ancient in Freemasonry
is the spiritual doctrine concealed within the architectural phraseology; for
this doctrine is an elementary form of the doctrine that has been taught in all
ages, no matter in what garb it has been expressed. Our own teaching, for
instance, recognizes Pythagoras as having undergone numerous initiations in
different parts of the world, and as having attained great eminence in the
science. Now it is perfectly certain that Pythagoras was not a Mason at all in
our present sense of the word; but it is also perfectly certain that Pythagoras
was a very highly advanced master in the knowledge of the secret schools of the
Mysteries, of whose doctrine some small portion is enshrined for us in our
Masonic system.
What then was the purpose the framers of our Masonic system had in view when
they compiled it? To this question you will find no satisfying answer in
ordinary Masonic books. Indeed there is nothing more dreary and dismal than
Masonic literature and Masonic histories, which are usually devoted to
considering merely unessential matters relating to the external development of
the Craft and to its antiquarian aspect. They fail entirely to deal with its
vital meaning and essence, a failure that, in some cases, may be intentional,
but that more often seems due to lack of knowledge and perception, for the true,
inner history of Masonry has never yet been given forth even to the Craft
itself. There are members of the Craft to whom it is familiar, and who in due
time may feel justified in gradually making public at any rate some portion of
what is known in interior circles. But ere that time comes, and that the Craft
itself may the better appreciate what can be told, it is desirable, nay even
necessar y, that its own members should make some effort to realize the meaning
of their own institution, and should display symptoms of earnest desire to treat
it less as a system of archaic and perfunctory rites, and more as a vital
reality capable of entering into and dominating their lives; less as a merely
pleasant social order, and more as a sacred and serious method of initiation
into the profoundest truths of life It is written that "to him that hath
shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which
he hath "; and it remains with the Craft itself to determine by its own
action whether it shall enter into its full heritage, or whether, by failing to
realize and to safeguard the value of what it possesses, by suffering its own
mysteries to be vulgarized and profaned, its organization will degenerate and
pass into disrepute and deserved oblivion, as has been the fate of many secret
orders in the past.
There are signs, however, of a well-nigh universal increase of interest, of a
genuine desire for knowledge of the spiritual content of our Masonic system, and
I am glad to be able to offer to my Brethren some light and imperfect outline of
what I conceive to be the true purpose of our work, which may tend to deepen
their interest in the work of the Order they belong to, and (what is of more
moment still) help to make Masonry for them a vital factor, and a living,
serious reality, rather than a mere pleasurable appendage to social life.
To state things briefly, Masonry offers us, in dramatic form and by means of
dramatic ceremonial a philosophy of the spiritual life of man and a diagram of
the process of regeneration. We shall see presently that philosophy is not only
consistent with the doctrine of every religious system taught outside the ranks
of the Order, but that it explains, elucidates and more sharply defines, the
fundamental doctrines common to every religious system in the world, whether
past or present, whether Christian or non-Christian. The religions of the world,
though all aiming at teaching truth, express that truth in different ways, and
we are more prone to emphasize the differences than to look for the
correspondences in what they teach. In some Masonic Lodges the candidate makes
his first entrance to the Lodge room amid the clash of swords and the sounds of
strife, to intimate to him that he is leaving the confusion and jarring of the
religious sects of the exterior world, and is passing into a Temple wher ein the
Brethren dwell together in unity of thought in regard to the basal truths of
life, truths which can permit of no difference or schism.
Allied with no external religious system itself, Masonry 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. "As
it was in the beginning, so it is now and ever shall be, into the ages of
ages."Hence it is that every Master of a Lodge is called upon to swear
that no innovation in the body of Masonry (i.e., in its substantial doctrine) is
possible, since it already contains a minimum, and yet a sufficiency, of truth
which none may add to nor alter, and from which none may take away; and since
the Order accords perfect liberty of opinion to all men, the truths it has to
offer are entirely "free to"us according to our capacity to
assimilate them, whilst those to whom they do not appeal, those who think they
can find a more sufficing philosophy elsewhere, are equally at liberty to be
"free from "them, and men of honour will find it their duty to
withdraw from the Order rather than suffer the harmony of thought that should
characterize the Craft to be disturbed by their presence.
The admission of every Mason into the Order is, we are taught, "an
emblematical representation of the entrance of all men upon this mortal
existence."Let us reflect a little upon these pregnant words. To those
deep persistent questionings which present themselves to every thinking mind,
What am I? Whence come I? Whither go I?, Masonry offers emphatic and luminous
answers. Each of us, it tells us, has come from that mystical "East,"
the eternal source of all light and life, and our life here is described as
being spent in the "West "(that is, in a world which is the
antipodes of our original home, and under conditions of existence as far removed
from those we came from and to which we are returning, as is West from East in
our ordinary computation of space). Hence every Candidate upon admission finds
himself, in a state of darkness, in the West of the Lodge. Thereby he is
repeating symbolically the incident of his actual birth into this world, which
he entered as a blind and helpless ba be, and through which in his early years,
not knowing whither he was going, after many stumbling and irregular steps,
after many deviations from the true path and after many tribulations and
adversities incident to human life, he may at length ascend, purified and
chastened by experience, to larger life in the eternal East. Hence in the E.A.
degree, we ask, "As a Mason, whence come you? "and the answer,
coming from an Meaning apprentice (i.e., from the natural man of undeveloped M
of knowledge) is "From the West,"since he supposes that his life has
originated in this world. But, in the advanced degree of M.M. the answer is that
he comes "From the East,"for by this time the Mason is supposed to
have so enlarged his knowledge as to realize that the primal source of life is
not in the "West,"not in this world; that existence upon this planet
is but a transitory sojourn, spent in search of "the genuine
secrets,"the ultim ate realities, of life; and that as the spirit of man
must return t o God who gave it, so he is now returning from this temporary
world of "substituted secrets "to that "East "from which
he originally came.
As the admission of every candidate into a Lodge presupposes his prior
existence in the world without the Lodge, so our doctrine presupposes that every
soul born into this world has lived in, and has come hither from, an anterior
state of life. It has lived elsewhere before it entered this world: it will live
elsewhere when it passes hence, human life being but a parenthesis in the midst
of eternity. But upon entering this world, the soul must needs assume material
form; in other words it takes upon itself a physical body to enable it to enter
into relations with the physical world, and to perform the functions appropriate
to it in this particular phase of its career. Need I say that the physical form
with which we have all been invested by the Creator upon our entrance into this
world, and of which we shall all divest ourselves when we leave the Lodge of
this life, is represented among us by our Masonic apron? This, our body of
mortality, this veil of flesh and blood clothing the inner soul of us, this is
the real "badge of innocence,"the common "bond of
friendship,"with which the Great Architect has been pleased to invest us
all: this, the human body, is the badge which is "older and nobler than
that of any other Order in existence ": and though it be but a body of
humiliation compared with that body of incorruption which is the promised
inheritance of him who endures to the end, let us never forget that if we never
do anything to disgrace the badge of flesh with which God has endowed each of
us, that badge will never disgrace us.
Brethren, I charge you to regard your apron as one of the most precious and
speaking symbols our Order has to give you. Remember that when you first wore it
was a piece of pure white lambskin; an emblem of that purity and innocence which
we always associate with the lamb and with the new-born child. Remember that you
first wore it with the flap raised, it being thus a five-cornered badge,
indicating the five senses, by means of which we enter into relations with the
material world around us (our "five points of fellowship "with the
material world), but indicating also by the triangular portion above, in
conjunction with the quadrangular portion below, that man's nature is a
combination of soul and body; the three-sided emblem at the top added to the
four-sided emblem beneath making seven, the perfect number; for, as it is
written in an ancient Hebrew doctrine with which Masonry is closely allied,
"God blessed and loved the number seven more than all things under His
throne,"by which is mea nt that man, the seven-fold being, is of the most
cherished of all the Creator's works. And hence also it is that the Lodge has
seven principal officers, and that a Lodge, to be perfect, requires the presence
of seven brethren; though the deeper meaning of this phrase is that the
individual man, in virtue of his seven-fold constitution, in himself constitutes
the "perfect Lodge,"if he will but know himself and analyse his own
nature aright.
To each of us also from our birth have been given three lesser lights, by
which the Lodge within ourselves may be illumined. For the "sun "
symbolizes our spiritual consciousness, the higher aspirations and emotions of
the soul; the "moon "betokens our reasoning or intellectual
faculties, which (as the moon reflects the light of the sun) should reflect the
light coming from the higher spiritual faculty and transmit it into our daily
conduct; whilst "the Master of the Lodge "is a symbolical phrase
denoting the will-power of man, which should enable him to be master of his own
life, to control his own actions and keep down the impulses of his lower nature,
even as the stroke of the Master's gavel controls the Lodge and calls to order
and obedience the Brethren under his direction. By the assistance of these
lesser lights within us, a man is enabled to perceive what is, again
symbolically, called the "form of the Lodge,"i.e., the way in which
his own human nature has been composed and cons tituted, the length, breadth,
height and depth of his own being. By their help, too, he will perceive that he
himself, his body and his soul, are "holy ground,"upon which he
should build the altar of his own spiritual life, an altar Deeper which he
should suffer no "iron tool,"no debasing habit of thought or
conduct, to defile. By them, of too, he will perceive how Wisdom, Strength and
Beauty have been employed by the Creator, like three grand supporting pillars,
in the structure of his own organism. And by these finally he will discern how
that there is a mystical "ladder of many rounds or staves,"i.e.,
that there are innumerable paths or methods by means of which men are led
upwards to the spiritual Light encircling us all, and in which we live and move
and have our being, but that of the three principal methods, the greatest of
these, the one that comprehends them all and brings us nearest heaven, is Love,
in the full exercise of which God-like virtue a Mason reaches the summit o f his
profession; that summit being God Himself, whose name is Love.
I cannot too strongly impress upon you, Brethren, the fact that, throughout
our rituals and our lectures, the references made to the Lodge are not to the
building in which we meet. That building itself is intended to be but a symbol,
a veil of allegory concealing something else. "Know ye not "says the
great initiate St. Paul, "that ye are the temples of the Most High; and
that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? "The real Lodge referred to
throughout our rituals is our own individual personalities, and if we interpret
our doctrine in the light of this fact we shall find that it reveals an entirely
new aspect of the purpose of our Craft.
It is after investment with the apron that the initiate is placed in the N.E.
corner. Thereby he is intended to learn that at his birth into this world the
foundation-stone of his spiritual life was duly and truly laid and implanted
within himself; and he is charged to develop it; to create a superstructure upon
it. Two paths are open to him at this stage, a path of light and a path of
darkness; a path of good and a path of evil. The N.E. corner is the symbolical
dividing place between the two. In symbolical language, the N. always signifies
the place of imperfection and undevelopment; in olden times the bodies of
suicides, reprobates and unbaptized children were always buried in the north or
sunless side of a churchyard. The seat of the junior members of the Craft is
allotted to the north, for, symbolically, it represents the condition of the
spiritually unenlightened man; the novice in whom the spiritual light latent
within him has not yet risen above the horizon of consciousness and dispers ed
the clouds of material interests and the impulses of the lower and merely
sensual life. The initiate placed in the N.E. corner is intended to see, then,
that on the one side of him is the path that leads to the perpetual light of the
East, into which he is encouraged to proceed, and that on the other is that of
spiritual obscurity and ignorance into which it is possible for him to remain or
relapse. It is a parable of the dual paths of life open to each one of us; on
the one hand the path of selfishness, material desires and sensual indulgence,
of intellectual blindness and moral stagnation; on the other the path of moral
and spiritual progress, in pursuing which one may decorate and adorn the Lodge
within him with the ornaments a jewels of grace and with the invaluable
furniture of true knowledge, and which he may dedicate, in all his actions, to
the service of God and of his fellow men And mark that of those jewels some are
said to be moveable and transferable, because when displayed in o ur own lives
and natures their influence becomes transferred and communicated to others and
helps to uplift and sweeten the lives of our fellows; whilst some are immoveable
because they are permanently fixed and planted in the roots of our own being,
and are indeed the raw material which has been entrusted to us to work out of
chaos and roughness into due and true form.
The Ceremony of our first degree, then, is a swift and comprehensive
portrayal of the entrance of all men into, first, physical life, and second,
into spiritual life; and as we extend congratulations when a child is born into
the world, so also we receive with acclamation the candidate for Masonry who,
symbolically, is seeking for spiritual re-birth; and herein we emulate what is
written of the joy that exists among the angels of heaven over every sinner who
repents and turns towards the light. The first degree is also eminently the
degree of preparation, of self-discipline and purification. It corresponds with
that symbolical cleansing accorded in the sacrament of Baptism, which, in the
churches, is, so to speak, the first degree in the religious life; and which is
administered, appropriately, at the font, near the entrance of the church, even
as the act itself takes place at the entrance of the spiritual career. For to
all of us such initial cleansing and purifying is necessary. As has been
beautifully written by a fellow-worker in the Craft:--
"'Tis scarcely true that souls come naked down To take abode up in this
earthly town, Or naked pass, of all they wear denied. We enter slipshod and with
clothes awry, And we take with us much that by-and-by May prove no easy task to
put aside.
Cleanse, therefore, that which round about us clings, We pray Thee, Master,
ere Thy sacred halls We enter. Strip us of redundant things, And meetly clothe
us in pontificals.*
In the schools of the Mysteries, when aspirants for the higher life were wont
to quit the outer world and enter temples or sanctuaries of initiation,
prolonged periods were allotted to the practical achievement of what is briefly
summarized in our first degree. We are told seven or more years was the normal
period, though less sufficed in worthy cases. The most severe tests of
discipline, of purity, of self-balance were required before a neophyte was
permitted to pass forward, and a reminiscence of these tests of fitness is
preserved in our own working by the conducting of the candidate to the two
wardens, and submitting him to a merely formal trial of efficiency. For it is
impossible to-day, as it was impossible in ancient times, for a man to reach the
heights of moral perfection and spiritual consciousness which were then, and are
now, the goal and aim of all the schools of the Mysteries and all the secret
orders, without purification and trial. Complete stainlessness of body, utter
purity o f
* Strange Houses of Sleep by A. E. Waite.
mind, are absolute essentials to the attainment of things of great and final
moment "Who "says Psalmist (and remember that the Psalms were the
sacred hymns used in the Hebrew Mysteries), "Who will go up to the hill of
the Lord, and ascend to His holy place? Even he that hath clean hands and a
pure heart "; whence it comes that we wear white gloves and aprons as
emblems that we have purified our hearts and washed our hands in innocency. So
also our Patron Saint (St. John) teaches, "He who hath this hope in him
purifieth himself, even as He (i.e., the Master whom he is seeking) is
pure."For he who is not pure in body and mind: he who is enslaved by
passions and desires, or by bondage to the material interests of this world, is,
by the very fact of his uncleanness, prevented from passing on. Nothing unclean
or that defileth a man, we are told, can enter into the kingdom; and, therefore,
our candidates are told that if they have "money or metals about them
"; if, that is, they are subject t o any physical attraction or mental
defilement, their real initiation into the higher things, of which our ceremony
is but a dramatic symbol, must be deferred and repeated again and again until
they are cleansed and fitted to pass on. After purification come contemplation
and enlightenment, which are the special subjects of the second degree.
Aforetime the candidate for the Mysteries, after protracted discipline and
purification enabling his mind to acquire complete control over his passions and
his lower physical nature, was advanced, as he may advance himself to-day, to
the study of his more interior faculties, to understand the science of the human
soul, and to trace these faculties in their development from their elementary
stage until he realizes that they connect with, and terminate in, the Divine
itself. The secrets of his mental nature and the principles of intellectual life
became at this stage gradually unfolded to his view. You will thus perceive,
Brethren, that the F.C. degree, sometimes regarded by us as a somewhat
uninteresting one, typifies in reality a long course of personal development
requiring the most profound knowledge of the mental and psychical side of our
nature. It involves not merely t he cleansing and control of the mind, but a
full comprehension of our inner constitution, of the more hidden mysteries of
our nature and of spiritual psychology. In this degree it is that our attention
is called to the fact that the Mason who has attained proficiency in this grade
has been enabled to discover a sacred symbol, placed in the centre of the
building, and alluding to the G.G.O.T.U. Doubtless we have often asked ourselves
what that phrase and what that symbol imply. Need I repeat that the building
alluded to is not the edifice we meet in, but is our own selves, and that the
sacred symbol at the centre of the roof and of the floor of this outward temple
is but symbolic of that which exists at the centre of ourselves, and which was
spoken of by the Christian Master when He proclaimed that "the kingdom of
heaven is within you "; that at the depths of our own being, concealed
beneath the heavy veils of the sensual, lower nature, there resides that vital
and immortal principle, which is said to "allude to "the G.G.
because it is nothing other than a spark of God Himself immanent within us. Over
the old temples of the Mysteries was Deeper written the injunction "Man,
know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe and God."Happy then is the
Mason who has so far purified and developed his own nature as to realize in its
fulness the meaning of the "sacred symbol "of the second degree, and
found God present not outside but within himself. But in order to find the
"perfect points of entrance "to this secret (and we are told
elsewhere that "straight is the way and narrow the gate, and few there be
that find it ") emphasis again is laid in our teaching upon the necessity
of complete moral rectitude, of utter exactness of thought, word and action, as
exemplified by rigid observance of the symbolic principles of the square, level
and plumb-rule.
Here again the symbolism of our work becomes extremely profound and
interesting. He who desires to rise to the heights of his own being must first
crush and crucify his own lower nature and inclinations; he must perforce tread
what elsewhere is described as the way of the Cross; and that Cross is indicated
by the conjunction of those working tools (which when united form a cross); and
that "way "is involved in the scrupulous performance of all that we
know those working tools signify. By perfecting his conduct, by struggles
against his own natural propensities, the candidate is working the rough ashlar
of his own nature into the perfect cube, and I would ask you to observe also
that the cube itself contains a secret, for unfolded, it itself denotes and
takes the form of the cross.
The inward development which the second degree symbolizes is typified by the
lowering of the triangular flap of the apron upon the rectangular portion below.
This is equivalent to the rite of Confirmation in the Christian Churches. It
denotes "the progress we have made in the science,"or in other words
it indicates that the higher nature of the man, symbolized by the trinity of
spirit, has descended into and is now permeating his lower nature. Hitherto, in
his state of ignorance and moral blindness, the spiritual part of his nature
has, as it were, but hovered above him; he has been unconscious of its presence
in his constitution; but now, having realized its existence, the day-spring from
on high has visited him, and the nobler part of him descends into his lower
nature, illuminating and enriching it.
Now the man who so develops himself, speedily becomes more conscious of the
difficulties of his task, more sensitive to the obstacles the life of the outer
world places in the way of the spiritual life. But he is taught to persist with
fortitude and with prudence, to develop the highest within him with "
fervency and zeal."Upon self scrutiny, too, i.e., upon entering into that
"porchway "of contemplation which like a winding staircase leads
inward to the Holy of Holies within himself, he realizes that difficulties and
obstacles placed in his way are utilised by the Eternal Wisdom as the necessary
means of developing the latent and potential good in him, and that as the rough
ashlar can only be squared and perfected by chipping and polishing, so he also
can be made perfect only by toil and by suffering. He sees that difficulty,
adversity and persecution serve a beneficent purpose. These are his "wages
": and he learns to accept them "without scruple and without
diffidence, knowing that he is justly entitled to them, and from the confidence
he has in the integrity "of that Employer who has sent him into this
far-off world to prepare the materials for building the temple of the heavenly
city. And so, as the sign peculiar to the degree suggests, he endeavours to
examine and lay bare his heart, to cast away all impurity from it, and he
stands, like Joshua, praying that the light of day may be extended to him until
he has accomplished the overthrow of his own inward enemies and of every
obstacle to his complete development.
The aspirant who attains proficiency in the work of self-perfecting to which
the F.C. grade alludes, has passed away from the N. side of the Lodge, the side
of darkness and imperfection; and now stands on the S.E. side in the meridian
sunlight of moral illumination (so far as the natural man may possess it), but
yet still far removed from that fuller realization of himself and of the
mysteries of his own nature which it is possible for the spiritual adept or
Master Mason to attain. Before that attainment is reached there remains for him
"that last and greatest trial "by which alone he can enter into the
great consolations and make acquaintance with the supreme realities of
existence. In the places where the great Mysteries have always been taught, what
is ceremonially performed in our third degree is no mere symbolical
representation as with us, but an actual, vital experience of a most severe
character: one the nature of which can hardly be made intelligible, or even
credible, to those unfa miliar with the subject. I refrain, therefore, from more
than mere mention of it, observing only that it is one not involving physical
death, and in this respect only is our ceremony in accord with the experience
symbolized. For if you follow closely the raising ceremony, although distinct
reference to the death of the body is made, yet such death is obviously intended
to be merely symbolical of another kind of death, since the candidate is
eventually restored to his former worldly circumstances and material comforts,
and his earthly Masonic career is not represented as coming to a close at this
stage. All that has happened in the third degree is that he has symbolically
passed through a great and striking change: a rebirth, or regeneration of his
whole nature. He has been "sown a corruptible body "; and in virtue
of the self-discipline and self development he has undergone, there has been
raised in him "an incorruptible body,"and death has been swallowed
up in the victory he has attained o ver himself. I sometimes fear that the too
conspicuous display of the emblems and trappings of mortality in our Lodges is
apt to create the false impression that the death to which the third degree
alludes is the mere physical change that awaits all men. But a far deeper
meaning is intended. The Mason who knows his science knows that the death of the
body is only a natural transition of which he need have no dread whatever; he
knows also that when the due time for it arrives, that transition will be a
welcome respite from the bondage of this world, from his prison-like husk of
mortality, and from the daily burdens incident to existence in this lower plane
of life. All that he fears is that when the time comes, he may not be free from
those "stains of of falsehood and dishonour,"those imperfections of
his own nature, that may delay his after-progress. No ! the death to which
Masonry alludes, using the analogy of bodily death and under the veil of a
reference to it, is that death-in -life to a man's own lower self which St. Paul
referred to when he protested "I die daily."It is over the grave,
not of one's dead body but of one's lower self, that the aspirant must walk
before attaining to the heights. What is meant is that complete self-sacrifice
and self-crucifixion which, as all religions teach, are essential before the
soul can be raised in glory "from a figurative death to a reunion with the
companions of its former toils "both here and in the unseen world. The
perfect cube must pass through the metamorphosis of the Cross. The soul must
voluntarily and consciously pass through a state of utter helplessness from
which no earthly hand can rescue it, and in trying to raise him from which the
grip of any succouring human hand will prove but a slip: until at length Divine
Help itself descends from the Throne above and, with the "lion's grip
"of almighty power, raises the faithful and regenerated soul to union w
ith itself in an embrace of reconciliation and at-one-ment.
In all the schools of the Mysteries, as well as in all the great religions of
the world, the attainment of the spiritual goal just described is enacted or
taught under the veil of a tragic episode analogous to that of our third degree;
and in each there is a Master whose death the aspirant is instructed he must
imitate in his own person. In Masonry that prototype is Hiram Abiff: but it must
be made clear that there is no historical basis whatever for the legendary
account of Hiram's death. The entire story is symbolical and was purposely
invented for the symbolical purposes of our teaching. If you examine it closely
you will perceive how obvious the correspondence is between this story and the
story of the death of the Christian Master related in the Gospels; and it is
needless to say that the Mason who realizes the meaning of the latter will
comprehend the former and the veiled allusion that is implied. In the one case
the Master is crucified between the two thieves; in the other he is done t o
death between two villains. In the one case appear the penitent and the
impenitent thief; in the other we have the conspirators who make a voluntary
confession of their guilt and were pardoned, and the others who were found
guilty and put to death; whilst the moral and spiritual lessons deducible from
the stories correspond. As every Christian is taught that in his own life he
must imitate the life and death of Christ, so every Mason is "made to
represent one of the brightest characters recorded in our annals "; but as
the annals of Masonry are contained in the volume of the Sacred Law and not
elsewhere, it is easy to see who the character is who is alluded to. As that
great authority and initiate of the Mysteries, St. Paul, taught, we can only
attain to the Master's resurrection by "being made conformable unto His
death,"and we must die with Him if we are to be raised like Him ":
and it is in virtue of that conformity, in vi rtue of being individually made to
imitate the Grand Master in H is death, that we are made worthy of certain
"points of fellowship "with Him: for they "five points of
fellowship "of the third degree are the five wounds of Christ The three
years' ministry of the Christian Master ended with His death and, these refer to
the three degrees of the Craft which also end in the mystical death of the
Masonic candidate and his subsequent raising or resurrection.
The name Hiram Abiff signifies in Hebrew "the teacher (Guru, or
enlightened one) from the Father ": a fact which may help you still further
to recognize the concealed purpose of the teaching. Under the name of Hiram,
then, and beneath a veil of allegory, we see an allusion to another Master; and
it is this Master, this Elder Brother who is alluded to in our lectures, whose
"character we preserve, whether absent or present,"i.e., whether He
is present to our minds or no, and in regard to whom we "adopt the
excellent principle, silence,"lest at any time there should be among us
trained in some other than the Christian Faith, and to whom on that account the
mention of the Christian Master's name might possibly prove an offence or
provoke contention.
To typify the advance by the candidate at this stage of his development, the
apron here assumes greater elaborateness. It is garnished with a light blue
border and rosettes, indicating that a higher than the natural light now
permeates his being and radiates from his person, and that the wilderness of the
natural man is now blossoming as the rose, in the flowers and graces incident to
his regenerated of nature; whilst upon either side of the apron are seen two
columns of light descending from above, streaming into the depths of his whole
being, and terminating in the seven-fold tassels which typify the seven-fold
prismatic spectrum of the supernal Light. He is now lord of himself; the true
Master Mason; able to govern that lodge which is within himself; and as he has
passed through the three degrees of purifying and self-perfecting, and squared,
levelled, and harmonized his triple nature of body, soul and spirit, he also
wears, on attaining Mastership, the triple Tau; which comprises the form of a
level, but is also the Hebrew form of the Cross; the three crosses upon the
apron thus corresponding with the three crosses of Calvary.
To sum up the import of the teaching of the three degrees, it is clear,
therefore, that from grade to grade the candidate is being led from an old to an
entirely new quality of life. He begins his Masonic career as the natural man;
he ends it by becoming through its discipline, a regenerated perfected man. To
attain this transmutation, this metamorphosis of himself, he is taught first to
purify and subdue his sensual nature; then to purify and develop his mental
nature; and finally, by utter surrender of his old life and losing his soul to
save it, he rises from the dead a Master, a just man made perfect, with larger
consciousness and faculties, an efficient instrument for use by the Great
Architect in His plan of rebuilding the Temple of fallen humanity, and capable
of initiating and advancing other men to a participation in the same great work.
This--the evolution of man into superman--was always the purpose of the
ancient Mysteries, and the real purpose of modern Masonry is, not the social and
charitable purposes to which so much attention is paid, but the expediting of
the spiritual evolution of those who aspire to perfect their own nature and
transform it into a more god-like quality. And this is a definite science, a
royal art, which it is possible for each of us to put into practice; whilst to
join the Craft for any other purpose than to study and pursue this science is to
misunderstand its meaning. Hence it is that no one should apply to enter Masonry
unless from the deepest promptings of his own heart, as it hungers for light
upon the problem of its own nature. We are all imperfect beings, conscious of
something lacking to us that would make us what, in our best moments, we fain
would be. What is that which is lacking to us? "What is that which is
lost? "And the answer is "The genuine secrets of a Master
Mason,"the true knowledge of ourselves, the conscious realization of our
divine potentialities.
The very essence of the Masonic doctrine is that all men in this world are in
search of something in their own nature which they have lost, but that with
proper instruction and by their own patience and industry they may hope to find.
Its philosophy implies that this temporal world is the antipodes of another and
more real world from which we originally came and to which we may accelerate our
return by such a course of self-knowledge and self-discipline as our teaching
inculcates. It implies that this present world is the place where the symbolic
stones and timber are being prepared "so far off "from that mystical
Jerusalem where one day they will be found put together and, collectively, to
constitute that Temple which even now is being built without hands and without
the noise or help of metal tools. And this world, therefore, being but a
transient temporary one for us, it is necessarily one of shadows, images and
merely "substituted secrets,"until such time as being raised not
merely sym bolically but actually, in character and knowledge and consciousness,
to the sublime degree of Master Mason, we fit ourselves to learn something of
the "genuine secrets,"something of the living realities, that lurk
and live in concealment behind the outward show of things. All human life,
having originated in the mystical "East "and journeyed into this
world which, with us, is the "West,"must return again to its source.
To quote again the verse of the Brother I have already cited;--
"From East to West the soul her journey takes; At many bitter founts
her fever slakes; Halts at strange taverns by the way to feast, Resumes her
load, and painful progress makes Back to the East."
Masonry, by means of a series of dramatic representations, is intended to
furnish those who care to discover its purport and to take advantage of the
hints it throws out in allegorical form, with an example and with instructions
by which our return to the "East "may be accelerated. It refers to
no architecture of a mundane kind, but to the architecture of the soul's life.
It is not in itself a religion; but rather a dramatized and intensified form of
religious processes inculcated by every religious system in the world. For there
is no religion but teaches the lesson of the necessity of bodily purification of
our first degree; none but emphasizes that of the second degree, that mental,
moral and spiritual developments are essential and will lead to the discovery of
a certain secret centre "where truth abides in fulness,"and that
centre is a "point within a circle "of our own nature from which no
man or Mason can ever err, for it is the divine kingdom latent within us all,
into which we h ave as yet failed to enter. And there is none but insists upon
the supreme lesson of self-sacrifice and mystical death to the things of this
world so graphically portrayed in our third degree; none but indicates that in
that hour of greatest darkness the light of the primal divine spark within us is
never wholly extinguished, and that by loyalty to that light, by patience and by
perseverance, time and circumstances will restore to us the "genuine
secrets,"the ultimate truths and realities of our own nature. We are here,
Masonry teaches, as it were in captivity, by the waters of Babylon and in a
strange land; and our doctrine truly tells us that the richest harmonies of this
life are as nothing in comparison with the songs of Zion; and that, even when we
are installed into the highest eminences this world or the Craft may offer, it
were better that our right hand should forget its cunning and that we should
fling the illusory treasures of this transitory world behind our backs, than in
all ou r doings fail to remember the Jerusalem that lies beyond.
Our teaching is purposely veiled in allegory and symbol and its deeper import
does not appear upon the surface of the ritual itself. This is partly in
correspondence with human life itself and the world we live in, which ale
themselves but allegories and symbols of another life and the veils of another
world; and partly intentional also, so that only those who have reverent and
understanding minds may penetrate into the more hidden meaning of the doctrine
of the Craft. The deeper secrets in Masonry, like the deeper secrets of life,
are heavily veiled; are closely hidden. They exist concealed beneath a great
reservation; but whoso knows anything of them knows also that they are "
many and valuable,"and that they are disclosed only to those who act upon
the hint given in our lectures, "Seek and ye shall find; ask and ye shall
have; knock and it shall be opened unto you."The search may be long and
difficult, but great things are not acquired without effort and search; but it
may be affirmed th at to the candidate who is "properly prepared "
(in a much fuller sense than we conventionally attach to that expression) there
are doors leading from the Craft that, when knocked, will assuredly open and
admit him to places and to knowledge he at present recks little of. For him,
too, who would enter upon the greater initiations, the same rule applies as that
which was symbolically represented upon his first entrance into the Order, but
this time it will no longer be a symbol, but a realistic fact. He will find, I
mean, that a drawn sword is always threatening in front of him, and that a
cable-tow is still around his neck. Danger, indeed, awaits the candidate who
would rush precipitately and in a state of moral unfitness into the deeper
mysteries of his being, which are indeed "serious, solemn and awful
"; but, on the other hand, for him who has once entered upon the path of
light it is moral suicide to turn back. And now, Brethren, to bring to an end
this brief and imperfect survey of the deeper meaning and purposes of our Craft,
I pray that what is now spoken may help to prove to some of you a further
restoration to that light which is, at all times, the predominant wish of our
hearts. It rests with ourselves whether Masonry remains for us what upon its
outward and superficial side appears to be merely a series of symbolic rites, or
whether we allow those symbols to pass into our lives and become realities
therein. Whatever formalities we may have gone through in connection with our
admission into the Order, we cannot be said to have been "regularly
initiated "into Masonry so long as we regard the Craft as merely an
incident of social life and treat its ceremonies as but rites of an archaic and
perfunctory nature. The Craft, as I have already suggested, was given out to the
world, from more secret sources still, as a great experiment and means of grace,
and as a great opportunity for those who cared to avail themselves of what is
little known and little taught outside certain sanctuaries of concealment. It
was intended to furnish forth an epitome or synopsis, in dramatic form, of the
spiritual regeneration of man; and to throw out hints and suggestions that might
lead those capable of discerning its deeper purpose and symbolism into of still
deeper initiations than the merely superficial ones enacted in our Lodges. For,
as on the external side of the Order we may be called to occupy positions of
honour and office in the Provincial Grand Lodge, or may enter other Masonic
grades outside the Craft, so also upon its internal side there are eminences to
which we may be called that, whilst offering us no social distinction and no
visible advancement, are yet really the true prizes, the most valuable
attainments, of Masonic desire. To this goal all may attain who truly seek to do
so and who prepare the way for themselves by appropriating the truths lying
beneath the superficial allegory an d the symbolic veils of the Craft teaching.
And since there seems to-day a genuine and widespread desire on the part of many
members of the Order to enter into a fuller understanding of what the Order
itself conceals rather than reveals, I feel I should not be discharging my
duties as a Master in the Craft did I not take advantage of that position to
share with them some measure at least of what I have been able to glean for
But, finally, I must ask you to remember that, in accordance with the general
design of our system, every Master of a Lodge is but a symbol and a
substitution, and that behind him, and behind all other the grand officers of
the Masonic hierarchy, there stands the "Great White Head,"the
"Great Initiator "and Grand Master of all true Masons throughout the
Universe, whether members of our Craft or not. To whom let us all bow in
gratitude for the invaluable gift accorded to us in this our The Order; and to
whose protection, and to whose Deeper enlightening guidance into its deeper
mysteries, I recommend you all.