The Meaning of Masonry

                                             ARTICLE NO. 39

                          THE MEANING OF MASONRY

          As we meet some of these times without the focus provided
by a candidate to participate in degree work, there is much danger
that we may lose some of that sense of self-growth and personal
uplifting that is, after all, the intended purpose of our ritual.

          That ritual is, of course, an allegory - a fictional
story.  It is a story that has been carefully and even brilliantly
crafted to carry within it the message of moral behaviour and life
development necessary for all mankind.  I want to discuss that
allegory with you for a few moments.  And lest you feel I am
generating a piece of personal fiction, let me hasten to hide in
the shelter of my masonic authority.

          In the mid 1920's, there was published a volume called
"The Meaning of Masonry", authored by W.L. Wilmshurst, Past
Provincial Grand Registrar, West York, England.  The fifth edition
of 1927 was reprinted in the U.S. in 1980 with a foreword of praise
by Dr. Allan Boudreau, Curator and Librarian of the Grand Lodge of
Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York.  I am condensing
the language even more than I want to, to save time, but the
statements that follow are supported by Bro. Wilmshurst in his
opening lecture.

          When the pronoun "I" is used, it is Bro. Wilmshurst
speaking.  I'm not tiring you with "Quote" and "Unquote" drumbeats.

          Our degree work is a story, an allegory that uses some
historical facts in connection with some legendary events which may
have been invented by ancient writers; mixed with some detailed
data added by the Masonic authors.  Its use of language is inspired
and beautiful to read and hear, in a similar sense as is true with
the Bible, from which so much of it is derived.

          As a ritual, it is about 300 years old.  It was put
together as a teaching tool by men who were zealous and dedicated
in their search for human development and knowledge.  In every past
era, bodies of mankind have banded together to enlarge and teach
the so-called "Mysteries"; the truths of human life, certain
instructions about divine things, about human nature and human
destiny that would be ignored or profaned if left for the
multitudes to bandy about.

          These mysteries were formerly taught on the highest hills
and in the lowest valleys.  It is, of course, common knowledge that

                                  -  2  -

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, Pythagoris, Moses,
Aristotle, Virgil, the author of the Homeric poems and the great
Greek tragedians, and along with St. John, St. Paul and innumerable
other great names were initiates of the Sacred Mysteries.

          The forms, the languages, the methods of expressing the
Sacred Mysteries was forever changing but since ultimate truth is
and can be but one, so the doctrine of the mysteries is always the
same.  Behind all the 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 Cabalism, 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 orders 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.

          We cannot, now, trace the early development of
Freemasonry in detail.  We would be more buried in sand than is
contained in the Sahara.  Suffice to say that the movement
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.  To wrap a moral philosophy in the
vocabulary of a common trade like construction was a very natural
thing to do.  5000 years earlier the Egyptians had fashioned a
ceremonial system within the trade of shipbuilding which taught
precisely the same things as Masonry does.  The tools with which we
are familiar can be used to lead us into new discoveries.  So, with
Masonry, we are not literally perpetuating a system stretching back
into antiquity.  But we are perpetuating a doctrine of moral
development as ancient as mankind himself.

          What, then, is the message of Masonry that lies behind
our ritual words?  What is the Mystery which our Masonic sentences
are intended to disclose to us as "Accepted" Masons?

          To state things briefly, Masonry offers us, in dramatic
form, a philosophy of the spiritual life of man and a diagram of
the process of regeneration.  The philosophy is consistent with the

                                  -  3  -

doctrine of every religious system outside of our Order, but it
explains and more sharply defines, the doctrines common to every
religious system in the world, whether Christian or non-Christian. 
At the Lodge room door the clamour of sectarian differences are
left behind and the peace of common purpose descends upon all. 
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 or alter and from
which none may take away.

          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".  Ah!  What happens then to the nagging
questions that come to every thinking mind?  What am I!  Whence
come I!  Whither go I!  Masonry offers emphatic and luminous
answers.  Each of us has come from the East, the eternal source of
all light and life, and our life here is described as being spent
in the West, the opposite of our source and of our destiny.  Upon
admission to the Lodge, a candidate finds himself in a state of
darkness and enters as a blind, helpless babe.

          Entering from the West, he is guided and taught by his
soon-to-be Brothers that the primal source of life is not the West,
not in this world; that existence upon this planet is but a
transitory sojourn, spent in search of the genuine "secrets", the
ultimate realities of lie; and that as the spirit of man must
return to God who gave it, so he is now returning from this
temporary world of "substituted secrets" to that "East" from which
he originally came.  The whole impact of this E.A. degree and those
that will follow is meant to impress upon the candidate that his
soul had a prior existence before this human form and here must
perform the duties of its human development while it prepares to
return to the "East" from whence it came.

          How better to symbolize the entrance upon this world of
learning than by the White Leather Apron which we receive unstained
as a covering of our mortal body and a symbol of the industry we
shall need to display to prepare ourselves for our Eastward
journey.  As the apron protects the body so does the body itself
protect the inner soul.  Here, then, is the real significance of
the apron.  It is indeed the badge of innocence.  This human body
is that which is "older and nobler than that of any other order". 
Let us never forget that if we never do anything to disgrace the
badge of flesh with which God has endowed us, that badge will never
disgrace us.


                                  -  4  -

          The initiate to the First Degree finds himself in the
Northeast corner of the Lodge.  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.  Two paths are open to
him at this stage; a path of light and a path of darkness; of good
and of evil.  He is intended to see that on the one side of him is
the path that leads to 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.

          The ceremony of our First Degree, therefore, is a swift
portrayal of the entrance of all men into, first, physical life,
and second, spiritual life.  It is the degree of preparation, self-
discipline and purification.

          In the words of the psalmist "who will go up to the hill
of the Lord, and ascent to His holy place?  Even he that hath clean
hands and a pure heart".  Hence we wear white gloves and aprons as
emblems that we have purified our hearts and washed our hands in
innocency.  For that reason we ask our candidates if they have
anything in the way of money or material value on or about them; in
other words, if they are subject to any physical attraction or
mental defilement, their real initiation into higher development
will be delayed until they rise above that burden.

          After this purification comes contemplation and
enlightenment.  That is the story of the Second Degree, and
perhaps, some day in the future, we may get a chance to examine it
in a similar light.