The following is an adjusted version of the introduction for a new book I’ve been working on, The Master Mason. This work is the culmination of nearly a decade of consideration and contemplation over the complexities of what it means to become a master in the masonic system of initiation. It is not the complete work and serves as an introduction to the broader themes explored in its subsequent pages. In a nut-shell, the work is an exploration of Freemasonry and how it relates to the Hermetic tradition, the Kabbalah and other esoteric systems that have at various intersections crossed paths with what we know as Freemasonry today.
So, with that in mind, I present to you,
Transcending Yesod – The Third Degree of Freemasonry
“To be or not to be” are the immortal words written by the eminent bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. His question appears in the story of Hamlet made by a lost son striving to find answers to what would, by most, be an unfathomable question which is the essence of the third degree. “To be” is perhaps the oldest of the New Age paradigms stirring echoes across theologies of all cultures said best in the application of the Golden Rule as to do unto others which is Being itself. Like the Golden Rule, in order to do unto others, we must first understand ourselves, the innerness of our being such that we can Be in the first place. This lesson is not something that is wholesale unique to the fraternity of Freemasonry, or this degree, as we find the idea of the Golden Rule transcribed across millennia and within every theological system. So too do we find the testament as a personal gospel of finding our truth. For most, truth is mythology whose philosophical lessons are lost in the dogmas of its authority – its commentaries on the philosophies become more valuable than the philosophies themselves and the value of what was said is lost to the dominion of those who hold authority over them. We must interpret the truths for ourselves so as to find their resonance within us. This is the entirety of the lesson of the third degree, the marrow in the bones of antiquity within which the truth spans all landscapes if the seeker looks deeply enough into its composition. But, as with any concept, truth is itself mutable as generations add or redact its communication creating ever fluctuating permutations and confluences of its principle concepts. Truth is truth, no matter how others dictate its interpretation. It is our own internal mechanisms that decide it for ourselves. For the Mason reading, we, as Hiram, perish in custody of our virtue which in turn is the vehicle of our metaphoric resurrection in being made perpendicular again, a zenith we find in the number three as the union between one and two, duality itself made whole. By reading the degree, whether in the Scottish or York Rite telling, the overtones are distinctly Christian but like the Christian Church itself, the tradition existed well before the consummation of the Gospels and illustrate the depth of antiquity for what they seek to convey. As with every symbolic story, we must look at it with filters and adjudge the entirety by the description of the pieces to achieve a level of perspective over the totality within which it exists. Freemasonry is, if anything else, a conglomerate of ideas, culled together from a variety of sources. So then, to understand its summation we need to look at the Kabalistic connections of this degree as it relates to our Tree of Life progression (see The Apprentice and Fellow of the Craft) as the degree of the Master Mason resides within the Sephirot of Yesod on the pillar of mercy giving several meanings and parallels. So too will we do well in finding its corresponding relations in the Tarot as Yesod relates to the card of the Four Nines, which is also a source of its symbolic origin. But, our greatest understanding will come as we look at the degree itself to try and make sense of why the master mason is arranged the way it is, given its discordant portrayal when compared with the two that preceded it in both presentation and tone. No longer is the degree about simply the teaching of ideas and social principles, nor is it an indoctrination meant to introduce foreign concepts to the newcomer. No, this degree is about the inner journey, the making of the “transcendent transparent” which it does by introducing, in its present-day conduct, an aspect of itself that strives to teach its lesson through theatrics so as to convey its lesson in a manner reminiscent of a morality play with antecedent’s common at the time of its ritual organization. “To be…or not to be,” that is the challenge that faces each of us as we confront our own inner Hiram. And is the question which will open the door of the future of Masonry in the pursuit of the higher degrees. The esoteric writer Eliphas Lévi says, in his book The History of Magic, “Ordeal is the great word of life, and life itself is a serpent which brings forth and devours unceasingly.” Man, is born into chaos to seek light from that which he was created which, the great tradition of Hermetica tells us, is but merely a reflection, as the moon reflects the light of the sun — an aspect of this tradition we find in the parallel with Yesod. So then, we need a place to begin our study and where best to begin than with the number of the degree itself so as to construct an understanding of the significance of the number three and its relationship to many other traditions as the unifying force of division.