by W.L. Wilmshurst
FURTHER NOTES ON CRAFT SYMBOLISM.
“There is no darkness but ignorance.”
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, and defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.”
“Belov’d All-Father, and all you gods that haunt this place, grant me to be beautiful in the inner man, and all I have of outer things to be one with those within! May I count only the wise man rich, and may my store of gold be such as none but the good can bear. Anything more? That prayer, I think, is enough for me!”
Prayer of Socrates.
IN the Lecture on the First Degree tracing-board Masonry is spoken of as “an art founded on the principles of Geometry,” and also as being “a science dealing with the cultivation and improvement of the human mind.” Its usages and customs are also there said to have derived “from the ancient Egyptians whose philosophers, unwilling to expose their mysteries to vulgar eyes, conceal their principles and philosophy under signs and symbols,” which are still perpetuated in the Masonic Order.
Something of these signs and symbols, as well as the purpose of the Masonic system as a whole, has already been outlined in previous papers. In the present notes it is proposed to extend the consideration of the subject in greater detail.
The Instruction Lectures associated with each Degree of the Craft purport to expound the doctrine of the system and interpret the symbols and rituals. But these Lectures themselves stand in similar need of interpretation. Indeed, they are contrived with very great cunning and concealment. Their compilers were confronted with the dual task of giving a faithful, if partial, expression of esoteric doctrine and at the same time of so masking it that its full sense would not be understood without some effort or enlightenment, and should convey little or nothing at all to those unworthy of or unripe for the “gnosis” or wisdom-teaching. They discharged that task with signal success and in a way which provokes admiration from those who can appreciate it for their profound knowledge of, and insight into, the science of self-knowledge and regeneration. They were obviously Initiates of an advanced type, well versed in the secret tradition and philosophy of the Mystery systems of the past and acutely perceptive of the deeper and mystical sense of the Holy Scriptures to which they constantly make luminous reference.
To deal with these explanatory Lectures in complete detail would involve a very long task. We will, however, proceed to speak of some of the more prominent matters with which they deal and so elaborate the subject-matter of our previous papers.
Attention must first be called to the term “Geometry,” the art upon which the entire system is stated to be founded. To the ordinary man Geometry means nothing more than the branch of mathematics associated with the problems of Euclid, a subject obviously having no relation to Masonic ceremonial and ideals. Another explanation of the term must therefore be looked for.
Now Geometry was one of the “seven noble arts and sciences” of ancient philosophy. It means literally the science of earth-measurement. But the “earth” of the ancients did not mean, as it does to us, this physical planet. It meant the primordial substance, or undifferentiated soul-stuff out of which we human beings have been created, the “mother-earth” from which we have all sprung and to which we must all undoubtedly return. Man was made, the Scriptures teach, out of the dust of the ground, and it is that ground, that earth or fundamental substance of his being, which requires to be “measured” in the sense of investigating and understanding its nature and properties. No competent builder erects a structure without first satisfying himself about the nature of the materials with which he proposes to build, and in the speculative or spiritual and “royal” art of Masonry no Mason can properly build the temple of his own soul without first understanding the nature of the raw material he has to work upon.
Geometry, therefore, is synonymous with self-knowledge, the understanding of the basic substance of our being, its properties and potentialities. Over the ancient temples of initiation was inscribed the sentence “Know thyself and thou shalt know the universe and God,” a phrase which implies in the first place that the uninitiated man is without knowledge of himself, and in the second place that when he attains that knowledge he will realize himself to be no longer the separate distinctified individual he now supposes himself to be, but to be a microcosm or summary of all that is and to be identified with the Being of God.
Masonry is the science of the attainment of that supreme knowledge and is, therefore, rightly said to be founded on the principles of Geometry as thus defined.
But do not let it be supposed that the physical matter of which our mortal bodies are composed is the “earth” referred to. That is but corruptible impermanent stuff which merely forms a temporary encasement of the imperishable true “earth” or substance of our souls, and enables them to enter into sense-relations with the physical world. The distinction must be clearly grasped and held in mind, for Masonry has to deal not so much with the transient outward body as with the eternal inward being of man, although the outward body is temporarily involved with the latter. It is the immortal soul of man which is the ruined temple and needs to be rebuilt upon the principles of spiritual science. The mortal body of it, with its unruly wills and affections, stands in the way of that achievement. It is the rubble which needs to be cleared before the new foundations can be set and the new structure reared. Yet even rubble can be made to serve useful purposes and be rearranged and worked into the new erection, and accordingly man’s outer temporal nature can be disciplined and utilized in the reconstruction of himself. But in order to effect this reconstruction he must first have a full understanding of the material he has to work with and to work upon. For this purpose he must be made acquainted with what is called “the form of the Lodge.”
THE FORM OF THE LODGE
This is officially described as “an oblong square; in length between East and West, in breadth between North and South, in depth from the surface of the earth to its centre, and even as high as the heavens.”
This is interpretable as alluding to the human individual. Man himself is a Lodge. And just as the Masonic Lodge is “an assemblage of brethren and fellows met to expatiate upon the mysteries of the Craft,” so individual man is a composite being made up of various properties and faculties assembled together in him with a view to their harmonious interaction and working out the purpose of life. It must always be remembered that everything in Masonry is figurative of man and his human constitution and spiritual evolution. Accordingly, the Masonic Lodge is sacramental of the individual Mason as he is when he seeks admission to a Lodge. A man’s first entry into a Lodge is symbolical of his first entry upon the science of knowing himself.
His organism is symbolized by a four-square or four-sided building. This is in accordance with the very ancient philosophical doctrine that four is the arithmetical symbol of everything which has manifested or physical form. Spirit, which is unmanifest and not physical, is expressed by the number three and the triangle. But Spirit which has so far projected itself as to become objective and wear a material form or body, is denoted by the number four and the quadrangle or square. Hence the Hebrew name of Deity, as known and worshipped in this outer world, was the great unspeakable name of four letters or Tetragrammaton, whilst the cardinal points of space are also four, and every manifested thing is a compound of the four basic metaphysical elements called by the ancients fire, water, air and earth. The four-sidedness of the Lodge, therefore, is also a reminder that the human organism is compounded of those four elements in balanced proportions. “Water” represents the psychic nature; “Air,” the mentality; “Fire,” the will and nervous force; whilst “Earth” is the condensation in which the other three become stabilized and encased.
But it is an oblongated (or duplicated) square, because man’s organism does not consist of his physical body alone. The physical body has its “double” or ethereal counterpart in the astral body, which is an extension of the physical nature and a compound of the same four elements in an impalpable and more tenuous form. The oblong spatial form of the Lodge must therefore be considered as referable to the physical and ethereal nature of man in the conjunction in which they in fact consist in each of us.
The four sides of the Lodge have a further significance. The East of the Lodge represents man’s spirituality, his highest and most spiritual mode of consciousness, which in most men is very little developed, if at all, but is still latent and slumbering and becomes active only in moments of stress or deep emotion. The West (or polar opposite of the East) represents his normal rational understanding, the consciousness he employs in temporal every-day affairs, his material-mindedness or, as we might say, his “common sense.” Midway between these East and West extremes is the South, the halfway house and meeting-place of the spiritual intuition and the rational understanding; the point denoting abstract intellectuality and our intellectual power develops to its highest, just as the sun attains its meridian splendour in the South. The antipodes of this is the North, the sphere of benightedness and ignorance, referable to merely sense-reactions and impressions received by that lowest and least reliable mode of perception, our physical sense-nature.
Thus the four sides of the Lodge point to four different, yet progressive, modes of consciousness available to us. Sense-impression (North), reason (West), intellectual ideation (South), and spiritual intuition (East); making up our four possible ways of knowledge. Of these the ordinary man employs only the first two or perhaps three, in accordance with his development and education, and his outlook on life and knowledge of truth are correspondingly restricted and imperfect. Full and perfect knowledge is possible only when the deep-seeing vision and consciousness of man’s spiritual principle have been awakened and superadded to his other cognitive faculties. This is possible only to the true Master, who has all four methods of knowledge at his disposal in perfect balance and adjusted like the four sides of the Lodge; and hence the place of the Master and Past-Masters being always in the East.
The “depth” of the Lodge (“from the surface of the earth to its centre”) refers to the distance or difference of degree between the superficial consciousness of our earthly mentality and the supreme divine degree of consciousness resident at man’s spiritual centre when he has become able to open his Lodge upon that centre and to function in and with it.
The “height” of the Lodge (“even as high as the heavens”) implies that the range of consciousness possible to us, when we have developed our potentialities to the full, is infinite. Man who has sprung from the earth and developed through the lower kingdoms of nature to his present rational state, has yet to complete his evolution by becoming a god-like being and unifying his consciousness with the Omniscient—to promote which is and always has been the sole aim and purpose of all Initiation.
To scale this “height,” to attain this expansion of consciousness, is achieved “by the use of a ladder of many rounds or staves, but of three principal ones, Faith, Hope and Charity,” of which the greatest and most effectual is the last. That is to say, there are innumerable ways of developing one’s consciousness to higher degrees, and in fact every common-place incident of daily experience may contribute to that end if it be rightly interpreted and its purpose in the general pattern of our life-scheme be discerned; yet even these should be subordinate to the three chief qualifications, namely, Faith in the possibility of attaining the end in view; Hope, or a persistent fervent desire for its fulfilment; and finally an unbounded Love which, seeking God in all men and all things, despite their outward appearances, and thinking no evil, gradually identifies the mind and nature of the aspirant with that ultimate Good upon which his thought, desire and gaze should be persistently directed.
It is important to note here that this enlargement of consciousness is in no way represented as being dependent upon intellectual attainments, learning or book-knowledge. These may be, and indeed are, lesser staves of the ladder of attainment; but they are not numbered among the principal ones. Compare St. Paul’s words “Though I have all knowledge and have not love, I am nothing;” and those of a mediæval mystic “By love He may be gotten and holden, but by wit and understanding never.”
The Lodge is “supported by three grand pillars, Wisdom, Strength and Beauty.” Again the references are not to the external meeting-place, but to a triplicity of properties resident in the individual soul, which will become increasingly manifest in the aspirant as he progresses and adapts himself to the Masonic discipline. As is written of the youthful Christian Master that “he increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man,” so will it also become true of the neophyte Mason who aspires to Mastership. He will become conscious of an increase of perceptive faculty and understanding; he will become aware of having tapped a previously unsuspected source of power, giving him enhanced mental strength and self-confidence; there will become observable in him developing graces of character, speech and conduct that were previously foreign to him.
The Floor, or groundwork of the Lodge, a chequer-work of black and white squares, denotes the dual quality of everything connected with terrestrial life and the physical groundwork of human nature—the mortal body and its appetites and affections. “The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together,” wrote Shakespeare. Everything material is characterized by inextricably interblended good and evil, light and shade, joy and sorrow, positive and negative. What is good for me may be evil for you; pleasure is generated from pain and ultimately degenerates into pain again; what it is right to do at one moment may be wrong the next; I am intellectually exalted to-day and to-morrow correspondingly depressed and benighted. The dualism of these opposites governs us in everything, and experience of it is prescribed for us until such time as, having learned and outgrown its lesson, we are ready for advancement to a condition where we outgrow the sense of this chequer-work existence and those opposites cease to be perceived as opposites, but are realized as a unity or synthesis. To find that unity or synthesis is to know the peace which passes understanding—i.e. which surpasses our present experience, because in it the darkness and the light are both alike, and our present concepts of good and evil, joy and pain, are transcended and found sublimated in a condition combining both. And this lofty condition is represented by the indented or tesselated border skirting the black and white chequer-work, even as the Divine Presence and Providence surrounds and embraces our temporal organisms in which those opposites are inherent.
Why is the chequer floor-work given such prominence in the Lodge-furniture? The answer is to be found in the statement in the Third Degree Ritual: “The square pavement is for the High Priest to walk upon.” Now it is not merely the Jewish High Priest of centuries ago that is here referred to, but the individual member of the Craft. For every Mason is intended to be the High Priest of his own personal temple and to make of it a place where he and Deity may meet. By the mere fact of being in this dualistic world every living being, whether a Mason or not, walks upon the square pavement of mingled good and evil in every action of his life, so that the floor-cloth is the symbol of an elementary philosophical truth common to us all. But, for us, the words “walk upon” imply much more than that. They mean that he who aspires to be master of his fate and captain of his soul must walk upon these opposites in the sense of transcending and dominating them, of trampling upon his lower sensual nature and keeping it beneath his feet in subjection and control. He must become able to rise above the motley of good and evil, to be superior and indifferent to the ups and downs of fortune, the attractions and fears governing ordinary men and swaying their thoughts and actions this way or that. His object is the development of his innate spiritual potencies, and it is impossible that these should develop so long as he is over-ruled by his material tendencies and the fluctuating emotions of pleasure and pain that they give birth to. It is by rising superior to these and attaining serenity and mental equilibrium under any circumstances in which for the moment he may be placed, that a Mason truly “walks upon” the chequered groundwork of existence and the conflicting tendencies of his more material nature.
The Covering of the Lodge is shown in sharp contrast to its black and white flooring and is described as “a celestial canopy of divers colours, even the heavens.”
If the flooring symbolizes man’s earthy sensuous nature, the ceiling typifies his ethereal nature, his “heavens” and the properties resident therein. The one is the reverse and the opposite pole of the other. His material body is visible and densely composed. His ethereal surround, or “aura,” is tenuous and invisible, (save to clairvoyant vision), and like the fragrance thrown off by a flower. Its existence will be doubted by those unprepared to accept what is not physically demonstrable, but the Masonic student, who will be called upon to accept many such truths provisionally until he knows them as certainties, should reflect (1) that he has entered the Craft with the professed object of receiving light upon the nature of his own being, (2) that the Order engages to assist him to that light in regard to matters of which he is admittedly ignorant, and that its teachings and symbols were devised by wise and competent instructors in such matters, and (3) that a humble, docile and receptive mental attitude towards those symbols and their meanings will better conduce to his advancement than a critical or hostile one.
The fact that man throws off, or radiates from himself, an ethereal surround or “covering” is testified to by the aureoles and haloes shown in works of art about the persons of saintly characters. The unsaintly are not so distinctified, not because they are not so surrounded, but because in their case the “aura” exists as but an irregularly shaped and coloured cloud reflecting their normal undisciplined mentality and passional nature, as the rain-clouds reflect the sunlight in different tints. The “aura” of the man who has his mentality clean and his passions and emotions well in hand becomes a correspondingly orderly and shapely encasement of clearly defined form and iridescence, regularly striated like the colours of the spectrum or the rainbow. Biblically, this “aura” is described as a “coat of many colours” and as having characterized Joseph, the greatest of the sons of Jacob, in contrast with that patriarch’s less morally and spiritually developed sons who were not distinctified by any such coat.
In Masonry the equivalent of the aureole is the symbolic clothing worn by Provincial and Grand Lodge Officers. This is of deep blue, heavily fringed with gold, in correspondence with the deep blue centre and luminous circumference of flame. “His ministers are flames of fire.” Provincial and Grand Lodge Officers are drawn from those who are Past Masters in the Craft; that is, from those who theoretically have attained sanctity, regeneration and Mastership of themselves, and have become joined to the Grand Lodge above where they “shine as the stars.” It follows from all this that the Mason who seriously yields himself to the discipline of the Order is not merely improving his character and chastening his thoughts and desires. He is at the same time unconsciously building up an inner ethereal body which will form his clothing, or covering, when his transitory outer body shall have passed away. “There are celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial . . . . . . . and as we have borne the image of the earthly we also shall bear the image of the heavenly.” And the celestial body must be built up out of the sublimated properties of the terrestrial one. This is one of the secrets and mysteries of the process of regeneration and self-transmutation, to promote which the Craft was designed. This is the true temple-building that Masonry is concerned with. The Apron being the Masonic symbol of the bodily organism, changes and increasing elaborateness in it as the Mason advances to higher stages in the Craft symbolize (in theory) the actual development that is gradually taking place in his nature.
Moreover, as in the outer heavens of nature the sun, moon and stars exist and function, so in the personal heavens of man there operate metaphysical forces inherent in himself and described by the same terms. In the make-up of each of us exists a psychic magnetic field of various forces, determining our individual temperaments and tendencies and influencing our future. To those forces have also been given the names of “sun,” “moon” and planets, and the science of their interaction and outworking was the ancient science of astronomy, or, as it is now more often called astrology, which is one of the liberal arts and sciences recommended to the study of every Mason and the pursuit of which belongs in particular to the Fellow-Craft stage.
THE POSITIONS OF THE OFFICERS OF THE LODGE.
The seven Officers—three principal and three subordinate ones, with an additional minor one serving as a connecting link with the outside world—represent seven aspects or faculties of consciousness psychologically interactive and co-ordinated into a unity so as to constitute a “just and perfect Lodge.” As a man, any one of whose faculties is disordered or uncoordinated, is accounted insane, so a Lodge would be imperfect and incapacitated for effective work if its functional mechanism were incomplete.
Seven is universally the number of completeness The time-periods of creation were seven. The spectrum of light consists of seven colours; the musical scale of seven notes; our division of time is into weeks of seven days; our physiological changes run in cycles of seven years. Man himself is a seven-fold organism in correspondence with all these and the normal years of his life are seven multiplied by ten.
The “Master,” or Chief Officer, in man is the spiritual principle in him, which is the apex and root of his being and to which all his subsidiary faculties should be subordinate and responsive. When the Master’s gavel knocks, those of the Wardens at once repeat the knocks. When the Divine Principle in man speaks in the depth of his being, the remaining portions of his nature should reverberate in sympathy. Without the presence of this Divine Principle in him man would be less than human. Because of its presence in him he can become more than human. By cultivating his consciousness of it he may become unified with it in proportion as he denies and renounces everything in himself that is less than divine. It is the inextinguishable light of a Master Mason which, being immortal and eternal, continues to shine when everything temporal and mortal has disappeared.
The Senior Warden, whilst the Master’s chief executive officer, is his antithesis and opposite pole. He personifies the soul, the psychic or animistic principle in man, which, if unassociated with and unillumined by the greater light of the Spirit or Master-principle, has no inherent light of its own at all. At best he in the West can but reflect and transmit that greater light from the East, as the moon receives and reflects sunlight. Wherefore in Masonry his light is spoken of as the moon. In Nature when the moon is not shone upon by the sun it is invisible and virtually non-existent for us; when it is, it is one of the most resplendent of phenomena. Similarly human intelligence is valuable or negligible according as it is enlightened by the Master-light of the Divine Principle, or merely darkly functioning from its own unillumined energies. In the former case it is the chief executive faculty or transmitting medium of the Supreme Wisdom; in the latter it can display nothing better than brute-reason.
Midway between the Master-light from the East and the “Moon” in the West is placed the Junior Warden in the South, symbolizing the third greater light, the “Sun.” And, masonically, the “sun” stands for the illuminated human intelligence and understanding, which results from the material brain-mind being thoroughly permeated and enlightened by the Spiritual Principle; it denotes these two in a state of balance and harmonious interaction, the Junior Warden personifying the balance-point or meeting-place of man’s natural reason and his spiritual intuition. Accordingly it is he who, as representing this enlightened mental condition, asserts in the Second Degree (which is the degree of personal development where that condition is theoretically achieved) that he has been enabled in that degree to discover a sacred symbol placed in the centre of the building and alluding to the G.G.O.T.U. What is meant is, of course, that the man who has in reality (and not merely ceremonially) advanced to the second degree of self-development has now discerned that God is not outside him, but within him and overshadowing his own “building” or organism; a discovery which he is thereupon urged to follow up with fervency and zeal so that he may more and more closely unify himself with this Divine Principle. This, however, is a process requiring time, effort and self-struggle. The unification is not achieved suddenly. There are found to be obstacles, “enemies” in the way, obstructing it, due to the aspirant’s own imperfections and limitations. These must first be gradually overcome, and it is the eradication of these which is alluded to in the sign of the degree, indicating that he desires to cleanse his heart and cast away all evil from it, to purify himself for closer alliance with that pure Light. It is only by this “sun-light,” this newly found illumination, that he has become able to see into the depths of his own nature; and this is the “Sun” which, like Joshua, he prays may “stand still” and its light be retained by him until he has achieved the conquest of all these enemies. The problem of the much discredited biblical miracle of the sun standing still in the heavens disappears when its true meaning is perceived in the light of the interpretation given by the compilers of the Masonic ritual, who well knew that it was not the solar orb that was miraculously stayed in its course in violation of natural law, but that the “sun” in question denotes an enlightened perceptive state experienced by every one who in this “valley of Ajalon” undertakes the task of self-conquest and “fighting the battles of the Lord” against his own lower propensities.
We have now spoken of the Senior and Junior Wardens in their respective psychological significances and as being described as the “Moon” and “Sun.” In this connection it is well to point out here that the lights of both Moon and Sun become extinguished in the darkness of the Third Degree. In the great work of self-transformation they are lights and helps up to a point. When that point is reached they are of no further avail; the grip of each of them proves a slip and the Master-Light, or Divine Principle, alone takes up and completes the regenerative change: “The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light and thy God thy glory; and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” (Is. lx. 19-20).
The three lesser Officers and Tyler, who, with the three principal ones, complete the executive septenary, represent the three greater Officers’ energies transmitted into the lower faculties of man’s organism. The Senior Deacon, as the Master’s adjutant and emissary, forms the link between East and West. The Junior Deacon, as the Senior Warden’s adjutant and emissary, forms the link between West and South; whilst the Inner Guard acts under the immediate control of the Junior Warden and in mutually reflex action with the Outer Guard or contact-point with the outer world of sense-impressions.
The whole seven thus typify the mechanism of human consciousness; they represent a series of discrete but co-ordinated parts connecting man’s outer nature with his inmost Divine Principle and providing the necessary channels for reciprocal action between the spiritual and material poles of his organism.
In other words, and to use an alternative symbol of the same fact, man is potentially a seven-branched golden candlestick. Potentially so, because as yet he has not transmuted the base metals of his nature into gold, or lit up the seven candles or parts of his organism with the Promethean fire of the Divine Principle. Meanwhile that symbol of what is possible to him is offered for his reflection and contemplation, and he may profitably study the description of regenerated, perfected man given in Revelation 1, 12-20.
To summarize, the seven Officers typify the following sevenfold parts of the human mechanism:
W.M. – Spirit (Pneuma).
S.W. – Soul (Psyche).
J.W. – Mind (Nous, Intellect).
S.D. – The link between Spirit and Soul.
J.D. – The link between Soul and Mind.
I.G. – The inner sense-nature (astral).
O.G. – The outer sense-nature (physical).
THE GREATER AND LESSER LIGHTS
The purpose of Initiation may be defined as follows:—it is to stimulate and awaken the Candidate to direct cognition and irrefutable demonstration of facts and truths of his own being about which previously he has been either wholly ignorant or only notionally informed; it is to bring him into direct conscious contact with the Realities underlying the surface-images of things, so that, instead of holding merely beliefs or opinions about himself, the Universe and God, he is directly and convincingly confronted with Truth itself; and finally it is to move him to become the Good and the Truth revealed to him by identifying himself with it. (This is of course a gradual process involving greater or less time and effort in proportion to the capacity and equipment of the candidate himself.)
The restoration to light of the candidate in the First Degree is, therefore, indicative of an important crisis. It symbolizes the first enlargement of perception that, thanks to his own earnest aspirations and the good offices of the guides and instructors to whom he has yielded himself, Initiation brings him. It reveals to him a threefold symbol, referred to as the three great though emblematic lights in Masonry—the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses in a state of conjunction, the two latter resting on the first-named as their ground or base. As this triple symbol is the first object his outward eye gazes upon after enlightenment, so in correspondence what they emblematize is the first truth his inward eye is meant to recognize and contemplate upon.
He is also made aware of three emblematic lesser lights, described as alluding to the “Sun,” “Moon” and “Master of the Lodge,” (the psychological significance of which has already been explained in our interpretation of the Officers of the Lodge).
Now the fact is that the candidate can only see the three greater Lights by the help of the three lesser ones. In other words the lesser triad is the instrument by which he beholds the greater one; it is his own perceptive faculty (subject) looking out upon something larger (object) with which it is not yet identified, just as so small a thing as the eye can behold the expanse of the heavens and the finite mind can contemplate infinitude.
What is implied, then, is that the lesser lights of the candidate’s normal finite intelligence are employed to reveal to him the greater lights or fundamental essences of his as yet undeveloped being. A pigmy rudimentary consciousness is being made aware of its submerged source and roots, and placed in sharp contrast with the limitless possibilities available to it when those hidden depths have been developed and brought into function. The candidate’s problem and destiny is to lose himself to find himself, to unify his lesser with his greater lights, so that he no longer functions merely with an elementary reflex consciousness but in alliance with the All-Conscious with which he has become identified. In the Royal Arch Degree he will discover that this identification of the lesser and greater lights has theoretically become achieved. The interlaced triangles of lights surrounding the central altar in that Supreme Degree imply the union of perceptive faculty with the object of their contemplation; the blending of the human and the Divine consciousness.
What then do the three Greater Lights emblematize, and what does their intimate conjunction connote?
(1) The written Word is the emblem and external expression of the unwritten Eternal Word, the Logos or Substantial Wisdom of Deity out of which every living soul has emanated and which, therefore, is the ground or base of human life. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God; without Him was not anything made that was made; in Him was life and the life was the light of men; and the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” In an intelligently conducted Lodge the Sacred Volume should lie open at the first chapter of the Gospel by St. John, the patron-saint of Masonry, so that it may be these words that shall meet the candidate’s eyes when restored to light and remind him that the basis of his being is the Divine Word resident and shining within his own darkness and ignorance, which realize and comprehend not that fact. He has lost all consciousness of that truth, and this dereliction is the “lost Word” of which every Mason is theoretically in search and which with due instruction and his own industry he hopes to find. Finding that, he will find all things, for he will have found God within himself. Let the candidate also reflect that it is the secret motions and promptings of this Word within him that have impelled him to enter the Craft and to seek initiation into light. In the words of a great initiate “thy seeking is the cause of thy finding”; for the finding is but the final coming to self-consciousness of that inward force which first impelled the quest for light. Hence it is that no one can properly enter the Craft, or hope for real initiation, if he joins the Order from any less motive than that of finding God, the “hid treasure,” within himself. His first place of preparation must needs be in the heart, and his paramount desire and heart-hunger must be for that Light which, when attained, is Omniscience coming to consciousness in him; otherwise all ceremonial initiation will be without avail and he will fail even to understand the external symbols and allegories of it.
(2) The Square, resting upon the Sacred Volume, is the symbol of the human soul as it was generated out of the Divine Word which underlies it. That soul was created “square,” perfect, and like everything which proceeded from the Creator’s hand was originally pronounced “very good,” though invested with freedom of choice and capacity for error. The builder’s square, however, used as a Craft symbol, is really an approximation of a triangle with its apex downwards and base upwards, which is a very ancient symbol of the soul and psychic constitution of man and is known as the Water Triangle.
(3) The Compasses interlaced with the square are the symbol of the Spirit of the Soul, its functional energy or Fire. Of itself the soul would be a mere inert passivity, a negative quantity unbalanced by a positive opposite. Its active properties are the product of the union of itself with its underlying and inspiring Divine basis, as modified by the good or evil tendencies of the soul itself. God “breathed into man the breath of life and man became—no longer a soul, which he was previously—but a living (energizing) soul.” This product, or fiery energy, of the soul is the Spirit of man (a good or evil force accordingly as he shapes it) and is symbolized by what has always been known as the Fire Triangle (with apex upward and base downward), which symbol is approximately reproduced in the Compasses.
To summarize; the three Greater Lights emblematize the inextricably interwoven triadic groundwork of man’s being; (I) the Divine Word or Substance as its foundation; (2) a passive soul emanated therefrom; (3) an active spirit or energizing capacity generated in the soul as the result of the interaction of the former two. Man himself therefore (viewed apart from the temporal body now clothing him) is a triadic unit, rooted in and proceeding from the basic Divine Substance.
Observe that in the First Degree the points of the Compasses are hidden by the Square. In the Second Degree, one point is disclosed. In the Third both are exhibited. The implication is that as the Candidate progresses, the inertia and negativity of the soul become increasingly transmuted and superseded by the positive energy and activity of the Spirit. The Fire Triangle gradually assumes preponderance over the Water Triangle, signifying that the Aspirant becomes a more vividly living and spiritually conscious being than he was at first.
OPENING AND CLOSING THE LODGE FIRST OR ENTERED APPRENTICE DEGREE
If the Lodge with its appointments and officers be a sacramental figure of oneself and of the mechanism of personal consciousness, opening the Lodge in the successive Degrees implies ability to expand, open up and intensify that consciousness in three distinct stages surpassing the normal level applicable to ordinary mundane affairs.
This fact passes unrecognized in Masonic Lodges. The openings and closings are regarded as but so much casual formality devoid of interior purpose or meaning, whereas they are ceremonies of the highest instructiveness and rites with a distinctive purpose which should not be profaned by casual perfunctory performance or without understanding what they imply.
As a flower “opens its Lodge” when it unfolds its petals and displays its centre to the sun which vitalizes it, so the opening of a Masonic Lodge is sacramental of opening out the human mind and heart to God. It is a dramatized form of the psychological processes involved in so doing.
Three degrees or stages of such opening are postulated. First, one appropriate to the apprentice stage of development; a simple Sursum corda! or call to “lift up your hearts!” above the everyday level of external things. Second, a more advanced opening, adapted to those who are themselves more advanced in the science and capable of greater things than apprentices. This opening is proclaimed to be “upon the square,” which the First Degree opening is not. By which is implied that it is one specially involving the use of the psychic and higher intellectual nature (denoted, as previously explained, by the Square or Water Triangle). Third, a still more advanced opening, declared to be “upon the centre,” for those of Master Mason’s rank, and pointing to an opening up of consciousness to the very centre and depths of one’s being.
How far and to what degree any of us is able to open his personal Lodge determines our real position in Masonry and discloses whether we are in very fact Masters, Craftsmen or Apprentices, or only titularly such. Progress in this, as in other things, comes only with intelligent practice and sustained sincere effort. But what is quite overlooked and desirable to emphasize is the power, as an initiatory force, of an assemblage of individuals each sufficiently progressed and competent to “open his Lodge” in the sense described. Such an assembly, gathered in one place and acting with a common definite purpose, creates as it were a vortex in the mental and psychical atmosphere into which a newly initiated candidate is drawn. The tension created by their collective energy of thought and will—progressively intensifying as the Lodge is opened in each successive degree, and correspondingly relaxing as each Degree is closed—acts and leaves a permanent effect upon the candidate (assuming always that he is equally in earnest and “properly prepared” in an interior sense), inducing a favourable mental and spiritual rapport between him and those with whom he seeks to be elevated into organic spiritual membership; and, further, it both stimulates his perceptivity and causes his mentality to become charged and permeated with the ideas and uplifting influences projected upon him by his initiators.
The fact that a candidate is not admitted within the Lodge-portals without certain assurances, safeguards and tests, and that even then he is menaced by the sword of the I.G., is an indication that peril to the mental and spiritual organism is recognized as attending the presumptuous engaging in the things with which Initiation deals. As the flaming sword is described as keeping the way to the Tree of Life from those as yet unfitted to approach it, so does the secret law of the Spirit still avenge itself upon those who are unqualified to participate in the knowledge of its mysteries. Hence the commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” that is by invoking Divine Energy for unworthy or vain purposes.
Here, and upon the general subject of the signs, tokens and words employed and communicated in Initiatory Rites, may usefully be quoted the following words by a well-informed Mason, who is of course speaking of them not as the merely perfunctory acts they are in ordinary Lodges, but as they are when intelligently employed by those fully instructed in spiritual science and able to use signs, tokens and words with dynamic power and real efficiency:
“The symbols of the Mysteries embodied in the sign of the Square and Circle constitute the eternal language of the gods, the same in all worlds, from all eternity. They have had neither beginning of years nor end of days. They are contemporary with time and with eternity. They are the Word of God, the Divine Logos, articulate and expressed in forms of language. Each sign possesses a corresponding vocal expression, bodily gesture or mental intention. This fact is of great importance to the student of the Wisdom, for in it rests the main reason of the secrecy and the intense watchfulness and carefulness of the stewards of the Mysteries lest the secret doctrines find expression on the lips or through the action of unfit persons to possess the secrets. For the secret power of the Mysteries is within the signs. Any person attaining to natural and supernatural states by the process of development, if his heart be untuned and his mind withdrawn from the Divine to the human within him, that power becomes a power of evil instead of a power of good. An unfaithful initiate, in the degree of the Mysteries he has attained, is capable, by virtue of his antecedent preparations and processes, of diverting the power to unholy, demoniacal, astral and dangerous uses. . . . . . The use of the signs, the vocal sounds, physical acts and mental intentions, was absolutely prohibited except under rigorously tested conditions. For instance, the utterance of a symbolical sound, or a physical act, corresponding to a sign belonging to a given degree, in a congregation of an inferior degree, was fatal in its effects. In each degree no initiates who have not attained that degree are admitted to its congregations. Only initiates of that degree, and above it, are capable of sustaining the pressure of dynamic force generated in the spiritual atmosphere and concentrated in that degree. The actual mental ejaculation of a sign, under such circumstances, brought the immediate putting forth of an occult power corresponding to it. In all the congregations of the initiates an Inner Guard was stationed within the sanctuary, chancel or oratory at the door of entrance, with the drawn sword in his hand, to ward off unqualified trespassers and intruders. It was no mere formal or metaphorical performance. It was at the risk of the life of any man attempting to make an entrance if he succeeded in crossing the threshold. Secret signs and passwords and other tests were applied to all who knocked at the door, before admission was granted. The possession of the Mysteries, after initiation, and the use of the signs, either vocally, actionally or ejaculatorily, with “intention” in their use (not as mere mechanical repetition), were attended by occult powers directed to the subjects of their special intention, whether absent or present, or for purposes beneficial to the cause in contemplation.”
(H. E. Sampson’s Progressive Redemption, pp. 171-174).
To “open the Lodge” of one’s own being to the higher verities is no simple task for those who have closed and sealed it by their own habitual thought-modes, preconceptions and distrust of whatever is not sensibly demonstrable. Yet all these propensities must be eradicated or shut out and the Lodge close tyled against them; they have no part or place in the things of the inward man. Effort and practice also are needed to attain stability of mind, control of emotion and thought, and to acquire interior stillness and the harmony of all our parts. As the formal ceremony of Lodge-opening is achieved only by the organized co-operation of its constituent officers, so the due opening of our inner man to God can only be accomplished by the consensus of all our parts and faculties. Absence or failure of any part invalidates the whole. The W.M. alone cannot open the Lodge; he can only invite his brethren to assist him to do so by a concerted process and the unified wills of his subordinates. So too with opening the Lodge of man’s soul. His spiritual will, as master-faculty, summons his other faculties to assist it; “sees that none but Masons are present” by taking care that his thoughts and motives in approaching God are pure; calls all these “brethren” to order to prove their due qualification for the work in hand; and only then, after seeing that the Lodge is properly formed, does he undertake the responsibility of invoking the descent of the Divine blessing and influx upon the unified and dedicated whole.
Of all which the Psalmist writes: “How good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. . . . . It is like the precious ointment (anointing) which flows down unto the skirts of the clothing,” implying that the Divine influx, when it descends in response to such an invocation, floods and illuminates the entire human organism even to its carnal sense-extremities (which are the “skirts of the clothing” of the soul). Compare also the Christian Master’s words: “When thou prayest, enter into thy secret chamber (the Lodge of the soul) and when thou hast shut thy door (by tyling the mind to all outward concerns and thoughts), pray to the Father who seeth in secret, who shall reward thee openly” (by conscious communion).
The foregoing may help both to interpret the meaning and solemn purpose of the Opening in the First Degree, and to indicate the nature of the conditions and spiritual atmosphere that ought to exist when a Lodge is open for business in that Degree. If the Lodge-opening be a real opening in the sense here indicated and not a mere ceremonial form, if the conditions and atmosphere referred to were actually induced at a Masonic meeting, it will be at once apparent that they must needs react powerfully upon a candidate who enters them seeking initiation and spiritual advancement. If he be truly a worthy candidate, properly prepared in his heart and an earnest seeker for the light, the mere fact of his entering such an atmosphere will so impress and awaken his dormant soul-faculties as in itself to constitute an initiation and an indelible memory, whilst the sensitive-plate of his mind thus stimulated will be readily receptive of the ideas projected into it by the assembled brethren who are initiating him and receiving him into spiritual communion with themselves. On the other hand if he be an unworthy or not properly prepared candidate, that atmosphere and those conditions will prove repellent to him and he will himself be the first to wish to withdraw and not to repeat the experience.
The Closing of the First Degree implies the reverse process of the Opening; the relaxing of the inward energies and the return of the mind to its former habitual level. Yet not without gratitude expressed for Divine favours and perceptions received during the period of openness, or without a counsel to keep closed the book of the heart and lay aside the use of its jewels until we are duly called to resume them; since silence and secrecy are essential to the gestation and growth of the inward man. “He who has seen God is dumb.”
SECOND OR FELLOW-CRAFT DEGREE
The Opening of the Second Degree presupposes an ability to open up the inner nature and consciousness to a much more advanced stage than is possible to the beginner, who in theory is supposed to undergo a long period of discipline and apprenticeship in the elementary work of self-preparation and to be able to satisfy certain tests that he has done so before being qualified for advancement to the Fellow-craft stage of self-building.
Again that opening may be a personal work for the individual Mason or a collective work in an assembly of Fellow-crafts and superior Masons to pass an Apprentice to Fellow-craft rank.
The title admitting the qualified Apprentice to a Fellow-craft Lodge is one of great significance, which ordinarily passes without any observation or understanding of its propriety. It is said to denote “in plenty” and to be illustrated by an “ear of corn near to a fall of water” (which two objects are literally the meaning of the Hebrew word in question). It is desirable to observe that this is meant to be descriptive of the candidate himself, and of his own spiritual condition. It is he who is as an ear of corn planted near and nourished by a fall of water. His own spiritual growth, as achieved in the Apprentice stage, is typified by the ripening corn; the fertilizing cause of its growth being the down-pouring upon his inner nature of the vivifying dew of heaven as the result of his aspiration towards the light.
The work appropriated to the Apprentice Degree is that of gaining purity and control of his grosser nature, its appetites and affections. It is symbolized by working the rough ashlar, as dug from the quarry, into due shape for building purposes. The “quarry” is the undifferentiated raw material or group-soul of humanity from which he has issued into individuated existence in this world, where his function is to convert himself into a true die or square meet for the fabric of the Temple designed by the Great Architect to be built in the Jerusalem above out of perfected human souls.
The apprentice-work, which relates to the subdual of the sense-nature and its propensities, being achieved, the next stage is the development and control of the intellectual nature; the investigation of the “hidden paths of nature (i.e., the human psychological nature) and science” (the gnosis of self-knowledge, which, pushed to its limit, the candidate is told “leads to the throne of God Himself” and reveals the ultimate secrets of his own nature and the basic principles of intellectual as distinct from moral truth). It should be noted that the candidate is told that he is now “permitted to extend his researches” into these hidden paths. There is peril to the mentality of the candidate if this work is undertaken before the purifications of the Apprentice stage have been accomplished. Hence the permission is not accorded until that preliminary task has been done and duly tested.
The work of the Second Degree is accordingly a purely philosophical work, involving deep psychological self-analysis, experience of unusual phenomena, as the psychic faculties of the soul begin to unfold themselves, and the apprehension of abstract Truth (formerly described as mathematics). This work is altogether beyond both the mental horizon and the capacity of the average modern Mason, though in the Mysteries of antiquity the Mathesis (or mental discipline) was an outstanding feature and produced the intellectual giants of Greek philosophy. Hence it is that to-day the Degree is found dull, unpicturesque and unattractive, since psychic experience and intellectual principles cannot be made spectacular and dramatic.
The Ritual runs that our ancient brethren of this Degree met in the porchway of King Solomon’s Temple. This is a way of saying that natural philosophy is the porchway to the attainment of Divine Wisdom; that the study of man leads to knowledge of God, by revealing to man the ultimate divinity at the base of human nature. This study or self-analysis of human nature Plato called Geometry; earth-measuring; the probing, sounding and determining the limits, proportions and potentialities of our personal organism in its physical and psychical aspects. The ordinary natural consciousness is directed outwards; perceives only outward objects; thinks only of an outward Deity separate and away from us. It can accordingly cognize only shadows, images and illusions. The science of the Mysteries directs that that process must be reversed. It says: “Just as you have symbolically shut and close-tyled the door of your Lodge against all outsiders, so you must shut out all perception of outward images, all desire for external things and material welfare, and turn your consciousness and aspirations wholly inward. For the Vital and Immortal Principle—the Kingdom of Heaven—is within you; it is not to be found outside you. Like the prodigal son in the parable you have wandered away from it into a far country and lost all consciousness of it. You have come down and down, as by a spiral motion or a winding staircase, into this lower world and imperfect form of existence; coiling around you as you came increasingly thickening vestures, culminating in your outermost dense body of flesh; whilst your mentality has woven about you veil after veil of illusory notions concerning your real nature and the nature of true Life. Now the time and the impulse have at last come for you to turn back to that inward world. Therefore reverse your steps. Look no longer outwards, but inwards. Go back up that same winding staircase. It will bring you to that Centre of Life and Sanctum Sanctorum from which you have wandered.”
When the Psalmist writes “Who will go up the hill of the Lord? Even he that hath clean hands and a pure heart,” the meaning is identical with what is implied in the ascent of the inwardly “winding staircase” of the Second Degree. Preliminary purification of the mind is essential to its rising to purer realms of being and loftier conscious states than it has been accustomed to. If “the secrets of nature and the principles of intellectual truth” are to become revealed to its view, as the Degree intends and promises, the mentality must not be fettered by mundane interests or subject to disturbance by carnal passions. If it is to “contemplate its own intellectual faculties and trace them from their development” until they are found to “lead to the throne of God Himself” and to be rooted in Deity, it must discard all its former thought-habits, prejudices and preconceptions, and be prepared to receive humbly the illumination that will flood into it from the Light of Divine Wisdom.
For the determined student of the mental discipline implied by the Second Degree there may be recommended two most instructive sources of information and examples of personal experience. One is the Dialogues of Plato and the writings of Plotinus and other Neo-Platonists. The other is the records of the classical Christian contemplatives, such as Eckhart or Ruysbroeck or the “Interior Castle” of St. Theresa. The Phædrus of Plato, in particular, is an important record by an initiate of the ancient Mysteries of the psychological experiences referred to in the Fellow-Craft Degree.
The subject is too lengthy for further exposition here beyond again indicating that it is in the illumined mental condition attained in this Degree that the discovery is made of the Divine Principle at the centre of our organism; and that the sign of the Degree is equivalent to a prayer that the sunlight of that exalted state may “stand still” and persist in us until we have effected the overthrow of all our “enemies” and eradicated all obstacles to our union with that Principle.
The reference to our ancient brethren receiving their wages at the porchway of the Temple of Wisdom is an allusion to an experience common to every one in the Fellow-Craft stage of development. He learns that old scores due by him to his fellowmen must be paid off and old wrongs righted, and receives the wages of past sins recorded upon his subconsciousness by that pencil that observes and there records all our thoughts, words and actions. The candidate leading the philosophic life realizes that he is justly entitled to those wages and receives them without scruple or diffidence, knowing himself to be justly entitled to them and only too glad to expiate and purge himself of old offences. For we are all debtors to some one or other for our present position in life, and must repay what we owe to humanity—perhaps with tears or adversity—before we straighten our account with that eternal Justice with which we aspire to become allied.
THIRD, OR MASTER-MASON’S DEGREE
Before dealing with the opening and closing of the Third Degree, it should be observed that in the Lodge symbolism the teaching of the First and Second Degrees is carried forward into the Third. The traditional Tracing-Board of the Third Degree exhibits in combination (1) the chequered floor-work, (2) the two pillars at the porchway of the Temple, (3) the winding staircase, and (4) a dormer-window above the porchway. The brief explanation is given that the chequer-work is for the High Priest to walk upon and the dormer-window is that which gave light to it. The entire symbol is but one comprehensive glyph or pictorial diagram of the condition of a candidate aspiring to Master Mason’s rank. As high priest of his own personal temple he must have his bodily nature and its varied desires under foot. He must have developed strength of will and character to “walk upon” this chequer-work and withstand its appeals. He must also be able to ascend the winding staircase of his inner nature, to educate and habituate his mentality to higher conscious states and so establish it there that he will be unaffected by seductive or affrighting perceptions that there may meet him. By the cultivation of this “strength” and the ability to “establish” himself upon the loftier conscious levels he co-ordinates the two pillars at the porchway of his inmost sanctuary—namely, the physical and psychical supports of his organism—and acquires the “stability” involved in regeneration and requisite to him before passing on to “that last and greatest trial” which awaits him. “In strength will I establish My house that it may stand firm.” Man’s perfected organism is what is meant by “My house.” It was the same organism and the same stability that the Christian Master spoke of in saying “Upon this rock will I build my church and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it.”
During all the discipline and labour involved in attaining this stability there has shone light on the path from the first moment that his Apprentice’s vision was opened to larger truth; light from the science and philosophy of the Order itself which is proving his “porchway” to the ultimate sanctuary within; light from friendly helpers and instructors; above all, light from the sun in his own “heavens,” streaming through the “dormer-window” of his illumined intelligence and slowly but surely guiding his feet into the way of peace.
But now the last and greatest trial of his fortitude and fidelity, one imposing upon him a still more serious obligation of endurance, awaits him in the total withdrawal of this kindly light. Hitherto, although guided by that light, he has progressed in virtue of his own natural powers and efforts. Now the time has come when those props have to be removed, when all reliance upon natural abilities, self-will and the normal rational understanding, must be surrendered and the aspirant must abandon himself utterly to the transformative action of his Vital and Immortal Principle alone, passively suffering it to complete the work in entire independence of his lesser faculties. He must “lose his life to save it”; he must surrender all that he has hitherto felt to be his life in order to find life of an altogether higher order.
Hence the Third Degree is that of mystical death, of which bodily death is taken as figurative, just as bodily birth is taken in the First Degree as figurative of entrance upon the path of regeneration. In all the Mystery-systems of the past will be found this degree of mystical death as an outstanding and essential feature prior to the final stage of perfection or regeneration. As an illustration one has only to refer to a sectional diagram of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, which was so constructed as to be not merely a temple of initiation, but to record in permanent form the principles upon which regeneration is attainable. Its entrance passage extends for some distance into the building as a narrow ascending channel through which the postulant who desires to reach the centre must creep in no small discomfort and restrictedness. This was to emblematise the discipline and up-hill labour of self-purification requisite in the Apprentice Degree. At a certain point this restricted passage opens out into a long and lofty gallery, still upon a steeply rising gradient, up which the postulant had to pass, but in a condition of ease and liberty. This was to symbolize the condition of illumination and expanded intellectual liberty associated with the Fellow-craft Degree. It ended at a place where the candidate once more had to force his way on hands and knees through the smallest aperture of all, one that led to the central chamber in which stood and still stands the great sarcophagus in which he was placed and underwent the last supreme ordeal, and whence he was raised from the dead, initiated and perfected.
The title of admission communicated to the candidate for the Third Degree is noteworthy, as also the reason for it. It is a Hebrew name, said to be that of the first artificer in metals and to mean “in worldly possessions.” Now it will be obvious that the name of the first man who worked at metal-making in the ordinary sense can be of no possible interest or concern to us to-day, nor has the information the least bearing upon the subject of human regeneration. It is obviously a veil of allegory concealing some relevant truth. Such it will be found to be upon recognizing that Hebrew Biblical names represent not persons, but personifications of spiritual principles, and that Biblical history is not ordinary history of temporal events but a record of eternally true spiritual facts. The matter is, therefore, interpretable as follows: We know from the teaching of the Entered Apprentice Degree what “money and metals” are in the Masonic sense, and that they represent the attractive power of temporal possessions, and earthly belongings and affections of whatever description. We know too that from the attraction and seductiveness of these things, and even from the desire for them, it is essential to be absolutely free if one desires to attain that Light and those riches of Wisdom for which the candidate professes to long. Not that it is necessary for him to become literally and, physically dispossessed of worldly possessions, but it is essential that he should be so utterly detached from them that he cares not whether he owns any or not and is content, if need be, to be divested of them entirely if they stand in the way of his finding “treasure in heaven”; for so long as he clings to them or they exercise control over him, so long will his initiation into anything better be deferred.
It follows then that it is the personal soul of the candidate himself which is the “artificer in metals” referred to, and which during the whole of its physical existence has been engaged in trafficking with “metals.” Desire for worldly possessions, for sensation and experience in this outward world of good and evil, brought the soul into this world. There it has woven around itself its present body of flesh, every desire and thought being an “artificer” adding something to or modifying its natural encasement. The Greek philosophers used to teach that souls secrete their bodies as a snail secretes his shell, and our own poet Spenser truly wrote:
“For of the soul the body form doth take,
And soul is form and doth the body make.”
If, then, desire for physical experience and material things brought the soul into material conditions (as is also indicated in the great parable of the Prodigal Son), the relinquishing of that desire is the first necessary step to ensure its return to the condition whence it first emanated. Satiation with and consequent disgust at the “husks” of things instigated the Prodigal Son to aspire to return home. Similar repletion and revolt drives many a man to lose all desire for external things and to seek for peace within himself and there redirect his energies in quest of possessions which are abiding and real. This is the moment of his true “conversion,” and the moment when he is ripe for initiation into the hidden Mysteries of his own being. The First and Second Degrees of Masonry imply that the candidate has undergone lengthy discipline in the renunciation of external things and the cultivation of desire for those that are within. But, notwithstanding that he has passed through all the discipline of those Degrees, he is represented at the end of them as being still not entirely purified and to be still “in worldly possessions” in the sense that a residue of attraction by them and reliance upon himself lingers in his heart; and it is these last subtle close-clinging elements of “base metal” in him that need to be eradicated if perfection is to be attained. The ingrained defects and tendencies of the soul as the result of all its past habits and experiences are not suddenly eliminated or easily subdued. Self-will and pride are very subtle in their nature and may continue to deceive their victim long after he has purged himself of grosser faults. As Cain was the murderer of Abel, so every taint of base metal in oneself debases the gold of the Vital and Immortal Principle. It must be renounced, died to and transmuted in the crucial process of the Third Degree. Hence it is that the candidate is entrusted with a name that designates himself at this stage and that indicates that he is still “in worldly possessions;” that is, that some residue of the spirit of this world yet lingers in him which it is necessary to eliminate from his nature before he can be raised to the sublime degree of Master.
Examination of the text of the opening and closing of the Lodge in the Third Degree discloses the whole of the philosophy upon which the Masonic system is reared. It indicates that the human soul has originated in the eternal East—that “East” being referable to the world of Spirit and not to any geographical direction—and that thence it has directed its course towards the “West”—the material world which is the antipodes of the spiritual and into which the soul has wandered. Its purpose in so journeying from spiritual to physical conditions is declared to be the quest and recovery of something it has lost, but which by its own industry and suitable instruction it hopes to find. From this it follows that the loss itself occurred prior to its descent into this world, otherwise that descent would not have been necessary. What it is that has been lost is not explicitly declared, but is implied and is stated to form “the genuine secrets of a Master Mason.” It is the loss of a word, or rather of The Word, the Divine Logos, or basic root and essence of our own being. In other words the soul of man has ceased to be God-conscious and has degenerated into the limited terrestrial consciousness of the ordinary human being. It is in the condition spoken of in the cosmic parable of Adam when extruded from Eden, an exile from the Divine Presence and condemned to toil and trouble. The quest after this lost Word is declared by the Wardens to have been so far abortive, and to have resulted in the discovery, not of that Reality, but of substitutional images of it. All which implies that, in the strength of merely his natural temporal intelligence, man can find and know nothing more in this world than shadows, images and phenomenal forms of realities which abide eternally and noumenally in the world of Spirit to which his temporal faculties are at present closed. Yet there remains a way of regaining consciousness of that higher world and life. It is by bringing into function a now dormant and submerged faculty resident at the depth and centre of his being. That dormant faculty is the Vital and Immortal Principle which exists as the central point of the circle of his individuality. As the outward Universe is the externalized projection of an indwelling immanent Deity, so is the outward individual man the externalization and diffusion of an inherent Divine germ, albeit perverted and distorted by personal self-will and desire which have dislocated and shut off his consciousness from his root of being. Recover contact with that central Divine Principle by a voluntary renunciation of the intervening obstructions and inharmonious elements in oneself, and man at once ceases to be merely the rationalized animal he now is and becomes grafted upon a new and Divine life-principle, a sharer of Omniscience and a co-operator with Deity. He recovers the lost and genuine secrets of his own being and has for ever finished with substitutions, shadows and simulacra of Reality. He reaches a point and lives from a centre from which no Master Mason can ever err or will ever again desire to err, for it is the end, object and goal of his existence.
Meanwhile, until actual recovery of that lost secret, man must put up with its substitutions and regard these as sacramental of concealed realities, contact with which will be his great reward if he submits himself to the conditions upon which alone he may discover them. The existence of those realities and the regimen essential to their enjoyment are inculcated by Masonry as they have been by every other initiatory Order of the past, and it is for the fact that this knowledge is and always has been conserved in the world, so as to be ever available for earnest aspirants towards it, that gratitude is expressed to the Grand Master of all for having never left Himself, or the way of return to Him, without witness in this outer world.
As much has been said about the Ceremony of the Third Degree in other papers it is unnecessary here to expound it further. It may be stated, however, that it alone constitutes the Masonic Initiation. The First and Second Degrees are, strictly, but preparatory stages leading up to Initiation; they are not the Initiation itself; they but prescribe the purification of the bodily and mental nature necessary to qualify the candidate for the end which crowns the whole work. To those unacquainted with what is really involved in actual as distinct from merely ceremonial initiation, and who have no notion of what initiation meant in the old schools of Wisdom and still means for those who understand the theory of Regenerative Science, it is well nigh impossible to convey any idea of its process or its results. The modern Mason, however high in titular rank, is as little qualified to understand the subject as the man who has never entered a Lodge. “To become initiated (or perfected),” says an old authority, Plutarch, “involves dying”; not a physical death, but a moral way of dying in which the soul is loosened from the body and the sensitive life, and becoming temporarily detached therefrom is set free to enter the world of Eternal Light and Immortal Being. This, after most drastic preliminary disciplines, was achieved in a state of trance and under the supervision of duly qualified Masters and Adepts who intromitted the candidate’s liberated soul into its own interior principles until it at last reached the Blazing Star or Glory at its own Centre, in the light of which it simultaneously knew itself and God, and realized their unity and the “points of fellowship” between them. Then it was that, from this at once awful and sublime experience, the initiated soul was brought back to its bodily encasement again and “reunited to the companions of its former toils,” to resume its temporal life, but with conscious realization of Life Eternal superadded to its knowledge and its powers. Then only was it entitled to the name of Master Mason. Then only could it exclaim, in the words of another initiate (Empedocles), “Farewell, all earthly allies; henceforth am I no mortal wight, but an immortal angel, ascending up into Divinity and reflecting upon that likeness of it which I have found in myself.”
The “secrets” of Freemasonry and of initiation are largely connected with this process of introversion of the soul to its own Centre, and beyond this brief reference to the subject it is inexpedient here to say more. But in confirmation of what has been indicated it may be useful to refer to the 23rd Psalm, in which the Hebrew Initiates speak of both the supreme experience of being passed through “the valley of the shadow of death” and the preliminary phases of mental preparation for that ordeal. Stripping that familiar psalm of the gorgeous metaphor given it in the beautiful Biblical translation, its real meaning may be paraphrased and explained for Masonic students as follows:–
“The Vital and Immortal Principle within me is my Initiator; and is all-sufficient to lead me to God.
It has made me lie down (in self-discipline and humiliation) in “green pastures” of meditation and mental sustenance.
It has led me beside “still waters” of contemplation (as distinct from the “rough sea of passion” of my natural self).
It is restoring my soul (reintegrating it out of chaos and disorder).
Even when I come to pass through the valley of deadly gloom (my own interior veils of darkness)
I will fear no evil; for It is with me (as a guiding star); Its directions and disciplines will safeguard me.
It provides me with the means of overcoming my inner enemies and weaknesses; It anoints my intelligence with the oil of wisdom; the cup of my mind brims over with new light and consciousness.
The Divine Love and Truth, which I shall find face to face at my centre, will be a conscious presence to me all the days of my temporal life; and thereafter I shall dwell in a “house of the Lord” (a glorified spiritual body) for ever.”
The Third Degree is completed in, and can only be more fully expounded by reference to, the Holy Royal Arch Ceremony. A separate further paper will, therefore, be devoted to that Ceremony.
THE MASONIC APRON
From what has been said in these pages the full significance of the Apron will now be perceived and may be summarized thus:–
1. The Apron is the symbol of the corporeal vesture and condition of the soul (not so much of the temporal physical body, as of its permanent invisible corporeity which will survive the death of the mortal part).
2. The soul fabricates its own body or “apron” by its own desires and thoughts (see Genesis III, 7, “they made themselves aprons”) and as these are pure or impure so will that body be correspondingly transparent and white, or dense and opaque.
3. The investiture of the candidate with the Apron in each Degree by the Senior Warden as the Master’s delegate for that purpose is meant to inculcate this truth; for the Senior Warden represents the soul which, in accordance with its own spirituality, automatically clothes itself with its own self-made vesture in a way that marks its own progress or regress.
4. The unadorned white Apron of the First Degree indicates the purity of soul contemplated as being attained in that Degree.
5. The pale blue rosettes added to the Apron in the Second Degree indicate that progress is being made in the science of regeneration and that the candidate’s spirituality is beginning to develop and bud through. Blue, the colour of the sky, is traditionally associated with devotion to spiritual concerns.
6. In the Third Degree still further progress is emblematized by the increased blue adornments of the Apron, as also by its silver tassels and the silver serpent used to fasten the apron-strings. In the First and Second Degrees no metal has appeared upon the Apron. The candidate has been theoretically divesting himself of all base metals and transmuting them into spiritual riches. With Mastership he has attained an influx of those riches under the emblem of the tassels of silver, a colourless precious metal always associated with the soul, as gold by reason of its supreme value and warm colour is associated with Spirit. The silver serpent is the emblem of Divine Wisdom knitting the soul’s new-made vesture together.
7. The pale blue and silver of the Master Mason’s Apron become intensified in the deep blue and gold ornamentation worn by the Grand Lodge Officers, who in theory have evolved to still deeper spirituality and transmuted themselves from silver into fine gold. “The king’s daughter (the soul) is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold,” i.e., wrought or fabricated by her own spiritual energies.
A PRAYER AT LODGE CLOSING
O Sovereign and Most Worshipful of all Masters, who, in Thy infinite love and wisdom, hast devised our Order as a means to draw Thy children nearer Thee, and hast so ordained its Officers that they are emblems of Thy sevenfold power;
Be Thou unto us an Outer Guard, and defend us from the perils that beset us when we turn from that which is without to that which is within;
Be Thou unto us an Inner Guard, and preserve our souls that desire to pass within the portal of Thy holy mysteries;
Be unto us the Younger Deacon, and teach our wayward feet the true and certain steps upon the path that leads to Thee: Be Thou also the Elder Deacon, and guide us up the steep and winding stairway to Thy throne;
Be unto us the Lesser Warden, and in the meridian sunlight of our understanding speak to us in sacraments that shall declare the splendors of Thy unmanifested light;
Be Thou also unto us the Greater Warden, and in the awful hour of disappearing light, when vision fails and thought has no more strength, be with us still, revealing to us, as we may bear them, the hidden mysteries of Thy shadow;
And so, through light and darkness, raise us, Great Master, till we are made one with Thee, in the unspeakable glory of Thy presence in the East.
So mote it be.