This is a very small essay concerning a very big subject. Volumes have been written upon the presumed connection of Freemasonry with that vague gnosis of the past, called the Ancient Mysteries, but concerning the intimate nature of the teaching imparted to initiates, following upon the ceremonies of reception, of which classic writers have given us some notion, nothing remains to us but widely scattered symbols.
It has been the pleasant life-work of the writer to join together, as best he could, the scattered pieces of this stupendous “cut out” puzzle and reconstitute the ancient fabric in such a manner as would stand the test of scientific examination and deserves to live for the benefit of future generations of men and Masons. These papers have been written as an elementary course designed to arouse interest in a far deeper investigation of the whole subject.
Notwithstanding the designedly universal character of the craft, the externals of Freemasonry possess an altogether human tendency to become reflexes of the communities in which they flourish.
The re-nascent Masonic intellectual activity of the past few years, no more splendid example of which can be cited than the foundation and up-building of the National Masonic Research Society, throws strongly into relief the fact that our American Masonry, has, until quite recently, exerted little effort on other than social and fraternal lines. The wonderful development of Masonic benevolent institutions throughout the United States, has reflected the brotherhood and liberality of Masonic manhood, but it has been accomplished in the presence of an almost total oblivion of what was once the principal reason for the existence of Masonic associations.
This consisted in the enlightenment of those who were found worthy and well qualified to receive deeper insight into the philosophy of existence and hidden historical truths of a nature too disturbing of common acceptances to be spread broadcast among the masses. So, in the absence of fostering interest, American Masonry has been, little by little, so divested of all connection with the pursuit of the deeper Masonic significance, as to have become, on the side of progressive speculation, a pale shadow of the Old World Craft. The true philosophic mission of Masonry, such as was the original intention of the Symbolic Lodge, no less than the Scottish Rite, could scarcely be better expressed, than in the following translation from the Spanish, of a lecture intended for the edification of a foreign Lodge.
“Know, Brother, by that which has already been shewn you and may yet come to your knowledge through the enlightening medium of History, that in the days of antiquity, in India, in Persia, in Egypt and in Greece and Rome, the first initiates in the principles, designed in their purity to serve as the foundation of universal Masonry, especially the sacerdotal and other privileged classes, profiting by the knowledge gained and iniquitously turning awry the straight path of progress in understanding, instead of fulfilling a mission of noble civilization, mounted and grasping the reins of inordinate power, especially throughout the Eastern world, tyrannized over the Nations.
“Initiation, during the ages to which I refer, consisted in the communication of certain philosophical truths, of a Natural order, enabling man to profit by the productive periods of Mother Earth, who is prodigal of her fruits at certain epochs but at others displays herself less liberal, also in the imparting of certain liberal Arts, which gave special advantages to those who exercised them, while at the same time uplifting them spiritually.
“These truths, useful practices and elevating arts, at the cost of terrific struggles, sustained century after century, have finally become the patrimony of all mankind, with exception, perhaps, of the relatively few which, through various circumstances remain beyond the grasp of ordinary humanity.
“In the ages of which I speak, that which was most important, was a correct knowledge of the seasons of the year, with especial reference to the productiveness of the earth, and as there were no industries directed to the multiplication, cultivation and preservation of her gifts, this knowledge constituted the bread of the hungry and the daily food of entire peoples.
“Thus it was that astronomical notions were deified and that the Sun, observed as the genius of good and considered the Creator, in perpetual strife with the principles of Evil, residing in the mists and darkness supplied by the terrors of human imagination, became the origin of mythological allegories, more or less poetical in character, according to the varied spirituality of the races of mankind.”
The following pages accommodate little more than a series of allusions, but it has been sought to render them sufficiently consecutive, to present a comprehensive picture, to the reader, of the ground over which he must travel in search of true Masonic origins and significance.
FRANK C. HIGGINS
New York, October, 1916.