MASONIC INITIATION by W.L. Wilmshurst
INITIATION, REAL AND CEREMONIAL
It may be a surprise to some members of our Craft to be told that our
ceremonial rites, as at present performed, do not constitute or confer real
Initiation at all, in the original sense of admitting a man to the solemn
mysteries of the human soul, and to practical experience in divine science
. The words "Initiation" and "Mysteries" have become so popularized and
debased that they are nowadays used in relation to familiarizing anyone
with the methods of, say, the Stock Exchange, or any other pursuit with
which he is unacquainted.
We profess to confer Initiation, but few Masons know what real Initiation
involves ; very few, one fears, would ' have the wish, the courage, or the
willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to attain it if they did.
Nevertheless our Craft Degrees give us a rough outline and fragmentary
sketch of what the real process entails, and they leave it with ourselves
either to amplify that sketch by our own efforts and to make its
implications such a reality that our whole life becomes transformed in
consequence, or to treat it as so much ceremonial through which we are only
to pass formally, leaving our old imperfect nature not a whit changed by
Now if Masonry, with its solemn prayers, assurances and pledges, means
anything, its true purpose is to promote the spiritual life and development
of its members to a degree far in advance of what it accomplishes at
present. Otherwise it remains but a social formality, while its obligations
and religious references are apt to lapse into profanity or even blasphemy.
To prevent this there is needed a dear grasp of the fundamental purpose of
an initiatory system and the reason for its existence, after which one can
proceed more advantageously to understanding its degrees and symbols in
detail. For without such knowledge and understanding there can be no real
power, no spiritual driving-force, behind our rites; and without that power
ceremonies are but perfunctory, inefficacious formalities. Ceremonies were
instituted originally to give an external form to an internal act; but
where the internal power to perform such acts does not exist, a ceremony
will avail nothing and achieve nothing. You can go on making nominal Masons
by the thousand, but you will only be creating a large organization of men
who remain as unenlightened in the Mysteries as they always were. You
cannot make a single real Initiate, save, as our teaching indicates, by the
help of God and the earnest intelligent co-operation of those qualified to
assist to the Light a fellow-being who, from his heart and not merely from
his lips, desires that Light, humbly confessing himself spiritually poor,
worthless, immersed in darkness, and unable to find that Light elsewhere or
by his own efforts . For real Initiation means an expansion of
consciousness from the human to the divine level .
Every system of real Initiation, whether of the past or present, is divided
into three clear-cut stages ;
since before anyone can pass from his natural darkness to the Light
supernal and discover the Blazing Star or Glory at his own centre, there
are three distinct tasks to be achieved. They are as follows :
first, the turning away from the attractions of the outer world, involving
detachment from the allurements of all that is meant by "money and metals,"
and the purification and subdual of the bodily and sensual tendencies . Not
everyone is able or ripe for doing this ; the natural life maintains a
powerful hold over us, and our ingrained habits are not readily changed .
Yet as long as any of these sensible attractions magnetize and chain us to
physical enjoyment, so long are we "in worldly possessions" and precluded
from attaining real Initiation into what is super-physical . This work of
detachment and self-purification is our Entered Apprentice work, and to it,
as you know, is theoretically allotted the long period of seven years.
The reason for the seven years apprenticeship is based on the septenary
principle operating in Nature . In the course of each seven years the
material particles of the human body become entirely changed and
reconstituted . By a course of pure living, diet, and thought for that
period, therefore, the physical organism is clarified, sublimated and made
a more efficient vehicle for the transmission of the central inner Light.
This is the true reason for asceticism ; the gradual substitution of
refined physical tissues for grosser, impure ones .
Second, the analysis, discipline and obtaining control of one's inner
world,-of the mind, of one's thoughts, one's intellectual and psychic
faculties . This extremely difficult task is that of the Fellowcraft stage,
to which is allotted a further five years, which with the previous seven
make twelve . Because of this, the candidate who had duly completed this
period was said, in the ancient systems, to be mystically "twelve years
old,"-a point to which we will refer again presently.
Third, the "last and greatest trial," lay in the breaking and surrender of
the personal will, the dying down of all sense of personality and
self-hood, so that the petty personal will may become merged in the divine
Universal Will and the illusion of separate independent existence give way
to conscious realization of unity with the one Life that permeates the
Universe . For so only can one be raised from conditions of unreality,
strife and figurative death to a knowledge of ultimate Reality, Peace and
Life Immortal. To attain this is to attain Mastership, involving complete
domination of the lower nature and the development in oneself of a higher
order of life and faculty . And he who thus attained was said to be of the
mystical age of thirty years, of which also I will say more presently.
Now it is these three stages, these three labours or processes, that are
epitomised dramatically in our three Degrees . Every Mason in taking those
Degrees identifies himself ceremonially with what they signify ; he also
solemnly obligates himself to put their significance into actual practice
in his subsequent life. But it is obvious that those labours are highly
arduous tasks demanding the whole time, the persistent thought, and the
concentrated energies, of any one who submits himself to them . They are
not achieved by merely passing through a sequence of ceremonies in three
successive months, at the end of which the candidate, far from being an
Initiate, usually remains the same bewildered, benighted man he was before,
knowing only that he has been hurried through three formal rites entitling
him at last to the august title of Master Mason.
Hence we are justified in asserting that Masonry, as now unintelligently
practised, does not and cannot confer real Initiation ; it merely
discharges certain ceremonial formalities . Nevertheless in those
formalities the earnest Mason, the diligent pursuer of the path of Light,
is given a clear chart of the process of spiritual self-development which
he can follow up by his own subsequent exertions ; and further, he is
directed to a most valuable key for unlocking central truth and discovering
the hidden secrets and mysteries of his own being,-the key of intense
aspiration to find the Light of the centre.
"Does that key hang or lie?" asks one of our lectures . For most Masons it
lies . It lies rusting and unused, because they either do not desire or do
not know how to use it, or have no one competent to show them how to do so
. For some few it hangsyou are taught where-and, though it is of no manner
of metal, those who have found and use it, pursuing their quest with
fervency and zeal, if perhaps at first with shambling feet and uncertain
steps, may assuredly hope to gain admission into the Lodge of their own
soul, and, when the last hoodwink falls that now blinds their vision, to
find themselves there face to face with the Master of that Lodge, and in
possession of every point of fellowship
with Him .
A poet well schooled in the process of real Initiation has thus written of it
Pierce thy heart to find the key.
With thee take
Only what none else would take
Lose, that the lost thou mayst receive ;
Die, for none other way cant live .
When earth and heaven lay down their veil
And that apocalypse turns thee pale,
When thy seeing blindeth thee
To what thy fellow-mortals see,
When their sight to thee is sightless,
Their living, death ; their light, most lightless ;
Seek no more . . . .
Francis Thompson's "Mistress of Vision ."
for it is then, and only then, that true Initiation is achieved, that the
lost Word is found at the deep centre of one's own .heart, and the genuine
but withheld secrets of our immortal being are restored to us in exchange
for the natural knowledge and faculties which, in this world of time and
change, have been given us by Providence as their temporary and mortal