The Meaning Of Masonry     

  by W.L. Wilmshurst  

Chapter 3

" There is no darkness but ignorance." (Shakespeare). " Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, and defend us from all perils and dangers of this night." (Anglican Liturgy).

" 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 pe rceptive 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 h as 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 of 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."



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