The Meaning Of Masonry     

  by W.L. Wilmshurst  


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 floorwork, (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 a nd 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 tempora l 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 abiciing 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 di scipline 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 tha t 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 o f 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 sub merged 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 author ity, 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 weight, 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 intro version 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 there- after 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.






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