The Meaning Of Masonry     

  by W.L. Wilmshurst  


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 this outer world, was the great unspeakable name of four letters or Tetragrammaton, whilst the cardinal points of space are also four, M of and every manifested thing is a compound of the four basic metaphysical elements called by the ancients fire, water, air and earth. The foursidedness 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 reli able 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 of 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 fulfillment; 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 medieval 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 op posites 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 ground work 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 (I) 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 me ntal 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 of 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 further to the study of every Mason and the pursuit of which Notes on belongs in particular to the Fellow-Craft stage.



Museum Home Page     Phoenixmasonry Home Page

Copyrighted 1999 - 2007   Phoenixmasonry, Inc.      The Fine Print