To initiate a man is to make him a Mason, to admit him to the Craft according to the rite, and to make him a Brother among Masons. The word “initiate” was probably not used by the masons before 1728, although it is used in religious writings. The word has a Latin origin and means “to begin” or a “beginning”. “Candidate” is also from Latin origin and means “clothed in white”. The French calls the uninitiated “profane”, one who is outside the Temple.
In England, before Initiation start, all the candidates must sign a declaration stating their personal willingness to join the Craft. The wording of the declaration has not much changed since the eighteenth century. The candidate must be a man of good reputation and integrity. He must be a free man, aged over 21 and of good reputation. He must come to the Craft of his free will, and to ask to be admitted to the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry. He must declare that he put his trust in God, and be properly presented by his sponsors to the Lodge whose members must accept his candidacy or not. Men of illegitimate birth were not normally accepted in the Craft but the rule is changing fast. Operative Freemasonry, as the Old mysteries, did not accept people with a physical handicap as apprentices or candidates; initially Freemasonry followed the same practice, but this rule too is now applied in a relaxed way as long as the handicap does not “render the candidate incapable to learn the art”.
The rules of the English Grand Lodge provide that the candidate must give his name, age, profession, private and business addresses as well as the names of his proposer and seconder to allow the members to form their opinion on his acceptability as a Brother. Initiation fees are requested from all candidates. The decision to accept or not a candidate for Initiation or for joining is taken by ballots. A candidate rejected is said to be “blackballed”; this derives from the old custom to hold the ballot with white and black balls, white to approve, black to reject. Generally, in England, the candidate is rejected if three black balls are found. In many of the old English Lodges a candidate had to be separately proposed, seconded, and elected to each of the superior degrees.
The preparation of the candidate is the responsibility of the Tyler and is done following the tradition, although some of the details are not understood anymore to day. In the old mystery schools, as much care, if not more, was put in the preparation than in the Initiation ceremony. There is some evidences that there is a strong Jewish influence on the Masonic preparation to Initiation. As the Talmud says: “no man shall go in the Temple with his staff, nor with his shoes on his feet, nor with his outer garment, nor with money tied up in his purse”, all rules that have been taken over in the Masonic ritual. At all time the Candidates for the mysteries have been blindfolded, and this procedure too is used in Freemasonry, the hoodwink being not only an emblem of secrecy, but of the darkness that disappears in the light of initiation.
It is probable that the Candidate’s slipshod shoe came into Masonry from folklore and, symbolically, meant to avert danger from him. It must be assumed that it is either the danger of the Candidate violating his obligation, or of the danger of his failing to be “born again”. It is also associated with two Jewish traditions: the slipshod condition is a gesture of reverence and the confirmation of a covenant. Moreover, it is known that in the antiquity people worshipped their gods barefooted, that noble Romans went also barefoot in special state occasions, that sorceresses exerted their art with naked feet, that people worshipped Isis barefooted, etc. From Ruth iv, 7-9 we learn that to unloose one shoe and to give it to another person was a gesture of sincerity, of honest intention, a confirmation of a contract made between the two parties. In summary, the Candidate’s slipshod condition is a token of fealty or fidelity.
The Cable Tow had a place in the ancient mysteries but its symbolic meaning has been lost. It could be that in some of the ancient mysteries the cable tow was the means by which the Candidate was led, symbolically, in a state of bondage through the ceremony. It could also be an indication of the Candidate’s submission to the will of the Master and his lodge. It is the symbol of captivity, serfdom, and slavery. Conquerors up to the medieval days obliged the defeated leaders to come before them wearing a rope around their necks. The cable tow seems to be in contradiction with the fact that the Candidate should be a free man, although it only means here a bondage to a state of ignorance. In some lodge the cable tow is removed and thrown away before the Candidate takes the Obligation. There could also be a connection between a cable town around the neck and the taking of a solemn oath.
The knock, or series of knocks, on the outer door of the lodge is an alarm, an indication that somebody wants to enter. The Masonic symbolical explanation of the necessity to knock three times states that there are three obstructions and three doors (one real and two symbolical) to be negotiated by the Candidate. There are three distinct knocks to obtain admission, and three distinct knocks to pass each obstruction.
The reception given to the Candidate when entering the lodge is similar to that received by all candidates to initiation during the past thousand years. It means to impress on him the seriousness of the step that he intend to take, and of all the responsibility involved in guarding the secrets that will be entrusted to him. It emphasises the difficulty of entrance, and its danger if admission has been improperly achieved. By circumambulating (walking around) three times the lodge the Candidate is ceremoniously, but effectively, presented to the Brethren. This is a very old religious rite and is done walking sunwise.
In every mystery, the candidate is required to take the oath to keep secret what will now be communicated to him. In medieval days the Craft apprentice took an oath to conceal and keep secret what will be communicated to him. The manner to do it changed with time. In the old days the right hand was lifted up, or it was put on the Scriptures, or other sacred object. The oath must be taken “without any manner of equivocation or mental reservation”. To day the speculative Apprentice takes an Obligation, the non-respect of which implies, in theory, severe penalties. The two are not the same. An oath is a solemn appeal to God in support of the truth of a declaration, and in witness that a promise will be kept. An Obligation is a binding agreement. Freemasonry is not a secret society but it is a society that has secret modes of recognition between its members. The candidate is sworn to secrecy and the Obligation seals his lips. Freemasonry makes no secrecy of the great principles it teaches; the names of its members and officials, as well as the times and places of the meetings, are of public knowledge, and it publishes its Constitutions.
Calling each other Brother, the Freemasons are following old guild and old operative as well as biblical customs. This practice is recorded in the Old MS. Charges of the English operative masons. The words Brotherhood and Fraternity have the same Greek origin (“phrater” or brother), the first through the Saxon language, and the other from Latin. Brother, in the Masonic sense, means people who have a community of nature, who are equals, and who have an affinity for one another. By their initiation Freemasons have become brothers of Hiram Abif, have been given special ways of recognition, and have been taught the same philosophy.