A higher Masonry consciousness is growing in the Craft. Many members are realising that much more than meet the eye and the ear lies below the surface of the doctrine and symbols. They are not taking things for granted and more facts are perceived and acquire prominence and significance; in other words they realise that there is something deeper that a code of morality that all men, Masons or not, are expected to follow anyway. They come to realise that the growth of the modern speculative Masonry is due to something more than the private associations that were typical of the operative builders’ trade. They recognise that there is no virtue, or interest, in continuing to imitate the customs of the old operative Masons, or on maintaining such a complex organisation to teach its members the elementary symbolism of a few building tools, and to perform social functions, important as they can be. It is obvious that the Third Degree, and all the symbolic teaching that goes with it, has never had any connection with the trade of the operative masons. The social side of Masonry, and the charity that goes with it, is a valuable asset to the Craft. However other organisations outside Freemasonry are doing it and very well too. A secret society is not necessary to promote such ends that are only supplemental to the real purpose of the Craft. The object of the Order is to initiate its members into certain secrets and mysteries; if it only put the members through some formal ceremonies, it is not doing its main tasks.
The progress in the Craft of every member is by necessity gradual, and is done in successive stages; in the same way, the understanding of the Masonic system and doctrine can only be gradual. Every member admitted to the Order enters in a state of darkness and ignorance of the Masonic doctrine and, later on, he is gradually brought to light and knowledge. It is up to each member to develop his character and understanding through learning and practise so he becomes a finished and perfect cube.
The understanding of the Masonic doctrine should follow a well-defined path. As its meaning is not obvious, the member’s mind must be properly prepared, and their understanding carefully trained to be able to participate in the real secrets and mysteries of Masonry. Watching the external ceremonial, and memorising the ritual and the lectures, is not enough. The first stage of what Masonry involves is only concerned with the surface-value of the doctrine, and with a first contact with the literal side of the knowledge that is given to all new members entering the Craft. Many Masons do not go further, and they believe that the Craft is a social, semi-secret, semi-public community to which it is socially important to belong. The goal of these Masons is to attain high office, and to wear as many decorations as possible. They take a literal, superficial and historical view of the doctrine, and they believe that the ability to perform the ceremonial work with dignity and effectiveness, the perfect knowledge of the instruction catechisms, and the participation in the communal meal is the height of Masonic proficiency.
All new Masons go through this phase since they know nothing more, and cannot be taught anything better yet. In the past, Masonry rarely went any further. Lodges were held in taverns with a complete lack of reverence and dignity. At the present time, fortunately, things have changed for the better. The Craft is well governed by its higher authorities, and each Lodge has a proper temple and conducts their ceremonies properly and in a solemn way. But this improvement in external appearance is far from enough. The Order must not settle in a state of self-satisfaction with its social privileges and its friendly meetings. On the opposite, the members must be fully aware to the great significance of the Craft’s internal purposes. In its broad and more vital doctrine, Masonry is above all a philosophy and a religious system expressed in dramatic ceremonial. It is a system intended to supply answers to the three questions asked more often by every thinking man, and to which every religion and philosophy try to answer: What am I? Where do I come from? Where do I go? Most of us are looking for answers to these questions. From the answers we receive from Masonry, or from any religion, we build our philosophy of life and the rules of conduct by which we regulate our life. The Masonic candidate is presumed to enter the Order in search of answer to these three questions, answers that he has not found elsewhere. If his candidature is based on any other motivations that a desire for knowledge upon these problems that are vital to his peace, and by a sincere wish to render himself, in this way, serviceable to his fellow men, then he will never be a good Mason, and his candidature should be rejected.
Nobody should be asked to join the Craft, the postulant alone should make the request. The first phase of his preparation must be to fill the need for help coming from his own heart and, in theory, in this case only should the door to the Mysteries opened on a candidate. Later on, when his symbolical progress allows it, the candidate learns from his superior brethren that they too, like him, are in search of something that is lost, but that they hope to find. It is at that stage that the motive of this and other quests, as well as a glimpse to the real purpose of Masonry, becomes clearer. Masonry is the quest about something that has been lost, but what has been lost? Other questions are implicit. Why should man require any religion or philosophy? What is the motive and the reason for the existence of a Masonic Order, and of any other Order of initiation both in the past and now? Why should they exist at all? Most man in their moments of reflection realises that some parts of their own being are lost; that they are conscious of their moral imperfection, ignorance and restricted knowledge about themselves and their surroundings. In other words, the true candidate is aware of some deficiencies in his constitution that, if they were found, would satisfy his need for information, completeness and perfection, and would “lead him from darkness to light”, and from ignorance to knowledge. This is too obvious, and the answer to it is to be found in the doctrine that forms the philosophical basis of all religions and all the schools of Mysteries and initiation of the antiquity. In the human history this has been taught in many ways, using various parables, allegories, myths and legends. The meaning of all this is that humanity has fallen away from its original parent-source and place, that man has been displaced from the centre of life to its periphery, and that in this present world he has undergone a period of restriction, of ignorance, of discipline and experience that in the end will bring him back at the centre from where he came, and to which he belongs. “Paradise Lost” is also the theme of Masonry as it was to all the ancient systems of Mysteries. The Masonic doctrine focuses and emphasises the importance of this loss. Beyond the allegory of the construction of a Temple that was never finished due to a disaster, Masonry implies that humanity is the real temple, of which we are the builders and the materials of what was expected to be a perfect structure. However, due to some unhappy circumstances, we are living in this world where the real and secret of our nature are momentarily lost to us, where the full powers of the soul of man are curtailed by the limitations of physical life, and where, during our apprenticeship of probation and discipline, we have to live with substituted knowledge derived from our limited and fallible senses.
Masonry emphasises this truth but it also indicates the way to regain what has been lost. It promises that with divine assistance, but also through work, the realities that we do not perceive clearly now will become clearer and that, through patience and perseverance, worthy man will be able to participate in them. This is part of the Craft ceremonial. The East of the Lodge is the symbolic centre, the source of all light, and the place of the throne of the Master of all life. The West, the place of the disappearing sun, is the world of imperfection and darkness from which the divine light is withdrawn and only shine by reflection. The ceremonies through which all candidates must pass are symbolic of the progress that every man, member of the Craft or not, must make on the way to purification and improvement until, at last, he lies dead to his present natural self, and then is raised into perfect union with the Lord of life and glory.
In this sense Masonry becomes a working philosophy for those who join the Craft. It supplies an answer to those who enquire into the purpose and destiny of human life. It is a mean to initiate into reliable knowledge those men who feel that they lack such knowledge. It is for this reason that Masonry asserts that it contains “many and invaluable secrets”. These are not, of course, the formal and symbolic signs, tokens, and words communicated to the candidates. They are those secrets that we keep locked up in our hearts, secrets of the deep and hidden things of the soul, about which we do not often talk or communicate. Masons, on the opposite, can talk about these secrets with their brethren who share with them an interest in the deeper problems and mysteries of life.
Masonry is a modern version of the great systems of initiation that have always existed in the entire world and at all times. The reason of their existence has always been that man is naturally imperfect, that some of them become aware of a sense of loss and deprivation, and feel the need of learning how to repair that loss. The great religions are teaching, in their own ways, the same truths as the Mystery systems. Their teaching has always been twofold. They all preach an external, elementary, popular doctrine to the masses that are not sufficiently prepared for any other teaching. On the other hand there is an interior, more advanced doctrine, a more secret knowledge, which is reserved for the initiated. Temples of initiation have always existed in the antiquity for those who wanted to dedicate themselves to a long discipline of body and mind in view to acquire a secret knowledge and to develop their spiritual faculties. Although these schools of the Mysteries have disappeared from the public view since a long time, they, or at least their doctrines, still exist to day. They now have to cancel their existence because the conventional Church, as well as the materialistic and commercial world, are their prime enemies, but some initiates are still active. The present system of speculative Masonry is the heir of these schools of Mysteries, although it is not an image of these much larger and older organisations. The Masonic rituals and doctrine are part of a secret doctrine and a secret process that have always existed for the benefit of their members. The founders of the speculative Masonry, 250 years ago, incorporated in the Craft the elementary rites and symbols of the mediaeval guilds of stone-masons, and transformed them in a religious and philosophical doctrine. On the base of the trade that deals with stones and bricks, the founders of Masonry created a doctrine that promotes soul building and, apart for retaining certain analogies with the art of the stone masons, the new doctrine is spiritual, religious, and philosophical.
The transformation can be best seen is the incorporation of the central legend and traditional history in the Third Degree. That legend has, of course, no relation with the operative building trade. No stone building, no temple, or other construction has remained unfinished because the architect died, as it is the case with the Temple Hiram Abif was building. The principles of Architecture, and the secrets of the building trade, have never been lost. They are well known, and it is unbelievable that they could be lost and that, as a result, the construction of a building could not be finished. We know how to construct buildings to day, and so did the old Hebrews. We have to look behind the literal story to see the allegory contained in the legend, and to understand its meaning. That which is lost is to be found within the centre. If we ask for a definition of the Centre, most Masons will recite the official, enigmatic, and of little use Masonic answer, that is, that the Centre is the point within a circle that is equidistant of every points of the circumference. However the Circle and the Circumference are not defined and there are no such things as centres or circles in relation to building or Architecture. If you ask again our ordinary Mason, “Why with the Centre”, he can only gives the following elusive, perplexing, and useless answer “Because that is a point from which a Master Mason cannot err”. This elusiveness, these enigmas, that unclear language are intended to tell us that there is something deeper that the words convey. If a Mason fails to find, to realise, and to act upon the intention of what is hidden behind the external appearance of the rituals, then he does not understand the Masonic doctrine. Such a Mason is not properly initiated, passed, and raised in the higher sense of these words, although he has gone through all the formal ceremonies required by the rite.
All great religions and initiatory systems teach their doctrine in the form of myth, legend, or allegory. Or, as others says, “the philosophers, in order not to expose their mysteries to vulgar eyes, cancel their tenets and principles under hieroglyphic figures”, and the traditional Masonic history is one of these figures. The literally minded does not see behind the letter of the allegory, whereas the truly initiated mind discerns the spiritual value of the allegory. In part the purpose of all initiation was, and still is, to educate the mind to penetrate the outward shell of all phenomena. The value of initiation is based on how the inward truths are allowed to influence the thought and life of the initiated, and to develop in them still deeper powers of consciousness.
The legend of the third degree, the base of the Masonic doctrine, was introduced by some advanced minds whose knowledge came from other and cancelled sources. The legend is based on a very old one that existed in various forms before being integrated within modern Masonry. The story about the building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem is used to tell the truth known as the Fall of Man. The great King Solomon wanted to construct a superb structure. Another king supplied the building materials, a skilful architect was commissioned to put these together according to a plan, and many Craftsmen and labourers were hired to do the job. During the construction, an evil conspiracy resulted in the death of the Architect preventing the completion of the building that is still not finished to day.
It is obvious that this legend does not refer to any historical building being built in Jerusalem. As the Bible tells us, Solomon’s Temple was first completed, then destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again by the Romans. There is no reference in the Bible to a conspiracy, or to the death of Hiram Abif. On the contrary the Bible says that Hiram completed the Temple. It is clear then that we must keep the two stories separate and to recognise that the Masonic story deals with something different from the biblical story. Hands cannot build the Masonic Temple that is not yet finish. This temple is purely symbolic, it is the temple of the collective body of humanity of which the great initiate, St Paul said “Know you not that you are the temple of God”. The three great Master-builders, Solomon and the two Hiram, are a triad similar to the Holy Trinity of the Christian religion. Hiram Abif is the chief architect, he “by whom all things were made” and, according to St Paul who used Masonic language, “in whom the whole building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple of the Lord”. The material of this mystical temple was the souls of men, at once living stone, Craftsmen, and collaborators with the divine purpose.
Something went wrong during the construction that was interrupted. This was the Fall of Man, the conspiracy of the Craftsmen responsible of an offence similar to that made by Adam and Eve who ate from the Tree of Knowledge, whereas they had been forbidden “not to attempt to extort the secrets of a superior degree” which they had not reached. Hiram in Hebrew means “Guru”, that is “teacher of supreme knowledge”, divine light, and wisdom and this knowledge is only for the perfected man. Hiram said that this knowledge was ” known to but three in the world”, that is by the components of the Divine Trinity. With patience and perseverance every Mason, every child of the creator, “may in due time become entitled to a participation in “. In the same way that Adam and Eve were expulsed from paradise after attempting to obtain illicit knowledge, the attempt by the conspirators to extort from Hiram the Master’s secrets delayed the construction of the temple until the lost and genuine secrets of our nature and of the divine purpose in us are restored by God. The tragedy of Hiram Abif is not so much the record of his murder, but it is a parable of cosmic and universal loss, an allegory of the destruction of a divine scheme. Behind the murder of Hiram is hidden the cutting of us from the faculty of enlightened wisdom. As a result the humanity is now in a world of imperfect knowledge, of limited faculties and happiness, of perpetual toil, of death, bitterness and pain. The temple of human nature is unfinished, and we do not know how to complete it. There are no plans and designs to regulate the disorders of individual and social life. The absence of clear and guiding principles in the world is a sign of the absence of this Supreme Wisdom, which is personified by Hiram. We all long for that light and wisdom that became lost to us. We seek it in pleasure, in work, in all our occupations, in intellectual pursuits, in religion, in Masonry and those who search the more are also those who become more conscious of the loss.
With the murder of Hiram Abif the light and perfect knowledge is lost for humanity, but the Divine Providence still sends us a glimmering light in the East. In this dark world we are left with our five senses and our rational faculties, and these provide us with the substituted secrets until we regain the genuine ones.
We are told that the Wisdom of the Most High, personified by King Solomon, ordered Hiram Abif to be interred outside the Holy City, “in a grave from the centre 3 feet between North and South, 3 feet between East and West, and 5 feet or more perpendicular”. From these information it is impossible to find where Hiram is buried. According to the Masonic interpretation, the grave of Hiram is within all of us, at the centre of ourselves, deeper than any knife or any investigation can reach. There lies buried the “vital and immortal principle”, the “glimmering ray” that link us to the Divine Centre of all life that is always present however evil or imperfect we are. We all are the grave of the Master, and the lost guiding light is buried at the centre of ourselves. As high as our hand can reach upward or downward from the centre of our body -that is 3 feet between North and South-, as far as we can reach to the right and to the left of our body -that is 3 feet between East and West- and 5 feet or more perpendicular – the height of the human body-, these are the indications by which our cryptic ritual describes the tomb of Hiram Abif at the centre of ourselves. He is buried outside the Holy City of Jerusalem, as the descendants of Adam and Eve have been placed outside the paradise, because “nothing unclean can enter into the holy place” that is known as the Kingdom of Heaven.
We still are not told what is this “Centre” that, if used correctly, can leads us to regain the secret of our lost nature. As the Divine Life and Will are the centre of the universe that they also control, and as the sun is the centre, the life-giver and controller of our solar system, so at the secret centre of every human being there is a vital, immortal principle, the spirit and the spiritual will of man. By using this faculty, when we have found it, we can never err. It is a point within a circle of our own nature, and since we live in the physical world, the circle of our existence is bounded by two parallel lines: “one representing Moses and the other King Solomon”, or law (the divine rule governing the universe) and wisdom (the divine “wisdom and mercy that is always with man”). As a result the Mason who keep himself within these limits cannot err.
Masonry can then be described as a system of religious philosophy that gives us a doctrine of the universe and of our place in it. It tells us where we come from and where we will return. The first purpose is to show that man has fallen away from the high and holy centre to the circumference where we live now. It also indicates that those who want can regain the centre by finding the centre in themselves for, since Deity is a centre whose centre is everywhere, it follows that a divine centre, or better a “vital and immortal principle”, exists within ourselves. If we develop it we may hope to regain our lost and primal state. The second purpose of the Craft doctrine is to show, in the teaching of the three degrees, the way to find that centre within us. The Christian premise, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you” is very similar to the Masonic doctrine of the centre. The Masonic teaching aims to give every Brethren the knowledge required to “open the Lodge upon their internal centre”, and to find the “imprisoned splendour” hidden in every man that, once revealed, brings peace and salvation. For the liberation of this imprisoned centre, the Craft doctrine teaches a step by step process. There must be purity of thought and purpose, and this is taught in the first degree. The postulants, at each of the three degrees, enter the Lodge dressed in white, a sign of purity of thought, body, soul, and spirit. They leave their money and metals behind them as the gross things of this world are useless in the world that lies within. If a postulant does not reach the degree of purity of thought and perfection, he must renounce to go any further, try again from the beginning or leave the Craft, as his initiation has not succeeded.
A postulant Freemason must have a spirit of universal sympathy, he must be generous with the poor and distressed, but this does not cover the entire meaning of charity as defined in the doctrine. By doing charity, as St Paul defined it, a Mason “attain the summit of his profession”. Brotherhood, as the Masons understand the term, is much larger that what it means to members of other associations. Brotherhood has a deeper sense that means that a Freemason feels himself not only with his Brethren, but also with all people of the world, and with all things that are in it. This is similar to what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he called the sun, the wind, the animals, and the birds his brothers, and the moon and the sea his sisters. In this sense, all components created by the Great Architect for the restoration of the Temple of Creation, and its dedication to His service, are part of the common life, and all worthy of a common love from our part.
In the second degree the postulant is inculcated the analysis and cultivation of the mental and rational faculties, the study of the secrets of the marvellous, complex, psychical nature of man, and the relation of these with the higher and spiritual part of him. All these he may learn to trace “even to the Throne of God himself”, with which he relates at the root of his being. These studies are described as “serious, solemn, and awful”. As the initiates know, probing into the depths of human nature and self-knowledge, the hidden nature of man can be deserting and should be reserved to the “properly prepared”. The initiate who attempts this probing can never turn back on what he has learned without committing moral suicide since he can never be again the same person he was before he saw, even very partially, the hidden mysteries of life. In the same way that an Angel stood with a flaming sword at the entrance of Eden to protect the Tree of Life, a non-initiated will be prevented to reach the deep secrets of the Centre by some invisible forces guarding the door to higher knowledge. It is better, for the non-initiated, to remain ignorant of the deep secrets that to try to force their way into it.
Now the aspirant is ready to learn the great truth that is part of the third degree, so that he will be raised to perfection and regain what he has lost. He can only do it by self-abnegation, and by dying to all that is precious and desirable to the non-initiates. The third degree is an exposition in dramatic ceremonial of the text “Who so would save his life must loose it”. Beneath the allegory of the death of the Master is expressed the universal truth that mystical death must precede mystical rebirth. “Know ye not that ye must be born again?” “Unless a grain of corn fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; if it die it bringeth forth much fruit”. It is at that point that all Master Masons can be raised from a figurative death to a regenerated state, and to the full stature of human nature.
The path to true initiation into fullness of life by way of a figurative death is called the narrow way in the Scriptures; not many people find it. It is the narrow path between the pillars, for Boaz and Jachin stand at the entrance of every Masonic Temple, and between them the Masons pass every time they enter the Lodge. The pillars are very important in the ritual, even if most Masons know little about them. The pillars have always been important in the temples of all religions and of all systems of initiation, including the Craft. In most Christian churches there are two pillars, or two towers, at the western entrance. Non-Masons enter their temples between two pillars built at the western entrance, from which one has a full view of the high altar; in the Masonic temples the altar is replaced by the throne located in the East. This path from the western entrance to the altar, or the throne located at the East, is called the straight path of life. Many centuries before the Bible was written and the Solomon Temple was built, the two pillars were already used in the temples of the Mysteries in Egypt. They stood for what is known in the eastern philosophy as the “pairs of opposite”. Everything in nature has an opposite, and the two combined produce a metaphysical third, which is their synthesis and perfect balance. As examples we can think of good and evil, light and darkness (one of the pillars was always white and the other black), active and passive, positive and negative, yes and no, outside and inside, man and woman, … Neither of these is complete alone but, taken together, they form stability as morning and evening unite to form a complete day. Man alone is considered imperfect; he get married to give force to both himself and his wife and to live in their common house. The pillars are the image of perfect integrity of body and soul, the base for spiritual perfection. According to the ancient philosophy, all created things are made of fire and water. Fire is their spiritual aspect and water their material element; the pillars represent also these universal properties.
All symbols are integrated in man itself. The human person is the true Lodge where the great mysteries are found, and the stone-lodges of the Masons are built and furnished to represent the human organism. The lower part of us is animal and earthy and rests on the earth, while our higher part is spiritual and reaches heaven. These two parts of our personality, the spiritual and the carnal, are always in conflict. The wise man has realised a perfect balance between the two, with his inner self-standing firm against all weakness and temptation. The two pillars may also represent our two legs that are both necessaries to stand firm and well balanced. The path of initiation, which is one of spiritual rebirth, is both arduous and painful. Childbirth is also another great mystery. Every new born child enters this world as if it was a great house of initiation, trial, and discipline; he has to pass through a narrow way, and between the two pillars that support the temple of his or her mother’s body. The act of physical birth has nothing common or unclean, on the opposite, everything in it is sacred and symbolic. The act of physical birth is an image of the mystical rebirth, and of going through a strait and narrow gate in a deeper sense, without which a man shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The regenerated man who has passed, not formally but in vital experience, through the three phases of the Masonic teaching, is now worthy of the title of Master Mason. He can now participate in the building of the Temple that is not made with hands, but out of the souls of just men made perfect. Only the foundations of this construction are visible in this world but the Craft contemplates other planes of life than this in that we live. In the same way that the Craft organisation has its higher assemblies and councils (Provincial and Grand Lodges) to manage the Lodges of common Craftsmen, the universal structure has grades of higher life, hierarchies of celestial beings working in the higher stories of the building to which we have no present access. Also, as in our world the Craft is headed by a Grand Master, so too the cosmic system is presided by the Great Architect and Most Worshipful Grand Master whose officers are holy Angels.
We can also say that the world at large is a great Lodge and a place of initiation, of which the Masonic Lodges are the images. Moreover Mother-Earth is also the Mother-Lodge of all of us; souls are descending into it all the time while other souls are leaving it at the request of a great unseen Warden of life and death who send them here to work, and call them back to rest. Here again there is a certain analogy in the sense that, after a Lodge meeting, there is generally a festive meal, and after our work in this world there is some rest in heaven. The festive meal following the Lodge meeting has nothing to do with the Masonic system, although it is useful to bring the participants closer to each other; in the same way the after-life has no direct connection with us, since our sphere of activity are within this world. During these meals the participants always make a toast to “the King and to the Craft” to emphasise that they are loyal subjects of the local Higher Authority, and Brethren of all the members of the Masonic Craft in the world. On the same occasion the thoughts of the participants should also go to a Greater King, and to a larger Craft than the limited and symbolic Masonic fraternity. In doing this the Masons imitate the Great Master of the Christian Mysteries who, after supper, took the cup and gave thanks to the King of Kings and pledged himself to a kind of larger Craft which is humanity. In doing so he directed his disciples to observe a great mystery until his coming back. This is part of the Masonic ritual whose members are directed to use certain substituted secrets until they recover the genuine ones.
In this way Masonry offers, to those capable to appreciate it, a working philosophy and a practical rule of life. It discloses to the members the scheme of the universe, a scheme that was once destroyed, but left to the humanity to restore. It shows the place of man, its purpose, and its destiny in that universe. It is a system of instruction and initiation in the Mysteries of a larger and fuller life that the non-initiated cannot appreciate. Once again, it would be a mistake to accept among the members of the Craft those who are unready or unfit to understand its mysteries beyond its apparent moral, social, and ritual aspect. The doctrine of the Order is a living philosophy, a vital guide to sacred matters and to our ultimate well being, whose secrets, which are “many and invaluable”, are not on its surface, but of the heart. Its eternal mysteries treat of the spirit rather that of the body of man. Those interested in this knowledge should enter the Lodge, not so much the building of the symbolic Craft, but the larger Lodge of life. There, in silence and without tools, Master Masons are participating in the perpetual work of rebuilding the unfinished and invisible Temple of which the stones and timbers are the souls of men. Some men and women are participating in this work although they are not members of the Order but, nevertheless, unconsciously Masons. Those who are “squaring their stone” have their place in the “intended structure” which is “put together with exact nicety” that, although built by human beings, will appear one day as “more like the work of the Great Architect of the Universe than that of human hands”. The Masons, however, have the advantage of an organised system that teaches them the ultimate secret truth, and that guides them in the right direction.(3)