The Opening of the Second Degree presupposes an ability to open the inner nature and consciousness to a more advanced stage. The beginner, in theory, is supposed to undergo a long period of learning, of discipline, and self-preparation. The candidate wanting to reach the Fellow-Craft stage must also succeed many tests. The opening may be again the result of the personal work of an individual Mason or of the collective work in an assembly of Fellow-Craft or more advanced Brethren ready help an Apprentice to reach Fellow-Craft rang.
The title admitting a qualified Apprentice to a Fellow-Craft Lodge has an important significance, even if it is not always known. It denotes “in plenty” and is illustrated by an “ear of corn near to a fall of water”. This is a description of the candidate and of his spiritual condition. He is an ear of corn planted near, and nourished by, a fall of water. His spiritual growth is symbolised by the ripening corn resulting from the nourishing by the fall of heavenly water on his inner nature.
The work required for the Apprentice Degree allows the candidate to gain purity and control of his nature, hiss appetites, and affections. It is symbolised by transforming the rough ashlar, or building material as dug from the quarry, into the required shape for building purposes. The “quarry” is the raw material, or group-soul of humanity, from, which are extracted individual existence in this world, where he is supposed to transform himself into the perfected human soul required by the Great Architect to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Apprentice-work being finished, the next stage is the development and control of the intellectual nature. The investigation of the “hidden paths of nature”, that is the human psychological nature, science, and the gnosis of self-knowledge, which, pushed to its limit, “leads to the throne of God Himself”. It also reveals the ultimate secrets of his own nature and the basic principles of intellectual, as distinct from moral, truths. The candidate is now “permitted to extend his researches” into these hidden paths. However, there are some possible dangers to the mental health of the candidate if it tries to do it before the purification of the first stage has not been done. Permission is not given before this preliminary task has been done and tested.
The work of the Second degree is purely philosophical, implying deep psychological self-analysis, experience of unusual phenomena, as the psychic faculties of the soul begin to unfold and the apprehension of abstract Truth (described as mathematics) improves. This work is above the capability of the average modern Mason even if, in the Mysteries of the past, the Mathesis or mental discipline was a normal feature that produced the great authors of Greek philosophy. To day this Degree is found to be dull and unattractive, since psychic experience and intellectual principles cannot be made spectacular and, if for this reason only, they do not attract the interest on modern man.
The Ritual tells us that our ancient Brethren of this Degree met in the porchway of King Solomon’s Temple. In clear language this means that natural philosophy is the porchway to the attainment of Divine wisdom, that the study of man leads to the knowledge of God by revealing to him the ultimate divinity at the base of human nature. This study, or self-analysis of human nature, Plato called Geometry and earth measuring. It is also the probing, sounding and determining the limits, proportions and potentialities of our organism in its physical and psychical aspects. The ordinary natural consciousness is directed outwards, perceives only outwards objects, and thinks only of an outward Deity separate and away from us. In other words it can only cognise shadows, images, and illusions. The science of the Mysteries aims to reverse this process. As the doors of the Lodge have been closed to outsiders so the perception of outwards images, the desire for external things and welfare must be stopped, and consciousness and aspirations must be turned inward. The Vital and Immortal Principle, the Kingdom of Heaven, is within us, not outside. Like the prodigal son of the parable, man has been wandering far away and fallen down a winding staircase to the lower world, and to an imperfect form of existence. Now it is time for man to turn back towards the inward world that will lead him to the Centre of Life.
Prior purification of man’s mind is essential to his rising the winding staircase of the Second Degree to a purer state of being, and to higher consciousness that he has been used to. To be revealed “the secrets of nature the principles of intellectual truth”, as the Second Degree intends and promises, his mentality must be cleared of mundane interests and of the distraction of carnal passion. To “contemplate his own intellectual faculties and trace them from their development” until they are found to “lead to the Throne of God” and be rooted in Deity. Man must discard his former thought-habits, prejudice, and preconception, and to be prepared to receive humbly the light of Divine Wisdom.
It is here, in the Second Degree, that the candidate discovers the Divine Principle at the centre of our organism. It is also here where he realises that the sign of the Degree is equivalent to a prayer, that the light of that exalted state may “stand still” and persist in us until we are free of all our “enemies” and obstacles to our union with that principle. The image of our ancient brethren receiving their wages at the porchway of the Temple of Wisdom is an allusion to an experience common to all those who go through the Fellow-Craft stage of development. Old scores due by him to his brethren must be paid off, old wrongs righted, and he must receive the wages of old sins attributed to him. The candidate knows that he is entitled to these wages, he receives them without scruples or diffidence, and he also accepts to expiate old offences. All of us are debtors to some one for our situation in life and we must repaid what we own to humanity in order to settle our account with eternal Justice.