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G.3.3 Third, or Master-Mason’s Degree

In the Lodge symbolism, the teaching of the First and Second Degrees is carried forward in the Third. The Traditional Tracing-Board of the Third Degree includes a combination of:

i- The chequered floor-work
ii- The two pillars at the porchway of the Temple
iii- The winding staircase
iv- A dormer-window above the porchway

The checker-work is for the High Priest to walk upon and the dormer-window give light to it. The symbol represents the condition of the candidate to Master Mason’s rank. As a high priest in his temple he must have his bodily nature and his desires under control. He must have developed strength of will and character to “walk upon” the checker-work and resists its appeals. He must also be able to climb the winding staircase of his inner nature, to educate his mentality to higher conscious states, and to show that he will be unaffected by seductive perceptions. By this “strength” and his ability to “establish” himself on the higher conscious levels he co-ordinates the two pillars at the porchway of his inner sanctuary, the physical and psychical support of his organism. In this way he acquires the “stability” involved in regeneration and required from him before passing on to “that last and greatest trial” in front of him. “In strength will I establish My house that it may stand firm” with “My house”, meaning Man’s perfect organism.

During all the discipline and work necessary to reach this stability, from the first moment that his vision opened on larger truth, a light illuminated the Apprentice’s path. This light is from the science and philosophy of the Order that is proving his “porchway” to the ultimate sanctuary within. It is also the light from friendly helpers and instructors but, above all, the light from the sun in his own heaven coming through the “dormer-window” of his intelligence that slowly, but surely, guides him to the way of peace.

The last and greatest trial of his fortitude and fidelity, a trial that imposes on him an even more serious obligation of endurance, is facing him without the help of a friendly light. Up to now, with the help of a friendly light, he has progressed through his own natural power and effort. Now he is alone with the Immortal principle to face his last task. He must “loose his life to save it”, he must surrender all that he has felt to be his life up to now in order to find another life of a much higher order.

The Third Degree is characterised by this mystical death. Bodily death is a symbol, as bodily birth that occurred during the First Degree was symbolic for the entrance on the path of regeneration. In all the ancient schools of Mystery, the same type of mystical death has always been an important and prominent part of initiation before the final stage of perfection or regeneration.

The title of admission given to the candidate for the Third Degree is a Hebrew name thought to be from the first metal worker and meaning “in worldly possession”. The name of the first Hebrew who worked metal has no interest for us to day and does not relate to human regeneration. It is again a symbol. Hebrew Biblical names do not represent persons but personification of spiritual principles; and Biblical history does not represent temporal events but eternally true spiritual facts. We know from the First or Entered Apprentice Degree that, in the Masonic sense, “money and metals” represent the attractive power of temporal possessions, earthy belongings, and affections. We also know that one must be free of their desires to attain the Light and the Wisdom that the candidate is supposed to long for. The candidate must not renounce to all his worldly possessions but he must be detached from them in such a way that they do not stand in his way to his finding the way to the Truth and Knowledge.

The hidden meaning becomes clear now. It is the soul of the candidate that is the “metal worker” mentioned before and it means that he has been engaged in trading “metals” in all his physical life. The desire for worldly possessions, for sensations and experience in the outward world of good and evil, brought the soul in this world with its material body.

As the desire for physical experience and material things has brought the soul into material conditions, then eliminating this desire is the first and necessary step to ensure its return to the original state. An excess of material things can lead a man to feel disgust for them and to lead him to search for peace within himself and for “real” possessions. This is the moment of his true “conversion”, when this man is ripe for initiation in the hidden Mysteries of his own being. The First and the Second degrees of Masonry require that the candidate has acquired a deep-rooted discipline in renunciation of external things, and in the search for the desire within him. Even after going through these Degrees he is still not yet fully purified and still retain some desires for worldly possessions. These last remaining elements of “base metal” in him must be eradicated before perfection can be reached. The elimination of all these old materialistic habits is not easy as self-will and pride may remain within him after the main defects have been cast aside. Every traces left of base metal must be eliminated in the process leading to the Third Degree. The text of the opening and closing of the Lodge, in the Third degree, indicates the whole philosophy of the Masonic system. It reminds us that the human soul has originated in the eternal East of the spiritual world, and that he moved from there to the “West”, the material world, at the opposite of the spiritual world. This journey from spiritual to physical conditions is explained by the desire to recover something that has been lost and that man hopes to find through work and with the help of suitable instructions. From this it is obvious that the loss occurred before the soul descended on this earth. It is not yet clear what has been lost but we can assume that it can be described as “the genuine secrets of a Master Mason”. It is the loss of 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 become part of the limited consciousness of the human being. It is well represented by the parable of Adam being expelled from Eden and its Divine Presence to the earth of toil and trouble. The quest after this lost Word is still unsuccessful and only substitutional images of the Reality have been found. This implies that Man, with his temporal intelligence, can only find shadow and images of the Eternal Reality that exists in the world of Spirit, to which he does not have access. It is however possible to regain consciousness of this higher world and life. To do this, a dormant and submerged faculty resident in the depth and centre of the circle of man’s inner being, and known as the Vital and immortal Principle, must be revived. In the same way as the outward Universe is the projection of an inner Deity, so the outward man is the projection of an inherent Divine being, perhaps perverted and distorted by self-will and desire that have closed his consciousness of his inner being. One can renew contact with that central Divine Principle by voluntarily renouncing to worldly desires and pleasures. Man then ceases to be a rational animal to become linked to a new and Divine life-principle. He is then a sharer of Omniscience and a co-operator with Deity, while recovering the lost and genuine secrets of his own being, and losing for ever contact with substitution and shadows of Reality. He reaches a point, and lives from a centre, from which no Master Mason can ever err, or wish to err, since it is the end, object, and goal of his existence.

Until the lost secret is recovered, man must lives with its substitutions that are only images of the real and cancelled ones. He will gain access to the real ones if he submit to the conditions that will make him, and him alone, able to discover them. The existence of these realities, and the way to access them, are taught by Masonry, as they have been by all the other initiatory Order of the past. This knowledge has always been available to serious aspirants. We must be grateful to the Grand Master of all for having always kept witnesses of His existence, and of the way to return to Him, in the material world where we live.

The ceremony of the Third Degree alone constitutes the Masonic Initiation, whereas the First and Second degree are only preparatory stages, and not the Initiation. The first two Degrees lead to the purification of the bodily and mental nature necessary for the candidate to be able to take the last step in the process of initiation. What is really involved in actual initiation, as distinct from ceremonial initiation, and what initiation really meant in the old schools of Wisdom as well as in the Regenerative Science, is not very well known to the general public or even to many high ranking modern Masons. As Plutarch said a long time ago, “to become initiated, or perfected, involves dying”. This does not mean physical death but a moral way of dying in which the soul is loosened from the body and the sensitive life, and becomes temporarily detached, and is then free to enter the world of Eternal Light and Immortal Being. In the past this was achieved in a state of trance, and under the supervision of qualified Masters. These Masters introduced the candidate’s liberated soul in its own interior principle until it reached the Blazing Star or Glory of its own Centre, in whose light it knew, at the same time, itself and God, and came to realise their unity and the “points of fellowship” between them. After this awful and sublime experience, the initiated soul was brought back to its material body to resume its temporal life, but with conscious knowledge of Eternal Life. Only then was the candidate called a Master Mason.

The “secrets” of Freemasonry and of initiation are closely connected with this process of introversion of the soul to its own Centre. The Third Degree is completed in the Royal Arch Ceremony that will be described later on.