The entrance rituals are more or less the same in all the lodges. The procedure begins with an interview by past Masters where the main point seems to ascertain that the applicant “believe in God”. On the day foreseen for his first day in the lodge, the applicant finds himself at the door with a guard who knocks on the door with the hilt of a drawn sword asking permission for the candidate to enter. The candidate is then blindfolded, dressed in a loose-fitting white trousers and top, with one slipper only, his left leg bared to the knee, the left side of the tunic pushed aside to expose his left breast, and all metal objects are taken away from him. A hangman’s noose is then put around his neck (exactly like a medieval heretic was treated by the Inquisition before making his confession); he is now ready to enter into the temple. In the presence of many brothers a cold point is pressed on his chest, and the requested answers are suggested to him. The dagger is then removed from his chest and the candidate is requested to kneel while the brothers pray asking the blessing of the Supreme Governor of the Universe, that is God described in a neutral way. The candidate is then guided three times around the temple, pausing also three times to be introduced as a “poor candidate in a state of darkness”. This, of course, occurred on the centre of the room with its black and white squares, and in the presence of the Worshipful Master at the East, of the Junior Warden at the South, and the Senior Warden at the West. The Worshipful Master then ask him what is his first wish after having been so long in a state of darkness, and the suggested answer is again suggested to him, and that is “light”. The blindfold is finally removed and he is shown the “symbolic lights” of Freemasonry that is the Volume of the Sacred Law (the Bible for the Christians), the Square, and the Compass.
The candidate is then told that he had attained the rank of Entered Apprentice -the first of three degrees leading to the rank of Master Mason. The secret signs, grips and password of the First Degree, are then explained to him as well as the meaning of the two pillars that stood in the porchway of King Solomon’s Temple. The two pillars are reconstructed in the lodge and stand on both sides of the Worshipful Master. The left pillar is called Boaz, the name of the great-grandfather of David, King of Israel. The Apprentice receives then a simple white calfskin apron, the symbol of his rank. Through the ceremony the Apprentice is asked to apply in his life various moral and social virtues that are explained to him using architectural analogies. As an example, stonemason’s tools are likened to methods of self-improvement. He is also told that he must memorise the answers to many test questions if he want to reach the following rank of Fellowcraft Freemason. The ceremony is generally followed by a meal at which many toasts and speeches are made, but the new Mason does not learn any of the secret mysteries of the Craft.
After a period of time the apprentice is deemed “ripe” to go through the Second Degree ceremony and to reach the rank of “Fellowcraft Freemason”. This time he enters the Temple with all the other Brethren, wearing his white calfskin apron. The lodge is open in the First Degree, and the Apprentice is asked many questions before being asked to leave the lodge. He is readmitted wearing the same rough clothing used at the first ceremony, now with left leg and right breast bare. While he is led around the Temple, new passwords and signs are explained to him including a hand raised posture that is said to come from Joshua who, in this way, asked the sun to remain in the sky at night while he was fighting his enemies in the valley of Jehoshaphat. A new white apron with two blue rosettes is given to him. The meaning of the right-hand pillar of the porchway of King Solomon’s Temple, “Jachin” (that is the name of the High Priest who assisted at the dedication of this section of the Temple in Jerusalem), is then explained to him. Boaz is said to represent “strength or, in it is strength” and Jachin “to establish”. Both together mean “stability”. The candidate is then “permitted to extend his researches in the hidden mysteries of nature and sciences”. Eating, drinking, speeches, and singing again follow the ceremony.
Sometime later the Fellowcraft is judged to be ready to be raised to the “Sublime” degree of Master Mason. In the meantime he had to learn the answers to many more test questions. The Fellowcraft is now given a new password that allows him to re-enter the lodge when it will open as a Master Mason’s Lodge. When told to do so, he enters in a dark lodge illuminated by a single candle burning in the East in front of the Worshipful Master. He is then told that the subject of this degree is death itself. After a summary of the previous degrees, a prayer is said and the postulant plays the role of Hiram Abif in a story that explains how the true secrets of a Master Mason came to be lost. First he has to go down twice on his knees before lying down as a symbol of the death of Hiram at the hands of his assassins who wanted, but without success, to steal his secrets. The Worshipful Master pulls him up, bringing him symbolically back to life from a symbolic death, before whispering the two peculiar and secret words of the Masons. At the right of the new Master Mason is an open grave with a human skull on a pair of crossed thighbones at it head. This is again a symbol that he stands all the time on the brink of the grave into which he had figuratively descended, and in which he will descend again on the day of his physical death. The Worshipful Master then pulls his attention to the light of a star coming from the East to his left, opposite to the grave. The ceremony of “raising” causes the postulant to be reborn to the status of Master Mason to whom more passwords, grips, and building analogies are entrusted, and the story of the events following the “killing” of Hiram Abif is explained. Hiram’s body, hidden at first by his assassins, was finally recovered and put to rest in a sepulchre as near to the sanctum Sanctorum as the Law allowed, and as became his rank and exalted talents. There he rests in a grave, from the centre three feet East and three feet West, three feet between North and south, and five feet or more perpendicular. However his secrets were lost with his death. Later his assassins, known as Jubela, Jubelo and Jubelum, or collectively as the Juwes, were arrested, judged, found guilty, and condemned to death.
Some masons believe these stories to be true, just as many Christians believe the legends of the Old Testament and the stories in the New Testament. Others do not really believe them, and still others do not give any thought at all as to their origin. Some characters are identified in the Old Testament, for instance King Solomon, but others such as Boaz, Jachin and Hiram Abif are not mentioned anywhere else but in the Masonic legends. Some Christian critics of Freemasonry say that the Craft tells of the resurrection of a man other than Jesus Christ, but this is not true at all. Hiram Abif was murdered according to the legend, but he does not return to life, and there is no mention of an after-life existence. There are no supernatural elements in the Masonic doctrine, and this explains why people of so many different religions are comfortable in it. It is true that Hiram Abif, the builder of King Solomon’s Temple, died rather than giving his secrets (to three of the workers working for him), but many other men have done the same before and after. As a result the true secrets of Freemasonry are lost since then, and they are replaced by substituted secrets, until the real ones are finally recovered. (8)
This bibliographical research took me two years, reading and collecting information. It has been a hard and difficult work, but I am happy that I went through it. I do not have the pretension that I know everything about Freemasonry but I enjoyed what I learned.
I am more and more convinced that the Craft is a serious organisation, and that there is no reason to make it responsible for all that is wrong in our society. That some Freemasons use, and abuse, the power of their organisation to give favours to some of their Brethren is certainly true. But this is the case of all such fraternities, political or social.
I have some doubts that the Craft will continue to grow in the next millennium. Time has changed, and very few young people are interested in spiritual values. People of this century, and this will certainly be even more so in the next one, are mainly interested in material things, and spirituality is, at best, secondary. This is not limited to the Craft. It is well known that all the churches, in the Western world at least, have difficulties to recruit new priests, vicars, monks and sisters. And this trend is increasing every year. On the other hand, how could one reasonably expect a normal young person -man or woman- to give up all the possibilities of our materialistic world for a live of relative poverty in a church or monastery? This is especially true for the Catholic Church that still insists that its priests must not marry, although its own history does not support it in that direction. I know, of course, that the Craft which, after all, is not a religion, is more open minded, and that there is no such request coming from it. All the same, not many young people of to day want to spend so much time talking about stories that are not relevant to this time, and to go through ceremonies and rituals that look slightly ridiculous. Still a few years back, people were ready to believe what they were told by men in a high position. This is not the case anymore as people are more educated and ready to analyse in depth anything they are told. And, if they do not agree with, or do not understand what they are told, they will say so and, above all, will openly criticise those who try to teach them unproved facts or, more simply, something that they do not understand, or that is not clear. In addition high sounding titles do not impress many people these days. There are no sacred cows anymore, and no taboo.
The ideals of Freemasonry are not anymore in line with the needs of the modern man and, unless the Craft changes itself radically, it will die of a slow death. Or, at best, it will attract a very limited number of people, mainly those who, for a reason or another, will be left out of the mainstream of the modern world. In other words, it will not be representative of the society of our time. And this is also true for the main Christian religions.
I do not have the qualifications to tell what should be done to make the Craft more attractive to the modern man. However I will make a few suggestions, for what they are worth:
. An updated ritual is certainly a “must”.
. The ceremonies should be modernised as well.
. The folklore should be simplified.
. Officers should have modern names.
. Legends and traditions are not historical facts.
. Admit women as full members.
. Open-up the lodges to the public.
. Hire a few good public relation experts.
. Stop arguing on the “real” origin of the Craft.
. Accept that the Craft history before 1717 is unknown.
. Answer to the outside criticisms.