A new candidate wishing to enter Freemasonry rarely knows the nature of the Craft. Even after his admission he usually is still unable to explain with some degree of accuracy what Masonry and its purpose are. He generally soon finds out that it is a “system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols” but this explanation is true, but partial, and does not lead him very far. Even for many old Masons the Order is something between a club and a benefit society with a certain amount of religion thrown in. It is forbidden to have sectarian religious discussions in the Lodge. From this it is clear that the Craft is not a religious institution and that its teachings are only secondary and supplemental to the members’ own beliefs. Masonry is not a religion, and it is not a secondary or supplementary religion either. Some people, in and out of the Craft, believe that Masonry is an antique system that has come down from ancient Egypt or at least from early Hebrew sources. As we see most people have only a very limited knowledge of the origin and history of the Craft and, even the members are ignorant of it present purpose and of its possibilities. Members meet regularly in their lodge, perform the required ceremonial work, and repeat the catechetical instruction-lectures every night and that is all. Very few members employ the lodge meetings for the purpose for which they exist, that is “to reflect on the mysteries of the Craft” and this is probably due to the ignorance that this is its main purpose.
Many Brethren, to whom Masonry makes a profound appeal, and who consider their membership as a privilege, realise that there are in front of something greater than they know, and that study and reflection are required to unfold the unknown message that they only believe exist somewhere. The lodge should be the right place for this introspection.
The deficiencies of the system are only briefly mentioned here for two reasons. First of all it is not the subject of this document and secondly it is up to every Freemason to develop this analysis himself. It is a fact that no one can communicate the deeper things in Masonry to another. Every man must discover and learn them for himself, although a friend or brother may be able to indicate the beginning of the path of understanding. Moreover, even the elementary and superficial secrets of the Order are never communicated to outsiders. This is not because these secrets have any special value but because it is a good example of the rule of absolute secrecy applied to the greater and deeper secrets, some of which must not be communicated and some that cannot be communicated, because they transcend the power of communication.
Masonry is a sacramental system with an outward and visible side that includes its ceremonial, its doctrine and its symbols that everybody can see and hear. In addition there is an inward, intellectual and spiritual side which is cancelled behind the ceremonial, the doctrine, and the symbols understandable only by the initiated Masons who have learned to use their spiritual imagination and who can then see the reality that lies behind the symbols. Anybody with a minimum of help can understand the simpler meaning of the symbols but the meaning of the scheme, as a vital whole, is not so easy to apprehend. It is obvious that such a vast organisation has not been built to teach its members the symbolical meaning of a few simple builders’ tools or to impress on them such elementary virtues as temperance, truth and justice. This is done by even the most elementary schools and also by the family. Nor does Masonry is there to preach brotherly love that every church and religion already teaches. Neither is it there to practise relief that is done more by non-Masons, There is no need to join a secret society to know that the Sacred Law is a fountain of truth and instruction; or to go through the great and elaborate ceremony of the third degree to learn that we all have to die one day. The Craft has, of course, some larger end than dealing with social virtues common to the entire world. It is worthwhile to try to learn what this larger end is made off, why its fulfilment is worth to be called a science, and what are the “mysteries” that the Freemasons can reach if they apply themselves enough to understand what the Craft can teach them.
After having seen what Masonry is not, we must try to learn what it is supposed to be. We all know that secret orders and societies have always existed to teach what is known as the “mysteries”, to impart to the initiates certain truths of human life, certain instructions about divine things, about the things that belong to our peace, about human nature and destiny. They are not communicated to the majority of the people who would not understand them anyway, or who would use the knowledge to perverse or disastrous ends. We are told that in the past these mysteries were taught on the highest hills and in the deeper valleys. That really means that they were taught in seclusion and secrecy and, also, that the level of the teaching was adapted to the spiritual and intellectual levels of the disciples. Great secret systems of the Mysteries (or “noble orders of architecture”) existed all other the world in the past and, moreover, all the great teachers of humanities were initiates of the Sacred Mysteries. The form of the teaching has varied a lot from age to age and it has been expressed under different veils, but in the end the ultimate truth the Mysteries are teaching is always one and the same doctrine. Behind all the religions of the world, and behind the entire great moral movement and development in the history of humanity, we have the keepers or “Stewards of the Mysteries”. Christianity came from this source as well as Kabalism, that Hebrew system of secret, oral tradition that has influenced to a large amount the Masonic system. The great orders of Chivalry, the Rosicrucians, the school of spiritual alchemy and, finally since the seventeenth century, modern speculative Freemasonry, all have the same source.
Modern Freemasonry as we know it to day was created around the year 1700; its rituals and ceremonies date also from the same period. The movement incorporated the slender ritual and the elementary symbolism used by the mediaeval Building Guilds, but it gave to them a fuller meaning and a wider scope. Trade Guilds, and even modern Friendly Societies, have always tried to spiritualise their trades, and to make their tools point to some simple moral. This is specially the case of the builder’s trade but many other Guilds allegorised their industry too. Their allegories were used for the simple moral instruction of their members. This was already the case in Egypt 5,000 years ago in the shipbuilding industry of the time. Architecture has been chosen by the modern Masonry because its terms were readily available, because they were in use in existing guilds and because they were effective and significant from the symbolic aspect. Modern Masonry is not coming from antiquity; there is no direct continuity with either the Egyptian and the Hebrews who built Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. However, the spiritual doctrine hidden within the architectural phraseology is very old; that doctrine is an elementary form of the doctrine that has been used in all ages and in all languages. Pytagoras has been imitated in many parts of the world and he is recognised as being a great scientist. But, we all know that Pytagoras was not a Mason, as they are defined now, but he was a master in the knowledge of the secret schools of the Mysteries of which a small part is integrated in the Masonic system.
What was the purpose the creators of the modern Masonic system had in mind in the early 1700? It is difficult to answer this question because there is no real inner and complete history of the modern Craft. The creators did not see it as a pleasant social order, but on the opposite, as a sacred and serious method of initiation in the deep truths of life.
There are however more and more signs of a widespread desire for knowledge of the spiritual content of the Masonic system among the members of the Craft. Masonry offers to its members, by means of a dramatic ceremonial, a philosophy of the spiritual life of man, and tools to understand the process of regeneration. This philosophy is consistent with the doctrine of most, if not every, religious systems but it explains, elucidates and defines more sharply the fundamental doctrine common to all religions of the world, whether Christian or non-Christian. All religions of the world proclaim that they are teaching truth, although in different ways, and they tend to emphasise the differences between them rather that what they have in common. In some Masonic Lodges the candidates makes their entrance in the Lodge room amid the clash of sword and the sound of strife. This is supposed to tell them that they are leaving the confusion of the religious sects of the world, that they are entering into a Temple where the Brethren live together in unity of thought with the basic truths of life and where there is no room for difference or schism.
Although not a religion, Masonry offers its members of all races and creed a synthesis of all of them; its foundation principles are common to all of them and admit no variation. Every Master of the Lodge has to swear that no innovation in the Masonic doctrine is possible since it already contains a minimum, yet sufficient, amount of truth to which nothing can be added, altered or subtracted. Since the Order gives complete liberty of opinion to all men, the members are free to accept the truths that are at the base of the Masonic creed according to their ability to assimilate them. Those who cannot accept them are free to withdraw from the Order to find elsewhere a philosophy more adapted to them.
The admission of every Mason in the Order is a representation of the entrance of all men in this mortal existence. Each of us, at one time or the other, asks himself such questions as, What am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? Masonry offers simple and complete answer to all of them. Each of us, according to Masonry comes from the mystical “East”, the eternal source of light and life. Our life is said to be spent in the “West”, that is in a world which is the antipode of our original home, under conditions of existence as different from those we came from, and to which we will be returning, as is West from East in space. Every new candidate finds himself in complete darkness in the West of the Lodge, repeating symbolically in this way his own birth in this world which he entered as a blind and helpless baby. In his early years he did not know where he was going and he stumbled most of the time. However after many deviations from the true path and after many tribulations and accidents he may, in his older years, ascend to a higher life in the eternal East, being purified and chastened by experience. The apprentice Mason, a natural man of undeveloped knowledge, says that he is coming from the West. On the opposite the Master Mason says that he comes from the East, since by that time he should have the necessary knowledge to realise that the source of life is not in the “West”, but in this life. The existence on earth is a transition spent in search of the “genuine secrets”, the ultimate realities of life. Moreover, as at the end of his life the spirit of man must return to God who gave it to him, so man will also leave this temporary world to go back to the “East” where he came from.
The admission of a candidate in a Lodge assumes that he had a previous existence in the world without the Lodge. In the same way, every soul born into this world is assumed to have lived in, and to come from, another state of life, that it has lived elsewhere before entering this world and that it will go back to it when its transitory life on earth will finish. When entering in this world the soul must assume a material form in order to be able to relate with the physical world. The physical form which we have received from the Creator upon entering this world, and that we will give back when we leave it, is symbolised by the Masonic Apron. The human mortal body that we have received from the Great Architect is a kind of physical protection for our inner soul while we live on this earth. The apron, made of pure white lambskin, an emblem of purity and innocence, is one of the most important symbols for the Masons. The apprentices wear it with the flap raised; its five-cornered shape represents the five senses by which we relate with the material world. We can also say that it is made of a top triangular part and by a quadrangular lower section; both parts together indicate that man is a combination of soul and body. The three-sided emblem at the top added to the four-sided bottom part makes seven, the perfect number of the old Hebrews. Man, according to them, is a seven-fold being, the most cherished of the Creator’s works. This explains why the Lodge has seven principal officers, that the Lodge, to be perfect, requires the presence of seven Brethren and this means too that Man with his seven-fold constitution is the “perfect Lodge” if he knows himself and analyse his own nature correctly.
All of us were given three lesser lights by which our inner Lodge can be illuminated. The “Sun” symbolises our spiritual consciousness, the higher emotions and aspirations of the soul. The “Moon” shows our intellectual faculties of reasoning, which, as the moon reflects the light of the sun, should reflect the light coming from the higher spiritual faculties and transmit it into our daily conduct. The “Master of the Lodge” is a symbolic phrase denoting the will-power of man, which should make him master of his own life, to control his actions and keep down the impulses of his lower nature, as the stroke of the Master’s gravel controls the Lodge and call to order and obedience the Brethren under his direction. With these lights within him, man should be able to perceive what is known symbolically as “the form of the Lodge”, that is the way in which his own human nature has been composed and constituted, the length, breadth, height and depth of his own being. With their help, he will perceive that he himself, his body, and his soul, are “holy ground” on which to build his spiritual life. By them too, he will perceive how Wisdom, Strength and Beauty have been used by the Creator, like three supporting pillars, in the structure of his own organism. They will also help him to discern the “ladder of many rounds or staves”, which means that there are many paths or methods to the spiritual Light encircling us and in which we live, move, and have our being. However Love is the best of the three principal methods in the sense that it is the one that comprehend them all, and bring us nearer to heaven. By following it a Mason reaches the summit of his profession, that summit being God himself whose name is Love.
It should be clear by now that the Lodge mentioned in the Masonic rituals and lectures, is not the building where the members meet. The building is only a symbol of the real Lodge that is within us; the real lodge is our own personality.
After receiving the apron the initiate is placed in the North-East corner of the Lodge. Afterwards he is told that at his birth the foundation stone of his spiritual life was already implanted in him. Now he is supposed to develop it in one of the two possible ways open to him: the path of light or the path of darkness or, better, the path of good or the path of evil. The North-East corner is the symbolic dividing place between the two. The North symbolises the place of imperfection. In the past the bodies of suicides or bad people were always buried at the sunless North side of the churchyard. In the Craft, the seats of the junior members are always at the North of the Lodge symbolising their condition of novices or unlighted men. The initiates placed in the North-East corner are intended to see, on the East side, the path to the perpetual light, whereas to the North there is the path to spiritual obscurity and ignorance into which they could remain or relapse. It is a parable of the dual paths of life open to us: to the North the path to selfishness, material desires, sensual indulgence, blindness and moral stagnation while to the East there is the path to moral and spiritual progress, true knowledge to the service of God and men. Some of the benefits acquired by the inner Lodge of the members taking the path to the East can be transferred, in part, to other people. Whereas some others are immovable because they are permanently implanted in their own beings.
The ceremony of the first degree (Entered Apprentice Degree or E.A.) of the Order is symbolic of the entrance of all men, first, in physical life and, later on, in spiritual life. The candidates for Masonry who are seeking for spiritual re-birth are received at that stage with acclamations, as when a child is born. This is a joyful moment only comparable to the angels’ joy when a sinner repents and turns towards the light. The first degree is the degree of preparation, of self-discipline, and purification taken at the entrance of the spiritual life; it is a symbolical cleaning comparable to baptism that is the first step into the Church and that is done at the font, near the entrance of the church. For all of us this cleansing and purifying is necessary. Already in the old schools of Mysteries, the aspirants leaving the outer world for the higher life of the temples or sanctuaries of initiation had to go through a long process of preparation lasting up to seven years. The candidates had to go through severe tests of discipline, purity and self-balance before being admitted to the next stage. In the Craft, the procedure to reach the heights of moral and spiritual perfection is the same as it was in the Old Mysteries. In both cases it was not possible to reach the goal without purification and trial. It is one of the reasons why Masons wear white gloves and apron as proof that they have purified their hearts and washed their hands in innocency. The Masons’ Patron Saint, St. John, requires those conditions. If the candidate Mason has not reached the required stage of purity, the initiation ceremony must be postponed until all the requirements are met.
Contemplation and enlightenment, the subjects of the second degree (Fellowcraft Freemason), come after purification. After protracted discipline and purification that unable the candidate for the Mysteries, or the candidate Mason, to have full control over his passions and his lower physical nature, he is ready to study his interior faculties, to understand the human soul and to realise their connections with the Divine. The candidate, at that stage, sees clearly the secrets of his mental nature and the principles of intellectual life. This degree, far from being uninteresting, is a long road of personal development requiring the knowledge of the mental and psychical side of our nature. It involves the cleansing and control of the mind, but also the knowledge of our inner constitution, of the more hidden mysteries of our nature and of spiritual psychology. The Mason who has attained proficiency in this grade is now able to discover a sacred and central symbol known as G.G.O.T.U. This sacred symbol at the centre of us is the same as what the Christian Master meant by “the Kingdom of Heaven is Within You”. At the centre of our own being, beneath the veils of the sensual, lower nature, we have that vital and immortal principle that “allude to” the G.G. because it is a spark of God Himself immanent within us. Over the old temples of the Mysteries was written “Man, know thyself, and thou shalt know the universe and God”. Happy is the Mason who has purified and developed his nature and who realises the meaning of the “sacred symbol” of the second degree and who has found God, not only outside, but also within himself. Finding the “perfect point of entrance” to this secret (and it is known that “straight is the way and narrow the gate, and few there be that found it”) requires again moral rectitude, utter exactness of thought, word and action, as shown by rigid observance of the symbolic principles of the square, level and plumb-rule.
To rise to the heights of his own self, a Mason must first crush and crucify his own lower nature and inclinations; he must tread what is also known as the “way of the cross” and this cross is indicated by the conjunction of some working tools that, when united, form a cross; that “way” is involved in the scrupulous performance of all that we know these working tools signify. By perfecting his conduct, by struggling against his own natural propensities, the candidate transforms his nature into the perfect cube. We must notice that unfolded a cube takes the form of the cross. The inward development, which the second degree symbolises, is indicated by the lowering of the triangular flap of the apron on its rectangular part below, and this is equivalent to the confirmation in the Christian Churches. It is a measure of “the progress that the candidate has made in the science”; it also shows that the higher nature of the man, symbolised by the trinity of spirit, has descended into him and is penetrating his lower nature. Previously, in his state of ignorance and moral blindness, the spiritual part of his nature has hovered above him; he was unconscious of its presence in his constitution but now having realised its existence, the nobler part of him descends into his lower nature, illuminating and enriching him.
The man who develops himself this way soon becomes more conscious of the difficulties of his task, more sensitive to the obstacles the life of the outer world places in the way of the spiritual life. But he is taught to persist with fortitude and prudence and to develop the highest within him. Self-scrutiny, in the way of contemplation, is like a winding staircase leading inward to the Holy of Holies within himself. He then realises that the difficulties and obstacles placed in his way by the Eternal Wisdom are the means to develop the latent and potential good in him, as the rough building bloc that can only be squared and perfected by chipping and polishing, so he can only be made perfect by toil and by suffering. He now sees the purpose of the difficulties, adversity and persecutions that are the wages that he learn to accept without scruple and diffidence, knowing that he is entitled to them, and from the confidence he has in the employer who has sent him into this world to prepare the materials for building the temple of the heavenly city. As the sign peculiar to this degree suggests, he examines and lays bare his heart, to cast away all impurity from it and he prays that the light of day be on him until he has defeated his internal enemies and obstacles in the way of his full development.
The candidate who has reached proficiency in self-perfection, which the F.C. (Fellow-Craft) grade implies, moves away from the side of darkness and imperfection symbolised by the North side of the Lodge and takes place on the South-East side symbolising moral illumination, at least as far as men can possess. However he is still far from the full realisation of himself and of the mysteries which the Master Mason reaches.
To reach the level of spiritual realisation expected of a Master Mason he still has to go through “that last and greatest trial” by which he can enter into the great consolations and learn the supreme realities of existence. What is ceremonially performed in the third degree is no more a symbolical representation, but an actual, vital experience of a higher character, one that is not intelligible or even credible to the non-initiates. The raising ceremony, although reference to physical death is made, implies symbolically of another type of death, since the candidate return to his previous environment and his Masonic career is not coming at a close at that stage. In the third degree the Mason passes symbolically through a great and striking change, that is a rebirth or regeneration of his whole nature. He was born “sown in a corruptible body” and, due to the self-discipline and development he has acquired, “an incorruptible body” has raised in him. Some people feel that the ever-present mention of mortality in the Craft could falsely create the impression that the death mentioned in the third degree is the physical change that await all men. The Masons know that the death of the body is only a natural transition that he does not fear; when it arrives he welcomes it as a liberation of the bondage and from the daily burdens incident to the existence in this world. He only fears that when his time comes, he may not be free from those “stains of falsehood and dishonour”, those imperfections of his nature that may delay his after-progress. The death at which Masons allude in this ceremony is a death-in-life to a man’s own lower self; this is symbolised using the analogy of the body-death under a veil. It is over the grave, not of his dead body but of one’s lower self, that the aspirant must proceed before attaining to the heights. What is meant, is that a complete self-sacrifice and self-crucifixion are necessary before the soul can be raised “from a figurative death to a reunion with the companions of its former toils”, both here and in the unseen world. The perfect cube must pass through the metamorphosis of the cross. The soul must pass through a stage of helplessness from which no human can raise him; only the Divine Help with the “lion’s grip” of Almighty Power can raise the faithful and his regenerated soul to an union with itself. In the schools of Mysteries, and in all the religions of the world, the attainment of the spiritual goal is enacted or taught under the veil of a tragic episode similar to the third degree of Masonry. The aspirant is always required to imitate the death of a Master. In Masonry this Master is Hiram Abif even if there is no historical proof of the account of his death; that story, as used in teaching the aspirants, is symbolical. Moreover this story is very similar to the story of the Christian Master death as related in the Gospels. The Mason who understand the meaning of the story of Jesus’ death will understand too the story of Hiram Abif, and the veiled allusion that is implied. In one case the Master is crucified between two thieves and in the other he dies between two villains. In one case we have the penitent and the non-penitent thief; in the other we have the conspirators who make a voluntary confession of their guilt and were pardoned and the others who were found guilty and put to death. The moral and spiritual lessons are similar in both cases. As the Christians are told that they must imitate the life and death of Christ, so every Mason must do the same as one character recorded in their annals. But as these annals of Masonry are contained in the volume of the Sacred Law it is easy to see who is alluded to. As an initiate of the Mysteries, St Paul said that we can only attain to the Master’s resurrection by “being made comfortable unto His death” and we “must die with Him if we are to be raised like Him”. By imitating the Grand Master in His death we are made worthy of certain “points of fellowship” with Him. The five points of fellowship of the third degree are the five wounds of Christ. The three years’ ministry of the Christian Master ended with his death and these refer to the three degrees of the Craft which also end in the mystical death of the Masonic candidate and his following raising or resurrection.
In Hebrew the name Hiram Abif means “the teacher (Guru, or enlightened one) from the father”. Under his name, and beneath a veil of allegory, we see an allusion to another Master, or Elder Brother, who is hidden in the Masonic lectures and whose “character the Masons preserve, whether absent or present” physically or in their mind, and in regard to whom they “adopt the excellent principle of silence” by respect to the non-Christian members who could be offended by his name.
At that stage the apron of the candidate is more elaborated. It has a light blue border with rosettes showing that a higher that natural light now penetrates in him and radiates from his person. The wilderness of the natural man is blossoming as the rose following his regeneration. Each side of the apron has two columns of light descending from above and streaming into the depths of his being, and terminating in the seven-fold tassels that typify the seven-fold prismatic spectrum of the supernatural life. He is now lord of himself and a true Freemason, able to govern the Lodge that is within him. As he has passed through the three degrees of purification and self-perfection, and as he has squared, levelled and harmonised his triple nature of body, soul and spirit he also wears, on attaining Mastership, the triple Tau which comprises the form of a level, but is also the Hebrew form of the cross. These three crosses upon the apron correspond to the three crosses of the Calvary.
The teaching given during the three degrees leads the candidates from an old to a new quality of life. They begin their Masonic career as natural men to finally become regenerated, perfected men. To attain this transmutation, this metamorphosis, they are first taught to purify and subdue their sensual nature and afterwards to purify and develop their mental nature. Finally, they learn to surrender their old life and to loose their souls in order to save them. They are now ready to rise from the dead to become Master Masons, just men made perfect, with increased consciousness and faculties. They are now efficient instruments to be used by the Great Architect in His Plan of rebuilding the Temple of fallen humanity, and able of initiating and leading other men in their participation in the same work. This evolution of man into superman has always been the aim of the Ancient Mysteries. In the same way, the purpose of Modern Masonry is not the social and charitable activity, as so many members believe, but the spiritual evolution of those who want to perfect their own nature and transform it in a more god-like quality. This is a science, a royal art, that each of the members should put in practise. Joining the Craft for any other reasons that to study and pursue this science is to miss its meaning. Nobody should apply to enter Masonry if he does not feel, in the deep of his heart, the need to find the light that will shine on the problems of his own nature. We all are imperfect beings but the question is, what is lacking to us? The answer is simply “the secret of the Master Masons”, the true inner knowledge, the consciousness of our divine potentialities.
The core of the Masonic doctrine is that all men are in search of something of their own nature that they have lost, but that they hope to find with proper instruction, industry, and patience. Its philosophy implies that this temporal world is the opposite of another, and more real world, from which we came initially, and to which we may return through a course in self-knowledge and self-discipline. It means that this world is far off the mystical Jerusalem that they hope to reach one day and where, together, they will be part of that Temple that is presently being built without hands and without the noise or help of metal tools. This world being only a transient and temporary place for us, must be made only of shadows, images and “substituted secrets” until when we will be actually raised in character, knowledge, and consciousness to the sublime degree of Master Mason. We will then learn some of the “real secrets” and some of the living realities that are hidden behind the outward aspect of things. All human life originate in the mystical “East”, then travel into this world which, with the help of the Craft, is the “West”, before they return to their source in the “East”.
Through symbolic representations Masonry offers, to those who want to discover its meaning and to understand its teaching, given in allegorical form, through examples and instruction, a guide to a quicker way to return to the “East”. It does not refer to any mundane architecture, but only to the architecture of the soul’s life. It is not a religion but rather a dramatic and intense form of religious processes based on every religious system in the world. No religion requires the bodily purification of the first degree. None insists on the necessity of mental, moral and spiritual development as the second degree. No religion leads to the discovery of a certain secret centre “where truth abides in fullness”. This centre is a “point within a circle” of our own nature, from which no Mason can err, for it is the divine kingdom latent within us into which we have not yet entered. Moreover, no religion insists on the supreme lesson of self-sacrifice and mystical death to the things of this world as in the third degree. None reveals that in this moment of darkness the light of the Divine that touches the members of the Craft will never leaves them. By loyalty to that light, by patience, and by perseverance, time and circumstances will reveal to the Masons the “genuine secrets”, the ultimate truths and realities of their own nature. Masonry teaches that men are in captivity on this earth, and that the richest harmonies of this life are nothing compared with the songs of Zion. It also teaches that even those who reach the highest positions in this world, or even within the Craft, have better to forget them and think instead about Jerusalem that lies beyond.
The teaching of the Craft is full of allegories and symbols and its deeper meaning does not appear on the surface of the ritual. This is the same as with human life and the world we live in, which are also allegories and symbols of another life and another world. In this way, only the initiates will be able to understand the hidden meaning of the doctrine of the Craft. The deeper secrets of Masonry, like the deeper secrets of life, are well hidden, but those who have access to them know that they are “many and valuable”. They are disclosed only to those who are initiated: “Seek and you shall find; ask and you shall have; knock and it shall be opened unto you”. The search may be long and difficult, but it is well known that great things are acquired only through effort and search. But the well-prepared candidate will have access to places and knowledge that he could not imagine before. Those who enter the greater initiations must obey the same rule of secrecy, the same that which is symbolically taught to the novice entering the Craft. This time it is not a symbolic obligation but a factual one as this knowledge would be dangerous to unprepared persons. For those who get access to them with the necessary preparation, it would be a moral suicide to turn back.
It depends on the individual member if Masonry remains a series of symbolic rites, or if these symbols enter into their life and become realities within them. No member can said to be “truly initiated” into Masonry so long as he regards the Craft as a social club and treats its ceremonies as rites of an archaic and perfunctory nature. The Craft was given to the world, from secret sources, as a great experiment and a mean of graces, and as a great opportunity to those who care to learn what is little known, and little taught, outside some sanctuaries of concealment. It is intended to give an epitome, or synopsis, of the spiritual regeneration of man, and to give hints and suggestions that may lead the competent members to deeper initiations than the superficial ones enacted in the Lodges. Some members will reach official positions of honour and office within the Craft, or may enter other Masonic grades outside the Craft. Others, on the opposite, will reach instead degrees of knowledge, that even if they are not known publicly, are perhaps the more important for the Craft. All the members who prepare themselves well can understand the truths behind the superficial allegories and the symbolic veils of the Craft teaching. This desire to have a fuller understanding of what the Order conceals, rather that reveals, is felt by more and more members these days. One must never forget that every Master of the Lodge is a symbol and a substitution, and that behind him, and behind all officers of the Masonic hierarchy, there is the “Great White Head”, the “Great Initiator” and Grand Master of all true Masons of the world, whether members of the Craft or not. The members of the Craft are grateful to Him for his protection, guidance into the deeper mysteries, and all the invaluable gifts he gave to the Order. (3)
During the teaching of the first degree Masonry is defined as “an art founded on the principles of geometry” and, also, as “a science dealing with the cultivation and improvement of the human mind”. Its usage and customs are said to derive “from the ancient Egyptians whose philosophers, unwilling to expose their mysteries to vulgar eyes, conceal their principles and philosophy under signs and symbols” which are still used by the Craft. The lectures associated with each Degree expound the doctrine of the system and interpret the rituals and the symbols. These lectures must be interpreted too as they contain great cunning and concealment. Their authors wanted to give a true expression of esoteric doctrine but, at the same time, to keep it partial, in order to hide its full meaning so that to understand it, some effort or enlightenment is required. They also wanted to make sure that those unready for the “gnosis” or wisdom-teaching would understand very little or nothing at all. The authors were successful in their tasks as witnessed by those who are initiated into the sciences of self-knowledge and regeneration. They were obviously initiates who knew very well the secret tradition and philosophy of the mystery systems of the past as well as of the deeper and mystical sense of the Holy Scriptures to which they often refer.
The meaning of the word “geometry”, the art on which the whole doctrine is based, must first be defined. For the average man geometry is a branch of mathematics, a subject that has no relation to Masonic ceremonial and ideals. Geometry was one of the “seven noble arts and sciences” of ancient philosophy, that is the science of earth-measurement. To the ancients the word “earth” does not mean the physical planet but, more generally, the primordial substance of which the human beings are created, the “mother-earth” from which we all comes from and to which we will return one day. The scriptures tell us that man is made of dust of the ground and it is that ground, earth, or fundamental substance of the human beings, which must be “measured” and investigated to understand its nature and properties. Before constructing a structure the builders want to know the nature of the materials they are going to use. In the speculative art of Masonry, no Mason can start to build the temple of his soul without first understanding the nature of the material he will be working with.
As a result Geometry is synonymous with self-knowledge, the basic understanding of the substance of our being, its properties, and potentialities. Over the ancient temples of initiation one could find the inscription “Know thyself and thou shalt know the universe and God”. That sentence means that the uninitiated man does not know himself but, on the contrary, the initiated one realises that he is no longer a separate distinct individual, but a microcosm of all that is identified with the Being of God. Masonry is the science that leads to supreme knowledge and it is in this way that it is founded on the principles of Geometry as has been defined before.
The physical matter of which our bodies are composed is not the “earth” as defined before. Our physical bodies are made of a corruptible and impermanent matter that forms the material support into which the imperishable true “earth”, or substance of our souls, finds its place. It also enables them to enter into sense-relation with the physical world. The distinction is important, as Masonry does not deal much with the transient outward body but, more often that not, with the eternal inward being of man although both the noble part and the material body are temporarily involved during the lifetime of man. It is the immortal soul of man that is the ruined temple that needs to be rebuilt upon the principles of spiritual science, whereas the mortal body stand in the way of this achievement. The mortal body is the rubble that needs to be cleared before the new foundations can be set and the new structure built. This mortal body can be used in the reconstruction of inner spiritual part. Before he starts his own reconstruction, man must have a precise idea of the material at his disposal. For this he must know what is called “the form of the Lodge” that is described as “an oblong square; in length between East and West, in breath between North and South, in depth from the surface of the earth to its centre, and even as high as the heavens”.
This is the description of a human being. Man is a Lodge and, as the Masonic Lodge is “an assemblage of Brethren who meet to exchange their views on the mysteries of the Craft”, so the individual man is a composite made up of many properties and faculties that interact harmoniously to accomplish the purpose of life. Everything in Masonry is figurative of man, his human constitution, and his spiritual evolution. As a result the Masonic Lodge is sacramental of the individual Mason, as he is when he seeks admission to the Lodge, his first entry into which is symbolical of his first contact with the science of knowing himself.
His organism is symbolised by a foursquare, or four-sided building, in accordance with the old philosophical doctrine that four is the arithmetical symbol of everything which has manifested, or possess, physical form. Spirit being unmanifest, and not physical, is expressed by the number three and the triangle. However spirit that has projected itself as to become objective and that wear a material form of body, is denoted by the number four and the quadrangle or square. The Hebrew name of Deity, as known in the outer world, was the great unspeakable name of four letters known as Tetragrammaton. The cardinal points of space are also four, and every manifested thing is a compound of the four metaphysical elements called by the ancients fire, water, air and earth. The four sides of the Lodge reminds us too that the human organism is made of these four elements: “Water” represents the psychic nature; “Air”, the mentality; “Fire”, the will and nervous force; while “Earth” is the condensation in which the other three become stabilised and encased.
It is however an oblongated (or duplicated) square because man’s organism does not consist of his physical body alone. The physical body has its “double”, or ethereal counterpart, in the astral body, which is an extension of the physical nature and a compound of the same four elements in a more tenuous form. The oblong spatial form of the Lodge refers to the physical and ethereal nature of man. The four sides of the Lodge have another meaning: the East of the Lodge represents man’s spirituality that in most man is underdeveloped, but is still latent and becomes active only in moment of stress or deep emotion. The West represents his normal rational understanding, the consciousness he uses in normal every-days affairs, his material or common sense. The South is the half-way house and meeting place of the spiritual intuition and the rational understanding, the point where our intellectual power reaches its highest, as the sun attains its meridian splendour. The North is the place of benightedness and ignorance, reacting only to the lowest and least reliable mode of perception, our physical sense-nature.
We see that the four sides of the Lodge point to four different mode of consciousness of man: sense-impression (North), reason (West), intellectual ideation (South) and spiritual intuition (East). These the four ways we have at our disposal to find knowledge. The average man uses only two ways, or three at the maximum depending on his level of education. His outlook on life and his knowledge of truth are therefore limited and imperfect. Full and perfect knowledge requires that the spiritual intuition is also available and this is possible only to the true Master. As a result the place of the Masters and Past-Masters are always at the East of the Lodge.
The “depth” of the Lodge (“from the surface of the earth to its centre”) refers to the distance, or difference of degrees, between the superficial consciousness of our earthy mentality and the supreme divine degree of consciousness found at man’s spiritual centre when he has become able to open his Lodge upon that centre.
The “height” of the Lodge (“even as high as the heaven”) implies that the range of consciousness possible to us, when we have developed our potentiality to the full, is infinite. A man born from the earth, and developed to a rational stage, must still complete his evolution by becoming a god-like being by unifying his consciousness with the Omniscient. This has always been the purpose of all Initiation. Reaching to this height is possible “by the use of a ladder of many rounds or staves, but of three main ones, Faith, Hope and Charity”. The most important is Charity but there are many different ways to develop one’s consciousness. Every day-to-day experience may lead to that end if it is rightly interpreted and if its purpose is discerned. The three main qualifications are however the most important factors (Faith in reaching the end in view, Hope or a desire for its fulfilment and Love which seeks God in all men and things despite their appearance). Thinking no evil identifies the mind and nature of the aspirant with the ultimate Good upon which his thought, desire and gaze should always be directed. This increase in consciousness does not depend on intellectual capability, learning, or book-knowledge; these are only lesser staves of the ladder of attainment but not the main ones.
The Lodge (not the meeting place but the inner one, or soul, of each man) is “supported by three pillars: Wisdom, Strength and Beauty”. These properties will become more visible in the aspirant as he progresses in the Masonic discipline. He will then become conscious of an increase in his perceptive faculty and understanding; he will realises that he has found a big source of power, that gives him more mental strength and self-confidence as well as it improves his character, speech ability, and conduct.
The Floor, or groundwork of the Lodge, with its black and white squares, shows the dual quality of everything connected with terrestrial life and the physical part of human nature (the mortal body, its appetite and affections). Everything material is composed of good and evil, light and shade, joy and sorrow, positive and negative. What is good for one can be evil for another; pleasure is generated from pain and goes back to pain; what is right to do now can be bad later on; man can be intellectually exalted to day and depressed to-morrow. The dualism of these opposites governs us but its knowledge and understanding can only be acquired by those who have outgrow the sense of this checker-work existence. Only then the perception of these opposites changes and is replaced by unity or synthesis. To find this unity or synthesis is to know the peace which surpasses our present experience; only then darkness and light are both alike as are good and evil, joy and pain, … All of these perceptions are sublimated in a condition combining both. The indented border of the black and white pavement represents this condition as the Divine Presence and Providence surrounds our temporal organisms in which those opposites are inherent.
The chequer floor of the Lodge is given so much importance because, as the Third Degree Ritual says, “the square pavement is for the High Priest to walk on”. It is not the Jewish High Priest of the past who is referred here but the individual member of the Craft since every Mason is the High Priest of his own Temple where he and the Deity may meet. We all, Mason or not, are living in this dualistic world and, if for this reason only, we are walking on the square pavement of good and evil in all our actions. The chequered floor is the symbol of an elementary philosophical truth common to all men but, for the Masons, it implies much more. It means that those who want to be master of their fate and soul must walk on these opposites in the sense of transcending and dominating them, of trampling on their lower sensual nature, and of keeping them under control. They must be able to rise above good and evil, to be superior and indifferent to the changes of fortune, and to the attractions and fears that are common with most people. They aim to develop their spiritual potencies and this can only be done when they master their material tendencies and their fluctuating emotions of pleasure and pain. It is by rising above these and by attaining serenity and mental equilibrium under any circumstances that the Masons “walk upon” the chequered floor of existence and the conflicting tendencies of his more material nature.
The covering of the Lodge is in sharp contrast with its black and white floor and is described as “a celestial canopy of diverse colours, even the heavens”. Whereas the floor symbolises man’s earthy sensuous nature, the ceiling represents his ethereal nature, his “heavens” and his properties. Floor and ceiling are the reverse and the opposite pole of each other. Man’s material body is visible but his ethereal “aura” is tenuous and invisible like the fragrance of a flower. Those who do not accept what is not physically demonstrable put his existence in doubt. The candidate Mason will have to accept many such non-demonstrable truths until he knows them as certainties once he is fully initiated. He will accept them more easily if he remembers that:
– He entered the Craft because he wanted to understand the nature of his own being.
– The Order will help him reach the knowledge that he is lacking. Wise and competent instructors have devised the teaching and the symbols required to reach this aim.
– A humble, docile, and receptive attitude towards those symbols and their meanings will help him reaching his aim more easily than a critical and hostile one.
Some men irradiate from themselves an ethereal surrounding or “covering” as shown by the aureoles and haloes in the paintings of saints. The ordinary men are also surrounded by “aura” but, in this case, they look like irregular shaped and coloured clouds, an image of their undisciplined mentality and passionate nature. The “aura” of men who have a clean mentality and who keep their passions and emotion well in hand have well defined forms and colour, regularly striated like the colour of the spectrum of the rainbow. In Masonry, the equivalent of the aureole is the symbolic clothing worn by Provincial and Grand Lodge Officers that is deep blue and fringed with gold. These officers are chosen among the Past Masters of the Craft who are assumed to have reached sanctity, regeneration, and Mastership of themselves and are part of the Grand Lodge where they “shine like stars”. From this we can conclude that the Mason who accept the discipline of the Order does not only improve his character and chasten his thoughts and desires. He is, at the same time, unconsciously building up an inner ethereal body which will form his clothing, or covering, when his body will have died. The celestial body, as a result, is built out of the sublimated properties of the terrestrial one. This is one of the secrets and mysteries of the process of regeneration and self-transmutation promoted by the Craft. This is the true temple-building that Masonry is concerned with. The Masonic symbol of the bodily organism, the Apron, changes to become more elaborated as the Mason advances to the higher stages in the Craft; it symbolises the development that is taking place gradually in his nature.
As in the heaven of nature where the sun, moon and stars exist and function, so in the personal heaven of man, metaphysical forces inherent to him operate and they are described by the same terms. In all human there is a magnetic field of various forces that determine our temperament and tendencies, and also influence the future. These forces are known as “sun”, “Moon” and “planets” and the science of their interaction is the ancient science of Astronomy known at the present time under the name of astrology, one of the liberal arts and sciences which all Masons should study during their Fellow-Craft stage.