The Ceremony of Initiation

Analysis and Commentary

W. L. Wilmshurst

P.M., P.A.G.D.C. (England) and P.P.G.W. (West Yorks.)

Published by
J. M. WATKINS, 21 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road, London, W.C 2.

PART I.

1.—The Admission.

From the place of preparation the Candidate is led to the door of the Lodge. This he finds close tyled. He “meets with opposition” (as the E.A. Lecture says) and cannot gain admission save in the prescribed way.

In other words, on turning from the world without to the world within, his first discovery is to find his way blocked by an intervening barrier. What is that barrier? What does the door of the Lodge symbolise?

Obviously it symbolises some obstructive element in himself. He is made to recognise that any opposition to his own spiritual advancement comes from within himself and must be overcome by his own efforts. (Hence it is that the Candidate is required to give the knocks himself; they should never be given for him by any one else.)

The purport of this episode is expressly declared in the E.A. Lecture to be subjective and mystical. The knocks are there stated to be interpretable in the light of the Scriptural direction, “Ask and ye shall have; Seek and ye shall find; Knock and it shall be opened to you.” This threefold direction, observe, not only corresponds with the triple knocks, but also with the triple faculties of the Candidate himself. He should “ask” with the prayerful aspirations of his heart; he should “seek” with the intellectual activities of his mind; he should “knock” with the force of his bodily energies. He who hopes to find the Light within must devote his entire being to the quest; it demands and engages the attention of the whole man.

How true to life and to psychology is this symbolic opposition at the door of the Lodge! We all erect our mental barriers. The habitual thought-methods, prejudices, preconceptions and “fixed ideas” in which we indulge in the course of life in the outer world, become obstructions to the perception of things of the world within. They create mental deposits which condense and harden, until they obscure the wider, deeper, clearer vision we might have but for own self-created limitations. We erect and tyle our own door against ourselves and block our own light, and eventually on seeking to turn to the Light find ourselves confronted by darkness and opposition of our own creating. And it is just these barriers that must be broken down by our own efforts and the force of our own persistent “knocks.”

For “knocks” it may be helpful to think of a more modern term, — vibrations. Persistent vibrations, in a given direction will, as is well known, eventually break down whatever is opposed to them, whether physical or mental. Vibrations of faith remove mountains. Vibrations of intellectual energy result in the solution of problems. Vibrations of emotion break through into the hearts of others. Vibration of spiritual aspiration penetrate into higher worlds and open doors into them. And all this is signified by the simple incident of the Candidate meeting with opposition at the door of the Lodge and gaining admission as the result of his own symbolic knocks.

2.—The Prayer of Dedication.

The initial act of the Ceremony is appropriately a prayer by the assembled Brethren (1) that the Candidate (who has already been elected to formal membership of the Craft) may now become spiritually incorporated into the Great Brotherhood, and (2) for his endowment with such an influx of wisdom as, by virtue of that incorporation, will give him increasing power to manifest the beauty of holiness.

The brevity and simplicity of this prayer are liable to obscure its deep implications. Observe (from the three words just emboldened above) that it contains the first unobtrusive reference to that trinity of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty of which the Candidate will hear later on, and of which it is prayed that he may become a living manifestation.

Note too, that there is no reference in the prayer to morality of merely ethical virtues; it invokes something far loftier than these, — the gift of the Spirit; it strikes a keynote intended to govern the tone of both the Ceremony and the Candidate’s whole after-life.

Observe, too, that it is not a prayer by the Candidate (who is required only to “kneel and listen” to it), but one for him and for the Craft itself; it is a prayer that the spiritual efficiency of the whole Fraternity may become augmented by this new accession to it. Every Brother present, therefore, should unite with the Chaplain in a strong tension of aspiration that the prayer may become realised in the joint interests of both the Craft and its new member. Later on, the latter should make the prayer his own, remembering throughout his life that it was once offered over him in his darkness and helplessness on behalf of the whole Craft, and that it falls to himself to justify increasingly the invocation then so solemnly made in his behalf.

3. — The Perambulation or Mystical Journeying,

Next follows the Perambulation. But this preceded by an inquiry to the Candidate; where does he repose reliance in circumstances of danger and difficulty? It is obvious that he is about to be exposed to circumstances of that character, and the question is therefore put to ascertain whether he ought to be allowed to expose himself to them or not. The answer to the question should always be his own and should spring spontaneously from his own mind and lips; to prompt him with an answer detracts from the reality of the Ceremony and encourages him to give a reply which may be insincere. The Ceremony implies that if he cannot voluntarily give the proper response to the question, he is unfit for Initiation and should be led back out of the Lodge. If, on the other hand, he responds satisfactorily, well and good; the Ceremony may proceed and will be a test of the Candidate’s profession of faith.

What are the dangers and difficulties he is about to be exposed to? In our Ceremony they are, of course, merely theoretic and symbolic. But in the Initiation Rites of the Ancient Mysteries (of which ours are a faint echo) they were extremely exacting, realistic and affrighting, and such as put a Candidate to severe tests of mental stability and moral fitness. They may be read about more fully in literature on the subject, from which it will be gathered how very essential it was that a Candidate for Initiation into the secrets and mysteries of his own being should possess not only a stable faith and moral centre, but also a sound mind in a sound body. Otherwise grave responsibility rested upon both the Initiators and the Candidate, and grave risks of damage to the latter’s reason attached by suffering an unfit person to “rashly run forward” towards experiences for which he was unsuited.

Hence it is that a Candidate is still called upon to make a public declaration of faith and to be passed in review before the Lodge ere the Ceremony is proceeded with, so that his Initiators may be satisfied of his fitness.

This is the first reason for the ceremonial Perambulation. But there is another, of equal importance. The journey round the Lodge is a symbolic representation of the Candidate’s own life-journeyings in this world prior to his request for Initiation into the world within. The dangers and difficulties referred to are the vicissitudes encountered in his own personal Odyssey; indeed the wanderings and buffetings of Odysseus are an ancient poetic allegory of these experiences, of a like character to the parable of the career of the Prodigal Son before he “came to himself” and struck the true path.

We must observe two most noteworthy details in connection with this symbolic journey. The first is that, though in a state of darkness himself, he is not alone, but has with him an enlightened guide. Moreover he is compassed about by a cloud of witnesses keenly anxious for his spiritual advancement and restoration to light. The significance of this detail is that every traveller through life has within himself his own invisible guide and that his soul’s upward struggles are observed by many unseen watchers.

The second is that in the course of his symbolic journey he is led to each Warden in turn, whom, by a particular gesture, he as it were arouses from silence and stirs to utterance. The gesture itself is in fact a repetition of the knocks previously given at the door of the Lodge. But whereas those knocks were first addressed to inert material (the door), they are now applied to a living being (the Warden). What does this imply? It signifies that in our efforts to turn away from the outer world and penetrate to the Light of the inner one, we not only overcome our own self-created opposition, but we awaken and stimulate into activity certain living but hitherto dormant energies within ourselves.

Of those latent energies with him the Candidate will come to learn more later. Suffice it for the moment to know that his desire for Light awakens real but as yet slumbering potencies within himself, which from now onwards will become stimulated and promote his spiritual advancement. In each of us reside certain dormant principles (represented by the two Wardens) higher - than the normal benighted human reasons knows* [* These latent spiritual principles in man, symbolised by the Wardens or “Watchmen,” are frequently referred to in the V.S.L., e.g. “I have set watchmen upon thy walls which shall never hold their peace day nor night” (Is. 62, 8); “Unless the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain,” (Ps. 127, 1).]; it is these which it is possible to provoke into activity, and which, then awakened, no longer block our passage but speed a man on his ways with, as it were, the mystical greeting: “Pass, Good Report!”

The expression “Good Report” is a modern form of a very ancient mystical title accorded to the Candidate. It means much more than “good reputation” in the popular sense of the phrase. It implies that the Candidate’s nature is one animated by spiritual sincerity, one that rings true like a coin, and that sounds forth a convincing note when it speaks. “True of voice” was the Egyptian form of “Good Report,” and it is for this reason that, on approaching each Warden, our present Candidates are called upon to sound forth their own note so that the Warden may determine whether they are indeed “true of voice” and qualified to be passed on.

“Say something that I may see you” said Socrates to a shy youth who sought his instruction, for a man’s speech betrayeth him to the sensitive ear, which is able to judge of the speaker’s sincerity and spiritual status. And hence it is that the Candidate is required to sound forth his own voice to the Wardens.

4. — The Professions of Freedom, Motive, and Perseverance,

After both Wardens have assured themselves of the Candidate’s fitness for advancement to the East, he is so certified and presented to the Master for Initiation. But before the Master accepts him the Candidate is required to pledge himself to three requirements :—

(1) That he seeks the Light voluntarily, for its own sake, and from no unworthy or material motive.

(2) That his objects in seeking it are two-fold; (1) knowledge for himself, and (2) a desire to make himself, in virtue of that knowledge, of more extensive service to humanity.

(3) That he will persevere in the path about to be disclosed to him; (which means perseverance not merely through the formal Ceremony, but in pursuing throughout his subsequent daily life all that that Ceremony typifies).

It is important that these questions, too, should be answered spontaneously and without prompting. For they involve definite personal commitments of a far-reaching character to which no one should be suffered to pledge himself lightly or under persuasion.

Especially noteworthy is the second promise — that such higher knowledge as he acquires shall be used in human service. Now no one can truly serve humanity until he knows how to do so; a good deal of activity is displayed nowadays that passes by the name of service, but is not such enlightened or sanctified service as is meant by the Craft; therefore the acquisition of special knowledge is mentioned first, so that the Candidate may learn how to serve really and effectually; but, when acquired, that knowledge is not to be for selfish purposes but to be put to selfless service of the race. The enlightenment of Initiation is not to be for his private benefit only; it must become of importance to, and a trust for, the general good. Every real Initiate by the mere fact of his enlightenment, becomes so much salt and seasoning to a corrupting world; hence he is called upon not to hide his light but to use it and let it shine before men that they may see in him an example worth following.

Service, indeed, is and ever has been the ulterior motive of the Mysteries; but there are many forms of it and service can be rendered in quite other and higher ways than ordinary altruistic activity. Of these the Candidate will learn more later. But let him never forget that, at the threshold of his Masonic life, he pledged himself to become a servant of humanity

5.—The Advance from West to East

This is a small episode, yet one of far-reaching significance.

The Candidate has just completed symbolic Odyssean journeying around the Lodge, which exemplifies his benighted life wanderings since he came to birth in this world (the “West”). During his career he has passed blindly, yet never without unseen guidance, through regions and experiences sometimes of darkness (the “North”), sometimes of less or greater enlightenment (the “South,” “West” and “East”), yet entirely ignorant whither he was going or what the purpose of his life was, or whether at a given moment he was near to or far from its true goal. Is not this symbolic journeying true to human life? Until one’s eyes eventually are opened to the whole plan of it, who shall say whether this or that event in our personal life-experience drew us nearer to or farther from the goal we are all unwittingly seeking?

But these ignorant wanderings in a circle, these buffetings of fortune and the tests of character they constitute, at last terminate, and the moment comes when the Prodigal Son at last turns homewards and heads definitely away from the West to the East. His steps may still continue to be irregular; but no matter, they are in the right direction. Intellectually and emotionally he may still tack and wobble from side to side before he attains stable foothold and finds the straight way of peace; but where there’s a will there’s a way, and he who is bent on finding the way to the East at all costs will assuredly arrive there, and he will arrive bearing within his own character those certificates of fitness for higher things which are implied by the S.W. presenting the Candidate to the W.M. as a fit and proper person and properly prepared to be made a Mason.

6.—The Obligation.

Following the traditional practice of the Mysteries and of all secret and monastic Orders, a vow of silence and secrecy is next required from the Candidate as a further preliminary to the conferment of Initiation and the entrustment with any secret information.

This Obligation is often thought of as merely perpetuating the usual covenant of secrecy required by new members of the old Trade Guilds as a guard to the privileges of the Guild and the protection of technical trade secrets. But whilst the Speculative Craft certainly follows the Operatives in this and other respects, the reasons for secrecy and for being solemnly obligated to it run much deeper than to the need for silence about the formal secrets of the Order.

The main purpose of the Obligation is to impress the beginner upon the path of Light and self-knowledge with a sense of the extreme value of silence about the new perceptions that will come to him, the new ideas and experiences he will encounter, and the mental reactions he will experience as the result of them. And it must be emphasised that silence and secrecy are imposed not so much in the interest of the Fraternity at large (which could suffer little from his indiscretions) as in that of the individual Brother himself. Experience will teach him, later on, the deep personal value of silence. He will find that Light and Wisdom are acquired not from anything that can be ocularly shewn or orally imparted to him, but from the gradual assembly of new ideas and their gradual digestion and co-ordination by his own mind, for which purpose it is above all things essential that his mental energies should be conserved, not frittered away in talk. To use an electrical analogy, he must become an “accumulator,” receiving new impressions and letting them revolve in the closed circle of his own mind. which will gradually digest them and extract their final values.

In the world without the Lodge an appalling waste of human energy occurs daily in the form of needless private chatter and public utterance, which might be re-directed to higher ends. The way of the inner life, upon which one symbolically enters on passing the door of the Lodge, is the reverse. It calls for silence and economy of speech. It remembers one’s moral accountability for each spoken word. And because it calls for the conservation of one’s verbal energies and prohibits their needless diffusion in frothy exuberance, it leads by deep and still waters of knowledge, and silence generates the power needed for speaking with authority and effect when the time for such speaking comes.

Turn now to the V.S.L., the Mason’s supreme light in these matters. It declares “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak,” (Ecc. III., 7). Note that the time for silence comes first in orders; for indeed it is not possible to “speak” at all in the high sense here implied until, by a previous discipline of silence, one has acquired the wisdom to know what to say, how, when, and to whom to say it, and is possessed of the spiritual momentum which transforms ordinary speech into winged “words of power.” Only after a long discipline of silence is it that “out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.”

It is common with newly made Brethren in the first flush of their new Masonic life to find hosts of new perceptions and ideas welling up in their minds as the result of Initiation and of the thoughts and studies to which their Initiation has led them. To these they feel impelled to give expression, and to teach and share with others things they are just beginning to learn themselves. It is always satisfactory to find that the forces of Initiation have proved effective in them and have kindled their inner fire even to that extent; but it is precisely to the curbing of this crude enthusiasm, that the Obligation is largely directed at silence is ordained, and that we owe the traditional practice of restricting the giving of instruction in Masonic science to those who have become Masters of it and for whom the “time to speak” has come.

For peril attaches to premature and unwise speech no less than to more flagrant violations of secrecy; a peril pointed to in the penalty of the Obligation. That penalty (when we discern the spiritual intention behind the literal expression of it) implies that he who is unfaithful to his duly of silence and secrecy may come to lose the power of effective speech altogether. By frittering away energies which need to be conserved and consolidated he may automatically render himself spiritually unvocal. Says a wise old counsel :—

Word is thrall but Thought makes free;

Hold thy speech, I counsel thee.

Observe this further point. The Candidate takes the Obligation upon the visible emblem of the ever-speaking Divine Word (than which nothing is more continually speaking yet nothing is more silent), and by a manual act attaches himself to and indentifies himself with it. By emulating its silence he may eventually recover that Lost Word for which Masonry is the search, and become able to sound it forth through his own person.

A word upon the posture observed during the Obligation, and compare it with what has previously been said about the partial measure of symbolical disrobing the Candidate undergoes in this Degree. Remember also the changing and progressive nature of both the posture and the measure of disrobement adopted during the three Degrees, for they are deeply significant. They imply that, before the aspirant can attain a new regenerate self, his old selfhood must become broken down, its pride humbled, its attachment to external possessions and ingrained mental prejudices severed. All which is not the work of a moment but a gradual process. He is, therefore, not called upon to do anything beyond his immediate powers, but to follow the principle of “precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little and there a little.” Hence it is that the posture (and the unclothing) change in each Degree and affect different limbs and parts of the Candidate’s person. In the First Degree only one knee rests on the ground; in the Second it will he the other knee that will mark his progressive humility; whilst in the Third the posture will signify that his humility is no longer partial but total, and that all resistance of mind and stubbornness of will have at last sunk to complete self-surrender to the Good Law upon whose symbolic volume he places first one hand and finally both.

7.—The Restoration to Light.

The Candidate is next reminded that for a considerable time he has been in a state of darkness.

Let no one be so literally-minded as to imagine that this naïve and simple phrase alludes merely to the few minutes during which the Candidate’s sight has been shut off for symbolic reasons. Remember that the whole ceremony is allegory, a parable of the soul’s life; that it dramatises in small “the entry” of all men upon this their mortal existence”; and that the entirety of that existence has hitherto been spent in a state of darkness and blindness and will so continue to be spent until that spiritual consciousness is regained which we call “Light.”

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,” says the poet. Our re-birth, he might have added, is an awakening and a remembering; but it comes about only when there is kindled within us that latent central “Light,” to seek which is the purpose of our entrance into this world and to find which is really the predominant wish of every human heart, whether that wish becomes a definite conscious urge or remains dormant and subconscious.

In every Candidate that wish is presumed to have become a definite conscious urge, and because it has become so predominant and overpowering in him that he is without peace of soul until he finds what he has been blindly seeking, he is, by the law of life itself, entitled to have his prayer answered, to have the door opened to his own knocking, and to hear spoken over him the fiat of his own re-creation, “Let there be Light.”

Throughout our Ritual by “Light” we must understand “consciousness.” “Let there be Light” implies, therefore, “let there be a quickening, heightening and expansion of consciousness in that which has hitherto been unconscious, or but limitedly conscious.”

Some measure of consciousness is present in everything, in every kingdom of Nature, from mineral to man. In man is gathered up the consciousness of all the sub-human kingdoms, and in him that consciousness is capable of being advanced still farther; indeed, to a stage beyond the human.

Our First Degree, therefore, implies the first stage of an expansion of consciousness beyond that of the normal mentality. The Second Degree implies a still farther advancement; the Third implies a “raising” to a still higher one; whilst the Supreme Degree of the Royal Arch points to a final sublime “exaltation” of consciousness to which the prior Craft Degrees lead up.

Throughout the sequence of grades is implied a progressive advance from the normal natural mentality to the heights of spiritual consciousness, an advance which is biblically spoken of as “ascending the Hill of the Lord.” And each of our Masonic ceremonies has been designed to promote a grade in that ascent.

How far that ascent will be promoted by a particular ceremony, how far a Candidate’s conscience may be thereby quickened and expanded, depends upon a combination of three conditions; (1) the help of God; (2) the preparedness of the Candidate; (3) the efficiency of the Lodge and the Initiating Master as instruments for bringing the two former into union.

It need not be supposed that an actual accession of spiritual consciousness to the Candidate comes about instantly and simultaneously with the symbolic act of restoration to light. It may or may not do so. Usually new consciousness emerges but slowly through the darkness of our clouded understanding. To use Masonic analogy, the Sun at the centre of our personal system only mounts to the meridian gradually; there is first a dawn and a gradual rising and a scattering of the darkness before its light manifests in fullness and strength at high noon.

Significance, of course, attaches to the symbolic “firing” in which all present engage at the moment of restoration to light. It is, as it were, a discharge or liberation of the tension to which the assembly has been subjected during the ceremony; it is the outward expression of their co-operation with the Initiating Master in bringing the Candidate from darkness to light; whilst to the Candidate himself it should mean the sound of the breaking of his inward fetters, resulting in that uplifting of soul and sudden access of vision which enables him to say “Whereas before I was blind, now I see!”

Summary of Part I

The Restoration to Light, the climax and peak-point of the Ceremony, concludes that first portion of it, that series of seven ascending steps of the mystical Mountain, which are associated with his “state of darkness.” The remainder of the Ceremony, a series of seven descending steps, occurs in the newly won “state of light,” and is devoted to imparting information and instruction in regard to conserving, nourishing and developing that Light within oneself, now that it has once been glimpsed.

Before passing on to this, let us summarise what has preceded. The Ceremony has dramatised in symbolic, swiftly-moving, but comprehensive ritual-form the path to be allowed by any one who, under the stress of his own deepest heart-impulses, turns in discontent from the interests of the natural world without, in quest of those of the world within. It explains his own nature and his own past life to him; it indicates the conditions and terms upon which a re-orientation of himself and the satisfaction of his hopes are possible to him; it shows that he must empty himself of his old self, divesting and detaching himself from his past acquisitions, whether intellectual or material. These — his “personal comforts” —will, like those literal ones of the Candidate’s, all be restored to him later on, but what new values will they then take on! how amplified and multiplied will their value become to him, who, like Job, has consented to be stripped of them that he may find a higher good! To which end, further, he must make a great adventure of faith; letting all go; surrendering himself to invisible guidance; maintaining a resolute will to find what he seeks; breaking down all opposition and interference between himself and his goal; and dedicating himself to the source of Light and to becoming, as a light-bearer himself, an instrument for forms of human service higher than he could ever render without it.

Such is the path of real Initiation as marked out in this Ceremony. It involves blinding the eyes, baring the heart, and tyling the mind to things external and shadowy that they may open again upon things internal and substantial in a true Restoration to Light.

Then comes the Sun’s Light to our hut

When fast the senses’ door is shut.

For such a pure and perfect guest

The emptiest room is furnished best.

If the Ceremony does not mean all this, it means nothing worthy of pursuing and is but a vain tradition and formality. If it means all this, but is performed without understanding and without transplanting its implications into our life-conduct, we profane it, increase our own darkness, and act no differently from those who turn mechanical praying-wheels. But if the dispersion of our natural darkness and the rising into consciousness above it of that Sun which glows at the centre of every man’s personal system be what we look for, then in our Ceremony surely we have in our hands a means of grace of the first value and efficacy.

 

Introduction | Part I | Part II | Conclusion