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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.)
J. M. WATKINS, 21 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road, London, W.C 2.
8.—The Revelation of the Greater and the Lesser Lights.
It is impossible to formulate in words the condition resulting from actual “restoration to Light.” Psychological states are indescribable and must be experienced before they can be understood. But an analogy may help us to an understanding of the enlargement of consciousness which real Initiation effects; for the re-birth of one’s mind and spiritual nature (which, as we have said, is implied by Initiation) stands in exact correspondence with, and follows the same law and process as physical birth; the process of “birth” is repeated upon a higher level of the spiral of creation.
Now when a child is born into this world physically, it, as it were, undergoes an initiation into a new state of existence and attains a consciousness which it never previously experienced, and it requires some considerable time before its consciousness becomes adjusted to its new environment, and its vision duly focussed upon objects around it. It is only conscious vaguely and incoherently; time and practice are requisite before it can accustom itself and its eyesight to its surroundings.
Similarly with psychological rebirth. Individual experience of it varies, but broadly one passes into a state of awareness of something having happened in oneself of an expanding and illuminating character. One cannot tell oneself, let alone others, what it is; one merely knows that there has been an upheaval from within, a shifting of one’s focus of consciousness from a lower to a higher level, entailing a feeling of liberation from former mental limitations, the promise of much wider mental vision and deeper understanding for the future, and withal a sense of deep, uplifting, but inexplicable happiness. Such is a very crude description of what a duly prepared and responsive Candidate is likely to experience as the result of his Initiation; possibly, but not necessarily, during the conferment of the ceremony, but at some less or greater interval after it. He is, in biblical language, one of those who having previously sat in darkness, has now suddenly seen a great light, but cannot yet say what that light is or involves, or define any detailed perceptions. All he knows is that he has “received his sight,” and that whereas before he was relatively blind, he is now at last beginning to see.
Now it will be a very promising fact, if the Candidate’s Initiation result is a “restoration to light” to the extent just mentioned. For it means that subsequent reflection upon his new experience will steady his quickened emotions and facilitate the adjustment of his mental sight until it is able to attain clear precise vision of certain truths, just as an infant learns to adjust its eyes to objects around it.
Then certain great primary truths of life will gradually emerge and become revealed to him. And those great primary truths are, in our Ceremony, symbolically figured forth in what we call our “Three Great but Emblematic Lights.” These emblems are actually revealed to the Candidate by the Master as the first objects upon which his eyes look after being given light, and the Candidate is appropriately kept in a kneeling posture, and facing the East, whilst they are exhibited and briefly explained; for how should one contemplate primary fundamental Divine truths save in an attitude of humility and upon one’s mental knees? It is very fitting, therefore, that the Three Great Lights should be the first objects of the Candidate’s perception, and that they should be revealed to him whilst facing East, and whilst in a kneeling posture.
Of what, now, are these Three Great Lights the emblems? They consist, observe, of the V.S.L., the S., and the C.; the three being always displayed as if they were organically and indissociably combined; the V.S.L. lying undermost and forming the base for the other two which rest upon it. the C. being partially concealed by the S.
These three emblems we may interpret thus:-—
(1) The V.S.L., although embodying the Divine Law as - revealed to the Western world, has a far wider significance. For us Masons, it is the visible emblem of the invisible Cosmic Law, through which Deity is manifested in the Universe. It virtually, therefore, represents God Himself who, as Law, underlies everything, and is the basis of all being. “Law” has many forms or modes, and we must, therefore, not limit our ideas of it to any one of them, but rather think of it as comprising them all, as physical law, intellectual law, moral law, and as unifying the dual qualities of Justice and Mercy, of Severity and Love, which characterise the Divine Nature.
So broad is the Craft’s conception of the “Sacred Law” that Masons are not committed to treating the Bible as the only expression of it. Accordingly, the Holy Scriptures of any religion are permitted to be exposed in the Lodge in substitution for the Bible; the principle adopted being that a Candidate may be obligated upon the particular revelation of Cosmic Law which he recognises as true for himself and binding upon his conscience.
Thus in many Lodges where men of non-Christian faith are admitted, alternative sets of Scriptures are kept, so that a Jew may be obligated upon the Pentateuch, a Moslem upon the Koran, an Indian upon the Vedas or Puranas, and so on.
(2) The Compasses resting upon the V.S.L. represent the Divine Spirit or Divine Principle issuing forth from Deity into manifestation, both cosmically and in the individual, and proceeding to function in accordance with the Divine Law.
(3)The Square set opposite to, but inextricably conjoined with, the Compasses, represents the sheath or vesture of cosmic Matter, in which the Divine Spirit takes form and proceeds to function.
Read in conjunction, then, the Three Great Lights reveal the Cosmic Purpose; i.e.. Spirit and Matter working in unison and according to Divine Law to realise an idea or intention latent in the Divine Mind.
What is that Divine Idea? It is that of constructing a perfect Universe, occupied by perfect beings; a Universe in which the animating Spirit and the material form shall stand in perfect balance and, being made in the Divine image and likeness, shall be a perfect expression of the Divine Thought and a fitting tabernacle for the Deity to indwell.
Masonically, we speak of Deity as the Great Architect, and of the Universe as the Cosmic Temple in process of being built in accordance with the Divine Law and Order and with the help of the Divine Compasses and Square; and it is this idea, as being the basis of Masonic doctrine and philosophy, which is, therefore, the first “secret” revealed to every Candidate and displayed to him under the guise of our Triune Great Lights; for, as a Mason, it becomes his duty to co-operate with the Great Architect in executing His plan and erecting the Great Cosmic Temple.
Having been shewn the Three Great Lights (or, as we may call them, the three great Cosmic Principles), the Candidate is now turned round from facing the E., and shewn Three Lesser Lights burning in different parts of the Lodge. Now these Three Lesser Lights stand in direct correspondence with the three great ones. They are meant to indicate to the Candidate that the three great Cosmic Principles or Lights which sublie the Universe, are reproduced and present in miniature within himself. The Universe is the Macrocosm (or great image of the Divine Thought); he himself is the Microcosm (or image in small of the same Thought), and in him too reside three “lights” enabling him to co-operate with the Great Architect’s plan. To him, too, have been entrusted the Compasses of the discerning Mind to direct his own personal life; the Square of bodily form which it will be his task to work into due shape and make meet as a living stone for the Cosmic Temple; whilst the Master Light of Conscience also resides imperishably within him to indicate to him the path of duty.
By the assistance of these Three Lesser Lights the Candidate is enabled (as the Lecture of the Degree will teach him) to perceive for the first time the form of the Lodge; to behold its arrangement, its furniture and jewels, to contemplate its length, breadth and height, the disposition of the Brethren round its sides, whilst its middle portion is left as empty space and illumined by the “Glory in the Centre.” Translating this into personal significance, he is meant to realise that all this external-imagery is but a picture of himself, seen from within himself and no longer from without. For just as he is now within the Lodge, and able to see what was previously closed to him, so now by the help of his own inner lights he may hope to become able to enter within himself, to contemplate introspectively the spaciousness of his own soul, to observe with what graces and jewels of character he must furnish and adorn it, and to perceive his own personal faculties at the circumference and the presence of that bright Star which blazes at his own centre.
To sum up; the instruction in the Great Lights is to reveal to the Candidate the basic Law and Principles of all being; whilst that in the lesser ones constitutes his first lesson in the “knowledge of himself” and teaches him that those Principles exist also within his own soul and provide him with lights sufficient to shape it into perfection and bring himself into harmony with Cosmic Law.
In the concealment of the lower points of the C. beneath the S. lies a most instructive lesson. Thereby is implied that man’s immortal and powerful spirit (represented by the C.) is at present overlain and prevented from full function by the contrary tendencies of his mortal material body, represented by the S.) Now this position must become reversed. If man is to become perfected and rise to the full height and possibilities of his being, his spiritual principle must not remain subordinated to the flesh and its tendencies, but gain ascendancy over them. This the Mason is taught to achieve for himself, and in proportion as he subdues his lower nature he will liberate the powers and faculties of his immortal spirit and rise to mastership over all that is fleshly and material in himself. In the subsequent Degrees this triumph of the spirit over the body will be symbolically evidenced by the points of the C. being progressively raised above the S, first one and then the other, until the Candidate for perfection becomes at last “able to work with both those points and render the circle of his Masonic conduct complete.”
9.—The Entrustment with the Secrets.
Next follows the Candidate’s entrustment with the “secrets” of the Degree. This, however, is preceded by an explanation to him of certain dangers which, unknown to himself, he is told he has already passed, and he is shewn the sword and the cabletow. These, of course, are but visible symbols of certain subjective spiritual perils incident to rashly embarking upon the path of spiritual experience and to the moral suicide involved in receding from that path when one’s eyes have been opened to it. To the novice these perils are imperceptible, and will not become apparent until after considerable experience; meanwhile he should accept the warning as a wise counsel from those more advanced than himself.
As to the sword that is shewn him, let him reflect upon the frequent Scriptural references to the two-edged “sword of the Spirit,” to its penetrating power and the way in which it is said to guard access to the central “Tree of Life.” This will help him to understand the use of the sword in the Ceremony, and why, on his first entrance to the Lodge, he is made to feel its sharp point.
To the cabletow attaches very considerable significance; indeed, so important is this item of equipment that it appears in one guise (or disguise) or another in each of the three Degrees, as also in the Royal Arch. It is not expedient that its deeper meanings should be spoken about promiscuously even among Masons; like many other things in the Craft, those meanings will either disclose themselves to advancing experience or be imparted privately by a teacher to approved pupils. It may be said, however, that biblically, the cabletow is referred to in the familiar phrase “or ever the Silver Cord is loosed” (Ecc. XII., 6) and whoever understands that phrase will perceive why the “cord” is used in each of our Ceremonies.
The “secrets” (or arcane truths) imparted in this Degree are explained as consisting of certain peculiar marks or signs, intended to distinguish all Brethren of the elementary grade of Apprentice. Outwardly, in this and in subsequent Degrees also, they are expressed by step, sign, and word. These, of course, are not the full or real secrets, but only figurative emblems of them. It is what they signify that constitutes the secrets, and that significance is left for the Candidate to meditate upon and reduce into daily personal practice. Only so will he really learn them and come to understand why they are called “secrets” and why we insist upon their use. They can never be orally communicated, except in symbolic form, but must be learned by experimental practice. Just as a prosperous business man can never convey the “secret” of his success to someone who has not himself practised it, so the secrets of Masonic progress are learned only by those who actually live them. They are clues to spiritual progress rather than confidential communications of secret information.
In being given the formal symbolic secrets the Candidate should reflect that he is receiving a first lesson in a long course of instruction of a private and occult nature; i.e., one not taught outside the Lodge, but hidden from public knowledge and intended to help him upon the path of his personal inner life. For having but just entered upon that path, it is proper that he should now be instructed how to tread it. He has a long journey to take to reach the goal the Craft opens to him, a goal not yet visible. Hence he should absorb instruction slowly, proceed warily, understandingly, and withal humbly. He has been given a first far-off glimpse of the Light he seeks, but that Light would only confound and blind him were it revealed to him in its fullness, suddenly and abruptly. In his quest of it he should apply to himself the well-worn words of Newman’s hymn, “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” And it is one step, and only one step at a time, that the Craft permits and teaches in each of our Degrees. Let him see that he carries into daily life all that that one step signifies, for until he has taken it in actual living he will be incapable of taking the subsequent ones. And to the Apprentice Mason seven years are allocated to taking it, though (as the Lecture states) less will suffice if he be found worthy of preferment.
Why so long a period as seven years? The answer lies in the fact that the First Degree of spiritual and Masonic life is one of purification of body and mind in preparation for the attainment of Light in all its fullness. The unpurified natural man can never reach that Light; his own inherent, impurities and darkness will always clog his mind and keep him self-hoodwinked from it. Therefore, purification is necessary and the elimination of everything in him that clouds his vision and coarsens his nature. This takes time. We know our bodies undergo change every seven years. Physiologists declare that during that period every cell and tissue of us undergoes renewal. The man who understands himself and resolutely sets about at the work of regeneration can, therefore, rely on Nature’s assistance in enabling him within seven years gradually to work off his own impurities and replace them with new material, thus building a cleaner, purer body for himself, one better fitted for being suffused by the Light resident at his own centre. This “septenary law” — one of the key-secrets for interpreting life — was well known to the Initiates of old and it is for this reason that seven years are allotted to the work of the First Degree.
There is much to be learned about the “word” of the Degree and the posture in which it is imparted, but this again must be left to private oral tuition. The directions about the Candidate being “expected to stand perfectly erect,” and the references to “right (i.e., straight) lines and angles” and “well-squared actions” comprise a wealth of allusion to secret truths into which the average Brother never thinks it worth while to inquire. To the experienced, however, such matters as bodily posture and the “well-squaring” of one’s personal actions (even in such minute matters as writing legibly and with every letter well-formed) have both a physiological and a character value of great importance in relation to the effort to attain spiritual perfection. Nature has had a purpose in slowly raising man’s animal body from a horizontal to an erect posture and in transforming his animal instincts and passions into moral rectitude, and she has still further purposes to disclose as resulting from physiological erectness. “Unto the upright ariseth light in the darkness,” says the Psalmist; and to Initiates this is literally true. It is a part of their training and discipline to adopt a physically erect posture of the spinal column when engaged in their devotions and meditations, that pillar-like posture being known to be conducive to the attainment of spiritual consciousness or “light.” Hence all prayers in the Lodge are said with the Brethren upstanding, for which reason the Masonic Candidate is instructed to “stand perfectly erect” at the moment when the light of the “word” is communicated to him. In former times, for well understood psycho-physiological reasons, a deformed or diseased person was never accepted as a fit and proper Candidate for Initiation.
As to the “Word” given to the Candidate, a brief hint may be given here. It is said to denote Strength; a better rendering would be Power, Energy, Ardour, all of which are implied by it. It refers to the energy and ardour with which the Candidate should pursue his work of self-perfecting now that he has once begun it; and the word is given him because keeness and energy will prove one of the key-secrets of his successful progress. All creative work depends upon two interacting active and passive forces, energy and resistance, labour and rest. (In the Creation God first laboured and then rested). The Ceremony reminds us that these two forces were represented at the forefront of Solomon’s symbolic temple by two “pillars,” i.e., foundation principles. And it is these two principles — activity and contemplation — that the Candidate must learn to apply to himself in rebuilding his own personal temple.
10.—The Testing by the Wardens.
Following the entrustment with the Secrets, the Candidate is directed to be led to each Warden in turn and told to communicate them to him. Why is this? It is to ascertain whether he retains the instructions and impressions already communicated to him and can reproduce them, or whether he will fail in so doing, or will pervert or falsify them. In a word he is subjected to a test of his own capacity to retain and live up to what has already been imparted to him.
This episode not only perpetuates the practice of the Ancient Mysteries but is entirely accordant with Scriptural authority and with spiritual experience. For it is a fact, indeed a law, of life, that no one receives an accession of knowledge or power or even of material wealth without being soon afterwards put to a test as to how he will use it and whether he is able and worthy to retain it, if he is, he will be still further advanced; not, he will remain where he was or be degraded to a worse position than at first. ‘To him that hath shall be given; and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Remember to what a severe testing Job was subjected after acquiring great wealth; remember, too, the “temptation” or testing episode related in the Gospels as occurring to Jesus immediately after his accession of spiritual light at the Jordan baptism.
And so it will be to everyone for whom our Initiation Ceremony becomes translated into terms of actual life-experience. As soon as Light or Wisdom has been vouchsafed him, he will find himself tested in one or another way as to his worthiness to receive it. “He who has not been tested knows nothing” says a wise Master (Thomas a Kempis), for no new truth can become one’s own until it has been reduced to personal conduct and lived out under the stress of opposition and temptation to the contrary.
Earlier in our Ceremony, you will remember, the Candidate was conducted to the Wardens in turn and, arousing them from silence, provoked them to speak to him; and it was explained that in doing so the Candidate was symbolically calling into activity certain higher forces latent in himself but previously dormant. It is those same latent forces or higher principles in himself that will put him to the test now that his intelligence has been accorded a certain small measure of Light. Can he retain that Light? Does he still exhibit the “sign” of a true Mason? Is he still striving to tread the path and to take the “step”? Does he remember and act upon the “word” that was given him”? Does his daily life show that he is uttering that word, — if not in its completeness, at least in broken syllables or letters? (Our practice of “half-ing” or “lettering” the word is not merely for precautionary reasons or to show that we share its secret with other Brethren, but as a most instructive and delicate reminder that though we be unable to utter that word in its entirety, yet if we can only sound it forth in stumbling but sincere fragmentary efforts, those fragments will suffice to let us pass our test).
If, therefore, we pass the test, we are permitted and directed to pass on to higher attainments, and it is of this that the sending round of the Candidate to the Wardens to prove himself a Mason is a dramatic and symbolic representation.
11.—The Investure with the Apron.
Since each episode in the Ceremony follows its predecessor with far-seeing wisdom and psychological accuracy, we shall now see how great and fitting a reward awaits the Candidate as the result of passing the test to which he has just been submitted.
On the S.W. reporting to the Master that the Candidate has made real and demonstrable progress in the science, the Master forthwith gives directions for the investment with the Apron. Thereupon, for the first time the Candidate becomes masonically clothed and entitled thenceforth to wear the glorious badge of the Order.
Behind this act of investment lies an important but ultra-physical truth, namely, that every spiritual state into which the human soul passes is accompanied by an appropriate bodily form.
The ancient maxim of the Initiates about this is “Nullus spiritus sine indumento;” no spirit (or spiritual condition) exists without possessing its appropriate form or garment; or, in Scriptural words, “God giveth it a body as it pleaseth Him, and to every seed (or soul) its own body.” And accordingly, on the Candidate being certified as having attained a new phase of soul-growth, the Master (as the Divine representative in the Lodge) at once orders him to be clothed upon with a vesture expressive of his spiritual condition.
How fitting a vesture the Apron is will appear on perceiving its emblematic value. It is at once one of the most important and comprehensive of our symbols. Its shape is that of an equilateral triangle, superimposed upon a quadrangle whose sides are equal also. The triangle is the primitive and universal emblem of what is Spiritual and Formless, whilst the quadrangle is that of what is Material and possesses Form (or body); and, since human nature is a compound of both, the Apron is a figure of man himself. And because the triangle and quadrangle are among the most ancient ideographs in the world, and indeed as old as humanity itself, the Apron is very truly described as being “a badge older than that of any other Order in existence.”
The Apron is also of white lambskin; an emblem, therefore, of purity, of innocence, and infancy; an appropriate clothing for one just born into the Masonic life. It is five-pointed, in allusion to man’s five-sensed nature and to many other occult truths concerning humanity. If you add the three sides of its triangular part to the four of its quadrangular, you get seven, the number of completeness in Nature, corresponding with the septenary of colours in the spectrum, the notes of the musical scale, and the days of the week. If you multiply them, you get twelve, the cosmic number, comprising the twelve Zodiacal Signs through which our Solar System moves and which are reflected in the twelve Hebrew Tribes and the twelve Apostles.
As the Candidate advances through the Degrees and perhaps eventually becomes advanced to the higher sections of the Masonic Hierarchy, he will find at each new step a corresponding change in the form and colours of his Apron. It will manifest what are known as the sacred or royal colours, blue, purple and scarlet, whilst to its unadorned simplicity will be added ornamentations of the precious metals, at first silver and afterwards gold. These elaborations of the Apron are meant to symbolise corresponding progress in him who wears it, and point to the unfolding of spiritual graces and powers from the depths of his own inward being. As the strength of his central spirit grows, so his Apron will burgeon forth in symbolic rosettes and become decorated with celestial blue and ormanents of silver; and, as it intensifies still further, the pale azure will deepen correspondingly to royal blue, and silver will be displaced by gold, — the emblem of wisdom and spiritual royalty. The Apron, moreover, is attached to the body by a fastener in the form of a serpent — the emblem of Wisdom, to indicate the wisdom with which his whole organism has been devised.
Let the Candidate, then, see in the Apron a symbol of himself and, in its progressive beautifying, reflect that it calls for the manifestation of corresponding growth of spirituality in his own life. Let him regard his Apron with a respect comparable to that with which he should regard his own soul, keeping it so far as may be sacred and undented, never treating it with levity nor entrusting it to any hands but his own. For, being the symbol of himself, it should be respected as the outward and visible image of his inward invisible self.
As it is written that no man may enter heaven without wearing a “wedding garment” (i.e., a vesture qualifying him for union with the celestial life), so no Mason may enter a Lodge without wearing the Apron that proclaims his fellowship and amity with the universal Craft. But we need not restrict our thought or even our use of the Apron to wearing it in Lodge; it is helpful to imagine ourselves as clothed with it at all times, whether we are actually wearing it or not. There are some Brethren who gird on their Masonic clothing in private, ere engaging in their personal devotions. And there are some who, loyal to its meaning in their lifetime, like still to wear their Apron in the grave.
12.—The Charge in the N.E. Corner.
Clothed upon Masonically, the Candidate is then placed in the N.E. corner of the Lodge. By “the Lodge” was formerly meant not the room in which the Ceremony takes place, but the Lodge-board or Trestle-board, now called the Tracing-board, to the N.E. corner of which the Candidate’s feet were angulated; a practice still obtaining in some Lodges and one that seems desirable to pursue.
The N.E. corner is a point of much symbolic significance. It is the meeting place of N. and E., of darkness and light, and, therefore, representative of the Candidate’s own condition. Standing at this point, he can henceforward at will step onward to the E., or backward to the N., advancing further to the Light or relapsing into darkness; it will rest with himself which direction his life will henceforth take.
He is charged, however, to make his present position the basis of renewed spiritual activity and to regard his personality as a “foundation-stone,” now well and truly laid, as the material for raising thereon a “super-structure.” By this expression is meant something much more than mere character-building, as it is often thought to mean. What is implied may perhaps be gathered by reference to some of the older Masonic rituals in which instead of “super-structure,” the Candidate is told to build a “castle in the air,” an expression which, far from meaning something dreamy and imaginary as it popularly has come to do, really refers to an “airy,” ethereal or spiritual body, “a house not made with hands nor subject to decay (like his temporal body) but eternal and heavenly.”
This leads one into deeper metaphysics than can be dealt with here, and the subject must be left to private reflection and tuition, with merely the hint that as our mortal visible body has been built up gradually, cell by cell and tissue by tissue, out of the essences and life forces of temporal Nature, so Man has within him the capacity to raise thereupon, and to evolve from himself, an immortal invisible “super-structure.” an “airy” castle or fortress into which his conscious soul will retreat and clothe itself when its earthly vesture fall away. The erection of the super-structure is known in Masonic mysticism as the “building King Solomon’s Temple,” which every Mason must build for himself.
A further subject upon which the Candidate is charged in the N.E. corner is the duty of Charity, the complete attainment of which is elsewhere spoken of as the summit of the Mason’s profession. Now it is idle to think of this virtue and its attainment as being fulfilled by money-donations to those who are financially poor, distressed or deserving. The usual words of the Ritual may suggest that it does, but remember that the Ritual throughout is a veil, and always masks far deeper truths than its surface-words exhibit.
The “Charity” the Candidate is so earnestly entreated to cultivate at this important moment and throughout his subsequent life would perhaps be best interpreted by the word “compassion,” — universal compassion for, and sympathetic feeling with, all living creatures, human and sub-human. Such a definition includes Love, which is the usual synonym for Charity, but it embraces even something more. “Charity,” in its Latin original Caritas, means “dearness,” and the Masonic virtue and duty is that of regarding all creatures in a spirit of universal and impartial dearness, as being all pilgrims upon a single path and, whilst in differing degrees of development, yet all evolving towards a common goal. In their struggles and sufferings to work out that destiny, which is theirs no less than yours, and whether they are conscious of that destiny or not, and whether they will thank you for your help or not, it is nevertheless the Mason’s duty to give them all the compassion and help he can.
Giving what is personal and material is the lowest and not always a wise, form of giving. Giving mental and moral succour is relief of far greater value, because it braces the mental and moral nature of the recipients. Giving oneself from the heart in a constant sacrificial outpouring of the spirit may yield no visible result but is yet the highest of all forms of giving, and it is this which the Mason is counselled to practice, since what he radiates will quicken the life of all around him and send forth leaves from his own tree of life for the healing of the nations. At the Centre of each man’s personal system dwells a sun, clouded though it may now be by the fogs and mists of his own making, which, like the solar orb in Nature, can send forth its generous beneficent radiation persistently, unstintingly, and impartially to the good and the evil alike. All the great teachers and enlighteners of humanity have been suns in that sense and because their lives were based upon compassion for the whole world; and it is for the Initiate to try to emulate them.
Consider the philosophy of giving and why it must needs be more blessed than receiving. Natural man is necessarily selfish, grasping, self-acquisitive. All his days he has been receiving — from Nature, from his parents, from society — and has become egocentric and habituated and trained to securing for himself a living, a position, and an individuality. But the Mason is a man who, by the very fact of his seeking Initiation, is impelled by forces within himself to rise beyond Nature and to submit himself to a law higher than that of self-acquisition. All his energies have now to be reversed; getting must give way to giving; centripetal tendencies must become transformed to centrifugal radiation of the highest qualities in him. In Matthew Arnold’s words:—
Know, man is all that Nature is but more,
And in that “more” lie all his hopes of good. From that “more” the Mason builds a “super-structure” upon the foundation of his old self; not as formerly, by a process of getting and receiving but by one of giving forth that others may live. And the more he gives the more he must eventually receive, for all energy is conserved and, like expanding water-ripples, returns upon its source, enriched by every contact it has made in its passage.
Hence it is that the Candidate is charged to learn that self-giving is the foundation-law and foundation-stone of the higher life; that Charity has its degrees and may be practised in many ways and upon different planes, the highest of which is the habitual pouring forth of compassionate love to all beings; that he who has freely received must as freely give; and that as he, by his Initiation, has been given the blessing of light and understanding he never before possessed, so now the Law of life itself requires that, from this moment, he shall never withhold that light from any who asks it from him.
Surely one of the most moving moments of an impressive Ceremony is that in which the Candidate, pauperised and denuded of everything material, is invited to make a gift to his poor and distressed fellow-creatures. Out of what resources can he make it save from treasury of his own heart — without the backing of which no gift, whatever its form, can have any true value? The incident is meant to teach him that if that treasury be empty how can he really give at all, however opulent he be pecuniarily? but if it be filled, he will be giving what guineas cannot buy.
13.—The Working Tools.
In the N.E. Corner the Candidate is advised what to do, what to aim at, in order to promote his own advancement. The next thing is to tell him how to do it. He is, therefore, recommended to pursue certain lines of self-discipline and self-improvement which are referred to under the guise of “working tools.”
These working tools are three, and as their mystical significance is sufficiently explained on their presentation to the Candidate it is needless to repeat it here. They must not be looked upon, however, as merely emblems incidental to the Ceremony and thereafter to be ignored or forgotten, but as representing duties essential to Masonic progress and meant to be put to practical daily observance.
One of these three tools, the measuring gauge, is itself threefold in its application. It allocates one’s daily time to the performance of three distinct duties, duties not necessarily involving equal expenditure of time, but duties each of which is of equal value.
It inculcates (1) a duty to God and a persistent devotion to spiritual things, (2) a duty to oneself, involving due attention to material pursuits and the care of one’s own person, and (3) an altruistic duty to those less happily placed than oneself; as it were an equilateral triangle of duties each of which is as important as the other two, indeed it will be helpful to think of the sides of such a triangle as signifying God, oneself, and one’s neighbour respectively, and constituting a unity, a whole of which each part is necessary to the others.
The Mason must find a way of balancing his performance of these three duties, so as to make of them an equilateral and not an unequally-sided triangle. Equal attention is called for to spiritual things, to himself, and to what is other than himself, i.e., his neighbour; undue preponderance in either direction will prevent a true balance. That is why, whilst told to give altruistic help to his neighbour, he is also told that he should not do so “unless he can do it without detriment to himself or connections.” At first blush these qualifying words sound selfish, contrary to the spirit i)f self-sacrifice. But there is great wisdom in them. For only he can really serve and help another who has first discharged his duty to himself and made himself competent to serve. “Self-love (says Shakespeare) is not so vile a sin as self-neglect”; and there are many people who neglect to improve themselves, whilst fussily trying to improve others. But selfishness will itself disappear if devotion be habitually accorded to what is higher than self, and this attainment will then in turn qualify him to help his neighbour.
As the Candidate progresses he will learn of other working tools in the further Degrees, but these he will find himself unable to use unless he has first accustomed himself to those of the First Degree. Therefore, he is counselled to slur nothing over, but to pay attention to even the minutest instructions of the Ritual until they suffuse his life and their performance becomes a habit. He will find his education greatly helped if he will enter upon the systematic reading of literature dealing with Masonic and cognate subjects. “Reading is good prayer” says an old counsel, provided it be of a kind that helps one’s quest for Light, and since Masonry is so largely a work of the mind, every study that conduces to the expansion of his mental faculties will prove a “working tool” and open fresh doors of perception to him,
14.—The Tracing Board.
The concluding instruction to the Candidate is the explanation of the Tracing Board, though for convenience this is often deferred to another occasion, since it is necessarily lengthy.
It will have been observed that the Candidate has already been instructed in certain spiritual and ethical matters; and there now only remains to supplement these by appealing to his intellectual nature. This is done by introducing him to the Tracing Board and imparting to him certain esoteric information of a philosophical character. By “esoteric” is meant information not imparted outside the Lodge or taught by churches and other systems provided for public instruction, but which has always been reserved for more private and advanced tuition and which has been perpetuated in secret and embodied in hieroglyphic or symbolic pictures. At one time these cryptic designs were never exposed to the risk of public gaze. but were drawn upon the floor of the Lodge by the Initiating Master when occasion required and were expunged by the Candidate at the close of the Ceremony. Today they are kept permanently depicted upon the Lodge Board. A detailed examination of the First Degree Tracing Board appears in a previous Lodge Paper, and need not, therefore, be repeated here.
In the official Lecture explaining the Board the new Mason is recommended “to seek a Master and from him gain instruction,” once more instancing the truth “Seek and ye shall find.” This refers to an age-old practice by which every junior Brother sought out and attached himself for seven years to an expert Master for the purpose of gaining much fuller private tuition in the science than is possible at meetings of the Lodge. The relationship of Master and Apprentice, which obtained in the Trade Guilds and later on became an ordinary business practice, was originally one in which the Master undertook not the commercial but the spiritual training of the neotype, a practice which obtains throughout the East to-day and which was always observed in the Mysteries of antiquity. With us the practice has, unfortunately, fallen into desuetude because so few Masters are competent to teach and so few Candidates are wishful or even ripe to learn what lies beneath the surface of the Craft doctrine.
Where, however, the true relationship of Master and Disciple does exist it becomes an intimate and precious one, involving the forging of a spiritual tie and a reciprocal responsibility which neither of them would lightly sever. This is a subject about which far more can be said than is possible here, but let us reflect that old maxim of our science is that “when the pupil is ready the Master will be found waiting,” and that such Master will impart personal instruction of a far deeper and wider character than can be given publicly or promiscuously.
Finally, the Candidate is told to retire from the Lodge to be restored to what are called, a little ironically, his “personal comforts” — the poor trappings and belongings he surrendered before entering a place where such possessions have no value. Nevertheless, a pointed lesson lies in his being directed to resume them, for henceforth it will be his duty to recast his estimate of them, and. whilst using them for what they are worth, to learn to discriminate between what is of transient and what is of enduring moment. What he has hitherto deemed and clung to as “comforts” he may find to be irksome discomforts later on, until he acquires that wisdom and balanced understanding which reacts neither to comfort nor discomfort, but looks beyond both.
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The “Ancient Charge” with which the Ceremony usually concludes is self-explanatory and need not be examined here. Strictly it is not an integral factor of the Ceremony, from which it differs both in method and language. The Ceremony proper is “veiled in allegory” and contains cryptic phrases and sub-surface allusions at every turn, whilst the “Ancient Charge” has no ulterior meaning whatever. It is merely a simple homily complimenting the Candidate upon his reception into the Order and informing him of some observances with which he will be expected to comply.
The Charge obviously embodies advice formerly tendered to young men on becoming apprenticed to the Operative Building Guilds, enjoining them to good citizenship and to leading a moral and useful life. But as present day Candidates for Speculative Masonry are assumed to hold these qualifications before joining the Craft, the Charge is of interest only as perpetuating an old custom of the Trade Guilds on admitting an Apprentice to membership.
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