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THE MASONIC INITIATION
from darkness to light
W. L. WILMSHURST
No more needed and useful work is to be done in the Masonic Order to-day than the education of its members in the true purpose of rites of initiation, that they may the better appreciate the reason, the importance, and the seriousness, of the work the Order was designed to achieve.
Hitherto that educative work has been grievously neglected, with prejudicial results to the Craft through the admission of candidates little adapted to appreciate its purpose . Some members have no wish to be masonically educated . They are content to be Masons in name only, and are satisfied that the monotonous, mechanical repetition of unexplained ceremonies and side-lectures fulfils every requisite, and conveys all that is to be known . Yet in every Lodge are to be found brethren who are asking for something more than this, who know that the Craft was designed for wider and better ends; who, as earnest seekers after Wisdom and Light, entered the Order in the hope of finding them, but who too often are repelled by what they do find there, or lose interest on their needs being left unprovided for. It is in the special interest of this worthier type of Mason that this address is given .
We greatly need competent, trained exponents of the meaning and symbolism of the Craft ; not merely teachers of the letter of its rituals and lectures . The duty and responsibility of providing this wider instruction surely lies upon those holding the rank of Installed Master. Is not their place in that East from which real Light should continually be coming, and whence they are supposed to employ and instruct in Masonic science those who sit in less or greater degrees of darkness in other symbolic quarters of the Lodge ? Are they not the figurative representatives of royal Solomon, and symbolic mouthpieces of a more than human Wisdom ? Over each of them has there not been raised a most solemn petition that they may be endued with wisdom to comprehend, judgment to define, and ability to enforce obedience to the holy law declaring the conditions upon which real Initiation depends, so that they may effectively enlighten the minds of their Brethren ? How many Installed Masters are conscious in their hearts of possessing, or of even striving to acquire, that wisdom, that understanding of our science, that power of raising others from darkness to Light in any real and vital sense ?
Now you have called me to the presidency of this large Association of Installed Masters, whose function is to farther the best interests of the Craft in this district. In accepting that position of honour, can I better use it than by inviting you, my Worshipful Colleagues, to consider with me some lines upon which true Masonic instruction should be directed, so that we may combine in raising the general level of Masonic science in our respective Lodges, and at least try to justify more fully our pretension to be Masters of it ?
My purpose now, therefore, is, firstly, to give some idea of what real Initiation involves, and to show how great a difference exists between it and mere formal passage through the ceremonies of the Craft. Secondly, it is to explain what Initiation meant and still means in the more secret and advanced systems out of which modern Masonry has sprung as a comparatively new branch from a very ancient tree . And lastly, it is to indicate how, and with what greater efficacy, our Lodge-work might be conducted if we better realized the true nature and purpose of the Order.
INITIATION, REAL AND CEREMONIAL
It may be a surprise to some members of our Craft to be told that our ceremonial rites, as at present performed, do not constitute or confer real Initiation at all, in the original sense of admitting a man to the solemn mysteries of the human soul, and to practical experience in divine science. The words "Initiation" and "Mysteries" have become so popularized and debased that they are nowadays used in relation to familiarizing anyone with the methods of, say, the Stock Exchange, or any other pursuit with which he is unacquainted.
We profess to confer Initiation, but few Masons know what real Initiation involves ; very few, one fears, would ' have the wish, the courage, or the willingness to make the necessary sacrifices to attain it if they did. Nevertheless our Craft Degrees give us a rough outline and fragmentary sketch of what the real process entails, and they leave it with ourselves either to amplify that sketch by our own efforts and to make its implications such a reality that our whole life becomes transformed in consequence, or to treat it as so much ceremonial through which we are only to pass formally, leaving our old imperfect nature not a whit changed by the process.
Now if Masonry, with its solemn prayers, assurances and pledges, means anything, its true purpose is to promote the spiritual life and development of its members to a degree far in advance of what it accomplishes at present. Otherwise it remains but a social formality, while its obligations and religious references are apt to lapse into profanity or even blasphemy. To prevent this there is needed a dear grasp of the fundamental purpose of an initiatory system and the reason for its existence, after which one can proceed more advantageously to understanding its degrees and symbols in detail. For without such knowledge and understanding there can be no real power, no spiritual driving-force, behind our rites; and without that power ceremonies are but perfunctory, inefficacious formalities. Ceremonies were instituted originally to give an external form to an internal act; but where the internal power to perform such acts does not exist, a ceremony will avail nothing and achieve nothing. You can go on making nominal Masons by the thousand, but you will only be creating a large organization of men who remain as unenlightened in the Mysteries as they always were. You cannot make a single real Initiate, save, as our teaching indicates, by the help of God and the earnest intelligent co-operation of those qualified to assist to the Light a fellow-being who, from his heart and not merely from his lips, desires that Light, humbly confessing himself spiritually poor, worthless, immersed in darkness, and unable to find that Light elsewhere or by his own efforts . For real Initiation means an expansion of consciousness from the human to the divine level .
Every system of real Initiation, whether of the past or present, is divided into three clear-cut stages ; since before anyone can pass from his natural darkness to the Light supernal and discover the Blazing Star or Glory at his own centre, there are three distinct tasks to be achieved. They are as follows :
First, the turning away from the attractions of the outer world, involving detachment from the allurements of all that is meant by "money and metals," and the purification and subdual of the bodily and sensual tendencies . Not everyone is able or ripe for doing this ; the natural life maintains a powerful hold over us, and our ingrained habits are not readily changed . Yet as long as any of these sensible attractions magnetize and chain us to physical enjoyment, so long are we "in worldly possessions" and precluded from attaining real Initiation into what is super-physical . This work of detachment and self-purification is our Entered Apprentice work, and to it, as you know, is theoretically allotted the long period of seven years. The reason for the seven years apprenticeship is based on the septenary principle operating in Nature . In the course of each seven years the material particles of the human body become entirely changed and reconstituted . By a course of pure living, diet, and thought for that period, therefore, the physical organism is clarified, sublimated and made a more efficient vehicle for the transmission of the central inner Light. This is the true reason for asceticism ; the gradual substitution of refined physical tissues for grosser, impure ones .
Second, the analysis, discipline and obtaining control of one's inner world,-of the mind, of one's thoughts, one's intellectual and psychic faculties . This extremely difficult task is that of the Fellowcraft stage, to which is allotted a further five years, which with the previous seven make twelve . Because of this, the candidate who had duly completed this period was said, in the ancient systems, to be mystically "twelve years old,"-a point to which we will refer again presently.
Third, the "last and greatest trial," lay in the breaking and surrender of the personal will, the dying down of all sense of personality and self-hood, so that the petty personal will may become merged in the divine Universal Will and the illusion of separate independent existence give way to conscious realization of unity with the one Life that permeates the Universe . For so only can one be raised from conditions of unreality, strife and figurative death to a knowledge of ultimate Reality, Peace and Life Immortal. To attain this is to attain Mastership, involving complete domination of the lower nature and the development in oneself of a higher order of life and faculty . And he who thus attained was said to be of the mystical age of thirty years, of which also I will say more presently.
Now it is these three stages, these three labours or processes, that are epitomised dramatically in our three Degrees . Every Mason in taking those Degrees identifies himself ceremonially with what they signify ; he also solemnly obligates himself to put their significance into actual practice in his subsequent life. But it is obvious that those labours are highly arduous tasks demanding the whole time, the persistent thought, and the concentrated energies, of any one who submits himself to them . They are not achieved by merely passing through a sequence of ceremonies in three successive months, at the end of which the candidate, far from being an Initiate, usually remains the same bewildered, benighted man he was before, knowing only that he has been hurried through three formal rites entitling him at last to the august title of Master Mason.
Hence we are justified in asserting that Masonry, as now unintelligently practised, does not and cannot confer real Initiation ; it merely discharges certain ceremonial formalities . Nevertheless in those formalities the earnest Mason, the diligent pursuer of the path of Light, is given a clear chart of the process of spiritual self-development which he can follow up by his own subsequent exertions ; and further, he is directed to a most valuable key for unlocking central truth and discovering the hidden secrets and mysteries of his own being,-the key of intense aspiration to find the Light of the centre.
"Does that key hang or lie?" asks one of our lectures . For most Masons it lies . It lies rusting and unused, because they either do not desire or do not know how to use it, or have no one competent to show them how to do so. For some few it hangsyou are taught where-and, though it is of no manner of metal, those who have found and use it, pursuing their quest with fervency and zeal, if perhaps at first with shambling feet and uncertain steps, may assuredly hope to gain admission into the Lodge of their own soul, and, when the last hoodwink falls that now blinds their vision, to find themselves there face to face with the Master of that Lodge, and in possession of every point of fellowship with Him .
A poet well schooled in the process of real Initiation has thus written of it:
For it is then, and only then, that true Initiation is achieved, that the lost Word is found at the deep centre of one's own .heart, and the genuine but withheld secrets of our immortal being are restored to us in exchange for the natural knowledge and faculties which, in this world of time and change, have been given us by Providence as their temporary and mortal substitutions .
The Purpose of the Mysteries
We shall understand little of the purpose of Masonry unless we know that of the older systems out of which it issued. That purpose was to promote and expedite the spiritual evolution of those who desired the regeneration of their nature and were prepared to submit to the necessary discipline. Thus the work of the Ancient Mysteries was something vastly more serious and momentous than merely passing candidates through a series of formal rites as we do to-day. Their great buildings, which still survive, were assuredly not erected at such immense labour and skill merely to provide convenient meeting-places, like our modern Lodge premises, at which to administer a formal rite at the end of a day devoted to business and secular pursuits . The mass of Initiation literature and hieroglyphs available to us reveals how drastic and searching was the work to which candidates were subjected under the expert guidance of Masters who had previously undergone the same discipline and become competent to advance their juniors . With them the work was a difficult but exact science, claiming one's whole time and energies ; it was the highest, greatest and holiest of all forms of science-the science of the human soul and the art of its conversion from a natural to a regenerate supernatural state . Reminiscences of the dignity of this work still survive in our references to Masonry as the "noble science" and "royal art," terms meaningless to-day, although each newly made Mason is charged to make daily progress in Masonic science and every one installed into the chair of a Lodge is termed a Master of Arts and Sciences .
But this secret immemorial science could be imparted only to those morally fit and spiritually ripe for it, as not all men yet are . It was meant only for those bent on passing from the moral and intellectual darkness in which normal humanity is plunged, to that Light which dwells in their darkness, though that darkness comprehendeth it not until it is opened up at their centre . It was solely for those who sought the way, the truth and the supernatural life, and were ready to divest themselves of the "money and metals" of temporal interests and concentrate their energies upon the evolution of the higher principles of their nature, which is possible only by the abnegation and surrender of their lower tendencies .
Evolution, nowadays recognized as a universal process in Nature, is sometimes supposed to be a modern discovery. But the ancient Wisdom-teaching knew and acted upon it ages before modem scientists discovered it in our own day. It recognized that in all the Universe there is but one Life broken up and differentiated into innumerable forms, and evolving through those forms from less to greater degrees of perfection . In Masonic metaphor it saw Nature to be the vast general quarry and forest out of which individual lives have been hewn like so much stones and timber, which when duly perfected are destined to be fitted together and built into a new and higher synthesis, a majestic Temple worthy of the Divine indwelling, and of which Solomon's temple was a type. All life has issued out of the "East," i.e., from the Great World of Infinite Spirit, and has journeyed to the "West" or the Little World of finite form and embodiment, whence, when duly perfected by experience in those restricted conditions, it is ordained to return to the "East ." Hence when our Entered Apprentice is asked in the lecture, whence he comes and whither he goes, he replies that he is on his way back from the temporal West to the eternal East . The answer corresponds with a fuller one to be found in the surviving records of the early British Initiates, the Welsh bards, where to the same question the following reply is made:
Life, then, was seen as broken up and distributed into innumerable individualized lives or souls and as passing from one bodily form to another in a perpetual progression . (In Masonic metaphor those individualized souls are called "stones," for stone or rock is an emblem of what is most enduring, and the stones are rough ashlars or perfect cubes accordingly as they exist in the rough or have been squared, worked upon, and polished) . The bodily form with which the soul becomes invested upon entering this world (symbolized by the Mason being invested with the apron) was seen to be transient, variable, perishable, of small moment compared with the life or soul animating it . Yet it was of the greatest importance in another way, since it provided a fulcrum point or point of resistance for the soul's education and development. It was, as we still term it, the "tomb of transformation" ; the grave into which the soul descended for the purpose of working out its own salvation, for transforming and improving itself, and ascending out of it the stronger and wiser for the experience . Thus life was seen as one continuous stream, temporarily checked by the particular form that clothed it, but flowing on from form to form to ever new and higher conditions ; slumbering in the mineral, dreaming in the plant, waking in the animal, and reaching moral self-consciousness in man.
But does the ascending process end there ? Is man as he is now, the goal, the last word, of evolution ? Surely, no. As a Persian Initiate once wrote :
Now in order that evolution from lower to higher degrees of life may take place, some force must previously have been involved in living organisms that makes their evolution possible. You cannot have evolution without involution . A seed would never grow unless it held within it the force which expands it into a plant with a glory of leaf, flower and fruit. An acorn contains in itself the possibility of the oak. A bird's egg conceals within its fluids the miracle of the feathered bird and the skylark's song. Place any of these in appropriate conditions and the latent life-force will evolve naturally to its preordained limit. The growth may even be artificially accelerated by methods of intensive culture.
What now of man ? Man also contains within him a life-force, a "vital and immortal principle" as Masonry calls it, which has not yet expanded to full development in him, and indeed in many men is scarcely active at all . Man, too, has that in him enabling him to evolve from the stage of the mortal animal to a being immortal, superhuman, godlike. Man is evolving towards a far-off divine event in common with all Nature . But how slowly ! and how greatly he thwarts and retards his own development by indulging his gross mortal body and its sensual tendencies, instead of repressing them and cultivating his latent higher principles ! Human nature, it is commonly said, continues always the same ; its weaknesses and vices are those of thousands of years ago, and looking back over the centuries there is little perceptible improvement in the mass despite our boasted progress and civilization .
Can this long slow process of human evolution be expedited ? Is there a method of intensive culture that can be applied to man; one that will more quickly lift him clean above his present level and transform the sensual, benighted, human animal into an illuminated godlike being?
To this the answer of the Ancient Mysteries was "Yes, there is. Human evolution can be accelerated ; if not at present in the mass of humanity, yet in suitable individuals . Human nature is perfectible by an intensive process of purification and initiation. There is a royal science of spiritual advancement, and an art of living, by which the latent, undeveloped divine Life-principle in man can be liberated from the veils of darkness in him now obscuring it and brought forward into full play . If suitable candidates will but make the requisite sacrifices and submit to the necessary discipline, they can be brought in their present lifetime from darkness to Light ; they can be raised to a higher degree of humanity than is otherwise possible to them, and from that position they in turn will be able to raise others to the same degree and so gradually increase the spiritual stature and powers of the whole race ."
The work of the Ancient Mysteries was, therefore, a "perfecting" work, or a work of initiation introducing men to a new order of life, since it was designed to make imperfect beings whole and perfect by completing their evolutionary possibilities . The Greek word for this (teleios) has the twofold meaning, "to make perfect" and "to initiate ." It occurs constantly in the Scriptures, the greatest text-book of Initiation-science that exists. They speak of "the just made perfect" ; "be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect " ; "we speak wisdom (initiation science) to such as are perfect (or initiated)." And this perfecting work was for all men alike, of whatever race, language or religion, as Masonry is to-day . For all are brethren, and upon an equal footing in respect of this work, though not all men are necessarily ready to undertake it at the same moment ; all their religions are but so many radii of one circle, designed to lead them from the circumference and surface of life to the one Light at its centre. The qualifications of a candidate for the Mysteries were precisely those provided for Masonic candidates to-day. The one dominant wish of his heart in asking for admission had to be a yearning desire to pass from his natural blindness to the innermost Light, and to have his old imperfect nature revolutionized and transformed. Let me quote one of the oldest prayers in the world, still used in the East by those seeking real Initiation. In its original Sanskrit it consists of but six words, which may be Englished thus:
It expresses the desire that should be not only upon the lips but burning in the heart of every candidate the world over, under whatever system of Initiation he may come. Without that desire as the deepest urge of his heart no real Initiation is possible, nor is any candidate properly prepared to ask for it . No one can expect to come to the revelation of the supernatural Light or to be raised to the sublime degree of a Master-soul, who is content with his present life as it is, who regards himself as not in darkness but as already enlightened, or supposes his present mortal existence to constitute real life . Only by perceiving the unreality and impermanency of the present world and its interests can one really begin to detach himself from it and divest himself, in thought and desire, of its "money and metals ." So long as one carries these with him or remains in any sense "in worldly possessions," so long he darkens his own light and automatically defers his own initiation into it . They mean not merely one's cash and temporal belongings . They include all that clogs and clings to us from our immersion in the outer world ; our intellectual possessions, our stores of notions, beliefs and preconceptions about truth, and the mental habits and self-will we have acquired, even with the best motives, in our state of darkness . All these constitute our "worldly possessions," and they are not our real wealth but our limitations . It is a paradox, but a true one, that we can only gain by giving them up . Their attraction must cease if that high Light we profess to seek is ever to be found, and the aspirant for it must stand at the door of the Mysteries in the deepest sense a poor candidate in a state of darkness, content to be as a child and surrender himself to an entirely new order and rule of life . Few are prepared for this task of self divestment of all that, as experienced men of the world, they have clung to and built into their mental fabric . How many of those who ceremonially profess to do so would be ready or content to do it really ? On being told of this pre-requisite to Initiation they would go away sorrowful, for they have great possessions, and are not yet prepared to give them up for something intangible.
In a like sense the candidate had to be a free man ; free in a moral rather than in a civil sense ; voluntarily offering himself for the work and free from all attachments hindering its achievement ; and so becoming also free to the goodly fellowship of all other initiates the world over and free from any less .worthy intercourse . He had to be of full age ; that is, in full bodily and mental maturity so as to be fit for the disciplines awaiting him, and spiritually mature (as not every one is) for undertaking the final stages of his evolution . Sound judgment, a sound mind in a sound body, was also essential in view of the demands made on the mental and psychic faculties, involving the risk of insanity to the mentally unstable. Strict morals (or chastity) were imperative, since the task of self-transformation involves physiological changes in the bodily organism necessitating the utmost personal purity and continence.
And he had to be of good report . This does not mean of good reputation . It means that on being tested by the initiating authorities he must be found spiritually responsive to the ideals aimed at and "ring true," giving back a good sound or report like a coin that is tapped to determine its genuineness. In the wonderful Egyptian rituals in the Book of the Dead, one of the titles always found accorded to the Initiate was "true of voice." This is the same thing as our reference to possessing the "tongue of good report." It does not mean that he was incapable of falsity and hypocrisy, which goes without saying, but that his very voice revealed his inherent spirituality and his own speech reflected and was coloured by the divine Word behind it . The vocal and heart nervous centres"the guttural" and "the pectoral," as we say-are intimately related physiologically. Purity or impurity of heart modifies the tonal quality and moral power of one's speech . The voice of the real Initiate or saint is always marked by a charm, a music, an impressiveness, and a sincerity absent in other men ; for he is "true of voice" ; he possesses the "tongue of good report."
The rule of the Ancient Mysteries was, and still is in other systems, that twelve years of preparation should elapse before the last great spiritual experience was permitted that brought the candidate to the Light at his centre and qualified him for Mastership, though less sufficed in appropriate cases. As the result of his purification and labours he had become an illuminate and he was mystically said to be twelve years old . From a rough ashlar he had become a polished perfect cube, a stone meet for building into the "holy city" which we are told lieth foursquare and has twelve gates that are always open. For all the parts of his organism were now equalised and balanced, and all his gates (or channels of intercourse with the divine world), no longer shut and clogged by the darkness of his former impurities, lay open for the passage through them of the true Light. In Masonry, this condition is called the "hour of high twelve" ; and he who has attained it will be, like Hiram Abiff, in constant communion with, and adoration of, the Most High.
Similarly, when the candidate had advanced still further to the sublime degree and powers of Mastership he was said to be thirty years old . You will find these mystical ages referred to in the third Gospel, where we are told (Luke ii, 42) of the Great Exemplar being twelve years old and so illuminated that His wisdom confounded the academic but unenlightened teachers of the Temple ; and again (Luke iii, 23) that He "began to be about thirty years old," at which period began his work as a Master, which continued for another three years and manifested such works and teaching as are possible only to a Master. Thirty-three years was, in the Mysteries, the mystical duration of life of every initiate who attained Mastership.
That period has no relation to bodily age ; it is based on considerations we need not now enter into but referring to the completion of human evolution, when it can be said of the soul's travail "It is finished," "He hath wrought the purpose through of That which made him man." It is for this reason that the Antient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Masonry extends to 33 Degrees, in perpetuation of the original secret tradition.
Of the detailed methods employed in assisting properly qualified candidates to the Light of the centre, whether in the ancient systems or at the present day, and of the wonderful change wrought by them in the candidate himself, nothing can be said publicly ; these are matters belonging to silence . The secrets and mysteries of real Initiation can never be fully communicated except in the course of the process itself. They are not disclosed in Masonry at all . Our teaching refers to them as being "serious, solemn and awful," but leaves them at that and provides various substituted ones which have no value save for ceremonial use, and as indications that more genuine ones exist which qualified Brethren will come to know when time and circumstances warrant. To all others they will remain sealed. That time and those circumstances depend upon our own desire and efforts . It is an ancient maxim of the science that "when the disciple is ready, the Master will be found waiting" to help on his advancement, and in accordance with this our teaching expressly declares that the purpose of the Mason is to seek a Master and from him to gain instruction. The earnest Masonic disciple whose heart and thought are steadfastly set towards the Light may assuredly count upon finding himself led sooner or later to a real Initiate capable of helping him to it and of revealing so much of the real secrets as he is qualified to know.
Real Initiates exist at all times, in this country and elsewhere, for the science is not restricted to any nation or creed but is universally diffused over the earth's surface. They are, of course, not numerous and they are to be met with only by those competent to recognise them. They live a hidden life ; in the world but not of it. They never seek publicity or honours ; they never even disclose the fact that they are Initiates . This is the true Masonic secrecy and humility ; the greatest among men are content to be as those that are least. The world little suspects what it owes to its hidden Initiates.
It would be interesting to say something of them, but time permits of my speaking only of a single case, and I will illustrate the universality of the science by referring (though reticently) to one who is not of our country, colour, or creed.
There lives in a distant part of our Empire a man who is in the fullest sense a Master Mason . Years ago he embarked upon the great quest of Light, and after the necessary self-preparation under another Master he attained that great spiritual experience which changed his whole nature and raised him finally and permanently from darkness to Light. You may like to know how the daily life of such a man is spent, for it conforms literally with the rule of our symbolic working tool, the 24-inch gauge, in its application to the 24 hours of the day . For at least two hours each day he withdraws entirely from all external affairs, tyling his door as it were against their intrusion, and opens the Lodge of his soul to its central depths, passing into blissful, ecstatic communion with the Most High . It is his "hour of high twelve." For another two hours a day he sleeps ; that brief period, with a minimum of simple food, sufficing to rest and recuperate his bodily energies, since his real rest and sustenance are drawn from the supernatural peace and bread of life that come to him from his Centre. . The remaining twenty hours of the day are devoted to unflagging labour in the interests of his countrymen and in the spiritual advancement of those brought under his guidance . You may suppose that. he is recluse living an unpractical life in a cell or a forest. On the contrary, he is a prominent man who has been knighted for his public service, a King's Counsel, Attorney-General for a large province, a cultured scholar in English and other languages, and the writer of some important books. I have asked British Government officials who have worked with him for years whether they have found anything distinctive in him ; but they had detected nothing and were utterly blind to the extraordinary spiritual power and saintliness behind his formal exterior. He is one of those who has found, and lives from, the divine centre of his being -that point from Darkness which a Master Mason cannot err- and accordingly to possesses wisdom and powers beyond the imagination of the uninitiated world.
THE IDEAL LODGE
And now, Brethren, from what has been said of the ancient and royal science you may see how faithfully our Craft perpetuates the world-old system of elevating men to a higher order of life than they normally experience, and at the same time you may judge how far it falls short in understanding that science and carrying its intentions into practice.
Are we always going to be content with making merely formal Masons and maintaining a merely social and philanthropic society? If so, we shall remain no different men from the popular world who are not Masons. Or are we wishful that the Craft should fulfill its purpose of being a system of real initiating efficiency by awaking the undeveloped spiritual potentialities of its members and raising them to a sublimer level of life? If so, we must educate ourselves more deeply in its meaning. Let me indicate how things would go if our work were conducted upon more intelligent lines . It is too much to expect any marked or sudden change to take place in old methods or habits, and resistance to any improvement may always be expected from some who are satisfied with things as they are . Nor can improvement be forced upon anyone ; to be advantageous it must come spontaneously . But many Brethren and many Lodges sincerely desire it, and so let me offer you a picture of what an ideal Lodge would be ; you may then consider how far it may be practicable to attempt to conform to that ideal.
In the first place, Lodge meetings would be primarily devoted to what we are taught is their chief purpose, namely, to expatiating on the Mysteries of the Craft and educating Brethren in the understanding of them . This is now never done ; largely because we are without competent instructors. We suppose that our side-lectures are sufficient instruction. This is not the case . There are additional large fields of knowledge that Masons must explore if they wish to learn this science, while our official lectures are themselves packed with purposely obscured truths that are left to our own efforts and -perspicuity to discover, but the purport of which at present remains entirely concealed.
The duly opened Lodge would be a sanctuary of silence and contemplation, broken only by ceremonial utterances or such words of competent and luminous instruction as the Master or Past Masters are moved to extend . And the higher the degree in which it is opened, the deeper and more solemn would be the sense of excluding all temporal thoughts and interests and of approaching more nearly that veiled central Light whose opening into activity in our hearts we profess to be our predominant wish .
In such circumstances each Lodge meeting would become an occasion of profound spiritual experience . No member would wish to disturb the harmony of such a Lodge by talk or alien thought . No member would willingly be absent. If he were, save from necessity, it would indicate that, though entitled to wear the apron in a literal sense, he was temporarily not properly clothed in his mind and intention to be qualified to enter the Lodge. Every one would regret when such a meeting closed and it became necessary to be recalled from such peace and refreshment to the jars and labours of the outer world.
The admission of a new candidate would be a comparatively infrequent event. For no one would be received to membership save after the fullest tests of his genuine desire for Masonic knowledge and of his adaptability to it .
The conferment of the different degrees would be at much longer intervals than is now authorized, so as to ensure their being assimilated and understood, as is impossible at present . And upon the notable occasion of a degree being conferred, those present would be not merely passive spectators of the rite . They would have been educated to become active though silent helpers in it by adding the force of their united thought and desire to the spoken word, and so creating such a tense and highly charged atmosphere that an abiding permanent uplift in the candidate's consciousness might be hoped for . For the efficacy of rites like ours does not depend solely on the Master who performs them. He is the mouthpiece for the time being of all those present, but it is the whole assembly that should really be acting ; forming, as it were, a battery of spiritual energy, and drawing the new Brother into vital fraternity with itself. Great power resides in strong collective thought and intention, and when these are focused and concentrated upon a candidate properly prepared in heart and mind for our ministrations, we might hope to induce in him something like real initiation ; but otherwise he will be listening to but a formal recital of words .
It follows that we should never hear such things as the usual talk about "making one's Lodge a success," or as personal praise to anyone for having performed his work creditably. Whether our work is really done well, in the sense of being spiritually effective, God alone knoweth, to whom all gratitude should be rendered for any good achieved ; while the only worthy success for a Lodge is its capacity for vitally affecting the lives of those who enter it and transforming their mental and moral outlook.
The Lodge-room should be holy ground ; a Temple consecrated to Masonic work and used for it exclusively. For it is a symbol of the temple of the human individual, and we who are taught the necessity of every intending initiate's excluding money and metals from his thought, and who have before us the significant example of a Master who vigorously scourged all money-changers out of the Temple, should surely conform to those lessons by keeping our symbolic temple sanctified and entirely free from secular use . There is a practical advantage in so doing, for premises continually devoted to a single purpose become, as it were, charged and saturated with the thought and ideals thrown off by those who habitually so use it . A permanent spiritual atmosphere is created, the influence of which appreciably affects those who enter it, and the possibility of the efficacious initiation of candidates is thereby greatly increased ; whereas that atmosphere becomes defiled, and any spiritual influence stored in it neutralized, by promiscuous use.
Visiting other Lodges would no longer be for social reasons, but, as in ancient times, solely with a desire to enlarge one's Masonic knowledge and experience, to share their spiritual privileges, or even to bring spiritual reinforcement to Lodges needing such help . No practice is more beneficial than intercourse between those of different Lodges engaged in a common work, and no right is more firmly established than that of any seeker of the Light to claim and be given hospitality and assistance conducing to that end. But our modern practice of mass-visiting is calculated to disturb the true work we ought to be doing, and is somewhat of an abuse and travesty of a privilege dating from antiquity, when occasional representatives of one school of the Mysteries journeyed, often long distances, to another in a different land to enlarge their own knowledge or impart it to those they visited.
Promotion to office in, the Craft would not be by rotation or from seniority of membership or social standing in the outside world. It would depend entirely upon spiritual proficiency ; upon ability to impart real illumination to candidates and advance the true work of the Craft. The little jealousies and heartburning that now occur at the annual promotions would be impossible; such things belong to the base metals in our nature, which ought long ago to have been got rid of in any one really qualified for office. Did we better realize the serious nature of Initiation work, we should often shrink in humility tool from accepting positions we are now eager to seize . Remember that in leaving the outer world and . passing the portal of the Lodge into the world within, all values change; all questions, and even all sense, of personality should cease. You become engaged not in a personal task but in a common fraternal work before God, in whose sight all are equal and who will act through such instruments as seem good to Him . Therefore "let him that is greatest among you be as he that is least" ; it may well be that the apparently least among us is often likely to be the more efficient workman.
These, I know, are lofty ideals, largely impracticable at the moment, and I have no wish to alienate any Brother's interest in the Craft by imposing a standard beyond his present capacity and desire. Yet Brethren to whom the ideal appeals, and to whom it is both desirable and practicable, might unite in meeting with the intention of conforming to it, and here and there even a small new Lodge might be formed for that special purpose, leaving other Lodges to work on their accustomed lines .
Is Masonry, throughout, anything but a lofty ideal, which so far we have made little serious attempt to realize? The main difficulty before us is that the true work of the Craft contemplates a much greater detachment from the things and the ways of the outer world than we are at present willing, or perhaps able, to allow. So we compromise with ourselves, and seek to combine the outer secular life with the inner ideals of the Craft. The two conflict, and no man can efficiently serve two masters . We must choose whom we will serve.
Still the ideal is before us, a glimmering light in a dark, distracted and dying world, and it rests with ourselves whether it remains a glimmer or whether we strive to fan it into a blaze of fact. For those who desire merely a social and sociable organization, garnished with a little picturesque ceremonial and providing opportunity for a little amusement and personal distinction, Masonry will never be more than the formality it long has been and still is for many, and they themselves will remain in darkness as to its meaning, its purpose, and its great possibilities .
But for those who are not content with vanities and unrealities, who - desire not a formal husk but the living spirit, and are bent on plumbing its well guarded secrets and mysteries to their depth and living out its implications to the full, Masonry may well come-as for some it has come to be the chief blessing and experience of their lives ; it may yield them even the last secret of life itself . It may fulfill for them the ancient prayer of the Eastern Initiates we just now spoke of, by leading them from the unreal to the supreme Reality, from darkness to Light ineffable, from the things of time and mortality to things immortal. They may find it a ladder of truth and world-escape set up for them in the wilderness around them, and their Lodge a place of unfolding vision where, with the Hebrew patriarch, they will exclaim: "This is none other than a house of God and a gate of heaven!"
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Last modified: March 22, 2014