There is a sort of hiatus in
Freemasonry. A void.
I wonder if you can guess what I am talking about?
It is just this. We have a
tendency to forget that our ritual is full of mentions of God, and of our part
with Him in the universe. We say prayers to God. We invoke His aid and we put
our trust in Him. We speak of light
which is from above. And at our
initiation we are launched on a quest for self-knowledge, a quest so important,
that all other activities in Freemasonry, however laudable they may be, whether
social, charitable or ritual, must take second place.
An initiate coming into our
Order, if he stops and feels the words of our ritual, he may be in for a
surprise. He has just humbly
solicited to be admitted to mysteries and privileges.
Privileges? These are not
words which are heard too often in post-modern 21st century conversation!
And how does he hope to obtain these?
By the help of no less a being than God Himself.
So, a mere fourteen lines or ninety-two words into the first degree
ritual, we are already invoking God, and we are about to invoke His blessing to
enable the candidate to unfold the beauties of true godliness, in other words
the divinity resident in his own person. Our
candidate affirms that God it is on whom he relies in cases of difficulty
and danger, not the insurance salesman who also promises him indemnity against
the difficulties and dangers of this life.
No, it is God How serious are we about God?
I was speaking to my daughter recently.
She knows quite a lot about Freemasonry, having a masonic Dad.
She said how good it was that Freemasons of different religions could
meet together in spite of their religious differences.
I said that we meet together to celebrate our religious
differences. She said how sad it
was that this could only happen in a masonic context, but I have to say to you
what a happy thing it is that we do so, and what a marvellous example
Freemasons thereby set to the world at large.
It was not always so. Up
until the middle of the eighteenth century, Freemasonry’s ritual was Christian
in concept and content. This sat
uneasily with the Brotherhood of Man, and at some time the ritual was
secularised. But in the 18th century moves to de-christianise the Craft,
the baby, I believe, was thrown out with the bathwater; spirituality was
sacrificed along with Christian doctrine.
If we are to stay true, at
least to the teaching of moral lessons and self-knowledge, we might perhaps want
to regain that dimension to our Craft that has been lost, the dimension giving
us access to that knowledge of our self, to our spirit, to that ‘otherness’
in ourselves. What do we mean by
mean that attention to our physical wellbeing is not enough.
Knowing ourselves does not involve understanding our bodies and how they
work, valuable though such knowledge is. It
means understanding the non-material, non-physical side of ourselves, even
acknowledging that we possess a non-material existence, understanding our heart,
our mind, our psyche, our soul. It
means knowing our true selves, understanding that
greater spiritual matrix of which we are a part.
It means being with ourselves, owning ourselves, getting to know
ourselves, having a balanced appreciation of our talents and our failings, so
that we need not try so hard to prove ourselves before others.
Then we are approaching that ‘otherness’ that is such a precious part
of our own existence. We are, after all, ‘speculative’ Freemasons in this
pursuit, from the latin specula, a watchtower.
We are looking outside of our material existence.
The fact is, conditioned as we
are by the materialist world we live in, any perception of our ‘otherness’
will seem bizarre, to others if not to ourselves, until we pass what I call the
‘reality’ barrier, and interpret the symbols for what they communicate,
rather than taking those symbols at face value.
As Freemasons, we have a unique chance, using symbols and allegory, to
free ourselves from the limitations
of scientific materialism and to own up to the otherness in ourselves without
which a complete knowledge of ourselves is not possible.
Religion uses the oldest
devices for this – myth, ritual, devotion and social action – as ways of
coping with the fundamental human desire to come to terms with the mystery of
our own existence. But spirituality
pre-dates the great world religions. Since time began, man has needed to know that life makes
sense. We need to know our part in
it. In short each one of us, as a
unique part of the creation, needs validation.
While following the doctrines of the religion which we follow, our
spirituality, though it may owe something to the faith we practise, does not
belong to that faith – it is ours alone.
And if we practise no faith at all, then all the more important it is for
us to explore and validate our own spirit, to turn the key to open the mystery
that is ourselves.
In Freemasonry we have a
comprehensive allegory of birth, moral awakening, life, pursuit of knowledge,
experience, through to ultimate wisdom and the knowledge of ourselves, right up
to the importance of the death of our old self to attain re-birth and
perfection. And is our spiritual
path rooted only in intellectual, academic or rational concepts?
Not at all. The prominent
Catholic theologian Hans Küng reminds us that faith would be only half a thing
were it to address only our understanding and reason and not the whole person,
including our hearts.
We need, in the Christian
description, to ‘die to ourselves’, to contemplate our inevitable destiny,
in order to guide us to that most interesting of all human studies.
The holy confidence referred to is that in ourselves we can be
perfect; we can in ourselves defeat defeatism, defeat pain,
defeat suffering, defeat low self-esteem, defeat insecurity, defeat inner chaos
and outer hostility, and lift our eyes to a brighter horizon.
To be aware of God’s
existence may depend on us opening our hearts. In my youth, like many people, I had a closed heart.
I went through an atheistic phase. People
used to tell me ‘God is everywhere – God is in you’
and finally ‘You are God.’ That
didn’t make sense at the time. I
only paid attention to it much later, and in a slow dawning I began to see what
it could mean. When I became a
Freemason, I wondered in particular
what was meant by the following :
Endue him with a competency
of Thy divine wisdom that, assisted by the secrets of our masonic art, he may
the better be enabled to unfold the beauties of true godliness.
I suddenly realised that I was being made a promise.
A promise that, assisted by the secrets of masonry, real secrets of
meaning, not passwords and signs, I could set out on a path of understanding, or
science, of the divinity, not some abstract divinity removed from my proper
understanding, but the divinity already resident in myself.
This is true empowerment: acknowledging,
by meditation, the divinity that is mine, and owning it, being at the centre
bounded by the equidistant parts of the circle, at a point where, as a Mason, I
cannot err, I am truly myself.
The overall effect of how we
treat a new candidate must be to make him so unsure of himself and his
surroundings that he no longer unthinkingly trusts the material world around
him, the evidence of his senses. In
each degree he advances through this state of insecurity, expanding his
consciousness to embrace a new level in the Temple of the psyche.
Initiation may properly occur not during the ceremony itself, but as a
consequence of it – the ceremony
plants a seed and the actual raising of his level of consciousness follows.
When this is achieved, when the initiate’s heart is open, then he is
truly an Entered Apprentice. His
initiation takes place on the ground floor of his psyche, that part related to
the physical world but separate from it. The
candidate has agreed to be deprived, symbolically, of worldly riches.
His clothing is half-undone, a metaphor much more striking in the
elaborate dress of an 18thC gentleman perhaps than it is today.
He has allowed a noose to be placed around his neck, a powerful image of
submission. And, most importantly, he has agreed to be deprived of light,
to be led around in darkness.
If we have prepared our
candidate properly, in mind as well as physically, he ought by now to feel
humbled, submissive, and blind to more than just material light, for how long he
does not know. He is going on a
journey in darkness and deprived of so much in his everyday life that allows him
to feel secure. We are focusing his
mind away from the sensuality of the world into his own being, his own
consciousness. He comes a step
closer to shedding his materialist outer garment.
He will almost certainly feel threatened by sharp objects.
His future in this new way of life is far from sure.
He is advised against rashness, impetuously rushing forward, and also
advised against retreat, reticence. But
note that these risks are so constructed that to avoid the risk of one is to
increase the risk of the other. He
can be neither impetuous, or he will be stabbed, nor can he hold back, or he
will strangle himself, and by this means he is taught resolute but cautious
One of the principal attitudes
required of an Entered Apprentice is fidelity to secrets.
I believe the concept of masonic secrets is one of the most
misunderstood. We surely do not mean signs, tokens and words, still less the
form and content of our degree ceremonies.
These have been so extensively published they can in no circumstances be
regarded any more as worth hiding from the profane world.
No, we are talking about quite different secrets to these.
Freemasonry, viewed as it should be, is not a physical organisation but
rather an activity in pursuit of divinity, of greater light.
Our secrets are those things we hold dear, secrets of our own creation
and creativity, which we are therefore reluctant to expose, much as a novelist
or an artist is reluctant to show his work to others until it is finished.
These are also secrets because to disclose them would negate the good
effect they would have on future initiates.
The Entered Apprentice is
represented by the Rough Ashlar. Kirk
MacNulty, in The Way of the Craftsman puts this very well in reminding us
that while the rock remains in the quarry, it is part of the mass and
experiences what the mass experiences. The
candidate in the Entered Apprentice degree is about to separate himself out, to
become free, to become a Free Mason, and to undertake to live his life as an
individual, to be a separate stone. It is a step which only he can take; and he can take it only
for himself. When he has done it,
when he has recognised himself to be an individual, like the rough ashlar which
will never again be part of the bedrock, the Entered Apprentice can never go
back. To put it another way, when
he has had an insight into his nature, when he has a glimpse of the fact that he
really is, inside, at the core of his being
the ‘Image of God’, he can never unknow that.
In the first degree we are in
darkness, in submission and near slavery. We are presented with Jacob’s
ladder, an image of the ascent to God. In the second degree we are presented
with the image of a winding staircase, another allegory of a possible ascent
toapproach divinity. In the third degree, it is a veil that separates us from
our true nature, and to pierce it we must trample the king of terrors beneath
our feet. Let’s go. Let’s do it. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
There is no darkness so black that we cannot move towards the light. There is no
submission or slavery so great that we cannot set out on the road to freedom.
There is no Jacob’s ladder, no winding staircase so steep that we cannot
ascend. There is no veil so obscure that we cannot pierce it. And there is no
evil so intractable that we cannot tread it beneath our feet, and lift our eyes
to a brighter horizon.