am made whole by initiation.
Clement of Alexandria
The concept of
what constitutes a man is time honored and tested. The traditional role of men
has been essential to the development and maintenance of society. Learning to
think for ourselves, to form our own judgments, to trust our decisions, to
comprehend, to expand our knowledge, to choose this course of action over that,
to decide between good and bad, have through the millennia been recognized as
the attributes that define a man.
throughout the ages, in every society, an essential part of the process of
making men from boys has historically been achieved through initiation. Good
things resulted from turning boys into responsible men through initiation. The
individual, his family, and society at large all benefited. Boys entering
manhood were not left to find their own way, to select their role in society or
to pick their role models. They were crafted and molded into maturity, into
manhood. To the ancients ".man is made - he does not make himself all by
For this reason initiation has played an indispensable role in civilization and
in civilizing men.
The Death of
Men need ritual,
as does society. Families dining together, sharing holiday traditions, attending
church have all been ritualistic practices that have served to bind the family.
Ritual has existed elsewhere in our society to similar good ends. A special form
of ritual is initiation. Though in a broad sense initiation can denote any
ceremony which receives someone into a group, let us define it as ritual
intended to admit a candidate into a society possessing secret knowledge, and
calculated to produce a life altering transformation.
and ceremony are not the same thing, though closely related. For those
participating as opposed to observing, ceremonies provide an external expression
to an internal process. If that internal act doesn't exist then the ceremony
will not achieve the desired effect. Ritual is intended to be more than mere
ceremony, far more than simply external expression. But unless the candidate
desires change and incorporates the experience internally then acts on it in a
positive way, nothing of significance will change in his nature or in his life.
Consider a wedding as both ceremony and ritual. For those attending and
observing it is a ceremony filled with tradition and nearly always a joyous
occasion. It is a set of acts performed on a special occasion much like a play.
But for the couple it is a ritual that unites two adults into one, a rite that
redefines the relationship between their families and forms a bond intended to
be life-long; a bond that will survive and flourish through all adversities and
unanticipated success. For the couple the wedding ritual is a life altering
should be with initiation. It should lift us from the mundane, allowing us to
put behind our failings, and look to a present and future with hope and
optimism. We now see life anew as a spiritual journey and death not as a cruel
end but as desirable transition back to God. Brother W. L.Wilmshurst tells us
that true initiation creates an expansion of consciousness from the human to the
Brother Albert Pike says much the same thing when he writes, "To the ancients,
earth was not the soul's home but rather a place of exile. Initiation returned
the initiate to the Divine."
time the traditional Western religions were home to initiatory rites. They were
considered essential and those in society who were denied them or who had not
participated in them were considered outside the fold and dealt with
accordingly. Just as the church has largely abandoned its role as protector of
morality and truth in society, it has likewise yielded its role in initiatory
rites. While some initiatory themes persist in Christianity they are no longer
regarded as being initiatory.
Truncated forms of baptism, marriage and funeral rites, to name a few, remain
but lack the substance and the consequence they once possessed.
you would not know it from the popular culture, men need more than recognition,
social status, power and wealth.
They require a bond with other men. This is in part to alleviate the feelings of
loneliness and isolation they experience in the world. Brother Robert G. Davis
points out that men lack reliable mentorship and cannot trust their role models.
They find themselves unable to attach to men of leadership and vision.
One tragic consequence is that we remain strangers in an increasingly isolated
this is not new. As our own Joseph Fort Newton wrote:
Here lies the tragedy of our race:
Not that men are poor;
All men know something of poverty.
Not that men are wicked;
Who can claim to be good?
Not that men are ignorant;
Who can boast that he is wise?
But that men are strangers!
instinctively desire to live to a code; living up or down to expectations is an
ingrained masculine attribute. Of every transition over a lifetime the single
greatest is acquiring the approval of men we respect. There is a need in men to
be initiated by other men and to view them as father figures.
Promises made in the presence of men we honor hold us with a special and
profound power. We are inspired by our joining and by our obligations then
assumed. Throughout history men have chosen to die rather than renounce them.
intuitively believe that the future depends on them, on their work, their
resources, their judgment, their actions. There is as well within them the need
to sire or mentor great men who will accomplish great works, be heroes to their
Despite this, the media and the popular social direction of the West are
dominated by an anti-male bias. As Brother Davis writes, "Women are socially and
politically far better organized than men. Women's activist groups are more
clearly focused than men on causes which impact them. There are no national
organizations which reflect the interests of men." He continues, "Yet, the man
and his craftsmanship is still the vehicle for a healthy culture. . He alone
serves as the seed to a renaissance in learning the real meaning and value of
male organizations have existed, in fact still exist, though in dramatically
declining numbers and with far less emphasis on initiation. They have served an
essential role in our society. These various fraternal organizations have given
men "a sense of worth and identity with other men" whom they might "otherwise
never meet, or associate with in any other setting."
As Brother James Anderson wrote in his Book of Constitutions in 1723, Masonry
should be ".the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must
have remain'd at a perpetual Distance."
some 300 years we Masons have played a major role in bringing men from diverse
backgrounds into communion. During the time of the American War for Independence
and indeed until approximately 100 years ago ".Freemasonry was the center of
male bonding and social activity." in America.
is clearly no longer the case.
The Need for
And yet the need
for initiation and the existence of initiatory themes remain within modern man's
unconscious as it has throughout our existence. They are fundamental to our
nature. We are drawn to initiatory rites, and if we fail to find them within a
fraternal organization, we instinctively seek them out in abridged and
maladapted forms. Thus we see aspects of them in the antics of fraternities,
military hazings, even in the ritualistic beatings of street and prison gangs to
new members. Wherever true initiation has faded elements of it emerge from our
own inner need and assume misguided attempts to alter our lives, leaving men
frustrated and unfulfilled. Indeed, it can be said that behind every death
caused by a young man lurks the desire within him to find an authentic life
through a symbolic death.
end of the last century and the beginning of the new have brought about radical
changes in our society, changes men find deeply troubling. It is as if we have
been cast adrift, cut off from our past, from what truly matters. Michael Meade
writes in the Forward to Mircea Eliade's Rites and Symbols of Initiation,
that our time has become in effect,
funeral that we can consciously attend or try to deny. At some level, we each
know that huge shifts in nature and culture are affecting us daily. But without
some spiritual vision and ritual structure, we lose the capacity to handle death
and embrace life fully. Instead, we build walls of denial to hold off terror and
confusion and try to cover our helplessness with displays of force and greed.
Denial arises as a primary symptom of the age because of the scope of changes
already underway and as a defense against the losses and endings. . [T]he
momentum of loss increases because a death unmourned becomes a lingering ghost
that haunts the living until it receives its allotment of attention and tears."
fading of initiation from our society has occurred at a time when how we become
a mature man has changed, at a time that the line between female and male has
blurred. Today the period of childhood and adolescence has been extended well
into the twenties. Our failure to ensure the continuance of initiation is one
for which we pay and will continue to pay an enormous price.
Mircea Eliade puts it,
lies at the core of any genuine human life. And this is true for two reasons:
the first is that any genuine human life implies profound crises, ordeals,
suffering, loss and reconquest of self, 'death and resurrection'; the second is
that, whatever degree of fulfillment life may have brought us, at a certain
moment everyone sees life as a failure. This vision . [arises] from an obscure
feeling that one has missed one's vocation; that one has betrayed the best that
was in oneself. In such moments of total crisis, only one hope seems to offer
any issue - the hope of beginning life over again. .[A]nyone undergoing such a
crisis dreams of new, regenerated life, fully realized and significant. .The
hope and dream of these moments of total crises are to obtain a definite and
total renovatio, a
renewal capable of transmuting life."
Initiation reveals a new perception of the world to the candidate, one that is
more spiritual, even sacred. The ritual is meant to place the candidate within
that new world. During the process the candidate gains access to traditional
teachings and nearly all initiations also include a ritual death followed by
rebirth. "On the ground of initiation," Meade tells us, "death is the opposite
of birth, not the opposite of life."This
is the momentous occasion when the candidate undergoes a symbolic death followed
by his return to his brothers among the living. The intended effect says Brother
Albert Pike is to "purify the soul of its passions, to weaken the empire of the
body over the divine portion of man" so he can experience happiness here in
anticipation of the joy to be enjoyed in the life to come.
writes, "For any transformation to be meaningful it must be thorough, and to be
thorough requires both the ache of loss and a spirit of restoration." He adds,
"More than an empty tomb, death becomes also the womb of change. In dreams and
dramas of initiation, death represents change for the entire psyche and life of
So profound is the intended consequence of initiation that Eliade considers it
indispensable for the beginning of spiritual life.
This is because it is only in initiation that death is given a positive value.
Because of this, initiation is far more than merely acquiring new knowledge.
If that were all that was needed for transformation then the formal education
provided by universities would create an initiated man when clearly they do not.
that it is the experience, not the knowledge imparted, that permits the initiate
to understand the secret meaning of the mysteries.
It is the state of being that comes about through a ritualistic experience that
strikes at a man's core. It creates not merely a reexamination of life, but an
abandonment of his former life as the new man becomes more self-aware by
experiencing a spiritual awakening. The initiate sees himself as a different and
better man. He entered as one person, he emerges as another. Ideally, he is now
set on a course of action which will enhance that new perception and alter for
the good his treatment of others and of himself - for nothing is now the same.
includes death and rebirth, radical altering of a person's 'mode of being'; a
shattering and shaking all the way to the ground of the soul. The initiate
becomes as another person: more fully in life emotionally and more spiritually
aware. Loss of identity and even feeling betrayal of one's self are essential to
rites of passage. In that sense, every initiation causes a funeral and a birth;
a mourning appropriate to death and a joyous celebration for the restoration of
full life. Without conscious rituals of loss and renewal, individuals and
societies lose the capacity to experience the sorrows and joys that are
essential for feeling fully human. Without them life flattens out, and meaning
drains from both living and dying. Soon there is a death of meaning and an
increase in meaningless deaths."
Brother Andre Salmon tells us, "The ultimate objective of Masonic initiation is
the Mason's spiritual ascent back to his divine original source in order to
alleviate the suffering resulting from the fear of death and the contradiction
between human clinging and universal impermanence."
Brother Julian Rees puts it another way. "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
defeatisms, defeat pain, defeat suffering, defeat low self-esteem, defeat
insecurity, defeat inner chaos and outer hostility, and lift our eyes to a
time in America a number of fraternal organizations provided the initiatory
experience. Nearly every man of social standing belonged to one or more of them.
To be publicly identified as a member was to enhance one's public stature. The
centerpiece of these lodges, councils, castles and chapters was ".the journey
offered through its ritual form. The initiations were almost always
transformative ceremonies where the initiate goes on a journey in search of
something lost. .He has to overcome these challenges before he can prove his
with declining numbers, Freemasonry alone survives to offer a significant
initiatory experience to tens of thousands of men every year in America. Eliade
writes of us, "The only secret movement that exhibits a certain ideological
consistency, already has a history, and enjoys social and political prestige is
Freemasonry. The other self-styled initiatory organizations are, for the most
part, recent and hybrid improvisations."
We do not know
with certainty the origin or authors of our ritual. The three degrees of the
Blue lodge have much in common with what is known of the Mysteries of ancient
times but whether those similarities were grafted onto the simpler ritual of
operative Freemasonry or have come down the centuries through them is subject to
disagreement. In either case our degrees have all the components of ancient
mystery religions, or simply the Mysteries, were ancient cults reserved to
initiates. They are best known for the secrecy associated with their initiation
and practices. Many, perhaps most, of the notable adepts of antiquity were
initiated into one or more of the Mysteries. They disappeared during the 4th
century A.D. when Emperor Theodosius I ordered their suppression. The details of
these religious practices are generally unknown, although credible sources allow
deductions as to their general content and initiatory practice.
most comprehensive examination of the Mysterious in the context of modern
Freemasonry was written by Brother George Oliver and published in the mid-19th
century. Oliver sought to provide the history and practice of the major mystery
cults from India, to Persia, to Greece, Britain and America. In so doing, he
described them in considerable detail. Though interesting, it is impossible to
know what to trust in his work. Brother Albert G. Mackey in his Encyclopaedia
of Freemasonry notes that "the great error of Dr. Oliver, as a Masonic
teacher, was a too easy credulity or a too great warmth of imagination, which
led him to accept without hesitation the crude theories of previous writers."
Oliver's work, and that of many other Masonic scholars since then, is motivated
in large part by a desire to establish a direct connection between the Mysteries
and modern Freemasonry. That connection has yet to be made, though it remains an
aspiration for many Masons. Because our origins are unknown and because our
ritual asserts an ancient history we are regularly drawn to the past to seek our
roots. In a general sense this is very similar to the process the raised Master
Mason experiences when he begins his inward journey in search of his true nature
and its origin. It is only to be expected that he would then extend that desire
for understanding to the fraternity that made this possible.
both the Mysteries and Freemasonry the candidate is determined to be a good man
before he is considered for membership. During the ritual he is deprived of his
usual faculties as he is admitted into a secret organization where he is taught
ancient knowledge. He obligates himself in the presence of his new brothers,
invoking God or the gods. He then undergoes trials, usually associated with a
great mythical figure, and ultimately emerges as a spiritual man in union with
this new society of brothers.
In our ritual we
suggest that initiation takes place with the First Degree when the Senior Deacon
later says that the brother has been "initiated an Entered Apprentice Mason."
Brother Mackey, however, points out that while initiation ". is sometimes
specially applied to a reception in the First Degree, but he who has been made
an Entered Apprentice is more correctly said to be Entered."
"Freemasonry," Brother W. Kirk MacNulty writes, "conceives of the complete human
being as having a body, a psyche/soul, a spirit and a contract with his Divine
He describes our ritual in this way. "When the Candidate is admitted into
Freemasonry the Ceremony of Initiation is conducted in an Entered Apprentice's
Lodge which is held, figuratively, on the Ground Floor of King Solomon's
Temple." This represents the individual consciousness. The Middle Chamber in the
Second Degree represents the soul, while the Master Mason's lodge represents
collective unconsciousness, that part of the psyche which is in intimate contact
with the Divine. "Participation in the ceremony of a Degree. is a powerful
experience through which the Mason can come to understand himself in ways which
cannot be communicated by words."
Brother MacNulty continues:
participating in the ceremony of the First Degree the Candidate receives,
symbolically, a look into the nature of his own psyche. If he gives serious
attention to the work of his lodge. there will come [sooner or later] a moment
when 'it all comes together' and he sees his interior being as it is represented
by the symbolism. When he has had such a look in fact, when he has had a real
[not symbolic] experience which indicates that he is an individual, which proves
to him that the thoughts he thinks and the decisions he takes have a real
tangible, usually immediate, effect on his life and on the lives of others; when
he has once had even a glimpse into the workings of his psyche, he can never
forget it. He cannot 'unsee' what he has seen; he can never put aside what that
glimpse of his interior has taught him."
short, initiation is designed to be life altering. Ideally this transformation
occurs in every case but in truth our ritual does not always accomplish
initiation. Not every candidate is capable; some never are, others take much
longer. This is not new.
Many are the candidates seeking initiation,
But few are the perfected intiates.
Because Masonic ritual is intended to be transformative it must be done by the
lodge to that end. Its desired outcome is so profound it compels that we do it
well. It is not so much the delivery of the spoken words or even the precision
with which a degree is executed that matters; rather it is the impact it
has on the candidate. It must disrupt him, make him uncomfortable, it must be
done in such a way as to open the candidate's eyes to a new world.
some, perhaps many brothers, have as yet to be truly initiated. There are many
reasons why a candidate can emerge from initiation uninitiated. He might have
entered Masonry for the wrong reasons or with the misguided expectations. He
might be resistant to the process, holding a portion of himself back,
participating more as a spectator. Or he might overly intellectualize the
experience, hanging on every word, constantly seeking to analyze during the rite
when in truth, like a warm shower or bracing roll in the snow, he should simply
take in the experience because ".a state of consciousness cannot be described -
it must be experienced."
If what the
candidate is taught during the ritual is less important than what he
experiences, the lesson for us is that particular care should be taken in
how well our ritual is done. While typically much emphasis is placed on wording
the most important aspects of the ritual are the physical. To be a true
initiation the candidate must be made unsure of himself and of his surroundings
such that he no longer intuitively trusts the physical world about him, the
heretofore reliable evidence of his senses. The objective is to refocus him away
from the physical allure of the world, redirecting him into the world of his
interior, towards the mysteries of his own consciousness.
candidate must be made to be uncomfortable the manner of his reception at the
preparation room door is important. Though we should certainly stop short of
drawing blood the candidate should experience pain and be shocked. He is
hoodwinked to encourage his disorientation and emphasize his dependence on his
guide, who until now has likely been a stranger. Therefore the Senior Deacon
should not speak words of assurance or comfort during the circumambulation. The
candidate is meant to be disoriented. The raps should be unexpected, loud and
should be taken when placing the candidate in position to take upon himself the
obligation. Attention should be given to the position of his feet as he is
assuming the ancient tau, he stands erect and will soon be told he "there
stand[s], a just and upright Entered Apprentice Mason". While hoodwinked and in
darkness he is faced to the East, the source of light, of truth and knowledge.
this positioning is essential to the degree and when the Senior Warden has
finished he pronounces the candidate, not "ready" but rather "in order", that
is, in order with the Divine, now prepared to take upon himself the solemn
obligation that will make him a Mason. None of this should be done casually or
in a way meant to make it easy for the candidate. Quite the contrary is the
case. And so it is throughout each degree.
reality for many is that often the transformation of initiation occurs only
after repeated exposure to the initiatory ritual or after a period of time has
passed, a time in which the unconscious has reflected and assimilated the
lessons. Brother Dennis Chornenky writes that it is up to the initiate to ensure
that he is constantly transforming into someone better than he was before.
is at least one reason why the Blue lodge consists of three degrees, why lodges
primarily make Masons one at a time and why making Masons is the primary
function of the lodge. It is to expose the brothers to the ritual repeatedly so
that the lessons will be reinforced, or in some cases, perceived for the first
Brother Julian Rees writes, "As Freemasons we have a unique chance, using
symbols and allegory, to free ourselves form the limitations of scientific
materialism and to own up to the otherness in ourselves without which a complete
knowledge of ourselves is not possible."
Indeed, the Masonic initiation is so profound, so meaningful, its consequences
should form the centerpiece of a brother's future Masonic journey. Brother Rees
asserts that, ".[A]t 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
Freemasonry is at its core an initiatory experience. Its primary purpose is to
provide initiation through ritual then to give mentoring to all Master Masons.
Indeed, mentoring is an essential component to becoming a fully realized Mason.
Sadly, too many lodges fail to appreciate their true role in providing
initiation and far more do not recognize their obligation to assist brothers in
their continuing journey.
Brother Davis lists mentoring as the seventh pillar of success in manhood. As
men, and as Master Masons, we are driven to fulfill our inherent desire to serve
both as a role model and mentor to others. "There is no single characteristic of
masculinity more significant than that of mentoring and setting the right
example for others," he writes. It is a characteristic of a longer, healthier
and more meaningful life. It is as well ".a fundamental commission of manhood."
the Mason being mentored benefits as he transitions to become more mature and
spiritual, the mentor also keeps alive his own hopes and values. Besides the joy
that comes from sharing what he has learned it also serves to help him face the
inevitability of his own mortality. As Davis writes, "A good role model and
mentor is the best vehicle men have to firmly establish in the minds and souls
of those who follow them that they too belong. They are welcome. They have the
magic of manhood. There is a place by the fire for them. . As men working
together in support of each other, we build an awakened, lasting, ongoing
community of men. We discover the sacred and essential relationship we have to
other men and to all life. Mentoring is very much a love relationship between
Through the three degrees of the Blue lodge the candidate has been exposed to
our teachings, observed our symbols, taken upon himself solemn obligations, laid
to rest his former profane self and set upon a new, more spiritual life. He
emerges after the Third Degree with the knowledge and experience he needs but he
is not as yet a fully developed Master Mason. That is a personal journey to
which he alone must commit. But he must not be abandoned and left to his own
Freemasonry remains dedicated to this great tradition of initiation and
mentoring, essentially alone in the 21st century. It offers
initiation to all good men and provides the brotherhood, rich literary tradition
and educational resources necessary for the new Master Mason to, as we say,
improve himself in Masonry. We are heirs to an ancient tradition and should
justifiably be proud of our heritage.
numbers continue to fall from their record, as lodges close or merge, as
attendance suffers in too many lodges too often, there is a tendency to bemoan
our future. But the need for initiation will continue in men; it is a natural
part of us.
long as Freemasonry continues to offer meaningful initiation into true manhood,
and then surrounds the new brother with an encouraging society of brothers, we
are not in peril. But we must preserve and improve our ritual and provide the
means for the new Master Mason to continue his journey into light.
We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
Dennis., Initiation, Mystery and Salvation: The Way of Rebirth, a paper
from Pietre Stones website, undated
Davis, Robert G.,
Understanding Manhood in America, Anchor Communications LLC, Lancaster,
VA USA, 2005
Rites and Symbols of Initiation, Spring Publications, Putnum, Conn. 1994
Mackey, Albert G.,
Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, The Masonic History Company, New York, 1927
Kirk., Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol, Thames & Hudson,
New York, 2005
The History of Initiation of the Rites and Ceremonies of the Secret and
Mysterious Institutions of the Ancient World, Kessenger, Whitefish, MT,
2005, originally published 1840
Morals and Dogma, Supreme Council, So. Jurisdiction of the U.S., Washington
D. C., 1962
Freemasonry: A Spiritual Quest, a paper from Pietre Stones website, undated
Initiation: The Big Picture, a paper, Grand Lodge of Arizona, 2010
Wilmshurst, W. L.,
The Masonic Initiation, San Francisco, 2007
 Eliade, Mircea., Rites and
Symbols of Initiation, Spring Publications, Putnum, Conn. 1994, p. 23
Wilmshurst, W. L., The Masonic Initiation, San Francisco, 2007, p. 15
 Pike, Albert., Morals and
Dogma, Supreme Council, So. Jurisdiction of the U.S., Washington D. C.,
1962, p. 520
 Eliade, Rites and Symbols of
Initiation, p. 200
 Davis, Robert G.,
Understanding Manhood in America, Anchor Communications LLC, Lancaster,
VA USA, 2005, p. 126
 Eliade, Rites and Symbols of
Initiation, p. 11
 Ibid., from the Forward by
Michael J. Meade, p. 7
 Pike, Morals and Dogma,
 Davis, Understanding Manhood
in America, p. 7
 Eliade, Rites and Symbols Of
Initiation, p. 22
 Salmon, Andre, Initiation:
The Big Picture, a paper, Grand Lodge of Arizona, 2010
 Eliade, Rites and Symbols of
Initiation, p. 8
 Salmon, Initiation: The Big
Understanding Manhood in America,
 Mackey, Albert G.,
Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, The Masonic History Company, New York,
1927, vol 2, p. 35
 MacNulty, W. Kirk.,
Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol, Thames & Hudson, New
York, 2005, p. 16
 Salmon, Initiation: The Big
 Rees, Julian, Freemasonry: A
Understanding Manhood in America,