After the prayer in the first degree, the aspirant is led round the temple by
the Deacon in a clockwise manner, past the Master in the east, and halting at
the Junior Warden and Senior Warden for an examination.
In times gone by, in all pursuits of self-discovery and self-improvement, as
well as spiritual quests, a pilgrimage was necessary. In the ancient world, the
deities who controlled certain areas of life were unable to operate outside
those areas. Their power to favour or to destroy only operated within their own
area. So a man from the mountains who found himself in the plain and was in need
of divine help, had to make a pilgrimage back to his place of origin in order
once again to be one with the deity controlling the mountainous regions.
Pilgrimages therefore are journeys with a sacred or spiritual intent, and since
the whole of Freemasonry is a journey, we have here a little pilgrimage, a part
of that total journey.
This pilgrimage however is unique. It is that journey which, once the aspirant
has moved away from the door of the Temple, leads him away from worldly pursuits
towards the abandonment of selfish goals, in order to draw nearer to his Self.
It may also be regarded as a journey away from darkness towards light. It is a
journey which he might undertake with apprehension, with a feeling that
something unexpected might suddenly overtake him or confront him.
It is also a journey that he undertakes in personal darkness, since he is
blindfolded. This blindfold is an allegory of two things: that his attention
might be focussed inwards rather than outwards, and also to underline his
spiritual poverty. He has come here, he assures the Master, to seek improvement,
‘soliciting to be admitted to the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry’.
In ancient times of course a physical pilgrimage might have lasted many years
and might have been accompanied by many dangers and difficulties, even
life-threatening ones. The ritual of Freemasonry endeavours to represent this in
an allegorical way.
In the eighteenth century in England, and even today in many masonic
jurisdictions, the Junior and Senior Wardens were placed, not as they are today
in the south and the west respectively, but both of them in the west, either
side of the entrance to the temple. In this situation, they acted as
gate-keepers, guarding the entrance to the temple against unwanted intruders.
They represented the Roman god Janus, the keeper of gates and doors, and hence
representing also beginnings and endings, depicted by a double-faced head, one
face looking out, the other face looking in. Janus was worshipped at the
beginning of the harvest time, planting, marriage, birth, and other types of
beginnings, especially the beginnings of important events in a person’s life.
Janus also represents the transition between primitive life and civilization,
and the growing to maturity of a young person.
We could try to imagine how these gate-keepers in an earlier century might have
responded to an aspirant being brought to him by the Deacon. The question ‘Whom
have you there?’ might have been delivered in a stern and forbidding tone, as if
to say ‘What do you want here? Why should I let you pass? Convince me that you
are a worthy man, worthy enough to be admitted to our secrets and mysteries.’
Consider the Deacon’s answer on behalf of the aspirant. ‘Mr Smith, a poor
aspirant in a state of darkness, who has been well and worthily recommended,
regularly proposed and approved in open lodge, and now comes of his own free
will and accord, properly prepared, humbly soliciting to be admitted to the
mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry.’ To condense this a little, what the
Warden wants to hear is that the aspirant is well recommended, is approved of by
all the members, comes of his own free will, that he is prepared not only
outwardly but also inwardly and that he comes in humility. Humility is of course
important, and is allied to the lack of rashness mentioned elsewhere in the
But the gatekeeper’s task is not yet done. By what means does this aspirant
expect to gain such precious advancement? Or in the words of the ritual ‘How
does he hope to obtain those privileges?’. The answer contains two essential
features of admission to Freemasonry, namely that he seeks the help of God in
his endeavour, and that he is free. Without these, initiation cannot proceed.