'Proceeding onwards, still guiding your progress by the principles of moral truth, you were led, in the second degree, to contemplate the intellectual faculty, and to trace it, from its development, through the paths of heavenly science, even to the throne of God Himself. The secrets of nature, and the principles of intellectual truth were then unveiled to your view.'
Exhortation in the third degree
There are many occasions and many situations in which non-Masons have sought to ridicule Freemasonry for practices which they, erroneously, have perceived as bizarre or laughable. Among these are the idea that adults, and particularly men, wear aprons; that they bare one knee; that the initiation ceremony involves the use of a blindfold, that Freemasons have an incongruous handshake and bizarre signs; that they gain unfair advantages in society and in their careers.
It is easy to dismiss all this as uninformed chatter, even perhaps envy, but it is not unknown for initiates themselves to feel slightly embarrassed about the arcane aspects of initiation. Happily, many more aspirants for all the degrees have felt the excitement of the unknown, of the mystique of what they were experiencing. But is that acquaintance with, and eagerness to know, the mystique really enough? The answer is that mystique, if not properly channelled and explained, can remain unfruitful, and rewarding only at a superficial level. Let us tease out some of this mystique and put it under our microscope.
We were blindfolded and led to a door, where unfamiliar knocks gained admission. We had to declare that we were 'free' before being led round and challenged as to our qualification to proceed. After taking some seemingly incongruous steps forward, we made a vow of fidelity, and were instructed in regard to 'secrets'. We were instructed in allegories of the sun, moon and stars. We ascended a winding staircase into a 'middle chamber'. We stepped over an open grave, and were afterwards lowered into it. And finally, we were raised up again and taught about our arrival in the sanctum sanctorum. Each of these landmarks, and others, had a vital lesson to impart, without which the Masonic journey would not have been completely fulfilling.
The blindfold did not conceal something we were supposed not to see. By removing outer distractions, it sought to give us another perspective, another point of view, namely the focus for the search of self-knowledge, the point within ourselves, the centre of the circle, to discover, in the words of the ritual, that 'point from which we cannot err'.
In this state, we passed a threshold, namely the boundary between that material world outside the temple, and that inner sanctum of holiness and peace within, where no distractions were present to divert us from our course of seeking inner light. We strove for freedom from selfish concerns and unworthy thoughts and passions, and freedom from the desire of things of material worth, so as to know the desire for moral progress and fulfilment. We stated that we were free, in the words of the lecture 'free to good fellowship, and ought to be free from vice', but this was not necessarily the state we were in, rather the state to which we aspired.
We were challenged as to our fitness to proceed on this quest for perfection, since without a challenge, we could not prove to ourselves how serious we were in our endeavour. We made a vow of fidelity, since without committing ourselves to the purpose of our journey, and without binding ourselves to the fraternity with others, we were like a rudderless ship, with no course to steer, and no means of steering either. The secrets to which we bound ourselves in this way were not mere handshakes, signs and words; they were the secrets we gained through our experience, the insights governing our hearts, insights leading to moral growth and development.
The rising sun was for us an emblem of birth, growth and inner light, enlightenment of the heart; the moon, an emblem of the onset of night and of inevitable death; the stars, an emblem of the promise of immortality and the one-ness of the celestial and terrestrial realms. We were able to approach heaven by ascending the winding staircase, and to enter the middle chamber to pay debts and receive wages.
But while engaged in this ascent to heavenly realms, we were suddenly reminded of our own physical mortality, and attempted to tread our old, unregenerated self underfoot by stepping over the grave. We were reminded that our newly regenerated self could achieve immortality, by again being raised from that same grave, and by being allowed to pierce the mysterious veil shielding us from that immortality, so that we might lift our eyes to that bright horizon that might await us if we persevered in our search for spiritual growth and perfection.
It was then, once we had arrived in the sanctum sanctorum, that we could come face to face with God, and could own our one-ness with Him. It was then only that we had left behind the mystique, and had come to understand the mystical.