A candidate proposing to enter Freemasonry has seldom formed any definite idea of the nature in which he is engaging. Even after his admission, he usually remains quite at a loss to ex- plain satisfactorily what Masonry is and for what purpose this order exists. He finds indeed that it is a system veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols. However that explanation, while true, is only a partial interpretation and if not nurtured and encouraged can create an abyss in his mind which could result in the loss of our motivated initiate. For many members of the Craft, to be a Mason implies connection with a body which combines the natures of a club and a benefit society. The candidates find of course, a certain religious element in it, but as they are told, that religious discussion, meaning sectarian religious, is forbidden in the Lodge. They therefore infer that Masonry is not a religious institution. They believe that its teachings are intended to be secondary and only supplemental to any religious tenet they may possess. One sometimes hears it remarked that Masonry is "not a religion", which in a sense, is quite factual.
Masonry is often supposed, even by its own members, to be a system of extreme antiquity, that was practiced and has come down to its present form from the Egyptians, or at least from the early Hebrews. This is a view which possesses the merest truth. In short, the vaguest notions about the origin and history of the Craft remain almost entirely foreign to the consciousness of many of its own members.
We meet in our Lodges regularly, we perform our ceremonial work and repeat our catechismal instruction and lectures night after night with a lesser or greater degree of intelligence and verbal perfection, and there our work ends, as though the ability to perform this work creditably was the goal and the only means to a culmination of all Masonic work.
Yet there exists a large number of brethren who would willingly repair the obvious deficiency. Brethren, those who nurture Masonry, even in their more limited aspect of it, and who feel their membership in the Craft to be a privilege, which has brought them into the presences of something greater then they know, fashion a profound appeal. To them, Masonry enshrines a purpose that could unfold a message deeper then they now realize.
It is helpless to attempt to deal adequately with all the deficiencies in our knowledge of the system which we belong to. The most one can hope to do is to offer a few suggestions or clues directed to those who may desire to develop for them- selves a more profound understanding of the intricacies of Masonry, in the confines and privacies of their own thoughts. For in the last resource, no one can communicate the deeper elements of Masonry to another. Every man must discover and learn them for himself, although a friend may be able to conduct him a certain distance on the path of understanding.
We know that even the rudimentary and superficial secrets of the Order must be communicated to unqualified persons. The reason for this injection is not necessarily because those secrets have any special value, but because the silence, to the uninstructed, would presuppose the Brotherhood of Freemasonry was veiled in an allegory prison to be locked up in the mind and thoughts of man. Some of these secrets, for appropriate reasons, must not be communicated, for in reality they transcend the potential of human intelligence and understanding.
It is well to emphasize then that Masonry is a sacramental system possessing, like a sacrament, an outward and visible side consisting of its ceremonies, its doctrines, and its symbols which all individuals can see and hear. It also has an inward, intellectual, and spiritual side, which is concealed behind the ceremonies of its doctrines and its symbols. These are only available to the Mason who has learned to use his spiritual imagination and who can appreciate the reality that lies behind the veil of its outward symbols. Anyone, of course can understand the unpretentious meaning of the symbols, especially with the help of the explanatory lectures. On the other hand, he may still miss the meaning of the scheme as the vital whole.
It is absurd to think that a vast origination like Masonry was ordained merely to educate grown up men of the world and the symbolical meaning of a few builder's tools. Nor was it ordained to impress upon us such elementary virtues as temperance and justice. The children of every school and every church are instructed by our educators that the elementary principles of charity, morality and brotherly love are the establishment of human existence and should be exercised to be appreciated. It is not just a belief in a supreme being, which is practiced as much by non-masons as by us, it is not to join a fraternal society to be taught that the volume of the Sacred Law is a fountain of truth and instruction, or to go through the great and elaborate ceremony of the third degree merely to learn that each one of us must die. The Craft, through whose work we are taught honor, with the name of science, has surely some larger end in view than merely inculcating the practice of social virtues common to all the world. By no means does Freemasonry have a monopoly on this corner of the market. Surely then, it behooves us to acquaint ourselves with what the larger end consists, and to enquire why the fulfillment of that purpose is worthy to be called a science. Also it call us to delve into the mysteries, to which our doctrines promise we may ultimately attain.
Realizing then what Masonry cannot be deemed, let us ask what it can be. Before answering that question, let me put you in possession of certain facts that will enable you to appreciate the answer. In all periods of the world's history, and in every part of the globe, secret orders or societies have existed outside the official church. The purpose of these confidential alliances was to teach what is called "The Mysteries." These teaching were only for those with suitable and prepared minds, that of understanding the truths about human nature and human destiny. In other words, to teach that which was undesirable to distribute to the multitudes who would not, or could not, understand the teachings therefore misconstruing the facts, perhaps to a disastrous end.
These mysteries were formally taught, we are told, on the highest hills, and in the lowest valleys, which is merely a figure of speech for saying, first they were taught in the greatest seclusion, that is, in secret. And secondly they were taught in both advanced and simple forms, according to the understanding of the disciples. The form of teachings has varied from age to age. They have been expressed in many different ways. But the ultimate truth is that "The Mysteries", the teachings and instructions, were and are, always one and the same. Only one doctrine has been taught in the past, and there will only be one doctrine for the future. For the moment, let us understand, that behind all the official religions of the world, and behind all the great movements and developments in the history of humanity, there have stood the keepers or stewards of "The Mysteries."
To trace the genesis of their movement, in Freemasonry which came into activity some 250 years ago, is beyond the purpose of these present comments. It is merely stated that within the movement itself is incorporated the slender ritual, and this, the rudimentary symbolism, has for centuries been employed in connection with the ancient building guilds. It has been the custom of the trades, and even for modern friendly societies, to spiritualize their trade, and to make their tools point to some unpretentious or moral truths.
No trade perhaps lends itself more readily to such treatment of instruction, than the builders trade. You will find traces of that industry becoming allegorized, and the allegory being employed for the simple virtuous instruction of those who were operative members of the industry. For instance, an ancient Egyptian ceremonial system, some 5000 years ago, taught precisely the same thing that Masonry does, but in terms of shipbuilding, instead of in terms of architecture. And the tools of these shipbuilders were utilized by the authors who originated modern Masonry, because they were readily at hand, and because they were in use among certain trade guilds then in existence, and lastly, because the builders tools were extremely effective and significant from the symbolic point of view.
To be emphasized at this stage, is that our present system is not one coming from remote antiquity. There is no direct continuity between us and the Egyptians, or even with those ancient Hebrews who built in the reign of King Solomon a certain Temple in Jerusalem. What is ancient in Freemasonry, is the spiritual doctrine concealed within the architectural phraseology. This doctrine is an elementary form that has been taught in all ages, regardless of what form was used to express it.
What was the purpose then, of the framers who built the Masonic system? You will find no satisfying answer in ordinary Masonic books. These sources are usually devoted to considering unessential matters relating to the external development of the craft. They neglect entirely to deal with its meaning and essence. This deficiency in some cases may be intentional, but more often it seems to be due to a lack of knowledge, information, and comprehension. The authentic, inner history of Masonry has never yet been given forth. There are members, familiar with the Craft, who in due time may feel justified in gradually making public at least some portion of what is known in the inner circles. But before that time comes, and that the Craft may better appreciate what it can be told, it is desirable, even necessary, that its own members should make some effort to realize the meaning of their own institution. Members should display symptoms of earnest desire to treat Masonry, less as a system of archaic and perfunctory rites, but more significantly as a vital reality, capable of entering into and dominating their lives, not as an inferior organization or a pleasant social order, but more as a sacred and serious method of initiation into the truths of life. It remains with the Craft itself to determine by its own actions whether it shall enter into its own ancestry. It may, by failing to realize and to safeguard the value of what it possesses, suffering its own mysteries to be vulgarized and profaned. Its organization would degenerate, and pass into disrepute and deserved oblivion, as has been the fate of many secret orders of the past.
There are signs however, from the populace of a great expansion in interest, of a genuine desire to know more about the contents of our Masonic system. This may tend to deepen interest in the order to which we belong. It may also help make Masonry for them become a vital factor, rather then a mere pleasurable appendage to social life.
Concisely Masonry offers us, in a dramatic form and by means of ceremony, a philosophy of the spiritual life of man. It also diagrams the process of regeneration. Presently the philosophy is consistent with the doctrine of every religious system taught outside the ranks of our order. It also explains, and more sharply defines, the fundamental doctrines, which are in use throughout the world, whether past or present, Christian or non-Christian. The religions of the world, though all contemplating at teaching the truth, interpret the truth in different ways, and we are more prone to emphasize the differences than consider the similarities in what they teach.
Allied with no external religious system itself, Masonry is yet a synthesis, a concordat, for men of every race, of every creed, of every sect. It's foundation of principles are common to them all and admit no variation. Hence every Master of a Lodge is called upon to swear that no innovation in the body of Masonry is possible. The system already contains a minimum, and yet a sufficient amount of truth which none may add to nor alter, and from which none may take away.
The Order accords perfect liberties of independent opinion to all men. The truths it has to offer are entirely free to us in conformity with our capacity to assimilate them. Meanwhile those who not appeal, those who presume they can find a more enduring philosophy elsewhere, are equally at liberty to be free to search for them. Men of honor, those who do not find that Masonry has all the essential fulfillment that will conduct them to a tranquil and satisfying way of existence, will find it is their duty to withdraw from the Order, rather than suffer the disturbance in the harmony of thought that should characterize the Craft by their proximity.