The study of Masonic ritual has traditionally taken one of two
paths. The first is historical: tracing the development of the various rites
and rituals from the Masonic prehistory of the 17th century to today, while the
second is esoteric: the seeking of lost and hidden wisdom that has been encoded
in Masonic ritual and legend. While the advocates of these two schools of
thought have been traditionally critical of each other’s approach, both
approaches are united in that they are both backwards looking—delving into the
past and looking at ritual as it was (or might have been)—rather than examining
ritual as part of what we, as living human beings, do now. The question
that begs to be asked is: ‘What are the mechanisms of ritual which affect us in the here-and-now world of
the early 21st century?’
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For a variety of reasons this is a question that has largely been left
unanswered—and, I rather suspect, unasked. The main reason for this is simply
that there has been a knowledge gap between Masonic authors, who have
the enthusiasm and experience in matters Masonic, and academic professionals,
who have a significant exposure to a largely specialist body of knowledge and
learning which may be able to shed light on a variety of different aspects of
Masonic life. With the shift in focus at universities towards Post-modernism
and interdisciplinary studies, and the shift within the Craft itself towards a
more open and transparent form of Masonry, I feel that potentially we are
entering a new phase in the way thinking Masons look at the Craft. Certainly
the establishment of Chairs in Masonic Studies at a number of European and
British universities bespeaks of a growing academic awareness of the cultural
importance Freemasonry has had in Western society since the Enlightenment. As
academia has begun to look at Freemasonry, perhaps we can seek to learn from
Ritual reveal values at
their deepest level . . . men express in ritual what moves
them most, and since the form of expression is conventionalised and obligatory,
it is the values of the group that are revealed. I see in the study of rituals
the key to an understanding of the essential constitution of human societies.
The ceremonial forms of Freemasonry are possibly the most distinctive
aspect of the Craft. While fraternity, benevolence and morality are all
concerns of Freemasonry, they are also concerns of many other societies and
groups. It is our ritual that sets us apart from other organisations—and
perhaps it even defines us as Freemasons. Freemasonry is a society of men and,
like any society, over the centuries it has developed a complex set of
interactions and relationships within itself and with the ‘outside world’.
Anthropology looks at the way societies interpret and relate to themselves and
‘the other’. What psychology is to the individual, anthropology is to a society
or a culture.
Anthropology as a discipline stared to coalesce towards the end of the
19th century, coincidental with the great days of Empire, and in part fuelled
by the curiosity some of the Colonial administrators had for their Imperial
wards, and their quest for a ‘scientific’ understanding of the difference
between ‘them’ and ‘us’. As the study of other cultures became systematised,
areas of specialisation developed—linguistic anthropology, medical
anthropology, social anthropology, cultural anthropology, and others—and each
developed with specialised concerns, approaches and methodologies. As with all
things, over the years, ideas and theories come into, and then go out of, vogue
and remind us of the old adage that the difference between a radical and a
conservative is 20 years.
The first great school of anthropological thought was the Functionalists,
who viewed all social dynamics as primarily politically—or economically—based
concerns centred on the long-term survival of the social or individual unit
(depending on the type of Functionalism followed). Developing later were the
Structuralists, the other great school of anthropological thought. The
Structuralists were strongly influenced by linguistics and semiotics (the study
of the meanings of words and symbols ), and
took a particular interest in two main themes: the emphasis on meaning and
symbolism (especially the subconscious aspects of meaning) and the emphasis on
systems of exchange. Historically, the Structuralists have done much work with
myth and kinship patterns. It is out of the Structuralist school of Social
Anthropology that the most fruitful ideas and theories have arisen for consideration
in the context of Masonic ritual.
Traditionally, sacred drama—ritual—has been seen as a function of social
control and integration, or a complex (and largely inefficient) method of
tuition in techniques of survival in a given environment. Starting in the late
1960s, however, sacred drama began to be seen as something else, something more
complex, and Victor Turner’s work on the Ndembu tribe of Africa (1967) is
possibly the seminal work on the subject and gave shape to the developing field
of ‘Ritual Studies’. In Turner’s work is found the beginnings of an approach
which sees ritual as a deeply symbolic expression of a given set of core values
that are not tied directly to a mechanical interpretation of society, such as
reinforcing power–and–control relationships. Values, beliefs and ideals
expressed in ritual are seen as attempts at understanding man’s place in the
cosmos and his relationship with the Great Unknown, and ritual itself as a
vehicle for social change rather than control.
While it was not until the 1980s that ‘Ritual Studies’ became
largely accepted as an academic sub-discipline, its origins can be found in the
work of anthropologists and folklorists of the late 19th century, such as Sir
James Frazer. However, one of the first and most influential books wholly
dedicated to the examination of ritual was the ground-breaking Rites of Passage. In it,
Arnold van Gennep wrote that human societies have a universal impulse to
recognise and mark certain important transitions in a person’s life: events
such as birth, death, coming-of-age, marriage and parentage. Van Gennep
observed that ‘[F]or every one of these events there are ceremonies whose
essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defined position
to another which is equally defined.’
Rites of Passage attempted to examine
systematically the form and function of ritual, and look at these ‘defined
positions’, not just describing the ceremonial events but also trying to answer
‘why’ and ‘how’.
In his chapter on initiation rites,
van Gennep immediately identifies the two most prominent forms of initiations:
the reception into an age-grouping, and the reception into a ‘secret society’.
It is soon evident, however, that by ‘initiation rites’ van Gennep has in mind primarily
rites associated with age groups/coming of age ceremonies.
His reason for concentrating on coming of age rites at the expense of secret
societies could be two-fold. The first is the decided preference of the time at
which van Gennep wrote (c.1906) for anthropological consideration to be devoted
to what he rather quaintly called ‘primitive’, ‘simple’ or ‘semi-civilised’
societies—societies which were held to be in a more primitive state of
existence than Europe and white America at that time.
The second reason is that secret societies, by their very definition, are
secret. Lack of detailed information hampered, and still hampers, research in
While we, as Freemasons, tend to resist the statement that Freemasonry is a
secret society, and prefer the slightly more ambiguous avowal that ‘we are a
society with secrets’, as far as van Gennep and his ilk are concerned, we are
still effectively a secret society.
Masonic researchers—who have an
uneven reputation for scholarship—have not contributed much to the formal study
of ritual. Most of the better-known and academically sound Masonic scholars
have concentrated on the historical aspects of Freemasonry and ritual, rather
than examining the meaning of the ritual itself.
Even (reputable) authors with a sympathy for the esoteric aspects of
Freemasonry, such as Robert Gilbert, are loathe to disassemble the ritual in
any detail. The authors who have chosen to write in detail about the
nature of Masonic ritual take, at best, a highly symbolic or abstract approach,
such as: ‘the Winding Stairs consists of 3, 5, and 7 steps, numbers which among
the ancients were deemed of a mystical significance . . .
[similarly] words were supposed to have certain occult significances
according to the sums or multiples of the numeric equivalent of its letters’. At worst, they leap head first into the
abyss of downright stupidity, as did Charles Leadbeater: ‘[I]t is by the use of
those perfectly natural but supernormal facilities [clairvoyance] that
much of the information given in this book has been obtained . . .
I am absolutely certain of [the] reliability of this method of
Part of the reason why there has
been no authoritative or, indeed, reliable discussion on the construction and
mechanism of Masonic ritual is that serious amateur study of this subject has
been associated with the excesses of the esoteric school of Masonic research
(of which Leadbeater is an extreme example) and as a consequence this avenue of
research has been discouraged in the Masonic research fraternities (and by the
editors of the world’s leading Masonic journal, Ars Quator Coronatorum)
since the 1930s.
Other Masonic journals have, on the whole, followed this lead, to the detriment
of the possibility of the development of innovative discussion on Masonic
ritual matters. A second reason for the neglect of Masonic ritual studies is
that academics largely have not been in a position to make a serious study of
the subject, not being Freemasons themselves and thus lacking the personal experience
needed to make sense of what is primarily an experiential phenomenon. As an
example, English anthropologist J S La Fontaine attempted an
analysis of one of the initiation rituals of Freemasonry in her book Initiation.
Unfortunately, this attempt is far from satisfactory, not only because of its
brevity (it serves the purpose of quickly illustrating Arnold van Gennep’s
three phases of a rite of passage—more about that later) but also because she
is basing her interpretation on a written account of an extremely unusual
Masonic initiation that involves the candidate plunging through a large paper
hoop, and thus far removed from normal and modern Masonic practice.
Additionally, the academics who are members of the Craft tend to feel the
constraints of the Masonic obligations of secrecy, which have an obvious
curtailing effect on their work.
Today, however, this last constraint
is somewhat less binding than it has been in the past, since, in an effort to
become more open (and thereby attract new members), the Grand Lodge of New
Zealand, in line with a trend among other Grand bodies, has defined the secrets
of Freemasonry as ‘the methods of recognition’, the words, signs and grips
which indicate Masonic affiliation and rank.
This means that much more of the Masonic spectrum has been opened up for study
and discussion outside the sometimes cloistered confines of Masonic research
The intention of this paper is to
introduce a number of people, ideas and concepts that I, as both a Freemason
and a student of Anthropology, have found cross-fertilises both areas of study.
Needless to say, this is not a comprehensive survey of ideas; on the contrary,
it is really little more than dropping a couple of important and influential
names in the hope that interested parties will follow up and look into these
ideas themselves. While Freemasonry is not a religion,
and goes out of its way to assert this, it does share many of the
characteristics of religion, particularly the primacy of symbols and its
reliance on ritual to inculcate ineffable spiritual or philosophic ‘truths’ to
the participant. For this reason it is not unreasonable to equate Freemasonry
with religion, or even magic, for the purpose of the discussion of the theory
Happy is he among men upon
earth who has seen these mysteries.
to Demeter 
Freemasonry, as will be discussed in
this paper, consists of the three Craft degrees, starting with the Initiation
and culminating with the drama of the murder of Hiram and the ‘resurrection’ of
the candidate into the community of the lodge. The symbolic death and
resurrection of an initiand is not a uniquely Masonic motif. Not only is it a
familiar theme in non-European cultures, it
also is of ancient standing in European philosophic/religious systems. The
concept of an initiate taking part in ritual whose prime motif is their own
allegorical death and resurrection into a new life inside the community of the
initiators was a common feature of ancient Grecian sacred life. The Eleusinian
Mysteries in many ways set the standard for formal initiatory ritual in the
European world, with its emphasis on secrecy, darkness, the death and
resurrection of the initiand, the primacy of the community of initiates over
non-initiates, a communicated ‘great secret’ and the communication of the
ineffable through symbols and association.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire it is impossible to follow the thread of
the classical Mystery initiatory schema through the Dark Ages and the medieval
period, and it is more than likely that the ‘apostolic succession’ of this
schema was broken. It was not until the emergence of renaissance neo-Classicism
in the 16th and 17th centuries that such a schema re-entered European thought
and provided the foundation for the Masonic ritual of death and ‘resurrection’
found in the Hiramic legend of the Master Mason degree.
All the world’s a
And all the men and
women merely players:
They have their exits
and their entrances:
And one man in his
time plays many parts,
As You Like
It (Act II, Scene vii)
Ritual, Catherine Bell argues,
provides a window for the examination of cultural dynamics by which people make
and remake their worlds. This
window, however, is not one exclusively owned by anthropologists, sociologists,
and historians of religion, but also by psychologists, philosophers and
historians of ideas—anyone who wishes to examine the ticking structure of human
society. There is, however, the widest possible disagreement as to how the word
ritual should be understood, but, for the sake of simplicity, quibbling
about what is and is not ritual will be put aside and assumed that ritual
is meant in the formal, Masonic, sense so well known to us.
The notion of ritual as worthy of a
distinct line of intellectual enquiry first arose in the latter half of the
19th century, seeking to identify and explain what was believed to be a
universal category of human experience. Theorists such as J G Frazer
and E B Tylor held that non-European, and therefore ‘non-scientific’,
societies explained their world by using a magico-religious model, a model that
evolved into science and ‘differed from science primarily in being wrong’.
Frazer repeatedly identifies ritual as fulfilling an inherently magical
function, particularly death and resurrection rituals, which he explicitly
associates with totemism.
A contrasting approach relies more
on a semiotic evaluation and has been advanced by Emile Durkheim, Arnold van
Gennep and Victor Turner, among others. ‘The real characteristic of religious
phenomena’, Durkheim wrote, ‘is that they suppose a bipartite division of the
whole universe, known and unknown . . . Sacred things
are those which . . . interdictions protect and
isolate; profane things, those to which the interdictions are applied and which
must remain at a distance from the first (sacred things are, then,
distinguished through being set apart and marked off by prohibitions, the
breaking of which incurs unseen dangers).’
Ritual, religious beliefs and
symbols are, in Turner’s perspective, essentially related. Ritual is ‘complex
sequence of symbolic acts’, usually with religious or spiritual references. Rituals are storehouses of meaningful
symbols by which information is revealed and regarded as authoritative and as
dealing with the crucial values of the community. Not only do symbols reveal crucial social
and religious values, they are also transformative for human attitudes and
Arnold van Gennep (1873–1957) was one
of the first theorists to examine ritual in its own right, publishing Rites
de Passage, his most influential work, in 1906. Van Gennep’s lasting
contribution to the field of ritual theory lies in the attention he paid to a
particular type of ritual, a ritual whose essential purpose is to mark the
transition of an individual from one defined state to another, the rite de
Rites of passage do not adopt only one general form, but can be found in
ceremonies of marriage, childbirth, hunting, coming of age and many others, and
in all cultures. In essence, the rite of passage effects the transition from
social invisibility to that of social visibility.
Van Gennep describes how all rites
of passage from one state to another are marked by three phases: separation,
transition and reintegration, or pre-liminal, liminal and post-liminal.
The pre-liminal phase comprises behaviour that symbolically detaches the
individual from the group, removing prior social status and/or cultural
In the second state, the transition
or liminal state (limen meaning threshold in Latin), the subject
is caught between his former identity and his future one. As Turner eloquently
puts it, ‘the attributes of liminal persona are necessarily ambiguous, since
this condition and these persons elude or slip through the network of
classifications. Liminar entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt
and between the positions assigned by law, custom, convention and ceremonial’.
The final, post-liminal, phase is that
of incorporation or reintegration: the passage is consummated and the subject
is accepted into his (or her) new state. The status of the subject is once more
(relatively) stable and his rights and obligations with the social group are
clearly defined. The rite of incorporation brings with it an identification of
a commonality, a bond that implies a responsibility. The recitation of a formal
greeting like the Moslem salaam also has the effect of creating a
temporary bond, which is why, according to van Gennep, Moslems look to avoid
giving a salaam to a Christian.
Within any given rite of passage
these three phases may not be developed to the same extent; rites of
incorporation are given prominence at marriages, while transition rites are
more evident during betrothals. Thus, while a complete rite of passage may
include all three states, in specific rituals these three types may not be of
equal importance or significance.
Turner (1920–1983) carries on the work of van Gennep, affirming the importance
of van Gennep’s tripartite division of the rites of passage into
pre-liminal, liminal and post-liminal stages, but adds that ‘the whole ritual
process constitutes a threshold between secular living and sacred living’. Turner, however,
centralises the importance of liminality in ritual and from that develops what
he calls comitatus or communitas.
He distinguishes three (often interwoven)
components of the liminal phase of rituals.
(1) ‘Communication of the sacred’, in which sacred and
secret symbols and meanings are communicated to the initiates/initiands in the
a. sacred articles (‘what is shown’)—the Working
Tools, Tracing Boards, grips, words, etc.
b. performance (‘what is done’)—the enactment of the murder of Hiram
c. instructions (‘what is said’)—the Traditional
History, the Charge after Raising, Final Charge, etc.
The symbols themselves represent the unity, continuity
and integrity (in the sense of a sound wholeness) of the community; often they
are simple in form but, because of their symbolic importance, they are often
given complex interpretations.
(2) The reinterpretation/reconstruction/recombination
of familiar and commonplace elements of ‘cultural configurations’ (what we
see/experience in our everyday world). Freemasonry has taken the tools used by
operative masons for the construction of stone buildings and attached specific
moral lessons to them, for instance. According to Turner, these representations
force the ritual participants to think about their society and provoke the
ritual subjects to reflect on the basic values of their social and cosmological
simplification of the social structure. The only important social structure in
liminality is the relationship between the initiand and the initiators, and the
authority of the ritual instructors over the ritual community. All other
distinctions between the participants disappear in favour of equality. It is
from this notion of equality within the community that Turner derived communitas.
Turner states that there are two
models for human interrelationship. The
first is of society as a structured, hierarchical system of political, economic
and legal privileges, separating men in terms of ‘more’ and ‘less’. The second,
one that achieves a degree of prominence in the liminal period, is a relatively
unstructured and relatively undifferentiated community or communion of
individuals, who submit together to the general authority of the ritual elders.
Turner goes on to make the point that the distinction of structure and communitas,
or structure and anti-structure, is not a simple division between the sacred
and secular worlds, but rather ‘sacredness’ is acquired by the temporary
participation in the rite of passage, in which positions in the ‘outer’ world
may be changed in the inner world of the ritual. It is not a matter of the rite
of passage legitimising society’s structures, but rather ‘it is a matter of
giving recognition to an essential and generic human bond, without which there
could be no society. Liminality implies that the high could not be high
unless the low existed, and he who is high must experience what it is like to
Communitas naturally subverts structure by not
recognising prior social divisions and it prioritises personal relationships.
For Turner, the uniting feature of such diverse groups as court jesters,
millenarian movements, ‘dharma bums’, monastic orders, tiny nations, wandering
monks, and Masonic lodges are that they are people or principles who are
operating, temporarily or permanently, outside the network of relationships and
structures of normal society—the structures of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, ‘black’ and
‘white’, ‘fat’ and ‘thin’, is of limited relevance within the anti-structure of
communitas. Communitas and anti-structure operate in bubbles
within society—a commune, a monastery, a lodge—areas that cannot be freely
entered or exited without disrupting the communitas so traversed. Turner
characterises structure to be ‘pragmatic and this worldly’, as opposed to communitas
which is more ‘speculative and generates imagery and philosophic ideals’.
The border between structure and anti-structure is rich in symbols, and the
‘passport’ that allows the crossing of that border is often a familiarity with
those symbols (fig. 1).
Anti-structure generates imagery and
symbolism as a natural consequence of its very existence. A commune of hippies
has opted to ‘drop out’ of a world controlled by ‘multinational fascists’ or
‘capitalist pigs’, who are ‘square’ and ‘up tight’, in order to return to
‘Mother Nature’; Rastafarians wait for the return of the ‘King of Kings’, the
‘Lion of Zion’, while living in their ‘Babylonian captivity’ at the mercy of
‘baldies’ (bureaucrats); the lodge separates the ‘Widow’s Son’ from the
‘Cowan’, and talks about ‘acting on the level’ and ‘being square’ with the
brethren. The very notion of ‘that which is holy’ is based on the reversal, or
at least the subversion, of institutionalised relationships, accompanied by
‘experiences of unprecedented potency’—experiences, Turner suggests, of the
‘levelling and stripping’ of external status from the inner world.
Rituals facilitate the crossing of the threshold between structure and anti‑structure
in that they mark a detachment of the individual from structure (society) in
preparation for re-integration into the anti-structure (in our case, the
Lodge). Such rituals are of varying complexity and length, from the days,
months or years of tribal cultures, to the hours for a Masonic initiation, or
simply the time it takes to share a vegetarian meal or roll a joint among the
more relaxed communitas.
Turner’s later writings focus
greatly on the relationship between ritual and theatre as expressions of
performance. Performances, either ritual or theatrical, reflect both the
individuals that take part in it and the society in which the performance is
shrouded. The narratives—dramatic, ritual, or otherwise—engage the interest of
observer and participant via their own life experiences, whether they are
consciously or unconsciously aware of it. For
Turner, religious expression, of which ritual is a significant manifestation,
is like art in that it ‘lives in so far as it is performed . . .
religion is not a set of dogmas, alone, it is meaningful experience and
The role of ritual, in its deepest
sense, is to communicate. By a process of repetition, the ritual imparts and
reinforces what Theodore Schwartz calls an idioverse—the way in which we
look at the world around us. The
important point is that the idioverse gives us a model of our
environment but is not the actual or ‘real’ environment. An analogy is
the difference between a map and the actual countryside the map represents. All
rituals, according to Turner, have this model-displaying character, and in a
sense they ‘create’ society as much as they are created by it, since ritual,
like works of art, provides a model for the classification and reclassification
of ‘reality’ and man’s relationship to society, nature and culture.
An analysis of the
Master Mason ritual
In ritual the world
as lived and the world as imagined…turns out to be the same world.
Van Gennep’s Three Phases of Ritual
The three Craft degrees of
Freemasonry—Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason—when examined as
a single initiatory system clearly show van Gennep’s three phases of a rite of
passage. In the Entered Apprentice degree, the most dramatic portions of the
ritual focus on the rites of separation. The initiand is made to wait in the
refectory outside the lodge, with the Outer Guard or Tyler in attendance. He
then has his clothing rearranged so as to expose a heel, a knee and part of the
chest, and is blindfolded before being led into the lodge to undergo his
ceremony of initiation. This peculiar rearrangement of everyday clothes serves
to reinforce the idea that the initiand is separating from the normal codes and
conventions of the everyday world and is preparing to enter a separate world,
in effect a separate reality.
The Fellow Craft degree is very much
a transition phase, both in terms of van Gennep’s model and also in popular
Masonic interpretation. Unlike the privileged position which rites of
transition have in van Gennep’s, and especially in Turner’s, works, most Masons
view the Fellow Craft as a bridge between the two ‘important’ degrees of
Entered Apprentice and Master Mason, lacking in any importance in its own
right. Masonically, the Fellow Craft degree affirms an initiand’s membership
within Freemasonry, but reminds him that he has a form of probationary
membership and no significant authority within Freemasonry. The particular
moral lesson of this degree is to ‘study the liberal arts, which tends so
effectually to polish and adorn the mind’. The emphasis on education affirms
the transitional nature of the degree; education takes time and in our society
attendance at educational institutions is the particular province of those
undergoing transition into adulthood.
The final degree, Master Mason,
forms the climax of the three degrees, both structurally and dramatically, and
reintegrates the initiand into the community of the lodge. It is in this degree
that full membership within Freemasonry is conferred: the ability to propose or
second new members; to hold a ritual office within the lodge; to become a
member of Grand Lodge; and a variety of other rights and privileges.
However, a better illustration of
van Gennep’s three phases can be made if we alter our frame of reference away
from looking at all three degrees at once and concentrate on a single degree,
that of the Master Mason.
Prologue: Rite of Reincorporation
The raising of a Master Mason starts
with a rite of re-incorporation into the Masonic body. A lodge is opened as an
Entered Apprentice lodge, the Masonic credentials of attendees (including the
initiand) are checked and general principles of Freemasonry are reaffirmed. The
point to stress is that an emphatic distinction is made between the Masonic and
‘Profane’ worlds, and the Mason and the Cowan. A border is drawn, and only the
initiated may cross it.
Part One: Pre-liminality
The lodge is then opened in the
second degree as a pre-liminary phase to the third; each degree has the
‘furniture’ (symbols) of the lodge arranged, concealed or revealed in a
particular manner according to the degree. In the Fellow Craft lodge the
initiand is then asked the test questions of the degree and, after giving
satisfactory answers, is presented with ‘a pass grip and pass word leading to
the degree to which you seek to be admitted’, and is taken outside the lodge to
prepare himself for the ceremony of being raised to the degree of Master Mason.
As the initiand prepares himself outside the lodge, the lodge opens itself as a
Master Masons lodge and prepares itself for the ceremony.
When both the initiand and the lodge
are ready, the Tyler, whose job it is to ensure the security of the lodge room
during the ceremonial and to prepare the initiand for initiation, knocks on the
door. The Worshipful Master of the lodge directs (through the Junior Warden) an
inquiry to be made by the Inner Guard as to who seeks admission, and to receive
the pass grip and pass word of the initiand as he stand outside the lodge. The
Inner Guard affirms that the pass grip and pass word of the initiand are in
order and the Worshipful Master then orders the initiand to be admitted into
Such a pattern van Gennep explicitly
associates with the pre-liminal phase of the rites of passage if we have
as our frame of reference only the ceremony of the initiation of a Master
Mason—the initiand has been separated from the body of the lodge and must apply
to re-enter it.
However, if we change our frame of
reference back to the examination of the rituals of all three degrees as a
single body, then the initiand can be seen to be in a phase of liminality or
transition, since he has been excluded only from a Master Masons’ lodge, but
they are still functioning within the Masonic sphere. Such a person is
privileged above other Fellow Crafts in that he has a pass grip and a pass
word and is neither wholly a Fellow Craft (since the imparting of the pass grip
and pass word is part of the Master Mason initiation ceremony), nor is he a
Master Mason, since he has not gone through the actual ceremony.
Van Gennep identified a formal, even
ritualistic, protocol among the tribes he studied when admitting strangers into
the village—a pattern that is reflected both in the welcoming of visitors onto
a Maori marae and the initiand back into the lodge.
The arrival of a stranger
reinforces the cohesion of the group.
An alarm is given by the scout.
Runners are used to indicate when
the visitors approach the marae.
The tyler gives ‘the alarm’ by
rapping on the door of the lodge.
The chief then dispatches a warrior
A wero (challenge) is given at the entrance of the marae/pa. The
visitors can formally indicate whether they arrive with hostile or peaceful
The Master, through his agent the
Junior Warden, asks the Inner Guard the cause of the alarm. The Inner Guard
(armed with the sword) leaves the lodge to investigate and interrogate the
The warrior affirms that the
stranger is friendly and relays this information to the chief, who allows him
to be admitted into the village/lodge under probationary circumstance.
The visitors are then introduced
into the marae grounds with songs and speeches, but are still considered to
be tapu (under spiritual
interdiction) and are formally constrained in their actions (until the hongi [nose pressing] completes the
ceremony of welcome).
The Inner Guard confirms that the
initiand is not only a Mason, but is one who has been properly prepared and
thus is eligible for admission. The initiand is then readmitted under the
control of the Deacons (the probationary circumstance).
As van Gennep notes, however, rites
of threshold are not rites of union, but rites of preparation of union.
Part Two: Liminality
The main feature of the Master
Mason initiation is the enactment of the death of Hiram Abif, who was,
according to Masonic tradition, the chief architect of King Solomon’s temple
and the first Grand Master of Freemasonry. Much of the ritual and symbolism of
the ritual is directly or indirectly concerned or associated with liminality or
transition. As Turner has pointed out, ‘liminality is frequently likened to
death, being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the
wilderness, and to the eclipse of the sun or the moon’. In the Master Mason ritual we
can find almost all of these expressions of liminality.
Upon the initiand’s admittance into
the lodge, the room is almost pitch black, with only a very dim light glowing
in the symbolic east quarter of the lodge. The initiand is then ‘introduced’ to
the lodge by the public communication of the pass grip and pass word to certain
officers, and receives his Obligation, a promise to remain true to the tenets
of Freemasonry, the country in which he lives, and God.
The initiand then receives the
Exhortation which dwells on the subject of death, reminding the initiand to
make use of his allotted time on Earth, and to warn him that he is about to
re-enact the death of Hiram Abif. In the next phase, in most but not all lodges
in New Zealand, comes a recitation of a number of passages that re-enforce the
transitory (or liminal) nature of human existence: ‘[God] . . .
support us under the trials and difficulties we are destined to endure while
travelling through this vale of tears’; ‘Man that is born of woman is but of a
few days, and is full of trouble; he cometh forth like a flower, and is cut
down’; ‘man dieth and wasteth away, yea, man giveth up the ghost and where is
he?’ Such passages are of a quality Frances Yates described as ‘pessimistic
life is suffering, and life is a trial to be endured. While van Gennep
identifies the ordeal as part of the separation process, scourging away the
in the Gnostic schema the ordeal separates the two states of pre-birth and
post-birth bliss, or, to draw on Christian symbolism, the ordeal is separation
of man from God—caught between Eden and the everlasting resurrection.
There follows a reading from
Ecclesiastes 12:7, which again reinforces the dread inevitably of death, while
the initiand is circumambulated around the lodge in a manner reminiscent of a
funeral procession. Three officers who play the part of the murderers of Hiram
Abif then approach the initiand. The first murderer, or ‘ruffian’, requests
‘the secrets of a Master Mason’ and is refused and strikes a blow on the
initiand’s head. This process is repeated twice more, with the last blow
‘killing’ him and the body falling to the floor. ‘Low Twelve’ is then
sounded—the tolling of a bell or gong twelve times, an obvious allusion to
midnight, traditionally associated with the darkest part of the night,
witchcraft and ‘the powers of darkness’, and that moment when it is neither
yesterday nor tomorrow.
In some lodges the initiand is made
to lie on a floor covering, representing an open grave, while in other lodges
he is lowered into a recess in the floor, or onto a cloth that is either draped
over him or used to carry him around the lodge. The initiand is made to wait in
darkness and silence for a period of time—in Scottish lodges the members of the
lodge file out and leave the initiand alone and in the darkness for an extended
period, sometimes even having dinner in that time.
Van Gennep makes a connection between the womb and the grave, pointing out that
they represent gateways into and out of the liminality of life.
The motif of the wilderness is also
to be found in the ritual. After Hiram Abif is killed, the three ruffians hide
the body and flee the scene of their crime. A short time later King Solomon,
perturbed by Hiram’s disappearance, sends out three search parties of Fellow
Crafts, who search for their Master in the countryside surrounding Jerusalem.
The wilderness has long been associated as a place of testing, from
pre-biblical times and the story of Gilgamesh’s madness in the hills outside
Uruk in Babylonia, to Christ’s temptation, the quest for the Holy Grail in the
Perilous Forest, and even in popular culture and films such as Three Kings.
Even the eclipse of the sun has an
oblique place in the ritual. Masonic ritual has many explicit and implicit
references to the Sun: the relationship between the Master and Wardens and the
sun, for instance, as well as the sun-wise passage of officers moving in the
lodge (assuming a Northern hemisphere bias). Solar attributes can likewise be
tentatively associated with Hiram Abif, and thus his death can be seen as the
Part Three: Incorporation
After the initiand has lain in the
grave for a time, he is ‘resurrected’. He rises from the grave of Hiram Abif as
a new and separate entity. The method of resurrection is by the ‘Five Points of
Fellowship’, which comprises one of the secrets of a Master Mason and one of
the modes of recognition between Freemasons. It has further significance in
that the communication of the Master Masons Word can only be given in the
posture of the Five Points of Fellowship. In short the resurrection of the
initiand by the Five Points of Fellowship is a necessary and obligatory
prerequisite to the communication of the words which (traditionally) mark a
fully qualified and accepted Master Mason. The Five Points of Fellowship marks
a new life within Freemasonry, the rebirth into a new status. The Five Points
of Fellowship involves a physical closeness, a particular hug and handshake,
between the initiand and the Worshipful Master who raises him. Such a bond is
almost universally accepted as a sign of trust and acceptance by an individual
and, by inference, the group that individual may represent.
The raising of the initiand is
followed by the communication of the secrets of the degree, the investiture of the
‘distinguishing badge of a Master Mason’—the Master Mason’s apron, and the
imparting of the Extended Secrets. The significance of these parts of the
ritual within the general rite of incorporation should be obvious. Each of
these parts communicates to the initiand the modes and methods of identifying
himself as a Master Mason, a full member of the Craft lodge.
Two lectures on various aspects of
the symbolism found in a Master Masons’ lodge follow, and then the Final
Charge, which outlines the expected behaviour of a Master Mason. The Final
Charge, while not as dramatic as earlier parts of the ritual, serves to
reinforce the two-way nature of obligation and responsibility. The initiand has
been received as a ‘proper object of our favour and esteem’, a fully
participatory member of a Masonic lodge who must conform to ‘the ancient
Landmarks of the Craft . . . [which] you are to
preserve sacred and inviolate. . . [and]
enforce, by precept and example, the tenets of the system’. As has been earlier
pointed out, the rite of incorporation brings with it an identification of a
commonality and a bond that implies a responsibility.
The newly made Master Mason is told
by the Worshipful Master that he is free to take his seat anywhere, a marked
departure from the Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts who have prescribed
places within the lodge where they must sit, and asked to assist in the
ceremonial closing of the lodge. Again the initiand is being brought into,
rather than excluded from, the corporate ritual sphere, and is no longer marked
out as an individual petitioning for recognition, but rather a part of the
recognised body of Master Masons. The initiand has moved from social
invisibility to social visibility within the Masonic schema.
Turner and Communitas
In contrast to van Gennep’s
structured approach to ritual, Turner is less concerned with the division of
ritual into phases than he is in the examination of communitas and
anti-structure, a concentration on liminality, and the mechanics of ritual. The liminal phase of ritual is particularly critical because,
according to Turner, the initiates are all treated equally, deprived of all
distinguishing characteristics of an external (that is ‘profane’) social
In following Turner’s approach it is
important to keep in mind what is meant by communitas and
anti-structure. Communitas has an obvious association with words such as
community and, particularly, commune. Turner describes communitas as ‘a community or comity of comrades and not a structure of
hierarchically arrayed positions’, implying a basic notion of equality and
Central to the idea of
anti-structure is the overturning of prior social divisions, divisions
instituted outside the bubble of the communitas, and the replacement with
new relationships organised along a more horizontal, rather than vertical,
Within Freemasonry, the principle
that all its members are intrinsically equal is a highly prized tenet, fostered
not only by the ritual, but also by members’ attitudes to each other. Masons
refer to each other as ‘brothers’, implying an essential equality among
themselves (though, as in any family, some brothers are more equal than others,
and senior members posses honorifics, such as ‘Worshipful Brother’, ‘Very Worshipful
Brother’, ‘Right Worshipful Brother’ and ‘Most Worshipful Brother’). Much of
the ritual work that accentuates equality can be found in the Entered
Apprentice degree, where it is stressed that all who have become Freemasons
have done so blindfolded and ‘poor and penniless’, and even monarchs ‘have
exchanged the Sceptre for the Trowel’. Historically, this notion of the
essential equality of brethren and the practise of a regular progression up the
chain of office and into positions of authority, based not on external social
status but rather on Masonic qualifications, was one of the radical qualities
of the fraternity during the socially rigid 18th and 19th centuries.
In the Master Mason degree the
notion of communitas is built in part by the regularity and formality of
the ritual itself and in part by the emotional/psychological reactions to the
ritual. Outside the ritual environment itself, Freemasons informally remind
each other regularly that the ritual they conduct in lodge today is
(essentially) the same ritual their fathers and grandfathers used, or was used
to initiate George VI, the Duke of Edinburgh, Rudyard Kipling, and any number
of other prominent Masons, while even the Prichard ritual of 1730 is well
within the bounds of Masonic orthodoxy. The common association with, and shared
experience of, the Masonic initiation implies a commonality and equality that
may not otherwise be shared. Masons are encouraged to
conform to the tenets of Freemasonry by lateral pressure (from other members)
and pressure from above (by the repetition of the symbols and motifs of the
ritual), as shown in figure 2. Many masons are members of the Craft for
the large part of their life, and lodges typically have two or three
’50-Year-Badge’ holders among their active members, who have been thoroughly
indoctrinated in the Masonic idioverse and play their part in
The general pattern of the Hiramic
legend in the Master Mason’s initiation also follows Turner’s four stages of
1. Breach of ‘regular norm-governed social
relations’—the Ruffians’ demands for the Word of a Master Mason.
2. Crisis—the murder of Hiram Abif.
3. Redressive actions are taken to prevent the worsening of
the crisis—King Solomon sends out search parties and punishes the Ruffians.
4. Reintegration of the disturbed unit by ‘recognition and
legitimation of irreparable schism’—In a Masonic context King Solomon
institutes the substituted secrets of a Master Mason, the real ones
having been lost with the death of Hiram Abif.
The Master Mason degree has as its
central motif the death of Hiram Abif and the subsequent resurrection of the
initiand. Death is presented as an absolute inevitability, and the initiand is
advised to fully prepare himself for the inevitable while he still has the
wherewithal to do so. Death is the great leveller, respecting neither rank nor
station, drawing everyone, eventually, into its embrace—‘be they king or street
sweeper, sooner or later we all meet the Grim Reaper’.
As Robert Anton Wilson points out repeatedly in his many books, the repetition
of theme or symbol, especially one that that has prior emotive loading—such as
death—affects the conscious and subconscious mind of the observer/participant.
To do so in a non-threatening ritualised environment is to normalise the
experience, forming a bond between all who have shared the experience. Wilson
also stresses that an emotionally ‘traumatic’ (dramatic) event during the
ritual process can brand the symbolism of the event directly into the psyche of
the initiand, bypassing the mediation of the conscious or rational part of the
brain—or, as Turner puts it, ‘in ritual one lives through events, or
through the alchemy of its framings and symbolings relives semiogenetic events,
the deeds and words of the prophets and saints, or if these are absent, myths
and sacred epics’. The repetition of ritual over many
years imparts an ineffable understanding of the nature of things, an
understanding that cannot be gained through the intellectual analysis of the
rituals (as D H Lawrence said ‘analysis presupposes a corpse’) but
can only be communicated through its experience. Such experiences are sure to remain embedded in
the mind of the initiand, but it is an experience only open to the initiand
and, as van Gennep remarked, ‘only the first time counts’.
The categories and concepts that embody [ritual] operate in
such a way that whoever passes through the various positions of a lifetime in
one day sees the sacred where before he has seen the profane, or vice versa.
Mircea Eliade 
The complexity of the Masonic idioverse is such that it has
kept men intellectually and spiritually engaged with it for almost 300 years,
and lies thick over the furniture of Western culture. No matter how we attempt
to look at Freemasonry, its ritual presents us with layer after layer of
symbolic interactions between a multitude of different forces: religious,
political, cultural, social, philosophic and historical. This paper has barely
touched upon part of the Master Mason ritual (which is part of Craft
Freemasonry and which, in turn, is only part of the whole Masonic edifice),
using only a sample of the theories of only two anthropologists. The complexity
of the Masonic schema is such that it would not be unreasonable to expect that
a book would be required to simply summarise the interactions of these
different forces from an anthropological perspective and, with the relaxing of
Masonic attitudes towards secrecy, it would be fortunate if a fuller appraisal
of the Anthropology of Freemasonry were nigh.
Bell, Catherine: Ritual Theory,
Ritual Practice, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1992.
Bourdieu, Pierre: Outline of a Theory of
Practise, trans Richard Nice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1977.
Carlyle, Richard: A Manual of
Freemasonry, Reeves & Turner, London c 1842.
Carr, Harry: The Early French
Exposures, QCCC Ltd, London 1971.
Durkheim, Emile: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, trans Joseph Ward Swain,
Free Press, London 1915.
Eliade, Mircea: Birth and Rebirth: The
Religious Meanings of Initiation in Human Culture, Harper & Row, New
——— From Primitives to Zen: A Thematic
Sourcebook of the History of Religions, Wm Collins & Sons, London 1967.
——— A History of Religious Ideas: from the
Stone Age to the Eleusian Mysteries, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
Frazer, J G: The Golden Bough,
Papermac, London 1978.
Geertz, Clifford: The Interpretation of
Cultures, Basic Books, New York 1973.
Gilbert, Robert: ‘The Masonic Career of A E
Waite’ in (1986) Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 99:
——— ‘William Wynn Westcott and the
Esoteric School of Masonic Research’ in (1987) AQC 100:
Grand Lodge of New
Zealand: The Ritual
of the Three Degrees, Wright & Carman, Wellington 1989.
——— The Book Of Constitution for the
Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of New Zealand, Grand Lodge of New Zealand,
Grainger, Roger: The Language of the Rite, Darton, Longman & Todd, London 1974.
L: Readings in Ritual Studies, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs 1996.
Hamill, John: The Craft: A History of
English Freemasonry, Crucible, London 1986.
Hamill, J & Gilbert, R: Freemasonry: A Celebration of the Craft,
Greenwich Editions, London 1993.
Hayward, H L: ‘Freemasonry and the
Ancient Mysteries’ in The Builder, 1923.
Jones, Bernard E: Freemasons’ Guide
and Compendium, George G Harrap, London 1957.
Knoop, Douglas and Jones, G P: The Scottish Mason and the Mason
Word, Manchester University Press,
——— The Genesis of Freemasonry, Manchester University Press,
Knoop, Douglas, Jones G P & Hamer, Douglas: Early
Masonic Pamphlets, Manchester University Press, Manchester 1945.
Early Masonic Catechisms, QCCC Ltd, London 1978.
La Fontaine, J S: Initiation,
Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1985.
Leadbeater, C W: The Hidden Life in
Freemasonry, Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar 1955.
Luhrmann, T M: Persuasions of the
Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, MA 1989.
MacNulty, W Kirk: Freemasonry: A
Journey through Ritual and Symbol, Thames & Hudson, London 1997.
Nilsson, M P: ‘Mysteries’ in Oxford
Classical Dictionary (4 edn, N G L Hammond and H H Scullard
eds, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1970.
Prichard, Samuel: Masonry Dissected,
Poemandres Press, Boston 1996 .
Roberts, J M: The Mythology of the Secret Societies, Paladin,
St Albans 1974.
Street, Oliver Day: Symbolism of the
Three Degrees, Masonic Service Association of the United States, Washington DC
Turner, Victor: The Forest of Symbols:
Aspects of Ndembu Ritual, Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1967.
——— The Drums of Affliction: A Study of
Religious Processes Among the Ndembu of Zambia, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1968.
——— The Ritual Process, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London
——— ‘Symbols in African Ritual’ in
J L Dolgin, D S Kemnitzer
& D M Schneider eds,
Symbolic Anthropology: A Reader in the Study of Symbols and Meanings,
Columbia University Press, New York 1977.
——— ‘Dramatic Ritual/Ritual Drama:
Performance and Reflexive Anthropology’ in Jay Ruby
ed, A Crack in the Mirror, University of Philadelphia Press,
——— On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as
Experience, E L B Turner
ed, University of Arizona Press, Tucson 1985.
——— The Anthropology of Performance, Johns Hopkins University Press,
Turner, V & Turner, E: ‘From Ritual to Theatre: The
Human Seriousness of Play’ in Performing
Arts Journal, 1982.
van Gennep, Arnold: Rites of Passage,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1960.
Wilson, Robert Anton: Quantum Psychology: How Brain
Software Programmes You and Your World, New Falcon Publications,
——— Prometheus Rising, New Falcon
Publications, Tempe 1993.
——— New Inquisition, New Falcon Publications, Tempe
Wiseman, Boris & Groves, Judy: Levi-Strauss for
Beginners, Icon Books, Duxford
Yarker, John: The Arcane Schools,
Rider & Sons, London 1909.
Yates, Frances A: Giordano Bruno and
the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1964.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1989 (USA). Director Stephen Herek,
with Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter.
Three Kings, 1999 (USA). Director David Russell, with George
Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube, Spike Jonze.
Hart, Alan: 1985: Personal communication. Grand
Lodge of New Zealand’s definition of Masonic secrecy.
Young, Sandy: 2000: Personal communication.
Scottish working of the Master Mason degree.
paper will not be read out at the conference, but rather discussed, clarified
Appendixes and Endnotes follow.
Hiram Abif—the Solar Correspondence
of lecture given to Lodge Te Papa, Tauranga, June 27, 2000, by W R van Leeuwen
Souls and Living Stones: the Alchemical Allegory in the Hiramic Legend’
Hiram can quite
clearly represent the sun. Masonic symbolism constantly refers to the sun. For
example, all three primary officers of the lodge are associated with the sun
during parts of the day and there is no officer in the north representing
night—the sun has set. We also see the same phenomenon in the cycle of the
seasons: a waxing sun beginning at the Spring Equinox in the east, a sun at its
zenith in the Summer Solstice to the South, a waning sun at the Fall Equinox in
the West, and the dark months of winter to the North. These are essentially the
paths that Hiram trod in his travails before his murder, going to the three
temple gates. While we all know that the rituals of our Grand Lodge, in
sympathy with the Volume of the Sacred Law, contradict this, stating that the
blows were struck in the north, south and east, one of the earliest Masonic
rituals that we have—the first to give us the Master Mason degree, Prichard’s Masonry
Dissected—tells us that the three blows which struck down Hiram Abif were
struck in the East, South and West gates of King Solomon’s Temple, which mimics
the path of the Sun through the equinoxes. A number of mystery religions had
this solar allegory as the basis of their rituals, in which the candidate for
the mysteries assumed the part of the solar deity, was slain and then raised.
Like the sun, the candidate experienced a rebirth. Walter Burket says, in Ancient
Mystery Cults, ‘The basic idea of an initiation ritual is generally taken
to be that of death and rebirth’, while Arnold van Gennep, the great
anthropological theorist on the study of ritual in religion, identifies the
climax of most initiations to be the separation of the candidate between as he
was before the initiation and as he will be after the initiation. Van Gennep
explicitly identifies initiation with the death and rebirth of the candidate.
Some suggestions for further reading
The great drawback of entering a field that
has been largely dominated by professional academics is that the literature has
been written largely for other professional academics. The field of Rituals
Studies within Anthropology is, alas, no exception. As a university student,
one is fortunate in that lecturers and tutors (usually) make a good attempt at
reducing the sometimes obtuse and abstract theories into plain English, which,
coupled with the incentive of ever looming essays or exams, provides both the
resources and the motive that may be lacking in a more recreational reader, to
grapple with and understand the ideas.
That being said, here is a short list of
books that may be a good place to start:
Two small and unintimidating
works are Arnold van Gennep, Rites of Passage, and J S La Fontaine, Initiation. Both authors are well
respected and give a general introduction to some of the ideas that are (or
were) in currency and, more specifically, give examples of how ritual can be
interpreted and analysed.
However, both van Gennep and
(to a more limited extent) La Fontaine have dated somewhat, and a useful
anthology to read to gain a wider and more modern appreciation of ritual theory
is Readings in Ritual Studies, edited by Ronald L Grimes.
book at the lighter end of the spectrum is The Language of the Rite, by Roger Grainger. Written for a
non-academic readership, The Language of the Rite is a defence of the
Anglican ritual, and Grainger (an Anglican) calls on a number of well known
theorists and writers in support of his cause, Claude Levi-Strauss and Mircea Eliade in particular. In
places it is a little confused and I rather suspect he does not fully
understand the theoretical source-material, but nonetheless it is an accessible
introduction to the subject, especially of the ‘big picture’ (if you don’t mind
correcting the occasional minor misunderstanding at a later date).
A quick glance through my
bibliography will reveal that I have leaned heavily on Victor Turner and would particulary suggest his Ritual Process, and also
Forest of Symbols, Ritual Theater, Anthropology of Experience, and
his essay ‘Dramatic
Ritual/Ritual Drama: Performance and Reflexive Anthropology’ in Jay Ruby’s A
Crack in the Mirror, as a sound
base to serious engagement with anthropological theory. Much of his later works
deal with the relationship between theatre and ritual and is also profitable
reading. One of the joys of reading Turner is that he turns a good phrase. As a
curious aside, in his later life he adopted Catholicism, possibly the most
ritualistic of the accessible Christian denominations.
For the advanced reader
there are two authors which stand out, Catherine
Bell (whose Ritual Theory, Ritual Practise is just heavy going) and Claude
Levi-Strauss, to whom I have not referred in this paper, but who is
generally known as the father of Structural Anthropology. A prolific author,
Levi-Strauss’ ‘The Structural Study of Myth’ in
the Journal of American Folklore
(1955), is one of the seminal works on the deconstruction of myths, using the
Oedipus story as an exemplar. While not directly dealing with ritual, the
methodology is interesting and has potential to further understanding of both
the ritual and narrative elements of Freemasonry. The article can be found
online at <http://transcriptions.english.ucsb.edu/archive/courses/liu/materials/Levi-Strauss/oedipus.html>. However, reading Levi-Strauss
for Beginners, by Boris Wiseman and Judy Groves may well be a good idea before tackling the master.
For general reading in the
area of psychology, mythology and religion in support of a better understanding
of ritual, possibly the best place to start is Robert Anton Wilson—a very interesting chap, and contempory and
friend of Timothy Leary. He writes in what I find to be a very entertaining and
provoking style, and is not to be attempted by readers without a sense of
humour. He has justly been called the
philosopher of the Psychedalic Generation, but thirty-five years later he is
still going strong. Start with Prometheus Rising and New Inquisition, and if you like
them (and you may think they are a load of rot), try his other books.
author that has his critics is Mircea Eliade, but, after having around 1600
published works, he is bound to upset someone. Eliade’s writings on mythology
and religion are worth reading and debating, particularly Birth and Rebirth: The
Religious Meanings of Initiation in Human Culture.
And finally, one cannot discuss the serious study of
myth without mentioning Joseph Campbell.
The Masks of God and The Hero With a Thousand Faces are
possibly his most well known works. Campbell’s approach is largely to
deconstruct myths and look at their psychological and cultural significance,
and pursue the quest for the great archetypes of human consciousness. Alas, he
is another author who often writes with an academic audience in mind, and some
of his books are somewhat solid (the term ‘small windowless buildings’ springs
to mind), but should you ever be able to see the series of video interviews
with Bill Moyes, do so—he is an engaging speaker.
As a student of anthropology with a particular
interest in Ritual, I am continually amazed at how closely formal theory
matches the construction of Masonic ritual. It is often closer than the
examples culled from the cultures and experiences which gave rise to the
theories in the first place—a closeness unbeknown to the theorists themselves.
If more Masonic researchers took the time (and effort) to seek to understand
the theories of people like van Gennep, Turner and Levi-Strauss, a whole new
area of Masonic investigation would be opened up, not just in the appreciation
of Masonic ritual, but the whole fabric of Freemasonry.
 Wilson, in
Victor Turner: The
Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1969, p6.
 Words being, of
course, just another kind of symbol system.
 First published
in French in 1906 as Les rites de passage;
however it was not translated into English until 1960.
 Arnold van Gennep: Rites of
Passage, University of Chicago Press, Chicago
 Van Gennep, pp67,65–88.
 It was not until the 1970s, when the supply of ‘pre-industrial’
societies was starting to dry up, that ethnographic studies on elements of
modern societies started to become popular.
 ‘. . .
the whole subject of secret societies was neglected as an area for serious
investigation . . . Because the historian has passed
by, the charlatan, the axe-grinder and the paranoiac long had the field to
themselves. . .’ J M Roberts: The Mythology of the Secret Societies,
Paladin, St Albans 1974, p25.
 Douglas Knoop, G P Jones,
D Hamer and Harry Carr immediately spring to mind.
 Oliver Day
Street: Symbolism of the Three Degrees, Masonic Service Association of
the United States, Washington DC 1924, p117.
 C W Leadbeater:
The Hidden Life in Freemasonry, Theosophical Publishing House,
Adyar 1955, px.
Gilbert: ‘William Wynn Westcott and the Esoteric School of Masonic Research’ in
(1987) Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 100:6.
 J S La Fontaine: Initiation,
Penguin Books, Harmondsworth 1985, pp49–51.
 The account was
taken from Charles William Heckethorn’s The
Secret Societies of All Ages and Countries (1875); 1965 edn quoted. I
remember having seen the ritual for this unusual form of initiation some years
ago but, alas, I cannot remember any details of where and when it can now be
 Alan Hart, Grand
Secretary, personal communication, 1985.
 Mircea Eliade:
From Primitives to Zen: A Thematic
Sourcebook of the History of Religions, Wm Collins & Sons, London 1967, p300.
 J G Frazer: The Golden Bough, Papermac, London 1978, pp905–17
 Mircea Eliade:
A History of Religious Ideas: from the Stone Age to the Eleusian Mysteries,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1978, pp290–301.
 W Kirk
MacNulty: Freemasonry: A Journey through Ritual and Symbol, Thames
& Hudson, London 1997, pp11-15.
Bell: Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, Oxford University Press, Oxford
 T M Luhrmann:
Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England,
Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA 1989, p347.
 J G Frazer:
The Golden Bough, Papermac, London 1978, pp444,541,797,905, passim.
 Emile Durkheim: The Elementary
Forms of Religious Life, trans Joseph Ward Swain,
Free Press, London 1915, pp40–41.
Turner: ‘Symbols in
African Ritual’ in J L Dolgin, D S Kemnitzer &
D M Schneider eds, Symbolic Anthropology: A Reader in the Study of
Symbols and Meanings, Columbia University Press, New York 1977, p183; ‘Dramatic
Ritual/Ritual Drama: Performance and Reflexive Anthropology’ in Jay Ruby ed, A
Crack in the Mirror, University of Philadelphia Press, Philadelphia 1982,
 Victor Turner:
The Drums of
Affliction: A Study of Religious Processes Among the Ndembu of Zambia, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1968, p2.
 Victor Turner:
The Ritual Process, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1969, p94.
 Turner: ‘Dramatic Ritual/Ritual Drama: Performance and
Reflexive Anthropology’, p25.
 Turner: The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu
Ritual, Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1967, pp99–108; On the Edge of the Bush: Anthropology as
Experience, E L B Turner ed, University of Arizona Press,
Tucson 1985, pp291–301; V Turner & E Turner, ‘From Ritual to
Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play’ in Performing
Arts Journal, 1982, pp203–206.
 Turner: The Ritual Process,
 Turner: ‘Dramatic
Ritual/Ritual Drama: Performance and Reflexive Anthropology’, pp85-86.
 Turner: Turner: ‘Dramatic Ritual/Ritual Drama: Performance and Reflexive Anthropology’, p80. Or, as Schwartz more pedantically puts it, the idioverse is the ‘individual cognitive, evaluative and affective mapping of the structure of events and the classes of event’.
 Turner: The Ritual Process, pp117,128–129.
Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, Basic Books, New York 1973,
 Turner, The Ritual Process,
 Frances A
Yates: Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Routledge & Kegan
Paul, London 1964.
 Sandy Young, 2000, Personal Communication.
 Turner: The Forest of Symbols, pp93–111.
 Turner: The Forest of Symbols, p100.
 Turner uses
‘anti-structure’ ‘. . . to describe both liminality and
what I have called “communitas”. I meant by it not a structural reversal . . .
but the liberation of human capacities of cognition, affect, volition,
creativity, etc., from the normative constraints incumbent upon occupying a
sequence of social statuses’. (From
Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play, p44).
 Turner: ‘Dramatic
Ritual/Ritual Drama: Performance and Reflexive Anthropology’, pp86–87; The
Anthropology of Performance, p34.
 Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
History of Religious Ideas: from the Stone Age to the Eleusian Mysteries, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago 1978, p301.