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Freemasonry has been around for a long time. One can find references to it by name back in the1600's and perhaps the 1400's. We all know of the Grand Lodge charter in 1717, but when one studies further back in history, he finds much Masonic thought in writings and poetry, going back to Ancient Babylon, Egypt, China, Persia and India. My personal feeling is that, when some men first sat around the fire outside their cave, looked up at the stars and began to question, Masonry was born. Not formally as a Lodge, or a ritual, but in the spirit of Masonry, the endless quest to better ourselves and to do good to our Brothers and Fellows, and to mankind at large.
There is a tremendous amount of printed material about Freemasonry and its concordant bodies. There is enough for a lifetime or more of study by a dedicated scholar. Our so-called secrets, the ritual, the tokens, grips and words have been “exposed” many times by anti-Masons, but no one has
Walter L. Wilmshurst (1867- 1939) was a Master Mason and a mystic who spent most of his life studying and learning the esoteric parts of Masonry. He said that many Masons, of venerable age, covered with honors and offices, were still but Entered Apprentices. Others attained the true degree
I would like to include some excerpts from his book, The Masonic Initiation which followed his seminal The Meaning of Masonry, both of which I would recommend to the aspiring Mason, to be read and studied in depth. Both books, along with many others of value are available for reading at http://www.masonicpaedia.org which I recommend as a very valuable Masonic site.
Brother Wilmshurst says: The official description of Masonry is that it is a "System of Morality." This is true, but in two senses, one only of which is usually thought of. The term is usually interpreted as meaning a "system of morals". But men need not enter a secret order to learn morals and study ethics, nor is an elaborate induction ceremonial organisation needed to teach them. Elementary morals can be and are learned in the outside world and must be learned there, if one is to be merely a decent member of society. The possession of "strict morals," as every Mason knows, is a preliminary qualification for entering the Order. A man does not enter it to acquire them after he has entered. It is true he finds the Order insistent on obedience to the Moral Law and emphasising closer cultivation of certain ethical virtues, as is essential to those, who propose to enter upon a course of spiritual science and this is the primary, more obvious sense in which the term "system of morality" is used. But the word "morality," in its original and also in its Masonic, connotation, has a further meaning, one carrying the same sense as it does when we speak of a "morality play”. A "morality" is a literary or dramatic way of expressing spiritual truth, putting it forward allegorically and in accordance with certain well settled principles and methods (mores). It is the equivalent of a usage or "use," as ecclesiastics speak of "the Sarum use" or liturgy. In the same sense Plutarch's Moralia is largely a series of disquisitions upon the mores of the ancient Religious Mystery schools.
He goes on to describe the ancient process of initiation and what was required of the candidate to even gain admission Masonry, then as a "system of morality" as thus defined is neither a Religion nor a Philosophy, but at once a Science and an Art, a Theory and a Practice and this was ever the way in which the Schools of the Ancient Wisdom and Mysteries proceeded. They first exhibited to the intending disciple a picture of the Life process. They taught him the story of the soul's genesis and descent into this world. They showed him its present imperfect, restricted state and its unfortunate position. They indicated that there was a scientific method by which it might be perfected and regain its original condition. This was the Science half of their systems, the programme or theory placed in advance before disciples, that they might have a thorough intellectual grasp of the purpose of the Mysteries and what admission to them involved. Then followed the other half, the practical work to be done by the disciple upon himself, in purifying himself, controlling his sense nature, correcting natural undisciplined tendencies, mastering his thought, his mental processes and will, by a rigorous rule of life and art of living. When he showed proficiency in both the theory and the practice and could withstand certain tests, then but not before he was allowed the privilege of Initiation, a secret process, conferred by already initiated Masters or experts, the details of which were never disclosed outside the process itself.
From this standpoint then, to truly be initiated into the mysteries of the craft, we must transcend our earthly needs and desires. Those may remain as part of our outer shell, as it were, but we must be able to look within the mysteries and within ourselves, then apply the tools of initiation to chip away the superfluities of our earthly lives; to cut the rough stone level, plumb and square, polished with love and care, so it can truly fit into that “eternal house not made by hands.”
Conversely, if we build with that earthly rough stone of our earthly being, we become as cowans, who built rough stone walls to divide fields and other such crude structures. While recognized for their contribution, they were not considered eligible to receive the mysteries of the stonemason to
To further illustrate our point, let us look back in time and place, perhaps to our antecedents. We could pick ancient India, Babylon, or a number of other civilizations, but let us stay with ancient Egypt, as most people are at least somewhat familiar with it. Egypt was a highly developed civilization, with a mystery religion from which the popular religion descended. Film and novels have made Egypt a place of whip and slavery, yet careful study shows that, for much of its history, it held to the precepts of wisdom, love and caring. For many centuries, Pharoah was the guardian of his people, selected by God to rule and govern. He was advised by the priesthood and by the Lords of his domain, all working together for the good of the country and the people. He was answerable to God for his actions and at his death, his deeds were weighed against the feather of truth.
An interesting fact about Egyptian religion. Our impression is that they worshiped bulls, crocodiles, ibis, etc., in addition to Isis, Osiris, Horus and the rest of the pantheon. However, study shows that the priesthood, the Initiates, worshiped one God. That God was infinite, omnipresent, unknowable, as to contemplate God, you would have to find attributes, and attributes come from God, are not part of God. (You find the same concept in the ancient Hindu religion). The bull, for instance was a symbol of power and fertility. The Initiate used the bull to focus upon the concept.
During the stages of initiation, the symbolism was put before them by plays and trials. They were not told the meanings, for the meanings were subject to the interpretation of the individual through his experiences and thus would be different for each person in detail, though in time all would
If we continue on in our studies by entering the concordant bodies, we should keep these precepts before us at all times. Remember the oaths we take, not just for the dead letter, but to try to absorb them into our being until they become a part of us and radiate out to the world through our actions. Always continue to explore the symbolism through its many aspects, for that is how we learn and grow.
-Unfinished Draft Copy-