MASONIC INITIATION by W.L. Wilmshurst

INTRODUCTION

MASONRY AND RELIGION

This book is meant to be a sequel to, and an amplification of, my previous
volume, The Meaning of Masonry, first published in 1922--a collection of
papers issued diffidently and tentatively on the chance that they might
interest some few members of the Craft in the deeper and philosophic aspect
of Freemasonry. It at once met, however, with a surprisingly warm welcome
from all parts of the world, and already has had to be thrice reprinted.
Any personal pleasure at its reception is eclipsed by a greater
gratification and thankfulness at the now demonstrated fact that the
present large and rapid increase in the number of the Fraternity is being
accompanied by a correspondingly wide desire to realize the significance
and purpose of the Masonic system to a much fuller degree than till now has
been the case. The Masonic Craft seems to be gradually regenerating itself,
and, as I previously indicated, such a regeneration must needs make not
only for the moral benefit and enlightenment of individuals and Lodges, but
ultimately must react favourably upon the framework in which they exist                                  -the whole body of society .


In these circumstances it becomes possible to speak more fully, perhaps
also more feelingly, upon a subject which, as a large volume of public and
private testimony has revealed to me, is engaging the earnest interest of
large numbers of Brethren of the Craft. So I offer them these further
papers, [presenting the same subject-matter as before, but induction
different form and expounding more fully matters previously treated but
superficially and cursorily.

By "the Masonic Initiation" I mean, of course, not merely the act and rite
of reception into the Order, but Speculative Freemasonry-within the limits
of the Craft and Arch Degrees-regarded as a system, a specialized method of
intellectual guidance and spiritual instruction ; a method which to its
willing and attentive devotees offers at once an interpretation of life, a
rule of living, and a means of grace, introduction, and even intromission,
to life and light of a supra-natural order . Masonry being essentially and
expressedly a quest after supranatural Light, the present papers are
schematically arranged in correspondence with the stages of that quest ;
they deal first with the transition from darkness to light ; next with the
pathway itself and the light to be found thereon ; and, lastly, with light
in its fullness of attainment as the result of faithfully pursuing that path
to the end. - In a final paper I have re-surveyed the Order's past and
indicated its present tendencies and future possibilities

In their zeal to appreciate and make the best of their connection with the
Order, some members, one finds, experience difficulty in defining and
"placing" Freemasonry . Is it Religion, Philosophy, a system of morals, or
what ? In view of the deepening interest in the subject, it may be well at
the outset to clear up this point . Masonry is not a Religion, though it
contains marked religious elements and many religious references . A
Brother may legitimately say, if he wishes,-and many do say-"Masonry is my
religion," but he is not justified in classifying and holding it out to
other people as a Religion. Reference to the Constitutions makes it quite clear
that the system is one meant to exist outside and independently of Religion
; that all the Order requires of its members is a belief in Deity and
personal conformation to the Moral Law, every Brother being free to follow
whatsoever form of religion and mode of worship he pleases .

Neither is Masonry a Philosophy ; albeit behind it lies a large
philosophical background not appearing in its surface-rituals and doctrine,
but left for discovery to the research and effort of the Brethren . That
philosophical background is a Gnosis or Wisdom-teaching as old as the
world, one which has been shared alike by the Vedists of the East, the
Egyptian, Chaldean and Orphic Initiation systems, the Pythagorean and
Platonist schools, and all the Mystery Temples of both the past and the
present, Christian or otherwise. The present renaissance in the Masonic
Order is calculated to cause a marked, if gradual, revival of interest in
that philosophy, with the probable eventual result that there will come
about a general restoration of the Mysteries, inhibited during the last
sixteen centuries . But of this more will be said in the final section of
this book

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 duction ceremonial organization 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 .

A "system of morality," therefore, means secondarily" a systematized and
dramatized method of moral discipline and philosophic instruction, based on
ancient usage and long established practice ." The method in question is
that of Initiation ; the usage and practice is that of allegory and symbol,
which it is the Freemason's duty, if he wishes to understand his system, to
labour to interpret and put to personal application. If he fails to do so,
he still remains and the system deliberately intends that he should in the
dark about the Order's real meaning and secrets, although formally a member
of it . The Order, the morality-system, merely guarantees its own
possession of Truth ; it does not undertake to impart it save to those who
labour for it . For Truth and its real arcana can never be communicated
directly, or save through allegory and symbol, myth and sacrament. The onus
of translating these must ever rest with the recipient as part .-of his
lifework ; until he makes the truth his own he can never know it to be
truth ; he must do the will before he can know the doctrine . "I know not
how it is" (said St. Bernard of Clairvaux of allegory and symbol) "but the
more that spiritual realities are clothed with obscuring veils, the more
they delight and attract ; and nothing so much heightens longing for them
as such tender refusal."

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 duction 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.

Such, in a few words, was the age-old science of the Mysteries, whether in
Egypt, Greece or elsewhere, and it is that science which, in very
compressed, diluted form, is perpetuated and reproduced in modem Masonry.
To emphasizing and demonstrating this fact, both the present and my former
volume are devoted ; their purpose being coupled with a hope that, when the
true intention of the Order is perceived, the Craft may begin to fulfill its
original design and become an instrument of real initiating efficiency
instead of, as hitherto, a merely social and charitable institution .
Indeed the place and office of Masonry cannot be adequately appreciated
without acquaintance with the Mysteries Masonry of antiquity, for, as a
poet (Patmore) wrote who knew and the latter perfectly,

Save by the Old Road none attain the new,
And from the Ancient Hills alone we catch the view !

Masonry having the above purpose, whilst not a religion, is consistent with
and adaptable to any and every religion. But it is capable of going
further. For an Order of Initiation (like the monastic Orders within the
older Churches) is intended to provide a higher standard of instruction, a
larger communication of truth and wisdom, than the elementary ones offered
by public popular religion ; and at the same time it requires more rigorous
personal discipline and imposes much more exacting claims upon the mind and
will of its adherents . The popular religious
teaching of any people, Christian or not, is as it were for the masses as
yet incapable of stronger food and unadapted to rigorous discipline ; it is
accommodated to the simple understanding of the man in the street,
jog-trotting along the road of life. Initiation is meant for the expert,
the determined spiritual athlete, ready to face the deeper mysteries of
being, and resolute to attain, as soon as may be, the heights to which he
knows his own spirit, when awakened, can take him.

Is not the present declension of interest in popular religion and public
worship due-far from entirely, yet largely-not to irreligiousness, but to
the fact that conventional religious presentation does not satisfy the
rational and spiritual needs of a public forced and disciplined by the
exigencies of modem existence to insist upon a clear understanding and a
firm intellectual foothold in respect of any form of venture duction it is
called upon to undertake ? Is not the turn-over of so many essentially
religiously-minded and earnestly questing people from the Churches to
variants of religious expression, including Masonry, due largely to that
reason and to the fact that the Churches, whilst inculcating faith,
offering hope, proclaiming love, fail entirely in providing what the
Mysteries of the past always did-such a clear philosophical explanation of
life and the Universe as provided-not proof, which in regard to ultimate
verities it is impossible to offer-but an intellectual motive for turning
from things of sense to things of spirit ?

Nothing is further from my wish or intention in these pages than to extol
Masonry at the expense of any existing Religion or Church, or to suggest
competition between institutions which are not and can never be
competitors, but complementaries . I am merely asserting the simple obvious
facts that popular favour has turned, and will more and more turn, to that
market which best supplies its needs, and that for many nowadays the
Churches fail to supply those needs, or form at best an inferior or
inadequate source of supply. The growing human intelligence has
outgrown-not religious truth but presentations of it that sufficed in less
exacting social conditions than obtain to-day, and it is calling for more
sustaining nutriment.

It may be useful to recall how the position was viewed not long ago by an
advanced mind racially detached from the religion and ways of the Western
world. A Hindu religious Master, an Initiate, who attended the World's
Congress of Religions at Chicago as the representative of the Vedantists,
made an observational tour of America and Europe with a view to
sympathetically understanding and appraising their religious organizations
and methods. His conclusions may be summarized thus :"The Western ideal is
to be doing (to be active) ; the Eastern, to be suffering (to be passive) .
The perfect life would be a wonderful harmony of the two . Western
religious organizations (Churches and sects) involve grave disadvantages ;
for they are always breeding new evils, which are not known to the East
with its absence of organization . The perfect condition would come from a
true blending of these opposite methods . For the Western soul, it is well
for a man to be born in a Church, but terrible for him to die in one ; for
in religion there must be growth. A young man is to be censured who fails
to attend and learn from the Church of his nation ; the elderly man is
equally to be censured if he does attend ;- he ought to have outgrown what
that Church offers and to have attained a higher order of religious life
and understanding ."

The same conclusion was expressed by an eminent and ardent religionist of
our own country :"The work of the Church in the world is not to teach the
mysteries of life, so much as to persuade the soul to that arduous degree
of purity at which Deity Himself becomes her teacher . The work of the
Church ends when the knowledge of God begins ."In other words Initiation
science (in a real and not merely a ceremonial sense) is needed and
commences to be applicable only when elementary spiritual duction tuition
has been assimilated and richer nourishment is called for. The same writer,
though a zealous member of the Roman Church, affirms frankly and truly that
in any age of the world, the real Initiate of the Mysteries, whatever his
race or national religion, must needs always stand higher in spiritual
wisdom and stature than the non-initiate of the Christian or any other faith .

Such testimonies as these point to-what many others will feel to be a
necessity-the need of some complementary, supplementary aid to popular
Religion ; some Higher Grade School, in the greater seclusion and privacy
of which can be both studied and practized lessons in the secrets and
mysteries of our being which cannot be exhibited coram populo . Such an aid
is provided by a Secret Order, an Initiation system, and is at hand in
Freemasonry . It remains to be seen whether the Masonic Craft, in both its
own and the larger ulterior interest of society, will avail itself of the
opportunity in its hands . There being a tendency in that direction in the
Craft to-day, the pages of this and of my former book are offered to
encouraging that tendency to a fruition that could not make otherwise than
for the general good.

But let those of us who are desirous to farther that tendency, and to see
provided an advanced system of spiritual instruction, never entertain a
notion of competing with any other community, or permit ourselves a single
thought of disparagement or contempt towards either those who learn or
those who teach in other places . Life involves growth . The hyacinth-bulb
in the pot before me will not remain a bulb, whose life and stature are to
be restricted to the level of the pot it has been placed in. It will shoot
up a foot higher and there burst in flower and fragrance, albeit that its
roots remain in the soil. Similarly each human life is as a bulb
providentially planted in some pot, in some Religion, some Church. If it
truly fulfils the law and central instincts of its nature it will outgrow
that pot, rise high above the pot's surface-level, and ultimately blossom
in a consciousness transcending anything it knew whilst in the bulb stage .
That consciousness will be one not of the beginner, the student, the
neophyte in the Mysteries ; it will be that of the full Initiate .

But that perfected life will still be rooted in the soil, and, far from
despising it, will be for ever grateful for the pot in which its growth
became possible . Masonry will, therefore, never disparage simpler or less
advanced forms of intellectual or spiritual instruction . The Mason, above
all men and in a much fuller, deeper sense, will respond to the old
ordinance "Honour thy father and mother ." In whatever form, under
whichsoever of the many names the God-idea presents itself to himself or
his fellow-men, he will honour the Universal Father ; and in whatsoever
soil of Mother-Earth, or whichsoever section of Mother-Church, he or they
have received their infant nurture, he will honour that Mother, even as he
is bound also to honour his own Mother Lodge ; seeing in each of these the
temporal reflection of still another Mother, the supernal parent described
as "the Mother of us all."

Upon one other point I must add a word. A duction writer wishing to help on
the understanding of Masonry, as fully as may be, in the interests of
Brethren who, as events have shown, are waiting in numbers to receive and
ready to turn to account such help as may be given, is put to real anxiety
to find a way of so writing that he simultaneously discharges the combined
duty of extending that help and of observing his own obligations as to silence.

In my former volume I explained that, in respect of necessary safeguards,
all due secrecy should be observed; and the assurance is now repeated in
respect of the present one. No non-Mason need look to find in these pages
any of the distinctive secrets of the Craft; no Mason, I believe, will
trace in them any disloyal word or motive, or recognize in them anything
but earnest anxiousness to promote the Craft's interests to the uttermost.
Moreover the things I permit myself to say are, I conceive, exempt from
silence as regards the Craft, for they are things which justly and lawfully
belong to it and properly concern it ; and since its members, near and far,
in full measure and in many ways have proved themselves worthy of such
confidence as I can show them, I feel myself justified in addressing them
more intimately than before . As regards those outside the Craft, into
whose hands a published book cannot be prevented form falling, what I have
written consists
of things already spoken about at large in other forms of expression in
these days of keen search for guidance upon the dark path of human life ;
and let me here say that as warm, and almost as many, appreciations of my
former volume have reached me from non-Masons as from within the Craft, and
that it has attracted to the Order much sympathy and good-will that did not
previously exist .

Doubtless there are eyes of such strictness that they regard any public
mention of the Masonic subject as an impropriety. Even these I would not
willingly offend ; yet to allow a possible technicality to prevent the
giving, to those seeking it, the only gift I can make to the Craft in
return for what it has given to myself, seems to me less meritorious
Masonic conduct than would be the negative virtue of keeping rigid silence
when so much can usefully be said.

So I take comfort from that ancient word of wisdom which proclaims that "He
that observes the wind shall not sow, and he that observes the clouds will
not reap 1" And though, whilst writing these pages, a morning desire to sow
my seed has often been followed by an evening prompting to withhold my hand,
yet the former has prevailed with me . And if of that seed, some falls upon
Masonic and some chances upon other ground, who shall know whether shall
prosper this or that ? ; but I pray that both shall be alike good. For,
continues the same old Sage, "truly Light is sweet, and a precious thing it
is for the eyes to behold the Sun" ; and to-day there are drawn blinds
everywhere waiting to be lifted, to let in a Sunlight that belongs to no
close community, but to all men alike.

So having, I hope, brought myself to order in this respect, and marking
with thankful eyes the sunrise of a new order of intelligence breaking over
the Brotherhood, let me now proceed, in the one Name that is thought of
under many names, to declare the Lodge open, for the purpose of considering
Craft-Masonry in all its degrees.

 

 

         

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