MASONIC INITIATION by W.L. Wilmshurst

Chapter I

The Purpose of the Mysteries

We shall understand little of the purpose of Masonry unless we know that of
the older systems out of which it issued. That purpose was to promote and
expedite the spiritual evolution of those who desired the regeneration of
their nature and were prepared to submit to the necessary discipline. Thus
the work of the Ancient Mysteries was something vastly more serious and
momentous than merely passing candidates through a series of formal rites
as we do to-day. Their great buildings, which still survive, were assuredly
not erected at such immense labour and skill merely to provide convenient
meeting-places, like our modern Lodge premises, at which to administer a
formal rite at the end of a day devoted to business and secular pursuits .
The mass of Initiation literature and hieroglyphs available to us reveals
how drastic and searching was the work to which candidates were subjected
under the expert guidance of Masters who had previously undergone the same
discipline and become competent to advance their juniors . With them the
work was a difficult but exact science, claiming one's whole time and
energies ; it was the highest, greatest and holiest of all forms of
science-the science of the human soul and the art of its conversion from a
natural to a regenerate supernatural state . Reminiscences of the dignity
of this work still survive in our references to Masonry as the "noble
science" and "royal art," terms meaningless to-day, although each newly
made Mason is charged to make daily progress in Masonic science and every
one installed into the chair of a Lodge is termed a Master of Arts and
Sciences .

But this secret immemorial science could be imparted only to those morally
fit and spiritually ripe for it, as not all men yet are . It was meant only
for those bent on passing from the moral and intellectual darkness in which
normal humanity is plunged, to that Light which dwells in their darkness,
though that darkness comprehendeth it
not until it is opened up at their centre . It was solely for those who
sought the way, the truth and the supernatural life, and were ready to
divest themselves of the "money and metals" of temporal interests and
concentrate their energies upon the evolution of the higher principles of
their nature, which is possible only by the abnegation and surrender of
their lower tendencies .

Evolution, nowadays recognized as a universal process in Nature, is
sometimes supposed to be a modern discovery. But the ancient
Wisdom-teaching knew and acted upon it ages before modem scientists
discovered it in our own day. It recognized that in all the Universe there
is but one Life broken up and differentiated into innumerable forms, and
evolving through those forms from less to greater degrees of perfection .
In Masonic metaphor it saw Nature to be the vast general quarry and forest
out of which individual lives have been hewn like so much stones and
timber, which when duly perfected are destined to be fitted together and
built into a new and higher synthesis, a majestic Temple worthy of the
Divine indwelling, and of which Solomon's temple was a type. All life has
issued out of the "East," i.e., from the Great World of Infinite Spirit,
and has journeyed to the "West" or the Little World of finite form and
embodiment, whence, when duly perfected by experience in those restricted
conditions, it is ordained to return to the "East ." Hence when our Entered
Apprentice is asked in the lecture, whence he comes and whither he goes, he
replies that he is on his way back from the temporal West to the eternal
East . The answer corresponds with a fuller one to be found in the
surviving records of the early British Initiates, the Welsh bards, where to
the same question the following reply is made:

"I came from the Great World, having my beginning in
Spirit. I am now in the Little World (of form and body) where
I have traversed the circle of strife and evolution, and now, at
its termination, I am man . In my beginning I had but a bare
capacity for life ; but I came through every form capable of a
body and life to the state of man, where my condition was
severe and grievous during the age of ages . I came through
every form capable of life, in water, in earth, in air. And there
happened to me every severity, every hardship, every . evil,
every suffering. But purity and perfection cannot be- obtained
without seeing and knowing everything, and this is not possible
without suffering everything . And there can be no full and
perfect Love that does not provide for its creatures the conditions
needful to lead to the experience that results in perfection
. Every one shall attain to the circle of perfection at
last."
From "Barddas" ; the ancient initiate tradition of Welsh Druidic

Life, then, was seen as broken up and distributed into innumerable
individualized lives or souls and as passing from one bodily form to
another in a perpetual progression . (In Masonic metaphor those
individualized souls are called "stones," for stone or rock is an emblem of
what is most enduring, and the stones are rough ashlars or perfect cubes
accordingly as they exist in the rough or have been squared, worked upon,
and polished) . The bodily form with which the soul becomes invested upon
entering this world (symbolized by the Mason being invested with the apron)
was seen to be transient, variable, perishable, of small moment compared
with the life or soul animating it . Yet it was of the greatest importance
in another way, since it provided a fulcrum point or point of resistance
for the soul's education and development. It was, as we still term it, the
"tomb of transformation" ; the grave into which the soul descended for the
purpose of working out its own salvation, for transforming and improving
itself, and ascending out of it the stronger and wiser for the experience .
Thus life was seen as one continuous stream, temporarily checked by the
particular form that clothed it, but flowing on from form to form to ever
new and higher conditions ; slumbering in the mineral, dreaming in the
plant, waking in the animal, and reaching moral selfconsciousness in man.

But does the ascending process end there ? Is man as he is now, the goal,
the last word, of evolution ? Surely, no. As a Persian Initiate once wrote :

I died as a mineral and became a plant .
I died as a plant and rose to animal .
I died as an animal and became man .
Why should I fear ? When did I ever grow less by dying ?
Yet once more I shall die as, man, to soar
With angels blest. But even from angelhood I must pass on.
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived !

Now in order that evolution from lower to higher degrees of life may take
place, some force must previously have been involved in living organisms
that makes their evolution possible. You cannot have evolution without
involution . A seed would never grow unless it held within it the force
which expands it into a plant with a glory of leaf, flower and fruit. An
acorn contains in itself the possibility of the oak. A bird's egg conceals
within its fluids the miracle of the feathered bird and the skylark's song
. Place any of these in appropriate conditions and the latent life-force
will evolve naturally to its preordained limit. The growth may even be
artificially accelerated by methods of intensive culture.

What now of man ? Man also contains within him a life-force, a "vital and
immortal principle" as Masonry calls it, which has not yet expanded to full
development in him, and indeed in many men is scarcely active at all . Man,
too, has that in him enabling him to evolve from the stage of the mortal
animal to a being immortal, superhuman, godlike. Man is evolving towards a
far-off divine event in common with all Nature . But how slowly ! and how
greatly he thwarts and retards his own development by indulging his gross
mortal body and its sensual tendencies, instead of repressing them and
cultivating his latent higher principles ! Human nature, it is commonly
said, continues always the same ; its weaknesses and vices are those of
thousands of years ago, and looking back over the centuries there is little
perceptible improvement in the mass despite our boasted progress and
civilization .

Can this long slow process of human evolution be expedited ? Is there a
method of intensive culture that can be applied to man; one that will more
quickly lift him clean above his present level and transform the sensual,
benighted, human animal into an illuminated godlike being?

To this the answer of the Ancient Mysteries was "Yes, there is. Human
evolution can be accelerated ; if not at present in the mass of humanity,
yet in suitable individuals . Human nature is perfectible by an intensive
process of purification and initiation. There is a royal science of
spiritual advancement, and an art of living, by which the latent,
undeveloped divine Life-principle in man can be liberated from the veils of
darkness in him now obscuring it and brought forward into full play . If
suitable candidates will but make the requisite sacrifices and submit to
the necessary discipline, they can be brought in their present lifetime
from darkness to Light ; they can be raised to a higher degree of humanity
than is otherwise possible to them, and from that position they in turn
will be able to raise others to the same degree and so gradually increase
the spiritual stature and powers of the whole race ."

The work of the Ancient Mysteries was, therefore, a "perfecting" work, or a
work of initiation introducing men to a new order of life, since it was
designed to make imperfect beings whole and perfect by completing their
evolutionary possibilities . The Greek word for this (teleios) has the
twofold meaning, "to make perfect" and "to initiate ." It occurs constantly
in the Scriptures, the greatest text-book of Initiation-science that exists
. They speak of "the just made perfect" ; "be ye perfect as your Father in
heaven is perfect " ; "we speak wisdom (initiation science) to such as are
perfect (or initiated)." And this perfecting work was for all men alike, of
whatever race, language or religion, as Masonry is to-day . For all are
brethren, and upon an equal footing in respect of this work, though not all
men are necessarily ready to undertake it at the same moment ; all their
religions are but so many radii of one circle, designed to lead them from
the circumference and surface of life to the one Light at its centre.
The qualifications of a candidate for the Mysteries were precisely those
provided for Masonic candidates to-day. The one dominant wish of his heart
in asking for admission had to be a yearning desire to pass from his
natural blindness to the innermost Light, and to have his old imperfect
nature revolutionized and transformed. Let me quote one of the oldest
prayers in the world, still used in the East by those seeking real
Initiation. In its original Sanskrit it consists of but six words, which
may be Englished thus:

From the unreal, lead me to the Real !
From darkness, lead me to Light !
From the mortal, bring me to Immortality

It expresses the desire that should be not only upon the lips but burning
in the heart of every candidate the world over, under whatever system of
Initiation he may come. Without that desire as the deepest urge of his
heart no real Initiation is possible, nor is any candidate properly
prepared to ask for it . No one can expect to come to the revelation of the
supernatural Light or to be raised to the sublime degree of a Master-soul,
who is content with his present life as it is, who regards himself as not
in darkness but as already enlightened, or supposes his present mortal
existence to constitute real life . Only by perceiving the unreality and
impermanency of the present world and its interests can one really begin to
detach himself from it and divest himself, in thought and desire, of its
"money and metals ." So long as one carries these with him or remains in
any sense "in worldly possessions," so long he darkens his own light and
automatically defers his own initiation into it . They mean not merely
one's cash and temporal belongings . They include all that clogs and clings
to us from our immersion in the outer world ; our intellectual possessions,
our stores of notions, beliefs and preconceptions about truth, and the
mental habits and self-will we have acquired, even with the best motives,
in our state of darkness . All these constitute our "worldly possessions,"
and they are not our real wealth but our limitations . It is a paradox, but
a true one, that we can only gain by giving them up . Their attraction must
cease if that high Light we profess to seek is ever to be found, and the
aspirant for it must stand at the door of the Mysteries in the deepest
sense a poor candidate in a state of darkness, content to be as a child and
surrender himself to an entirely new order and rule of life . Few are
prepared for this task of self divestment of all that, as experienced men of
the world, they have clung to and built into their mental fabric . How many
of those who ceremonially profess to do so would be ready or content to do
it really ? On being told of this pre-requisite to Initiation they would go
away sorrowful, for they have great possessions, and are not yet prepared
to give them up for something intangible.

In a like sense the candidate had to be a free man ; free in a moral rather
than in a civil sense ; voluntarily offering himself for the work and free
from all attachments hindering its achievement ; and so becoming also free
to the goodly fellowship of all other initiates the world over and free
from any less .worthy intercourse . He had to be of full age ; that is, in
full bodily and mental maturity so as to be fit for the disciplines
awaiting him, and spiritually mature (as not every one is) for undertaking
the final stages of his evolution . Sound judgment, a sound mind in a sound
body, was also essential in view of the demands made on the mental and
psychic faculties, involving the risk of insanity to the mentally unstable
. Strict morals (or chastity) were imperative, since the task of
self-transformation involves physiological changes in the bodily organism
necessitating the utmost personal purity and continence.

And he had to be of good report . This does not mean of good reputation .
It means that on being tested by the initiating authorities he must be
found spiritually responsive to the ideals aimed at and "ring true," giving
back a good sound or report like a coin that is tapped to determine its
genuineness. In the wonderful Egyptian rituals in the Book of the Dead, one
of the titles always found accorded to the Initiate was "true of voice."
This is the same thing as our reference to possessing the "tongue of good
report." It does not mean that he was incapable of falsity and hypocrisy,
which goes without saying, but that his very voice revealed his inherent
spirituality and his own speech reflected and was coloured by the divine
Word behind it . The vocal and heart nervous centres"the guttural" and "the
pectoral," as we say-are intimately related physiologically. Purity or
impurity of heart modifies the tonal quality and moral power of one's
speech . The voice of the real Initiate or saint is always marked by a
charm, a music, an impressiveness, and a sincerity absent in other men ;
for he is "true of voice" ; he possesses the "tongue of good report."

The rule of the Ancient Mysteries was, and still is in other systems, that
twelve years of preparation should elapse before the last great spiritual
experience was permitted that brought the candidate to the Light at his
centre and qualified him for Mastership, though less sufficed in
appropriate cases. As the result of his purification and labours he had
become an illuminate and he was mystically said to be twelve years old .
From a rough ashlar he had become a polished perfect cube, a stone meet
for building into the "holy city" which we are told lieth foursquare and
has twelve gates that are always open. For all the parts of his organism
were now equalised and balanced, and all his gates (or channels of
intercourse with the divine world), no longer shut and clogged by the
darkness of his former impurities, lay open for the passage through them of
the true Light. In Masonry, this condition is called the "hour of high
twelve" ; and he who has attained it will be, like Hiram Abifl', in
constant communion with, and adoration of, the Most High.

Similarly, when the candidate had advanced still further to the sublime
degree and powers of Mastership he was said to be thirty years old . You
will find these mystical ages referred to in the third Gospel, where we are
told (Luke ii, 42) of the Great Exemplar being twelve years old and so
illuminated that His wisdom confounded the academic but unenlightened
teachers of the Temple ; and again (Luke iii, 23) that He "began to be
about thirty years old," at which period began his work as a Master, which
continued for another three years and manifested such works and teaching as
are possible only to a Master. Thirty-three years was, in the Mysteries,
the mystical duration of life of every initiate who attained Mastership.

That period has no relation to bodily age ; it is based on considerations
we need not now enter into but referring to the completion of human
evolution, when it can be said of the soul's travail "It is finished," "He
hath wrought the purpose through of That which made him man." It is for
this reason that the Antient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Masonry extends
to 33 Degrees, in perpetuation of the original secret tradition.

Of the detailed methods employed in assisting properly qualified candidates
to the Light of the centre, whether in the ancient systems or at the
present day, and of the wonderful change wrought by them in the candidate
himself, nothing can be said publicly ; these are matters belonging to
silence . The secrets and mysteries of real Initiation can never be fully
communicated except in the course of the process itself. They are not
disclosed in Masonry at all . Our teaching refers to them as being
"serious, solemn and awful," but leaves them at that and provides various
substituted ones which have no value save for ceremonial use, and as
indications that more genuine ones exist which qualified Brethren will come
to know when time and circumstances warrant. To all others they will remain
sealed. That time and those circumstances depend upon our own desire and
efforts . It is an ancient maxim of the science that "when the disciple is
ready, the Master will be found waiting" to help on his advancement, and in
accordance with this our teaching expressly declares that the purpose of
the Mason is to seek a Master and from him to gain instruction. The earnest
Masonic disciple whose heart and thought are steadfastly set towards the
Light may assuredly count upon finding himself led sooner or later to a
real Initiate capable of helping him to it and of revealing so much of the
real secrets as he is qualified to know.

Real Initiates exist at all times, in this country and elsewhere, for the
science is not restricted to any nation or creed but is universally
diffused over the earth's surface. They are, of course, not numerous and
they are to be met with only by those competent to recognise them. They
live a hidden life ; in the world but not of it. They never seek publicity
or honours ; they never even disclose the fact that they are Initiates .
This is the true Masonic secrecy and humility ; the greatest among men are
content to be as those that are least. The world little suspects what it
owes to its hidden Initiates.

It would be interesting to say something of them, but time permits of my
speaking only of a single case, and I will illustrate the universality of
the science by referring (though reticently) to one who is not of our
country, colour, or creed.

There lives in a distant part of our Empire a man who is in the fullest
sense a Master Mason . Years ago he embarked upon the great quest of Light,
and after the necessary self-preparation under another Master he attained
that great spiritual experience which changed his whole nature and raised
him finally and permanently from darkness to Light. You may like to know
how the daily life of such a man is spent, for it conforms literally with
the rule of our symbolic working tool, the 24-inch gauge, in its
application to the 24 hours of the day . For at least two hours each day he
withdraws entirely from all external affairs, tyling his door as it were
against their intrusion, and opens the Lodge of his soul to its central
depths, passing into blissful, ecstatic communion with the Most High . It
is his "hour of high twelve." For another two hours a day he sleeps ; that
brief period, with a minimum of simple food, sufficing to rest and
recuperate his bodily energies, since his real rest and sustenance are
drawn from the supernatural peace and bread of life that come to him from
his Centre. . The remaining twenty hours of the day are devoted to
unflagging labour in the interests of his countrymen and in the spiritual
advancement of those brought under his guidance . You may suppose that. he
is recluse living an unpractical life in a cell or a forest. On the
contrary, he is a prominent man who has been knighted for his public
service, a King's Counsel, Attorney-General for a large province, a
cultured scholar in English and other languages, and the writer of some
important books. I have asked British Government officials who have worked
with him for years whether they have found anything distinctive in him ;
but they had detected nothing and were utterly blind to the extraordinary
spiritual power and saintliness behind his formal exterior. He is one of
those who has found, and lives from, the divine centre of his being -that
point from Darkness which a Master Mason cannot err- and accordingly to
possesses wisdom and powers beyond the imagination of the uninitiated world.

 

 

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