MASONIC INITIATION  by W.L. Wilmshurst
Chapter IV

THE PAST AND FUTURE OF THE MASONIC ORDER


"First, that which is natural ; after, that which is spiritual ."

THE PAST

Beginnings, whether of nations, religions, institutions, or even of the
world and life itself, are notoriously obscure and difficult of precise
fixation . The reason is that nothing actually "begins" to be, but there
merely takes place a transformation into new conditions of something that
pre-existed in other conditions . Call the point or moment at which the
change occurs a "beginning" if you wish ; it will be found that such
beginning is but an effect generated by, and issuing from, anterior causes
. Life itself does not, at physical birth, begin to be ; it merely then
enters physical conditions and assumes physical guise . A corresponding
change occurs at the birth or beginning of human institutions ;-they are
developments and formalizations of something which previously existed in a
fluid incohesive condition . This is the case with Masonry, and accounts
for the tradition that it is as old as man himself, whatever forms it has
assumed, and that it is of Divine origin .

Modern Speculative Freemasonry had a beginning in the early years of the
8th century, but only in the sense that in 1717 originated that which
afterwards developed into, and now subsists as, the English Masonic
Constitution . Masonry itself existed long before that time, and in two
forms : -(1) exoterically,  in the Operative Building Guilds, and (2)
esoterically, in a variety of secret communities of mystics and occultists,
having no relation to the practical building trade but often using
builders' terminology for symbolical purposes of their own .

Modern Masonry is a blend of both of these ; its constitutions, charges,
rituals, and instruction lectures incorporate elements drawn from each of
them . The Ancient Charge, for instance, which is delivered to every
Masonic candidate on admission to the Order to-day, is an example of what
has come over from the Operative Masons . It is patently an instruction of
the kind one would expect to find given to a youth on becoming entered as
an apprentice to a handicraft and embarking upon adult and civic
responsibilities ; it is a mere admonition to him to be a moral man, a
worthy citizen, a creditable workman and member of his trade-guild, to fear
God, honour the King, love his country, and generally educate and improve
himself. It does not contain the least reference to any knowledge or wisdom
of an extraordinary kind, or suggest any vestige of acquaintance with
subjects of a mystical or occult character .

But on turning to the ceremonial rituals, especially that of the Third
Degree, and to the "Traditional History" and instruction lectures, we find,
mixed up with references to the Operative Builders' trade, matters of a
highly esoteric and mystical nature, having no possible operative or
materialistic connection and not to be thought of as associated with the
technical equipment of a workman in material stone and brick .

This esoteric element descended, of course, not The Past from the Operative
Guilds, but from less public organizations of symbolic . or mystical
Masons, and it is the latter alone whose necessarily obscure history and
purpose repay investigation at this time of day.

These organizations were the representatives of a stream of Hermetic
tradition and practice, the upper reaches of which go back into
pre-Christian times, into Egypt, and to the Rabbinical mystics and
Kabbalists, among whom existed a secret, guarded lore of the Cosmos and of
human life ; a lore which found only partial, though cryptic, expression in
the Hebrew Scriptures in terms of building . With them the building and the
subsequent vicissitudes of Solomon's Temple (whether this was ever an
historical material erection or not) provided a' great glyph or mythos of
the up-building of the human soul, whether considered individually or
collectively ; and as the course of Hebrew history advanced and the stream
of circumstances and mystical tradition widened into its Christian
development, the same symbolic terminology continued to be used .
Accordingly the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse are found to teem
with Masonic imagery and allusions to spiritual building . It is in these
that the human soul becomes expressly declared to be the real Temple
pre-figured by the previous historic or quasi-historic one . A spiritual
Chief Comer-stone, rejected of certain builders, is mentioned ; one in
which the entire social fabric is -to grow together into a single universal
Temple . St. Johii himself, as the "beloved disciple" or most advanced
Initiate of the Christian Master, becomes, according to the esoteric
tradition, his Chief Warden and entrusted -as every Senior Warden in our
symbolic lodges is with the task of keeping order in the West and, after
the days of his flesh, of occultly controlling from the heavens the
development of the law of Christ in the Occidental world. Hence he became,
and still is acknowledged as, the Masonic Patron-saint, and is found spoken
of in the Rosicrucian reference in Dante's Paradiso as

He that lay upon the breast
Of Him who is our mystic pelican,
And from the Cross was named for office blest ;

whilst one of his known pupils, St . Ignatius-who is reputed to have been
the little child whom the Lord once took and set in the midst as a type of
fitness for realizing the kingdom of heaven-is found expounding religion in
these purely Masonic terms "Forasmuch as ye are stones of a Temple which
were prepared beforehand for a building of God, the Father, being hoisted
up to the heights by the working -tool of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross,
and using for a rope the Holy Spirit ; your faith being a windlass, and
love the way leading up to God . So then ye are all Companions in the way,
spiritual temples, carrying your Divine principle within you, your shrine,
your Christ and your holy things, being arrayed from head to foot with the
commandments of Christ ." (Epistle to Ephesians.)

The pronounced Masonic imagery used by Ignatius (who was martyred at Rome
in A.D .io7) tends to corroborate the tradition that the Square, Level and
Plumb-rule, now allocated to the Master The Past and two Wardens of a
Lodge, were originally associated with the Bishop, Priest and Deacon, when
serving at the secret altars of the persecuted Christians . Put together,
the three tools form a Cross, which, on the worshippers being disturbed by
the secular authorities, could quickly be knocked apart and appear but as
builders' implements .

The most popular religious book of the earliest Christian centuries was The
Shepherd of Hermas, a collection of teachings, visions and similitudes,
couched n terms of Masonic allegory and veiling (as the title implied) the
hermetic or esoteric instruction of some "Shepherd," as the Hierophants and
Adeptteachers of the Mysteries were, and in the canonical Scriptures are,
uniformly designated .

To define the position which, after the event known as the Christian
Incarnation, seems to have been assumed by all the mystical Builders, the
spiritual Alchemists, the Rosicrucians, and the divers other schools of the
secret Gnosis who accepted that fact as the central pivotal one of human
spiritual evolution and the culmination of earlier Mystery-systems, it may
be said that they regarded themselves as one great Fraternity. in the
Divine Mysteries under the unseen but actual guidance of Jesus Christ, "the
Carpenter" (Tekton), as Supreme Grand Master, with the greater Initiate, St
. John the Divine, and the lesser Initiate, St. John Baptist, as Senior and
Junior Grand Wardens ; the winter and summer solstices (the times of the
sun's lowest annual declension and meridian height) being allocated to the
two latter as festival days or time-points peculiarly favourable for
spiritual contact between the Grand Lodge Above and the lesser Lodges below.

All down the stream of history will be found the similitude of the human
soul to a stone and directions for working it from a crude to a perfect
state. The career of the patriarch Jacob begins with a stone. The Dervishes
of the Arabian Desert are given a cubed stone smeared with blood on their
initiation. The sacred object and palladium of the Moslem faith is the
Kaabeh or Cubical Stone. The stone is found described as Lapis exilis and
Lapis ex Coelis; it is always one said to have come from heaven, whence it
is now in exile in this outer world. As a protest against materializing the
idea of it, one finds exclamations such as Cornelius Agrippa's famous
Transmutemini! Transmutemini in viventes lapides! -become ye transformed
into living stones! Those more advanced mystics, the spiritual Alchemists,
have provided us with a wealth of obscure lore concerning the "Stone of the
Philosophers" ; and all through the Christian centuries, behind the
activities of public elementary religion and the official work of the
Church, can be traced evidences of this higher, esoteric, more abstruse and
difficult work of mystical Masonry and stone-working being wrought by
abbots, monks, and laymen, either in solitude or communities of less or
greater size, yet in severest concealment.

The history of this movement in England cannot be written in detail here,
but a few points of it may be cited as evidence of the fact that, beyond
all operative-trade connections, the primary work of Masonry was one of
mystical religion and had to do with the arcana of the human soul ; that it
was an intellectual and a spiritual science promoting the development of
the individual initiate and, through him, the advancement of the general weal .

The English Masonic Constitutions of 1784, for example, reproduce a
memorandum "concemynge the Mystery of Maconrye," said to have been written
early in the i5th century by King Henry VI with his own hand-probably for
private rather than for state purposes, since he himself is alleged to have
been made a Mason. Transposing his words from archaic into modem English,
the King's memorandum indicates as follows :-that Masonry is a spiritual
science ; that it originated in the East (in both a mystical and a
geographical sense) and reached the junior human races in the West through
travelling Phoenicians (misdescribed as "Venetian") ; that its development
had been greatly advanced by Pythagoras (curiously mis-called by the
English names "Peter Gower"), who, after receiving his own initiations,
founded the great Crotona school and instructed others in the science ;
that the science itself involves knowledge of and power over hidden forces
of Nature, so that the expert Mason can perform acts which to the
uninitiated would appear miraculous ; that progress in the science comes by
instruction, practice and silence ; that the science is to be imparted only
to worthy and suitable men, since abuse of it and of the powers arising
with it would result in both personal and general evil ; that Masons
understand and can effect the art of alchemic transmutation and possess a
universal symbolic language of their own by which they can
intercommunicate, whatever their race or country ; that they have the
"skill of becoming good and perfect," apart from all motives of fear and
hope such as influence lesser minds and are held out by popular religion ;
that not all Masons realize their attainments or become perfect, for many
fail in capacity, and more still in the arduous personal effort essential
to the acquisition of this wisdom .

The genuineness of the King's memorandum has been questioned, though prima
facie it is well attested . But whether a genuine script of his or not, its
contents, within their limits, accurately represent the nature of Masonry
itself.

No one can read English or European history from the period of that
memorandum onward without realizing that to that history there has been an
inner side not cognized or treated of by academic historians, or without
feeling behind the march of external events-and as it were connected with
or even directing them-the concealed presence of minds more than normally
capable-Initiates, possessing and wielding the very powers testified to in
Henry VI's memorandum . The lives and literary remains of such men as-to
name no others-Paracelsus, Abbot Tritheim, Basil Valentine, Jacob Boehme,
George Johan Gichtel, Thomas Vaughan, and Elias Ashmole, provide
above-surface indications of a strong current of sub-surface activity, a
current of which no record exists or is ever likely now to be made . But to
that current one must look for the perpetuation of the secret Masonic
science, and to its projection, in a highly diluted and elementary form,
into publicity in modem speculative Masonry .

The religious Reformation of the i 5th century was the first great episode
in a far-reaching revolutionary movement in the intellectual, social and
political life of the West, a movement the end of which is not yet. Amid
the intensifying unspirituality and materialism of the times and the
impending disintegration of public instituted religion, a decision seems to
have been come to by some far-seeing enlightened minds to put forward the
old mystical Gnosis and tradition in a simple form and to attempt to
interest a small section of the public in it . This suggestion is incapable
of rigorous proof, and will perhaps commend itself only to those who are in
any measure conscious of the inner mechanism controlling the visible
clock-face of historic events . But be this as it may, we find, about the
year i 6oo and onwards, the first small signs of a movement that has
eventuated in the vast modern Masonic Craft, with its as yet further
indeterminate possibilities .

The first recorded reception of a non-operative Mason to an operative Lodge
occurred at Edinburgh in 16oo. The Operative Lodges were then becoming
obsolete and defunct, and by 1620 Operative Masonry had become entirely
superseded in London by Speculative, the members of the former working no
longer in guilds but striving still to keep alive their old form of
fellowship . The first traceable initiation, on English soil, of a
non-operative Mason occurred at Newcastle in 1641 ; and the secondzthat of
Elias Ashmole, already a student of arcane science-at Warrington in 1646.
Accretions to the ranks of the Craft proceeded to be made, but were at
first few and gradual, owing to disturbed political conditions. The Charter
of the Royal Society, dated 1663, as drawn up by Dr. (afterwards Sir)
Christopher Wren, seems to have been prepared with a view to giving
official sanction not to science as at present secularly understood and
pursued, but to science of a more occult character such as Masonry as
before defined deals with, for the preamble of that document refers to
private meetings of certain men devoted to the investigation of the "hidden
causes of things" in the public interest .

In 1717 four old London Lodges combined to constitute a new nucleus. From
them the first Grand Lodge was formed and thus Modern Masonry was born, at
an inn, the Apple Tree Tavern, in Lincoln's Inn Fields .

In 1721 Dr. Anderson was entrusted with the drawing up of the Constitutions
of the new community. The conditions of the Craft in that year may be
deduced from a statement of the eminent antiquary Dr. Stukeley, who writes
: "I was the first person made a Freemason for many years . We had great
difficulty to find members enough to perform the ceremony . Immediately
after that it took a run, and ran itself out of breath through the folly of
its members ."

Abuses supervened from the admission of all and sundry without due
qualifications . In 1724 a Brother protested in a public journal that "the
late prostitution of our Order is in some measure the betraying of it . The
weak heads of vintners, drawers, wigmakers, weavers, etc ., admitted into
our Freemasonry, have not only brought contempt upon the Institution, but
do very much endanger it ." In the same year was established "for poor
brethren" the first benevolent fund, which since has developed into the
great Charity organizations now connected with the Craft.
In the course of the next fifty years the numbers of the Craft so increased
that central headquarters were found advisable, and on May-day of 1775, the
foundation-stone of the present Freemasons' Hall in London was laid with
great ceremony . Despite the fact that men were being admitted to the Order
who were little qualified to appreciate the science of Masonry, and that
consequently the understanding of that science was becoming increasingly
debased, elements of the original intention still remained, and echoes of
it can be caught in some of the recorded incidents of the occasion . In the
Foundation-stone itself was inserted a plate perpetuating the event and the
names of the then Grand Master, his deputy and the Grand Wardens ; and
stating that Masonry was of heavenly origin, "descendit e ccelo" ; and
concluding with the maxim of Solon in Greek characters, "Know thyself." At
the religious service performed upon the occasion was sung an anthem of
praise to the Great Architect :

"Who deign'd the human soul to raise
By mystic secrets sprung from heaven ;"

whilst a specially composed ode affirmed of the new Aula Latomorum that :

"Religion, untainted, here dwells ;
Here the morals of Athens are taught ;
Great Hiram's tradition here tells
How the world out of chaos was brought ."

From these extracts it is clear that, at least to its leading minds,
Masonry was a secret science of soul-building, and that the great central
legend and mythos expressed in the Traditional History in the Craft's Third
Degree referred to no events in earthly time or history, but to Cosmic
events of a metaphysical and mystical character . Further, from the preface
to the Constitutions of 1784 it is made clear that the practical builder's
art is to be considered only as the substratum of Speculative Masonry ;
that the history of the Operative side is negligible, for when Speculative
Masons became a separate body of men the science had no further concern
with practical building ; and that the Speculative work is a personal
mystical one, rising like a pyramid "tending regularly up to a summit of
attainments, ever concealed by intervening clouds from the promiscuous
multitudes of common observers below ."

Freemasons' Hall being completed, it was, on 23rd May 1776, triply
dedicated, again with great ceremony ; firstly to Masonry ; a second time
to Virtue ; and a third time to Universal Charity and Benevolence. The
last-named of the three purposes came in course of time to dominate
completely at least the first of them . The Craft became a great
money-raising institution for relieving its own needy members and their
relatives, and as a charitable society does excellent work which commands
the devoted interest of many good Brethren who know nothing, and seek to
know nothing, of Masonry itself in its only proper and primary aspect of
spiritual science, and who regard it merely as a luxurious item of social
life and maintain their connection with it solely from philanthropic motives .

From the facts thus roughly outlined it is clear  that the pre-1717
Brethren were men of a very different calibre, and held a vastly higher
conception of Masonry, from those who subsequently came to constitute the
Craft and have expanded it to its present great dimensions. Of the latter
class, whatever their merits, virtues, and good works in other respects,
they cannot be said to have been either theoretic or practical 'mystics or
to have cultivated the knowledge of Masonry as that science must be
primarily understood . They cannot say of themselves as their predecessors
truly could and did

We have the Mason Word and second sight,

for growth in the life of the spirit and the enhanced faculty and inward
vision that come therewith have not been within the ambit of their desire .
As one of the most deeply learned and understanding writers upon the
subject afhrms, (the authoress of A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic
Mystery) "The outward form (or present practice) of Masonry is too absurd
to be perpetuated were it not for a certain secret response of common sense
to the original mystery. The Initiated moved one another on by words of
power . The Masons ape this but have lost the magic key to open the door
into the Hermetic . garden. They want the words, which are only to be found
by seeking them in the subjective fundamental life, from which they are as
far out as the tools they use. The true tools also may be found on the way
in ; they will be given one after another as they are wanted ." Another
learned author, who had every motive to speak well of the Craft-the late
Brother John Yarker-was constrained to write in 1872, in his able and most
instructive Notes on the Scientific and Religious Mysteries that : "As the
Masonic fraternity is now governed, the Craft is fast -becoming -the
paradise of the bon vivant, of the charitable hypocrite who forgets the
version of St . Paul and adorns his breast with the `charity jewel' ;
(having by this judicious expenditure obtained the purple, he metes out
judgment to other brethren of greater ability and morality but less means)
; the manufacturer of paltry Masonic tinsel, etc. No other institution is
so intrinsically valuable as Craft Masonry, or capable of such superhuman
things . As now governed, few societies perform less . None profess such
great objects ; few accomplish so very little real and substantial good .
May reformation be speedy and effective !"

Such facts are not pleasant to contemplate, nor would they be proclaimed
here without good purpose and a constructive motive . But it is well to
face them before proceeding further, since what remains to be said will not
only deal with a happier aspect of the subject, but is based upon the
premise that the otherwise deplorable perversion and materialization of the
true Masonic intention has been both an inevitable and a necessary prelude
to a spiritual efflorescence which in due course will manifest itself and
of which the beginnings are already perceptible.

In no censorious or reproachful spirit, therefore, are such observations as
the foregoing recorded. They might indeed be extensively amplified if to do
so would serve any useful purpose, but no one with intimate experience of
the Craft will fail to recognize either their truth or the cogency of their
reproach . It is undeniable that, through ignorance of the true principles
of Masonry, the Craft has suffered itself to become debased and overrun
with members lacking alike the intellectuality, the temperament, and the
desire, to appreciate those principles . To-day's newspaper, for example,
contains the advertisement of a turf bookmaker who proclaims himself to be
"on the square," and on the strength of that qualification seeks to engage
the services of a betting-tout . It is well known that commercial houses
to-day find it advantageous, for business purposes, to insist upon their
more important employees being members of the Order. In the Order itself
advancement is notoriously connected with social position and the extent of
a member's contributions to the Charities . Honours, and even medals, are
bestowed for money payments to this or that subscription list . Any man
with a title, from a mayor to a prince, needs only to be a Mason a matter
of months to find himself elevated to some figurehead position in the
Craft, without the least merit of a purely Masonic kind or any
understanding of the science itself. The central ideas and teachings of the
Craft are left unexplained ; ceremonies are discharged quite perfunctorily,
and with the majority are of entirely subservient importance to the
indissociable feasting and wearisome rounds of speechmaking that follow ;
and the general ignorance of Masonic truth provides ample scope for the
self-assertion of men whose ideas of moral grandeur and Masonic virtue are
evidenced by an ambition to attain office in the Craft and to adorn their
persons with as much purple and jewellery as they can acquire.

It is all woefully wrong and misconceived. Of course worthier traits exist.
The heart of English Masonry is sound, if its head be obtuse and muddled
and the work of its hands not of the character it might and ought to be .

When the worst has been said that can be charged against the methods of
modern Masonry, it amounts merely to an exhibition of venial human
weakness, vanity and sycophancy, the growth of which, whilst obscuring and
falsifying Masonic principles, has been due to failure to grasp what those
principles imply and entail . Many tares have sprung up among the corn ;
but good corn has not failed to grow, and that  the two can grow together
in the same field is a tribute to the richness of the soil from which both
spring and the nourishing power of the Masonic intention, which, like
sunlight, shines impartially upon both and quickens whatever seed is sown
within its field, whether tares or wheat .

There are few received into the Craft to whom Masonry does not bring, if
but dimly and momentarily, some measure of new vision, some impulse towards
its ideals ; few who do not feel it to contain something far greater than
they know or than appears upon its surface-presentation . Moreover, in the
deep heart of every man exists a responsiveness to ultimate truth, and a
fondness, amounting sometimes to a passion, for it when expressed in
ceremonial grandeur and impressiveness ;-a sub-conscious reminiscence, as
Plato would explain, of truth and glories it has once known and must
one  day know again, and which Masonic ritual does  something to revive, as
was of course the intention of all the Initiation systems of the past and
is still the intention of our present Order. And how often one finds minds
which are denied, or which would repudiate, the use of symbolic ritual in
their Church, leap to it with admiration and affection in their Lodge, as
though the Protestant rejection, in the religious sphere, of the rich
symbolism and sacramentalism wisely once devised for instructing eye, ear,
and mind, and exalting the imagination towards spiritual verities, had
starved them of their rightful nourishment. It is not surprising that to
many such minds Masonry becomes, as they themselves say, a religion, or at
all events a precious fact to which their souls respond however
inarticulately, and that for them the door of the Lodge is, as was once
said of the Altar-rails, "the thin barrier dividing the world of sense from
the world of spirit ."

 

 

         

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