A seperate reality - Anthropology, ritual and today's
2004 Kellerman Lecture - New Zealand
First given at the ANZMRC Conference, Tauranga, November
by WBro Roel van Leeuwen,
WM, Lodge Te Papa No 316 (Tauranga)
Member, Hawke's Bay Research Lodge No 305 and Waikato Lodge
of Research No 445
An adapted version was delivered to the Hawke's Bay
Research Lodge on 2 May 2005
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?'
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 academia.
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 me social or individual unit (depending
on me 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
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
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 this area. 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 investigation'.
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 LaFontaine 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 modem 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
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 bodies.
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 of ritual.
Happy is he among men upon earth who has seen these mysteries.
Hymn 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 stage, and all the men and women merely
They have their exits and their entrances: And one man in
his time plays many parts.
William Shakespeare 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
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 behaviour.
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 passage. 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
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 conditioning.
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
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
Victor 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 form of:
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 Abif.
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
(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 order.
(3) The 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 commmitas.
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 be low'.
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.
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 experienced meanings'.
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
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 Re-incorporation
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 the
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 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 tyler gives 'the alarm' by rapping on the door
of the lodge.
|The chief then dispatches a warrior to investigate.
||A wero (challenge) is given at the entrance of the
marae/pa. The visitors can formally indicate whether
they arrive with hostile or peaceful intent.
|The Master, through his agent the Junior Warden, asks
the Inner Guard the cause of we alarm. The Inner Guard
(armed with the sword) leaves the lodge to investigate
and interrogate the initiand.
|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
||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
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
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 Gnosticism'; 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 past, 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
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 eclipse.
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 structure.
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 fraternity.
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, plane.
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 possess 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
In the Master Mason degree the notion of commumtas 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). 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 maintaining
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
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 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'.
(TOWARDS) A CONCLUSION
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.
NOTE: An extensive bibliography, which includes
thirty three authors, is available on request from the author
or from the secretary of Hawke's Bay Research Lodge No 305.
It is also published in the Australian & New Zealand
Masonic Research Council Proceedings 2004 - Biennial meeting
and conference 5 - 7 November.