AM I A MASTER MASON?
Delivered by WBro Paul Hawke, as a member, to the
Hawke’s Bay Research Lodge No 305 on
Monday, 4 November 2013
One of the fundamental teachings of Freemasonry is the use of symbols. All Masons are acquainted with the very wide use that is made of symbols in conveying important and instructive lessons to the brethren. Since time eternal it has been known that the association of teachings through the use of both the eye and ear is likely to be made deeper and more lasting, and is a valuable method of instruction. We recognise that men vary in their capacity to understand the spoken word. But a symbol will help awaken the memory and recall the ideas associated with it. So it is that symbolism plays a large part in Freemasonry.
It also has another great advantage. For symbols have a double meaning. First there is the outward or esoteric meaning, which is understood by all men. Thus all men can recognise a square, the compasses, a level or a plumb-rule; as they are tools of common use. But Masons read into these objects other and deeper meanings associated with the Craft. These are the inner hidden or esoteric meanings.
One of the charms of Freemasonry to thinking men is the study and development of the esoteric (or hidden) side of Masonic thought. The literature of Masonic research is rich in contributions from thoughtful brethren who have given much attention to this aspect of the work. The greater majority of brethren are content to receive explanations given to them in the ritual of the Craft and to apply the lessons to their lives and actions. But a wealth of knowledge that is intensely interesting and attractive lies open to any brother who wishes to speculate or moralise on the symbols that he sees in his lodge.
Brethren – the square and compasses were used by Confucius and his disciples to convey their ideas of a man who was upright, just, and firm. They are referred to by many philosophers. At times in history when men were less enlightened and not so tolerant of the ideas of others it was dangerous to the life of a teacher of philosophy to teach his ideas and doctrines openly. Symbols played an important part in carrying special meanings to pupils and disciples.
It is well for the young Mason to devote a goodly share of his Masonic thought to the proper interpretation of the symbols of Freemasonry. He will be repaid over and over again by the light that will come to him and the greater joy that he will feel in all his Masonic work. Here, in the Ruahine District, guidance and assistance in these type of learning’s can be found within our own Research Library in the Hastings Masonic Centre, or else with brethren of the Hawke’s Bay Research Lodge, or from an experienced Past Master within his own Lodge.
The importance is to seek, think and to interpret. Tonight’s presentation is not authoritative. As Agatha Christie’s character Poirot would say, it is intended to stimulate the “little grey cells” in order to help brethren grow from strength to strength in their search for Masonic knowledge and daily improvement.
Shakespeare said – “There is no darkness but ignorance”
No amount of money can buy for man the secrets of Freemasonry. He can purchase the tools only; but he must work for the rest. Now that it is many years since I have acquired these tools what use have I made of them? Have I made some daily progress? Have I done any “fair work and square work”? Have I corrected the errors and irregularities, and subjugated my passions? Whence came I, and whither am I going?
The world’s greatest teachers taught nothing new, they simply re-established the old, adapting their doctrines to the age in which they lived and to the intellectual development of the people among whom they taught. According to Albert Pike – “Humanity has never really had but one religion and one worship. This universal Light has had its uncertain mirages, its deceitful reflections, and its shadows, but always after the night of error, we see it re-appear [again] as one, and pure like the sun.”
These Masters – these Teachers – taught in parables, the esoteric meaning of which was communicated to the few, rather than to the many; they were all initiates of one or other of the Mysteries that have existed in all ages and among all peoples. Their guiding principles were the same, and in their purity taught the fatherhood of a Supreme Being; the immortality of the Soul, and the brotherhood of man; their great object was to enable man someday, somewhere, to regain his original purity.
Man is by nature the child of ignorance and error, and is forever wandering from that straight and narrow way, perverting and misconstruing – sometimes wilfully and deliberately – the wisdom and the laws of the Supreme Being, and their complement, man’s knowledge of himself, hence the necessity for the Mysteries, the teachers and the adepts who have preserved for us the wisdom of the ages. Freemasonry is the lineal descendant of these ancient Mysteries. As then, so now; the adept might shout his knowledge from the housetop, but the ignorant multitude was not able to comprehend it ─ “seeing they were not hearing, they hear not”.
Wisdom and knowledge can only be communicated to the initiated, and then only after a long period of apprenticeship. The Initiate – the Apprentice – must learn that his body is the true Temple of Deity. Saint Paul said know ye not that ye are the Temple of God? The Initiate must gain a thorough understanding of those virtues, those thoughts and aspirations, which are the living stones of which his spiritual self is built. As a Fellow Craft – a fully skilled workman – he must be able to fashion those living stones, and erect the spiritual mansion of his own Soul. Man was made after the Supreme Being’s own image – a spiritual, not a material fact; so, as a Master Mason – being a man in authority – able to guide and direct my brother, I should have become master of myself, corrected my errors, and have my passions and prejudices under full control.
Now this knowledge of the Supreme Being and the relationship of man to his Creator must have been coeval with the advent of man upon this sphere; but in the process of time there were those who turned aside from the strict path of virtue. The divine Hierarchy still persisted, but they were now distinct from those who for their sin were reduced to ignorance and impudence. Then the Mysteries were established; these Adepts (or, as we should call them today, these Master Masons), concealed their knowledge under certain signs and symbols, and communicated their knowledge in allegories.
Have I yet penetrated this veil of allegory? The Egyptian Mysteries are probably the best known, but those of India were very similar and possibly as old. These Egyptian Mysteries are largely preserved in our Freemasonry; true, our legends are mainly Hebrew, but they were adapted from Egypt, through Moses and Aaron, who were well versed in these particular Mysteries.
Our signs and symbols are nearly all of Egyptian origin. Their Initiates wore the white Apron of purity, and their Grand Master – usually a Pharaoh – had on his apron the Sun, as also has our Grand Master. The penalties for the violation of their obligations were almost identical with our own. Immortality was their first grand principle, and purity of life the great object. Who can look on the picture of the raising of Osiris, without a thought of some part of our ceremony?
Again, see the Soul of the dead man pleading before the Throne, clothed with his Apron! Hear his plea in the presence of the Recorder (Thoth), I bring unto you Truth! I have destroyed the evil within me! I have committed fraud and evil against no man! I have never diverted judgement in the halls of human justice! I have not uttered falsehood! I have not defiled the wife of any man! I have committed no sin against purity! I have neglected neither the beggar nor the needy! There is not through fault of mine a suffering one, nor a sinful one, nor a weeping one in the entire world! and so on. Could I plead as he? Am I a Master Mason? A mere participation in the ceremonies of the three degrees will not of itself make me a Master Mason.
Every symbol in my Lodge represents a moral virtue or an attribute of the Supreme Being. I have learned the exoteric teaching, but have I found the esoteric meaning? I know my ritual, but have I learned the great truths that they conveyed? Do I realise it as a story of my own life, that the Supreme Being took me from the darkness and has led me to step to the full light? Have I used that light to search for those hidden mysteries of which the Most High has said, seek and ye shall find and knock and it shall be opened to you?
What is that which was lost? Not the secrets of a builder’s art, but the spiritual – the speculative – secrets of the Master Builder – those secrets that will enable me to return from the circumference to the Centre, lost through ignorance, superstition, and envy. To attain these secrets, I must be born again; to save my life, I must lose it; this mystical death is the prelude to my mystical re-birth. Only do I become conscious of my loss, by searching far and deep, only can I be raised to perfection, and regain the lost secrets by a total loss of self and dying to all that the world – the ignorant – most desire. I myself must find those genuine secrets, no Lodge can give them to me; it can only supply the tools, and hand me the keys. I myself must unlock the doors of the hidden wisdom.
And now, having travelled this far, I must introduce my Freemasonry into every section of my life, into my home, my business and my pleasures; universal sympathy and brotherly love I must extend to my fellow beings, whether of the Order or of the profane world.
Freemasonry offers to those capable of appreciating it, a working philosophy and a practical rule of life. It discloses to us the scheme of the Universe – a scheme once shattered and arrested, but left in the hands of humanity to restore. The regenerated man, the man who not merely in ceremonial form, but in vital experience, has passed through the phases of which the Masonic degrees are the faint symbol, is alone worthy of the title of Master Mason in the building of the Temple that is not made with hands, but that is being built invisibly, out of the Souls of just men made perfect (as reflected in the Meaning of Masonry by W L Wilmshurst).
Robert Browning, summed this up with a poem –
Truth is within ourselves.
It takes no rise from outward things,
whate’er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in ourselves
where truth abides in fullness.
And to know rather consists in finding out a way
whence the imprisoned splendour may escape.
Than by effecting entrance for a light
supposed to be without.
Brethren, tonight’s presentation is based on a paper published in Australia, over 80 years ago, by VWBro A W Schey, PDGW, Lodge United Service No 24. Yet I think that you will agree with me that the message tonight is just as relevant in Freemasonry here today......