The Ancient Mysteries And Modern Freemasonry
-by W.Bro. R. A. L. HARLAND, P.M., Lodge No. 1679, President of the Circle
“…. ancient no doubt it is, having subsisted from time immemorial;…..”
(Charge after Initiation).
My object in this Paper is to explore the relationship which is held to exist between modern Freemasonry and the Mysteries of antiquity.. That there is both a historical and philosophical thread uniting them is admitted by competent Masonic scholars, no less than by students of symbolism and mysticism, although the significance of such an association has not yet
begun to influence the thoughts of members of the Craft in general.
The institution of the Mysteries is the most interesting phenomenon in the study of religious and morality systems. The idea of antiquity was that there was something to be “known” in religion; secrets or mysteries into which it was possible to be initiated; that there was a gradual process of unfolding in religious matters; in fine, that there was a science of the soul, and a definite knowledge of things unseen.
A persistent tradition in connection with all the great Mystery-institutions affirms that their several Founders were the early Teachers of our present humanity, and that they were themselves souls belonging to a more developed humanity not necessarily earth-born. At this stage, we learn, the men of our humanity were as children with minds equivalent to that state, and only capable of understanding what they distinctly saw and felt. In the earliest times, according to this view, the Mysteries were conducted by those who had a knowledge of nature-powers which was the acquisition of a prior-perfected humanity, and the wonders shown in the Mysteries were such that none of our humanity could themselves produce. As time went
on, however, our humanity more and more developed the faculty of reason, wereupon the Teachers gradually withdrew, and the Mysteries were committed to the care of the most advanced pupils, who finally had to substitute symbols and devices, dramas and scenic representations, of what had previously been revealed by higher means. Then it was that corruption set in, and man was eventually left to win his own divinity by self-conquest, and by continually struggling against the lower elements in his nature.
So runs the ancient Mystery tradition, and if research and investigation are persevered with, it becomes apparent that at one time, long back in the world’s past, there was implanted in the minds of the whole human family (which was doubtless much smaller and more concentrated then than now) a Root-doctrine in regard to the nature and destiny of the soul of man, and of his relation to the Deity. Moreover, the student will discover that in all Scriptures and cosmologies the tradition is universal of a “Golden Age,” of an Age of comparative innocence, wisdom and spirituality, in which racial unity and individual happiness and enlightenment prevailed; in which there was that “open vision” for want of which, it is declared, “the people perish” but in virtue of which all men were once in conscious conversation with the unseen worlds, and were shepherded, taught and guided by the superintendents of the race, who imparted to them the sure principles upon which their spiritual welfare and evolution depended. That “Golden Age” does indeed lie far back in the aeons of antiquity, but nevertheless the tradition is to be found among all peoples and in every part of the globe, that this was the happy, peaceful Age of human childhood, when the race received the lessons in morality, industry and social relations.
Of particular interest to members of the Craft is the tradition which affirms that it was under the guidance of the divine Instructors that our humanity was taught its first notions of the arts and sciences, and that it was They who laid the foundations of those ancient civilisations which so sorely puzzle the modern generation of scholars. This may explain why it is that no matter how far back into the night of time archaeological and other methods of investigation are extended, high stages of civilisation are found, each having an elaborate numerical system, where, according to current scientific theories, only the most primitive conditions might be expected.
Further, the presence of fully developed numerical systems in ancient civilisations proves conclusively that the science of numbers was not slowly evolved by primitive man learning to count on his fingers, as is popularly supposed, and confirms the tradition of a fully elaborated system of computation which was revealed to the early races by the spiritual Teachers of mankind.
We of to-day are prone to pride ourselves upon being wiser and far more advanced than primitive humanity; we assume that our progenitors lived in a state of moral benightedness out of which we have since gradually emerged into comparative light. The available evidence, however, negatives these suppositions; it indicates, on the contrary, that primitive man, notwithstanding his intellectual undevelopment, when judged by our modern standards, was spiritually conscious and psychically perceptive to a degree which is undreamed of to-day. We should, then, investigate how it came about that the original high elevation of thought and conduct was forfeited; for none can. deny that in our day, in spite of superiority in temporal matters, we are in a “state of darkness” and ignorance concerning our own nature, the nature of the invisible world around us, and the eternal spiritual verities. Again tradition will provide an adequate answer.
The tradition is likewise universal of the collective soul of humanity having sustained a “fall,” a moral declension from the true path of spiritual evolution, which has had the effect of severing it almost entirely from its creative source, and which, as the Ages have advanced, has involved its sinking more and more deeply into physical conditions. It is also asserted that the dire consequences of ths “fall” resulted in a splitting up of humanity, from a unity employing a single language into a diversity of conflicting races, and that the process has been accompanied by a progressive densification of the physical body, with a corresponding atrophy of the spiritual consciousness. Modern science, of course, is not prepared to accept Scriptural testimony regarding the “fall,” but on the other hand, the tradition of the extrusion of humanity from the more immediate precincts of Deity is so catholic in expression that it must have been a canon of that Proto-evangel which, research has disclosed, lies at the back of all the great religious systems of history. Antiquity and universality, however, constitute insufficient evidence of truth for modern rationalism, and in consequence the doctrine proclaiming the “fall of man” is rejected by those who contend that everything points rather to a .”rise of man,” yet who fail to reflect that logically such a ” rise ” necessarily comprehends an antecedent “fall ” from which a subsequent “rise” becomes possible.
To return to the tradition. It is further related that from this “fall,” which is stated to have been due to some defect in the group-soul of the Adamic race and a process covering vast time-cycles, it was necessary and within the Divine counsels and providence that humanity should be redeemed and restored to its pristine condition, the restoration in turn requiring vast time-cycles for achievement. But the process of redemption required something more; it required in addition the application of an orderly and scientific method; humanity was unable to manage its own recovery and needed skilled assistance to bring about the restoration. Whence, then, could come that skill and scientific knowledge if not from the Divine world, from those Teachers and guardians of primitive man, of whom all the ancient traditions and Sacred Writings tell? And would not such regenerative method be properly described if it were called, as in modern Freemasonry it is still called, the “heavenly science “? In this tradition, transmitted by the instituted Mystery systems, is enshrined the origin and birth of Religion, at once a theoretic doctrine and a practical science; it promulgated the “Sacred Law ” for the “guidance and instruction” of “fallen” humanity, a law valid from “time immemorial,” of which it is written: “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”
According to “traditional history,” the One Religion for humanity originated In the East; for the East is (geographically, astronomically, and spiritually) always the source of LIGHT- “EX ORIENTE LUX” (“Out of the East Light”); and, as humanity itself became diffused and distributed over the globe, gradually spread towards the West. Hence, in our Craft Lectures, we find the cryptic reference: “Learning originated in the East, and thence spread its benign influence towards the West” (First Lecture, Fourth Section).
Appropriately, therefore, the earliest teaching of the Mysteries traceable within historic time was in the Orient, and in the language known as SANSKRIT; a significant name meaning “highly wrought speech” (“sans” perfectly-made “krit”). Moreover, for very great lights upon the ancient doctrine we must study the religious and philosophical Scriptures of India, which was in its spiritual and temporal prime when modern Europe was frozen beneath an ice-cap.
Races and nations, however, like men, are born and die, and are but units, upon a larger scale than the individuals who comprise them, for furthering the general life purpose. When a given race has served, or failed, in that purpose, the stewardship of the Mysteries passes on to other and more effectual hands. The human Race, as a whole, constitutes, as it were, a collective Man, and the successive sub-races are analogous to a series of incarnations. At the close of each Racial cycle, we are told, the Earth planet undergoes a geological transformation, making it practically a new globe, and its psychic sphere is likewise renovated. Traditionally, six great Races succeed each other on the Earth in six “Days of labour,” followed by a seventh and perfected Race in a seventh “Day of rest.” Each of these six Races, again, has its sub-divisions; and the men of whom the Race is composed are of different grades, the highest corresponding to the state pertaining to the seventh or perfect Race; these latter now are the Initiates, the custodians of humanity’s spiritual heritage in knowledge, the Mysteries.
As the Mysteries can be imparted only to men who prove themselves worthy through their efforts towards self-purification, the cycle of teaching and instruction has distinct degrees, and these are the various illustrations in the telestic or perfecting rites. Each racial period, whether great or small, is in itself such a cycle of instruction, and at its beginning a Teacher, one of the number of the Perfect or Initiates, is sent to preside over it. He is, so to speak, the “Sun” of that particular Day, and as he represents all the spiritual knowledge which that Race or sub-race is capable of bringing into manifestation, he is mystically ” the Son of the Man,” or more familiarly, the ” Son of Man.”
The next great torchbearer of the Light of the World was Egypt, which, after many centuries of spiritual supremacy, in turn became the arid desert it now is both spiritually and materially, leaving behind nevertheless a mass of structural and written relics testifying to its possession of the Doctrine in the days of its glory. From Egypt, as civilisations developed in adjoining countries, a great irradiation took place by the diffusion of knowledge, and the institution of minor centres for imparting the Divine Science in Chaldea, Persia, Greece and Asia Minor. The record of this diffusion is preserved in the Old Testament of the Volume of the Sacred Law, for the EXODUS is, in one of its many allusions, a witness to the passing-on of the Mysteries to new and virgin regions for their enlightenment.
Of these various translations, those that concern the subject of this Paper chiefly are two: the one to Greece, and the other to Palestine. We know from the Biblical record that Moses was an Initiate of the Mysteries of Egypt: “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds “(Acts, chapter 7, verse 22); while Philo tells us that Moses in Egypt became “skilled in music, geometry, arithmetic, hieroglyphics and the whole circle of arts and sciences” (“Life of Moses”).
In other words, he qualified himself for his subsequent great task of leadership of the Hebrew people, and the formulating of their religious system and rule of life as laid down in the Pentateuch. The Mosaic system continued, as we also know, along the channel indicated in the books of the Old Testament, and then, after many centuries and vicissitudes, effloresced in the greatest of all the expressions of the Mysteries, as disclosed in the Gospels of the New Testament, or New Witness, proclaiming the unity of human aspiration, and promulgating in one grand system the doctrines of both the East and the West.
Concurrently with the existence of the Hebrew Mysteries under the Mosaic dispensation, the great Greek school was developing, which originating in the Orphic system, culminated and came to a focus at Delphi and generated the philosophical wisdom associated with Athens and the Periclean age. Greece was the spiritual descendant of India and Egypt, and tradition relates that Pythagoras, a title accorded to another great Initiate of the Mysteries, journeyed to India before being received in Egypt to take his final initiation prior to founding the school at Crotona which is linked with his name. Pythagoras is said to have been initiated into the Egyptian, Chaldean, Orphic and Eleusinian Mysteries; and at the same time he was one of the founders of Greek philosophy; his philosophy, however, was not a thing of itself, but the application of his intellect, especially of his mathematical genius, to the best in these Mystery-traditions. Plato continued this task, although on somewhat different lines; he worked more in the world than Pythagoras, and his main effort was to clear the ground
from misconceptions. In the days of Plato the Orient and Egypt were brought to Greece, whereas later on Greece went to Egypt and the East, and the result was that Oriental thinkers and mystics became Hellenised along the lines of Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy, while the Greek philosophers became Orientalised by contact with members of the many
communities that honeycombed not only Egypt and the nations subject to Greece, but also Asia Minor.
When the Greek kingdoms of the Successors to Alexander were in their turn humbled beneath the conquering power of Rome, the organising Italic genius policed the world; but the legal mind and practical character of Rome was never really at home in the metaphysical subtleties of Greek philosophy, or the mysticism of the East. Rome, nevertheless, could no
more than Greece avoid religious contact with the East, and we find her passing through the same experiences as Greece, although in a modified form. The chief point of contact among the numerous religious systems of the Roman Empire was in the common worship of the Sun, and the inner core of this most popular cult was, from about B.C.70 onwards, to be found
in the Mysteries of Mithra. Indeed, the Mithraic Mysteries represented the esoteric side of a great international religious movement, which the uniting together of many peoples into the Graeco-Roman world had made possible, and which resulted from the contact of Greece and Rome with the thought of the East. National and local cults were gradually influenced by
the form of symbolism employed by the modified Chaldeao-Persian tradition; the worship of the Spiritual Sun, the Logos, with the natural symbol of the glorious orb of day, which was common in one form or other to all great cults, and the rest of the solar symbolism, gradually permeated the popular indigenous forms of religious observance. In course of time,
Mithra, the visible sun for the ignorant, the Spiritual Sun and Mediator between Light and Darkness, as Plutarch (“Moralia”) tells us, for the instructed, caused his rays to shine to the uttermost limits of the Roman Empire. And just as his outer cult dominated the restricted forms of national worship, so did the tradition of his Mysteries modify the Mystery-cultus of
the Western world.
The ancient Chaldean religious system was astronomical and mathematical. Every letter of the sacred language had a numetical equivalent; cosmogenesis and spiritual evolution were worked out in the symbolism of numbers. This method of mystical exegesis was developed by the Hellenising tendency of the cultured Rabbis of the Diaspora and Egypt,
especially Alexandria, became one of the main centres of Kabbalistic learning. In the schools of Alexandria the Rabbinical mystics perfected their religious theories, and so highly esteemed were they in Palestine and throughout the East, that the Alexandrian Rabbis were known as the “Light of Israel.” Along this line of tradition there was transmitted a closely guarded lore of the Cosmos which found only partial and cryptic expression in the public Scriptures in terms of building. With the Kabbalists the erection and subsequent vicissitudes of King Solomon’s Temple provided a great glyph or mythos of the up-building of the human soul; they were the mystical builders of a Temple and Sanctuary within the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem, of which the Sacred House in the earthly Jerusalem was but an imperfect sign. The symbolic terminology of building was carefully evolved, and when the stream of circumstances and mystical
tradition widened into its Christian development, the schools of Jewish theosophy exercised a profound influence on the shape of things to come.
Most of these mystic schools and communities, whether of Greek or Egyptian or Jewish descent, when they came in contact with each other gave and received. True that some of them refused to mix in person or doctrine, and there were rigidly conservative mystic schools of all three lines of descent; others, nevertheless, if not in their corporate capacity, at
any rate in the persons of their individual members, freely fraternised, and so encouraged syncretism and syntheticism among them all. Accordingly,
we find that the Gospels, the Epistles and the Apocalypse of the New Witness are full of allusions to building; whilst a spiritual Chief Cornerstone, one in which the entire social fabric is to grow together into a single universal Temple, is specifically noted in the augmented plan for ” the guidance and instruction of the workmen.” It is acknowledged by most
students that St. Paul, if not an actual initiate, was greatly influenced by familiarity with current conceptions as to the role of the Mysteries in promoting spirituality; also that many of these conceptions were, as the result of that same influence, embodied, through his apostolate, in Christian doctrine.
We may now proceed, from the standpoint of modern Freemasonry, to examine more fully the work of the Mysteries, and in particular the Greek schools. With the Greeks, the quest of the candidate took the form of a search for wisdom, the Sophia; just as in the Hebrew and Christian schools the mythos centres around a quest for the Lost Word. It should here be
explained that the allegory of a search for the Lost Word is not a search for any particular word; in fact it is not even a search for a word at all. The expression “The Word” had significance to the Hebrews and other ancient races which is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend. While not strictly accurate we shall not be far wrong in saying that to the ancient mind
“The Word ” signified all Truth; and this search, it was recognised, will continue as long as this life lasts, but not until we have passed from this “sublunary abode” to a higher state of existence will divine Truth be disclosed to us in all its fulness and beauty. The Greek method, therefore, began by instructing aspirants in certain truths about the nature of the soul,
its potentialities and destiny, and then left the individual to follow up the information given by a regulated course of conduct in which the teaching imparted would become converted into assured conviction. By such a method it was most effectively demonstrated to the candidate that in this study “knowing” depends entirely upon “doing”; the axiom is: “He that will
do the will shall know of the doctrine.” The Mysteries involved something more than a merely notional philosophy; they required also a mode of philosophical living, which is cryptically spoken of as “dying” To quote from the words of Socrates in the “Phaedo” of Plato, “the whole study of the wisdomseeker is nothing else than to die and be dead”; an assertion which
is repeated by Plutarch, “to be initiated is to die.” This mystical death to which the Mysteries alluded, using the analogy of bodily death, is that deathin-life to the lower self of man, referred to by St. Paul when he protested, ” I die daily” (1st Corinthians, 15-31 ).
The Greek method was divided into two parts known respectively as the Lesser and the Greater Mysteries. The Lesser Mysteries were those in which elementary instruction was provided in order that candidates might forthwith set about the task of purifying and adapting their lives to the truths disclosed. The Greater Mysteries related to the development of
consciousness within the soul itself, as the result of fidelity to the prescrlbed rule of life. To draw a faint analogy, the Lesser Mysteries bore the same relation to the Greater as our present Craft Degrees do to the Holy Royal Arch. In the case of the greatest of the Greek Mysteries, those of Eleusis, the main teaching was communicated by means of the myth of
Persephone, which portrayed the journey of the soul through periods of existence in this world to the divine life in the spiritual world, its true home. The way to this higher life was shown to be through purification and illumination, and initiation into the Mysteries of Eleusis at once proclaimed the quest of the aspirant for Light, in precisely the same manner that to-day
the candidate for Freemasonry is made to declare that the “predominant wish” of his heart is for “Light.” Furthermore, the aspirant for the Mysteries earnestly sought to be endued with a “competency of the Divine Wisdom,” and was required to “freely and voluntarily” submit himself to a process by which, he was assured, he could become transformed from the natural
state into the spiritual state. It is of this process that St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Ephesians, writes: “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness ” (Ephesians, 4-23 and 24). Similarly, in an old Mithraic liturgy the candidate says: “Let me, though now held down by my lower
nature, be reborn into immortality; that I may become mentally reborn, that I may become initiated, that the Holy Spirit may breathe in me.” Despite the wide popularity, throughout the Empire, of the Mystery Cults, especially those of Isis and of Mithras, the great age of the Mysteries was long past in the time of St. Paul and his fellows. It is a striking testimony
to the strictness with which the vows of secrecy exacted from initiates must have been observed that so little of the inner truth and substance of this experience has leaked out, in which so many thousands must, nevertheless, have participated. In the days when the Mysteries flourished as public Institutions, every educated man entered them in the same way
that men enter a University in our modern times. Pupils when accepted by the authorities were graded according to their moral, intellectual and spiritual efficiency; then, for a period of years, they underwent physical and mental exercises, and were subjected to periodical tests in order to determine their fitness to proceed with the more serious work of actual
initiation. Finally, the initiation was administered only to those who were found to be duly qualified, while in all cases the precise nature of the process was of a secret and closely guarded character. An echo of this mehod progress by regular stages is found in our present-day Ritual, particularly in the Ceremony of Initiation, where the candidate is informed
that “there are several degrees in Freemasonry with peculiar secrets restricted to each,” and in the accompanying reminder that these, ” are not conferred upon candidates indiscriminately, but according to merit and ability:’ Aspirants for the Mysteries were directed to cultivate the “four cardinal virtues” and to study the “seven liberal arts and sciences,” and here again
Masonic tradition preserves the method and testifies accordingly. The construction formerly put upon both the virtues and the sciences was, however, much more advanced than the modern mind considers adequate, and although in the Craft we have not departed from the essential curriculum in theory, in the matter of practice there is a wide difference With
our “ancient Brethren” virtues were much more than mere abstractions and ethical sentiments; as the word “virtue” itself implies, they involved positive valours and virility of soul; thus:-
TEMPERANCE: Involved the complete control of the lower or passional nature.
FORTITUDE: Implied a courage which is undismayed by adversity, and which permits of no deflection from the goal in view.
PRUDENCE: Comprehended profound insight leading to forward-seeing, and eventually producing the prophetic faculty of seer-ship.
JUSTICE: Demanded unswerving righteousness of thought, word and deed.
The familiar “arts and sciences” were also of a positive nature. They were termed ” liberal ” because the educational curriculum of the Mysteries was expressly designed in order to assist the “liberation” of the soul of the aspirant from the illusions which are incident to the natural and unregenerate “state of darkness.” In this sense GRAMMAR, LOGIC and RHETORIC were to be treated as well-regulated disciplines of the moral nature, by means of which certain irrational tendencies were to be eradicated, and the candidates thereby trained to become “living witnesses” of the universal LOGOS, effectively speaking with “the tongue of good report.” GEOMETRY and ARITHMETIC were taught as sciences of transcendental space and numeration, the complete comprehension of which provided the key to the Universe and Man himself. Each expression of life was also shown to have its number, rate of vibration or wave-length,
its geometrical form, and its own particular place in the great Plan of the Grand Geometrician of the Universe. The science of ASTRONOMY not only included observation of the heavenly bodies, but was directed to the study of metaphysics; and the correct understanding of the forces in, and determining the destiny of, individuals, nations, and the whole human race.
Finally, MUSIC was not confined to the study of vocal and instrumental works, but was intimately concerned with adjustments of the personal life in harmony with the Centre of All Life, by the living practice of philosophy.
It is of interest to students of the sources of our Craft teaching to know that there is a reference to the “four cardinal virtues” in both the “Phaedo” of Plato and the Rabbinical “Book of Wisdom,” which points to a community of teaching between the Greek and the Hebrew schools.
The principal centre of the Greater Eleusinia was the superb temple at Eleusis, near Athens; while the Lesser Mysteries had their seat at Agra, on the river llissos; the Lesser Mysteries were celebrated in February, and the Greater in the month of September, annually. The celebration of the Greater Mysteries, which lasted nine days, began in public as a pageant
and festival in honour of Demeter and Persephone; but the telestic rites were held in solemn secrecy in the temple, to which none but initiates were ever admitted. There was no concealment, however, of the fact that the telestic rites were designed for moral purification, the development of the spiritual faculties, and the attainment of conscious immortality; nor was
there any secrecy about the general principles of the perfective philosophy, which were openly inculcated. Those candidates who became proficient in the curriculum of the Lesser Mysteries, and thereby “properly prepared,” were in due time allowed to apply for initiation in the Greater, but those who failed to qualify were not permitted to proceed. The decree restraining unqualified candidates from further advancement was not arbitrary; on the contrary, it was necessary in the interests of the candidates themselves because inward purity of heart and mind was essential to undergo the ordeals of the final initiation, which otherwise rendered aspirants liable to severe mental aberrations. It was for this reason that the number of
qualified candidates amounted to only a small percentage of those who entered the Mysteries; and, indeed, the law remains valid as we find that the same truth is elsewhere proclaimed: “For many be called, but few chosen ” (Matthew, 20-16). We would here observe that the root of the Hebrew word expressing “purity” denotes “fire”; from this root, through the
Greek “pur” (fire), the English word “pure” is derived. The idea of purification, therefore, is based on fire, implying an inward cleansing of which the action of fire is an outward symbol. Water, Air and Fire were regarded in the Mysteries as the three elements of purification, but a wide distinction was made in the manner of their action. One qualification above all was demanded from those who applied to enter the Mysteries – humility, and it is not without significance that the candidate for admission to the Craft to-day is required to come to the Lodge “humbly soliciting.” The reason for this attitude of humility was, and still is, that the wisdom into which the Mysteries and initiation admit a man is always regarded by the wordly minded as being foolishness and of little account. In order to attain it, therefore, the candidate must be prepared for a complete and voluntary renunciation of worldly wisdom, and this may involve his finding negated many of the things which he has previously held to be true, and which, those among whom he ordinarily mingles will continue to believe. and insist, to be true. Speaking of the manner of approach to the comprehension of things spiritual, St. Paul declares: “Let no man deceive himself; if any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise ” ( 1st Corinthians, 3-18).
In the public processions of the Eleusinian Mysteries the sacramental vessels and elements were carried upon the back of an ass, theby serving the purpose of signifying that for the reception of Divine knowledge “humility is an essential virtue.” The explanation of this apt symbolism is furnished by Apuleius in the ” Golden Ass.” where he writes: ” There is no
creature so able to receive divinity as an ass; into which if ye be not turned, ye shall in no wise be able to carry the divine mysteries.”
Another, and most effective, method employed in the Mysteries was that of instructing students by means of myths, expressing either in doctrinal form or by spectacular presentations, truths of the divine world and the spiritual history of man. The Greek instructors and mythologists were adepts at representing cosmic and philosophic truths in the guise of fables, which at
once conveyed theosophic teaching to the discerning and, at the same time, veiled it from the profane. Myth-making was a science, not an indulgence in irresponsible fiction, and by exhibiting some of these myths in dramatic form candidates were instructed in various fundamental verities of life. So far as it affects humanity, the doctrine of the “fall” was taught to
Greek students of the Mysteries in the myth of Psyche and Eros. The fair maiden Psyche, the pre-natal human soul, dwelt unconscious of her own perfection and beatitude, in a paradise over which at night shone a star that she knew was the emblem of her divine Lover and the token of His presence, but which she observed nightly to be westering away from her
until at length it vanished from her ken. She had been warned ever to be true to her star, and above all things to repel the advances of Eros [in the Latin form Cupid (“cupido”), her own desire-nature], who, like Eve’s serpent in the biblical legend, might come to woo her from her allegiance; the inevitable penalty of her fault being the loss of her present bliss and her
transportation to a troublous sphere of life, to return from which would be extremely difficult. When Eros approached, she resisted for a time, and then came the subtle temptation to which she fell. Eros spoke of her vanished star; it had departed, he said, because her divine Lover, whose symbol it was, had Himself descended into an inferior world where He had
manifested in the form of a star-shaped flower. Upon Psyche wishing she might see the flower, Eros struck the ground with his staff, when up sprang a narcissus, which, in her joy, she forthwith picked and pressed to her lips; at – that moment she swooned away. Upon awaking she was no longer in Paradise, but an inhabitant of this earth of ours. Like her synonym Eve,
she had tasted of the forbidden fruit and had fallen from the enfranchisement of heaven into ihe bondage of life upon the material plane.
This myth, and the importance once attached to it, will be appreciated only upon understanding its interpretation. It is the story of the human soul and is of the same nature as the Mosaic myth of Adam and Eve, and as the parable of the Prodigal Son, neither of these being meant to be regarded as historically true, but as a fiction spiritually true of cosmic facts.
Our modern Speculative Freemasonry being in the long line of succession from the Ancient Mysteries follows the traditional method of imparting instruction by myths, and its canon of teaching in the Craft degrees contains two; one, that of the building of King Solomon’s Temple; the other, that of the death and burial of the Master Builder, narrated, in the traditional
history. The Royal Arch contains a third myth in the story of the return from captivity after the destruction of the first temple, the commencement to build the second, and the discovery then made. Moreover, the whole of the Craft ritual abounds in symbols and allegory, in which the measurements of the Temple at Jerusalem are worked upon in order to
bring to the notice of candidates the science of numbers, form and proportion, so manifest in architecture, and to connect them with the “spiritual House” of Masonic tradition, with which they have the same, although less obvious, relations. It is affirmed that in the course of the construction of the ideal Temple, something happened that wrecked the scheme and delayed the fulfilment; this was the conspiracy of the craftsmen. Turn to the Book of Genesis, you will find the “heavy calamity” which befell humanity recounted in the parallel allegory of Adam and Eve
and their expulsion from Eden. They were intended, as we know from the legend, for perfection and happiness, but their Creator’s project became nullified by their disobedience to certain conditions imposed upon them.
The offence was precisely that committed by our Masonic conspirators. They had been forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge; or, in Masonic ritual terminology, they were under obligation “not to attempt to extort the secrets of a superior degree”; their endeavour to obtain illicit knowledge defeated the divine purpose, and delayed the advancement of the Adamic
race until they and their posterity should regain the Paradise they had lost.
The story, then, of the building of the first temple must be regarded as a philosophical instruction, garbed in quasi-historical form, concerning the structure of the human soul. This mystical temple was not one constructed of common stone, but of that metaphysical “unhewn stone,” which signifies that incorruptible raw material out of which the Creator fashioned the
human organism. The Jerusalem in which it was built was not the geographical city in Palestine, but that eternal “City of Peace” in the heavens; not, as St. Paul truly declares, “the Jerusalem which now is,” but that “Jerusalem above, which is the mother of us all” (Galatians, 4-25 and 26). Its builders were not three historical personages resident in the Levant, but the Divine energy considered in its three constituent principles which are spoken of in our Instruction Lectures as Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, and which as “pillars of His work” run through and form the metaphysical warp and basis of all created things. Of these three principles, or upon these three pillars, was the human soul originally and divinely built in the heaven-world, and our Lectures, therefore, rightly state that the three pillars “also allude to Solomon, King of Israel; Hiram, King of Tyre; and Hiram Abiff; because those names personify the indissociable
triadic constituents of the Divine Unity. The temple of the soul has, however, owing to certain untoward circumstances already mentioned, now been destroyed and thrown down from its primitive eminence and grandeur. Humanity, instead of being a collective united organic whole, has become shattered into innumerable fragmentary separated parts, not one stone standing upon another of its ruined buining. It has, moreover lost consciousness of the genuine secrets of its own origin and nature, and has to be content with the spurious substituted knowledge it picks up from sense-impressions in this outer world. But, whilst Freemasonry emphasises the fact and the sense of this great loss, it indicates likewise, and this is its real purpose, the method by which we may regain that which is lost to us.
It holds out the great promise that, with divine assistance and by our own industry, the genuine realities will be restored to us, and that patience and perseverance will eventually entitle every worthy man to a participation in them. This large subject is mirrored in miniature in the Craft ceremonial, and the ceremonies through which every candidate passes are symbolic
of the stages of progress that every man may make by way of self-purification and self-building, until he at length lies dead to his present natural self, and is raised out of a state of imperfection and brought once more into perfect union with the Lord of life into whose image he has thus become shaped and conformed.
A further word is necessary as to the concealed significance of Solomon and the two Hirams. Solomon personifies the primordial Life-Essence or substantialised Divine Wisdom which is the basis of our being. It is defined in the “Book of Wisdom,” as “a pure influence flowing from the glory of the Almighty; the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the
power of God and the image of His goodness” (chapter 7, verses 25-27).
It is described as a “king” because it must needs transcend and over-rule whatever is inferior to itself, and as “king of Israel” because the word “Israel” means “ruling with God” as distinct from being associated with beings or affairs of a sub-divine order. To conjoin this Life-Essence to a vehicle which should give it fixity and form required the assistance of another
dominant or “kingly” principle, personified as Hiram, King of Tyre, who supplied the “building material.” Now, as we are dealing with purely metaphysical ideas, it will be obvious to the student that the Tyre in question has no connection with the Levantine sea-port of that name. The word Tyre in Hebrew means “rock,” implying the strength and compactness
which we associate with rock, whilst the same word recurs in Greek as “Turos” and in Latin as “Durus,” signifying hardness and durability. Hence, the phrase King of Tyre is to be interpreted as the cosmic principle which gives solidity and form to the Life-Essence, which is fluidic and formless.
In alternative terms, Solomon and Hiram of Tyre represent the “groundwork” of the soul, which is then made functionally effective by the addition of a third principle, Hiram Abiff, personifying the active fabricating principle.
This third principle is the “vital and immortal principle” immanent in every soul; crucified, dead and buried in all who are not alive to its presence, but resident in all as a redeeming power; as St. Paul says: “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians, 1- 27). It is consistent with the humility of the Mysteries that Hiram Abiff (literally, “the teacher from the Father”) is
not described as a “king,” but as a “widow’s son”; a beautiful touch of Gnostic symbolism referable to the derelict or widowed nature of the Divine Motherhood (“Sophia”) owing to the errancy and defection from wisdom of her frail children. Such of those children who have rejoined, or are striving to rejoin, their mother is alone worthy to be called “widow’s sons”; and it
is to the cry to those who have rejoined her from those still labouring in the flesh, and perhaps wiping from their brow the large drops of the “perspiration” of their anguish, that the traditional petition applies: “O come to my aid, ye sons of the Widow.”
In a Paper of this dimension references to the Ancient Mystery systems have necessarily been brief, and for those who would pursue the subject further there is available an extensive literature. I have endeavoured to limit my exposition to the minimum evidence to show that Freemasonry is a modern perpetuation of great systems of initiation that have existed for the
spiritual instruction of men in all parts of the world since the beginning of time. The reason for their existence has been the obvious one, resulting from the cardinal truth already alluded to, that man in his present natural state is inherently and radically imperfect; that sooner or later he becomes conscious of a sense of loss and deprivation and feels an imperative need
of learning how to repair that loss. There has always existed an external, popular doctrine which has served for the edification of those who are insufficiently prepared for deeper teachings; and concurrently therewith there has been an interior, advanced doctrine, which has been reserved for candidates willing to undertake specialised study. It has been far beyond my scope to describe any of the experimental processes of initiation employed by the systems I have mentioned, but in regard to them I would ask you to accept my statement upon two points: (1) that although these great schools of the Mysteries have long dropped out of the public mind, they, or the doctrine they taught, have never ceased to exist; and (2) that it was through the activity and foresight of some of their advanced initiates that our present system of Speculative Freemasonry is due. You must not imply from this that Freemasonry is by any means a full or adequate presentation of the older and larger systems; it is, indeed, but their pale shadow. Nevertheless, such as they are, and so far as they do go, our rituals and doctrine are an authentic embodiment of the ancient Secret Doctrine. Those who were responsible for the institution of Speculative Freemasonry some two hundred and fifty years ago undoubtedly made use
of certain materials lying ready to hand. They took, that is, the elementary rites and symbols pertaining to the mediaeval Operative Guilds of Stone Masons and transformed them into a system of religio-philosophic doctrine.
Thenceforward, from being related to the trade which deals in stones and bricks, -the intention of Masonry was to be concerned solely and simply with the greater science of soul-building; and, except for retaining a number of anologies which the art of the practical stone-mason provided, Freemasonry became dedicated to purposes that are wholly spiritual.
To conclude; the “Craft,” as we now afecconately call it, has progressed beyond the widest conceptions of those who were charged with its inauguration; it is thoroughly organised, and counts its membership by tens of thousands. What of the future? Rehabilitated in its ancient wisdom, it may become an irresistible force in shaping and influencing the course of
humanity. It first remains, however, with the Craft itself to see whether it will enter upon its own heritage as a lineal successor to the Ancient Mysteries, or, by failing to do so, will undergo the inevitable fate of everything that is but a form from which its native spirit has departed. Is this nescience, this imperviousness and failure to comprehend to no purpose? Perhaps not;
each of us lives in the presence of mysteries he fails to discern or understand, and even when the desire for wisdom is at last awakened, the education of the understanding is a long process. “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.”
(Proverbs 4-7), exclaims the old Teacher, in a counsel that may well be commended to we of the Craft to-day, who so little understand our own system. Upon us, therefore, who are numbered in the ranks of the Masonic Order there rests the responsibility attaching to our privilege of membership, and it must surely be our aim to enter into the full heritage of
understanding and practising the system to which we belong.
SO MOTE IT BE