The goal of this essay is not to challenge the origins story of the emergence of Speculative Freemasonry and the evidence that backs up that narrative. Rather, I want to take a closer look at the technology or techné of the Degrees themselves, particularly the 3rd Degree, to analyze how and why this technology works the way it does and its function in Masonic ceremonial. Finally, I want to see if these spiritual technologies, in this case those of Ancient Egypt, have precedent in the ancient world. We could just as easily look at the Greco-Roman, Ancient Persian, East Asian, Celtic, etc., and find similarities in the spiritual technologies being used to advance, instruct, and initiate their adepts.
Antoine Faivre and Christine Rhone (2010) develop a general taxonomy of Western esotericism in their short text Western Esotericism: A Concise History. Their designations are extremely helpful for the new student seeking to understand the ideas, concepts and challenges presented in the study of esotericism, for the very reasons Faivre and Rhone point out. Because the term Western Esotericism means so many things to so many people, it can be challenging to a new learner interested in the subjects contained therein.
The idea of secret elements embedded within Masonic ritual is a very old one, most famously exemplified in A.E. Waite’s excellent 2 volume set, The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry (1911). There, Waite points to a secret chivalric Christian mystic ceremonial (à la the C.B.C.S.) within the Masonic degree structure. Not to rehash old themes, but I am currently working on a book project about the “secret spirit” in Freemasonry. In this book, I am less interested in tracking a secret influence historically as I am in drawing to the consciousness of modern-day Masons many extant esoteric elements, symbolic and instructive, which are currently part of Masonic ceremonial, but which are often ignored or forgotten. What follows in this blog post is a sketch of some of that research, which will be fleshed out in the book.
“Wisdom and the understanding of the true nature of reality” is an intensely monumental undertaking, and one which has been at the heart of esoteric study since its inception. Attempts to understand the world around us encompass many realms and disciplines and have emanated from a multitude of traditions and cultures. For the newly made aspirant, any attempt to examine these traditions can feel immensely overwhelming. There are many of them, they are all so thick with material and history, and they often agree and contradict each other, sometimes in ways which can be difficult to clearly understand. Where to start? What does one pursue? Is there a “right” path, which thus renders some explorations pointless and others more likely to support the attainment of “wisdom and the understanding of the true nature of reality?”
One of the most challenging aspects for me as a new Freemason has been the balance between the practical and the philosophical in the work of the Craft. The practical contains many components and ranges from the direct, immediate work of the ritual, lectures, and the processes around the conferral of degrees. Depending on the practices of your Lodge, this could include the use of mechanisms such as the Chamber of Reflection, a moment for meditation at the beginning of meetings, and certain additions or adaptations to the ritual work such as music, lighting, and incense to develop the atmosphere.
Symbolism might best be considered in terms of revealing and re-veiling. The veil is the protective covering shielding the sacred from the profane, and therefore higher vision can be revealed only to inspired perception. It has always been the task of the initiate to attain this higher vision.
Over the past few months, I’ve had three articles published in Masonic journals that I wanted to highlight here on my blog for anyone who might wish to seek them out. See below for the links, and thank you always for reading.
The following is a brief synopsis and some personal remarks on the book Rene Guenon and the Future of the West (1987) by Robin Waterfield.
Rene Guenon was born November 15, 1886 in Blois, Loir-et-Cher, France to parents who were landowners, who counted on their vineyards and wine-growing skills to sustain their livelihood. Guenon went to a Catholic school and excelled at mathematics and philosophy.
The Villa of the Mysteries or Villa dei Misteri is a well-preserved Roman Villa in Pompeii originally dating from the 2nd century BC. The present layout is thought to be set somewhere between 70 and 60 BC, and the frescoes in the initiation chamber may date to around ca. 60 AD. The villa suffered only minor damage from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The room in the villa known as the initiation chamber is decorated with two dozen life-size figures engaged in what is usually considered to be an initiation ritual into the mysteries of Dionysus.
I attended a Masonic conference where the use of what some Masonic presenters termed “hazing” was illustrated from European rituals and from the Masonic rituals of old manuscripts. There was a question as to what the reason was for having activities resembling “hazing” in Masonic ritual, and why were they so prevalent in the past, and still more popular outside the USA? These Masonic presenters, who are the top Masonic scholars in American Masonry (I shall not name them, as they were simply doing their job as good scholars: speculating on things, that is), seemed themselves puzzled over the inclusion of the “hazing” elements of the ritual. They spoke at length about how these kinds of activities had been abused in the past, how certain Masons had not the good sense to exercise their restraint and good judgement when performing these parts of the ritual.