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.
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.
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.