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.
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.
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.
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.