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?”