Tuesday, February 07, 2006
A Tour of the Masonic Lodge
On April 12, 2005, in my role as Director of Masonic Education for my lodge, I presented to my Blue Lodge the following talk I wrote, called "A Tour of the Lodge." Based primarily on my understanding of W. L. Wilmshurst's book "The Meaning of Masonry," I attempted to explain the Greater and Lesser Lights, the stations of officers, and other symbols found in a Masonic Blue Lodge. Nothing here is a "secret" — Wilmshurst's book is over 80 years old. The meanings Wilmshurt assigned to the various symbols of Freemasonry reflect his opinions, and perhaps the opinions of his day, and not any "official doctrine" of Freemasonry, and may or may not be what those two centuries before Wilmshurst had in mind when they established the modern lodge system.
My talk was met with mixed response. Though my talk was based on Wilmshurst's much longer piece orginally written as a lecture meant to be given in a lodge meeting, I was told after the fact it was "much too long" to be given in today's lodge meeting. As I was giving the talk, I noticed a number of the older Masons in attendence were, shall we say, resting their eyes, while several of the younger men there, those under 40, were literally on the edges of their seats. One of the younger men was a visitor from another lodge, and invited me to repeat the talk at his lodge. A month later I did so, and that lodge's members kept me after the talk, discussing Freemasonry until nearly midnight.
Get yourself a cup of coffee, kick back, and take a Tour of the Lodge with me.
— The Widow's Son
You've no doubt heard of Masonry spoken of as “an art founded on the principles of Geometry,” and as “a science dealing with the cultivation and improvement of the human mind.” It has also been said to have down to us “from ancient Egyptians whose philosophers, unwilling to expose their mysteries to vulgar eyes, conceal their principles and philosophy under signs and symbols.”
Some among us refer to our catechisms for each degree as “lessons.” What is it that we learn in these catechisms, other than how to memorize unusual words and turns of phrase? We hear more about signs and symbols, but they are still in need of interpretation.
Those learned men who established modern Freemasonry took great pains to conceal their philosophy and beliefs from the profane world. They hid their meanings in the signs, symbols, steps, stations and furniture of a lodge.
Tonight and at our next meeting we will explore our Craft and our Lodge with an eye to understanding the signs and symbols which we either take for granted, or, in some cases, barely notice.
Keep in mind as we take this tour that, according to the words given by the Senior Deacon to all new candidates, “Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”
We said earlier, “Masonry is an art founded on the principles of Geometry” — the entire system of Freemasonry is built upon geometry.
To the profane man, geometry is simply the branch of mathematics associated with the problems of Euclid. What does Euclid and high school math have to do with Masonic ideas and rituals? There must be something more here than meets the eye.
Geometry was considered one of the “seven noble arts and sciences” of ancient philosophy. “Geo” means “earth.” To the ancients, earth did not mean simply our planet. Earth referred to the primordial substance, the stuff our souls are made of, the “mother-earth” from which we have all arisen and to which we shall return. Does not the Bible say that we are made of the dust of the ground? A builder must know what materials he is working with.
Geometry, then, refers to the measurement of our fundamental substance, the building materials of ourselves. I do not refer to flesh and bone, but to the essence — the being — of man. Geometry is synonymous with self-knowledge, with the understanding of what we are made of, what we are and what we can become. “Know thyself” was a phrase often etched into ancient temples. Sometimes it was written as, “Know thyself and thou shalt know the Universe and God.”
Thus, the study of Geometry tells us that the uninitiated man has no knowledge of himself, and that when he obtains that knowledge, through enlightenment, he will realize that he is no longer a separate, distinct individual, but rather a microcosm, a summary, “a summary of All That Is, and to be identified with the Being of God.” Showing you how to attain this knowledge is the point of Masonry.
The Form of the Lodge
What is the Masonic Lodge? Officially, it's “an oblong square, in length between East and West, in breadth between North and South, in depth from the surface of the earth to its center, and even as high as the heavens.”
This doesn't describe a room. This describes the human individual. The Lodge represents you. The Lodge is “an assemblage of brethren and fellows met to expatiate upon the mysteries of the Craft,” an old manuscript states. It's really describing you. You are a being that consists of various properties, characteristics, and faculties assembled together in a harmonious design, meant to work together making you a total human.
Always remember that everything in Masonry represents man and his human constitution and spiritual evolution. Everything.
Man is symbolized by a four-sided building. The number four has long been a symbol for everything that is manifest or in physical form. The non-physical, unmanifest Spirit is represented by the number three, or the triangle. Look at your apron. From above, the three-sided triangle, representing Spirit has come down onto the four-sided quadrangle, representing physical Man.
The number four is also seen in four cardinal points of earth — north, south, east and west, and in the four basic metaphysical elements of the ancients called fire, water, air and earth. The four sides of the Lodge represent those same four elements: Water, which represents our psychic nature; Air, our mentality; Fire, our will; and Earth, the condensation of the the other three into one Being.
The Lodge is not a square, however, but an elongated square, duplicated, twice as long as it is wide. This represents our physical body merged with our ethereal or astral body.
The sides of the Lodge also represent man's faculties. The East represents our spirituality; the West, its opposite — normal, rational, day-to-day understanding, our normal consciousness, our “common sense.” In the South, spiritual intuition merges with rational understanding, developing our intellectual power to its highest potential, just as the Sun rises highest “at the beauty and glory” of the day. The North is the opposite of this; the North represents ignorance and the physical senses.
Note the compass point where the candidate enters from the Preparation Room: the Northeast, where the rational, day-to-day mind represented by the West merges with the spiritual ignorance but sense-endowment of the North.
We all use these four modes of consciousness, but some of us seem to live in just one or two, maybe three, of these modes. Seldom do we meet a man who has the full and perfect knowledge of living in all four of these modes at once. But that is what we are to strive for, as Masons.
The lodge was described as “in depth from the surface of the earth to its center.” This refers to the difference in degree between our earthly mentality and the divine consciousness in man's spiritual center once he has learned to open his Lodge upon that center and function in it.
“Even as high as the heavens” is how we described the height of the Lodge. This indicates that our raised consciousness has no limits, that we have unlimited potential, that our ability to grow spiritually is infinite.
To climb up, to reach this consciousness, we may use the ladder of many steps, a symbol sometimes seen in Lodges. Three rungs of this ladder are “Faith, Hope and Charity.” Innumerable other rungs represent innumerable other ways of developing our consciousness to higher degrees, but the three listed may be the chief methods. We have Faith in the possibility of its attainment; we have Hope for its fulfillment, and we have Love — the real meaning of Charity — which takes us to the ultimate Good which we seek.
This expansion of consciousness is not reliant upon intellectual attainment, or book knowledge. As St. Paul said, “Though I have all knowledge and not love, I am nothing.” Reaching the height of the Lodge — enlarging your consciousness — is done through faith, or belief; through hope, or expectation; and through charity, or love.
The Lodge is supported by three pillars called “Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty.” These are properties of the human soul, which become more apparent as you progress through the Masonic philosophy. As you expand your consciousness, you will become more perceptive and more understanding. You will become aware of having tapped into a source of power that gives you enhanced mental strength and self-confidence. Others will observe in you the graces of character, speech and conduct that were formerly absent in you.
The floor of a Lodge is a checkerboard of black and white squares. This pattern denotes the dual quality of the world, of everything about our physical life, our groundwork. Everything on the material plane has a duality about it, interblended good and evil, light and shade, joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, positive and negative. This same duality is described in other cultures and religions, most notably in the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol, the two intersecting black and white teardrops endlessly chasing each others' tales.
This dualism governs everything. As the Taoist eventually comes to learn that the two aspects Yin and Yang merge into one unitary Reality, so the Mason learns after contemplating the checkerboard floor that the dualism in his Life can become unity, synthesized into a greater whole known as the “peace that passes understanding.”
The British version of the Third Degree uses this phrase: “The square pavement is for the High Priest to walk upon.” As every Mason is the High Priest of his own personal temple, the checkerboard floor becomes a place where Man meets God, while still living in the material, dualistic world. In other words, the Man who would be the “master of his fate” and “captain of his soul” must transcend and dominate these opposites, rising above good and evil, becoming superior and indifferent to the ups and downs of life, overcoming the fears and attractions that so deeply affect the common man.
As Wilmshurst writes, “... the Mason who seriously yields himself to the discipline of the Order is not merely improving his character and chastening his thoughts and desires. He is at the same time unconsciously building up an inner ethereal body which will form his clothing, or covering, when his transitory outer body shall have passed away.... And the celestial body must be built up out of the sublimated properties of the terrestrial one. This is one of the secrets and mysteries of the process of regeneration and self-transmutation, to promote which the Craft was designed. This is the true temple-building that Masonry is concerned with. The Apron being the Masonic symbol of bodily organism, changes and increasing elaborateness in it as the Mason advances to higher stages in the Craft symbolize in theory the actual development that is gradually taking place in his nature.”
In our physical heavens the sun, moon and stars exist. In our personal heavens metaphysical forces inherent in Man operate, and are known by the same terms. There is a psychic magnetic field in each of us, determining our individual temperaments and tendencies, and influencing our future. We call those forces “the sun,” “the moon,” and by the names of the planets. The interaction between these forces was once called astronomy, and is now known as astrology, which is one of the liberal arts and sciences recommended to the study of every Mason during the Fellowcraft degree.
The Officers in the Lodge
There are seven officers in a Lodge — the Worshipful Master, the two Wardens, the two Deacons, the Inner Guard known together as the Stewards but comprising only one office, and the Outer Guard or Tyler. These seven positions represent seven aspects of consciousness psychologically co-ordinated into a unity known as a “just and perfect Lodge.” Just as a Man without all of these seven faculties would be considered insane, so a Lodge would be imperfect and unable to perform proper and effective work without its seven officers.
The number seven represents completeness. Creation took place in seven time periods. There are seven colors in the rainbow, seven notes in a musical scale, seven days in a week.
The Master of the the Lodge represents man's spiritual principle, his highest level of consciousness, to which all other faculties are subordinate. When this Divine Principle speaks, or raps its gavel, the other portions respond and reverberate in sympathy.
The Senior Warden personifies the soul, the psychic or animistic principle in man. It has no inherent light of its own. The West reflects and transmits the greater light from the East, just as the moon reflects a greater light. Just as the Moon appears to be invisible to us in the night sky when the sun isn't shining on it, so is the Senior Warden all but invisible to us in the Lodge when he is not speaking. Similarly human intelligence is either apparent or negligible, depending on its state of enlightenment. When light shines upon the West it is the chief executive faculty or transmitting medium of Spiritual Wisdom; without the Light it can express nothing but brute reason.
The Junior Warden in the South represents the mid-point between the Master's Light in the East and the Moon in the West. The Junior Warden symbolizes the lesser light, the Sun. In Masonry, the Sun represents illuminated human intelligence and understanding, which comes from having the brain and mind being thoroughly enlightened by the Spiritual Principle. The South station denotes the harmonious balance between the Divine Light from the East and natural reasoning powers from the West.
In Masonry, the first and second degrees are associated with the Wardens, and the Master's degree associated with the Worshipful Master. Recall that during Raising, the Lights of the Wardens are extinguished. By this I mean in the work of self-transformation the Master's candidate has undergone before his raising, the Wardens have been beneficial. However, there comes a point when they are of no further avail; the grip of each of them fails, and the Master's grip, the Light from the Divine Principle, alone is able to complete the regenerative change symbolized by Raising.
The lesser officers — the Deacons, Stewards and the Tyler — represent the three greater Officers' energies reflected into the lower faculties of man. The Senior Deacon forms the link between East and West. The Junior Deacon forms the link between the West and the South. The Inner Guard — the Stewards — acts under the immediate control of the Junior Warden and in reflex action with the Outer Guard — the Tyler — the contact with the outer world of sense impressions.
Together the seven officers represent how human consciousness works. They represent the co-ordinated parts connecting Man's outer nature with his inmost Divine Principle. They provide the necessary channels for the various spiritual and material levels to maintain contact.
To summarize: The Master represents the Spirit. The Senior Warden represents the Soul, or Psyche. The Junior Warden represents the Mind. The Senior Deacon represents the link between Spirit and Soul. The Junior Deacon represents the link between Soul and Mind. The Stewards represent the inner senses, the astral body. The Tyler represents the outer, physical senses.
The Greater and Lesser Lights
Quoting Wilmshurst: “The purpose of Initiation may be defined as follows: It is to stimulate and awaken the Candidate to direct cognition and irrefutable demonstration of facts and truths of his own being about which previously he has been either wholly ignorant or only notionally informed; it is to bring him into direct conscious contact with the Realities underlying the surface-images of things, so that, instead of holding merely beliefs or opinions about himself, the Universe and God, he is directly and convincingly confronted with Truth itself; and finally it is to move him to become the Good and the Truth revealed to him by identifying himself with it.”
The restoration to light in the First Degree is especially important. It is the first time the Candidate's perception, thanks to his own aspirations and to the Brethren present, is enlarged. Initiation reveals to him the three great though emblematic lights in Masonry — the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses conjoined together, the Square and Compasses resting upon the Volume of Sacred Law as their ground or base. These physical objects are the first things the Candidate sees upon enlightenment. Their meaning — what they emblematize — should be the first truth his inward eye recognizes and contemplates.
The emblematic three lesser lights — the burning tapers — are pointed out to the newly enlightened Candidate as well. These three lights, as we have already seen, refer to the Worshipful Master, the Senior Warden, and the Junior Warden.
It is most interesting to note that without the lesser triad the Candidate would not be able to see the greater lights. The three burning tapers illuminate the Great Lights. This represents his own less evolved consciousness, his own normal finite intelligence, looking out onto something larger than itself, something it can hope to achieve and to incorporate into his own as yet undeveloped being.
The Candidate is thus encouraged to lose himself to find himself, to unify his own lesser lights with his greater lights, so that he no longer functions with his normal consciousness but allies himself with the All-Conscious All That Is with which he has become identified.
What do the Three Greater Lights emblematize, and what does their conjunction represent?
The Volume of Sacred Law is the emblem and external expression of the unwritten Eternal Word, the Logos or Wisdom of Deity from which we all spring. It is the base of human life. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God; without Him was not anything made that was made; in Him was life and the life was the light of men; and the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” This passage from the Gospel of St. John, the patron saint of Masonry, should be the words the candidate sees when he is first brought to light, to remind him that the basis of his being is the Divine Word that lives and shines from within his own darkness and ignorance, which realize and comprehend not that fact. The Candidate has before now lost all consciousness of that truth, and this is the “lost Word” of which every Mason is theoretically in search and which with due instruction and understanding he hopes to find. When he finds that lost Word, he shall have found God within himself. It is this Word that has always been there, inside himself, that prompted him to enter the Craft and to seek initiation into Light. He was prepared in his heart, and he desired that Light which is now shining upon him and from him.
The Square is the symbol of the human soul, created “square” or perfect. The Square also approximates a triangle, with its point downward and its base upward. This is a very ancient symbol of the soul and psychic constitution of Man known as the Water Triangle.
The Compasses represents the Spirit. It also approximates a triangle, its point upward and its base downward. Interlaced with the Square it means the Spirit of the Soul, Energy, or Fire. Together the Compasses and the Square produce the fiery energy of Man, a good or evil force depending on how Man shapes it.
The three greater lights emblematize the interwoven groundwork of Man's being — a passive Soul emanating from the Divine Word or Substance, activated or energized by Spirit generated in the Soul.
In the First Degree, the points of the Compasses are hidden by the Square. In the Second Degree, one point is revealed. In the Third both both points of the Compasses are resting above and upon the Square. What point does this teach? That “as the Candidate progresses the inertia and negativity of the Soul becomes increasingly transmuted and superseded by the positive energy and activity of the Spirit. The Fire Triangle gradually assumes preponderance over the Water Triangle,” signifying that the Candidate is becoming a more vividly living and spiritually conscious being that he was before being Initiated.
Opening and Closing the Lodge
The lodge and its officers as we have seen represent a sacramental figure of oneself. Opening the lodge and giving the due guards and signs while doing so implies ability to expand, open up and intensify our consciousness in three distinct stages.
The opening and closing of the lodge are ceremonies of distinct and high purpose. They should not be profaned by casual performance or without understanding what they mean.
As the substitute is transmitted, each station involved in the transmission enacts due guards and signs of all three degrees. The first one is appropriate to the apprentice stage of development, a call to “lift up your hearts” above the everyday level of external things. The second set of motions signify that we are more advanced into the science and more capable than when we were simply apprentices. The third motions point to the opening up of consciousness to the very center and depths of one's being.
These motions signify that as we are opening a lodge meeting, we are opening our hearts and consciousnesses, expanding from our normal consciousness of “brute reason,” as signified by the West, to the god-consciousness of the East.
Our steps, due guards, signs and passwords are part of the Mysteries tradition dating back to the beginning of time. Quoting H. E. Sampson, from pages 171-174 in Progressive Redemption: “The symbols of the Mysteries embodied in the sign of the Square and Circle constitute the eternal language of the gods, the same in all worlds, from all eternity. They have had neither beginning of years nor end of days. They are contemporary with time and with eternity. They are the Word of God, the Divine Logos, articulate and expressed in forms of language. Each sign possesses a corresponding vocal expression, bodily gesture or mental intention. This fact is of great importance to the student of Wisdom, for in it rests the main reason of the secrecy and the intense watchfulness and carefulness of the stewards of the Mysteries lest the secret doctrines find expression on the lips or through the action of unfit persons to possess the secrets. For the secret power of the Mysteries is within the signs. Any person attaining to natural and supernatural states by the process of development, if his heart be untuned and his mind withdrawn from the Divine to the human within him, that power becomes a power of evil instead of a power of good. An unfaithful initiate, in the degree of the Mysteries he has attained, is capable, by virtue of his antecedent preparations and processes, of diverting the power to unholy, demoniacal, astral and dangerous uses.... The use of the signs, the vocal sounds, physical acts and mental intentions, was absolutely prohibited except under rigorously tested conditions. For instance, the utterance of a symbolical sound, or a physical act, corresponding to a sign belonging to a given degree, in a congregation of an inferior degree, was fatal in its effects. In each degree no initiates who have not attained that degree are admitted to its congregations. Only initiates of that degree, and above it, are capable of sustaining the pressure of dynamic force generated in the spiritual atmosphere and concentrated in that degree. The actual mental ejaculation of a sign, under such circumstances, brought forth of an occult power corresponding to it. In all the congregations of the initiates an Inner Guard was stationed within the sanctuary, chancel or oratory at the door of entrance, with the drawn sword in his hand, to ward off unqualified trespassers or intruders. It was no formal or metaphorical performance. It was at the risk of life of any man attempting to make an entrance if he succeeded in crossing the threshold. Secret signs and passwords and other tests were applied to all who knocked at the door, before admission was granted. The possession of the Mysteries, after initiation, and the use of the signs, either vocally, actionally or ejaculatorily, with “intention” in their use, not as mere mechanical repetition, were attended by occult powers directed at the subjects of their special intention, whether absent or present, or for purposes beneficial to the cause in contemplation.”
Opening the lodge of one's own being is not easy for those who have closed and sealed it by the own habitual thought-modes, preconceptions and distrust of whatever is not seen by the senses. These negative traits have no place in the heart of the inner Man. Stability of mind, control of emotion and thought, inner stillness and harmony are needed. Just as the physical opening of the lodge cannot be done without the organized cooperation of all the officers, so the opening of our inner Man to God can only occur when all our parts and faculties cooperate. If any part is missing, it just doesn't work. The Worshipful Master cannot open the lodge; he can only invite his brethren to assist him to do so by uniting their wills. Opening your inner self to God requires the same cooperation and attention — you must see that “none but Masons are present” by making sure that you thoughts and motives in approaching God are pure. The Master then calls to order the brethren, testing their qualifications for the work at hand. Only when he sees that the lodge is properly formed does he invoke the descent of the Divine blessing.
This article has been cross-published today on SacredFems.com.
Freemasonry | Wilmshurst | Masonic Lodge