The three journeys of Initiation, or the Caudine Forks of Freemasonry


Assistant to the Grand Master, National Grand Lodge of Romania

This plane of research requires reflection on the following themes: symbolism in relation to the three elements: Air, Water, and Fire, on the one hand, as well as on the common points of these apparently opposite elements, but which form a unity of opposites, on the other hand.
Together with earth, the first trial of the initiation ritual, air, water, and fire represent the four elements of traditional cosmogony that presents the creatino of the world, of the universe, and the birth of Being from void and chaos.
The mentioned elements existed even before the intervention of the energy of soul and spirit, when the only warderns were the order and light. This fact can probably explain the presence of these elements in most initiation rituals.
The first journey of the profane in masonic initiation is the journey of Air. Air is a masculine, active, and non-material elements, and thus is assimilated either with the wind that fills the sails, turns the windmill, and scatters the clouds, or the breath that could be a vital correlative of the subtile Being, prana, the cosmic that is identified with the Word.
Air represents also space, the way of communication between earth and sky, the proper medium of light and even flight (To raise oneself from the ground through spirituality means to rediscover the freedom of Being - we could even say "To be free like the air ...").
According to the symbolism of color, the air corresponds to white, that is to say air is associated with innocence, enlightenment, or the first step of the profane that rises from the dead to walk toward the Light. For this reason, the first journey is that of the air. In what regards noises and the obstacles that come with this journey, these represent the tumult and agitation of the profane world and have a connection with the physical manifestation of Air, of the wind that represents the symbol of vanity, instability and inconstancy, as well as of apparitions, regardless of the shape that these wear.
Air is the intermediary between water and fire. The union of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen forms the molecule of Water. The combustion of fire is also tied to the presence of air (Wind strengthens the fire, and the absence of air stops combustion).
By the application a powerful of great pressure, air takes a liquid form.
This transformation leads us toward the second journey, that of Water, which represents a passive and feminine element.
Water is a source of energy and origin of life, the notion of "prime matter", a source of fertility and fecundity of the Earth, rain, river, oasis, Nile, Euphrates, Ganges, as they are found in the primal springs of humanity.
The first human habitats as well as the first civilizations were built on the banks of rivers or springs, which are indispensable to the lives of human beings, animals and plants.
Water represents also a means of purification. From a purely profane and hygienic point of view, water cleans the body, the clothes, etc.
From a symbolic point of view, we are reminded of Hindu, Hebrew or Muslim rituals connected with the cleaning of the body or of some parts of the body (hands, feet, face...) or, in the framework of the Christian religion, baptism and blessing.
Insofar as regards masonic initiation, the symbolism denotes more aspects of the duality of water.
Alike certain ancient traditions or traditions of hospitality that require the offering of fresh water to visitors, in the initiation ritual, the profane receives a glass of pure, creative, and purifying water. The same water becomes bitter, symbolyzing the curse for perjury. The hands are then submerged in the water that symbolizes the death of the man that was, to be reborn through the origin given by water. But the submerging is tied to the rebirth that represents the apparition of a new man, purified, ready to perfect his inner being. At the same time, the symbol of water evolves from the notion of life-source to the notion of wisdom, knowledge, and spirituality. This fact probably explains why noises and obstacles are much less numerous in the case of this journey.
On the symbolic plane, water correspons to North (which represents the place of the Apprentice in the Lodge), to cold, the winter solstice and the color green.
Water can present itself in liquid, solid (frozen), or gaseous (vapors, clouds) form. This element is opposed to fire, but at the same time hosts lightning, which is a form of fire.
The third and final journey of the masonic initiation ritual is that of fire, the masculine and active element corresponding to South. This element permits man to warm up, cook his food, and work metals.
Assimilated to the Sun, fire is indispensable to thhe life of human beings, animals and plants, being a source of purification and regeneration, but at the same time creaing fires in the fields, to transform them in fertile lands.
In the initiation ritual, purification through water is completed by purification through fire, which permits the transformation of water into vapours, the ascent of vapours to the sky as clouds, as well as the regeneration of water from terrestrial, impure water, to celestial and divine water.
Another representation of fire is the lightning that appears at once with the fall of this celestial water and permits the periodical regeneration of nature. This complementarity can be interpreted as a union of opposites (one of the principles of Universal Masonry).
During the journey through fire, being blindfolded, the profane does not receive the light, but another physical manifestation of fire. The heat that, as a cosmic power, permits Man to be born from the primordial chaos.
As we had noticed previously, the number of these initiations is three, reminding us of the triads, the age of the apprentice and the triangle. In what regards the triangle, each of its shapes represents an element of cosmogony, the right-angle triangle, which represents half of the equilateral, or sublime, triangle, corresponds to the element of water and to the apprentice in this context.
To conclude, these symbolic journey guide the profane in the fight to survive in his quest to discover the center, to rebuild his primordial unity through the union of opposites. This journey is accomplished within, as the Chinese discover the Great Peace, the Hindu find quiet, others seek "The citadel of Truth" or the Grail. But this journey cannot be made anywhere or anyhow.
The practical ritual in the masonic lodges, the thought and symbolic language, the help of the Brethren and masters permits the apprentice to discover himself the ways of wisdom, knowledge and love.
Historically, in Medieval Masonry, the apprentice was the assistent of Masters, he saw, learned, and followed their work, he prepared their materials obeyed any order.
After the recognition of masonry as a self-contained entity, the apprentice is subjected to the danger of the physical tests. But present freemasonry has kept only a few of these tests as traditional means to developing imagination, leaving the possibility of underlining the idea that the road to wisdom is filled with asperities and that initiation represents a tree, whose top is reached only after one passes through all the stages of this activity, and the experience is eternal.
Making a symbolic paper is difficult because each individual has a different perception of the symbol; each one sees it from a different angle. Some analyze the symbol from a technical point of view, and others rely on intuition. Thus, we cannot be satisfied with any single approach of the symbolism. The symbol is not entirely visible to anyone, but through the synthesis of everyone's perceptions we can approach the truth together. It is not an accident that the Encyclopedia Britannica reiterates: "symbols do not represent a language by themselves; they are rather the means through which ideas, oftentimes too complex or with too great a semantic lode to be articulated in common language, are transmitted among people belonging to the same culture".

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