PHILIP J. HARRIS esq JP
Lodge St. John No. 280, Grand Lodge of Scotland
We do not find an abundance of Lodges with a plan for the development of its initiates. We might find ideas and plans for recruitment but rarely comprehensive plans for continued masonic learning. Requests for such is dismissed with “when you do the third degree it will all come together”. In practice it does not. The candidates challenging thinking and desire for meaning has been discouraged. It probably raises more questions in a new member. But by the third degree the poor Master Mason has learnt to ask no more.
Understanding, the ritual, BOC, archaic words, traditions and most importantly commitment and attitude of the Lodge brethren, is now beyond comprehension. The meaning of the words, signs and tokens are without explanation. A Candidate must accept “how it is”. Years may pass, the Chair of Solomon achieved but still no understanding of “what is it all about”. This cannot be satisfactory and is perhaps a perversion of the truth of the Craft. An illusion of fraternity and an excuse for a night out.
Many will find this satisfactory as there is always progress, a job to do and the potential reward of rank and position. It is hard to show such that these things are of no value and are a distraction from the purpose and meaning of our Craft. A new brother may soak in the bath of salutes, title, accolades, certificates of merit, jewels, rank and sadly ego and wallow in the mire of ignorance.
Lost in the quagmire of formula, repetition and ego, to learn more a Master Mason needs to take a retrograde step into the process of masonic learning. This should have started prior to initiation. In the very heart of each brother. Without a review of the beginning of masonry in a man’s own heart, he might forget the reason for committing in the first instance. Having taken oaths, heard the working tools, charges, recommendations he may well file these under the header, “heard that, seen it and very nice”. It does not mean anything. This is reinforced in the brother when he hears that there are “no masonic secrets”.
When given the final direction to look at Hope in the form of that bright and morning star, a candidate has the file ready to receive another gem for another day. Now convinced that his ego, rank and office are all important he fails to know how masonry can “make good men better”. He lacks the basic appreciation of the work. Believing that better, is a big apron, a wand or gavel he is content and has missed so much. Typically, he might say, “because I have learnt the ritual, I understand it”! I would hope this was true but on questioning such members I find the opposite is true. As masons we must pause at the end of each degree and consider what was presented. Return regularly and consider each Ceremony as a first hearing. Check every word, movement and symbol exposed to evaluate what it is. Is more than it is, or is it is what it is.
Lecturing I ask challenging questions of the members. “Why does the Apron have a flap”? What is the meaning of the NE corner ritual”? What is the orientation of the cardinal points of the compass on the second‑degree tracing board? “Can you explain the point within the circle”? Why is your collar garter blue”? “Who succeeded Hiram Abiff”? “What is the meaning of the tassels in the corner of the Temple”?
Of all allegory the one most misunderstood, is the concept of ones Centre. This couched neatly in the Second degree. A degree often dismissed as an interlude, a pause or not interesting. To you brethren listening this evening I would expect you find it quite the opposite. It is perhaps a real pause in masonic progress as it is, “far superior to the Entered Apprentice” it is a point where we start to learn our place. In my contact with Spanish and South African Freemasonry, l learnt that the Fellowcraft had to produce a paper on the second‑degree with reference to architecture. This is called a Plancha. That is a presentation to the Lodge using architecture to express a masonic truth.
Having listened to several of these, I note the level of masonic understanding is very good. It is the point before which all Master Masons are regarded as tutors. The rigours of review, rewriting, resubmission pay off to confirm the man is learning.
In the ritual of the second‑degree at the Centre we should recall this question “Do you believe in a superior being”? At this point of the Centre, we should consider this most important of questions. We are not asked to name (if we ever know the name), describe this being, or affiliate ourselves to some doctrine or system of religious discipline. But we have a firm position now where we reside, the Centre.
From the Centre we will consider only four views. There are many of which we could look at but only four for simplicity. Otherwise, there would be perhaps 360 variations to consider. Mixtures of hope, prejudices, knowledge, spirit, breath and experience.
But we will take main four in turn and see what they’ve revealed. Remembering that there are shades between each. We are not to judge anyone by this but to observe the complexity of earthly existence and its inhabitants. We will start at birth where we begin looking in one of these directions.
Some were born facing North. That cold place where it is always winter. It might reflect the Light of the noonday Sun but is comfortable and filled with ease. Looking at such, we find apathy, contentment, shallowness and an acceptance that nothing changes. The world turns and the Sun Shines. Happy with their lot in life from birth to death they make no contribution or difference to the world they live in.
To be born facing West is the person who theorises on everything, looks for reason and solid facts. A strong edifice in bad weather and a rock of sorts. Unmovable and determined in action consider each day’s revelations as they come and sorting what needs be done according to experience.
Born facing South is the stimulus to learn, to read everything, watch and observe, a full library of information and evolving into a database of facts, figures and fancies. They live in a library and digest all they can. Learning and being nosey in current affairs having theories and ideas, is their place.
The East is for those who hear the “still small voice” and know without learning. The knowledge of a superior being without straining, reason or study. A person who is spiritual without trying. They look to providence for every day and live in a world seeking common conciousness with their Creator. May be regarded as “so heavenly minded they are of no earthly use”. Apparently, they are daydreamers and they don’t appreciate the necessities of life and lose themselves in what might be tomorrow forgetting the day they are in.
None of these are ideal or perfecting in the person. For this reason, masonry speaks quietly and in allegory and symbols. We are all on a journey of self‑discovery. We move around the points and gather experience, knowledge, wisdom. We look at life, the living and the way things are. Seeking truth, understanding happiness we move each day from dark to light and North to South, West to East and back again. It leads us too exactly where we are now, today. For now, is all there is. The “I was” or the “I will be”, doesn’t exist, only the “I am” exists at this moment.
If the checked carpet was the plan of our life, we would find ourselves in different positions each day we live. From the North to the South, we are moving “making a daily advancement in masonic knowledge”. If we don’t, we gravitate to our place of comfort and reside there unmoved and stagnant. The checked floor shows us of our mortality light and darkness, ignorance and learning, Created or Accident of nature, Creation or only Science. But isn’t Science the study of how Creation was affected?
To move from the West to the East is to lift the veil of the Temple and wonder what is inexplicable beyond. We might learn there is more to existence than our memories, intellect or individuality.
Contrary wise moving to the West or the North we might well see into a dark window, the shadows that lie beyond. Our place each day is changing and we gather more information, understanding and experience as we move like chess pieces from one square to the other. As Freemasons we are shown that our life plan is moved not static, we are here to grow and develop in earthly knowledge and spirituality. Above all we are to be human and free thinkers.
Here now is the main point I wish to make.
But there are two other directions we must consider: As in the first‑degree tracing board lecture, the Temple in which we stand is described in these terms, “from the surface of the earth to its centre, and even as high as the heavens”. To consider this it would be also well to consider the Terminus for a man in the days of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. On his journey to the presence of the Most‑High he was stopped. This is the Veil of the Temple beyond which no man other than the High Priest could pass. And then, “Only after many purifications and washings”
From the lecture in the first‑degree tracing‑board we have the journey downwards to the centre. This centre mentioned seems to apply to the earth. However, if we are to look at the passage it also mentions the Cardinal Points of the Compass. It is describing that Temple that is a metaphor for each of us. It is deep, high and all‑encompassing.
The journey to the Centre, in this case within us and not the earth, follows on from that sign of Hope the “bright and morning star”. But what follows is not clear. To me it is revealed in the subsequent degrees of the Masonic Order. Deep within each of us is that “still small voice” of the rule and guide of our life. The Ordering principle, the breath of life planted there at our beginning and part of the beginning of all things.
We have followed the instruction to the study of ourselves, “that most interesting of all human studies”. Some will have found much about themselves, others very little. Each of us has a dark side we either exhibit or hold secret. Keeping a public face, an exhibition of morality, compliance and perhaps falsehood. Truly we can never know or befriend anyone unless we know and accept their dark side as well as the light. If we deny this, we are not aware of the potential for good or evil within us as an individual. Examination of motives, bias, pride, ego, aspirations, unforgiving etc., should soon reveal to us where we are not so correct. But appreciation of these things needs be challenged. A lesson learnt of self; need be tested. An examination of our Master Mason self is necessary if we are to continue our journey. The phrase, “know thyself”. It is impossible to know oneself fully until the trial, challenge of experience, time, or learning touches us.
I would like to use the symbolism of the Temple Veil. That covering that separated all but one man from the presence of the Most‑High in Biblical times. The divider between the Divine presence and the condition of mankind. “You will make a veil of fine twined linen and of Scarlet, Purple and Blue and fashion it……”.
The Blue is as the sky of the heavens here on the earth. It is the blue of the Master Mason, which we all are. Under this canopy we exist as on the chequered floor. Good, bad, evil, righteousness, lie, truth is all part of our existence as we move between the poles of the compass.
The first challenge of the blue heaven’s is in the form of rejection of evil. Have we rejected it? Surely, we have. But that that is too quick an answer. A person who knows himself will appreciate that evil might be rejected, thrown away, but it still resides within us. We must realise that we carry that evil all the days of or mortal life. At our initiation we are asked, “in whom do you trust”. We do not trust ourselves. We may be blind to the residual evil within each of us. Whilst here we cannot but be humbled at our own weakness and mortality. As in a Roman Triumph, the public procession of a Victor, a slave spoke into his ear, “you are only a man”!
The Purple is of Imperial status, a ruler and judge of the nations. Before the Judge examine your own heart, its motives, pride, ego, ambition, etc. Your hand rested upon your heart comes away corrupted and marked with rebellion. A wise ruler would certainly pass judgement upon you. Put your hand back and you see you can deceive even yourself, that the rebellion and self are still there although hidden within you. At this mark we each should shed any false self‑belief or assumption about ourselves or others. We are mortal and prone to failure. To consider ourselves perfected or ascended beyond and above all error is not to know the truth of self.
The Scarlet of martyrdom, sacrifice, purification and atonement is about you. Blood the most traditional of cleansing agents of Temple worship.
“Only after many washings and purifications can the high priest entre the Holy of Holies”. As the High Priest can we be cleansed by water, oil, blood or forgiveness. Here is a call to pour the cleansing medium. We do not pour out the water of cleansing on ourselves but on to others. By forgiving and aiding others to find light we receive this cleansing for ourselves. In forgiving other’s, we show pure love and accept we are not to judge others as we are no more than their equals.
It is this place beneath the square of the day to go to in meditation, to find our Centre each day or before a lodge meeting. Preparing for the opportunities and disappointments of the day with our being in a place of commonality with the Creator or Supreme being.
It would be useful to consider Joseph of biblical times. Of his brethren he was the favoured one. The reason being not his mother or his youth but he shared the mind of his Father. Gen 37:2. We must have this mind in us to share the joys, disappointments and company of life with the Creator or whatever principle of law and order you accept. Joseph shared the disappointment of his father, his joys and worked willingly and without complaint. He and his Father acted of one mind.
You are now back at your initiation wearing the “badge of innocence and the bond of friendship”. The White apron of kid skin leather is before you. Shown to you in the White of the Veil with that eternal symbol of deity, Gold.
Beyond this here in lies your lost secret. One could say on a plate of Gold. But can we understand what it says? We have trusted our guide as we promised in the first degree. We have seen ourselves as we are, we have accepted our humanity, mortality and need for forgiveness. We are still alive as no one other than a purified priest could pass this far. We are here in the presence of the Most‑High, why then do we still wear shoes?
Here is an illustration from the story of a venerated saint: When St. John Maria Vianney asked an old farmer what he did in the church looking at the tabernacle, the humble man responded, “Nothing, I look at Him, and He looks at me.” Here is your place of peace and oneness with the Creator summed up. You look in the face of the lost secret of the Master Mason. What that is, is not the subject for this paper.
Beyond this is far too much for me to speak of as no one knows but might be revealed to us. Our final place is above, in some seventh heaven, in the bosom of Abraham, Oblivion or a common consciousness with the Creator?
That wide and immense universe above us is reflected in the micro within us. As the Southern noon day shines light into the North, so light is upon us now.
We do not know if the Universe itself has consciousness or if it relies on a benevolent being, that we speak of as G‑d. Another theological point here is if there is an eternity ahead of us, will we recognise each other, will we have memory, will we just pass into oblivion or will we merge consciousness with the Creator? No one can say as these things are unprovable.
This is the place alluded to by the Prophets of old, Rumi, the Buddha and other teachers. Some claimed even to have been to this place. We may never know or ever understand the complete truth of life and existence, we may have heard untruths, but we cannot know unless by revelation ourselves. If that makes us happy, so be it.
Illuminating ourselves and others by this light. It can never decrease or increase: It always is, perfectly revealed in its shape and form through applying the Working Tools, the directions of the VSL, the truth of the Square and Compass, Charges, abiding by our oaths and recommendations etc. Our destiny is without description nor can we know what is to be.
Freemasonry has moved me forward to seeing a bigger picture. I cannot know all the truth; I rely on you my brethren to share your revelation with me. To share, discuss and above all put our intellect to work. I continue with you on the journey of the Master Mason. I no longer expect some Terminus.
One thing I do know is that the answers must be so simple that all of us can understand.
Franz Kafka: – “I was ashamed of myself when I realised life was a costume party and I attended with my real face”. A nice quotation. Ego is the story we build up to tell ourselves and people we meet, based on fear, and necessary while in that mortal state. Once merged in the infinite, there is no fear, and peace that results does not need a story to hold it up.
From a Hindu friend: Kalpesh Hansjee: “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you”. (Biblical reference)
Sadhguru, “If there was a Creator at the beginning it follows this Creator must be still within all things”. n