Ancient Ideals in Modern Masonry - Part 1

Masonic Articles and Essays

Ancient Ideals in Modern Masonry - Part 1

The Very Illus..... Bro... Charles W. Leadbeater

Date Published: 10/4/2023                        

A gifted clairvoyant and mystic, Charles Leadbeater was a prolific author and writer on a myriad of esoteric topics. In this article he expounds upon the connections between modern Co-Masonry and the Ancient Mysteries of Egypt, Chaldea and Israel. This will be the first part of a three-part series.

I think I can perhaps best begin what I want to tell you by a few personal words about myself ; you will see why in a few minutes.

Though I have been a member of the Theosophical Society for thirty-two years, and have had the privilege of close association with our V.....Illus.....V. P. G. M., it is only quite recently that I have had the honour and pleasure to enter the ranks of Co-Masonry. The reason I did not do so before was simply that I am a busy man, and that, as Co-Freemasonry presents itself to the outsider at the Headquarters at Adyar, it seemed just another Theosophical Meeting with exactly the same people present as at the other meetings, except that they sat in a particular order and dressed differently. I had of course no means of knowing in what way the truth was presented, but I knew that it must be the same truth.

I hold very strongly, as I believe do all Masons, that a man should not join an organization unless he is prepared to be an active and efficient member of it, and that if he does join he should attend regularly at all Lodge Meetings, unless absolutely compelled to be absent; I held back because I did not see my way to undertake the additional labour of an extra meeting, and I did not see that I should be in any way more useful, if I came in. When I talked these matters over with the Chief Officer of Co-Masonry here in Australia, he assured me that I was in error on this last point, and that there was useful work which I could do if I joined the Order. I consulted the V.... Illus.... Grand Secretary, and he also was of the same opinion, so I naturally expressed my readiness to be of any service in my power. That was how it happened that I came in here, in Sydney — that I have the pleasure and privilege of calling this my Mother Lodge.

I did not know, any more than any other candidate, what to expect when I joined you; but my first sight of a Masonic Lodge was a great and pleasant surprise to me, because I found I was perfectly familiar with all its arrangements, that it recalled exactly similar arrangements which I knew six thousand years ago in ancient Egypt. I am quite aware that that is a startling statement, yet I assure you that it is literally true. And you will observe that this is not a matter about which any mistake is possible; it is not a case in which coincidence will serve as an explanation.

The arrangement of your three chief officers here is remarkable; it is not one which would naturally be the first to occur to men trying to compile a ritual. Your symbols are significant and distinctive, and their combination is peculiar; yet they all belonged to ancient Egypt, and I knew them well there. You may imagine how surprised and how delighted I was to find the old work still going on after so many ages. You have kept almost all the ceremonies unchanged through these thousands of years. There are certain minor points of difference which I notice, but they are really only minor points.

I cannot but think that that alone (even if that were all) should be a fact of extraordinary interest to you. But I must add to it a great deal more; I must explain to you what we had in our minds with regard to all this — that we regarded a meeting of the Lodge as a manifestation of our religious belief in various ways, and we held in connection with it a great body of knowledge which fits in absolutely with all of your ceremonies, and the way in which you carry out the work. And it seems to me, on looking back, that the knowledge would be of great interest to us as Co-Masons now, and would enable us to understand much more fully what all these workings mean.

This discovery interested me intensely; I spoke of it to our V....llus....Grand Secretary, and we tried to study together something of the history of Masonry. We could see without much difficulty what must be the broad lines of its descent; hut we soon found that we needed further information about certain points, so we drew up a few questions on these points and submitted them to Him whom you call the Head of all true Masons throughout the world. You must remember that this great Master, who is to all of you, I suppose, an august and honoured Name, is to your V.....Illus.... V. P. G. M., to me and to many others of us a living Man, personally known and most highly revered. I did not know until I had the privilege of entering here, exactly what was His relationship to Co-Freemasonry, as I had never spoken to Him on that subject; but when last I had the honour of meeting Him in the flesh in Rome walking down the Corso, He took me up to the public gardens on the Pincian Hill, and there we sat and talked for an hour and a half about the Theosophical Society and its work.

So when we found ourselves in difficulties over Masonic history, it was natural that we should at once submit them to Him. He most kindly and graciously answered our questions, and gave us a good deal of information; and He expressed pleasure at seeing us so keenly interested in the work. He confirmed my recollection that the Ritual as you have it here is almost entirely ancient Egyptian, but your historical setting is that of the Hebrew Tradition. For example, you mourn the death of a certain Illus... Master long ago; we in Ancient Egypt mourned the death and dismemberment of Osiris, the One who became many, and we celebrated a festival at which the dismembered parts came together again, and, Osiris rose from the dead. So you will see that some of our wordings were necessarily entirely different, but the forms were absolutely the same.

What the great Master told us as to the history of the movement is briefly this. There were many thousands of people, at the time when Christianity began to dominate the world, who still clung to the ancient religions, who preferred to state their view in the older forms. As Christianity grew narrower, more aggressive, and less tolerant of fact, those who knew something of the Truth, and wished to preserve its enshrinement in those older forms, had more and more to keep their meetings secret; therefore they withdrew from public knowledge, and their ceremonies were carried on in private.

The same policy of suppression was adopted in many countries simultaneously, and therefore this retirement from public view also took place in many localities; consequently we have not one stream of tradition but several streams, so that in Masonry we are not in the position of the Churches, where there is one orthodox institution and several variants which have fallen away from the original form. With us there are several different lines of tradition which have all equal authenticity and weight. For example, the old Chaldean religion, following out this same idea, arranged its officers rather differently, and that tradition has been adopted almost all over the continent of Europe. You will find a sketch of that arrangement given in the beginning of your Ritual, so that even there we have the evidence of two streams of tradition.

Those who have studied Masonic history know that there have been various departures from the earlier forms at different times; sometimes a new Rites seem to have been introduced, sometimes new Degrees in old Rites; and in some cases the official status of the people who introduced these changes has been distinctly open to question. You will notice a certain amount of vagueness and somewhat unsavoury tradition surrounding the origin of the Scottish Rite itself; but it would appear that these irregularities have not seriously mattered, for the Powers guiding evolution from behind have taken up whatever was done and used it so far as it could be used; so that though the origin of the Scottish Rite is somewhat obscure, it has been brought into line with the higher degrees of the ancient Egyptian Mysteries, and it now resembles them very fairly. The Masters always encouraged what was good in all these efforts, in order to provide sanctuary for such of the egos born in Europe as could not develop under the cruder teachings which were miscalled Christianity. The philosophy gradually fades out of these, but the Masters take advantage of any favourable opportunity to restore a little of it.

I have heard that many people have tried to show that Masonry is derived only from the Operative Guilds of the Middle Ages; though some, going further back, have attached these Guilds to the Roman Collegia. But anyone who is at all acquainted with the ancient Mysteries will see at once that that is incorrect; because you have certain ceremonies which could have no connection with mere Operative Masonry, but have a real relation to the inner teachings of the Mysteries. The s.....s you take, the very k.....s you use, all of them have a real occult significance which could not be connected with the secrets of the Operative Masons.

It is, however, undoubtedly true that Speculative Masonry has been purposely confused with the Operative working. We inquired about that point, and the answer of the Master was that They in the background were responsible for that, and arranged that confusion intentionally, because the Church had grown very suspicious of Secret Societies, suppressing them with great vigour. It did not, however, persecute the Operative Masons, whom it regarded as a body of men wisely guarding the secrets of their trade; the Masters therefore intentionally confused the Symbolical working with the Operative working. The effort to preserve the former was consequently successful, and They adopted as much as They could of the Operative Masons' terminology, and entrusted them with some of the secrets; these they little understood, hut they faithfully carried on the forms without comprehending more than half of what they meant.

The Hebrews are responsible for much of the existing Masonic terminology. Moses had learnt the wisdom of Egypt, but later they characteristically tried to adapt it to their own history, and assigned its origin to their great national hero, King Solomon. They cast it into a form which they could connect with the building of his Temple instead of with the erection of the great Pyramid; and naturally this form could be more readily confused with Operative Masonry than could the philosophic Egyptian setting. That is why their form and their legend were adopted in preference to the Egyptian or Chaldean; that is why we still mourn the death of H. A. instead of the descent of Osiris into matter; that is why certain s......s are supposed to remind us of certain p......s, when the truth is that the p.....s were invented much later to explain the s......s, which really refer to various centres in the human body.

From this knowledge several points emerge. It is noteworthy that the Masonic ceremonies, which have been so long supposed to be rather in opposition to the received religion of the country, are seen to be themselves religious ceremonies, though they belong to a much older and more philosophical religion. Like every product of those ancient and elaborately perfected systems, these rites are full of meaning—or perhaps I should rather say, of meanings, for in Egypt we attributed to them a fourfold signification. Since every detail is thus full of import, it is obvious that no detail should ever be changed without the greatest care, and only then by those who know its full intent, so that the symbology of the whole may not be spoiled.

Fortunately our ancestors have recognized the importance of handing down the working unchanged, with the result that from my own experience of six thousand years ago I can follow your ritual fairly accurately, even though the language is different. Some few points have been dropped during that vast lapse of time, a few others have been slightly modified; but they are marvellously few. Your Charges have become much longer, and I notice that the non-officials take much less part in the work than they used to do. In the old days they constantly chanted short versicles of praise or exhortation, and each one of them understood himself to be filling a definite position — to be a necessary wheel in the great machine.

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