Ancient Ideals in Modern Masonry - Part II

Masonic Articles and Essays

Ancient Ideals in Modern Masonry - Part II

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

Date Published: 10/25/2023                        

In the second part of Bro. Leadbeater's series on the connections between the Ancient Mysteries of Modern masonry we delve deeply into the psychic architecture that lay behind the facade of the Ancient Egyptian religion of which we are the inheritor. 

It will be exceedingly difficult to explain to a twentieth century Australian or European audience all that this work meant to us in the sunny land of Khem; but I will try to give some slight idea of the four layers of interpretation.

1. It was intended as a reminder to those who did it and who saw it of the way in which the Universe was built by its Great Architect, the different degrees penetrating further and further into the knowledge of His methods and of the principles upon which He works. For we hold not only that He worked in the past, but that He is working now —that His Universe is an active expression of Him. In those days books filled a less prominent place in our lives than they do now, and it was considered that to record knowledge in a series of appropriate and suggestive actions made a more powerful appeal to a man's mind, and established that knowledge better in his memory than to read it from a book. You are, therefore, preserving by your varying action the memory of certain facts and laws in nature.

2. Because that is so, and because the laws of the Universe must be universal in their application and must act down here as well as above, therefore the fact that such laws exist prescribes a certain course of conduct on our part; and so, as we truly say, Masonry is a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, but it is a system based not on a mere commandment, “Thus saith the Lord” but on definite facts and laws in nature which cannot be doubted.

3. The work is a preparation for death and for what follows it. The various experiences of the candidate are intended to prepare him for what will happen to him when he passes out of this physical world into the next stage. Indeed I might say there is a vast amount of information about the life after death to be derived from an intelligent consideration of Masonic ceremonies. Above all, it is emphasized that the same laws hold good on the other side of the grave as on this, that in both states we are equally in the presence of GOD, and that where that Holy Name can be invoked there is no cause for fear.

4. The fourth intention is the hardest of all to explain. To make you understand that, I must try to take you back, if I can, into the atmosphere of old Egypt, and to the attitude that religious men took there. I do not know whether it is possible to reconstruct that in these modern days, which are so hopelessly, so fundamentally different.

The religion which you know best at the present day is intensely individualistic; the great central objective put before most Christians is that of saving their own souls. That duty is represented to be of primary importance. Can you picture to yourselves a religion, just as much a religion in every way, in every respect as earnest, as fervid, as real, from which that idea was entirely absent, to which it would have been utterly inconceivable? Can you think, as a beginning, of a condition of mind in which no one feared anything except wrong, and its possible results in delaying unfoldment; in which we looked forward with perfect certainty to our progress after death, because we knew all about it; in which our one desire was not for salvation but for advancement in evolution, because such advancement brought us greater power to do effectively the Hidden Work which GOD expected of us?

I am not suggesting that every one in ancient Egypt was altruistic, any more than is everyone in modern England. But I do say that the country was permeated with joy and fearlessness so far as its religious ideas were concerned, and that everyone who by any stretch of courtesy could be described as a religious man was occupied not with thoughts of his personal salvation, but with the desire to be a useful agent of the Divine Power.

The outer religion of ancient Egypt — the official religion in which every one took part, from the King to the slave — was one of the most splendid that has ever been known to man. Gorgeous processions perambulating avenues miles in length, amid pillars so stupendous that they seemed scarcely human work, stately boats in a medley of rainbow colours sweeping majestically down the placid Nile, music triumphant or plaintive, but always thrilling — how shall I describe something so absolutely without parallel in our puny modern times?

No doubt the really religious man took his part in all this outward pomp; but what he prized far above all its amazing magnificence was his membership in some Lodge of the Sacred Mysteries — a Lodge which devoted itself with reverent enthusiasm to the Hidden Work which was the principal activity of this noble religion. It is of this hidden side of the Egyptian cult, not of its outer glories, that Freemasonry is a relic, and the Ritual which you have preserved is a part of that of the Mysteries. To explain what this Hidden Work was, let me draw a parallel from a more modern method of producing a somewhat similar result.

Sometime ago I wrote an article on The Magic of the Christian Church, in which I mentioned the Christian method of spreading the Divine power or grace by means of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, commonly called the Mass. Who must not think of that grace as a sort of poetical expression, or as in the least vague and cloudy; we are dealing with a force as definite as electricity — a spiritual power which is spread abroad over the people in certain ways, which leaves its own effect behind it and needs its own vehicles, just as electricity needs its appropriate machinery. I explained in the article how I had been able by clairvoyance to see the action of that force; how the service of the Mass is intended to build up a thought-form, through which that force is distributed by the agency of the Priest — fortunately without taking into account his attitude, his knowledge or even his character; so long as he performs the prescribed ceremonies the result is achieved. If he is also a devout man, the value of the Sacrament is enhanced; but whatever his feelings, the strength is outpoured on the people to a certain extent.

The old Egyptian religion had the same idea of pouring out spiritual force upon all its people, but its method was altogether different. The Christian magic is performed by the priest alone, and can even be done quite mechanically; the Egyptian plan required the earnest and intelligent co-operation of a considerable number of people. It was therefore much more difficult to achieve perfectly, but when thoroughly done it was far more powerful, and covered a much wider range of country. The Christian scheme needs a vast number of Churches dotted all over the land ; the Egyptian required only the action of a few Lodges established in the principal cities in order to flood the whole kingdom with the Hidden Light.

The central doctrine of the religion of the ancient Egyptians was that the Divine power dwelt in every man, even the lowest and most degraded, and they called that power “The Hidden Light”. They held that through that Light, which existed in all, men could always be reached and helped, and that it was their business to find that Light within every one, however unpromising, and to strengthen it. The very motto of the Pharaoh was “Look for the Light”, implying that his supreme duty as King was to look for that Hidden Light in every man around him, and strive to bring it forth into fuller manifestation.

The Egyptians held that this Divine Spark which exists in everyone could most effectively be fanned by transmuting and bringing down to the three lower worlds the tremendous spiritual force which is the life of the higher planes, and then pouring it out over the country as has been described. Knowing that spiritual force to be but another manifestation of the manifold power of God, they gave to it also the name of the Hidden Light; and from this double use of the term confusion sometimes arises. They fully recognized that such a downpour of Divine grace could be evoked only by a supreme effort of devotion on their part; and the making of such an effort, together with the provision of suitable machinery for spreading the force when it came, was a great part of the Hidden Work, to which the noblest of Egyptians devoted so much of their time and energy; and this was the fourth of the objects intended to be served by the sacred and secret Ritual of which ours in Masonry is a relic.

Our Lodges in old Egypt were strictly limited as to membership; no Lodge might contain more than forty members, and each of the forty was a necessary part of the machine, and filled a place that was all his own. Excepting the Officers, whose business was the recitation of the Office and the magnetisation of the Lodge, each member was the representative of a particular quality. One was called the Knight of Love, another the Knight of Truth, another the Knight of Perseverance, and so on; and each was supposed to be a specialist in thinking and expressing the quality assigned to him. The idea was that the qualities thus expressed through the Lodge as a whole, would make the character of a perfect man. The title used did not exactly correspond to our “word “knight”, but that is the nearest I can come to its interpretation.

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