The Mystical Quest of Freemasonry

Masonic Articles and Essays

The Mystical Quest of Freemasonry


Date Published: 3/23/2023                        

The archetype of the Mystical Quest is one seared into the collective consciousness of humanity. Why is this so and what can the legends of Freemasonry reveal of its deeper symbolism?

By the general agreement of Masonic students today the history of Speculative Freemasonry is considered to commence with the formation of the London Grand Lodge on the 24th June, 1717, but as an introduction to the subject of my Paper this evening, I wish to emphasise that although this data is accepted because it marks the beginning of an organized plan for the development of what is now the English Masonic Constitution, it must not be overlooked that the transition of the Craft from Operative to Speculative was a gradual process taking place both before and after the inauguration of the Grand Lodge. At the beginning of the the eighteenth century Masonic Lodges in England, Scotland and Ireland were composed of Operatives as well as Speculative, and notwithstanding the fact that by this time the greater number were undoubtedly Speculative Freemasons, the operative element was by no means eliminated. This was the period when the Craft of Masonry was transformed, and the final result was the emergence in the year 1723 of Speculative Freemasonry proclaiming itself a system of morality presented in the form of Ritual, and veiling its instruction by recourse to allegory and symbolism. The precise circumstances under which the transformation took place have not yet been revealed, but we do know that the real Founders of the Speculative Rite remained in obscurity and occupied themselves with only the general execution of the design of the system which they had inspired. Hence it is that the structure of the Ritual and the Instruction Lectures as we have them today was the responsibility of the executive of the London Grand Lodge, who worked in accordance with principles outlined to them by the master minds who directed without actually participating in the verbal composition. A close study of the historical setting prior to the emergence of the Speculative Order will disclose to the student that the original Founders saw with clear vision and foresight that the Operative Craft Guilds had outlived their sphere of usefulness as a trade organization, but that at the same time they were capable of placing a ready-made machinery complete with an elementary symbolism on which to graft matters of a highly esoteric and mystical nature. It was with this end in view that they arranged for non-operatives to be admitted into the Trade Guild, and then they gradually blended with the symbolism derived from the operative art of Masonry, a higher-symbolism which served to veil an arcane science and philosophy.

I have deemed it advisable to draw your attention to these facts in a Paper of this nature, in order to illustrate that Emblematic Freemasonry incorporates doctrine and symbolism divided into two distinct classes:-

(1)..ETHICAL AND MORAL - derived from the Operative Craft and the technical equipment of a workman in material stone.

(2)..MYSTICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL - transmitted from less public organizations of mystics and occultists, and having no relation to the practical building trades.

The wisdom of the incorporated system lies in the recognition that both classes of symbolism and instruction have one characteristic in common; they both refer to MAN, his nature, his destiny, and the course he must follow in order to fulfil that nature and attain his true destiny. Freemasonry therefore acknowledges, as the writer, Pope, expressed it in his celebrated Essays that, "the proper study of mankind is Man'', and we find this same principle set forth in the Third Degree, in the instruction to the candidate to "guide his reflections to that most interesting of all human studies, the knowledge of himself". AlI thinking men will freely admit that some form of self-knowledge is a necessary preliminary to self-mastery, and it is also abundantly proved that he who would be a Master among men, must indeed know himself and know of the powers which reside within himself, further he must know the truth concerning his relationship with his fellow men and all nature. The system we know as Craft Freemasonry was especially designed to teach self knowledge, but this involves a knowledge much deeper, vaster, and more difficult than is popularly conceived, and therefore before the individual Freemason is in the position to reduce its implications into personal experience, he must have the ability to understand the meaning of all that has been communicated to him "veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols".

As a contribution to the interpretation of Masonic doctrine I will now proceed with the subject of this Paper, and I first of all wish you to note carefully one thing that emerges clearly in the MASTER MASON DEGREE; this is an Emblematic Quest for the recovery of what are cryptically described as "the genuine secrets". In the title of my Paper I have termed this Quest mystical, because great significance is attached to a full comprehension of what is intended by the cryptic Ritual phrase, "To seek for that which is lost".

I must now ask you to concentrate your attention-for a few moments on the Ceremonies of Opening and Closing the Lodge in the Third Degree. You will recall in that in the case of the Ceremony of Opening the Lodge the whole intent is fixed upon the loss of "genuine secrets" and the method of their recovery, and it is shown in the Ritual catechism that so great is the zeal of those who are presumed to be engaged in the search for them, that they have covered the symbolical distance between cosmic East and West in order to participate. Now, by way of contrast, we find that in the Ceremony of Closing the Lodge the symbolical journey is reversed, being now from West to East, it is declared that the "genuine secrets have not been found. Further, certain "substituted secrets" having been regularly communicated, it is decreed that the fulfilment of the quest must be delayed "until time or circumstances shall restore the genuine ones". From this is quite clear that the intention is to show that in the Master Mason Degree the measures of possibility have been spanned, and that henceforth the fulfilment or recovery rests with Providence, watching within the veil of futurity.

In what light do we Freemasons regard the contents of these two brief Ceremonies of Opening and Closing the Lodge? It may surprise some of you who have listened in Lodge on many occasions to the recitation of tho Ritual catechism, to learn that it is a modern version of what is known in mysticism as the "Quest-formula" and thus is the reflection of a highly mystical doctrine. Its correspondence in mysticism is in fact the age-old theosophical doctrine concerning the Eternal East of our ante-natal life, which is forfeited by the descent of the soul into generation as on a journey to the West, or into manifested being and the "grave" of the flesh. The way of resurrection from the grave is proclaimed to be that of return whence we came.

The Quest-formula in exceedingly old in folk-lore, and the presence of the doctrine incorporated in the ritual of the Third Degree throws a flood of light upon that which is presented heavily "veiled in allegory" in the Ceremony of Raising; it also provides the key to that obscure passage in the Ritual when the attention of the candidate is directed to a "retrospect of those Degrees in Freemasonry through which he has already passed".

Let us reflect a little upon these things, and express them in language with which as Freemasons we are all familiar. We have been taught that our "admission into Freemasonry" was "an emblematical representation of the entrance of all men upon this their mortal existence". What bearing has this on the problem of self-knowledge? Surely we may quickly grasp that it is an emphatic answer to that deep persistent questioning which presents itself to every thinking mind, WHENCE COME I? The answer is luminous in Ritual terms; each of us, we are told, has come from that mystical "East" the eternal source of all light and life, and our life here is described as being spent in the "West", that is in a world which is the antipodes of our original home. Hence every Candidate upon admission is placed, in a state of darkness, in the West of the Lodge. Thereby he is repeating symbolically the incident of his actual birth into this world, which he entered as a blind and helpless babe, and through which in his early years, not knowing whither he was going, after many stumbling and irregular steps, after many tribulations and adversities incident to human life, he may at length ascend, chastened by experience, to larger life in the Eternal East. The Instruction Lectures also illustrate this in order to amplify the Ceremony of Admission, and thus in the First Section of the First Lecture the question is asked, "As a Freemason whence come you?"; the answer coming from an Apprentice (i.e. from the natural man of undeveloped knowledge) is "From the West", since he supposes that his life has originated in this world. But, in the Master Mason Degree, First Section of the Third Lecture, the question is put, "As a M.M. whence came you?", and the answer is that he came "From the East", for by this time the Freemason is deemed to have so enlarged his knowledge, as to realize that the primal source of life is not in this world; that existence on this planet is but a transitory journey, spent in search of the "genuine secrets", the ultimate realities of life, and that he must return from this temporary world of "substituted secrets" to that "East" from which he originally came.
I trust that it is now possible for you to glean that, in its highest understanding, the doctrine of Freemasonry tells us that the soul of man comes forth from an eternal centre, and that the soul in fine goes back, or to that "point within circle" from which the Master Mason "cannot err". It is in this sense that as Master Masons, we are intended to realize that the pageant of the Third Degree, is our own story told in another manner of language, and shadowed forth in other types. We are also pursuing the search for that "which is lost", and we have been raised in the shadow, that we may be brought thereafter into a great light, at once a Morning Star and Orient which visits us from on high. This is indeed the message of the Sublime Degree, and it is again truly recorded in the Introduction to the Third Lecture that, "To a perfect knowledge of this Degree few attain, but it is an infallible truth that he who gains by merit those marks of preeminence and distinction which this Degree affords receives a reward which amply compensates for all his attention and assiduity"; thus we are reminded that these few are those who lift their eyes to the Morning Star. Whose rising brings peace and salvation, and a great inward light to all who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

It now remains for me to show, that the key to the whole purpose of the Masonic system is contained in the Central Legend and the Traditional History of the Third Degree; and that it is this key which is missing in the majority of cases when Brethren have sought to elucidate the mystery.

To many members of our Order the story of the building of the Temple at Jerusalem appears to be the history of an actual structure of stone and mortar erected by a famous Hebrew King, assisted in the work by another King who supplied the men and materials, and by a Principal Architect who supplied the pre-ordained plans to the Craftsmen. But we must be very careful before we come to any such conclusions regarding this Temple, and we must also bear in mind that the Masonic legend informs us that during the course of the work of erection a conspiracy arose among the workmen, resulting in the murder of the "Principal Architect" and preventing the completion of the building, which therefore remains unfinished to this day. I will ask you to note that this legend cannot refer to any historical building erected in the old metropolis of Palestine, for if we refer to the V. of the S.L., as an authority for the Temple at Jerusalem, we find it recorded that the Temple was completed. Moreover, the account given in the V. of the S.L., makes no reference whatever to the conspiracy among the workmen, but on the contrary it is expressly stated in the Second Book of Chronicles, Chapter 4, verse 11, "And Huram finished the work that he was to make for King Solomon for the House of God", and we are further informed that the Temple was finished and completed in every particular.

The Masonic legend further instructs us that by the death of the Principal Architect "the genuine secrets of a Master Mason were lost". Now it is obvious that the principles of architecture, the genuine secrets of the building trade, are not, and never have been lost; they are thoroughly well known, and it in absurd to suppose that Masons of any kind are waiting for time or circumstances to restore any lost knowledge as to the manner in which temporal buildings ought to be constructed. Clearly our duty is to pierce the veil of allegory contained in the Legend, and by so doing, grasp the significance of its true purport. That which "is lost" in to be found, we are told, "With the Centre", but if we enquire in the language of the Ritual, "What is a Centre?", we are confronted with the enigmatic answer that it is, "A point within a circle from which every part of the circumference is equidistant". But what circle? and what circumference? for we can obtain no clue to this in the construction of ordinary buildings. If we ask also "Why with the Centre" we are again faced with the perplexing answer, "Because that is a point from which a Master Mason cannot err". The truth is that these questions and answers are typical examples of an intentional puzzle language which is used to stimulate investigation into the deeper things which lie behind the literal words. The method is one that is common to all systems of initiations, and the clue to its adoption in our system will be found by a reference to the Lecture on the Tracing Board of the First Degree, where it is affirmed that, "philosophers, unwilling to expose their mysteries to vulgar eyes, concealed their tenets and principles of polity and philosophy under hieroglyphical figures". The Traditional History of the Third Degree constitutes such a hieroglyphical figure.

From what I have already disclosed in this Paper, it follows that the Legend of the Third Degree deals with something quite distinct from the construction of a material edifice, and I need only add that the Temple of Speculative Freemasonry is that Holy Temple of which all material edifices are but the types and symbols. It is that Temple of the collective body of humanity referred to by St. Paul in the First Book of Corinthians, Chapter 3. verse 16, in the words, "Know ye not that ye are the Temple of God; and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?", and of which he also declared, "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon" (1st Corinthians, Chapter 3, verse 10). A perfect humanity was the great Temple, which in the counsels of the Most High, was intended to be reared in the mystical Holy City (the "City of Eternal peace"), of which the local Jerusalem was the type. The three Master Builders, King Solomon and the two Hirams, are a triad corresponding to the Trinities to be found in all the great world religions; it is hardly necessary to remark that the builders of this Temple of the Most High were not three human personages, and we should realise that their names are a personification of the Divine Creative Energy considered in its three constituent principles, which are symbolised in our Ritual as "Pillars of His work", namely:- Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. Those of you who are versed in metaphysics will recognise that these three metaphysical principles form the basis of all created things, and may be defined for our purpose of study in more modern terms:-

(1)..WISDOM. - Life essence, otherwise the "breathe of life".

(2)..STRENGTH. - Primordial substance or that which translated from the Hebrew in the V. of theS.L., as "dust of the ground" into which the Lord (life) God breathed the "breath of life". It is therefore a mould or vehicle of the Life-essence and is termed in our modern nomenclature "the soul", which gives form or objectiveness.

(NOTE: the actual passage in the V. of the S.L., concerning this is in GENESIS, Chapter 2, verse 7, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul".)

(3)..BEAUTY, - The intellectual principle which is built into the soul, and which energises and binds the life-essence and the substance together, and constitutes the whole an intelligent instrument.

It was of these three principles, or in the words of our Ritual, "of these Divine attributes", that the human soul was originally and divinely built, and thus the Temple of the collective soul of humanity was made, or built, of the three constituent principles of Deity in due balance and proportion, "perfect in all its parts" (see Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 27, "So God created man in his own image"), and the work was divinely pronounced to be "very good" (Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 31, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good". The material of the mystical Temple at Jerusalem was therefore the souls of men, who were at once the living stones, the fellow craftsmen and collaborators with the divine purpose. But in the course of the construction of this ideal Temple, something happened that wrecked the scheme and delayed the fulfilment indefinitely. If you will consult the Book of Genesis in the V. of the S.L. you will find the same subject related in the allegory of Adam and Eve, They were intended, as you are aware, for perfection and happiness, but the project of the Creator became nullified by their disobedience to certain conditions which were imposed upon them. You will observe that their offence was precisely the same as that committed by our Masonic conspirators. They had been forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, or, in Masonic language, they were under obligation "not to attempt to extort the secrets of a superior degree" to which they had not attained. In our Masonic system the "ruffians" are represented as demanding the secrets of the Master", or, the secrets of his exalted degree", and they attempt to extort them by violence. The meaning of this becomes clear once it is understood that the translation of the Hebrew word HIRAM is "teacher of supreme knowledge", or more correctly it is the equivalent of the Sanskrit word CURU, meaning literally "teacher of the divine wisdom". The Fellowcrafts are therefore represented as endeavouring to obtain that knowledge which Hiram said was "known to but three in the world," or in other words knowledge that was known only in the counsels of the Divine Trinity, and the attempt resulted, as you know from our legend, in the "death of the Master". This tragedy, however, is not intended to be the record of any vulgar, brutal murder of any individual man; it is a parable of a universal loss, and an allegorical expression of that which resulted in consequence of a defect in the collective or group soul of the human race. In this parable we are dealing with a moral disaster to universal humanity, for those significant words "Hiram is slain" refer to the fact that owing to all that is signified by the "Fall of Man", the faculty of enlightened wisdom has been out off from humanity. It is in this sense that the Temple of human nature still remains unfinished, and it will do so until we recover the "plans and designs" which were formerly "regularly supplied" by the T.G.A.O.T.U. In our own day we have good reason to know that despite all efforts and endeavours we are still unable to regulate the disorders of individual and national life, and this indicates to us that some heavy calamity has befallen us a race.

It is also true that in our best moments we all long for that light and wisdom which have become lost to us, and like the Craftsmen in search of the body we go our different ways in search of what is lost. We seek it in pleasure, in work, and in varied occupations and diversions; we seek it in intellectual pursuits, and in Freemasonry, and those who search farthest and deepest are those who become most conscious of the loss, and who are compelled to cry M...... or M......! "the Master is smitten". Thus the search goes on, and in the Divine Providence we find that there still remains to us "the glimmering ray" in the "East", for in our "darkness" we still have our "five points of fellowship", our five senses and our rational faculties to work with, and these provide us with the "substituted secrets" that must distinguish us before we regain the genuine ones. In this manner, "veiled in allegory"' Freemasonry teaches us the great truth that it is Humanity itself that is the living Temple whose building in those far off days became obstructed, and therefore to all of us who have "eyes to see and ears to hear", it conveys the emphatic message that we are both the Craftsmen and the building materials of that edifice which was intended to be an unparalleled structure", but which although in foundation, "well and truly laid" has so far failed in the effort to raise a superstructure perfect in all its parts and honourable to the Builder". But let us not forget that while Freemasonry emphasises the "utter confusion" arising from the universal loss of the original "plans and designs", its real purpose is to bear witness to the fact which has been taught in all subsequent ages, namely that with proper instruction and by our own patience and industry, we can regain "that which is lost". Remember, we are taught that in "due time we shall be entitled to a participation in the genuine secrets", providing that we are found worthy, and in our Masonic system, to be "installed in the Chair of King Solomon" means, in its true sense, the re-attainment of that Wisdom we have lost and the revival in ourselves of the Divine Life-essence which is the basis of our being. This brings us to the consideration of the most important matter. How can we regain the genuine secrets? In order to answer this, we must obviously solve the problem of the burial place of the Principal Architect.

According to the legend we are informed that the Wisdom of the Most High - personified by King Solomon - ordered him to be interred, "in a grave from the c... 3 feet between N and S, 3 feet between E and W, and 5 or more feet perpendicular". Where, Brethren, do you imagine that grave to be? Probably you have never thought of the matter as other than at ordinary burial place outside the walls of a geographical Jerusalem, but the real grave of Hiram is ourselves. Deep at the centre of ourselves lies buried the "vital and immortal principle" that affiliates us to the Divine Centre of all life, and this is never wholly extinguished however imperfect our lives may be. The lost guiding light is buried at the centre of ourselves, high as your hand may reach upwards or downwards from the centre of your own body i.e. 3 feet between N and S, as far as your hand can reach to the right or left from the middle of your person i.e. 3 feet between E and W, and 5 feet or more perpendicular, the height of the human body; these are the indications by which our cryptic Ritual describes the tomb of H.... A... at the centre of ourselves.

Freemasonry then, is a system of philosophy inasmuch that it provides us with a doctrine of the Universe and our place in it; indicates whence we are come and whither we may return. Its first purpose is to show that man has fallen away from a high estate to the externalised condition in which we now live, but its great virtue lies in the fact that, to those who seek it indicates the way by which the "centre" may be found within ourselves, and the outline of this teaching is embodied in the discipline and ordeals brought to the notice of the candidate in the three Degrees. The instruction of these degrees is "veiled allegory and illustrated by symbols" to emphasize that all great symbols are shadowed forth in the person of man himself. Thus the human organism is the true Lodge that must be opened and wherein the mysteries are to be found; thus it is that our Lodge-rooms are so furnished to typify the human organism. The lower and physical part of us earthy, and rests, like Jacob's Ladder, upon the earth; whilst our higher portion is spiritual and reaches to the heavens. These two portions are in perpetual conflict, and he alone is a wise man who has learned to effect a perfect balance between them and to establish himself in strength so that his own inward house stands firm against all weakness and temptation. The world at large is, as it were, but one great Lodge, of which our Masonic Lodges are the little mirrors. Mother Earth is also the Mother Lodge of us all. As its vast work goes on, souls are ever descending into it and souls are being called out of it at the knocks of some great unseen Warden of life and death, who calls them from labour here and summons them hence for refreshment. Hence it is that after the work in the Lodge, the festive board; after the labour of this world, the repast and refreshment of the heavenly places.

In submitting these thoughts to you I would once again stress the fact that the real aim of Freemasonry is to provide us with a course of self-knowledge and self-discipline, by means of which we may accelerate our return to our real home, which in the V. of the S.L., is known as the "Kingdom of Heaven". The candidate in the Entered Apprentice Degree is informed that our system is one containing secrets, but he is also reminded that those "secrets" are not "communicated indiscriminately". This is indeed true, for they exist concealed beneath a great reservation, and are disclosed only to those of us who are prepared to act upon the hint given in the Instruction Lectures, "Seek and ye shall find; ask and ye shall receive; knock and it shall be opened unto you". The search may be long and difficult, but great things are not to be acquired without effort and it may be affirmed that to the candidate who is "properly prepared" there are doors leading from the Craft, that, when knocked, will assuredly open and admit him to places and to knowledge of which he at present knows little.
And now, Brethren, this brings me to the conclusion of my Paper and our study of the Mystical Quest in Freemasonry", and I trust that the small contribution I have been privileged to place before you will prove to be "glimmering ray in the restoration of that "Light" which we have declared is the predominant wish of our hearts". It rests with each one of us whether Masonry remains merely a series of symbolic rites, or whether we allow those symbols to pass into our lives and become realities. Our Craft was given out to the popular world from obscure and secret sources as a great experiment and means of Grace. The knowledge concealed by the allegory and illustrated by the symbols is only taught in certain carefully concealed sanctuaries, and its presentation in Craft Lodges is intended to lead those capable of discerning its true purpose, into still deeper initiations.

Finally, Brethren, in accordance with the general design of our system, the Worshipful Master of a Craft Lodge is the humble representative of King Solomon, who himself is a symbol, and behind these and all the Grand Officers, stands the Grand Master of all true Freemasons throughout the Universe, "The Master of the Great White Lodge", to whom we all owe allegiance, and to whose protection and enlightening guidance I commend myself and you all.


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