Sunday, November 05, 2006

Masonic Beliefs and Practices

Wooden Tracing Board hand-painted by J. Bowring, 1879

"Tracing Boards are training devices using symbols of the Renaissance classical revival assembled into integrated images. The First Degree Board [depicted above] sets out the general Western metaphysical scheme and shows the place of the human individual within it."
"The Second Degree Board is a symbolic representation of the individual in greater detail. Here Jacob's Ladder had become a winding (spiral) stair leading to the interior of the Temple."
"The Third Degree Board alludes to a process, analogous to death, by which the individual can, if it be God's will, transcend the limitations of ordinary human life and realize a richer interior potential."
- W. K. Kirk MacNulty, Freemasonry - A Journey through Ritual and Symbol


Initiation Into the Lodge

(1) The Symbolism of the Lodge

Although the rule is no longer rigorously applied, Freemasonry requires that candidates must be of sound mind and able bodied; any physical handicap is supposed to bar admission."
- Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas, The Hiram Key: Pharaohs, Freemasons and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus

This is similar to the basic requirements for admission into the Yahad or "Unity group" described in several of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As the candidate "progresses through the ceremonies he learns that at the building of King Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem the skilled masons were divided into two classes, Apprentices and Fellows; that they were presided over by three Grand masters (King Solomon, Hiram King of Tyre, and Hiram Abiff) who shared certain secrets known only to them; that these secrets were lost by the murder of Hiram Abiff - a result of his refusal to divulge the secrets - and that certain substituted secrets were adopted 'until time or circumstance should restore the former'. The implication in the ritual is that Freemasonry was already established in Solomon's time and has continued as an unchanged system since them. The ritual, however, as the candidate quickly realizes, is not literal or historical truth but a dramatic allegory by means of which the principles and tenets of the Craft are handed down."
- John Hamill, The Craft, A History of English Freemasonry

"While there probably are some actual stone-workers who are Masons, Masonry does not teach is membership the literal techniques of stonework. Rather, it takes the actual 'operative' work of Medieval Masons and uses it as an allegory for moral development. Thus, the symbols of Masonry are the common tools that were used by medieval stonemasons: the gavel, the rule, the compass, the square, the level, etc. Each of these has a symbolic meaning in Masonry. For example, Masons are said to meet 'on the level', meaning that all Masons are brothers, regardless of social status, personal wealth, or office within the Lodge or in the world at large. Similar symbolism exists for other tools."
- Andrew Fabbro, Freemasonry FAQ Version 1.2

"The purpose of Masonry is to train a human being so that he will reconstuct, through the body of change and death which he now has, a perfect physical body which shall not be subject to death. The plan is to build this deathless body, called by modern masons Solomon's Temple, out of material in the physical body, which is called the ruins of Solomon's Temple."
- Harold Waldwin Percival, Masonry and Its Symbols in the Light of "Thinking and Destiny"

"And since sin has destroyed within us the first temple of purity and innocence, may they heavenly grace guide and assist us in rebuilding a second temple of reformation, and may the glory of this latter house be greater than the glory of the former."
- Masonic prayer

"The lodge as a room or hall is an oblong square, which is a half of a perfect square, and which is inside or outside the lower half of a circle. Each lodge meets in the same room, alike furnished, but the lodge working in the Apprentice degree is styled the Ground Floor, the lodge working the Fellow Craft degree is called the Middle Chamber, and the lodge working the Master degree is called the Sanctum Sanctorum, all in King Solomon's Temple."
- Harold Waldwin Percival, Masonry and Its Symbols in the Light of 'Thinking and Destiny'

"Q. Where were you made a Mason?
A. In the body of a Lodge, just, perfect and regular.
Q. And when?
A. When the sun was at its meridian.
Q. As in this country Freemasons' Lodges are usually held and candidates initiated at night, how do you reconcile that which at first sight appears a paradox?
A. The sun being a fixed body and the earth continually revolving about the same on its own axis and Freemasonry being a universal science, diffused throughout the hole of the inhabited globe, it necessarily follows that the sun must always be at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry."
- Masonic ritual

"Freemasons today claim always to meet symbolically at noon on the basis that Freemasonry is a worldwide organisation and therefore 'the sun is always at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry'. Masonic reference to God as 'the most high' is therefore a description of Re, the sun god in his ultimate position, the zenith of the heavens at noon.
- Christopher Knight & Robert Lomas, The Hiram Key: Pharaohs, Freemasons and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus

Note that the initiation rights for the various degrees of Freemasonry may vary somewhat from lodge to lodge.

(2) First Degree - Entered Apprentice Freemason

The working tools of an Entered Apprentice are the gauge and the mallet.

"When the Candidate is first admitted into a Masonic Lodge his condition as an Entered Apprentice is represented by the Rough Ashlar, the first of a set of three symbols which the Craft calls the Three Immovable Jewels. An ashlar is a building stone; a rough ashlar is a stone which has not yet been shaped into the form required by ts place in the structure."
- W. K. Kirk MacNulty, Freemasonry - A Journey through Ritual and Symbol

"...The perfect ashler is also a stone, made ready by the working-tools of the fellow craft, to be adjusted in the building; and the trestle-board is for the master workman to draw his plans and designs upon."
- Duncan's Masonic Ritual and Monitor or Guide to the Three Symbolic Degrees of the Ancient York Rite

"The material which makes up the First Degree encourages the Candidate to take such a deep look at himself and the workings of his psyche, and it is for this reason that one must ask to become a Mason. No one should b persuaded to assume that sort of responsibility until he feels he is ready for it."
- W. K. Kirk MacNulty, Freemasonry - A Journey through Ritual and Symbol

The initiation to the first degree begins when the candidate is brought before the entrance to the temple and the guard hits the door with the hilt of his sword.

"I was hoodwinked (that is, blindfolded) and dressed in loose-fitting white trousers and top. One foot was in a simple slipper (the expression for this is 'slipshod'), my left leg was exposed to the knee, and the left breast of the tunic had been drawn aside so that my chest was bared on that side. Unbeknown to me a hangman's noose had been put around my neck and draped down my back. I had been relieved of all metal objects and I was not ready to be lead into the Temple. (We later learnt that this mode of dress, the rough smock with the running noose about the neck, was exactly how a medieval heretic would have been treated by the Inquisition prior to making his confession.)"
- Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, The Hiram Key: Pharaohs, Freemasons and the Discovery of the Secret Scrolls of Jesus

The hangman's noose is actually called a "cable-tow" which is defined as a "rope; cable; cord; ritualistically, symbol or method of control of and initiate" (which may have been how a person was led during the Inquisition). Several Masons have written to me that most of the information Knight and Lomas present about Freemasonry is either outdated or incorrect

The candidate was questioned with a dagger blade pressed to his throat about his eligibility and whether his motives in joining are worthy. (Although the dagger is apparently not used in many [if not all] American lodges, I have been reliably informed that it is still used in United Grand Lodge of England [UGLE] rituals.) After a short prayer, the candidate is lead three times around the perimeter, pausing on each lap to be introduced as a "poor candidate in a state of darkness". In the coronation of an Egyptian pharaoh, too, the new king is conducted around the Temple to show himself worthy . The candidate is then brought before the Worshipful Master's pedestal:

"Q. How were you prepared?
A. By being divested of all metals, neither naked nor clothed, barefoot nor shod, hoodwinked, with a cable-tow around my neck; in which condition I was conducted to the door of a Lodge by a friend, whom I afterward found to be a brother.
Q. How did you know it to be a door, being hoodwinked?
A. By first meeting with resistance, afterward gaining admission
Q. How gained you admission?
A. By three distinct knocks.
Q. What were said to you from within?
A. Who comes here?
Q. Your answer?
A. Mr -----. who has long been in darkness, and now seeks to be brought to light, and to receive a part in the rights and benefits of this worshipful Lodge, erected to God, and dedicated to the holy Sts. John [John the Baptist and John the Evangelist], as all brothers and fellows have done before."
- Duncan's Masonic Ritual and Monitor or Guide to the Three Symbolic Degrees of the Ancient York Rite

The abbreviated modern version goes:

Q. Having been in a state of darkness, what is the predominant wish of your heart?
The answer is whispered into the candidate's ear.
A. Light.
Q. Then let that blessing be restored.

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