Freemasonry: The Knocks and Their Significance

W.Bro. Rev. J.R. Cleland M.A., D.D. P.P.A.G.CH. (KENT)

Until recent years there existed only one active and generally known School of Masonic Research, namely that which bases its work mainly upon written records, and is therefore otherwise correctly designated the Historical School. To the work of this of this School the Craft owes a deep debt of gratitude. It has been responsible for the formation of such Lodges as Quatuor Coronati No. 2076 and Manchester Lodge for Masonic Research No. 5502, while the majority of the so-called Masters' Lodges are also its legitimate offspring. In the year 1921, however, mainly as the result of divergent views among the foremost students of that time, other specialised Schools began to pursue their investigations along lines not acceptable to the leading exponents of the Historical School. Of these the first to take organized form was that known as the Anthropological School, to which the London Masonic Study Society owed its inception, and the early exponent of which was Bro. J.S.M. Ward, whose work "Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods" provided the necessary momentum. Subsequently, other groups of students inspired by the late W.Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst have brought into being the Mystical or Metaphysical School, and the leading exponents of this School are undoubtedly The Lodge of Living Stones No. 4957 and our own Dormer Masonic Study Circle.

Members of this Circle will be aware that the primary object of the Mystical School is to delve deeper into the inner meaning of Freemasonry, and to establish its connection with religious and philosophical systems. From the point of view of many students the chief difficulty which arises is one which assails the disciples of all religious teachers and all philosophers — what proof is offered. Realising, this I am always careful to impress upon Brethren that until conviction dispenses with the necessity for caution, it is advisable to follow the dictum of Descartes and accept as a basis "the more convenient hypothesis." What I have to tell you in this Paper about the "Knocks" is therefore what appeals to me as the "more convenient Hypothesis," and I have chosen what appears to be the most ancient, the most universal, and the most useful system of knocks, upon which to base my conclusions. It has been pointed out to me that in certain other jurisdictions the system used differs considerably from that familiar to us, but, upon analysis, I find that these other systems do not bear close investigation. For example, there is a system of knocks in use in the U.S.A., in which ONE signifies the E.A. Degree, TWO the F.C., and THREE the M.M., and so on in a series up to SEVEN. This system is unquestionably a very modern production and, in my opinion, cannot compare with that used in our Lodges working under the English Masonic Constitution.

Before we proceed with the main subject of my Paper, it is necessary to draw your attention to the way of approach to the Ancient Wisdom tradition which forms the philosophical basis of our modern Masonic system and doctrine. First, let me remind you that there are two main bodies of thinkers in the realm of religion and philosophy, and that these have been aptly described as the Comparative Religionists and the Comparative Mythologists. The latter body claim that the common origin of all religion and mythology lies in human ignorance; that the beliefs and ideals of religion are only expressions of the crude guesses and emotional reactions of primitive man, in a more refined form. According to this point of view the great Initiates and Teachers are merely higher developments of the early Medicine Man, and God is but a synthesis of the personified forces of Nature. The Comparative Religionists, however, working from the same observed facts, contend that all religions have their origins in Divine relation, in the teachings of Divine men who, from time to time, deliver to mankind through some selected nation or group, a statement of such fundamental truths as the people collectively can be made capable of receiving. This view sees in primitive religions and rites the remnants of what was once a Divine revelation, preserved through a period of decadence in a degenerate form, and postulates that all religions are branches springing from one common trunk — Divine Wisdom. There has been much said and written on both sides, but while there appears to be ample evidence of the working of degenerative processes, it is difficult to bring forward any definite case in support of the views of the Comparative Mythologists. I now leave you to make your own investigations, and for our present purposes, assuming the Comparative Religionists to be correct, the following are the Key Teachings upon which all religions and religious teaching must be based:-

  1. THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD, implying that from Him all things emanate, and to Him all must return.
  2. THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN, implying his inherent Oneness with all that lives, and ultimately, with God Himself.
  3. The immortality of the spiritual entity in man, and his gradual unfolding towards knowledge of his Oneness with all that lives, and union with the Godhead. This by means of repeated descents into matter, or incarnations in the lower forms of matter, by which he learns to understand and control matter at all levels.
  4. The fact that man, actual or potential, must exist at all levels, and that, by the study of those levels or planes of being, he may gain a glimpse of what he has been in the past, of what he is now, and of what his development of his innate propensities must finally lead him to be.

Let us now, for a few moments, consider the planes or levels into which Nature is divided, according to this teaching, more particularly with reference to evolving man, bearing in mind that man is a composite being, and not merely a physical organism. These may be conveniently expressed in diagrammatic form as follows:-

  1. PHYSICAL PLANE: divided into Dense Physical and Etheric levels.
  2. EMOTIONAL PLANE: the seat of the emotions, passions and desires
  3. LOWER MENTAL LEVEL: the Analytical Mind, the vehicle of knowledge
  4. HIGHER MENTAL LEVEL: the Synthetic Mind, the vehicle of Intelligence and "door of wisdom" . This is the level of the Casual Body, so called because, being the lowest portion of the Individuality — the Reincarnating Ego — it is in this vehicle that the results of past experiences and reactions are stored for the generating of CAUSES which lead to, and determine, the environment of the following incarnation. The aim and object of the Craft is the development of this Casual Body through knowledge and conquest of the Personality.

The three lower planes of this diagram — Physical, Emotional, and Lower Mental — taken together, are called the PERSONALITY, a word derived from the "Persons" or mask worn by minor characters on the Roman stage to indicate the character represented. The chart could be amplified to show the planes of Nature in their entirety, in so far as they have been communicated to the world at large, but I have refrained because the Craft deals only with the conquest of the Personality, and the preparation for the unfolding of the Intuitional faculty.

We must seek to elucidate the connection between the planes or levels and the system of "knocks" in Freemasonry, and for this purpose it is necessary that we should have some understanding of the significance and effects of sounds and specialized vibrations in general, when we can link the conclusions reached with the particular range of vibrations which are intended to be set up by means of the Craft "knocks." I propose to demonstrate that the knocks in use in the Craft, and in the intermediate and higher degrees closely associated with the Craft, have a very real significance not only in pointing out the stage which the candidate is deemed to have reached when he presents himself in each degree, but also in acting as means of tuning-in the candidate to the vibrations of the plane to be contacted in the degree. Science today tends more and more to the conclusion that every natural phenomenon depends for its existence upon vibration. This is nothing new, for in the very first chapter of that great scientific work which lies open upon our Masonic altars, the V. of the S.L., we are told that the world was created by means of the spoken word, by the vibratory action of sound, while the very existence of a Trinity in Unity, a concept implied in Freemasonry, as in every religious and philosophic system, may be demonstrated in the sounding of the simplest of all sounds, a single vowel. For example, in sounding the vowel sound "A" I first have to create a vibration of definite form and intensity; next, in order that this may impinge upon your ears, and set up therein a sympathetic vibration fro transmission to your brain, I must preserve the vibration for an appreciable period of time, however short in duration; and, as all that I have to communicate to you cannot be conveyed in the one sound, I am compelled to destroy the vibration by transmuting it into that of the next sound I wish to convey. Students will therefore not fail to note that in the pronunciation of a single vowel sound, it is necessary to exercise the three aspects or functions which tradition assigns to the Deity, — CREATION, PRESERVATION, and DESTRUCTION (or TRANSMUTATION). This vibratory action, however, is not confined to the physical plane, but extends to all other planes of Nature, and, in the same manner that when a musical note is sounded all things tuned to that note within reach of the vibratory action respond by sounding the same note, the setting up of a certain rhythm or vibration on the physical plane stirs into activity the corresponding note on each of the higher planes. In this way communication between the various planes may be established, and the ringing of bells calling to worship, the chanting of the Iman from the minaret of the mosque, the beating of the tom-tom, are all founded upon the tradition of this fact. Originally bells installed in Churches were tuned to the vibration corresponding to the particular mood or emotion required in the worshippers at any season.

I will now take the Craft 'knocks' seriatim, and endeavour to give some indication of the plane to which each Degree refers in its teaching, as well as the plane of consciousness symbolically reached by the candidate as he takes each successive step. We first enter a Craft Lodge as a purely physical man seeking realisation of the greater Self beyond the physical phenomena of the Universe. Among the Officers of the Lodge the Tyler is clearly the only one whose duties and activities are confined entirely to the physical level. When, therefore, he is summoned to carry out his duties within the Lodge it is by means of two (short) "knocks", intimating that his work is among those who have not yet co-ordinated their dense physical and etheric bodies. The Candidate, however, on his arrival at the door of the Lodge, is announced by means of the "knocks" of the First Degree, for the work of the E.A., is concerned with the co-ordination of the Personality and the laying of the Foundation for the Spiritual Temple which is to be the "super-structure." Herein, there takes place, symbolically, that re-birth in the Spirit which welds the Personality into one complete whole, and this is indicated by the three distinct "knocks" given by the Candidate to signify that he is functioning upon the three levels, physical, emotional and mental. The chief study of the First Degree is the lower or analytical portion of the plane of mind; the Candidate is therefore expected to study and analyze himself minutely so as to "knock off all superfluous knobs and excrescences" in character and general make-up, to enable him to gain complete control on the physical plane by a full understanding of its component parts. From this it follows that, although ceremonially the Candidate is allowed to pass on to other Degrees, he remains in fact an E.A., employing tools and "knocks" appropriate to the First Degree, until the work allocated to that Degree is in practice completed. In the Second Degree the physical aspect is deemed to be completed and the unfolding of the Higher Mental is the subject proper to the work; hence research is to be extended "into the more hidden mysteries of Nature and Science," and the province is synthesis. As the Candidate in the Apprentice Degree learns of the planes and studies them separately, taking each point of procedure and each "stone" as a unit in itself, so in the Fellowcraft Degree he learns to combine them all and to use them for the one great purpose of building up of sense, feeling, and knowledge into the Personality, that this may, at some future stage, become a fit vehicle for the Intuition. The Fellowcraft must therefore conquer his emotions and desires, and to illustrate this the "knocks" of the Degree signify that the Candidate is functioning upon the Desire Level and the two divisions (lower and higher) of the Mental plane. It should be noted that the Candidate for the Second Degree is announced to the Lodge as an E.A., with the "knocks" of that Degree. In the Third Degree the emotions are deemed to have been brought under control and the work has consequently passed beyond the plane of Desire; the two divisions of the Mentality now work in conjunction with the awakening Intuition, and the unfolding of the Spiritual man is commenced. The "knocks" in this Degree therefore indicate that the work is on the Mental and the Intuitional levels, while the Candidate is a announced as a Fellowcraft. At this juncture it is necessary to refer to the position occupied by some of the intermediate and higher Degrees in our system. The Mark Master Mason Degree is peculiar in that it is the only Degree in Freemasonry which including it sappendage, the Degree of Royal Ark Mariner — is capable of standing by itself, and of conveying a complete picture and message without reference to the other Degrees. The "knocks" of the Mark Degree show how it links the powers gained in the Second or Fellowcraft Degree with those of the E.A., on the physical plane. Those of the R.A.M. are quite distinctive, and I will refer to them later. The Degree of Installed Master — for it is a Degree notwithstanding certain affirmations to the contrary which have come from the uninstructed — does for the M.M. what the Mark Master does for the F.C., linking up the newly unfolded consciousness with subordinate matter. The "knocks" of an I.M., are variously given, but I have attended Lodges where they are, in my opinion, correctly given as 1-2-1. There are two possible forms, but one of them would entail a slight modification of the position of the H.R.A., in the scheme of things; this form is given in the printed Ritual published by W.Bro. J.S.M. Ward some years ago. With regard to the Holy Royal Arch of Jerusalem, however this may be interpreted, it is, of necessity, the completion of the Craft system of Degrees, linking the whole in a perfect unity, fit to be the foundation stone of another and higher system which lies outside the scope of our study in this Paper.

Applying the correspondences of the Craft system to religious thought, we may take the incidents in the Christian Gospel narrative, in its allegorical sense, as being the system which is best known to the majority of Brethren under the English Masonic Constitution, and view its parallels in the Masonic ladder. The corresponding stages are:-

E.A. Birth
F.C. Baptism
M.M.M. & R.A.M. Transfiguration
M.M. Crucifixion
I.M. Resurrection
H.R.A. Ascension

The whole system of "knocks", as well as that of "signs" and "words" of power, belongs to the realm of Ceremonial Magic; it is White Magic which can be legitimately used, in its proper place, as an aid to the attainment of Wisdom, Strength, and Beauty, and for the purpose of creating harmony in Service and Worship. We have to remember, moreover, that behind all outward observance there is the Reality with which it is true, and of which it is the reflection, and we must avoid confusing Image with Substance (that which "stands behind") for that way lies Idolatry.

There is a Path, open to all who truly seek to qualify for it's treading, which leads to Perfection and Oneness in T.G.A.O.T.U., and this Path and its final Victory is summed up in the M.M.M. and R.A.M. Degrees in Freemasonry, and in the incident of the Transfiguration in the Christian mythos. It will be noted that those taking part in the drama of the Transfiguration are Three Disciples and The Master, and that the "knocks" in the R.A.M. Degree are in the ratio of 3 and 1; this is no mere co-incidence, but testifies to the perpetuation of an age-old token of Victory. The first Initiation on the Path takes place in the Causal Body and awakens the full consciousness on the plane of Intuition. This Path is marked by definite steps, and in order that we may the better ourselves to undertake the quest entailed, the steps are mirrored for us on the lower planes in our Masonic Ceremonies. Thus if we think deeply on our Words, Signs, Steps, Knocks, and all the other concomitant parts of our Rituals, we realize that each has its place in bringing us into tune with our Brethren, in whatsoever Degree the Lodge may be open. Entering the Lodge let us say, in the Third Degree, we should, if only inwardly, make al the signs and repeat all the words, pass- words and knocks in the preceding Degrees, thus leading our consciousness up through the E.A., and F.C., levels into tune with the higher vibrations of the M.M., Lodge for in this way only can we carry out to the full our Masonic profession and gain full harmony with all who partake with us the work of building. This will lead us to membership of the Great White Lodge whose Officers are the ever watchful servants and helpers of their younger Brethren among men. The practice, too often witnessed, of announcing the arrival of a Candidate with the knocks of the Degree to which he seeks admission, instead of the knocks of the Degree to which he belongs, is most reprehensible, practically as well as symbolically, as is also the vogue of resuming the Lodge from the Third Degree to the First, or vice versa, without giving in full the intermediate knocks of the Second. "Let all things be done decently and in order", is an excellent conjunction for every occupant of the Chair of K.S., and a little more attention to detail on the part of the Brethren who have attained to that rank, would save much disharmony for which, under present circumstances, they are at a loss to account in their Lodges.

The more one studies Freemasonry, the more one has reason to marvel that, in the passage of time and despite handling by so many men ignorant of its real meaning, it still retains so much of its original truth. Nowhere, in my opinion, is this more curiously illustrated than in the knocks of the Craft and its associated Degrees. Outside the series of Degrees which I have dealt with and grouped as the Craft and its allied Degrees, there appear many other Degrees, in all of which we find appropriate knocks. In some of the higher degrees the sounding of the knocks brings the assistance of a helper, comparable only, in my experience, to the Guardian Angel linked with the Candidate in Christian Baptism. I can hear personal testimony to the efficiency of the help and service rendered by those great beings to the bodies and individuals to whom they are linked. Some Degrees possess short Rituals to be used daily, and these are given fully under some Constitutions to the Brethren concerned. In all such cases the Rituals begin and end with the knocks of the Degree as a means of summons and dismissal of the Angelic helper.

In concluding this Paper, Brethren, the chief lesson that I have sought to convey to you is the tremendous and vital importance of the smallest detail in our Masonic structure. Each detail should have for us a meaning and a message, and as we are, first and foremost, Apprentices to the work involved, it is our obvious duty and privilege to carry out the duties of an E.A., and


seeking to understand every little detail of the work of T.G.A.O.T.U., so that, when we come to synthesis them all, we may find no point which our comphrension of Him may be obscure. Almost superhuman patience is necessary, but a great Initiate, whom we know today as St. James, gave advice which we may well follow when he said, "But, let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."

And, in Perfection lies Peace which passeth all understanding.