W. Bro. R. A. L. Harland, P.M. Lodge No. 1679
"And God said: Let there be Light; and there was Light" (Genesis, chapter 1, verse 3).
"Ancient no doubt it is, having subsisted from time immemorial". (Charge after Initiation).
This thoughtful contribution to our Transactions is by W.Bro. John A. Gilchrist, L.G.R., P.M. and Secretary of my Mother Lodge, and in view of our happy association both in Lodge and Chapter I am glad to avail myself of the opportunity of writing an introduction to his welcome Paper. It is, as W.Bro. Gilchrist rightly affirms, widely accepted by students of the Masonic subject that Freemasonry is an image of a universal process which is impersonal and meant for mankind in general, but nevertheless we Freemasons are privileged to possess in our graded ceremonies a small scale chart of the stages through which all human life must of necessity pass on its way to ultimate perfection. Admission into the Craft, however, is not to be regarded merely as participation in a ceremonial excursion into the realms of theoretic transformative progress; on the contrary, it is a system which commits candidates to the arduous task of perfecting themselves in advance of the mass of their fellows in order to promote the spiritual welfare of the Race by an active cooperation in the design of the Grand Master of all. Moreover, the Craft, we believe, exists to serve the cosmic purpose as a means of grace provided by The Great Architect of the Universe for assisting human redemption, and its life sources must therefore be looked for in causes far anterior to its inception in 1717, while its history can only be properly assessed in relation to the course of national and world history.
These last two thousand years have been needed in order that humanity is "properly prepared" for the next "regular step" in its spiritual life. The world has had to be fully opened up; nations, east and west, knitted together into a whole of mutually interdependent parts; society consolidated; and a spirit of fraternity generated. The human Race cannot move forward, cannot attain a new grade of spiritual evolution, until its iniquities have been renounced. Let none of our Brethren therefore lose, but rather take courage, in the presence of events which are apparently disastrous to our Masonic ideal in which all men will "unite in the grand design of being happy and communicating happiness". The world and its institutions are now being subjected to trial and testing, and the testing will continue until: "The old order changeth, yielding place to new" (Tennyson): years will yet go to it, but time, as we count it, moves at its own pace when cosmic processes are at work. Meanwhile, amid the break-up of external things, an interior and constructive process is silently going on, preparing upon the mental and psychic planes the conditions that will characterise the Aquarian Age, upon the threshold of which we now stand.
Since, then, we are on the threshold of the New Age, it is appropriate that we should consider the position of our Craft and the past that Freemasonry has to play in the incoming cycle. During the next two thousand years the Race must penetrate deeply into the mysteries of Aquarius, which are the mysteries of Man himself. Hence, we Freemasons who have so frequently been exhorted to guide our reflections to "that most interesting of all human studies", must forthwith take up in earnest that axiom which our lips have so often glibly repeated: "Man, know thyself"; and we must demonstrate to the world the value of the knowledge gained. Freemasonry is, indeed, closely linked with the message of Aquaria, and with the advent of the new order we may confidently look forward to the restoration, in a form adapted to modern requirements, of the ancient Wisdom-teaching and the practice of those Mysteries of which Freemasonry is the direct and representative descendant.
I commend to members of the Circle this Paper by Bro. Gilchrist and would express to him my personal thanks and those of the Governing Council.
R. A. HARLAND, President.
THE LONG JOURNEY
W.Bro. J. A. GILCHRIST, L.G.R., P.M.
It gives me great pleasure to have the privilege of addressing you again, and putting before you some more of my personal findings in my private research into the roots and path of Freemasonry.
I have called the Paper "The Long Journey" because it covers the longest journey man has ever made — His own.
From the dim past he has come, and in the brief time at my disposal I have endeavoured to show how he made that journey — what he found on the way — where civilisation was born — how the Light of Spirituality came to him — and finally how Freemasonry was formed into one stream from 1,001 sources.
My paper is discursive, and disjointed in places, but this I could not prevent. For to move down a tributary to a main stream is difficult enough, but to travel backwards and explore the tributaries seemed at times well nigh impossible.
But I knew I had to persist, and so this address, for good or for bad, is the result of my labour. Naturally in a Circle of this nature, established now for over 20 years, much of this ground has been covered before. But what I find so interesting is the fact that every one of us who has stood at this rostrum, has by his different interpretation of the same fundamental circumstances — completely revealed himself.
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown". And he replied: "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way".
Minnie Louise Haskins from God Knows (Quoted by King George VI in a Christmas Broadcast, 25th December, 1939)
The idea for this paper was suggested to me by the desire often expressed in Lodge and Chapter that some broad information as to the origin of Freemasonry would be of value, but I wish to emphasise first of all that these notes are my own particular findings culled from research in the Sacred Writings, Masonic Transactions, the study of Literature, Social History, and, of course, attendance at this Circle.
They make no pretence to being complete, dogmatic, or the only solutions of the problems involved.
They are submitted rather as a basis for consideration, than as a definite ruling. Finally, I cannot really claim that they are a full interpretation of my own ideas, as I have drawn from so many sources.
However, to commence; the subject usually resolves itself into the following three questions.
- 1) What is Freemasonry?
- 2) Where did it arise?
- 3) How did it come down to us?
The first and third questions do to a certain extent allow for an answer, but the second is the greater problem, and requires very careful treatment.
Many attempts have been made to answer this question explicitly, but have failed because of the difficulty in perceiving the simple fact that Freemasonry is not a thing that was created at any given moment, but is a growth from a parent stem that has come down to us from the dim ages of the past.
It is apparent from the most casual study of the records of primitive people that their religious philosophies, social systems and folk lore, have much in common, no matter how widely they may be separated by time or circumstance. Comparisons between these and certain aspects of Freemasonry disclose resemblances which cannot fail to arrest the reflective mind. They demonstrate the spiritual unity of Freemasonry with antecedent societies of remote past ages and with societies existing in the most obscure comers of the earth today. This seems unmistakable evidence of a spiritual kinship binding all such groups together, and in tills truth discovers ground for believing that the foundation stones of the Fraternity are almost unbelievably old.
To trace the precise geographical and social path that this development followed is of course impossible. It cannot be done with whole races and still less with casual groups of individuals.
The contours of land and sea masses were and are continually changing and to picture the ancient world is difficult.
Also, it did not come down in any one direct line but was governed by the movements of peoples, conquests and colonisations.
When races emigrated or expanded into other lands they carried their culture with them and established it in their new domain, and it was in this stream of culture that all knowledge, material and spiritual, lived and was promulgated.
To understand this we must start at some point that we can take as a "beginning" — using this term in the broadest sense of the word — and we will therefore commence at that period in the world's history when this flaming volcanic mass was slowly cooling down. As it solidified, life, already in existence in chemical and etheric form, solidified too, and there developed one by one the various types and forms of life as they were required.
From the smallest particle of life they moved on, assuming amazing shapes and gigantic sizes, but buried within them all was the eternal principle that was to come — man. This we can describe as Mineral man, Plant man, Reptile man, and the highest of them all, Animal man.
Animal man continued to develop much as the higher animals do today, striving towards the future gift of mind and individuality. Finally there came a moment which so far has been the greatest event in man's long history. He had struggled patiently but unconsciously through all these forms to the point where his vibrations were high enough to receive the spark of Divine Mind or Individuality. Then a tremendous event took place. Man jumped the gap and casting all other forms aside he stepped right out of the group mind of the animal into the individual mind of the human kingdom. Each human acquired a separate mind, but above all, the power to use it. This marks the point where the history of man, as MAN, can truly be said to begin, for the word "man" is derived from the Sanskrit "MANU" and means literally MIND.
Thus we see that the order in which life was created presents a gradation and forward movement which presupposes a plan and as far as we can ascertain began in the water and culminated in the last stage with the rise of the most perfect of all creation — Homo Sapiens.
As no wild briar could produce the rose, unless an external agent grafted it, so no anthropoid could ever have attained to the human standard by his own unaided efforts, for no inferior creature ever acquired speech and reason whether by self-culture or under training.
Therefore the presence of man can only be explained by the intervention at this point of some higher power that came down to meet it and this must have taken place. The process of the Involution was over.
The Fall into matter was complete, the Divine Spark had descended and been buried within matter. Adam, the father of the Adamic Race had arrived, and the long upward journey to the Light was to commence.
Despite much speculation on this event little can really be known.
It is considered by some scholars to have taken place in a mighty land mass that once existed where the Indian and Pacific Oceans lie today, and between Madagascar, Malaya and the South Sea Islands. It has been called the Lemurian epoch and remains of this primitive race still exist today among the Hottentots and Australian aborigines.
With the gradual disintegration of this continent, man, in his search for fresh land and food, spread out in every direction and in the doing of it took on the character that the climates of the new lands demanded, thus forming the multitude of races known today.
Eons of time passed and man slowly progressed, with little knowledge save instinct, but ever within him the potential spark, awaited the Torch to set it alight and this occurred, so we are led to believe, in another land mass that extended from Europe out into the Atlantic almost to the North American continent, and here it was that the first rudiments of understanding were made known. But it was a rudiment only at first, for all man's striving was an effort to express a need.
For the moment perhaps some form or other (the substituted secrets) allayed it but it could not satisfy the need. For that inner demand was not self-conscious: it could not be clearly understood and therefore could not be clearly met. It was a vague discontent, a relentless urge that drove him on, for as man learned to know himself, he demanded not only a more precise but an ever wider satisfaction.
With this urge buried deeply within him, he passed slowly through the centuries, adding knowledge to intuition until eventually, under inspired leaders, man attained a very high state of advancement.
But once again volcanic changes took place on the earth and this Atlantean continent began to break up before the fierce inroads of the Atlantic, and so emigration on a vast scale again took place. Many think this is the basis of the legend of Noah, the Flood and the Ark.
This second emigration, however, was vastly different, for now man carried his collective knowledge with him.
It took place in successive waves over hundreds of years, in two main directions: one Eastward across Europe, and one South West to Africa and the South American continent.
It is the first direction that concerns us, and in this they swept over what is now the British Isles, Spain, France, Germany, on to the Gobi Lake in Central Asia, where they finally established themselves, and in due time built up a mighty civilisation, traces of which have in recent years been uncovered by modern excavation. Here it is said they built that fabulous city called "Manova" (or the City of the Bridge), which, through the ages, has been the prototype of the New Jerusalem.
Within its glittering walls were erected the earliest Masonic Temples and this Empire reached its zenith about 45,000 B.C. From this centre they spread out in every direction carrying the Light of their culture and civilisation with them — North into what is now Germany and Scandinavia, South into Africa and South America, East into China and Burma, and finally into that part of the world with which we are most concerned — Westward into Europe.
Of course there were times when the Light burned low, but it was never allowed to die out completely, for man would then have fallen back to the animal state.
As the tides and cycles of evolution rose and fell, humanity approached at times to periods of revelation and inspiration, and at others fell to darkness and ignorance. But ever the Torch was kept alight by the few, and at the right moment the right Teacher always appeared, and at this point it would be of interest to note who the principal teachers were.
The first was VYASSA, and he gave out the early form of Hinduism, arranging the teachings in the form of the Vedas. These teachings were carried down by the tide that penetrated India.
The next was THOTH to the early Egyptians with his wonderful work in the Book of the Dead, using the Sun as the symbol of knowledge. Then followed ZOROASTER, the prophet of IRAN. He used Fire as the emblem of Light, and gave to the world the teachings of the ZEND-AVESTA.
ORPHEUS was next, bringing wisdom to the early Greeks. His medium was music and harmony, or Sound and Vibration, and he carried his knowledge northward, being the first to bring understanding to the already mystic Celtic sub-races. It is said he studied in Egypt, and on his return to Thrace, they hailed him as the "Saviour".
Then came the mighty LORD BUDDHA, son of a King, renouncer of wealth, holder of the Pilgrim's Staff, bringing Light and Illumination to the whole of India. His teachings spread through China and Japan and south to Burma. What he gave to the world no man can compute.
Finally, the coming of the LORD CHRIST constitutes the greatest of them all. He planted the seeds of Wisdom and Love in the hearts of all humanity, so that mankind would be ready for flowering when the great Aquarian Age should be ushered in. He was the most advanced of all Avatars. He was the first to attain full Illumination and by his example showed to what heights man can rise.
The glorious spirit of the Christ towers over all earth's hierarchy, and in the whole history of man there has been no one like Him.
These are the Torch bearers of the Light. These are the ones who, through the ages, have carried on high the banner of Wisdom, Knowledge and Understanding.
But only to those who meditate in purity will their teachings be made clear, for then the inadequacy of words will no longer be a hindrance.
We shall then see how these Great Ones prove in their lives, to self-centred humanity, that the ultimate joy and achievement in life lies always in Service and in Sacrifice.
When we attain utter forgetfulness of Self, the true Brotherhood of Man has arrived.
And so, under these leaders, man built up in certain selected centres, a vast system of moral and spiritual ethics, which were destined in time to cover the whole world.
There are said to have been seven main centres — Oriental, Chaldean, Egyptian, Orphic, Kabballistic, Druidic and Mithraic, and it is from these that all things have come. Scholars call them the Seven Streams of Tradition, for all have a common source in the lost secrets of Eden, or the Golden Age.
This system is and has ever been known as the "Ancient Wisdom" and in it is enshrined the origin and birth of every Religion and Philosophy. It is the day-spring of all true spiritual understanding — the lifeline of man. It has been raised on high and it has suffered eclipse. It rose to its peak in the glories that were Greece and sunk into retreat in the Dark Ages of Ignorance that followed. But the Divine work never stopped — the torch bearers continued uninterruptedly, although at times under torture and persecution, for it is truly said "The Lord of Life shall never leave his people without a Light in a world of Darkness".
The Ancient Wisdom has been confused at times with necromancy, fortune telling and other undesirable practices, and this may be partly because in the past it has been more emotional than intellectual, and its more sensational side has been implanted in the popular mind, which always prefers thrills to Truth.
Although necromantic practices, Witchcraft and the use of hidden powers comes into the scope of the Ancient Wisdom, it may yet be approached in the same scientific spirit as Chemistry or Physics. As it is Philosophic in its origin, its history can be traced back to the common origin of all philosophies. Therefore, if we do this we find Modern Freemasonry taking mental shape as it emerges from a period dominated by the Mystery Schools, or "Mysteria" on the one hand, and mythological religion on the other. The mythological religions represent the mass mind of the civilisations which date historically from Egypt to prelogical Greece. They contained in symbolical form as much of the Universal Truth as could be assimilated by the contemporary mind of the day.
On the other hand, the Mystery Schools contained the growing scientific elements — the evolving mental approach to Truth and God. They represented what could be called the universities of the time. They studied what was then occult, or hidden, but some of which has since become scientifically known.
The Schools of the Greater Mysteries then as now remain inaccessible and unknown to all but to the few who graduate into them by virtue of spiritual development and moral evolution.
The Greater Mysteries still exist in the world today, yet remain unknown to the majority. This is not from a desire to exclude any person from knowledge, but simply because they deal with problems and knowledge which the present state of man would not understand, and perhaps abuse. In due time future races will develop more and more of this knowledge, until eventually the Initiation of man will be complete.
A glimmering of Masonry as we know it emerged from this period. It was a mental expression by the disciples of the Mystery Schools. If we look back before this period into the legends of Egypt and the statements of Indian Adepts, we find a flowing stream of Mystical Wisdom composed of Truth in terms of tradition, magical powers, legends and symbols handed down through long lines of Priest-Kings, prophets and wise men, from what must have been an original source. Truth is an ever present potential awaiting unfoldment.
In that distant past we find what has been called a "Root Doctrine" expressed as a tradition of Divine origin. Certain outstanding characters and teachers in every age have possessed powers of mind by which they could develop and interpret the sacred truths and hand on this stream of symbolic law and wisdom to others.
Initiation into the Mysteries was not just a formal procedure of repeating set ritual and being conducted ceremoniously round a specially furnished room, as it is with us today, but an actual spiritual, mental, and intellectual experience.
The officers or hierophants of the Mystery Schools would assist Candidates to awaken certain faculties of understanding within themselves, in much the same way as a university professor assists his students today. (It is interesting to note that Plato was an Initiate of these Schools. During his stay in Egypt he was informed of a far earlier race of men, ruled by "Divine Kings" in a small island which was stated to be part of the lost continent of Atlantis, then submerged beneath the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Records of the time stated that these Divine Kings had once ruled Atlantis by virtue of Knowledge and Wisdom, until the continent, slowly sinking, was eventually submerged).
Throughout the ages these Mystery Schools were founded for the education and initiation of mankind in every land.
This, Brethren, is a brief exposition of the Ancient Wisdom. It promulgated the Sacred Law for the guidance and instruction of man, that Law which teaches us that something could never have arisen from nothing."
Says the Sanctum Scripture — "As ye sow so shall ye reap" — in modern phraseology — "Cause and Effect".
The Ancient Wisdom can be traced back in every continent of the world, further than history itself.
Firstly, it was passed on by word of mouth, or memory only, in song and saga, by patriarch to disciple, and father to son. Later, having a mind to define, and a brain to record, it was carved and inscribed on monuments and temples and eventually collated in written form in what we call the Sacred Books and Writings today.
So gradually was built up that mighty system of Ethics, Moral Truths, and Human aspiration, from which has stemmed every religion in the world — present and past. The extant Sacred Writings of past ages bear witness to this, and together with the ancient inscriptions on stone and bronze, show that man then as now, was ever in search of God, Truth, or the First Cause.
Man has always known, and it is only necessary to study the records of great travellers and explorers to realise this. It is stated that when Cortez and his Conquistadors, having landed in Mexico, watched the Aztec Rituals, they considered them a debased form of the Christian Religion. In actual fact it was the other way round — they were witnessing a small part of the parent stem of all religion.
Marco Polo in his wanderings said much the same, and of course the findings of Dr. Livingstone in Africa and the Emperor Napoleon in Egypt are modern enough for all to know, and there are many others.
Thus the great body of teachings contained in the Craft of Freemasonry has under many forms and guises existed since time began and so far as man is concerned, is not only coexistent with him but contains the whole secret of man himself — his origin and his potential. That mighty force that lifted him clear of the animal kingdom was his refuge and his strength. It has never left him and today is the star that forever beckons him on.
Therefore Masonry is the descendant of and heir to every primitive form of human association who held their assemblies on high hills and in deep vales when the earth was young. It bears within it peculiarities which belong to the general cult history of the world. These cults had similar basic doctrines, and similar, if not identical, signs and symbols to record and transmit their teachings.
These teachings were the same as our own today. The Craft, as it came slowly and gradually into existence, drew freely from innumerable human cultures, knowledge and experiences. The history of Freemasonry is one chapter, written at different times, and in strange tongues, of the great history of mankind. It has its Golden Age, its Isles of the Blest, its Tintagel and its Camelot, shrouded in the sunset haze of myth and legend.
But it also has its own strong and powerful edifice, built foursquare to all the winds that blow, with foundations going down to the bedrock of human endeavour, and its soaring towers pointing ever upward to God.
Down through time it has come and out of conquests, Race Movements, Tribal Rituals, Folk Lore, Monasteries, Crusaders, Minstrels and lone wanderers, have sprung Witchcraft, Druids, Rosicrucians and Kabbalists, who with the aid of poets and bards composed the great epics and mystery dramas that are still enacted today.
There have been many books written on the factual history of Freemasonry and there they stand gathering dust on library shelves, because the thinking man does not wish to have his mind cluttered up with tedious figures and dates.
Rather it is the "What" and "How" that interests him, and so it would be interesting to examine how Masonry became the live force that it is in the British Isles today.
As has been before stated, the Ancient Wisdom was implanted here by the first Atlantean emigrants, as they swept over northern Europe on their way to Asia. From it was developed the mighty Druid and pre-Druid religions and civilisation, and it stood firm until the coming of the Roman invasion. They brought with them their own interpretation of the Ancient Wisdom which mingled with and modified the old Druid order. This remained fairly static during the whole of the occupation, with some adjustments by the Danish, Saxon and Germanic invasions, until the coming of the Norman French conquerors opened up the British Isles to Europe.
Thus it will be seen that the path was two-fold with thousands of years between them. The first, in the dim past, came from the West, and the second from the East, and these two merged into one stream, which has been the foundation of all orthodox religion in this country and behind it, of course, the esoteric teachings that are the basis of modern Freemasonry.
In support of this, a survey of our own literature from Arthurian times to modern days show in prose, poetry and drama the ancient myths and legends, clothed in the words of the current phraseology of the day.
However, from the days of the Norman invasion, the European and Asiatic form of the Ancient Wisdom flowed into this country by many streams. They did not destroy the old systems, but on the contrary, elaborated and added to them.
Three of the most important sources are the Crusaders, the Minstrels, and, perhaps to the surprise of some, the Gypsies. In the case of the Crusaders, as we know, they travelled all over the East and the Holy Land, and many of them were initiated into the Mysteries there. They formed such Orders as the Knights of Malta, Knights Templar, the Elected Nine, Knights of the Sword, Red Cross of Rome, White Eagle, and many others. All these Orders and Societies, formed of the highest in the land, carried the fight of the Ancient Wisdom within them in the form of the Holy Ceremonial. They were never lost, despite persecution, as is witnessed by the remnants that remain today. It was from the framework of these associations that the first glimmerings of the Masonic Ritual, as we know it today, was conceived.
Then the Minstrels, polished wanderers from land to land, castle to castle, and manor to manor, bringing the accumulated Bardic knowledge of centuries to add to the Knightly code. They sang and recited those emotional and impassioned songs and sagas called the Lyrics, and as man has ever sung of his hopes and sufferings, so their real source was folk lore, the only true history of mankind.
Their medium was Love, Brotherhood and Devotion, and these three great principles were carried in song from Italy to Spain, and from the Northern Alps to Britain.
At a much later date and from another source came another stream, pouring into Europe through Hungary and Rumania. This was the Gypsies, coming from and getting their Arts from none knew whither. Folk lore was their theme also, and they sang and played their wild folk songs across the whole European continent. No man could listen unmoved to Gypsy Folk music and song, for it is a part of primordial life — perhaps a hint of the great dispersal.
They sang and acted with an emotion that earlier Bards had never known, but still they told of Love, Brotherhood and Devotion.
They also brought with them their own form of the Ancient Wisdom, known to the West as Witchcraft. No other aspect of occult knowledge has ever been so maligned as this. It is always connected with the Black Mass, Broomstick Riding and other unpleasant things, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was and is a Society devoted to Occult Knowledge and Mutual Aid, by ritual. It exists today, very much as a family affair, in the sense that fathers initiate sons and mothers their daughters, and this of course has a lot to do with marriage arrangements. It is significant that a Witchcraft gathering in full session closely resembles a R.A. Chapter in the matter of altar positioning and symbolic furniture, and certainly interesting that the opening prayer should be "The Blessed One, Blessed is He".
The Power of Thought plays a big part with them, but it is only used on special occasions. It is recorded that three such special occasions were, the Armada, the threat of Napoleon and the Hitler menace. In each case the power of concentrated thought was used against the potential invader and what is more — it succeeded.
However, there are many more streams by which this knowledge came down to us, such as the Travelling Italian Architects, Comacine Masters, the Stonecutters of Germany, the French stonemasons etc., all builders of Cathedrals and Castles, and of course, our own Operative's Societies. They are all complete studies in themselves, and to any who have the time, they would amply repay investigation.
Side by side with all this, under the mighty drive and leadership of Philosophers and Reformers, was the rising upsurge of humanitarian principles, in the form of Trade Guilds and Mutual Aid Societies. These Guilds represented the ever evolving understanding of the people, but although priests were rigidly excluded, they were permeated, as was most life and thought of the day, with spiritual ideas. The line between religion and daily life was not so strictly drawn as in modern times. Men combining in a Guild for benevolent or protective purposes liked to have a religious aspect to their proceedings. Even today the inner core of a Trade Union is known as "the Chapel", corresponding to the "Chantry" of the Guilds. They maintained schools and almshouses and staged the Miracle Plays. They taught Bible stories and legends in an age when the Bible as a book was known to few. Finally it was the grafting of these two Root Systems together that led straight on to the speculative Freemasonry we know today.
This happened in Britain in the 16th century, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and for the first time modern Freemasonry took coherent form. But these were turbulent times, and it was no easy path. The privileged classes were in fear for their privileges, and ruthless methods were used to suppress any society or gathering of men that had Equality or Brotherhood as guiding principles. Hence secrecy was the order of the day. But despite this, the Craft went steadily on. Thoughtful and intelligent men recognising the veiled Ancient Knowledge in the enigmatical Rituals, became members and gave of their education and understanding. These are what we call the "Speculatives" and they became the backbone and rulers of the Craft.
Under them, the relatively modern Ritual in use today was formulated. This Ritual is, of itself, worthy of attention. The foundation is as old as man himself, being no less than the plan as taught by the Ancient Wisdom by which alone, he shall attain his full stature and understand his real nature and spiritual origin. It is a compact reservoir of past religions and rituals, and incorporated within are shreds of folk lore from earliest times, and occult elements of time-immemorial antiquity.
Nevertheless, it is, as it stands, relatively modern, for although there has been much controversy as to its date and authorship, there are two salient points that give us a definite hint as to its probable date and origin.
The first is that it is written in the form of prose poetry. (That is why it is relatively easy to learn.) The second is the peculiar nature of the penal signs of the Three Degrees. Therefore a suggested date is early seventeenth century, for that beautiful form of writing was at its peak at that time, and secondly, the three penal signs — (First Degree — beheading; Second Degree — cutting out of the heart; and in the case of the Third Degree, the penal sign there, is the actual stroke of the disembowelling knife) were in general use at that time as forms of punishment.
So the compiler (or compilers) must have had not only a knowledge of the ancient legends of Death and Resurrection, and access to such contemporary documents as the "Harleian", "Buchanan" and "Dumfries-Kilwinning" Mss., but also, of course, the ability to mould all this into one coherent whole.
At this point several great names spring to our minds, and one in particular. But it was considered at the time that he or they who formulated the ritual should remain for ever anonymous, so perhaps it is best if names are never mentioned, but left to man's own imagination.
With regard to the modern ritual it is a wonderful work, but like all things in Masonry, it is relative to the insight of every man. The First Degree is Purification, the Second — the Power of the Mind, and the Third — Spiritual Unfoldment.
It has three aspects, and these aspects it offers to all men to choose and use according to their desire and mental make-up. Applied personally, it suggests a way of life that cannot fail to benefit and improve a man. He must prepare himself to receive knowledge (First Degree) he must study and obtain knowledge (Second Degree) finally, he must transmute that knowledge into Wisdom and understanding, which is the true spirituality (Third Degree).
The second aspect is for those who believe in be reincarnating ego, and the learning of lessons in progressive lives. One life or series of lives are spent in purification and preparation. Next others in polishing and adorning the mind, and lastly complete understanding, the final perfection of man in Spiritual attainment and unfoldment.
Then there is the greatest aspect of all — The Initiation of the World. This is of a cosmological nature and applies to the whole evolution of man, from his creation to this present, and onwards. We are told in a certain Ritual that "Man was a child of ignorance and error and ever would have remained in a state of darkness had it not pleased the almighty to call him to Light and Immortality by the revelation of His Holy Plan". The Plan of Three Degrees or Stages. This implies that mankind as a whole has passed through the First or preparatory stage and now stands upon the brink of the Second, known to some as the Scientific and to others the Aquarian Age. In due time man will pass through and master this Age and then will come the great Third Degree — the culmination of all his efforts and striving — full attainment of wisdom and complete spiritual knowledge and understanding.
But, I repeat, mankind today is fast approaching the great Aquarian Age — the scientific or Age of the Common Man. On every hand are the signs of the great awakening. The old order is being broken down. The first blows for this mighty Age were struck with the coming of the French Revolution, when Man, with Woman at his side, tore down with his own hands that symbol of age — old oppression — the Bastille.
The Resurrection of the Ancient Wisdom in modern form had begun.
Everywhere there was and is a banding together of intelligent people for world-wide unity, the emancipation of Women and the Brotherhood of Man.
The United Nations points the way, however imperfectly, to that which is to come — the welding together of Nations.
Fraternities like Freemasonry, which for centuries have fought against almost insuperable odds of intolerance, greed and ignorance, to bring Light to stumbling mankind, grow stronger and stronger. Societies like the Fabians, formed to draw men together in an understanding of their one-ness with each other and God, were at the right time and in the right place. The word "International" is now so much in use that it is almost becoming a household word, and what is more, its real meaning is gradually being grasped the world over. The promised individualism of the Aquarian Age is already in evidence, as is shown by the fact that radio, television, newspapers and news-agencies cannot hold attention unless they provide the ways and means to allow the ordinary man to contribute his own quota of self-expression and ideas, nor can the film world afford to ignore the individual outpourings and demands of the common man.
The unrest in the world today is caused by the fact that in the lowest grades of humanity to the highest can be seen the signs of an increasing independence, self-consciousness and awareness.
The world is in travail it is true, but these very activities are a proof of the restlessness in all ranks; the stirring up of the old before we can ring in the new. It is like the final frenzy of a drunkard precipitating the violent reaction through which he is able to regenerate. In modern Music, Art and Literature, and in modern manners and morals, and in particular, in the activities of the modern world political field, are to be found the signals of man's forward march, dictated by the urge to combat and fight misery and want, to struggle on out of the ruts of old convention, and go forward, no matter at what cost.
The flame of regeneration and renaissance is burning high, and on every hand are the sparks, fanned by patient souls, ready to flare into a rich fulfilment.
In the Church many are beginning to feel the fires of inspiration, and the people are quick to respond to it.
In religion we find that a higher type of teaching is gradually spreading, and insensibly and subtly drawing them all closer together — Christian Scientist, Occultist, Psychic, and Spiritualist are forms of this advance.
In the medical profession, prominent men are courageous enough to admit past errors and intelligent enough to use to the full all modern discoveries.
At the same time the material scientist and chemist and experimenter is approaching to the self-same heart of Truth in his own way.
All these are the healthy and promising signs of the Aquarian Age, or Second Degree, and await only the leadership of those inspired men who have themselves mastered and understood the inner realities.
When that happens a wonderful day will dawn. Humanity will throw off the hoodwink and find that bars and barriers have disappeared overnight. Man will turn his back on the illusion of division and seek only to unite with all peoples in the common bond of Love and Understanding.
Service to all is the keyword of that Universal Brotherhood, and although some cannot see it, nevertheless it is coming into life before our very eyes.
The banners of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man are flinging a challenge right across the world today.
The way to the future Golden Age is wide open.
The world is now rapidly passing from darkness into Light (First to Second Degree), and there remains now only the fetters of man's own blindness to hold him back.
Let us therefore shake and break these fetters and in the company of all men of goodwill, go boldly and resolutely forward in the Light that shines around. The Star of Hearts Desire shall beckon us on, for our birth-right is to hand-the triumph of God in all Mankind.
"Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be".
[Tennyson from In Memoriam]