The Purpose of the Mysteries

With them the work was a difficult but exact science, claiming one’s whole time and energies ; it was the highest, greatest and holiest of all forms of science-the science of the human soul and the art of its conversion from a natural to a regenerate supernatural state . Reminiscences of the dignity of this work still survive in our references to Masonry as the “noble science” and “royal art,” terms meaningless to-day, although each newly made Mason is charged to make daily progress in Masonic science and every one installed into the chair of a Lodge is termed a Master of Arts and Sciences . But this secret immemorial science could be imparted only to those morally fit and spiritually ripe for it, as not all men yet are . It was meant only for those bent on passing from the moral and intellectual darkness in which normal humanity is plunged, to that Light which dwells in their darkness, though that darkness comprehendeth it not until it is opened up at their centre . It was solely for those who sought the way, the truth and the supernatural life, and were ready to divest themselves of the “money and metals” of temporal interests and concentrate their energies upon the evolution of the higher principles of their nature, which is possible only by the abnegation and surrender of their lower tendencies . Evolution, nowadays recognized as a universal process in Nature, is sometimes supposed to be a modern discovery. But the ancient Wisdom-teaching knew and acted upon it ages before modem scientists discovered it in our own day. It recognized that in all the Universe there is but one Life broken up and differentiated into innumerable forms, and evolving through those forms from less to greater degrees of perfection . In Masonic metaphor it saw Nature to be the vast general quarry and forest out of which individual lives have been hewn like so much stones and timber, which when duly perfected are destined to be fitted together and built into a new and higher synthesis, a majestic Temple worthy of the Divine indwelling, and of which Solomon’s temple was a type. All life has issued out of the “East,” i.e., from the Great World of Infinite Spirit, and has journeyed to the “West” or the Little World of finite form and embodiment, whence, when duly perfected by experience in those restricted conditions, it is ordained to return to the “East .” Hence when our Entered Apprentice is asked in the lecture, whence he comes and whither he goes, he replies that he is on his way back from the temporal West to the eternal East . The answer corresponds with a fuller one to be found in the surviving records of the early British Initiates, the Welsh bards, where to the same question the following reply is made: “I came from the Great World, having my beginning in Spirit. I am now in the Little World (of form and body) where I have traversed the circle of strife and evolution, and now, at its termination, I am man . In my beginning I had but a bare capacity for life ; but I came through every form capable of a body and life to the state of man, where my condition was severe and grievous during the age of ages . I came through every form capable of life, in water, in earth, in air. And there happened to me every severity, every hardship, every . evil, every suffering. But purity and perfection cannot beobtained without seeing and knowing everything, and this is not possible without suffering everything . And there can be no full and perfect Love that does not provide for its creatures the conditions. needful to lead to the experience that results in perfection Every one shall attain to the circle of perfection at last.” —From “Barddas” ; the ancient initiate tradition of Welsh Druidic Life, then, was seen as broken up and distributed into innumerable individualized lives or souls and as passing from one bodily form to another in a perpetual progression . (In Masonic metaphor those individualized souls are called “stones,” for stone or rock is an emblem of what is most enduring, and the stones are rough ashlars or perfect cubes accordingly as they exist in the rough or have been squared, worked upon, and polished) . The bodily form with which the soul becomes invested upon entering this world (symbolized by the Mason being invested with the apron) was seen to be transient, variable, perishable, of small moment compared with the life or soul animating it . Yet it was of the greatest importance in another way, since it provided a fulcrum point or point of resistance for the soul’s education and development. It was, as we still term it, the “tomb of transformation” ; the grave into which the soul descended for the purpose of working out its own salvation, for transforming and improving itself, and ascending out of it the stronger and wiser for the experience . Thus life was seen as one continuous stream, temporarily checked by the particular form that clothed it, but flowing on from form to form to ever new and higher conditions ; slumbering in the mineral, dreaming in the plant, waking in the animal, and reaching moral selfconsciousness in man. But does the ascending process end there ? Is man as he is now, the goal, the last word, of evolution ? Surely, no. As a Persian Initiate once wrote : I died as a mineral and became a plant . I died as a plant and rose to animal . I died as an animal and became man . Why should I fear ? When did I ever grow less by dying ? Yet once more I shall die as, man, to soar With angels blest. But even from angelhood I must pass on. I shall become what no mind e’er conceived ! Now in order that evolution from lower to higher degrees of life may take place, some force must previously have been involved in living organisms that makes their evolution possible. You cannot have evolution without involution . A seed would never grow unless it held within it the force which expands it into a plant with a glory of leaf, flower and fruit. An acorn contains in itself the possibility of the oak. A bird’s egg conceals within its fluids the miracle of the feathered bird and the skylark’s song. Place any of these in appropriate conditions and the latent life-force will evolve naturally to its preordained limit. The growth may even be artificially accelerated by methods of intensive culture. What now of man ? Man also contains within him a life-force, a “vital and immortal principle” as Masonry calls it, which has not yet expanded to full development in him, and indeed in many men is scarcely active at all . Man, too, has that in him enabling him to evolve from the stage of the mortal animal to a being immortal, superhuman, godlike. Man is evolving towards a far-off divine event in common with all Nature . But how slowly ! and how greatly he thwarts and retards his own development by indulging his gross mortal body and its sensual tendencies, instead of repressing them and cultivating his latent higher principles ! Human nature, it is commonly said, continues always the same ; its weaknesses and vices are those of thousands of years ago, and looking back over the centuries there is little perceptible improvement in the mass despite our boasted progress and civilization . Can this long slow process of human evolution be expedited ? Is there a method of intensive culture that can be applied to man; one that will more quickly lift him clean above his present level and transform the sensual, benighted, human animal into an illuminated godlike being? To this the answer of the Ancient Mysteries was “Yes, there is. Human evolution can be accelerated ; if not at present in the mass of humanity, yet in suitable individuals . Human nature is perfectible by an intensive process of purification and initiation. There is a royal science of spiritual advancement, and an art of living, by which the latent, undeveloped divine Life-principle in man can be liberated from the veils of darkness in him now obscuring it and brought forward into full play . If suitable candidates will but make the requisite sacrifices and submit to the necessary discipline, they can be brought in their present lifetime from darkness to Light ; they can be raised to a higher degree of humanity than is otherwise possible to them, and from that position they in turn will be able to raise others to the same degree and so gradually increase the spiritual stature and powers of the whole race .” The work of the Ancient Mysteries was, therefore, a “perfecting” work, or a work of initiation introducing men to a new order of life, since it was designed to make imperfect beings whole and perfect by completing their evolutionary possibilities . The Greek word for this (teleios) has the twofold meaning, “to make perfect” and “to initiate .” It occurs constantly in the Scriptures, the greatest text-book of Initiation-science that exists. They speak of “the just made perfect” ; “be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect ” ; “we speak wisdom (initiation science) to such as are perfect (or initiated).” And this perfecting work was for all men alike, of whatever race, language or religion, as Masonry is to-day . For all are brethren, and upon an equal footing in respect of this work, though not all men are necessarily ready to undertake it at the same moment ; all their religions are but so many radii of one circle, designed to lead them from the circumference and surface of life to the one Light at its centre. The qualifications of a candidate for the Mysteries were precisely those provided for Masonic candidates to-day. The one dominant wish of his heart in asking for admission had to be a yearning desire to pass from his natural blindness to the innermost Light, and to have his old imperfect nature revolutionized and transformed. Let me quote one of the oldest prayers in the world, still used in the East by those seeking real Initiation. In its original Sanskrit it consists of but six words, which may be Englished thus: From the unreal, lead me to the Real ! From darkness, lead me to Light ! From the mortal, bring me to Immortality It expresses the desire that should be not only upon the lips but burning in the heart of every candidate the world over, under whatever system of Initiation he may come. Without that desire as the deepest urge of his heart no real Initiation is possible, nor is any candidate properly prepared to ask for it . No one can expect to come to the revelation of the supernatural Light or to be raised to the sublime degree of a Master-soul, who is content with his present life as it is, who regards himself as not in darkness but as already enlightened, or supposes his present mortal existence to constitute real life . Only by perceiving the unreality and impermanency of the present world and its interests can one really begin to detach himself from it and divest himself, in thought and desire, of its “money and metals .” So long as one carries these with him or remains in any sense “in worldly possessions,” so long he darkens his own light and automatically defers his own initiation into it . They mean not merely one’s cash and temporal belongings . They include all that clogs and clings to us from our immersion in the outer world ; our intellectual possessions, our stores of notions, beliefs and preconceptions about truth, and the mental habits and self-will we have acquired, even with the best motives, in our state of darkness . All these constitute our “worldly possessions,” and they are not our real wealth but our limitations . It is a paradox, but a true one, that we can only gain by giving them up . Their attraction must cease if that high Light we profess to seek is ever to be found, and the aspirant for it must stand at the door of the Mysteries in the deepest sense a poor candidate in a state of darkness, content to be as a child and surrender himself to an entirely new order and rule of life . Few are prepared for this task of self divestment of all that, as experienced men of the world, they have clung to and built into their mental fabric . How many of those who ceremonially profess to do so would be ready or content to do it really ? On being told of this prerequisite to Initiation they would go away sorrowful, for they have great possessions, and are not yet prepared to give them up for something intangible. In a like sense the candidate had to be a free man ; free in a moral rather than in a civil sense ; voluntarily offering himself for the work and free from all attachments hindering its achievement ; and so becoming also free to the goodly fellowship of all other initiates the world over and free from any less .worthy intercourse . He had to be of full age ; that is, in full bodily and mental maturity so as to be fit for the disciplines awaiting him, and spiritually mature (as not every one is) for undertaking the final stages of his evolution . Sound judgment, a sound mind in a sound body, was also essential in view of the demands made on the mental and psychic faculties, involving the risk of insanity to the mentally unstable. Strict morals (or chastity) were imperative, since the task of self-transformation involves physiological changes in the bodily organism necessitating the utmost personal purity and continence. And he had to be of good report . This does not mean of good reputation . It means that on being tested by the initiating authorities he must be found spiritually responsive to the ideals aimed at and “ring true,” giving back a good sound or report like a coin that is tapped to determine its genuineness. In the wonderful Egyptian rituals in the Book of the Dead, one of the titles always found accorded to the Initiate was “true of voice.” This is the same thing as our reference to possessing the “tongue of good report.” It does not mean that he was incapable of falsity and hypocrisy, which goes without saying, but that his very voice revealed his inherent spirituality and his own speech reflected and was coloured by the divine Word behind it . The vocal and heart nervous centres”the guttural” and “the pectoral,” as we say-are intimately related physiologically. Purity or impurity of heart modifies the tonal quality and moral power of one’s speech . The voice of the real Initiate or saint is always marked by a charm, a music, an impressiveness, and a sincerity absent in other men ; for he is “true of voice” ; he possesses the “tongue of good report.” The rule of the Ancient Mysteries was, and still is in other systems, that twelve years of preparation should elapse before the last great spiritual experience was permitted that brought the candidate to the Light at his centre and qualified him for Mastership, though less sufficed in appropriate cases. As the result of his purification and labours he had become an illuminate and he was mystically said to be twelve years old . From a rough ashlar he had become a polished perfect cube, a stone meet for building into the “holy city” which we are told lieth foursquare and has twelve gates that are always open. For all the parts of his organism were now equalised and balanced, and all his gates (or channels of intercourse with the divine world), no longer shut and clogged by the darkness of his former impurities, lay open for the passage through them of the true Light. In Masonry, this condition is called the “hour of high twelve” ; and he who has attained it will be, like Hiram Abiff, in constant communion with, and adoration of, the Most High. Similarly, when the candidate had advanced still further to the sublime degree and powers of Mastership he was said to be thirty years old . You will find these mystical ages referred to in the third Gospel, where we are told (Luke ii, 42) of the Great Exemplar being twelve years old and so illuminated that His wisdom confounded the academic but unenlightened teachers of the Temple ; and again (Luke iii, 23) that He “began to be about thirty years old,” at which period began his work as a Master, which continued for another three years and manifested such works and teaching as are possible only to a Master. Thirty-three years was, in the Mysteries, the mystical duration of life of every initiate who attained Mastership. That period has no relation to bodily age ; it is based on considerations we need not now enter into but referring to the completion of human evolution, when it can be said of the soul’s travail “It is finished,” “He hath wrought the purpose through of That which made him man.” It is for this reason that the Antient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Masonry extends to 33 Degrees, in perpetuation of the original secret tradition. Of the detailed methods employed in assisting properly qualified candidates to the Light of the centre, whether in the ancient systems or at the present day, and of the wonderful change wrought by them in the candidate himself, nothing can be said publicly ; these are matters belonging to silence . The secrets and mysteries of real Initiation can never be fully communicated except in the course of the process itself. They are not disclosed in Masonry at all . Our teaching refers to them as being “serious, solemn and awful,” but leaves them at that and provides various substituted ones which have no value save for ceremonial use, and as indications that more genuine ones exist which qualified Brethren will come to know when time and circumstances warrant. To all others they will remain sealed. That time and those circumstances depend upon our own desire and efforts . It is an ancient maxim of the science that “when the disciple is ready, the Master will be found waiting” to help on his advancement, and in accordance with this our teaching expressly declares that the purpose of the Mason is to seek a Master and from him to gain instruction. The earnest Masonic disciple whose heart and thought are steadfastly set towards the Light may assuredly count upon finding himself led sooner or later to a real Initiate capable of helping him to it and of revealing so much of the real secrets as he is qualified to know. Real Initiates exist at all times, in this country and elsewhere, for the science is not restricted to any nation or creed but is universally diffused over the earth’s surface. They are, of course, not numerous and they are to be met with only by those competent to recognise them. They live a hidden life ; in the world but not of it. They never seek publicity or honours ; they never even disclose the fact that they are Initiates . This is the true Masonic secrecy and humility ; the greatest among men are content to be as those that are least. The world little suspects what it owes to its hidden Initiates. It would be interesting to say something of them, but time permits of my speaking only of a single case, and I will illustrate the universality of the science by referring (though reticently) to one who is not of our country, colour, or creed. There lives in a distant part of our Empire a man who is in the fullest sense a Master Mason . Years ago he embarked upon the great quest of Light, and after the necessary self-preparation under another Master he attained that great spiritual experience which changed his whole nature and raised him finally and permanently from darkness to Light. You may like to know how the daily life of such a man is spent, for it conforms literally with the rule of our symbolic working tool, the 24- inch gauge, in its application to the 24 hours of the day . For at least two hours each day he withdraws entirely from all external affairs, tyling his door as it were against their intrusion, and opens the Lodge of his soul to its central depths, passing into blissful, ecstatic communion with the Most High . It is his “hour of high twelve.” For another two hours a day he sleeps ; that brief period, with a minimum of simple food, sufficing to rest and recuperate his bodily energies, since his real rest and sustenance are drawn from the supernatural peace and bread of life that come to him from his Centre. . The remaining twenty hours of the day are devoted to unflagging labour in the interests of his countrymen and in the spiritual advancement of those brought under his guidance . You may suppose that. he is recluse living an unpractical life in a cell or a forest. On the contrary, he is a prominent man who has been knighted for his public service, a King’s Counsel, Attorney-General for a large province, a cultured scholar in English and other languages, and the writer of some important books. I have asked British Government officials who have worked with him for years whether they have found anything distinctive in him ; but they had detected nothing and were utterly blind to the extraordinary spiritual power and saintliness behind his formal exterior. He is one of those who has found, and lives from, the divine centre of his being -that point from Darkness which a Master Mason cannot err- and accordingly to possesses wisdom and powers beyond the imagination of the uninitiated world.”

-W. L. WILMSHURST

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