Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
It is nearly 22 years since I was initiated into the mysteries of Ancient Free Masonry. I had at that time some knowledge of the mysteries of the Greeks, and in response to the toast of my health in the ante-room of the Masonic Hall, I gratefully recognized that I had, at last, been linked with the mysteries of Eleusis. Further experience and reading have confirmed that opinion.

The central idea of Freemasonry is expressed in the Exhortation as it is termed in the third degree. It suggests a system which, in fact, is carried out in slip-shod fashion, designed to express the summation of life's experience of birth, life, and death. It is stated in terms by the use of the words " your admission among Masons in a state of helpless indigence." This finds its corollary in the language in which the neophyte is described in the first tracing board as a " rough and unpolished stone." The next stage is revealed when the new-born child, progressing by the usual stages, is intellectually developed and traces Heavenly science to its origin. What is Heavenly Science but that Knowledge, which, painfully acquired, results in the perfection of humanity, or in other words—the highest ideals expressed in human conduct. This is in symbol expressed by the intricate windings of the steps in the second degree. The third stage is revealed when in express language Masonry teaches us " how to die." If my view is correct Masonry really teaches us still more. She tells us of that joyful reunion with those -who have passed beyond the terrors of death, who have paid their tribute to Charon, for whom death has no terrors, and who are, together with them, living in the Elysian Fields. Although in the years of Anno Domini, they are nevertheless under the realm of the period of Anno Lucis ; they may be the subjects of republics or monarchies, but they are co-equals with all that rule in a world in which the uninitiated, be they princes or peasants, have no share. They in fact compose a new ideal world. They are a new society. It is an enclave within the old social order. It stands outside of and superior to every religious and social order in existence. This is the essential spirit and teaching of Freemasonry.

Let us in detail examine this proposition. The candidate is introduced in a state of darkness in a lighted room. All, but he, are in the realm of light, he alone is stumbling about in a slip-shod state within the Temple. His stumbling feet are led. Partially undressed he is assisted step by step in a state of bewilderment and wonder. What is going to happen next ? His very replies to questions are dictated to him. He has neither eyes nor tongue nor motion. He is as inert and as unintelligent as a babe new-born. His only language, if a cry, is not a masonic expression. It is the period of birth with all its concomitants, pain, discomfort and helplessness. Masonically viewed he is a ridiculous, helpless, indigent figure. If he possesses any means of buying aid he must be ignominiously thrust into outer darkness again, and he must be reintroduced into the kingdom of virtuous co-equal men without clothing upon him and with no claim upon their acceptance than that of modesty. What comment, more striking could possibly be expressed upon the language of Holy Writ, " Ye must be born again." It is the dictum of the Mohammedan " Believe or die." It is the faith of the Buddhist " Om Mani Padme Om," when, as Sir Edwin Arnold expresses it, " the Dewdrop slips into the Shining Sea " and Nirvana is reached. It is the mind of the novitiate of the Greek mysteries who believed that by par- taking in the mystic communion with the dead he attained that state of mind which enabled him to say " death has no terrors." It is in short the entry of a human life upon a new world, where material advantages of wealth and fortune find no place, where moral standards alone predominate, where there is no colour line, no rival sects or creeds, but where humanity, perfectly co-equal, stands broad-based upon the fact of its co-equality, rests upon its essential moral quality, and finds a broad avenue of common opportunity for advance- ment, along which the neophyte may make a daily progress towards the perfection of Masonic knowledge.

Let us see what the world is into which the new- made brother of Freemasonry has been introduced. It is partly described in the first tracing board. Our lodges symbolize the Universe hallowed by prayer and the Divine presence. I purposely exclude the tosh which represents the three grand offerings and the alleged situation. East and West, and the Hebraic nonsense with which our ceremonies are interlarded. Our foundation is more ancient than the Western concept of religion which in its origin had no knowledge of a world which was outside the Pillars of Hercules and the Mediterranean Sea. The Greek religion was fundamentally universal. It embraced Heaven, earth, and the underworld. The Mohammedan turns east or west, as his geographical point is towards Mecca. The Zoroastrian knew no geography but the Sun which was worshipped at all altitudes East or West. Buddhism knew no geography, but was governed by the conception of Soul or absence of every material attribute and which also recognized no divinity but that of Universal Being. Masonry as I conceive it is vastly bigger than all these. It is a universal religion which may embrace all religions and which worships East or West. Its Temple, pointing in every possible orientation, expresses this view. It is as a mere convention that we may speak of East or West. The sun is always at its meridian with respect to Freemasonry.

This is the world into which symbolically the initiate into Freemasonry is ushered and of which for all time he forms a part. He has entered a new moral order. His obligations to the world outside have been dissolved save in so far as they are conditioned by moral conduct. His Master is the Master of the Lodge and the Rulers of the Craft, and while he remains a good citizen his allegiance to the State is a duty flung almost negligently upon it and not naturally arising from his participation in its life. The world at large expects a Mason to be something above an ordinary man. In ancient days it was always assumed that those who had been initiated into the mysteries of Eleusis would take a juster and sterner view of moral innocence and guilt, and they also held that foul conduct was a greater sin when committed by a man who was in the official service of Demeter and Persephone.

The very tools of the degree imply a state of regeneration. Part of our life henceforth is to be spent in prayer and service; conscience is to guide us in all our doings, and we are reminded by the chisel that our education has begun.

Proceeding onwards, still guiding his progress by the principles of moral truth, the initiate is led in the second degree to contemplate the intellectual faculty and to trace it from its develop- ment through the paths of Heavenly Science even to the Throne of God Himself. This is the mystery and meaning of the Fellow-Craft. The great Architect of the Universe becomes the Geometrician. It is the world measured, upon which the Mason enters, not, be it observed, the world as it proceeds from the hand of its Maker, but the world mapped out, planned, divided by lines, each span containing elements of knowledge from the study of which he may look from Nature up to Nature's God. In this degree the liberal arts and sciences are commended for study. His progress towards the attainment of this degree is symbolized by a winding staircase. His motto is " Excelsior" and his progress slow and difficult. Such is the common experience of mankind in its efforts to possess knowledge and to realize truth. The second degree symbolizes man in his upward struggle from the mud of his origin to the light of reason and a well-ordered life, from the darkness of the uninitiated to the light of a day in which he stands as the apex of an ordered and comprehended universe.

The ceremony of the second degree is mere machinery devised for the purpose of testing the Candidate's credentials. He replies that he is taught to be cautious. His badge points out that as a Craftsman he is now expected to make the liberal arts and sciences his future study. The objects of research in the degree are the hidden mysteries of nature and science. It is in short the degree of education, that long drawn-out process by which a man realizes his better self and gradually becomes in touch with all that he meets and absorbs within himself, all history, all human experience and the knowledge of nature in its every phase. It is thus that he is led even to the Throne of God Himself.

The tools of the degree are symbolical of this state. The square is emblematical of his rectitude in life, the level reminds him that he lives among co-equals, the plumb-rule points Heavenward. While reminded of his duties towards his fellow men he is at the same time encouraged by the Eternal Hope.

In considering the explanation of the Second Tracing Board I deem it necessary to state my attitude towards the Hebraic History with which our ceremonies are interwoven. Frankly, I reject the lot. In the course of my reading for the Honours Degree in Theology at Cambridge I was compelled to read many books and to draw definite conclusions. The main conclusion which I drew with respect to the Jews was that they were a race and not a nation. With the exception of but a brief period in history they have never been a nation and in my opinion never will be. They find it easier to live amongst and upon other races. It must be remembered in this connection that the whole Temple history and ritual is post-exilic. The researches of Wellhausen show that the theory of the Aaronic priesthood, the promulgation of the law and the whole system of priests' offerings and Temple ritual found no counterpart in the days of Solomon. The Temple of Jerusalem never became in Solomon's days, or in any other, an object of admiration to the surrounding nations. The surrounding nations of that period were vastly in advance of the Israelites in all that civilization connotes. Inhabiting as they did a very small quarter of the globe, in area less than Wales, without manufactures, natural wealth, or even am literature, they were a wholly insignificant people. Persia, Greece, Syria, Egypt, Rome, all in turn conquered and captured them. For five hundred years B.C. they were a servile race. Christianity has given them a dignity and position to which they were never entitled. Those who framed our ceremonies have overlaid the Greek mysteries with Hebraic Fables. I reject as utterly unhistoric any reference to King Solomon and the stories associated with Hiram Abiff. These things are allegories. They never had any historic foundation. I am of opinion that the real basis of the teaching of the second degree is to be found in the fact that when our ancient Brethren had entered the Porch and arrived at the foot of the Winding Staircase they were met with a demand for the pass-word which indicated an ear of corn. This is the link with the mysteries of Eleusis. It symbolizes Demeter or in Roman times Ceres, the Goddess of Corn or Plenty and conveys to the initiate the glorious hope of Resurrection and Immortality. All the rest of the explanation of the Tracing Board in so far as it is Judaic is in my opinion pure undiluted nonsense. The grand secret of all is revealed in the concluding words which point to the object of all life's training and research. Their attention is finally drawn to certain Hebrew characters which represent the Sacred Name. In short the end of life is to find the embodiment of the Highest. This is at once the process and end of Education.

The charge after Passing supports this theory of the second degree. In his new character as a Mason it is expected that not only will the new- made Brother conform to the principles of the Order, but that he will also steadily persevere in the practice of every virtue and study the liberal arts, which tend so effectually to polish and adorn the mind, and thus qualify a man to become a useful member of society.

Re-birth and Education seem therefore to be established as the meaning and explanation of the first two degrees of Masonry.

So far as the last degree of Masonry is concerned we are not left in the slightest doubt. We are taught how to die. This is the fundamental symbolism of the third degree. The Architect and Geometrician are left behind. We are ushered in darkness into the presence of the Most High. In so far as the Architect persists He is represented as an active Ruler as well as Creator. It is the alpha and omega of the Divine Being. It is as Creator and Controller that we call upon His aid. Under His Protection we traverse the Underworld, we travel through the valley of the shadow to emerge triumphant in the Kingdom of the Saints, who like us have passed through dangers and difficulties to regain a firm footing among the comrades of Hope and Faith.

It is in this degree that we touch most intimately our Pagan origin. Modern Masonry is Eleusis with Hebraic mantles, just as our Christian festivals are transformed Pagan seasons, and the village maypole a survival of the worship of the primal Forces of Nature. In the mysteries of Eleusis at each autumn of the year there was a mystic preliminary purification in the sea. It can be well imagined that this took place while all the neophants were in a state of nature. Like all Masons they were in their novitiate in " a state of helpless indigence." The next step was the journey by the Sacred way to the Holy Temple at Eleusis. This corresponds to our second degree, which in turn marks out our progress through life. The sublime degree is reached when we arrive at the great object of our search, which is to discover all that life has to teach. There is but one great and useful lesson more. We are linked indissolubly with the Shades. Henceforth life has no terrors. The worst has passed behind us. We are in truth Free Men. For the first time we are clothed with our Aprons. In symbol we have passed from death to life. The future has been revealed and we have been participants in the explanatory drama. It is perfectly certain that the Eleusinian mysteries were a dramatic representation of the search by Demeter for the body of her daughter Persephone. The myth represents the daughter as having been stolen by Pluto and retained in the underworld as his wife. The mother's journeys are described by classic authors as " the torch-lit wanderings to find thy daughter." She travels like the candidate in the third degree in the dark. Nothing affrights her. In symbol she passes the gates of Diss to the underworld. She is partly successful, but each year for her beloved child must return to Pluto's Kingdom or a period of three months, after which she is restored to sunshine and the life of the upper world. In symbol Persephone represents an annual resurrection. It is the seed corn near to the fall of water representing fecundity and immortality. Such is the Greek legend. Its mysteries were assuredly known to the Roman world. Its very pass word has come down to us. It is as follows:—" I have fasted. I have drunk the barley drink. I have taken [the things] from the sacred chest. I have placed them in the basket, and again from the basket into the chest." Such must have been the ritual in the Eleusinian Hall some twenty-six centuries or more ago. It was a religious ceremony. Those who partook in its mystic dances were thence-forward co-equal with the Gods, they had nought to fear. As Demeter would rather suffer death than fail in her maternal duty to Persephone, so they who worshipped her had been crowned at last with the chaplet which henceforward was the badge of the initiated and which showed that they had been enabled to assume a new attitude towards the outer world. As Aristotle well said of them: "The initiated do not learn anything so much as feel certain emotions and are put into a certain frame of mind." Is not this the main object of Masonry ? It is not without significance that in the Royal Arch the secrets are found with the aid of pick-axe and shovel.

In our mysteries we are enacting a drama. We are teaching ourselves how to die. We are reminding ourselves that to the just and virtuous man death has no terrors. It is a process which enables us to echo the Pagan Hierophant who proclaimed upon his tombstone that he had found "death was not an evil but a blessing."

Such, my Brethren, appears to me to be the symbolism of the third degree. In that ceremony the candidate advances with both breasts open to the world, with courage and with fortitude. He steps over the open grave with calmness, and thenceforward with courage, with bold or marching steps, assured as he is of a happy reunion with the former companions of his toil.

By Fred Brockelhurst, M.A. (Cantab.)
http://www.seattlemasons.org/papers/symbolismthree.html