(Senior Grand Deacon, Past Master - Temple-Noyes-Cathedral Lodge No. 32)
Some months ago, my daughter, Adrienne, found a book in a yard sale near her home in El Cirrito, CA which she bought and sent to me. The book, The Meaning of Masonry, is by W.L Wilmhurst, PM 275; Past Provincial Grand Resgistrar (West Yorks), UGLE.
I have to confess that, as I am not as well-versed in the esoteric aspects of Masonry as I maybe should be, it was difficult to get started reading this book. However, on a recent vacation, I found more time to delve into it. So far, I have only completed reading the first two chapters (or, as he calls them, lectures) of the book. So this article will not expound on the book as a whole, but rather on the portions of which I have completed in my study, so far.
Throughout the reading, WB Wilmhurst draws parallels between Masonic teaching and that of religious teaching, particularly Christianity, referring multiple times to the Holy Trinity in his description of the use of various aspects of Masonry, i.e. three lesser lights, three pillar officers, and the three great Master-builders of the Temple. Having said that, the author states in part that Masonry is “…not in itself a religion; but rather a dramatized and intensified form of religious process inculcated by every religious system in the world.”
WB Wilmhurst promotes several ideas that, while not totally foreign to our understanding of Masonry, will make the reader think about the rituals and Degrees in a different light. In the forward to the book, WB Wilmhurst promotes the concept that “Freemasonry is not the repetition of the ritual or the safeguarding of secrets, but the regeneration of the Brethren.” He states in part that Masonry is essentially a “philosophical and religious system expressed in dramatic ceremonial. It is a system intended to supply answers to the three great questions that press so inexorably upon the attention of every thoughtful man and that are the subject around which all religions and philosophies move. What am I? Whence come I? Whither go I?”
He goes on to explain that the act of initiation, passing, and raising should be seen as parallel to one’s stages of life. Life, in turn, is seen as a pursuit of the answer to those questions. The reason a candidate joins Masonry should be a desire for knowledge, a desire for that Light that may not be found elsewhere. Anything less is seen as a less than worthy reason for applying for membership. It is also seen as the reason we do not solicit men to join our Craft. The reasons should come from within the candidate in as an expressed desire to seek improvement in himself internally. And in that regard, the candidate first prepares himself to become a Mason in his heart.
Masonry is also seen as a pursuit to reach the perfection which was lost at the time of the exile from the Garden of Eden. Man in his natural state is inherently imperfect. As he becomes conscious of that state of imperfection, he develops a desire to seek a remedy. Over time, a great many schools of that secret knowledge, which have purported to guide the candidate to that remedy, have risen and fallen. They have in their time taught both the internal and the external doctrines that we as Masons seek. The doctrines they taught remain with us even as these schools no longer exist. Today, speculative Masonry is in part based on these teachings.
In Masonic lore, we address the building of a Temple in Jerusalem. It is the Temple within us that is being constructed with the living stones being, in effect, the souls of men. The conspirators of the Master Mason’s Degree are analogous to the disobedience of Adam and Eve in eating the apple; seeking knowledge for which they were not prepared or had not earned. The tragedy is then seen as “a cosmic breakdown and universal loss; an allegory of the breakdown of a divine scheme” and “a moral disaster to universal humanity”. What we have lost is not designs upon a trestle board nor even a secret word, but a path to that Supreme Wisdom that will enable us to complete that temple of human nature leading us closer to the perfection of man.
Despite these losses, there remains a Light in the East. We therefore travel from West to East in search of that Light which provides a mere glimmer of the true secrets we hope to find through our studies in Masonry. Those secrets would otherwise allow us to seek a state of perfection or regeneration as the author refers to in the forward to his book.
The above is but a brief interpretation of the first two lectures contained in WB Wilmhurst’s book. Those two lectures were entitled “The Deeper Symbolism of Masonry” and "Masonry as a Philosophy.” I personally found the content to be at times enlightening, and at other times intriguing. Sharing this work may promote wider discussion and exploration into our Craft. While I don’t know that everyone will agree with WB Wilmhurst, the discussion and exploration that is encouraged should enable us all to attain some higher level of understanding which, in closing, is the true focus of Masonry.
As I complete the other lectures in the book, I'll return to offer my thoughts on those, as well. But until then, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Meaning of Masonry.