Before we were Passed to the Second Degree, the W.M.
asked us to name the grand principles on which Freemasonry is founded;
and, in reply, we named three -brotherly love, relief, and truth. Most
Masons know a great deal about the first two. We enjoy in our Lodges
comradeship, and brotherly love. We know how Masonry cares for the
widows and orphans, we all contribute to the Masonic Charities that
bring relief to others. Brotherly love we know; relief we know; but what
about the third grand principle on which our Order is founded-Truth? How
many seek to advance in Masonic knowledge, to search into the meaning of
our ceremonies, to try and lift the veil of allegory, and understand the
"truth" that Masonry presents?
Among a great variety of peoples in different lands,
and in different ages, attempts have been made to guard "truth" and hand
it on to others. Those who discovered this "truth" often chose means of
protecting it and preserving it. One common way was to surround it with
secrecy. You may ask, Why? Why not reveal the "truth" to everyone?
Partly because it is so precious! What is easily told is as easily
forgotten. Their knowledge, their discovery, their "truth" was not
something superficial - it was a sacred trust, and must be zealously
guarded and preserved. Another reason for secrecy was that the "truth"
was to be handed on only to worthy people. Today it is generally the
custom to make information open to all; but we do know that certain
knowledge (in the wrong hands) can be misused. The details of atomic
fission could be misused with catastrophic results. In olden days the
highest knowledge was given only to those who had proved their moral
A second way of presenting and preserving "truth" is
to set it in a symbolical form. The outward form - like our Masonic
ceremonies - is often colourful and attractive. But behind the outward
form is the "truth", concealed from the casual and the indifferent, but
available to those who will persevere in the search into its mysteries.
In order to illuminate some of the inner meaning of
the Second Degree, I now ask you to come with me to Greece and Egypt,
and see how the beliefs of the ancient people are related to Masonry.
From about 600 B.C., for the space of a thousand
years, the temple at Eleusis was a centre to which the scholars, the
thinkers, the writers, the world-conquering Roman emperors came to be
initiated. To Eleusis went the great Roman orator Cicero; to Eleusis
went the greatest of the Greek thinkers, Plato ... all seeking to be
initiated into the mysteries. Many of those who were initiated refer to
the Mysteries of Eleusis in their writings.
They say that the truth they learned there surpassed
all other knowledge, and without it their world could not have
continued. But not one of them revealed this truth! It was given to them
in secret; it was handed on to worthy men; and (as I hope to show), the
truth has been incorporated into Freemasonry. The guide who took me over
the ruins at Eleusis would point to various carvings saying, as he waved
his hand: "Only Masons understand this".
The secrets of Eleusis were handed on to worthy men,
and to worthy men alone. This means that sometimes a candidate who
applied for initiation was rejected. One person who was turned down was
the Emperor Nero. The priests at Eleusis were quite definite. They said
that Nero was a murderer, and one who had no respect for human life
could not be initiated into the true meaning of life. This refusal shows
the value and the importance of the mysteries of Eleusis. Emperor Nero
could have summoned 30 Legions and razed the temple at Eleusis to the
ground, have had all the priests massacred, but all this would not have
given him this secret knowledge, this "truth", this wisdom, which only
those fit to receive were able to understand.
Next, I want to say a word about the ritual at
Eleusis. It is based on a Greek legend about a girl called Persephone.
This Persephone was the daughter of a goddess, a divine being. One day,
as the girl played in the fields picking flowers, she was seized and
carried off by Pluto, the ruler of the Underworld. The girl's mother,
Ceres, began to look for her missing daughter, and after a prolonged
search found she was married to Pluto. After much effort, Jupiter, the
most powerful of all the ancient gods, allowed her to return to her
mother for six months in every year.
Some people interpret this curious myth as being an
explanation of corn growing. The lost girl's mother is called Ceres -
which is our word for cereal; she represents a corn deity. The seed of
corn must be buried in the underworld before it can rise to a richer
But do you really think that leaders, and thinkers
and scholars, and emperors came to Eleusis just to take part in ritual
concerned with corn growing? No! I suggest, that like all initiates, we
begin by metaphorically taking off our shoes, for the place on which we
stand is Holy ground.
Persephone, of divine parentage, represents the soul.
The soul descends to earth and is married to this world. Does this mean
the death of the soul? The secret of Eleusis was to reveal how the soul
can cease to be earth-bound, and can rise to a richer, fuller life.
May I, here, insert a few words about the Masonic
apron? At our initiation we were clothed with this apron, which is one
of the Masonic symbols. With its flap raised it is five-sided - thus
representing human nature with five senses. The apron consists of a four
(square) and a three (triangle). Four is the number of earth, i.e., the
four corners of the earth; three is the number of heaven (many
religions, including the Xian faith, have a trinity in the Godhead). So
four plus three means heaven and earth, or the human plus the divine.
Four, plus three, give us the perfection symbolised by the number seven.
At our initiation the raised flap of the apron shows
the human and the divine side by side - but as we progress and pass to
the Second Degree (as we make our Masonic journey into understanding)
the flap is lowered; the divine is entering into the human; and two
rosettes, the ancient hieroglyphics of light, appear on the apron to
symbolise the opening of the inward eye which perceives new truths.
To return to the ceremony of Eleusis. The candidate
had first of all to assemble at a certain gate of the hill-top at
Athens, some four and a half miles from the sea. Each candidate was then
given a pig which he had to drive through the fields and streets for
that distance. When they finally reached the sea the pig was killed, and
the blood sprinkled on the candidate.
Each year thousands of onlookers must have watched,
and mocked, candidates as they tried to drive their pig over that long
distance. What was the purpose of it all? Quite clearly to prepare the
candidate. It was intended to pictorialise his preparation for
initiation. The candidate had first of all to strive, to make the
effort, to accept the ridicule of onlookers, as he drove all the
piggishness out of his own character. Only worthy men were to be given
new truth. So first, all that is unclean must be driven away - washed,
as the pig was washed in the sea; all that is unworthy must die, as the
pig died - and the new, cleansed life, symbolised by the blood, was
placed on the candidate.
The Herald at Eleusis then greeted the candidate with
Come, all those who are clean of body and pure of
mind Come, those whose lives show righteousness and justice Come, those
whose speech is reasonable and intelligible Stand back, stand back, all
who are profane and unholy.
All initiations into higher truth are concerned with
the true self, and not with the self, the mark, the clothes, the
appearance you reveal to the world. And so at Eleusis, as in a Masonic
Lodge, when a candidate is prepared for initiation all the outward forms
are taken away. M-s and M-1 s-s are also removed because the things that
they can purchase have here on meaning. We are concerned with the true
self, with the real you; and to impress this indelibly on your mind all
the outward things are taken away.
At Eleusis the candidate was next blindfolded (to
remind him that he is in a state of darkness, and blind to the truth).
He is led round and round a great hall. This tells him he is making a
long journey. This is no easy quest. He must continue, and persevere, if
he is to arrive at a new understanding. At length the blindfold is
removed, and the candidate is given an ear of corn and a jar of water.
He is told to pour some of the water on the ground. (Perhaps you are
reminded of the words "an ear of corn near to a fall of water".)
Finally, the candidate was told that the corn seed was a sacred symbol;
like the soul, it does not die, but can rise to a richer, fuller life.
Among the ruins of Eleusis there are some carvings
which depict some ears of corn alongside a rosette. The rosette - like
those on our aprons can symbolise the eye which sees the real truth
about human beings.
In this Second Degree we use "S-h" as a password.
This Hebrew word is explained in Young Concordance as meaning "a stream
and an ear of corn". And in the explanation of the Second Tracing Board
we are told that K.S. caused this word to be adopted as a password to
prevent any unqualified person ascending the winding staircase into the
middle chamber, i.e., that we shall never climb up into the centre, into
the true meaning of life, unless we begin with the right key, or
password, that man is an immortal being. The stream (or fall) of water
stresses activity. Water is essential to life, and the ear of corn tells
that it is possible to rise to this richer, fuller life.
At Eleusis the candidate drank a soup made from corn
and water. They wanted to make sure that he fully understood that he was
not just taking part in some ritual - this was something about his inner
self - about his character. He must imbibe this knowledge into his
system, take it into himself, make it an essential part of himself. Only
so could he know the truth.
Next I want to say a word about Egypt. The
explanation of the First Tracing Board begins: "The usages and customs
among Freemasons have ever borne a near affinity to those of the ancient
I begin my comments by referring to an account by
Herodotus, the so-called "Father of History", writing about 450 B.C.,
and telling what he learned from his visit to Egypt. Egypt had declined
in power and prestige ever since the truths taught by the mystery
religions were ignored or forgotten. But he has recorded some details of
an inifiation. The candidate was the King, and he returned from the
darkness wearing an apron he had received from the gods. I have already
said something of what the apron can symbolise, and it is repeated in
this record - the human king is now enriched with a godlike gift, there
is the human plus the divine.
Herodotus says that the king was led blindfolded into
the temple, but he gives no details of the initiation ceremony. And so
for details of the ceremony I would ask you to study the picture of an
Egyptian initiation dated 1333 B.C. The master is seated. Before him
stands the candidate, and behind the candidate are men kneeling and
making a sign . . . so for 3,000 years this sign has been used.
I should like to end by saying a word about the badge
and mystic sign:
(1) The H-g sign. Saluting the Master, who sits in
the East where the sun rises, whence the fight comes. I hail, I acclaim,
I acknowledge this light, this wisdom, this understanding, which shows
me the truth about men, which reveals his spiritual nature, and says
that a fuller, nobler life is possible, when - as in this apron, the
divine enters the human.
(2) The sign of F-y. To this new understanding, this
truth, I vow and swear fidelity. To live and act and think in the light
of this knowledge.
Or to set it
in a few lines of poetry:
Isn't it strange that princes and kings
And clowns that caper in circus rings
And common folk like you and me
Are builders to eternity?
To each is given the working tools,
An unformed mass, a book of rules.
And each must leave, ere life be flown,
A worthless lump, or a polished stone.