What is Freemasonry

There are two basic statements that are predicated of Freemasonry; one is a statement of Freemasonry about itself that is common to most Masonic Fraternities.  Another is a more emphatic statement that is not so generally known or even accepted yet by Masons themselves, but one that we view in AUM to be equally valid and dynamic, and which will eventually also perhaps become more widely accepted as progress is made in Masonic knowledge, understanding.

The more pervasive and common statement of Freemasonry about itself, and one which alludes to its epistemological basis, is that it is:

A peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.

A more emphatic statement about Masonry pertaining to its ontological mode is that it is:

The Custodian of the Law, the Home of the Mysteries, and the Seat of Initiation.

Both of these statements are most interesting and are considered in the following discussion.

A Peculiar System of Morality Veiled In Allegory and Illustrated by Symbols

The assertion that Freemasonry is such and such postulates the existence of its being such and such and somewhat lays the predicate for an epistemological inquiry upon which definite knowledge pertaining to the proof of its being such and such can be known or cognised.

The Latin mos ‘custom’ is the starting point of the English family of ‘morality’ words.  Its adjective moralis was derived, according to some, as a direct translation of the Greek ethikos ‘ethical,’ to denote the ‘typical or proper behaviour of human beings in society,’ and was appropriated directly into English in the fourteenth century.  The conventional definition has subsequently come to mean ‘of or relating to principles of right and wrong behaviour,’ and implies conformity to established sanctioned codes of ‘right and wrong,’ or more philosophically, to ideals of right human conduct.  Of course, various cultures have entertained differing views as to what constitutes ‘right and wrong,’ but now perhaps it can be said that the universal bench-mark that drives across all religious and political boundaries is etched in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.

Now according to conventional Masonic jurisprudence it has been posited that the first class of Masonic infractions, rendering their perpetrators liable under Masonic jurisdiction, are offences against the moral law.  Thus sayeth the old Charges of 1722 that:  “Every Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law.”

The earlier framers of Masonic constitutions during the ‘Humanistic Era’ defined this ‘moral law’ as the lex naturae, the ‘law of nature.’  Now, this ‘moral law’ is not to be considered as confined to the Decalogue of Moses, within which narrow limits the ecclesiastical writers technically restrain it, or limited to the conventional views of the morality that all religions rightly emphasize and civilised society has adopted, because if it is measured against the ontological assertions of Freemasonry the epistemological implications allude to something much deeper.

A universal law, when properly recognised as such, is indeed an appropriate selection for the government of an institution whose prominent characteristic is its universality.  Three characteristics have therefore been posited as distinctive criteria by which to (characterise) the definienda—law (that which is characterised)—with a definiendum: all three characteristics must meet the requirements for mutual pervasion in the definiendum, universal law, if it is to be designated as such.  These three characteristics are:

  • It is eternal, meaning that it must have been ascertained to have always existed.
  • It is universal, meaning that all mankind of every country and of every religious persuasion are subject to it.
  • It is immutable, implying that it is unchangeable.

It can be said that there are probably many such laws that come under this category that mankind knows absolutely nothing about, for if one of the definitions of ‘law’ is “that of pertaining to the impact of a greater life or Life upon the lesser lives within its being,” then it must be admitted that there are many such forces and impacts that we are subjected to, the source of which we are probably entirely ignorant and against which our little wills are helpless.

However, all of this initial consideration begins to clarify something to the understanding of the assertion that Masonry is “the custodian of the law.”

Now according to the Ageless Wisdom the Laws of Nature are imposed upon the masses and cannot be avoided.  If these laws are broken, infringed or evaded, they carry their own karmic penalty within themselves, and this also cannot be avoided.  These great protective laws are intended to guard the personalities through which the soul incarnates and eventually to cement and further all the great and possible relationships.  The individual passes from the stage of antagonism (as an individual) to the control of these natural though divine laws, to a recognition of their inevitability and of their wisdom.  They automatically then control him.

When this control by the Laws of Nature has become complete, the person becomes an aspirant and begins to come under the Laws of the Soul, which are the laws concerned primarily with the establishing of the great Fellowship of the Universe.  It is really these latter laws which the allegories, symbolism and dramatic enactments of Freemasonry allude to.  It is here where the lines have become blurred and confusion has entered in.  The initial moral lessons of character-building and the disciplines to which the personality has to submit when coming under soul influence have been interpreted to imply the Laws of the Soul, but the latter have nothing to do with the petty little affairs of the personality but with the growing recognition of right group relations.  The latter are based upon a growing understanding of the mode of work of the Grand Lodge on High and its inter-relationships.

The Laws of the Nature, therefore, concern the activities of the soul in form and are mandatory and accepted by the form nature.  The Laws of the Soul concern the life of the soul upon its own plane, and the relation that the blending soul and personality learn to establish with other souls and with the Grand Lodge on High (to employ the Masonic nomenclature for the Spiritual Hierarchy).  These are consciously and voluntarily obeyed and are not just accepted as mandatory and as forced upon the person by force of circumstances, experience and evolution.  They tend to bring about increasing relation between the Hierarchy of Souls and Humanity as a whole, between the great planetary center that is the custodian of the principle of love (the Grand Lodge on High) and the planetary center, humanity, which nurtures and distributes the energy of mind.

From acceptance of the laws of nature and obedience to the laws of the soul, the initiate and ‘risen master’ eventually passes into a dynamic and positive phase of understanding wherein he can wield the Law of Life.  But any discussion about this phase of being is beyond our consideration here.

All of these factors mentioned in the foregoing pertaining to three types of laws in general but to the Laws of the Soul in particular (and hinting at the Law of Life) are illustrated, allegorized and symbolised in the Masonic dramatic enactments.

Now Freemasonry describes itself as “a peculiar system of morality . . . etc.

The etymology underlying ‘peculiar’ is from the Latin peculiaris ‘of private property,’ a derivative of peculium ‘private property,’ which in turn was from pecus, ‘cattle,’ and hence ‘wealth’ (the source of the English pecuniary).  The initial meaning underlying peculiar was that of being ‘one’s own alone,’ and came to include ‘distinctive,’ ‘belonging exclusively to one person or group,’  The development of the adjective’s meaning from ‘belonging to oneself alone’ to being ‘different from the usual or normal’ to ‘extraordinary, strange,’ took place in Latin.

The initial use of the word in the Masonic description of itself therefore implies that Freemasonry is set apart as being something unique, not in the meaning of the later development to mean ‘strange,’ but that Masonry is the custodian of distinctive properties or resources in the form of its moral and spiritual teachings and privileges which are reserved for its members.  If this idea is carried inwards to that of which Freemasonry is a custodian—the Law, the Ancient Mysteries, and the Seat of Initiation—then such participating consciousnesses are the ‘private property’ or ‘distinctive characteristics’ of its members who are awake to its deeper meanings, for such consciousnesses are ‘different from the usual or normal’ conventional consciousnesses and are not bound by conventional custom.

System is from the Late Latin systema, which is literally from the Greek systêmat, systêma, from synistanai, meaning ‘to combine’—syn, ‘with, together’ plus histanii ‘to cause to stand,’ i.e., ‘to stand together.’  The ordinary dictionary definitions interestingly suffice to suggest the Masonic implications of “a regular interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole”; “a group of interacting bodies under the influence of related forces”; “an assemblage of substances that is in or tends to equilibrium.

Morality is a derivative of the noun-plural version (morali-ties) and is in fact a doctrine or system of moral conduct.  In this meaning it pertains to a moral discourse or lesson, a literary or other imaginative work teaching ‘moral lessons.’

Now here is where things really get interesting and where the deeper nature of Freemasonry enters in and where perhaps the bones of contention and bewilderment arise.  If Freemasonry is a “peculiar system of morality . . . ” then it cannot be limited to the view of a fraternal order where merely conventional morals are emphasised or taught according to conventional custom, for that would not make it unique, i.e., ‘peculiar.’  The doctrine or system of moral conduct of which it is the custodian must therefore imply something more distinctive if it is to characterise the ‘private property’ of its members, and it is indeed, notwithstanding all the conventional customs of civilised ‘morals’ that Masonry admonishes, a custodian of a deeper teaching.

It is here where the second part of the statement that Masonry is the “Home of the Mysteries” enters into the consideration.  What are the Mysteries and why is Freemasonry considered the “Home of the Mysteries”?  The “Ancient Mysteries” refer to that body of teachings which have existed “since time immemorial” pertaining to the truer spiritual purposes for humanity’s existence, and which delineate the goal to be sought, the objectives and reasons for the soul’s purpose through the medium of the form, the sequential stages of the disciplines to be applied to oneself in the pursuit of achieving these objectives, and the larger picture pertaining to the Macrocosmic whole, to the relationships of the part (individuals and humanity itself) to the whole and of the whole to the part, to relationships that exist within that Whole—group to group and of and between greater Entities, and it is thus the great dissertation upon the purposes of existence, the why’s and wherefores, the whence, how and whither, summed up in the nomenclature of the Ageless Wisdom as The Plan.

In short, these Ancient Mysteries were originally given to humanity by the Grand Lodge on High and contain the entire clue to the evolutionary process, hidden in numbers, in ritual, in words and in symbology; these veil the secret of man’s origin and destiny, picturing to him, in rite and ritual, the long, long path which he must tread, back into the light.

Through the degree work of Freemasonry, and mainly through its Three Degrees, its unique aspect is that this Teaching pertaining to the individual and our collective spiritual purposes (albeit in somewhat a diluted form but “veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols”) has been preserved through the dramatization of its ceremonial ritual work and through its sequential unfoldment and evolution from degree to degree—and here we refer mainly to the Three Degrees of the Craft, plus the Mark and the H.R.A., and therefore five ceremonies or degrees of essential significance.  Some of the so-called higher degrees (such as those of the Scottish Rite) may be regarded as extensions and elucidations of the three degrees of the Blue Lodge.  They may be regarded as decorative, but as embodying also some teaching and some aspect of unfoldment which is needed in relation to the three true degrees.  They throw light upon them, and in their aggregated groups produce that perfecting, that illumination, and that exaltation which lies ahead of every candidate for spiritual realisation.  For that reason and owing to their teaching value, these rituals and ceremonials warrant investigation and interpretation.  Some of the higher degrees tend to bring glory to the sublime third degree, and to bring about a clearer understanding of the great changes which inevitably take place within the human spirit when the darkness of the grave is undergone, the process of death is known, and . . .

In the first three degrees are depicted the search of the individual for light, wisdom and life.  In some of the higher degrees there are dim allegorical allusions to the universal search (by the collective whole) in the various ways and in the many lands and through diverse religions, for the final revelation for which the experience of the Blue Lodge has prepared the candidate.  Subtle and illusive (although not so subtle in AUM) indications are given also of that organised and intelligent activity which is carried on by that Grand Lodge of Master Masons who have for ages watched over humanity, and guided men steadily in the way of light.  Thus, some of the higher or decorative degrees can be regarded as human efforts to grasp and indicate the nature of this higher service and the wider possibilities that open up before those who have been entered, passed and raised in the Lodges on earth.

In the Mystery Schools of past ages, such as those in India, the Zoroastrians, Mithraic, Chaldæa, Egypt and Greece, one of the significant methods of training and teaching (as well as by other methods) was by dramatic representations and enactments of those observances (the Ancient Mysteries) which taught the origin of things, the nature of the human spirit, its relations to the body, and the methods of its purification and restoration to a higher life expression.  Though the forms through which this body of teaching pertaining to man’s essential divinity has adapted to culture and time, nothing of its essential value has been lost and is thus preserved for us today in modern Freemasonry for those who can see it.  In fact, all systems of the Mystery teachings of past ages today terminate in modern Masonry, and hence, the modern Mason is the heir of the ages.  It is perhaps this type of unconscious recognition that causes Freemasonry to stand before the judgment seat of humanity’s expectations at this time, for it is perhaps unconsciously sensed that Freemasonry has yet to live up to its divine expectations and purpose in its service to humanity as a whole.  Nevertheless, the new and coming Aquarian Age will see Masonry come into its own and fulfill its greater purposes and responsibilities in the coming age that is to be governed by the two primary rays of Freemasonry, Rays Four and Seven.

But a unique factor of which Freemasonry has been and is a custodian pertains to the unfolding sequential progress upon this Path of Light by way of a graded series of achievements that culminate in the five major initiations of which the Ancient Mysteries inform us: from that of a beginner on the Path when the soul “enters” and begins to control its personality, to that of the triumphant adept, the risen master.  Thus is the goal set before us spiritually and thus has Freemasonry performed a vital task as a preserver and custodian of the Plan within the bosom of humanity, for humanity has never been left without a witness to its abiding spiritual purpose.

Thus, what is said (epistemologically) of its moral precepts is the predicate to be proven with respect to its basis of inference; that is its (ontological) mode of being as the custodian of the law, the seat of initiation, and the home of the mysteries.

Our attention is thus directed to what could be called the first of the Divine Laws enumerated in our AUM Constitutions: the Law of Love.  The Ancient Mysteries inform us that this energy of love is the primary divine quality (as the Law of Attraction) emanating from the Logos of our solar System and that our Logos (God) is engaged in the task of superimposing this quality of Life itself (as Electric Fire, the first aspect of this powerful energy of love) upon the karmically inherited primordial substance of inherent intelligence through the entire System.  In the nomenclature of the Ancient Mysteries this emanatory energy is given the distinction of being that of the Second Ray Energy of Love-Wisdom, the Divine Ray or Vibration of the System, is superimposing itself upon, merging with and absorbing the energy of the Primordial Ray of the System, that Aspect of Intelligence and of the Intelligent Activity of all substance, the Third Aspect of the essential Divine Trinity of Aspects, and which expresses that which is characteristic of and inherent in all substance out of which all things in our System are made.  We are further told that the objective and purpose of this merging and fusing is to qualify the activity of intelligent substance with that of love, whereby love itself becomes the motivating power to intelligent activity and ultimately the primary quality of substance itself.

Therefore, we predicate that the true moral force behind all activity that seeks to qualify intelligent behaviour and bring conformity to ‘right human conduct’ is the energy and force of love itself, under the impact of the emanating Life energy of the Logos of our System, shaping and molding human intelligence according to relative measure, conscious evolution and capacity to rightly respond to this impact in time and space.  The impact of a greater Life energy upon the lesser lives within its corporate being has been defined as the source of that which we register as ‘law,’ and thus it may be said that the Law of Love itself is the true moral law, not only of our planetary Scheme and therefore our little globe, the Earth, but that of our solar System itself.  But this moral force is guarded and protected by the Law of Ethical Causation, the Law of Karma.

It is this ‘moral force,’ as the law of love, that essentially governs the fraternal nature of Freemasonry as a brotherhood, for the idea of brotherhood, as it should more truly be understood to be the relationship between all souls, soul to soul and to the One Soul, can be said to underlie or sub-stand the spiritual doctrine of Masonry. The true brotherhood of Freemasonry therefore illustrates and symbolises the relationship between all souls—for the soul is love and light—and as that soul is intended to express itself on earth through its personality.  Thus is the greater Plan preserved in Masonry, for the greater goal for humanity itself is the establishing, anchoring and manifesting on Earth of this greater brotherhood of souls, for we are all essentially kin.  Thus will the Temple of Humanity be raised.

Two thousand years ago, our Great Teacher and Grand Master of the Lodge on High gave the simple Commandments on love to mankind, which, if kept, naturally and automatically include all lesser commandments and laws.  The example of His life not only expressed this Logoic energy of Love and anchored it upon the earth for the first time in the history of the race, but He also exemplified the Law itself, summed up in His life-expression the Teachings of the Ancient Mysteries, and symbolically illustrated the five Initiations throughout the drama of His life.  Thus He revealed the truer ontological nature of all human beings, with the promise that “all men would someday do as He had done.”

From this fundamental Law of Love come all the ethical and moral considerations of the Masonic art.