The Meaning of Masonry - by Bro. WL Wilmshurst

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The Meaning of Masonry

Chapter 1 - The Deeper Symbolism of Masonry

A candidate proposing to enter Freemasonry has seldom formed any definite idea of the nature of what he is engaging in. Even after his admission he usually remains quite at a loss to explain satisfactorily what Masonry is and for what purpose his Order exists. He finds, indeed, that it is “a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” but that explanation, whilst true, is but partial and does not carry him very far. For many members of the Craft to be a Mason implies merely connection with a body which seems to be something combining the natures of a club and a benefit society. They find, of course, a certain religious element in it, but as they are told that religious discussion, which means, of course, sectarian religious discussion, is forbidden in the Lodge, they infer that Masonry is not a religious institution, and that its teachings are intended to be merely secondary and supplemental to any religious tenets they may happen to hold. One sometimes hears it remarked that Masonry is “not a religion”; which in a sense is quite true; and sometimes that it is a secondary or supplementary religion, which is quite untrue. Again Masonry is often supposed, even by its own members, to be a system of extreme antiquity, that was practiced and that has come down in well-nigh its present form from Egyptian or at least from early Hebrew sources a view which again possesses the merest modicum of truth. In brief, the vaguest notions obtain about the origin and history of the Craft, whilst the still more vital subject of its immediate and present purpose, and of its possibilities, remains almost entirely outside the consciousness of many of its own members. We meet in our Lodges regularly we perform our ceremonial work and repeat catechetical instruction-lectures night after night with a less or greater degree of intelligence and verbal perfection, and there our work ends, as though the ability to perform this work creditably were the be-all and the end-all of Masonic work: Seldom or never do we employ our Lodge meeting for that purpose for which, quite as much as for ceremonial purposes, they were intended, for “expatiating on the mysteries of the Craft,” and perhaps our neglect to do so is because we have ourselves imperfectly realized what those mysteries are into which our Order was primarily formed to introduce us.

Yet, there exists a large number of brethren who would willingly repair this obvious deficiency, brethren to whose natures Masonry, even in the more limited aspect of it, makes a profound appeal and who feel their membership of the Craft to be privilege which has brought them into the presence of something greater than they know, and that enshrines a purpose and that could unfold a message deeper than they at present realize.

In a brief address like this it is hopeless to attempt to deal at all adequately with what I have suggested are deficiencies in our knowledge of the system we belong to. The most one can hope to do is to offer a few hints or clues, which those who so desire may develop for themselves in the privacy of their own thought. For in the last resource no one can communicate the deeper things in Masonry to another. Every man must discover and learn them for himself, although a friend or brother may be able to conduct him a certain distance on the path of understanding. We know that even the elementary and superficial secrets of the Order must not be communicated to unqualified persons, and the reason for this injunction is not so much because those secrets have any special value, but because that silence is intended to be typical of that which applies to the greater, deeper secrets, some of which, for appropriate reasons, must not be communicated, and some of which indeed are not communicable at all, because they transcend the power of communication.

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