A few years ago I entered a period of retrospection about my life, which was also an effort at introspection, a quest to get to know myself better, and an attempt to define the sources and reasons for my countless mistakes. All of these attempts brought my self-esteem to its lowest possible ebb.
I realised that all of my actions had been, in the main, the result of choices based on instinctive responses, or made at random.
– I realised that, having been influenced by incorrect role-models, I had dedicated nearly all of my energy to the pursuit of material bliss, and thus the neglect and atrophy of my spiritual world had become a clear and present danger.
– I realised that, contrary to what my overgrown ego permitted me to see, my life’s journey up to that point had been rather meaningless.
– I realised, that apart from my time on earth –normal wear and tear in other words– I had nothing to show for my life, and I had not added a single grain of sand to this world.
If someone were to have asked me how I would describe the spiritual makeup of any individual, I would have replied that I see it as a vast, and very difficult puzzle, which is different for each of us; a puzzle which we spend our lives trying to solve.
Some pieces are in the wrong places, some are missing, some are superfluous and some, usually by sheer luck rather than by choice, are in their proper place.
The true difficulty, however, lies in the fact that basically, we do not have an image of the finished puzzle – the image we are trying to recreate – and so we proceed by “whistling in the dark”.
The harrowing results of this attempted experiment in self-awareness, led me to realise that I immediately needed to begin reconstructing my own puzzle, a task that at the time – and now even more so – seemed both difficult and arduous.
So, having first prepared “in my heart”, then, “in free will and accord”, prompted by “a favourable opinion preconceived of the institution”, “unbiased by the improper solicitations of friends”, “uninfluenced by mercenary or other unworthy motives”, when “the sun was at its meridian”, I knocked on the door of our Lodge, “humbly soliciting to be admitted to the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry”.
During the mystagogical rite of my Initiation as an Entered Apprentice, the first of the three progressive stages of the unipartite and indivisible Initiation into Freemasonry, the following occurred:
I experienced what was for me an unprecedented combination of successive and contradictory emotions; hope, but fear of the unknown, certainty, but also uncertainty, tension, but also indifference, urgency, but also hesitation, loneliness, but also companionship.
I received a cascade of symbols and allegories with multiple and complementary interpretations.
Through a revelatory experience, everything I saw, from the symbols I brought with me, to the Lodge symbols and the Officers, and above all, everything I heard and everything that occurred, led me to make connections and into frequently conflicting trains of thought.
Later, I began to realise that the initiatory process had activated internal spiritual centres which had not just been inactive, but whose existence I had not even been aware of. As a neophyte, my place was in the North-Eastern part of the Lodge, the place where darkness and light meet, and the place where the cornerstone of a building is symbolically placed. I was soon given the opportunity to perceive that I was not the symbolic cornerstone of some vague and monumental Masonic construction, as I presumptuously and conceitedly imagined, but that this specific building, of which I was indeed the cornerstone, was within me.
With the Lights that had been revealed to me as guides, I realised that I had to find and uncover the hidden, internal Light, and not find a convenient external one to light my way.
During my first steps in the Fraternity, I was fortunate enough to find “true and faithful” Brethren by my side, and so I was able, on the one hand, to perceive the difference between Freemasonry as a system, an “organisation” with administrative and managerial functions, regulations, commitments, history and traditions, which is often charged with attributes it never had, and on the other hand, Freemasonry as the Royal Art, which each of us apprehends in different and unique ways.
In the architectural symbolism that is familiar to us all, personally I conceive of the Fraternity as a building crew on a construction site (i.e. Freemasonry), and Freemasonry itself as the task of each workman.
The building site is governed by strict rules, comprises a hierarchy and an administrative system.
Within the framework defined for the building site and the application of the general rules, each worker has his own, unique way of working.
The construction crew has workers working simultaneously, on the same object, in the same space, with the same tools and the same general purpose, but in different ways and with different personal goals, since they have different motivations.
The common ground in their work is the integrity, as far as possible, of the completed work on which they are toiling, so that each of them may receive “his dues”. The personal goal for each individual is different and unique – and it may be that the differences lie in the “why” that led each of us to decide to knock on the door of the Lodge, but it may also be that they stem from the way in which each of us visualizes his own puzzle.
From our first days in Lodge, among many other things, all of us were taught the following, both experientially and by osmosis, even if we don’t always manage to remember it:
to be silent if we have nothing to say
to see and not to look
to control our impulsiveness
to respect different opinions
not to be afraid to reconsider our views
But how were we taught all these things?
Freemasonry is not a school; beyond the Ancient Landmarks, the Constitutions, the Internal Regulations of each Lodge and the Ritual used for Masonic Work, beyond the framework and the basic principles that cover its functions and organisation, it does not have positions, it does not offer knowledge, answers, nor any teachings, and since it rejects personal authority within the system, no answer – no matter who expresses it – is considered de facto correct.
By and large, Freemasonry raises questions and challenges each individual to find his own, personal answers.
As we have all heard the Worshipful Master advise us during our Initiation, though we are called upon to regulate our actions according to the Square, we are also exhorted to “study the liberal arts and sciences that may lie within the compass of our attainment”.
In his book, The Great Initiates, Eduard Schuré points out that “Truth is not given. You either discover it within you, or you never discover it.
Nobody can make you an Adept. You must become one by yourself”.
In fact, according to my present perception of Freemasonry, it seems that not only does it not offer knowledge or answers, but as individuals, as units, we don’t receive anything from the system, we only deposit into it.
We deposit time, ideas, spiritual work, money, emotions, physical and spiritual energy. If we receive anything from Freemasonry, we receive it as members of the indivisible Fraternity, and not as individuals, and from there, in our individual capacity, we select what we want to utilize.
With our Initiation and in our capacity as Freemasons – a capacity which will be with us for the rest of our lives, even if some of us choose to distance ourselves for whatever reason – we become inextricable parts of an indivisible whole, the Masonic Fraternity, without ever losing our individuality because of it.
Even though it sounds like an oxymoron, particularly to people outside the system, Masonic work is a purely individual, solitary pursuit which is, however, carried out collectively and in a collective environment.
Within the Fraternity, although nobody has the right to even attempt to impose his opinion or position on another, everybody is obliged – not to the system but to the Brethren as a whole and each Brother separately – to express that opinion, and everybody, both collectively and individually, is obliged to listen to it, to respect it, and to assess it.
In my own Freemasonry, there are no good or bad Freemasons; there are only more or less – or sometimes not at all – sincere ones.
Yet, as Oscar Wilde wrote in the Portrait of Dorian Grey: “The value of an idea has nothing whatever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it”.
From the first days following my Initiation, I observed that once the door of our Lodge shut behind me, I would be overwhelmed by a new mix of emotions. I was in a different environment, a peaceful one, filled with good manners, dignity, morality and love, one which was entirely the opposite of the environment in which I was accustomed to living and working. I now consider that one of the greatest dangers of anybody’s Masonic journey lurks in precisely this realization.
I now believe that I was in error, but at the time I believed that that was what Freemasonry was about, and that was its charm.
Yet that, as I realised with the passage of time, was only the charm of the ceremonial part of Freemasonry, of its first, external layer.
Freemasonry as I understand it now has more layers.
The external one, which includes the symbols, the allegories, and the rituals, is visible to everyone, and in this time of information overload that we live in, it is even visible to the uninitiated.
The other, esoteric aspect is that which we see with the eyes of the soul and spirit, when – and if – we are able to comprehend, consolidate, and eventually penetrate the necessary and particularly significant outer layer, through methodical and systematic work.
The old and most popular definition of Freemasonry tells us that it is a “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols”.
Yet it would be rather pointless for Masonic work to be limited to a process of decoding simple architectural symbols and the interpretation of allegories with the ultimate goal of the experiential teaching of basic humanitarian concepts such as morality, virtue or charity, concepts which more or less all religions include in their teachings and which are also part of elementary school education. Symbolism, in my own Freemasonry, functions in two stages.
The first is limited to observation, spiritual processing, and decoding – a personal interpretation. The second is a more substantial, but far more difficult process, as it means making use of the symbolism. It is movement from the idea, to action; a process which apart from spiritual work requires desire, decisiveness, and above all, as we are told during our Initiation: “perfect freedom of inclination”.
To many of us – myself included – especially before our Initiation, the almost obsessive severity regarding secrets – which are invisible to our eyes when “in a state of darkness”, raised many queries.
The attachment to tradition, the delineation of the space and the group of people who shared them, even the idea that it was possibly an “exercise” in Pythagorean silence and self-control were acceptable explanations, but certainly not entirely satisfactory ones.
The price that the Fraternity has paid and continues to pay for these secrets is disproportionately high. The satisfactory – for me – explanation appeared when I realised that beyond the external aspect of Freemasonry, that of rituals, symbols, and regalia, there was the esoteric aspect, that of the Great Work.
Then, better than the well-known Pythagorean aphorism: “do not say all things to all men”, the Biblical saying: “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you”, in combination with the following saying from the same chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be answered” demonstrates the symbolism of secrets and the necessity of guarding them strictly, and without exception.
Outlining the Great Work in alchemical terms in my own Freemasonry, I would say that we are each working on the transmutation of gross matter, of the soul, of the spirit, but also of the mind as a “bridge” between spirit and body; transmutation into purified matter through continuous internal work and perpetual spiritual ascent – according to each individual interpretation – a task which is both arduous and time-consuming. Yet, as Erasmus, the great Renaissance philosopher said: “nobody is born a Man, he becomes a Man”. We too, as spiritual Alchemists, seek the Philosophers’ Stone, the catalyst for transmutation, but, as in practical Alchemy, if we are to succeed then systematic, methodical, particularly time-consuming work is needed, as is a deep study of the materials and their composition, and finally, their harmonious separation, systematic work on each part separately, and reunification.
Beyond the very characteristic symbolism of the Chequered Pavement, traditionally during every meeting of our Lodge, at the moment when the three Lesser Lights are lit and extinguished, respectively before and after our work is complete, the Worshipful Master and his Wardens symbolically indicate to us how the balance between logic and spirit, word and deed, the harmony between matter and spirit are all essential to our work.
Before our meeting opens, we hear:
“May Wisdom guide us during the rebuilding of our Inner Temple”
“May it be made fast through Strength”
“And may it be decorated through Beauty”
and respectively at the closing of the Lodge:
“Wisdom governs the worlds evermore”
“Strength holds the Heavens”
“Beauty is inherent everywhere, visible and invisible”
My own Freemasonry is the way in which I am trying to achieve, not only inner harmony, but also a harmonisation with the timeless Universal Laws, those which Giordano Bruno called the “eternal and immutable Laws of Nature”.
from Plato’s Republic, written over 21 centuries before the appearance and systematisation of Speculative Freemasonry, sums up the essential purpose of my own Freemasonry in a few words: “in all respects be like a God among men”; not from a deist perspective, but from a rather more mystical viewpoint: due to a conscious need for liberation – and not a fleeting escape – from the walls of sensed reality, and thus due to a need to lift the limitations imposed by these walls.
If we consider our roots, we will note that manual labourers did not become true Masons when they picked up the tools corresponding to their degree during their admission, but only when they learned to use them. As Accepted Masons, it is neither the initiation rituals, nor the symbols, nor the interpretation of allegories, nor even learning our rituals by heart that makes us “true and faithful”.
Those are simply our tools.
Processing them, learning to use them correctly and apply them consciously are the actions which, in time, and in combination with other essential virtues, may render us privy to the “mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry”.
A long time ago, one of our Brethren said, with anguish: “Will I succeed?
This is the most tormenting question, which I am afraid can only be answered at the end of life”. I
agree with him, and I think it is hard to disagree with such a statement, yet – in my own Freemasonry – I will add to it the verses of the Alexandrian poet (C.P. Cavafy):
“At every stage bear Ithaca in mind.
The arrival there is your appointed lot.
But hurry not the voyage in the least:
’twere better if you travelled many years
and reached your island home in your old age,
being rich in riches gathered on the way,
and not expecting more from Ithaca”.
Special thanks to Mrs. Sasha Chaitow, Academy Director of Phoenix Rising Academy of Esoteric Studies and Creative Arts, for the assistance in translation from Greek into English.