From the Book "The Meaning Of Freemasonry"
By Watler Leslie Wilmshurst 1920
FREEMASONRY, under the English Constitution, reaches its climax and conclusion in the Order of the Holy Royal Arch. There exists a variety of other degrees ramifying from the main stem of the Masonic system which either elaborate side-points of its doctrine or re-express its teachings in alternative symbolism. These, while of greater or less merit and interest, are beyond our present consideration, and, indeed, are superfluities tending rather to diffuse the student's attention than to deepen his insight into the central purpose of the Craft. The taking of additional higher degrees may be indulged in almost indefinitely, but to what purpose if the initial ones, which contain all that is necessary for the understanding of the subject, remain imperfectly assimilated ? It is a fallacy to suppose that the multiplying of degrees will result in the discovery of important arcane secrets which one has failed to find in the rites of the Craft and the Royal Arch. The higher degrees indeed illustrate tru ths of much interest and often set forth with impressive ceremonial beauty, the appreciation of which will be the greater after and not before the meaning of the preliminary ones has been thoroughly absorbed; whilst the pursuit of " secrets " is certain to prove illusory, for the only secrets worth the name or the finding are those incommunicable ones which discover themselves within the personal consciousness of the seeker who is in earnest to translate ceremonial representation into facts of spiritual experience.
It was accordingly a sound instinct that prompted those who settled the present constitution of the Order to exclude these supplementary refinements and to declare that " Masonry consists of the three Craft Degrees and the Holy Royal Arch and no more," for within that compass is exhibited, or at least outlined, the entire process of human regeneration; so that after the Royal Arch there really remains nothing more to be said, although what has been said is of course capable of elaboration.
The completeness of regeneration theoretically postulated in those four stages is marked, it should be observed, by the very significant expression used in connection with a Royal Arch Chapter, which is interpreted as meaning " My people having obtained mercy," which in its further analysis signifies that all the parts and faculties (" people ") of the candidate's organism have at last, and as the result of his previous discipline and ordeals, become sublimated and integrated in a new quality and higher order of life than that previously enjoyed in virtue of his merely temporal nature. In a word, he has become regenerated. He has achieved the miracle of " squaring the circle "--a metaphorical expression for regeneration, as shall be explained presently.
Although but an expansion and completion of the Third Degree, of which at one time it formed part, there were good reasons for detaching the Royal Arch portion from what now forms the Degree of Master Mason. The two parts in combination made an inconveniently long rite, whilst a change in the symbolic appointments and officers of the temple of initiation was necessary, as the ceremony proceeded, to give appropriate spectacular representation to the further points calling for expression. Despite this re-arrangement the Royal Arch is the natural conclusion and fulfilment of the Third Degree. The latter inculcates the necessity of mystical death and dramatizes the process of such death and revival there from into newness of life. The Royal Arch carries the process a stage farther, by showing its fulfilment in the " exaltation " or apotheosis of him who has undergone it. The Master Mason's Degree might be said to be represented in the terms of Christian theology by the formula " He suffered and was buried and rose again," whilst the equivalent of the exaltation ceremony is " He ascended into heaven."
The Royal Arch Degree seeks to express that new and intensified life to which the candidate can be raised and the exalted degree of consciousness that comes with it. From being conscious merely as a natural man and in the natural restricted way common to every one born into this world, he becomes exalted (whilst still in his natural flesh) to consciousness in a supernatural and illimitable way. As has been said in previous papers, the purpose of all initiation is to lift human consciousness from lower to higher levels by quickening the latent spiritual potentialities in man to their full extent through appropriate discipline. No higher level of attainment is possible than that in which the human merges in the Divine consciousness and knows as God knows. And that being the level of which the Order of the Royal Arch treats ceremonially, it follows that Masonry as a sacramental system reaches its climax and conclusion in that Order.
As has also been already shown, to attain that level involves as its essential prerequisite the total abnegation, renouncement and renovation of one's original nature, the surrender of one's natural desires, tendencies and preconceptions, and the abandonment and nullifying of one's natural self-will, by such a habitual discipline and self-denial and gradual but vigorous opposition to all these as will cause them gradually to atrophy and die down. " He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit." As with a seed of wheat, so with man. If he persists in clinging to the present natural life he knows, if he refuses to recognize that a higher quality of life is here and now possible to him, or is unwilling to make the necessary effort to attain it, he " abideth alone," gets nowhere, and only frustrates his own spiritual evolution. But if he is willing to " die " in the sense indicated, if he will so re-orientate his will and silence his natural energies and desires as to give the Vital and Immortal Principle within him the chance to assert itself and supersede them, then from the disintegrated material of his old nature that germ of true life will spring into growth in him and bear much fruit, and by the stepping-stones of initiation he will rise from his dead self to higher things than he can otherwise experience.
This necessity of self-dying--not, we repeat, the physical death of the body but a mystical death-in life of everything except the body--is the first and fundamental fact to be grasped before one may hope to realize or even to understand the mystery of the Royal Arch Degree. " Mors janua vitae "; death to self is the portal to true life. There is no other way. It is the unescapable law and condition of the soul's progress.
But since it is a process involving a " most serious trial of fortitude and fidelity " and a grapple with oneself from which the timorous and self-diffident may well shrink, the Mystery-systems have always exhibited an example for the instruction, encouragement and emulation of those prepared to make the attempt and the necessary sacrifice. To hearten them to the task the Initiatory Colleges have held up a prototype in the person of some great soul who has already trodden the same path and emerged triumphant there from. It matters nothing whether the prototype be one whose historic actuality and identity can be demonstrated, or whether he can be regarded only as legendary or mythical; the point being not to teach a merely historical fact, but to enforce a spiritual principle. In Egypt the prototype was Osiris, who was slain by his malignant brother Typhon, but whose mangled limbs were collected in a coffer from which he emerged reintegrated and divinized. In Greece the prototype was Bacchus, wh o was torn to pieces by the Titans. Baldur in Scandinavia and Mithra in Greco-Roman Europe were similar prototypes. In Masonry the prototype is Hiram Abiff, who met his death as the result of a conspiracy by a crowd of workmen of whom there were three principal ruffians. In the Christian and chief of all systems, since it comprehends and re-expresses all the others, the greatest of the Exemplars died at the hands of the mob, headed also by three chief ruffians, Judas, Caiaphas and Pilate. If in Masonry the mystical death is dramatized more realistically than the resurrection that follows upon it, that resurrection is nevertheless shown in the " raising " of the candidate to the rank of Master Mason and his " reunion with the companions of former toils," implying the reintegration and resumption of all his old faculties and powers in a sublimated state, just as the limbs of the risen Osiris were said to reunite into a new whole and as the Christian Master withdrew His mutilated body from the to mb' and reassumed it, transmuted into one of supernatural substance and splendour.
We have, therefore, now to consider how the Royal Arch Degree exhibits the attainment of a new order of life. But it may be as well to say in advance that for those unhabituated to looking beyond surface-values and material meanings the exposition about to be given, dealing as it will with the profound spiritual truths and advanced psychological experience allegorized by the external ceremonial, is likely to present some difficulty of comprehension and acceptance. The Royal Arch, however, would not be the Supreme Degree it is did it not move upon a supremely high level of thought and instruction. It was not compiled to accommodate the elementary intelligence theoretically characterizing the philosophically untrained neophyte. It presupposes that its candidate has passed through a long, strenuous period of purification and mental discipline, in the course of which his understanding has become very considerably widened and deepened, whilst his fidelity to the high inward Light which has conducted him safely so far, has induced in him a humility and docility fitting him for what still awaits him--the attainment of that Wisdom which is concealed from this world's wise and prudent, but is revealed unto babes. It is a rite of initiation dealing less with his gross corporeal nature and his ordinary temporal mentality (which have been the subject of purification in the earlier degrees) than with the higher reaches and possibilities of his understanding and consciousness. As it is, what can be said here can at best be but a partial and incomplete exposition of a theme calling rather for disciplined imagination and reverent reflection than for reasoned argument. Certain things must perforce be omitted from explanation entirely, whilst others are mentioned with diffidence and at the risk of their being misunderstood or rejected by such as do not yet realize that in these matters " the letter killeth, the spirit vivifieth " and that " spiritual truths must be spiritually discerned."
Before interpreting the Ceremony itself it is desirable first to indicate four noteworthy features connected with this Supreme Order and distinctifying it from the three grades leading to it. In speaking even of these incidentals the before mentioned difficulties of both exposition and apprehension will already make themselves felt.
First, no one can be received into a Chapter without first having attained Master Mason's rank.
Second, the circular symbol of the Grand Geometrician, which in the Second Degree shone high above in the ceiling of the Temple, and in the Third Degree had moved downwards and burned as a glimmering ray in the East to guide the candidate's feet into the way of peace, has now descended completely to the chequer-work floor, where it rests as the centre and cubical focus of the entire organism and bears the Sacred and Ineffable Name, as also those of Solomon and the two Hirams.
Third, the constitution of the Assembly is no longer one of seven officers, but of nine, who are grouped in three triads about the Central Sacred Symbol.
Fourth, the Assembly, regarded as a unity, is no longer designated a Lodge, but a Chapter.
The first of these points--that none but a Master Mason can enter the Royal Arch--has already been accounted for. It is not feasible, nor is it within the law governing the process of spiritual evolution, for any who has not experienced the stage of mystical death to have experience of that which lies beyond that death. As an unborn physical infant can know nothing of this world, in which nevertheless it exists, until actually initiated into it by birth, so the embryonic spiritual child cannot be born into conscious function upon the plane of the Spirit until it has become entirely detached from the enfolding carnal matrix and tendencies to which it has been habituated.
The second and third points can be considered together. The re-arrangement of the factors constituting the ceremonial temple are symbolic of a structural re-arrangement which has occurred in the candidate's own psychical organization. This has undergone a repolarization as the result of the descent into it of that high central Light which at first but shone as it were in his " heavens," afar off and above him, illumining the dormer-window of his natural intelligence. Consider deeply what this change implies. The Day-star from on high has now visited him; the fontal source of all consciousness has descended into the very chequer work material of his transient physical organism, not merely permeating it temporarily with light, but taking root and becoming grafted there substantially and permanently. In theological language, God has become man, and man has become divinized, in virtue of this descent and union. In Masonic terms, the Vital and Immortal Principle resident in the candidate has at last superseded his temporal life-principle and established him upon a new centre of incorruptible life. Now, and perhaps only now, becomes thoroughly appreciable the necessity for the earlier purifications, discipline, self-crucifixion and death of all the lower nature. How could the purity of the Divine Essence tabernacle in the coarse body of the sensualist? How could the Eternal Wisdom unfold its treasures in a mind benighted or caring for nothing but base metals and material pursuits? How could the Universal Will co-operate with and function through the man whose petty personal will blocks its channel, antagonizing it at every turn with his selfish preferences and disordered desires ? A Master Mason, then, in the full sense of the term, is no longer an ordinary man, but a divinized man; one in whom the Universal and the personal consciousness have come into union. Obviously the quality of life and consciousness of such an one must differ vastly from that of other men. His whole be ing is differently qualitated and geared upon another centre. That new centre is described as the Grand Geometrician of man's personal universe, inasmuch as its action upon the organism of whoever surrenders himself to its influence causes a redisposition of functional and conscious faculty. The knowledge of this fact was with the wise ancients the true and original science of Geometry (literally " earth measuring "; determining the occult potentialities of the human earth or temporal organism under spiritual stresses). " God geometrizes " wrote Plato, with intimate knowledge of the subject. Many of the Euclidean and Pythagorean theorems, now regarded merely as mathematical demonstrations, were originally expressions, veiled in mathematical glyphs, of the esoteric science of soul-building or true Masonry. The well-known 47th Proposition of the First Book of Euclid is an example of this and in consequence has come (though few modern Masons could explain why) to be inscribed upon the Past Master's official jewel. Again, the squaring of the circle that problem which has baffled so many modern mathematicians --is an occult expression signifying that Deity, symbolized by the all-containing circle, has attained form and manifestation in a " square " or human soul. It expresses the mystery of the Incarnation, accomplished within the personal soul.
Under the stress then of the Geometrizing Principle now found symbolically integrated within the candidate's temporal organism, a re-distribution of his component powers has become effected. His repolarized condition is symbolized by an equilateral triangle with a point at its centre, and such a triangle will be found, worked in gold, upon the sash worn by the Companions of the Order. The significance of this triangle is that the tripartite aspects of him who wears it (that is, the spiritual, psychical and physical parts of him) now stand equalized and equilibrated around their common Life-Principle at the centre, fitted and equipped for Its purpose. Yet each of these three divisions, though in itself unitary, is philosophically triadic in composition when subjected to intellectual analysis. " Every monad is the parent of a triad " is another maxim of the Ancients, who anticipated the modern Hegelian proposition of metaphysics that thesis, antithesis and synthesis are the essential ingredients of a given truth. Hence it comes about that the three aspects of each of the three sides of our equilateral triangle are ceremonially personified by the nine officers of the Chapter--three in the East representing the spiritual side, three in the West figuring the soul or psychical side, and three subordinate links connecting these other two. (These will be further and more conveniently treated of later when the symbolic nature of the officers is dealt with).
The fourth point to be noticed was the change of designation from "Lodge " to " Chapter." The word " Chapter " derives from Caput, head. The reason for the change of name lies, however, much deeper than in the fact that the Royal Arch stands at the head or summit of the Craft. It has reference in a twofold way to the capitular rank and consciousness of the Arch Mason himself. In virtue of his headship or supremacy over his material nature he has passed beyond mere Craftwork and governing the Lodge of his lower nature, which he has now made the docile instrument and servant of his spiritual self. Henceforth his energies are employed primarily upon the spiritual plane. The " head " of the material organism of man is the spirit of man, and this spirit consciously conjoined with the Universal Spirit is Deity's supreme instrument and vehicle in the temporal world. Such a man's physical organism and brain have become sublimated and keyed up to a condition and an efficiency immensely in advance of av erage humanity. Physiological processes are involved which cannot be discussed here, beyond saying that in such a man the entire nervous system contributes to charge certain ganglia and light up certain brain-centres in a way of which the ordinary mind knows nothing. The nervous system provides the storage-batteries and conductive medium of the Spirit's energies just as telegraph wires are the media for transmitting electrical energy. But the true Master Mason, in virtue of his mastership, knows how to control and apply those energies. They culminate and come to self-consciousness in his head, in his intelligence. And in this respect we may refer to a very heavily veiled Scriptural testimony, the import of which goes quite unperceed to the uninstructed reader. The Gospels record that the Passion of the Great Exemplar and Master concluded " at the place called Golgotha in the Hebrew tongue; that is, the place of a skull "; that is to say it terminated in the head or seat of intelligence and in a mystery of the spiritual consciousness. The same truth is also testified to, though again under veils of symbolic phrasing, in the reference to the sprig of acacia planted at the head of the grave of the Masonic Grand Master and prototype, Hiram Abiff. The grave is the candidate's soul; the sprig of acacia typifies the latent akasa (to use an Eastern term) or divine germ planted in that soil and waiting to become quickened into activity in his intelligence, the " head " of that plane. When that sprig of acacia blooms at the head of his soul's sepulchre, he will understand at one and the same moment the mystery of Golgotha, the mystery of the death of Hiram, and the meaning of the Royal Arch ceremony of exaltation. It is a mystery of spiritual consciousness, the efflorescence of the mind in God, the opening up of the human intelligence in conscious association with the Universal and Omniscient Mind. It is for this reason that the cranium or skull is given prominence in the Master Mason's Degree.
With this premised we proceed to considering the Ceremony of Exaltation.