Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

VI. Ceremonies of Initiation
The Apprentice, Fellow-Craft, and Master Mason

399. Ceremonies of Initiation: the Apprentice.—The novice that is to be initiated into the first or apprentice degree is led into the lodge building by a stranger, and introduced into a remote chamber, where he is left alone for a few minutes. He is then deprived of all metal he has about him; his right knee, and sometimes his left side, are uncovered, and the heel of his left shoe is trodden down. These ceremonies are supposed by some writers on the craft to be of Jesuitical origin. The deprivation of metals is to typify the vow of poverty, the baring of the breast and knee is intended to prevent the admission of women, and the treading down the heel of the shoe to remind the candidate that Ignatius de Loyola, who had a bad foot, thus began his pilgrimage. His eyes are bandaged, and he is led into the closet of reflection, where he is told to stay without taking off the bandage, until he hears three knocks. At the signal, on uncovering his eyes he beholds on the walls, hung with black, inscriptions like the following:— "If idle curiosity draw thee hither, depart!" "If thou be afraid of being enlightened concerning thy errors, it profits thee not to stay here." "If thou value human distinctions, go hence; here they are not known." After a deal of palaver between the brother who introduces the novice and the master, the candidate, having his eyes again bandaged and a cord passed round his neck, is introduced into the middle of the brethren, his guide pointing a naked sword to his breast. He is then questioned as to his object in coming hither, and on answering that he comes to be initiated into the secrets of Masonry, he is led out of the lodge and back again to confuse him. A large square frame covered with paper, such as circus-riders use, is then brought forward and held by two brethren.

The guide then asks the master: "What shall we do with the profane?" To which the master replies: "Shut him up in the cave." Two brethren seize the postulant and throw him through the paper-screen into the arms of two other brethren who stand ready to receive him. The folding doors, hitherto left open, are then shut with great noise, and, by means of an iron ring and bar, the closing with massive locks is imitated, so that the candidate fancies himself shut up in a dungeon. Some time then elapses in sepulchral silence. All at once the master strikes a smart blow, and orders the candidate to be placed beside the junior warden, and to be made to kneel. The master then addresses several questions to him, and instructs him on his duties towards the Order. The candidate is then offered a beverage, with the intimation that if any treason lurks in his heart, the drink will turn to poison. The cup containing it has two compartments, the one holding sweet, the other bitter water; the candidate is then taught to say:— "I bind myself to the strict and rigorous observance of the duties prescribed to Freemasons; and if ever I violate my oath"—(here his guide puts the sweet water to his lips, and having drunk some, the candidate continues)—"I consent that the sweetness of this drink be turned into bitterness, and that its salutary effect become for me that of a subtle poison." The candidate is then made to drink of the bitter water, whereupon the master exclaims: "What do I see? What means the sudden alteration of your features? Perhaps your conscience belies your words? Has the sweet drink already turned bitter? Away with the profane! This oath is only a test; the true one comes after."

The candidate persisting nevertheless in his determination, he is led three times round the lodge; then he is dragged over broken chairs, stools, and blocks of wood; this trial over, he is told to mount the "endless stairs," and having, as he supposes, attained a great height, to cast himself down, when he only falls a few feet. This trial is accompanied by great noise, the brethren striking on the attributes of the order they carry in their hands, and uttering all kinds of dismal skputs. As a further trial, he is then passed through fire, rendered harmless by well-known conjuring tricks; his arm is slightly pricked, and a gurgling noise being produced by one of the brethren, the candidate fancies that he is losing much blood. Finally, he takes the oath, the brethren standing around him with drawn swords. The candidate is then led between the two pillars, and the brethren place their swords against his breast. The master of the ceremonies loosens the bandage without taking it off. Another brother holds before him a lamp that sheds a brilliant light. The master resumes:

"Brother senior warden, deem you the candidate worthy of forming part of our society?" "Yes." "What do you ask for him?" "Light."" "Then let there be light!" The master gives three blows with the mallet, and at the third the bandage is taken off, and the candidate beholds the light, which is to symbolise that which is to fill his understanding. The brethren drop their swords, and the candidate is led to the altar, where he kneels, whilst the master says: "In the name of the Grand Architect of the universe, and by virtue of the powers vested in me, I create and constitute thee masonic apprentice and member of this lodge." Then striking three blows with his mallet on the blade of the sword, he raises the new brother, girds him with the apron of white lamb's skin, gives him a pair of white gloves to be worn in the lodge, and another to be given to the lady he esteems most, a symbolical gift which need not be further explained. He is then again led between the two pillars, and received by the brethren as one of them. Such is the proceeding the apprentice has to go through; a few more details may be added.

One question put to him is: "Have you seen your master to-day?" "Yes." "How was he clothed?" "In a yellow jacket and blue pair of breeches." The explanation is: the master is the compasses, the yellow jacket is the brass body, and the blue breeches are the steel points. He is also asked: "How old are you?" "Under seven." This answer implies that he has not passed to the fellow-crafts degree, seven years being the term of an apprenticeship in Freemasonry, as it is in other trades. The password is Boaz, the sign holding the hand horizontally, with the thumb turned up towards the right ear, to remind the apprentice of his oath, on taking which he promises: "These several points [keeping the secrets of the order] I solemnly swear to observe without evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation, under no less a penalty on the violation of any of them, than to have my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the root, and my body buried in the sand of the sea." The grip is given by a distinct pressure of the right hand thumb on the first joint from the wrist of the right hand forefinger, grasping the finger with the hand.

400. Ceremonies of Initiation: the Fellow-Craft.—The second degree of symbolic Freemasonry is that of fellow-craft. The apprentice, who asks for an increase of salary, is not conducted to the lodge like the profane by an unknown brother, nor are his eyes bandaged, because the light was made for him, but moves towards the lodge holding in his hand a rule, one of whose ends he rests on the left shoulder. Having reached the door, he gives the apprentice's knock, and having been admitted and declared the purpose for which he comes, he five times perambulates the lodge, whereupon he is told by the master to perform his last apprentice's work. He then pretends to square the rough ashlar. After a deal of instruction, very useless and pointless, he takes the oath, in which he swears to keep the secrets entrusted to him. Then there follows some more lecturing on the part of the master, chiefly on geometry, for which Masons profess a great regard, and to which the letter G seen in the lodge within an irradiation or star is said to refer.

The oath of the fellow-craft is rather more atrocious than that of the apprentice. He swears, in addition to his former obligations, to keep the secrets of the crafts, and to do so under no less a penalty than to have his left breast cut open, his heart torn therefrom and given to the ravenous birds of the air and the devouring beasts of the field. With reference to this oath the sign is given by placing the hand with the thumb turned up on his breast; the password is Jachin, sometimes Shibboleth. The grip is given by a distinct pressure of the thumb of the right hand between the joints of the first and middle fingers of the right hand.

401. Ceremony of Initiation and Story of Hiram's Murder: The Master Mason.—At the reception of a master, the lodge or "middle chamber" is draped with black, with death's heads, skeletons, and cross bones painted on the walls. A taper of yellow wax, placed in the east, and a dark lantern formed of a skull having a light within, which shines forth through the eye-holes, placed on the altar of the most worshipful master, give just sufficient light to reveal a coffin, wherein the corpse is represented either by a lay-figure, a serving brother, or the brother last made a master. On the coffin is placed a sprig of acacia, at its head is a square, and at its foot, towards the east, an open compass. The masters are clothed in black, and wear large azure sashes, on which are represented masonic emblems, the sun, moon, and seven stars. The object of the meeting is said to be the finding of the word of the master that was slain. The postulant for admission is introduced after some preliminary ceremonies, having his two arms, breasts, and knees bare, and both heels slipshod. He is told that the brethren assembled are mourning the death of their grand master, and asked whether perhaps he was one of the murderers; at the same time he is shown the body or figure in the coffin. Having declared his innocence of any share in that crime, he is informed that he will on this occasion have to enact the part of Hiram (385), who was slain at the building of Solomon's temple, and whose history he is about to be told. The brother or figure in the coffin has in the meantime been removed, so that when the aspirant looks at it again, he finds it empty. The story of the murder of Hiram is then related. But the deed is not, as in the Legend of the Temple, attributed to Solomon's jealousy, but simply to Hiram's refusal to communicate the master's word to three fellow-crafts. The various incidents of the story are scenically enacted on the postulant. "Hiram," the master continues, "having entered the temple at noon, the three assassins placed themselves at the east, west, and south doors, and Hiram refusing to reveal the word, he who stood at the east door cut Hiram across the throat with a twenty-four-inch gauge. Hiram flew to the south door, where he received similar treatment, and thence to the west door, where he was struck on the head with a gavel, which occasioned his death."

The applicant, at this part of the recital, is informed that he too must undergo trials, and is not to sink under the influence of terror, though the hand of death be upon him. He is then struck in the forehead and thrown down, and shams a dead man. The master continues: "The ruffians carried the body out at the west door, and buried it at the side of a hill"—here the postulant is placed in the coffin—"in a grave, on which they stuck a sprig of acacia to mark the spot. Hiram not making his appearance as usual, Solomon caused search to be made for him by twelve trusty fellow-crafts that were sent out, three east, three west, three south, and three north. Of the three who went east, one being weary, sat down on the brow of a hill to rest himself, and in rising caught hold of a twig"—here a twig of that plant is put into the hand of the aspirant lying in the coffin—"which coming up easily, showed that the ground had been recently disturbed, and on digging he and his companions found the body of Hiram." (A similar occurrence is related in Aeneis, iii. 22-29, where Aeneas, in plucking up a shrub on the side of a hill, discovers the murder of Polydorus.) "Hiram's body was in a mangled condition, having lain fourteen days, whereupon one of those present exclaimed Macbenach! which means 'the flesh is off the bones,' or 'the brother is smitten,' and became the master's word, as the former one was lost through Hiram's death; for though the other two masters, Solomon and Hiram, king of Tyre, knew it, it could only be communicated by the three grand masters conjointly."

The covering of the grave being green moss and turf, other bystanders exclaimed, Muscus domus, Dei gratia! which, according to Masonry, is, "Thanks be unto God, our master has got a mossy house!" The exclamation shows that the Hebrew builders of Solomon's temple possessed a familiar knowledge of the Latin tongue! The body of Hiram could not be raised by the apprentice's or fellow-craft's grip, but only by the master's, or the lion's grip, as it is called. All this is then imitated by the master raising the aspirant in the coffin, who is then told the word, signs, and grips, and takes the oath, promising to keep the masonic secrets under no less' a penalty than to have his body severed in two, his bowels torn thereout and burnt to ashes, and those ashes scattered to the four cardinal points. The grip is given by a distinct pressure of the thumb between the joints of the middle and ring fingers. The password is "Tubal-Cain."

There are three signs, the most important being the penal sign, which is given by drawing the hand across the centre of the body, dropping it to the side, and then raising it again to place the point of the thumb on the navel. The grip is the first of the five points of fellowship, and consists in taking hold of each other's wrists with the points of the fingers. The second point is placing the right foot parallel with the right foot on the inside; the third, right knee to right knee; the fourth, right breast to right breast; and the fifth, hand over shoulder, supporting the back. It is in this position, and only in a whisper, that the word "Mahabone," or "Macbenach," is given, the first meaning "the death of a brother," and the second "the brother is smitten."

402. The Legend Explained.—Taken literally, the story of Hiram would offer nothing so extraordinary as to deserve to be commemorated after three thousand years throughout the world by solemn rites and ceremonies. The death of an architect is not so important a matter as to have more honour paid to it than is shown to the memory of so many philosophers and learned men who have lost their lives in the cause of human progress. But history knows nothing of him. His name is only mentioned in the Bible, and it is simply said of him that he was a man of understanding and cunning in working in brass. Tradition is equally silent concerning him. He is remembered nowhere except in Freemasonry; the legend, in fact, is purely allegorical, and may bear a two-fold interpretation, cosmological and astronomical.

Cosmologically, we find represented therein the dualism of the two antagonistic powers, which is the leading feature of all Eastern initiations. The dramatic portion of the mysteries of antiquity is always sustained by a deity or man who perishes as the victim of an evil power, and rises again into a more glorious existence. In the ancient mysteries, we constantly meet with the record of a sad event, a crime which plunges nations into strife and grief, succeeded by joy and exultation.

Astronomically, again, the parallel is perfect, and is in fact only another version of the legend of Osiris. Hiram represents Osiris, i.e. the sun. The assassins place themselves at the west, south, and east doors, that is, the regions illuminated by the sun; they bury the body, and mark the spot with a sprig of acacia. Twelve persons play an important part in the tragedy, viz. the three murderers (fellow-crafts), and nine masters. This number is a plain allusion to the twelve signs of the zodiac, and the three murderers are the three inferior signs of winter, Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius. Hiram is slain at the west door, the sun descends in the west. The acacia of Freemasonry is the plant found in all the ancient solar allegories, and symbolising the new vegetation to be anticipated by the sun's resurrection. The acacia being looked upon by the ancients as incorruptible, its twigs were preferred for covering the body of the god-man to the myrtle, laurel, and other plants mentioned in the ancient mysteries. Hiram's body is in a state of decay, having lain fourteen days; the body of Osiris was cut into fourteen pieces (51). But according to other statements, the body was found on the seventh day; this would allude to the resurrection of the sun, which actually takes place in the seventh month after his passage through the inferior signs, that passage which is called his descent into hell. Hiram can only be raised by the lion's grip. It is through the instrumentality of Leo that Osiris is raised; it is when the sun re-enters that sign that he regains his former strength, that his restoration to life takes place. Masons in this degree call themselves the "children of the widow," the sun on descending into his tomb leaving nature—of which Masons consider themselves the pupils a widow; but the appellation may also have its origin in the Manichaean sect, whose followers were known as the "sons of the widow" (112).

403. The Raising of Osiris.—A painting found on an Egyptian mummy, now in Paris, represents the death and resurrection of Osiris, and the beginning, progress, and end of the inundation of the Nile. The sign of the Lion is transformed into a couch, upon which Osiris is laid out as dead; under the couch are four canopi or jars of various capacities, indicating the state of the Nile at different periods. The first is terminated by the head of Sirius, or the Dog- Star, which gives warning of the approach of the overflow of the river; the second by the head of the Hawk, the symbol of the Etesian wind, which tends to swell the waters; the third by the head of a Heron, the sign of the south wind, which contributes to propel the water into the Mediterranean; and the fourth by that of the Virgin, which indicates that when the sun had passed that sign the inundation would have nearly subsided.

To the above is superadded a large Anubis, who with an emphatic gesture, turning towards Isis, who has an empty throne on her head, intimates that the sun, by the aid of the Lion, had cleared the difficult pass of the tropic of Cancer, and was now in the sign of the latter; and although in a state of exhaustion, would soon be in a condition to proceed on his way to the south. The empty throne is indicative of its being vacated by the supposed death of Osiris. The reason why the hawk represents the north wind is, because about the summer solstice, when the wind blows from north to south, the bird flies with the wind towards the south (Job xxxix. 26). The heron signifies the south wind, because this bird, living on the worms hatched in the mud of the Nile, follows the course of the river down to the sea, just as the south wind does. To know the state of the Nile, and therefore their own personal prospects, the Egyptians watched the birds; hence among other nations, who did not know the principle by which the Egyptians went, arose divination by the flight of birds.

404. The Blazing Star.—The representation of a blazing star found in every masonic lodge, and which Masons declare to signify prudence—though why a star should have such a meaning they would be at a loss to tell—is the star Sirius, the dog-star, mentioned above, the inundation of the Nile occurring when the sun was under the stars of the Lion. Near the stars of the Cancer, though pretty far from the band of the zodiac towards the south, and a few weeks after their rising, the Egyptians saw in the morning one of the most brilliant stars in the whole heavens ascending the horizon. It appeared a little before the rising of the sun; they therefore pitched upon this star as the infallible sign of the sun's passing under the stars of Leo, and the beginning of the inundation. As it thus seemed to be on the watch and give warning, they called it "Barker," "Anubis," "Thot," all meaning the "dog." Its Hebrew name, "Sihor," in Greek became "Seirios," and in Latin "Sirius." It taught the Egyptians the prudence of retiring into the higher grounds; and thus Masons, ignorant of the origin of the symbol, yet give it its original emblematic signification.