I continue to be fascinated by this contradiction: before initiation we are a part of the bedrock, not yet removed from the quarry. As a result of initiation we become an individual, a rough ashlar. And yet initiation makes us part of the lodge, an element of the greater whole. A seeming paradox, this.
Let me put this paradox another way. An initiation, although principally for the initiate, is not only for him. We all join in with our hearts so that the brotherhood of the many can contribute to the enlightenment of the one, that second freedom which the initiate is about to experience. So it’s a collective endeavour. Yet it’s also an individual undertaking. The initiate takes the step freely. Only he can do it. Nobody else can do it for him. And he can do it for nobody but himself.
Before we attain to the freedom granted by initiation, we need to be free in ourselves, a sort of two-tier freedom. I suppose many thousands of words have been spent searching for the exact nature of this basic freedom which the ritual requires before initiation, and many interpretations have been put on it. I think of it like this: we talk about trusting the initiate that he will ‘become a true and faithful brother among us’ but in fact he does not know where he is going or what will happen. It is he who places a greater trust in us. True freedom then is in trusting those around you. It is a trust in which the first bond is forged. It is like a leap into the unknown because you trust those who have brought you to this place, no matter what the outcome, good or bad. And as Michael Baigent points out, you have to have insight into what’s happening in order to be truly free, not blown about by every passing wind. The ceremony of initiation comes as something new; the initiate must have a sense of impending dawn, a spiritual birth, an awakening, a focus for all his aspirations.
Now, we are going to use the words of the ceremony to initiate this candidate. In an earlier issue of this magazine, I suggested that in learning the words and actions of the ritual we are merely sharpening the carving tools, imitating the operative craftsman of old. We are not actually carving the stone. The words and the learning of them are the form of our vocation as Freemasons, not the content. Of course the carving tools should be bright and sharp. But endless repetition of the words of ritual does not lead us to self-knowledge, enlightenment, spiritual growth or moral development. So how are we to go about this, what is the secret of meaningful rendition of ritual?
The answer lies in one word: Heart. We need to feel what we are doing, or the effect will be blunted. Let me give you an allegory. Some years ago a friend taught me some of the principles of woodturning. The piece of advice that has stuck most firmly in my mind is ‘Just rest on the chisel, don’t put pressure on it – let the wood do the work’. It’s certainly true of woodturning, as I found. I think it’s probably also true of masonic work.
The relationship between the initiate and the lodge is a very special one. The individual is out on his own, in a sense carried along by the collective, borne forward on the wind of goodwill, harmony and love. Fanciful? I don’t think so. We are living in a wicked world, where all kinds of disharmony and evil are seemingly allowed full rein. By turning aside for a moment from the jarring sounds of war, injustice, suffering, chaos, disagreement and discord, and concentrating on real values in ourselves and in our collective pursuit of spiritual advancement, we gain real strength, real inner nourishment. Here is a flight path we can follow, leading us ‘even to the throne of God Himself’ where nothing is required of us, either as initiate or as a participant in the initiation, except goodwill, harmony and love.
As regards your rendition of the ritual, don’t worry too much about the effort you put into it as long as you know the words in essence. Feel the principles of what you’re doing, the heart, the light. Let them do the work.
Ere man’s corruptions made him wretched, he Was born most noble that was born most free: Each of himself was lord; and unconfin’d Obey’d the dictates of his godlike mind.
-Thomas Otway 1652-1685