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Hail, Holy Light

Adam had been raised to the third degree about eighteen months previously, and had made great progress already in decoding some of the more easily accessible allegories and insights which had come his way through the degree ceremonies. In addition, he had started to read the lectures in the three degrees.

His impressions of this new and intriguing world in which he took his first masonic steps were mixed. He had asked some of the older brethren in his lodge, after the glories of the first and second degrees, how he should properly understand the bleak despair of the third. They had smiled indulgently, and given him some spiel, the upshot of which was that he should not take it all too seriously.

But at the same time, he had made friends with some younger brethren newly graduated from university, who had some insights of their own in regard to nature and science, and the influence of the great thinkers of the late seventeenth century, and the Royal Society in particular. One of the aspects which had made a firm impression on Adam was the juxtaposition in so many ways of light and dark, black and white.

He recognised that in the ceremony of initiation he had progressed from darkness to light, had regained the ‘blessing of material light’ only to meet with the inescapable square pavement, reminding him that the darkness from which he had come was not a darkness removed from his proper experience but a darkness which was the complement of the light, and represented ever-present danger lurking at the perimeter of the light. But light sources there were a-plenty apart from these: three great lights, three lesser lights, the Blazing Star or Glory in the centre of the lodge.

Ah, but wait: he had even unearthed an apparent paradox – the lecture, speaking of the ornaments of the lodge, had said that ‘the blazing star refers us to the sun’ which was clearly not so, since the blazing star and the sun were depicted next to each other on the tracing board. He had in fact read elsewhere that the Blazing Star, being positioned at the top of Jacob’s Ladder, represented the presence of the Almighty. Still, he was having a great time looking at other light sources. Jewels after all reflected light did they not? And each one in its own individual colour, so there lay a rich store of discovery, three movable jewels and three immovable. And all this just in the first degree – who knows what he would in due time discover in the other two?

And then, by one of those slivers of serendipity that come from time to time, Sandeep, a Hindu brother in his lodge, was talking to him about the practice in his home of lighting a lamp before the altar of the Lord, one at dawn, one at dusk. All auspicious functions commence with the lighting of the lamp.

‘Light,’ said Sandeep, ‘symbolises knowledge, and darkness symbolises ignorance. The Lord is the “Knowledge Principle”, who is the source, the enlivener and illuminator of knowledge, so light is worshipped as the Lord Himself.’

Knowledge, Sandeep told him, removes ignorance, just as light removes darkness. Suddenly, Adam remembered something from his own Christian faith. ‘The light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.’ As a child he used to listen to this part of the gospel at Christmas, and was intrigued by the idea that darkness could ‘comprehend’, or understand, anything, since he did not regard darkness as a sentiont being. But then of course he thought, it was possible that ‘comprehend’ in this sense may have had the force of ‘encompass’ or ‘include’, in other words the light was so great, that the darkness could not control it, the darkness fled before it.

Sandeep had another insight to impart. ‘Tell me,’ he asked, ‘when the sun and the moon have both set, the fire has gone out, and speech has stopped, what exactly serves as the light for a man?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Adam. ‘Tell me.’

‘The self serves as his light. It is through the light of the self that he sits, goes out, works and returns.’

‘So the self is capable of imparting light,’ asked Adam, ‘in the same way that Divinity does?’ ‘But of course!’ said Sandeep. ‘The closer we are to Divinity, the more use we can make of light which we ourselves make manifest. And two of the immovable jewels, the rough ashlar and the perfect ashlar, represent aspects of the self, the one unformed, with only a feeble light, the other already on the path to the light of greater knowledge and moral improvement.’

‘What about the third immovable jewel, the tracing board?’ asked Adam. But he already knew the answer:


As the tracing board is for the Master to lay lines and draw designs on, the better to enable the Brethren to carry on the structure with regularity and propriety, so the Volume of the Sacred Law may justly be deemed the spiritual tracing board of the Great Architect, in which are laid down such Divine laws and moral plans that were we conversant therein and adherent thereto, would bring us to an ethereal mansion, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.


So, the third immovable jewel is the greatest light of all, he thought, the knowledge of Divinity itself. And when the self has arrived at the Sanctum Sanctorum in the third degree, Self and Divinity meet in the sacred space, a space where, death being defeated, light has banished all darkness.

From him who, in the happy realms of light Clothed with transcendent brightness did outshine Myriads though bright.
-John Milton 1608-1674
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