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UniversalFreemasonry: Initiatory history of Freemasonry
FreemasonryThe author takes us on a journey which goes from the operative Masonry to the esoterical meanings of Ars Muratoria, Ars Regia and Ars Pontificia. From the reading of ancient manuscripts other considerations, of a more pragmatic nature, can also be derived. One of them is that in history causes do not always coincide with events. Sometimes, therefore, causes and facts are contradictory. This seems to happen in Freemasonry, where many practices given out as a fact turn out to be unfounded. When we read the ancient main points of the Freemasonry, the so-called primitive, we find the rules that directed the life of the Freemason in his professional, initiatory and family relationships. In other words, the rules that connected children and wives of the master mason to the Brotherhood of the Freemasons. In the rules between the family and the Freemasonry we find a forgotten aspect. It is what we can call the initiatory consideration for women. Female initiation, even though is acknowledged in ancient manuscripts, is still cause of contradictions and it feeds a religious misogyny which contradicts the origins of Freemasonry. The Freemason will make his own judgement on its value.

Documento senza titolo

Initiatory history of Freemasonry

by Athos A. Altomonte

copyright by Esonet.it - Esonet.com


In the primitive Freemasonry, the initiation of the Freemasons was based on several characteristics, such as ability for physical and manual work and attitude to professional abilities. These were necessary features for quality operative performances.

Later on, when speculative Freemasonry started, other virtues were expected, ethical and typically intellectual virtues. Therefore the operative dogmas were not the main ones and they slowly lost their meaning.

In the speculative Freemasonry we find traditions of an ancient past, enriched with the teachings of the Schools of the Mysteries, particularly the initiatory schools of the Mediterranean area. When the subtle traditions entered speculative Freemasonry, it absorbed those initiatory principles that reflected the inner and spiritual evolution, such as Gnostic principles.

The speculative Corpus Massonicum’s competence mainly regarded Ars Muratoria with its symbology of masonry tools; with the advent of past traditions it widened its horizon up to erect a ritual Pyramid including Ars Regia and Ars Pontificia. It traced a complex initiatory path that corresponded to the characteristics of the different qualities of man: physical, mental and spiritual conscience.

The wish to undergo an initiatory process implies an instinctive wish for personal evolution; this choice is affected by the attention of the postulant for characteristics of physical or mental or spiritual conscience. This aspect also affects most of the choices about culture, education and instruction.

In the modern Era higher initiations can be reached independently from the social class and the nature of one’s own identity.

Reaching this target only depends on the mental ability of the postulant and on its wish to assimilate the standards of the highest initiations. We can start from those initiations deriving from the hermetic and architectonic symbols, where geometry of spaces generates numbers and sounds. To these initiations are linked the scientific-intellectual initiations which go up to the mysteriosophical initiations of Ars Regia (power of the mind); at its top we find the spiritual initiation or Ars Pontificia which completes the initiatory Work.

The Masonic ritual Pyramid is based on the operative qualifications of the Freemasonry. We find it in the most ancient documents such as the Bologna Bylaws, the Regius Poem and the Cooke Manuscript.

According to the rules of the Bologna Bylaws no master mason could accept an apprentice younger than twelve, because only at this age he would have had the psycho-physical characteristics that were necessary to his professional education. The apprenticeship "contract" had to last at least 4 years but he had to have two years of apprenticeship before being "accepted" as an effective member of the Congregation of Free and Accepted Masons.

In the Regius Poem the importance of being a legitimate-born child is underlined. This originates from the fact that social classes were determined by hereditary birth; all the births out of the institutional schemes were thought to contribute to the confusion in the social order.

To be accepted in the workmen Guilds it was necessary not to have any physical deformity. The reason was in the hard requirements of manual work and it’s not related to the use of masculine or feminine energies, as it happens in eastern traditions, such as tantric initiations.

The acceptance was preceded by an initiatory ceremony. This wasn’t necessary for the children of the master masons because the paternal initiation was enough; his father-master could pass down the initiatory link with the masons Congregation. This link was considered to be partial for apprentices’ and fellow crafts’ children, because their fathers were not yet perfect initiatory conduits. For this reason fellow crafts and entered apprentices were not allowed to convey operative initiations.

The apprentice was instructed only if he guaranteed to work for a few years with a master mason (joiner, blacksmith, foundry man, carpenter, builder or any other). On the contrary, if he was only available for temporary employment or if he showed to have other plans for his future, it was considered pointless to initiate him to a Guild of trade and to reveal to him the secrets of the professional art.

In the same way it was considered pointless to initiate to the art of the trade the occasional postulant. He couldn’t complete the education with his own master craftsman, unless there was, in the place where he permanently lived, another master of well-known ability who could take care of him. This was necessary to guarantee the operative integrity of the craftsman’s Guilds.

The apprentice couldn’t be a slave because, as it’s written in the Regius Poem: "…the lord who owns the slave can claim him back at any time…"

A slave was whoever had to obey someone else’s will and had a job for which he could be ordered anywhere or requested at anytime. If a slave was participating in a master’s work, his unavailability would disturb the activity of his fellow crafts in the Lodge. On the other hand a modest worker could be initiated because once finished his job he was free from obligations and commitments and he could dedicate himself to study the "secrets of the art".

We must add that convicts were considered in the same way as slaves, because they didn’t have their freedom. The Bologna Bylaw also says that a master’s wife couldn’t be a slave. It wasn’t for social reasons but because wives and children of a master mason were part of the Lodge and therefore of the Congregation by right.

Recently many scholars have stated that the only initiatory form in the Western World is the Masonic one. This may sound a bit overstated but in the Masonic symbology we find many elements of the Ancient Mysteries which have been hidden in the esoterical and ceremonial rituals, both individual and collective.

Among these the strength of the Chorda Fratres (the universal initiatory Chain) stands out; we find it even in the first degrees of the initiatory Pyramid.

The initiations of the Blue Masonry (1st, 2nd and 3rd degree) are not transmitted by only one master, but a ritual Triangle of three Masters is needed: the worshipful Master, the M. Senior Warden and the M. Junior Warden; to the ritual Triangle is added the (energetic) "help" of all the components of the Lodge, of any degree or type.

Nowadays the initiation to the degree of Master Freemason is not operative anymore, but only speculative; in particular, the foundation of the initiation to the 3rd degree consists of the myth of Hiram and of the Lost Word.

It is told that the "Master Hiram" (icon of the initiatory spirit) was faced by "Three Ruffians (three Bad Fellow crafts)" which expected to be told by him the Pass Word to the master degree, without having merit or title to claim it.

When he refused the three ruffians slew the Master Hiram hitting him on the head (centre of intelligence), in the throat (centre of creativity)and in the chest (centre of altruistic love). Even if the murderers were punished the Word was lost for good.

The legend is the metaphor of the dangers risked by the initiatory Institution and its Adepts (see the Heavenly Jerusalem) because of the anti-initiatory impulses (vanity, ignorance, social climbing) that spread between the minor initiates (the Fellow crafts).

The tension of the initiation to the 3rd degree, of master mason, is released by the mystical re-birth of the inner Master, following the ancient principle for which the lost Word (inner voice) re-arises in the initiate. In other words: when the Disciple is ready the Master appears.

This is the memory left from the representation held in the ceremony of elevation of the master mason; it is the memory that the initiation to aim for is the one of one’s own inner resurrection. This brings us back, even if in an exoterical way, to the diffused religiosity that pervades every Masonic action.

The religious attitude in the masonry Congregations was identified with a Christian theism. In fact, we read in the Constitutions of the Free Masons of 1723: "Regarding God and religion: Due to his condition, a mason must obey the moral law; and if he intends properly the Art he will never be a stupid atheist or an irreligious libertine."

Masonry requires that the mason is a "free and moral Man"; therefore it doesn’t say he should follow any particular religion but that he should follow his own religious sense, according to the principles of the free conviction. There will be the highest tolerance towards the Brothers who have different convictions. In order to be wise and tolerant towards the differences in views, Masonic rituals say that in the Lodge "political and religious matters" can’t be discussed. In this way, the Freemasonry becomes the Focal Centre and the conciliating instrument for honest friendship, even between culturally different people.

It’s a shame that it is still linked to models of disjunctive religiosity which is exoterical and popular; nothing to do with the model of universal Religion.

Atheism is again another matter; it denies any form of existence before and after the physical birth. It doesn’t make any sense to initiate atheists to Gnostic or spiritual principles. It is better for them to dedicate to practical ideals of sociality and justice where they will be able to express their "good intentions" in helping to resolve the cultural and social contradictions of the collectivity (see Common Welfare).

Speculative masonry originated by the habit of accepting and initiating who, belonging to intellectual and wealthier classes, didn’t have any manual art or craft.

This habit is justified in the general principles for which an operative initiation was accessible to the members of higher classes, as long as they possessed the necessary moral qualities and were available to accept its symbolic-operative meaning.

Note how in the manuscripts, the belonging to the male sex wasn’t considered essential to the entry into the arts and crafts Congregations. In the Regius Poem we find statements referred to both brothers and sisters:

"…This great clerk's name was Euclid, His name it spread full wonder wide. Yet this great clerk ordained he to him that was higher in this degree, that he should teach the simplest of wit in that honest craft to be perfect; and so each one shall teach the other, and love together as sister and brother."

"Tenth article: Among the craft, to high and low, there shall no master supplant another, but be together as sister and brother, in this curious craft, all and some, that belongeth to a master mason."

"Ninth point: …that he be steward of our hall, if that you be in chamber together, each one serve other with mild cheer; gentle fellows, you must it know, for to be stewards all in turn, week after week without doubt, stewards to be so all in turn about, amiably to serve each one other, as though they were sister and brother."

In the history of the craftsmen’s Guilds we find many traces of the admission of women with the same rights and duties. In France in the "Livre des Métiers" (Book of trades) by Etienne Boileau (1268), is described the entry of women in the craftsmen’s Guilds and their elevation to the degree of Master, even in typically male spheres.

The Statutes of the Guild of Carpenters of Norwich (1375) are addressed to "the Brothers and Sisters".

The traditional female admission continues up until the appearance of speculative Masonry. The Statute of the Lodge of York (1693) says that: "He or Shee that is to be made Mason shall lay their hands thereon (the Bible or the Book of Constitutions), and the charge shall be given." The acceptance of female members can therefore be considered as a common practice in the Freemasonry.

Women in speculative Masonry didn’t take part directly to the building works and they were recognized in the same way of the "accepted" male members. The matter of their "acceptance", though, is controversial and still arouses contrasting feelings.

The problem could be actually faced by examining which aspects go into the initiatory process.

1) Initiatory rituals are linked to the subtle structure of man. The so-called occult structure of Man is the energetic one, made of masculine-feminine vitality. In other words made of ethereal, emotional or astral, mental (from the level of practical thought to the level of permanent intuitiveness) and spiritual (Pure Reason) energy.

The vital multiplicity of humankind is also found in the two Columns of the Masonic Temple. The two exoterical Columns called J ad B, which take shape from the Sephirothic Tree, represent the binomial of masculine-feminine, that is positive-negative that characterizes the energetic (subtle) structure of Man and Woman.

In this binomial we can translate the extroverted pole called masculine into Will and Power, and the introverted pole called feminine into Love and Wisdom.

The apparent conflict of this binomial is resolved in the third Column, the invisible one, which runs across the longitudinal axis of the Temple and represents the activity in the energetic plexuses running along the vertebral column of the human being (see Caduceus of Hermes).

Following this ancient postulate it is desirable that both these energetic polarities (plus and minus) are used to initiate Men and Women. It should emphasize the intellectual comprehension (love) aspect in the Man and the complementary aspect that is the mental will in the Woman. They will need, then, to be re-united and made complementary by the individual work of each of them.

2) Initiatory rituals are linked to the masculine polarity. In this case a few tricks will make them suitable to feminine polarity. Little changes, then, allow to initiate the Woman as well to the mysteriosophical stream, separating from the path of the "destructive power" which is typical of the inferior masculine component.

On the other hand the contrary is true as well. Mystical rituals are based on the feminine aspect, characterized by impersonal and unselfish Love (see impersonal God). Under this aspect Men have been initiated to the path of mysticism as well, leaving the "sensual" path which is typical of the inferior feminine component.

3) Exterior rituals depend on the physical-animal structure of man (genitals and sexual energy); therefore they are not suitable for the feminine structure.

Keeping in mind this difference in the sexual energy, it happens that in the initiatory rituals a malign virus which is ethically aberrant connected to the ancient standards of Black Magic is, maybe unconsciously, introduced. That is to link the rituality to the strength of the lower centres which are the direct expression of animal nature.

This problem is a great threat to the Masonic Institution. A choice must be made, and it is a choice which will mean the evolution or the dissolution of future Masonry as an initiatory instrument. This choice is to leave out of ceremonial rules ancient standards linked to the low magic.


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