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Why Are We Apprentices?

by Bro. Dudley Wright
The Master Mason - January 1926

PERHAPS familiarity with the term "Entered Apprentice" has led to a disregard of the meaning of what, upon our initiation, must have seemed a quaint and novel expression. To whom and to what were we apprenticed? The dictionary tells us that a deed of apprenticeship is a contract whereby one person binds himself to teach and another undertakes to learn. When barristers were first appointed by Edward I, they were known as apprenticii ad legem, apprentices of the law, and today a barrister of less than sixteen years' standing is technically an apprentice. Similarly university students had to pass through a curriculum or apprenticeship of seven years before they could graduate as Masters in the arts or sciences.

Apprenticeship undoubtedly arose in the peculiar conditions of a craft guild of the Middle Ages and formed a very important part of the guilds and corporations, as a means by which men were educated and given protection from the feudal lords. The object of the apprentice laws of England was stated in the act to be "to banish idleness and to advance husbandry." In ancient operative masonry, the apprentice was not only taught in stone work, he was also taught in the great school of life. His conduct towards his master's wife, daughter, servant, and home was made the subject of instruction. His conduct on the street and in public places and his decorum in general was the subject of discipline. He was, in short, trained during his apprenticeship to be an honorable, honest, manly, and true man.

IN EGYPT, Greece, and among other ancient nations, secret and sacred rites formed an agency employed to effect the improvement and enlightenment of men. Cicero tells us that "the establishment of these rites among the Athenians conferred upon them a supreme benefit. Their effect was to civilize men, reform their wild and ferocious manners, and make them comprehend the true principles of morality, which initiate men into a new order of life, more worthy of a being destined to immortality." In ancient Egypt the neophyte was presented with a cup of water, and addressed in these words: "Aspirant to the honor of a divine companionship! Seeker after celestial truth! This is the water of forgetfulness. Drink! Drink to the oblivion of all your vices - the forgetfulness of all your imperfections, and thus be prepared for the reception of the new revelation of Truth, with which you are soon to be honored." That spirit, although not the form, of that ceremony, is to be found in Freemasonry, and the candidate for apprenticeship is directed to close his eyes on the past, to lay aside the trappings and vestures of the outside world, the symbols of traffic and war, all that reminds him of the selfishness and discords of life, and turn his face towards more glorious future.

THE ANCIENT Indian mysteries were celebrated in subterranean caverns or grottoes formed in solid rock by human art and industry or in secret recesses of gloomy pyramids and dark pagodas. The Cavern of Elephanta is the most ancient temple in the world formed by human agency. It is 135 feet square and 18 feet in height, supported by four massive pillars, and the walls are covered with emblematic decorations. There were four degrees in those Indian mysteries and the apprentice was first invested with the sacred cord of three threads, symbolic of earth, fire, and air. After passing through the initiatory ceremonies and being instructed in the management of the consecrated fire and told how to perform the holy rites of morning, noon, and evening, the apprentice was clothed in a seamless linen garment and the cord placed over his right arm as an emblem of purification. He was then placed under the special and exclusive care of a professed Brahmin, who became his spiritual guide, whose special duty it was to prepare him for the second degree.

The training was very severe; the apprentice was inured to hardship, he had to undergo rigid penances; he was inhibited from all indulgence, whether carnal or intellectual, and the whole of his time of preparation was passed in prayer and ablutions. His body was described figuratively as the city of nine gates, referring to the nine modes of exit - ears, nose, mouth, etc. Much time was devoted to the study of the Sacred Books, and when the candidate reached the specified age, he was, if found upon examination to have made the necessary progress, advanced to the second degree.

IN THE Mithraic Mysteries the candidate was prepared by numerous lustrations with water, fire, and honey. There were many intense and protracted trials in the gloomy recesses of a subterranean cavern and, during his probation, the apprentice was condemned to perpetual silence, secluded from all society, kept in a cold, naked, and hungry condition, accompanied with an extreme degree of refined torture, and not infrequently did probationers die under the terrible strain. If the candidate permitted his courage to forsake him he was rejected with the strongest expressions of contempt and forever regarded as profane and excluded from all religious rites. On the completion of his probation he was brought into the cavern of initiation, on entering which the point of a sword was presented to his naked left breast, by which he was slightly wounded. Then he was crowned with olive, anointed with oil of ban (balsam of benzoin), supplied with enchanted armor, furnished with talismans, and purified with fire and water. Finally he was received by the Archimagus, who was seated in the Fast, who entrusted him with the sacred words, and explained to him the meaning of all the mysteries through which he bad passed.

IN CHINA the initiations were performed in a cavern, after which processions were made around the altar and sacrifices were offered to the celestial gods. In Japan, the caverns of initiations were in the immediate vicinity of the temples and the term of probation before the apprentice could attain to the highest degree was twenty years. The initiation ceremony itself was regarded as very sacred, and during his period of probation the apprentice learned how to subdue his passions by devoting himself to the lodge into which he was seeking adstaining from every carnal indulgence.

Freemasonry, like all the ancient mysteries, in which the Eleusinian and Druidical may be included, is a vehicle of regeneration, of which the Third Degree is particularly an illustration. The Masonic apprentice, did he but realize it, has entered upon the regenerative path, or, in monastic and ascetic phraseology, the path that leads to Illumination. It is the Entered Apprentice Degree if rightly understood and applied, that gives the most lasting conception of the worth of Masonry.

IN FRANCE at one time it was the practice for the candidate for initiation to pass some hours in solitude in a wood or cemetery to reflect on the topics which had formed the subject of a conference between him and the Master of the lodge into which he was seeking admission. He was instructed particularly to meditate on the human passions - hatred, jealousy, avarice, ambition, and all the other causes of disorder in society; then on the diversity of laws and religions in the world which so often prove the unhappy causes of war, hatred, and division. In France also the candidate, after initiation and entry into the degree of Apprentice had to undergo certain prescribed probations in order that the Master might ascertain his moral character.

According to Masonic tradition, at the building of the Temple of Solomon, the Fellow Crafts took care of their succession by instructing the Entered Apprentices, the Fellow Crafts, in turn, being under the supervision and instruction of the Master Masons.

ACORDING also to tradition, Entered Apprentices had three virtues particularly recommended to them, viz, a listening ear, a silent tongue, and a faithful heart, in order that they might listen to the instructions of the Master and to the cries of a worthy and distressed brother, that they might be silent in the lodge and not disturb its peace and harmony, but more especially in the presence of the uninitiated, that they might faithfully keep and conceal the secrets of Masonry and those of a brother delivered as such, which might thus remain secure and inviolable.

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