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A Basic Historico-Chronological Model of the
Western Hermetic Tradition

Some European Initiations Today


Today the same intellectual approach is demonstrated in three rites which are widespread in Europe:

  • the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite (33 Degrees);
  • the Rectified Scottish Rite (6 Degrees) and
  • the Scandinavian Rite (10 Degrees).

A Candidate’s advancement through any of these three systems is slow, sometimes occupying him in decades of sustained effort to understand and explain the symbols and doctrines of each successive Degree. Moreover, the Candidates have to prove to the other, more senior members of their Lodges their proficiency and understanding of the symbols before they are allowed to make further progress.

In all English-speaking Constitutions, the first three Degrees of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR) are not worked because the ordinary three Craft Degrees are regarded by convention in those constitutions as being their equivalent. Besides, only sovereign Craft bodies in the English-speaking world are allowed historically to initiate newcomers. In fact, in terms of their symbolism the Craft Degrees and the first three of the AASR are far from similar. The same sort of ‘shortening’ applies to the Rectified Scottish Rite (RER). However, all of the 10 Degrees in the Scandinavian Rite are worked in those countries where it has been adopted. In Europe, in the AASR, the 4th-33rd Degrees are worked fully. In Scotland and Ireland, however, the 4th-13th Degrees and the 19th-28th Degrees are simply conferred on appropriate Candidates by name. The 14th-18th Degrees and the 29th-33rd Degrees are worked in extensio. In America the whole of the series 4th-33rd Degrees can be gone through in a single weekend by Candidates who are properly qualified residentially. In England, the 4th-17th Degrees are conferred by name, the 18th Degree is worked completely. Thereafter, the 19th-29th degrees are also conferred by name for the few appropriately qualified Candidates who are elected to the 30th-33rd Degrees in ever-more exclusive groups. No formal proofs of competence or of doctrinal understanding are ever exacted at any stage. The English-speaking Constitutions tend not to take the proving of a Candidate’s competence very seriously. Generally, they have no way of knowing his Hermetic preparedness for further enlightenment.

This lack of intellectualising and lack of intensity in spirituality in the English-speaking masonic world can be seen even more markedly in the admission ceremonies and procedures as practised on the Continent. The Hermetic themes of the European rites can be illustrated by referring in some detail to current French and Dutch rituals for their First Degrees. The Scandinavian system, superimposed on the basic Craft ritual, is controlled rigorously. It is entirely Christian in symbolism and much more complex but it is almost impossible for ‘outsiders’ to be accorded the privilege of examining those rituals even for the purposes of academic study.

There are at least seven varieties of masonic Initiation practised in France in the three major Obediences: the Grand Orient de France, the Grand Loge de France and the (regular) Grand Loge Nationale de France (the GNLF:

  • a 18th century Russian ritual;
  • a Ukrainian ritual;
  • two varieties of an 18th century northern French ritual;
  • the Rectified Scottish Rite, referred to generally as the RER (Rite Ecossais Rectifie), which has nothing to do with Scotland I assure you but which can be worked by any Lodge who wish to use it;
  • the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR, the first three Degrees are worked in those Lodges which so chose) and
  • a reasonably new French ritual which differs only slightly from the previous two ceremonies.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that most Lodges in the three Obediences are empowered by the terms of their Charters to work the first three Degrees in any or all of the RER, the AASR or the new standard French rite. So a particular Lodge may decide to work say a First Degree from the RER at one of its public meetings, and the Brother who is thus initiated must wait until the next open meeting at which a Second Degree in the same series is being worked. Meanwhile, the Lodge may have decided to work a different Degree in one of the other Rites. It sounds complicated and it certainly lends plenty of variety.

Some of the crucial differences between English speculative Freemasonry and the main Continental varieties that are current, especially comparing the different qualities of the ‘lived-through’ Hermetic experience which they provide, might be best understood by using the metaphor of taking a train journey. A freemason who has completed the basic three Degrees may want to make further progress in developing his understanding. In England, to achieve this extra ‘insight’ he will have to join 14 separate Orders, each with its Grand Master and hierarchy, its administration, headquarters, rituals, traditions, doctrines and ‘secrets’. It is as if he were taking a long train journey and he would not only has to change trains but even change lines and directions. On the Continent, however, there are no such ‘branch lines’. It is one continuous journey and if he were to get off at one station, to rest up before continuing, then he can wait around. The next train will come along eventually travelling along the same line and, climbing on board, he can proceed further towards his destination at his own rate. Generally speaking, there are no separate Orders and so, within his Lodge, there are opportunities to develop his spiritual quest in a sequence that is more or less continuous. It is this very continuity that assists the practice of Hermetic exploration in European Lodges whereas the disjointed systems in England, which arose largely because of historical decisions taken in 1813, militate against that continuous ‘adventure’.

When a Candidate, known as a ‘profane’ [= ‘uninitiated’], is to be considered by a French Lodge for Initiation his Proposer and Seconder have to speak separately to the members, at one of the private [= ‘closed’ or business] meetings, explaining

  • why they think that he would make a good freemason and
  • why they would like him to be initiated in that particular Lodge.

They can, and usually are, questioned closely by the members about their Candidate’s qualities. If everything seems to be in order, the Master appoints two other members of the Lodge (who do not know the Candidate already and who are usually Past Masters of the Lodge) to interview him separately in his own home in order to

  1. question him as to the reasons why he wants to be made a freemason (note not to just join the particular Lodge);
  2. make certain that he has the total support of his wife and the rest of his family in that intention.

The two commissioned Brethren report back to the Lodge at the next ‘closed’ meeting and they can be, and again they often are, questioned closely by the Brethren about their two interviews. It is only then, when the reports are deemed satisfactory by the Lodge, that a vote is taken as to whether ‘Mr A. B.’ shall be ‘heard under the hoodwink’. If that vote is favourable, the Secretary is asked by the Master to write officially to the Candidate inviting him to attend on the evening of the next ‘closed’ meeting of the Lodge.

On that occasion, the Candidate is kept in a completely bare room where he can have no contact with freemasons or sight of anything masonic. In due course, the Master of Ceremonies comes to him, blindfolds him and leads him into the Temple where he is seated on a chair in the centre of the room. The Brethren and the officers are seated in the respective places around him. The Master then asks him any questions he wishes (there is no set pattern) regarding his desire to be made a freemason and then invites any member of the Lodge who wishes to do so to question him. Often there are such unscripted questions put to the Candidates who are expected to answer as fully and as sincerely as possible. When everyone is satisfied, the Master of Ceremonies is commanded by the Master to lead the Candidate out of the Temple, back to the adjacent waiting room, where he removes the hoodwink, thanks him for attending and tells him that in due course he will hear from the Lodge. He is told then that he can leave the building. After the Candidate has left and the Master of Ceremonies has returned to report his leaving, a vote is taken as to whether ‘Mr A. B.’ should be initiated. If the vote is favourable, he is made a freemason at the next available ‘open’ meeting of the Lodge.

When an approved Candidate arrives for his Initiation he is left alone, seated in the small adjacent waiting room. It is dimly lit and is known now as the Chamber of Reflection. It is devoid of any decoration and of any furniture apart from a chair and a small table that is covered completely with a black cloth. On the table are placed a skull and cross bones (the traditional ‘emblems of mortality’), two sheets of paper and a pen. On one sheet he has been instructed by the Master of Ceremonies to write and date his answers to the four questions that are printed thereon. The questions are intended to stimulate and clarify - for him and for others - the state of his current spiritual preparedness for Initiation. They are quite revealing pieces of evidence of the Hermetic process taken to underlie the whole procedure and its ideational thrust:

  • What is Man’s duty to his Creator?
  • What is Man’s duty to himself?
  • What is a man’s duty to his fellow mortals?
  • What is a man’s duty to his ‘Mother Country’?

On the other blank sheet which is blank he has been instructed to write legibly and date his Testament in which he must emphasise the spiritual and philosophical aspects of his life to date.

After a suitable interval, someone collects the two sheets, takes all money and other metals from him (metals are thought to be spiritual pollutants and perhaps they hinder or deflect his further progress). He is told to wait there. The two sheets are presented formally to the Master who reads what the Candidate has written aloud to the assembled Brethren. A discussion as to their merits follows and if the Brethren are satisfied the ceremony can continue. I have known of Candidates being rejected at this stage because their present state of spiritual preparedness for Initiation was considered by the Lodges to be lacking.

The Candidate is prepared physically in the usual masonic manner in the Chamber of Reflection by of the Master of Ceremonies. He is blindfolded and a long cord is tied around his waist in such a way that it hangs down in front. He learns later that this is a symbol of the umbilical cord that is the last tie with the profane world of darkness that he is about to leave forever. In other words, he has been figuratively entombed in a chamber deep underground and is about to die to the outside world and be reborn into a new life. This theme of rebirth is one of the most crucial in this Degree but it follows a Candidate throughout his masonic career in various guises. Therefore, he must be purified by the four elements: earth, air, water and fire. When he is led into the Temple, he is made to bend almost double as he has supposedly just passed through the Earth on his pilgrimage from the underground Chamber of Reflection. In other words, symbolically he emerges from a hole in the ground and this is the first purification: that by earth.

The Candidate is led to stand in the west of the Temple between the Wardens and facing east. After a prayer to ‘The Great Architect of the Universe’, the Master tells the Candidate those duties that will be demanded of him as a freemason:

  • the maintenance of complete silence about anything which he may hear or discern in the Lodge;
  • the vanquishing of all of those passions which dishonour the man who succumbs to them;
  • the obedience to the rules, regulations and constitutions of the Order.

Before he can proceed any further, the Master tells the Candidate that he must take a solemn oath to fulfil these duties using a sacred chalice. If he is sincere, he may drink from it without fear. If he is insincere or unsure, however, then he should put the chalice aside. Not to put it aside at that stage and to continue will have disastrous results for him later. He fears not and so drinks the pure water contained therein. He takes the oath administered by the Master phrase by phrase and then, at the Master’s command, he drinks from the chalice again. This time, however, the liquid is bitter because unknown to the Candidate the Master of Ceremonies standing nearby has quietly added strong vinegar. The Master explains to him:

the bitter taste that the contents of the cup may have left on your lips proves that in all human intentions, however pure they may be, there is always a particle of curiosity and egoism.

The cup is put aside by the Master of Ceremonies and at a single knock from the Master he is led clockwise around the Temple on the first of three symbolic journeys during which he is purified by the remaining three elements.

The first of his journeys is accompanied throughout by loud stamping of feet and the clashing of swords by the Brethren seated in the north and south Columns. This tumult is a symbol of the inherent discord that prevails constantly in the profane world that he is about to leave. He is led over a large wooden board placed flat on the floor. This board has irregularly sized blocks of wood stuck on it at irregular intervals. These will cause him to stumble, thus signifying to him the hard road that he has to travel through the rest of his mortal existence. Further round the Temple, he is led up a sloping wooden board. He falls off the upper end on to the floor thus bringing him to the earth through the air in a rush. This symbolises his purification by air.

When the Candidate arrives to stand in his place between the Wardens in the west, the Master explains to him that his first journey is emblematic of

  • the life of Man generally;
  • the conflict of opposing endeavours and
  • the difficulty of overcoming the many obstacles that are placed (often deliberately) in his path by enemies.

The Candidate’s second journey is accompanied by the clash of the Brethren’s swords (as before). On reaching the pedestal of the Senior Warden, his right hand is grabbed by one of the Deacons and plunged three times into a large metal bowl of water held by the Master of Ceremonies. This is meant to represent to him the purification by water. The bowl is removed and he is positioned to face the east again. The Master then explains to him that the second journey presented much less difficulty as there were no hidden obstacles being placed in front of him and then he tells him:

It is thus in life; the obstacles disappear little by little under the steps of him who perseveres in the path of virtue.

Nevertheless, he is not yet totally delivered from the battle that he is obliged to fight in order to triumph over his passions and those of his fellow mortals. Those conflicts were symbolised by the clashing of the swords.

The third journey is accomplished in complete silence. The Candidate has now quitted the profane world and he is about to penetrate into that realm that only true initiates are allowed to enter. As he is led round the Temple, he passes once again in front of the Junior Warden’s pedestal and suddenly a naked flame of fire is shot quickly across his face. That symbolises his final purification, by fire.

When the Candidate is repositioned between the Wardens, the Master expresses admiration for the courage he has shown. He tells him, however, that his trials are not yet ended for the day may come when he could even be called upon to shed his blood in defence of the Order to which he seeks admission. The Master demands:

Are you prepared to make such a sacrifice and have you the necessary courage to give us proof of this other than by words? If so, you must seal your oath with your own blood shed before us. Brother Surgeon, do your duty!

One of the Brethren, equipped with a carving knife and a butcher’s sharpening steel, comes to stand close to the Candidate and proceeds to sharpen the knife. The rest of the Brethren cry out in unison:

Mercy, Venerable Master! The blood of a man is too precious to be wasted!

The Master responds:

So be it, if the Brethren desire. But remember that if you are called upon to shed your blood, let it be for a just and sacred cause.

The Master then informs the Candidate that a painful and indispensable operation must be performed, nevertheless: that of being branded with the red hot seal of the Order burnt into his flesh. When the Candidate gives his consent, his bare left arm is grabbed and held tightly and to it the ice cold seal of the Order is applied quickly and forcibly. It has been brought forward solemnly by the Master of Ceremonies on a cushion from its place below the Master’s pedestal or Altar at the precise moment.

The seal and cushion are put aside and the Master of Ceremonies instructs the Candidate soto voce how to approach the Altar in the east by taking three slow equal strides forward. On reaching the dais, he is told soto voce to kneel on both knees, to support in both hands an open copy of the VSL (it is always opened at the first chapter of the Gospel according to St John). In that position he repeats the Obligation phrase by phrase following the Master’s careful annunciation. After that and still blindfolded, he is raised and led back to stand between the Wardens in the west facing east again. There is his instructed to keel again on both knees. Meanwhile, one of the Brethren has left his seat on one of the Columns, taken off his sword and regalia, lies down on the steps to the dais and is covered by a ‘blood’-stained cloth by the Master of Ceremonies. Two other Brethren then leave their seats and come to stand at the head and feet of the ‘body’ pointing their swords at it. Meanwhile, the Master of Ceremonies has lit two candles, placed one at the head and the other at the feet while the general lighting in the Temple is lowered to almost complete darkness. The rest of the Brethren have also left their seats quietly and have come to stand near to the Candidate and to point their swords directly at him. The hoodwink is removed quickly from the Candidate so that he can now see the corpse in the east and also the surrounding circle of sharp Swords pointing directly at him. From somewhere in the surrounding gloom he now hears a solemn voice exclaiming:

Woe to him who violates his word! Woe to him who seeks to enter where he has not right to go! Woe to him who is unworthy of the confidence placed in him!

The Master then stands behind the Altar facing west and the Candidate whom he addresses thus:

These pale funereal lights are sombre fires emphasising the retribution that waits each miserable purjurer. These swords, pointed towards your breast, indicate the number of irreconcilable enemies ever ready to pierce your heart should you ever violate your solemn Obligation. In whatever corner of the Earth you may hide yourself, seeking safety, however important a position you may occupy in the outside world, never will you find shelter. The whole world over, the news of your criminal perjury and of your renouncement will forestall you, spreading like lightning and wherever you may be, the hand of vengeance will reach you and right fearful will be your punishment!

At a discrete signal from the Master of Ceremonies the Brethren replace their swords and stand aside. There is an even more dramatic variation of this used in Greece where the Brethren, at the appropriate point in the ceremony, have quickly attached balls of cotton wool soaked in methylated spirits to the points of their swords and then ignited them. When his blindfold is taken off the poor Candidate is confronted suddenly with a most disconcerting circle of flaming swords pointing at him!

The Candidate is told quietly to stand. The Master of Ceremonies extinguishes the two candles on the steps to the dais, puts them aside and the general lighting in the Temple is raised. The Master the commands that the Candidate can now withdraw in order to regain his personal comforts. He is led out into the Chamber of Reflection where he adjusts his clothing. Once again, however, he is blindfolded and led back into the Temple.

Meanwhile, the ‘body’ on the steps to the dais has been removed and the Brethren (including the Master and the Wardens) have formed a large circle on the floor of the Temple holding hands but with their arms crossed and facing inwards. A space has been left for the Candidate and he is brought to stand in his now ‘usual’ place in the west. The Master then addresses the Candidate thus:

I ask you one last question. You have known many men and perhaps have enemies. If you should find any in this Lodge, or amongst other freemasons, would you be willing to extend the hand of friendship and forget the past?

If and only if the Candidate replies in the affirmative without any prompting, the blindfold is removed. The Master then says to him:

It is not only face to face that you meet the enemies that are mostly to be feared. Look behind you!

The Candidate turns as he is bidden and there he sees his own Proposer and his Seconder have been approaching him silently from behind coming from out of the shadows. They each greet him with the customary fraternal embrace of three kisses and then tell him to join the Chain of Union with them as a Brother, holding hands with crossed arms.

That done, the Master addresses him thus:

Our hands unite you to us and to the altar of Truth. The hand-clasps confirm that we shall not forsake you as long as you maintain as sacred Truth, Justice, Discretion and Brotherly Love. Brethren, break the Chain!

The Brethren do so and all retake their seats leaving the Candidate standing in the west. He is led to the east where he is told by them to kneel on both knees. The Master leaves his throne and comes forward to stand over the kneeling Candidate, bringing his sword in his left hand and his gavel in his right. He holds the sword at an angle over the Candidate’s head while he says:

To the Glory of TGAOTU and in the name and under the auspices of the … Grand Lodge, I hereby make [taps the Candidate’s right shoulder once with the blade of his sword], create [taps his left shoulder with the sword as before] and constitute you [taps his head as before] an Entered Apprentice in the First Degree of the … Rite and as a member of this Worshipful and Worthy Lodge, regularly constituted in the Province of … under the number … and named …

Then still touching the Candidate’s head with the flat blade of his sword, he gives the blade three sharp blows in the rhythm of the First Degree using his gavel, thus: xxx, xxx, xxx. The Master retakes his seat taking his sword and gavel with him. The new-made Brother is raised to his feet and placed in the north-east corner of the Temple where they leave him (to retake their seats in the north and south Columns respectively, their work being done now) and where the Master of Ceremonies awaits him to teach him soto voce how to make the Sign, give the Grip or Token and exchange the Word of the First Degree. The new Brother is made to practice these several times until the Master of Ceremonies, aware that everyone else is watching him tutor his new charge, is satisfied with his performance.

There are several features that are different to English practices and they merit some explanation.

  • By this stage in the ceremony, there has been a more subtle emphasis than in the English basic masonic ceremonies on the fact that the Hermetic exploration starts and ends in the heart of the individual. This has been done systematically using sense impressions thereby stressing a candidate’s individuality and the ardour and strength that will be required in pursuing that exploration. This is accomplished by
  1. seating him in isolation in the Chamber of Reflection and obliging him to write his own

    philosophy of life;

  2. ‘abusing’ his five senses thus – his sight (by blindfolding him); his hearing (with the clashing of the swords; his touch (by having him stumble during one of the perambulations and later to feel the impress of the seal on his skin); his taste (by having his drink water than vinegar) and then his sense of smell (by passing a naked flame near to his nostrils)
  3. making the Working Tools which he has to carry during his perambulations quite large and therefore very heavy to carry in one hand.
  • Another clearly Hermetic feature is the emphasis on the perambulations. This serves to reinforce the concept to the Candidate that, by becoming a freemason, he is starting out on a journey, a pilgrimage, one that requires patience, tenacity, courage, self-reliance and trust.
  • Even though the Sign is the same as in England, the Word is that of the English Second Degree. The reason for this is simple. France acquired its Freemasonry from English immigrants in the very early 1730s at a time when the Premier Grand Lodge in London felt itself driven (by certain circumstances that were largely beyond its control) to reverse the Words of the First and Second Degrees. France merely copied what was then the current English practice. However, England later relented and then changed the Words back to their original order. European Lodges, however, did not make the sudden change back. This means that they are now ‘out of step’ with the current English practice, though it ought to be remembered that for a time in the mid-18th century in England the present Second Degree Word was adopted temporarily as the First Degree Word and visa versa.
  • In France, and indeed in most of the rest of Europe, the Words of the Degrees are never given at length, are always lettered and are never spoken aloud. The new Brother is instructed by the Master of Ceremonies that whenever he may be asked for the word of a Degree, he must respond to the inquirer:

I can neither read nor write. Give me the first letter and I will give you the second.

And he must wait for that first letter before going any further in the exchange.

  • The Grip or Token is given more or less as is done now in England except that the thumb is used to give a pressure in the rhythm of the knocks of the Degree.

The detailed instruction complete, the Master of Ceremonies conducts the new Brother to a seat that has been reserved for him at the west end of the south Column near to the Junior Warden. You will have noted that there is no investiture of an apron at this stage. The newly created freemason simply has to purchase his own Apprentice apron from the Secretary of the Lodge in time for the next meeting which he is entitled to attend.

There is one final intriguing piece of ritual which completes the ceremony of Initiation. The Master then calls on the Lodge Orator, usually a distinguished Past Master, to address the Lodge and particularly the newly created Brother on the symbols and their meaning. The Orator is regarded as the custodian of the teaching of the Rite. His speech is termed ‘un morceau d’architecture’ [‘a little piece of architecture or stonework’] and it relates to the interpretation of the symbolism of the Degree that has been worked. The content and length vary considerably. The depth of their understanding displayed therein is often profound. They are not learned nor recited. They are delivered extempore and so are a real test of the Orator’s skill and understanding. In the 18th and 19th centuries the French Lodges laid great emphasis on these orations and collections of the better ones were printed and sold to raise funds for the Lodges. Fortunately, there is one published edition of these orations which is more easily accessible than most. It is preserved in the Morison Collection (item no. 520) and is a 1807 collection which had been prepared by the members of the Loge des Chevaliers de la Croix de St Jean in the early 1800s. These texts are sometimes quite long and involved, but they make fascinating reading for they show not only how those freemasons conceived of their Freemasonry but also how their interpretations of the symbology developed over the years.

That is not the end of the new freemason’s ordeals. Before he can be accepted by the whole Lodge for promotion into the Second Degree, he has to learn an extended catechism by heart and write and read aloud to the Lodge members a paper of his own compilation in which he outlines two features:

  • what the Initiation ceremony has meant to him, particularly what has he learned about its symbols and
  • what differences in his everyday life, in the profane world outside, being a freemason has made to him.

The Brethren will sit in judgement on the manner in which he responds to the set questions. Once again, he can and will be questioned about this essay and I have known some Brethren how have been rejected by their Lodges as not having made sufficient progress in their understand. I knew one member who waited four years before he felt he had acquired sufficient understand to present himself for ‘higher wages’.

The new standard Dutch Initiation ceremony is broadly similar. There are, however, no swords for the Brethren (though the Master and Wardens retain theirs). There is the heavy emphasis placed on the spirituality of the Candidate’s progression from profane darkness into enlightenment. There are the three same journeys though they are given slightly different interpretations. The first journey round the Temple is meant to teach to the Candidate about the stumbling blocks that lie in himself, that a Brother will invariably protect him and so give him wisdom. The second journey, which terminates with the hand-washing, is meant to teach him about the battle of life and the need for a determined application of strength and that the cleansing of himself is essential if he is to pursue his way towards the light. In the third journey he symbolically attains beauty but without the assistance of anyone else. He is able to achieve that because he already has acquired both wisdom and strength during the previous journeys.

There is also the Chain of Union and the method using the sword and the gavel by the Master to actually create the new Brother. In Dutch Craft Lodges, however, it is the Master himself who teaches the new member about the sign, token and word. There is also an investiture of an apron and a presentation of two pairs of white gloves: one for himself and the other for she who stands highest in his estimation.

At the end of the ceremony and at the Master’s command, the new member is taken by the Junior Warden to perform his allotted tasks on the Rough Ashlar, a huge rough hewn stone placed near to the Junior Warden in the south west corner of the Temple.

  • He has to learn and give the knocks of the First Degree on the Rough Ashlar using in turn the Maul, the Chisel and the Measuring Rule. All of these Working Tools are very large and quite heavy to handle. The knocks have to be done thus: xxx, xxx, xxx each time. Thus the new member is taught how to knock 27 times in all on the Rough Ashlar which is a symbol of his own soul – strong, dependable but as yet unfitted for lining up with the Smooth Ashlars (the other Brethren who have progressed before him) to form part of the wall of a spiritual Temple. Hence, symbolically he is at work already on his own personality. The significance of the number of those knocks is explained only later to the new Brother thus: 27 = 2 + 7 = 9 = 3 x 3, a triple trinity!
  • measuring of the exposed length, breadth and height of the Rough Ashlar using the Square, the Compasses and the Ruler. These implements are also huge and, purposely, are quite difficult to handle. That difficulty itself is intended to be instructional. Thus the new Brother is taught how to measure the Rough Ashlar in three directions using each of the three Working Tools. This makes 27 different measurements so the significant number 27 makes yet another appearance.

The last interesting feature of the Dutch ritual is its extended catechism. At the end of his Initiation, the newly made freemason is handed a card on which is printed a catechism of no less than 48 questions and answers! It shows the range and complexity of the symbolism which each new member is expected to cope with in his initial stages. The new Brother is really tested on them all at a ‘closed’ meeting of the Lodge. He is brought to a chair placed in the centre of the Temple near to a ‘Broken Column’, a particularly potent symbol in most Continental Freemasonry which refers to the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple in antiquity and hence to the urgency and continuing nature of the freemason’s task in this world. Surrounded by the silent figures of the listening members of his Lodge, the Entered Apprentice has to give his answers to the Master’s questions: confidently, without stumbling and (above all) with sincerity. Then he is asked to leave and the discussion about his merits as a Candidate for the Second Degree are discussed. If everyone is satisfied with the evident progress that he has made, then a vote is taken and if that is favourable he is invited in writing to present himself at the next available ‘open’ meeting when a Second Degree is to be performed. A similar exhaustive ‘testing’ has to be completed successfully before he will be allowed to proceed to his Third Degree.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014