"A peculiar system of
morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."
The above phrase is often quoted as if it supplied a complete and
adequate definition of Freemasonry, but this is a mistake. It occurs in a
certain catechism addressed to an E. A. and should be regarded merely as
an explanation of Freemasonry intended for the initiate.
Freemasonry is something much wider than a school of purely moral
instruction, as becomes manifest when we study the second and third
degrees, which to a large extent consist of mystical teaching of a more
complex and spiritual nature than that usually designated by the term,
The true significance of the above quoted phrase lies in the fact that
it is given to an E.A., and the first degree teaches the important lesson
that spiritual progress is only possible to those who have conformed
rigidly to the moral law. Indeed, it is only when the apprentice has
satisfied his instructors that he has made himself acquainted with the
principles of moral truth and virtue that he is permitted to extend his
researches into the hidden mysteries of nature and science.
Now, "The hidden mysteries of nature and science" are clearly something
quite different from the principles of moral truth and virtue. These, we
are told, form a necessary qualification for advancement in the search for
further knowledge, and this fact should put us on our guard against
assuming that Freemasonry is a peculiar system of morality, and nothing
Let us, however, consider the phrase in more detail, for at first sight
it strikes us as unusual in form. Many students have jumped to the
conclusion that it indicates that the morality of Freemasons is peculiar,
but even a cursory glance through the rituals, not only of the first but
also of the second and third degrees, reveals nothing at all unusual in
the type of morality taught. It is, indeed, hardly distinguishable from
the ordinary code of morality proclaimed by all the various Christian
What is peculiar, however, is that much of it is taught by allegories
and symbols instead of by didactic phrases. Not that the latter are
entirely lacking, but in so far as they exist they do not fall under the
terms of this definition, and although well deserving of study are
obviously for the most part 18th century additions.
It is this system of moral instruction which is accurately described as
peculiar and it may, indeed, be regarded as almost unique or at least as
characteristic of Freemasonry. It is, moreover, especially marked in the
first degree, whereas in the second and third degrees, though not entirely
lacking, it is clear that we are dealing with a rather different subject,
including the nature of God, the initials of Whose name we are supposed to
discover in the second degree.
In this book we hope to set forth some of the moral lessons of
Freemasonry which are taught by her to the candidates by means of
allegories and symbols, but we shall not entirely ignore some of the
definite moral precepts declaimed during the ceremony itself, although, as
a rule, these require much less elucidation.
It may be argued, however, that it is necessary to prove that moral
instruction is given, even in the first degree, by means of allegories and
symbols, as distinct from obvious and perfectly intelligible admonitory
phrases. This we will proceed to do.
The manner in which the candidate is brought into the lodge is intended
to symbolise the fact that man is by nature the child of ignorance and
sin, and would ever have remained so had it not pleased the Almighty to
enlighten him by the Light which is from above. We are truly taught that
but for Divine inspiration and teaching we should not even be able to
perceive what is right and what is wrong. This inspiration may come from
our own consciences, which are sparks of the Divine Spirit within us, or
from t he instruction contained in the V.S.L., but without it we should
ever have remained in a state of moral darkness.
Thus at the very commencement of our Masonic career we are taught in a
peculiar way, by means of allegory and symbol, that the moral laws are not
man-made conventions but Divine commands, which man should be able to
recognise as such by means of the Divine Light within him.
This is by no means an unimportant lesson to a world wherein some
doubters are loudly proclaiming that there is no such thing as absolute
right and wrong, and that all moral codes are but the accumulated
experience of past ages as to what is expedient or convenient. To those
who would argue that there is no moral turpitude in theft, since no one
has any real right to possess property, and that at the most all that can
be said is that it is convenient for the community to punish theft, as
otherwise the victim might take the law into his own hands and create a
disturbance, the Mason replies by placing his hand on the V.S.L..
Remembering the most dramatic incident in the first degree, he declares
that the Divine Wisdom sets forth in that sacred book the definite
command, "Thou shalt not steal," for having been taught to look to the
V.S.L. as the great Light in Freemasonry, he has no alternative but to
accept this as a definite and binding instruction, disobedience to which
must be accounted for before the throne of God Himself.
In like manner, the first regular step inculcates the important moral
lesson that we must subdue our passions and trample the flesh under our
feet. In one of my other books1 I have shown that this st. represents a tau cross, a symbol which stands for the phallus,
and that the latter not unnaturally represents our passions, which
therefore must be brought into due subjection. In the Lectures this fact
is carefully stressed in unequivocal language, for to the question,-
".... what do you come here to do?"
The reply is,
"To learn to rule and subdue my passions, and make a further progress
Now it should be noted that the candidate has not had the significance
of the f.r.st. explained to him in the initiation ceremony, yet, from the
above answer in the Lectures, it is clear that he is supposed to have
sufficient intelligence to understand the significance of this piece of
symbolism and apply it to his own character.
The above two examples, out of many possible ones, are sufficient to
prove that the definition, given, be it remembered, by the candidate
previous to his being passed to the second degree, is a true and accurate
definition of Freemasonry as revealed to an E. A.. Namely, a peculiar
system of teaching morality, based on the use of allegories and symbols.
It is thus that today we should no doubt word the definition, but for all
that its true significance is easily discernable. Let us then try and
discover similar pieces of moral, as distinct from mystical, instruction
contained in our rituals.
1The E.A. Handbook, published by The Baskerville Press, Ltd.