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by Ed Halpaus
"I dread with unwashed hands to bring my incensed wine to Jove an offering." Homer
"In me, now fresh from war and recent strife, 'tis impious the sacred things to touch, till in the living stream myself I bathe." Aeneas
Taking a look at the petition for the degrees of Freemasonry tells us something about the qualifications of a candidate for the degrees of Freemasonry. One question on the petition in my jurisdictions is: "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" That question alone indicates that a man who has had one or more felony convictions may have a difficult time passing the ballot to receive the degrees in a Lodge.
There is quite a bit of symbolism to explore from just that one paragraph about the Petition for the degrees; for instance, passing the ballot: Every Mason knows that when balloting on a petition white balls elect and black balls reject. Some will say that the expression 'being blackballed' comes from Freemasonry, and maybe it does. However, white and black stones being cast as a vote dates back a very long time; "Among the ancient Greeks and Romans, sentence was given in courts in judicature by white and black stones or pebbles. Those who were in favor of acquittal cast a white stone and those who were for condemning [would] cast a black one."[i] This ancient use of white and black stones is thought to be the origin of the white and black balls of the Masonic ballot. A white stone is also a symbol of victory, and recognition of the conqueror. Hence, "the white stone has become the symbol of absolution in judgment, and the conferring of honors and rewards."[ii]
For further enlightenment the Masonic student can find more symbolism about both the white and black stones in The Great Light of Masonry, and in both the Scottish and York Rites.
You may find it interesting that the wearing of white gloves and the
symbolism of those gloves has something to do with the question about
felonies on the petition. White gloves are symbolic of having clean
hands, and clean hands are a symbol of purity; this symbolism goes
back to the Psalms in The Great Light; "Who may ascend to the hill of
the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and
a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by
what is false." Possibly because of this scripture, and later
scripture of the New Testament, the washing of hands is an outward
sign of an internal purification. David wrote in Psalm 26:6 "I wash
my hands in innocence,[iii] and go about your altar O Lord." In
the ancient mysteries the washing of the hands was always an
introductory ceremony to the initiation; and, of course, it was used
symbolically to indicate the necessity of purity from crime as a
qualification of those who sought admission into the sacred rites,
which include the rites of Freemasonry.
Interest in the term or ceremony of Masonic Baptism has seemed to have
increased; at least I received a number of questions about it. As
Brother Mackey said the term Masonic Baptism has been applied in the
U.S. by some to a 'ceremony used in certain advanced degrees,' but,
which should more correctly be called 'Lustration.
Lustration is a Latin word meaning both Washing and Atonement. In my jurisdiction lustration is recommended to the petitioner for the degrees of Masonry in the book given to him after he is elected to receive the degrees and prior to his receiving the first degree of Masonry; this book is called Quest Book No. 1, and I suspect in most jurisdictions there is a similar book with similar instructions: That portion of quest book #1 is worthwhile to read, it's not long, but it's longer than I want to reproduce here. So I will only reproduce a part of it: "As you bathe before coming to your initiation, think of the laving water as a symbol of such purification. Put on your freshest linen. Come as a supplicant." "Search your heart before you go to your investiture. Is there is aught of hate, envy, meanness of spirit there? If so, do all that lies within your power to be rid of it. If you have any misunderstanding with any man which can be corrected, do what you can do to set this aright before you enter the Temple."[vi] All of the Quest Books can be read on-line at www.mn- masons.org and then look for the Quest Books.
Lustration is intended as an internal purification of the heart, which if all were exact and perfect with lustration and repentance lustration would result in; "The offender having ceased to exist."[vii]
One of the duties of the office of the Senior Deacon[viii] in early America was to welcome, receive, and clothe, all visiting Brethren, but also see to it that they were properly clothed, 'that is to say, he is to receive them at the door with all courtesy and kindness, and to furnish them, or see that they are furnished, with the necessary apron and gloves and, if they are Past Masters, with the appropriate collar and jewel of that office, with an extra supply of which all Lodges were in the olden time supplied. He is to conduct the visitor to a seat, and thus carry out the spirit of the Old Charges, which especially inculcate hospitality to strange Brethren.' While that custom is no longer observed in Lodges in the U.S.A. the friendliness of the welcome should still be there. And while we may no longer wear white gloves at Lodge communications in some jurisdictions the symbolism of the lustration and being pure in heart, the divestiture of hate, envy, and meanness, and the correcting of any misunderstandings, before we enter the Lodge would serve every Mason and every Lodge well.
From volumes of Sacred Law:
"When they go into the tabernacle of the congregation, they shall
wash with water, that they die not; or when they come near to the
altar to minister, to burn offering made by fire unto the LORD: So
they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it
shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed
throughout their generations.
Exodus 30: 20-21 Tanakh - Jewish
"And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Acts 22:16 New Testament - Christian
"O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks."
Qur'an 005:006 Pickthall translation - Islam
[i] Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry - Clegg edition Vol. 2
[iii] Commentary from the NJPS translation of the Tanakh: "Clean hands (literally or metaphorically) are required for entrance to the Temple." See Psalm 24:4
[iv] Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry - Clegg edition Vol. 1
[vi] This advice may be a good thing for all of us to remember and practice before we go to our Lodge Communications even though we are long past our initiation.
[vii] 20th Century Dictionary
[viii] Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry - Clegg edition Vol. 2
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Last modified: March 22, 2014