In this segment of St. John’s Lodge No. 21 Masonic Education, let’s look at the origins of some segments of Masonic ritual.
First, we two Entered Apprentice Degrees coming up in the District this month so let’s start with some things from the Entered Apprentice Degree, beginning with a small portion of one of the Entered Apprentice lectures.
Part of that lecture refers to “…divest our minds and conscience of all the vices and superfluities of life, better fitting ourselves as living stones for that spiritual Temple, that house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens…..”
Ever wonder where that Living Stones reference came from? It comes from the New Testament, specifically the First Epistle of Peter, 2: 4-9.
Here’s how the King James Version puts it:
“Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speaking [i.e. “the vices and superfluities of life”]……
To whom coming, as unto a LIVING STONE [emphasis added], disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
Ye also, as lively [i.e. living] stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God….
Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded,
Unto you therefore which believe he is precious; but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, [Note: this is translated in later versions as “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” and it figures in Scottish Rite and Royal Arch ritual.]
And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed, [Note: later translations put this as: “…A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock which makes them fall. They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do…”]
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness and into the light…”
As you can see, this passage contains a lot of imagery and symbolism used in Freemasonry.
2. The Entered Apprentice ritual also contains the phrase, “…that house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens….”
This line is from the New Testament, specifically from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 5:1-2:
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling….. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life……”
To put this in some context, here is more of 2 Corinthians, 5:1-2. Note that it is all about God’s Judgement:
6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:
7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
9 Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of [God]; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.
Now let’s move on to the sources of some Masonic ritual from the Fellow Craft Degree:
In the Fellow Craft degree, reference is made to “travelling upon the Level of time, to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller ever returns….” In the same part of the ritual there appears the phrase, “walk uprightly in our several stages of life before God and man….”
The line “….to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller ever returns….” is from Shakespeare and appears in Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1; more specifically, in Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be, That is the question…..”
We won’t put the full soliloquy here – it’s far too long – but the portion in which this phrase appears is from lines 1770-75. Here is a link to the full soliloquy from Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1. ”
“……Who would these fardels [i.e. burden, encumbrance] bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death-
The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns– puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?…..”
Notice that this section is all about judgement after death.
The reference to several “stages” or “ages” of life also appears in Shakespeare, specifically in the play As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII:
“……………All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages……..”
Here is a link to analysis and explanation of Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages” and a video of the soliloquy below:
Another section of the Fellow Craft Degree contains the line, “Wild beasts of the field and vultures of the air.”
This line comes from Jeremiah 34:20:
“And I will give them into the hand of their enemies fand into the hand of those who seek their lives. gTheir dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.”
It is interesting to look at the context in which this verse appears in the entire Jeremiah 34 Chapter.
Note that Jeremiah 34 is all about the consequences of violating commitments made to God.
God makes a covenant with King Zedekiah requiring the Israelites to free their Hebrew slaves. The Israelites initially comply but then renege of the Covenant and force the freed slaves back into slavery.
God responds to the broken Covenant by punishing the Israelites with conquest by the Babylonians, who take the Israelites into captivity on Babylon.
We will discuss more sources of Masonic ritual in future Masonic Education posts.