The Perambulation or Mystical Journeying

by Walter L. Wilmshurst

This article is excerpted from the two papers “The Ceremony of Initiation” and “The Ceremony of Passing.”

(from “The Ceremony of Initiation”)

Next follows the Perambulation. But this preceded by an inquiry to the Candidate; where does he repose reliance in circumstances of danger and difficulty? It is obvious that he is about to be exposed to circumstances of that character, and the question is therefore put to ascertain whether he ought to be allowed to expose himself to them or not. The answer to the question should always be his own and should spring spontaneously from his own mind and lips; to prompt him with an answer detracts from the reality of the Ceremony and encourages him to give a reply which may be insincere. The Ceremony implies that if he cannot voluntarily give the proper response to the question, he is unfit for Initiation and should be led back out of the Lodge. If, on the other hand, he responds satisfactorily, well and good; the Ceremony may proceed and will be a test of the Candidate’s profession of faith.

What are the dangers and difficulties he is about to be exposed to? In our Ceremony they are, of course, merely theoretic and symbolic. But in the Initiation Rites of the Ancient Mysteries (of which ours are a faint echo) they were extremely exacting, realistic and affrighting, and such as put a Candidate to severe tests of mental stability and moral fitness. They may be read about more fully in literature on the subject, from which it will be gathered how very essential it was that a Candidate for Initiation into the secrets and mysteries of his own being should possess not only a stable faith and moral centre, but also a sound mind in a sound body. Otherwise grave responsibility rested upon both the Initiators and the Candidate, and grave risks of damage to the latter’s reason attached by suffering an unfit person to “rashly run forward” towards experiences for which he was unsuited.

Hence it is that a Candidate is still called upon to make a public declaration of faith and to be passed in review before the Lodge ere the Ceremony is proceeded with, so that his Initiators may be satisfied of his fitness.

This is the first reason for the ceremonial Perambulation. But there is another, of equal importance. The journey round the Lodge is a symbolic representation of the Candidate’s own life-journeyings in this world prior to his request for Initiation into the world within. The dangers and difficulties referred to are the vicissitudes encountered in his own personal Odyssey; indeed the wanderings and buffetings of Odysseus are an ancient poetic allegory of these experiences, of a like character to the parable of the career of the Prodigal Son before he “came to himself” and struck the true path.

We must observe two most noteworthy details in connection with this symbolic journey. The first is that, though in a state of darkness himself, he is not alone, but has with him an enlightened guide. Moreover he is compassed about by a cloud of witnesses keenly anxious for his spiritual advancement and restoration to light. The significance of this detail is that every traveller through life has within himself his own invisible guide and that his soul’s upward struggles are observed by many unseen watchers.

The second is that in the course of his symbolic journey he is led to each Warden in turn, whom, by a particular gesture, he as it were arouses from silence and stirs to utterance. The gesture itself is in fact a repetition of the knocks previously given at the door of the Lodge. But whereas those knocks were first addressed to inert material (the door), they are now applied to a living being (the Warden). What does this imply? It signifies that in our efforts to turn away from the outer world and penetrate to the Light of the inner one, we not only overcome our own self-created opposition, but we awaken and stimulate into activity certain living but hitherto dormant energies within ourselves.

Of those latent energies with him the Candidate will come to learn more later. Suffice it for the moment to know that his desire for Light awakens real but as yet slumbering potencies within himself, which from now onwards will become stimulated and promote his spiritual advancement. In each of us reside certain dormant principles (represented by the two Wardens) higher than the normal benighted human reasons knows* [* These latent spiritual principles in man, symbolised by the Wardens or “Watchmen,” are frequently referred to in the V.S.L., e.g. “I have set watchmen upon thy walls which shall never hold their peace day nor night” (Is. 62, 8); “Unless the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain,” (Ps. 127, 1).]; it is these which it is possible to provoke into activity, and which, then awakened, no longer block our passage but speed a man on his ways with, as it were, the mystical greeting: “Pass, Good Report!”

The expression “Good Report” is a modern form of a very ancient mystical title accorded to the Candidate. It means much more than “good reputation” in the popular sense of the phrase. It implies that the Candidate’s nature is one animated by spiritual sincerity, one that rings true like a coin, and that sounds forth a convincing note when it speaks. “True of voice” was the Egyptian form of “Good Report,” and it is for this reason that, on approaching each Warden, our present Candidates are called upon to sound forth their own note so that the Warden may determine whether they are indeed “true of voice” and qualified to be passed on.

“Say something that I may see you” said Socrates to a shy youth who sought his instruction, for a man’s speech betrayeth him to the sensitive ear, which is able to judge of the speaker’s sincerity and spiritual status. And hence it is that the Candidate is required to sound forth his own voice to the Wardens.

The Perambulations

(from “The Ceremony of Passing”)

Note that immediately following the Prayer, the Candidate is required to perambulate the Lodge. This is instructive. There are, of course, ceremonial reasons for the perambulations; (1) he must demonstrate to the Lodge his status as an Apprentice, (2) he must produce his passport qualifying him for a higher Degree, and (3) he must finally make his way to the East. But behind these there is a deeper reason for these symbolic journeyings.

We saw that the perambulations in the First Degree symbolised the Candidate’s benighted wilderness-wandering before he struck the path of Light; we spoke of them as representing the odyssean vicissitudes of his previous career. But now that he has actually found that path, why are his wanderings resumed? Because no human soul stands still until it has finished its appointed course and reached its goal. Motion is inseparable from life. Stagnation and inertia spell death. The Unconscious is wrought into conscious being as the result of constant movement. “Move on!” applies equally to solar system, planet and man; each has to tread its path of self-fulfillment to the end. Men, like the stars, move in their courses towards a goal, though, unlike the stars, their ignorance and self-will cause them to miss the track until the pains of life force them back to it. The human Ego may either move of its own will towards good or evil, light or darkness, or be driven about like a blown leaf by forces extraneous to itself; but move it must.

The perambulations in the present Degree, therefore, signify the Candidate’s willing forward motion towards perfection under the urge of his own heart’s promptings. You remember the Pilgrims’ March in Wagner’s “Tannhauser,” where the music so graphically suggests the resolute persistent plod-plod of weary but courageous feet, toiling through dangers and difficulties, up hill and down dale, but ever onwards to a distant but assured goal. It represents, and was meant to represent, the inward urge that impels all aspirants along the path of Light, and therefore may be thought of as admirably illustrating what is implied by these ceremonial perambulations of the Masonic pilgrim. Let us think of these mystical journeys about the Lodge as typifying his soul’s continued forward movement to the goal of his desire; let us see in the deacon who companions and guides him, the impersonation of his own unerring enlightened conscience; let us discern in the salutes he makes to his superiors during his progress, his recognition of spiritual powers higher than himself, and, in the examinations he has to undergo, the testings, the ordeals and titles to advancement which every soul experiences upon its upward way. There is, you see, a wealth of significance (usually wholly unperceived) concealed within these ceremonial details.

Let us turn now to another of them. The perambulations are made on the level floor of the Lodge, which the Candidate keeps on “squaring,” visiting each of its four sides in turn. But at the end of the third circuit the moment comes when his forward motion on the level ceases, and he is directed to mount spirally, by a series of winding steps. Linear motion gives way to circular; he advances now not merely forward, but up. “They went up, by winding stairs, into the middle chamber.” By this change of motion, this spiral ascent, is implied that the time has come when the Candidate must leave the level of the sense-world and rise to the supra-sensual ; must divert his thoughts and desires from sensuous objects and concentrate them on the insensible and much more real things of the world of mind. For, as we have said, this Ceremony is one of Initiation into the mysteries of the purified mind and the more hidden paths of nature.

We must not hurry over this point but give it the reflection it deserves. For there is a scientific justification for this ceremonial detail. All motion is really circular, spiral, vortical (like the winding staircase). Nature knows no straight lines.

Line in Nature is not found;

Unit and Universe are round.

In vain produced, all rays return;

Evil will bless and ice will burn.

The earth’s surface looks flat to our ignorant confused perception, but continued motion upon it brings us back to our starting-point and teaches us it is round. Beams of light, once thought to be straight, are now known to bend and become circular. And this is especially true of thought-energy, which is mind in motion. Strongly concentrated thought and desire function spirally, like a corkscrew boring a passage into the world of mind-the “middle chamber” between the material and the spiritual to which the Candidate must ascend. An ancient and biblical emblem of penetrative, one-pointed thought-energy was the spiral horn of the unicorn projecting into space from the centre of that mythical animal’s forehead.

Before we can climb to a height we must first learn to walk on the level, as the Candidate does in this Ceremony. And in doing so, he follows the Great Architect’s law as expressed in Nature. Everything in Nature is created upon the principle of the Square; all animal forms tend to proceed from the horizontal to the upright. Worms and creeping things precede the quadruped, from which comes the upstanding biped. A child creeps “on all fours” before it walks. A man must walk before he can fly, and even then his aeroplane will “taxi” on level ground before soaring into the blue. The same law holds on the plane of thought and morals; our ideas are grovelling, materialistic and sensual to begin with. Hence the need for their drastic purification and the uplifting of the inward eyes to the hills whence cometh strength and a whole new realm of being becomes visible.

From the moment of ascending the winding staircase, then, the Candidate is mentally leaving the outer world more and more behind him and rising into an inner invisible world. He is making what has often been called Itinerarium mentis in Deo, the ascent of the mind to the Source of Light; and it will be to exploring these new regions and learning their many secrets and mysteries that his labours as a Fellow Craft will be devoted. It will be a task claiming all his energies of mind and desire, but the exercise of these will create new faculty as he proceeds, and make possible for him what at first he may deem hopelessly beyond his powers.

Does the road wind up-hill all the way? Yes, to the journey’s end.

Will the long journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend.

What is thus described as a full time occupation is, with us, symbolically dramatised by ascending to the East (or source of Light) by a journey of five steps. Why five, and neither more nor less? Because, as we have learned previously, man’s nature is resolvable into a series or spectrum of seven distinct principles (corresponding with the seven officers forming a Lodge), but of these seven the two, lowest are left out of account in this Degree and the five higher ones alone are actively engaged. Our two lowest principles are the senses and the carnal reason, both of which are, as it were, left behind and transcended in the Second Degree work, whilst the higher or psychic and spiritual faculties alone come into function, and it is to each of these that a step is allotted. The Pentagon or five-pointed star is a geometrical symbol of man’s five higher principles.

You may ask, how can I dissociate my five higher principles from my two lower ones and use them separately, when they all seem so blended as to be inseparable? Well, to learn to do so is one of the chief lessons of this Degree. In coming to any true knowledge of ourselves we must begin by discriminating between what belongs to the sense-world and the supra-sensual world respectively ; to distinguish between things transient and things enduring. This we do in a measure when our bodies sleep and the mind continues to function vividly, as it often does in dreams, and we shall certainly have to do so when, at death, the outer senses and reason drop away altogether, leaving us with only our five higher principles. But it is practicable to learn to do this now and it is a work of the Second Degree, the training of the mind and higher principles to function consciously apart from the senses. The subject cannot be pursued here for reasons of space; every one must pursue his own study of it in his own way and the ardent seeker will soon learn details and methods for himself or acquire them from some more expert Brother. We can only indicate here what the ascent by live steps alludes to and leave those to take them who so desire.

But before being “passed” into these high regions of self-knowledge the Candidate is called upon to make further covenant of secrecy in regard to what their light may reveal to him. Hence the Obligation follows at this point of the Ceremony.

The full text of Wilmshurst’s papers may be found at:

The Ceremony of Initiation

The Ceremony of Passing