by Walter L. Wilmshurst
This article is excerpted from Chapter II: Light on the Way of the text “The Masonic Initiation.”
The novitiate Mason is taught to regard his normal, natural personality as but a foundation-stone upon which he is recommended to erect a superstructure, perfect in all its parts and honourable to the builder.
To how many does this instruction mean anything more than a general pious counsel to become merely a man of strong moral character and virtue? It is something, of course, to fulfil that elementary standard, which needs, however, no membership of a Secret Order for its accomplishment; but the recommendation implies a very different meaning from that, as a little reflection will show. It is not a recommendation merely to improve the condition of the already existing foundation-stone (the personality), but to erect upon that foundation something which previously did not exist, something which will transcend and outrange it, although built upon it.
For the reader who is unversed in the deeper side of Masonic significance and is unaware of the hidden nature of it as thoroughly known to the original exponents of the science, the subject may prove difficult. It must therefore be explained at the outset that the superstructure to be erected is the organisation of an ethereal or spiritual body in which the skilled Mason can function in independence of his physical body and natural personality.
The theory of Masonry presupposes that man is a fallen creature; that his natural personality is a transient and unreal expression of his true self as conceived in the Divine Mind; and that, under appropriate tuition and self-discipline, he may become rebuilt and reorganised into the original condition from which he has fallen. The present natural personality, however, is the basis or foundation stone out of which that reorganisation can proceed, and within it already exists, though in a condition of chaos and disorder, all the material requisite to the purpose.
Building a superstructure upon one’s present self involves much more than merely improving one’s moral character. It is not a novice’s task, although the advice to perform it is rightly given in the Apprentice-stage. It is a work of occult science, only to be undertaken by those educated and skilled in that science. It is the science to which the Christian Master referred in the words: “Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest, after he hath laid the foundation and is not able to finish it, all that behold begin to mock, saying, ‘This man began to build but was not able to finish!'” Accordingly the Mason desirous of building a tower or superstructure should “sit down first and count the cost” by acquiring a thorough understanding of what is involved; and before he is able even to begin the erection of such a building he will find a good deal of rough labourer’s work has first to be done upon himself in clearing the ground for the intended structure.
There is an old Masonic Degree, not comprised in our present Constitutions, devoted specially to this subject. It is called the Degree of Grand Architect and throws great light on the intention of those who, well understanding the secret science, made reference in our Ritual to the building of a superstructure.
“Structures in the air!” All structures, save subterranean ones, rise into the air, — the average reader will say; yet not buildings of brick or stone are here meant. Again, building castles in the air is a familiar term for indulgence in day-dreaming and fanciful speculation; but, whilst all thought energy is constructive and creates objective form upon the plane of mind, we may be assured that the sages who perpetuated Masonic science were innocent of recommending the practice of anything so futile and unpractical. The airy structure to which they allude is the formation of a super-physical ethereal body, a “body of mist” as Hesiod and other Greek classics describe it, in which the adept Mason may consciously function in the finer planes of life and apart from his gross physical organism, and in which he will continue to live when the latter has become permanently discarded. It is spoken of by Origen, the Christian Father of the second century, as follows: “Another body, a spiritual and ethereal one, is promised us; a body not subject to physical touch, nor seen by physical eyes, nor burdened with weight, and which shall be metamorphosed according to the different regions in which it shall be. In that spiritual body the whole of it will be an eye, the whole of it an ear, the whole serve as hands, the whole as feet”; implying that all the now distributed faculties will be unified in that body into one, as was the case with man before the fall and descent into matter and multiplicity. [For a fuller study of this subject reference should be made to a recent work upon it, The Subtle Body, by G. R. S. Mead, 1919 (Watkins).]
Let us justify these observations by some pertinent references to the subject in the great text-book of Initiation-Science, the Volume of the Sacred Law; though they might be abundantly supplemented from other sources.
Like the famous Orphic Hymns of the Pythagorean and Eleusinian Schools of the Mysteries, the Psalms of our Bible are an anthology of hymns of the Hebrew Initiates and are full of Masonic allusion and instructiveness. In the 48th Psalm, the disciple of spiritual science is directed to take a walk round the symbolic City of Jerusalem; he was told to mark well its bulwarks, to observe its palaces, and particularly to pay attention to the great tower of the Temple, which, like a modern cathedral spire, rose into the air above all other buildings, so that he might not only himself appreciate the symbolism of what he saw, but might be in a position to interpret its significance to “them that come after;” that is to junior students of the science.
He thus received a striking object-lesson in the analogy of material buildings to spiritual ones. In the massive defensive walls of the city he was to recognise the strength, permanence and resisting power of the spiritual organism or “holy city” which he must build for himself in exchange for, but upon the foundation of, the frail perishable temporal body. In the palaces of the mighty, with their gorgeous interiors and stores of costly furnishings and precious objects of art, he was to perceive that his own interior must become correspondingly beautified and enriched with spiritual treasures. But in the great heaven-pointing tower, to which his attention was specially directed, he was to see the symbol of a structure as far transcending his present temporal organism as the Temple-spire outranged the adjacent buildings at its feet. From this he was to deduce the necessity of building and projecting upwards from his lower organisation, a “tower,” a superior spiritual body, rising into and capable of functioning in the “air” or more tenuous and ethereal worlds than this physical one. This is the “structure in the air” which only Grand Architects” are competent to raise; this is the “superstructure” which our Entered Apprentices are enjoined to aspire to building.
Let us turn next to the further pertinent information on the subject given by the Apostle-Initiate to his Corinthian pupils. He instructs them on this subject of superstructures. How is it possible to rear them? “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?” (He is not speaking of the physically defunct, but of that condition of atrophied spiritual consciousness characterising the normal animal man, which is always described as a state of “death” in the biblical and other writings on the subject). He proceeds to explain that the physical body itself cannot be raised, since corruption cannot inherit in-corruption, but that nevertheless there can be a “resurrection from the dead” through a sublimation of its vital essences, which can be reorganised and reconstituted into a new body of subtle matter on a supra-physical level. First comes the natural body we all wear to begin with; but out of it can be evolved a psychical body. The former is an entirely earthy vesture exhibiting an illusory unreal self to the world; the latter is the body of our true spiritual self (or “lord from heaven”) which hitherto has remained masked and buried within that temporal vesture; “sown” in it as a seed, but capable of bursting its sheath and being raised from its former impotence to “power” (activity and conscious function). He properly speaks of it as one of the secrets and mysteries of Initiation, and his familiar words may thus be paraphrased: “I am expounding to you a mystery, one of the arcana of Initiation. We are not designed to remain always asleep in this drugged, deadened state of consciousness in which we are plunged, where we suffer the illusion that we are really alive but are not. In the course of our evolution the due comes for each of us to awake out of that sleep, and to become changed, transmuted; for our consciousness to be transposed to a higher level. We have borne the earthly human image; we have now to exchange it for an ethereal one of finer texture and purer quality. The change, the transposition of consciousness from the old to the new centre, comes suddenly (though it may take long to prepare and purify ourselves for its coming). When it occurs, it comes with an inwardly heard crash, like a trumpet-blast, as the nervous system and brain-structures react to the stress upon them involved in the transition.” [It must be explained that the “trumpet” and “last trumpet” are technical terms among Initiates for the spiral, trumpet-shaped, whorls or vortices occurring in subtle matter under stresses, audible to those in whom the change occurs. The reference to the “sound of the last trumpet” stands for a physiological experience as the last fine physical strands of the old nature are, as it were, snapped and the nervous system re-electrified. In the East this experience is called “the end of the world,” since for the Initiate it means the termination of his old worldly consciousness and its replacement by one of a much vivid and intense quality.]
The Apostle further explains that for this newly evolved Ego or conscious centre there is an appropriate body, for there are celestial as well as terrestrial bodies. There cannot be consciousness apart from a formal vehicle for it, and as the old earthy body has served (and will so continue to serve) for ordinary mundane purposes, so will the newly evolved consciousness possess its own separate appropriate psychic or spiritual body for function upon supraphysical levels. The Initiate of this high degree, therefore, will possess a twofold organisation; his ordinary physical one (the “companion of his former toils”) and his supra-physical one, and will be able to utilise and function in each. He will have built his “tower”; his “superstructure in the air.”
The superstructure must be perfect in all its parts and so be honourable to the builder. What are its parts?
Man, even in his natural, unregenerate, imperfectly evolved state, is a highly composite creature. Blended with his purely physical frame are three other supra-physical, but quasi-physical, bodies; his etheric body (the “double” or wraith), his emotional or desire body, and his mental organisation or body; whilst over and beyond these, and not necessarily in functional alignment with them, exists his ultimate spiritual self which distinguishes him from the sub-human creatures. These are his “parts,” and they are but too often extremely ill-organised, uncoordinated and unbalanced. If they be imperfectly organised in the lower natural man, how can they be expected to be able to contribute requisite sublimations of themselves for the up-building of a body upon a higher level? All bodily and mental disease and infirmity originates in disorder in these inner bodies, which disorder thereupon becomes reflected forwards and manifested in the physical husk. Unless the inner natures be disciplined and organised before the gross mortal vesture is shed at physical death, how can one enter the ethereal kingdoms otherwise than “maimed,” without a “wedding-garment,” and in a distorted shape, not perfect in all its parts, and anything but honourable to the builder?
But, as we have long since seen, the first duty of every spiritual Craftsman is the purification and discipline of these bodies, and the elimination from himself of all base metals therein of which he has himself been an artificer. Only in proportion to the achievement of this arduous task can he hope to bring these “parts” into order, into subjection to his and into co-ordinated function and alignment, and so in the fullest sense stand erect, a just and upright man and Mason. He need not trouble to know how his superstructure will develop or to what extent or measure of perfection he may have built it. For it will become automatically built in his heights proportionately as he schools himself in his depths and tests his work by the continual application to it of the cross (which is the square, level and plumb-rule in combination). When the time comes for his consciousness to be raised to that superior level and he hears the call “Friend, come up higher!” he will find the superstructure he has been building in the darkness below, perfect in all its parts and honourable to himself. He will have climbed a section of the life-ladder; he will himself have built, dedicated and consecrated King Solomon’s Temple; and, through the result of his own labour upon himself, that resplendent body will appear to him more like the work of the Great Architect of the Universe than that of human hands.
There are, however, farther sections of the infinite ladder to be climbed, even when this high level has been won. From thence there remains still further building to be done, a body to be fabricated manifesting still loftier wisdom, strength and beauty. For was not the first symbolic Temple to be destroyed and become replaced by a second, of which it is written that “the glory of the former house is not to be compared with that of the latter?”
But this still loftier work need not now be treated of. Let it suffice if what has already been said assists any reader to the building of his first superstructural Temple.
The full text of “The Masonic Initiation” by Walter L. Wilmshurst may be found at: