You are likely to have heard mention of the Ancient Mysteries in relation to Freemasonry but be a little confused about what is meant when such reference is made. As brothers work their way through the degrees of Freemasonry, new teachings are revealed to them as they progress.
In many respects, much of the teachings within Freemasonry are from some type of Ancient Mystery. But what is meant by this term? In its simplest form, we can understand it to mean a body of teachings that have existed since time immemorial, pertaining to the truer spiritual purposes for humanity’s existence.
In this post, we will explore what is meant by the Ancient Mysteries of Freemasonry and look at some of the teachings that are prevalent in Masonic lodges across the world.
What is meant by the Ancient Mysteries?
As was mentioned in the introduction, the Ancient Mysteries can be any teaching that has existed in the long annals of human history. Many of the lessons within the Ancient Mysteries teach about the purpose of the soul, self-mastery, and divinity.
However, the Ancient Mysteries’ fundamental tenet represents the spiritual evolution of the inner being, or the soul, as many of us understand it. Within Freemasonry, this primary teaching is known as the esoteric path.
But it must be taught in relation to the secondary factor, which requires the cooperation of the personality through which the soul incarnates in this enterprise. This is known as the exoteric path. You may well have heard of the esoteric and exoteric teachings of Masonic wisdom, as they are significant in conveying many key Masonic messages.
In addition to this, the Ancient Mysteries include a significant body of texts explaining the greater purposes of the Macrocosmic whole. Many of these Ancient Mysteries, it is said, were initially given to humanity by the Grand Lodge on High and contained clues to evolution hidden in symbology and numeracy.
If one is able to dissect the Ancient Mysteries, they will gain an understanding of man’s origin and destiny, as well as the correct path to spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, we can see that the Ancient Mysteries are of significant historical value and must be referred to if we are able to understand the true mysteries of the universe.
How are the Ancient Mysteries conceptualized within Freemasonry?
The Ancient Mysteries are conceptualised through dramatic enactment and illustrated through allegory and symbolism. This system has been preserved throughout the past ages of humanity and is preserved today in the form of modern-day Freemasonry.
For this reason, Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries are often referred to interchangeably, as the secrets of the Ancient Mysteries are revealed to brothers as they progress through the various degrees of Freemasonry.
Brothers believe that Masonry is closely related to the restoration of the Mysteries. The Masonic platform is used to articulate some of the teachings of the mysteries. Masons believe that by ingesting the knowledge of the Ancient Mysteries, they will be moving forward upon the path of return.
In modern Masonry, many of the teachings of the Ancient Mysteries have been distorted by other superfluous information. However, due to its broad reach and ability to communicate to many people all over the world, Freemasonry presents a great opportunity through which the Ancient Mysteries can be restored to a natural part of the program for human living.
Read more: 41 Myths Of Freemasonry
Through Freemasonry’s teachings, the Ancient Mysteries have been earnestly preserved. It has done this through its three degrees of the Blue Lodge. The three degrees of Freemasonry are Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason.
The ceremonies and rituals conducted at different points on a brother’s Masonic journey are emblematic of the way in which the Ancient Mysteries are taught.
Is it possible to definitively pin the origins of Freemasonry in the Ancient Mysteries?
While it isn’t possible to definitively pin the origins of Freemasonry in the Ancient Mysteries, we do know that Freemasonry was inherited from a very ancient past. We also know that humans have never been without some form of rituals or ceremonies.
We can therefore deduce from this that the complex and intricate teachings of modern-day Freemasonry are rooted in the Ancient Mysteries and have been preserved by the dedicated rituals presided over by brothers for generations.
The Ancient Mysteries and Modern Freemasonry
The Mysteries of Eleusis were the most famous of those in Ancient Greece, although many existed across the Mediterranean world. The Mysteries of Eleusis, though, lasted for more than one thousand years, and after a Christian government shut it down, it continued in a number of forms, namely: Neo-Platonism, Alchemy, and Freemasonry, among others.
While the history of modern Freemasonry is reasonably well documented after the 1717 foundation of the Grand Lodge of England, the craft is undeniably much older than that and has less established roots.
We know that Freemasonry stems from the cathedral architects and the stonemasons of the Middle Ages. We can assume that they were well informed about many historical matters, liberal arts, and mathematics.
Constructing and adorning the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages was no mean feat, and it is likely that the men who undertook such tasks were learned and well read. The stonemasons then went on to form lodges of workers that excluded those who had not been appropriately apprenticed or lacked the knowledge to do the job to a high standard.
Soon after these lodges were formed, some nobility and gentry were permitted to enter the lodges, and they became speculative Masons as opposed to operative Masons. The coming together of these two groups around a common purpose was really the founding moment of Freemasonry as we know it today.
What are the similarities between modern-day Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries?
As has already been explored in this post, the Ancient Mysteries and modern-day Freemasonry are inexorably linked, particularly from a thematic viewpoint. There are also ceremonial linkages between the two practices, which are significant for Freemasonry as we know it today.
One of the most obvious similarities is that neither the Ancient Mysteries nor Freemasonry has any cognitive content. A distinguishing feature of both is that they require learning by doing something, rather than by learning information. In Freemasonry, we know that this is done by learning through a particular ceremony, which is intended to be informative and transformational.
There is also an interesting parallel to be drawn between what Aristotle believed to be the three core elements of the Ancient Mysteries. The Mysteries’ three core elements are that something was told, something was shown, and something was done.
In Freemasonry, this translates as the thing that is told, is the legend about the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the fate of Hiram Abiff. What is shown are the various tools related to the craft of the stonemasons, which are the compasses, squares, and levels, which are prominent symbols in modern-day Freemasonry.
And finally, what is done, is a dramatic ceremony re-enacting aspects of the building of the Temple, especially in regard to the role that Hiram Abiff played in this process.
As we know, the symbolic allegory of building King Solomon’s Temple is what craft Freemasonry is all about. And the three degrees of the fraternity are an indication of a brother’s journey through the process of learning about the secrets of the craft.
In a similar way to the Mysteries of Eleusis, the fundamental ceremony of Freemasonry is about death and resurrection, which are essentially the subject of all the mysteries known to humankind.
Conclusion: Freemasonry and the Ancient Mysteries
The Ancient Mysteries are shrouded in intrigue and are of historical significance when it comes to modern-day Freemasonry. One of the critical things to understand is that the practices and the rituals of Freemasonry. At the same time, they might seem archaic to some, have actually helped preserve the Ancient Mysteries of the universe to the present day.
While many of the mysteries have been diluted and replaced with other Masonic teachings through allegorical plays, Freemasonry represents one of today’s only efforts to preserve the sanctity of the Ancient Mysteries and teach brothers about their significance.
We know that many of the rich teachings and allegorical ceremonies of Freemasonry today reflect many of the Ancient Mysteries, and the structure and purpose of Masonic teachings are built on original thought and curiosity.