A Matter of Degree
The three degrees of Masonry are the very foundation of the Craft. In order to help Brethren understand what they have experienced and as a furthering of the education they learn from their degree coach and the materials from the Grand Lodge of California we provide some links to several education modules. These Powerpoint Presentations along with some other text and images are used to educate and further develop our experiences as Masons. Please feel free to download and apply these to your own lodge experience.
Before you Entered--at the Threshold
Welcome to the door of Freemasonry
You have the ambition to be known as a Master Mason; an ambition to join the great Fraternity of which, perhaps, your father, grandfather, uncle, a close family friend was a member; an ambition to belong to that large 300 year old brotherhood of which you may have heard so much via the Internet, movies, books or through off-handed discussions amongst family and friends but of which you know so little.
So you asked a friend or family member, whom you knew to be a Freemason, or you came as a guest to a lodge dinner on how to proceed. You were given a petition to fill out and sign. As you know, an application for the degrees in Masonry must be voluntary and unsolicited. It is an unwritten Masonic law that no one be asked to become a Freemason. The sole motive of the applicant must be a sincere desire to improve oneself and to serve his fellowmen. His vows are made of his own free will, and he agrees to conform to the established usages of the fraternity.
You were asked to declare your belief in God, and probably your friend explained to you that "God" here means the Supreme Architect of the Universe, he may be to you God or Jehovah or Allah or Adonai or Buddha or. . . it makes no difference to Freemasons by what Name you call the creator, so there is within you the humble acknowledgement that you are a creature of the creators universe, and that the spiritual realm reigns over the heavens and the earth.
It is all very simple; the other questions are of a practical and mundane character, and give you no hint of what a Masonic degree may be, in what sort of a ceremony of initiation you will participate, what kind of a fraternity Freemasonry is.
When your petition was signed and delivered to the lodge first, then to California's Grand Lodge, the matter was out of your hands. The lodge assigned a committee to ascertain if you are worthy, from their standpoint, to be of the lodge. Your name was voted on in due time. You were elected. Now you are notified to present yourself at the West Gate of the Chico-Leland Stanford Masonic lodge room for initiation.
When you go, go clean in mind, in body and in heart. Take from your mind and cast away forever all thought that there is a "lodge goat" awaiting you, or that your friends are going to "have fun with you." There is not a word spoken, an action performed, which can hurt your dignity or your feelings; there is no torture, physical or mental, to degrade you or Freemasonry. There is no "horse play" or other unhappiness awaiting you.
What is done with you has a meaning; the part you play is symbolic, and intended to make a "deep and lasting impression on your mind" of truths, the full understanding of which over time make you a better man. Put all fear from your mind; remember that its among friends you go, and that the first question they asked you was of your belief in a common creator; men do not start thus who begin to play a joke.
What should you expect from Masonry?
The Masonic fraternity is not a club, a mutual benefit society, a means of entertainment nor an organization for social reform.
It is a joint effort for individual self-improvement. It seeks to cultivate the art of living and the building of a gentlemanly character. It teaches a philosophy of life which seeks to bring peace and happiness to all mankind through the building of our own spiritual temples on solid foundations.
Do not accept Freemasonry as a substitute for religion. Masonic teachings will reinforce your belief in a Supreme Being but your religious convictions are your own.
On your own volition you made application for the degrees. You sought the recommendation of a friend whom you know to be a Mason. You were thoroughly investigated. You were found worthy. You are now an Apprentice.
As soon as you have received your first Masonic degree, you will be known as an Entered Apprentice. Throughout the ceremonies you will also be termed a Candidate, a title you will retain until you are fully qualified as a Master Mason.
In your progress through the degrees of the Symbolic Lodge you will be "initiated" an Entered Apprentice, "passed" to the degree of Fellowcraft, and "raised" to the sublime degree of Master Mason.
Freemasonry countenances no horseplay in its ceremonies. The degrees are of a serious nature, and you need have no apprehensions whatsoever about the manner of your reception into each degree.
What does Freemasonry expect from you?
Prepare yourself for initiation. Your primary duty is to approach each degree calmly and solemnly. Come with an open and receptive mind, eager to learn and confident that you will be in the hands of real friends, with nothing to fear.
In each degree you will note a significant characteristic of the ritual is in its use of symbols. These express ideas visually through comparison and are more impressive than words. Seeing these symbols in the degree will help you to understand the purposes of Freemasonry.
The Importance of Symbolism
Symbolism plays a vital role in the Masonic ritual. You will find that the symbols will help you to understand the precepts of Masonry.
When you knock at the door of Freemasonry, may it open for you a new meaning for your life filled with opportunity.
(Text derived from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, AF&AM 1983 published a series of booklets titled "Discovering Freemasonry". This represents a piece of Book I of the series, and An essay by Carl H. Claudy, 1926, for the Grand Lodge of Texas AF&AM)
The Entered Apprentice is a "learner", a beginner. In the First Degree the symbols and ceremonies are directed toward purification of the heart. The following represent symbols of the degree.
Recommended reading after experiencing the degree ritual:
"The Meaning of Masonry" by Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst
“The Ceremony of Initiation” by Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst
“The Masonic Initiation - sequel to Meaning of Masonry” by Bro. W.L. Wilmshurst
“The Entered Apprentices Handbook” by Bro. J.S.M. Ward
“The First Degree: an Examination of the Masonic Ritual” by Bro. M. Sanderson
Fellow craft is not a servant, nor a subject, but an associate, a companion, a brother. The symbols and ceremonies are directed more chiefly to lessons for the cultivation of the reasoning faculties and the improvement of the intellectual powers. The following represent symbols of the degree.
"Evolution of man is the alchemy of the spirit.”
The Third Degree is referred to as symbolic of mature life, of ripened experiences, and a time of continued activities, but of decrease in toil and laborious endeavor. That there should be continued increase in knowledge and wisdom is a prime goal. As a Master Mason, he is taught the last, the most important, and the most necessary of all Truth. The following represent symbols of the degree.
Deep in the Sanctum Sanctorum the inner student.
VISITA INTERIORA TERRAE RECTIFICANDO INVENIES OCCULTUM LAPIDEM
Where and how the esoteric student studies the art and contemplates his place in the universe.
"Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying, you will find the hidden stone, the key to the philosopher's stone, and the key to his transformation."
"It is the lucky man who realizes early on that there is a way in which he, himself, is our Grand Master Hiram Abiff. When revelation of this sublime truth comes to the individual, it may strike him with a great force, making him dead to all that has gone before. We are the myth! And the lives of the great ones who have precedes us, are our lives, if we but choose to have it so! As we seek to walk the path they have walked, we become Adam, we become Abraham, we become Hiram. Their stories belong to us -- and their lives are our lives; for the truth of their lives is the truth of human existence"
(see Joe Steve Swick III, MPS, "Veiled in Allegory and Illustrated by Symbols: An Invitation to a Deeper Appreciation of Masonic Teaching," The Philalethes Magazine, Vol. XLIX No. 3, June 1996, pp. 74-5)