Official Visit to Curren Lodge No. 68

Worshipful Master, Distinguished East,
Past & Present Grand Lodge Officers,
Brethren All

At my official visit to Western Star Lodge last week, the Master and his officers conferred the Entered Apprentice Degree and I was asked to give the Charge to the new Brother. You probably remember how it goes:

My Brother: as you are now introduced into the first principles of Freemasonry, I congratulate you for being accepted into this ancient and honourable fraternity. Ancient as having subsisted from time immemorial and honourable as tending in every particular to render all men who will be conformable to its precepts.

While I was pacing my bedroom while bringing the full text of the charge back to memory I made a note to give 'from time immemorial' some thought.

We all know that the beginnings of the Craft are vague and not easy to pin down. For some students of Masonic lore, the "mists of antiquity" lie in the known history of Freemasonry previous to the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. They refer to the great manuscripts that record the "Charges of Freemasonry", such as the "Halliwell Manuscript", also known as the "Regius Poem", written approximately 1380 A.D., and the "Cooke Manuscript" which dates from about 1450.

For others it means an attempt to trace the origins of the Craft back to the building of King Solomon's Temple at about 975 B.C. This is because our ritual and the Hiramic Legend are so closely connected with the events of the reign of King Solomon.

After all, the Legend of Hiram Abif come out of King Solomon's reign? Did not Solomon mourn for the loss of his architect and order that he be decently interred? Are not the villains in the Legend given their just punishment?

Of all these things we have no real evidence in the Old Testament.

It is true that in the First Book of Kings, Chapter VII, and in the Second Book of Chronicles, Chapter II there are very brief references to Hiram. However, there are no real details. The legend that grew up around him dates from the early 1700's. The first real evidence that any Lodge used a dramatized version of the Hiramic Legend puts the date as late as 1722.

Thus it is hat some of the Masonic traditions that are dearest to the hearts of Masons are either a clever invention of the early writers of our Ritual or truly "buried in the mists of antiquity" and we have to ask ourselves from whence then came the moral and spiritual teachings of Freemasonry? From whence came many of the mystic rites that we now perform?

For that, we have to look to the ancient Mystery Religions. They existed both in the Greek and Roman cultures, but were not confined to Greece and Rome. Evidence of them may be found in the early cultures of China, India, Egypt, and other ancient civilizations. They were secret religious assemblies with special initiation rites, and most certainly were still present in the time of Jesus.

There is also no doubt that they had an influence on the growth of the ceremonies of early Christianity. Some of the customs of these Mystery Religions were adapted for the Christian Ritual. One only needs to examine some of the mysticism surrounding the festivals of Christmas and Easter to see the similarities.

We should remind ourselves again that the Roman Catholic Church, with its elaborate ceremonies, was once the main support of Freemasonry and remember that our operative brethren built the great cathedrals of the middle ages. It is not surprising then, that all of the ceremonies of the Christian Church and of Freemasonry contain overtones of the ancient Mystery Religions.

The Mystery Religions appear to have had a double purpose. First, they wished to hand down, from generation to generation, the traditions associated with the gods in whose honour they were organized. Secondly, they taught very carefully how certain rituals were to be performed, and then trained their initiates to carry out those rituals exactly.

The prime purpose of the Mystery Religions was not to teach dogmatic religious beliefs; but to aim for the moral improvement of their members. The rituals were designed not only to improve the morals of the initiates, but also to implant in their minds a hope for the life that would go on after death.

One of the most important aspects of the Mystery Religions was the program of instruction for the Initiates. Each new member was required to take time to go through a course of instruction. He was taught how he should act in the ceremonies of the group, and what he should do in his relationships with his fellow members and his community. He was encouraged to think in terms of the philosophy of the religion and the means of transferring the thought into action.

We ask ourselves then; What is the origin of these Mystery Religions? The ancient peoples were the first agricultural societies and very much concerned about survival and the assuring of the regular succession of seasons. Their great legends had to do with their great concerns. Over time these legends gave birth to the Mystery Religions, thus formalizing the rituals intended to guarantee the good-will and blessing of the cult's deity.

In the legends the Earth is usually thought of as the great Goddess of Fertility. This goddess grew old and feeble as the autumn season approached and was continually in danger of death. If the Goddess of Fertility died, that would mean that the primitive man would suffer from hunger and, perhaps, starvation. The idea of the Goddess of Fertility dying filled the early peoples with terror. Therefore, it was essential that a magical rite be performed that would assist the Goddess to survive the dangerous period of winter. Through this magical rite the goddess would be brought to life again and once more possess a young and vigorous body. The result would be that fertility would be restored to the earth and people would be able to eat once more.

One of the best known myths is that of Adonis. It very likely originated in Babylon but it is best known in its Greek version. Adonis was the vigorous and youthful lover of the great Mother Goddess. Her name was Ishtar and she embodied all the reproductive possibilities and energies of nature. If Adonis died, Ishtar would not be fertilized and consequently would fail to reproduce. Unfortunately, each year Adonis would die and pass into the world of the shadows, and each year after his death, Ishtar would seek to find her lost lover. For without Adonis the period of reproduction would cease. The situation was so desperate that messengers would be sent to the Queen of the Underworld, pleading for the return of Adonis. Ishtar herself would go to the underworld to seek for her lover, passing through the seven gates of the underworld and each time she had to pay a fee, which was one of her garments. Finally, naked and alone, the Great Mother Goddess would appear before the Queen of the Underworld. The Queen would refuse to release Adonis until the messengers of the gods arrived, to sprinkle the Water of Life on both Adonis and Ishtar. When this was done they were raised from the tomb of death to the upper world. When the raising was complete the wonderful world of nature was revived and hope reborn for the fertility of the world.

This legend is significant because it embodies several facets of the Christian Religion. The sprinkling of water, the descent of the hope of the world into the realms of darkness, the revival of life and hope for the world. It also has within it elements of the legend of Hiram Abif. The lost hero, the search for the lost heroine, and the raising from darkness into the newness of life.

The ancient legends of the raising of an individual from darkness into life are many. The details of the event are varied. The main outline remains throughout them all. Involved are fertility and growth, the discovery of some secret means to do the raising, then the change from death to resurrection. Basically the legends all contain the same story. A god dies and the earth becomes unproductive. The god is restored to life and the earth becomes fertile and productive.

Each Mystery Religion in every early culture had its legends, illustrated by accompanying rites and ceremonies. Only those who have been properly initiated and are skilful in performing the required ceremonies are permitted to perform the rite of resurrection. There are invariably certain signs and symbols Connected with the ceremonies. These are revealed to the new initiates when they have received sufficient instruction to appreciate the essence of the ceremonies.

The Egyptian legend is very similar to the Greek. Osiris was the son of the earth god Seb and of the sky goddess Nut. He had two brothers, Horus and Set and two sisters, Isis and Nephthys. Osiris taught the Egyptians how to grow corn. Set, the god of evil, was jealous of the popularity of Osiris. He conspired with 72 villains to murder him. They made a chest and persuaded Osiris to get into it. When Osiris got into the chest they nailed it down securely, and flung it into the River Nile. Osiris was discovered to be missing, and there was great concern over the fact that the great teacher had been lost. Isis, on hearing the news, was greatly distressed. She set out in search of the body. In the meantime the chest had floated down the Nile to the town of Byblos, in Syria, and there it became stranded on the sand. An Erica tree grew up over the chest and completely enclosed it in its trunk. The King of Syria decided that the tree should be cut down and that it would be used to form a great pillar in his palace. Isis arrived in Syria and went to the King's Palace. She begged for the pillar and her pleas were heard. She cut it open, found the chest and within it the body of Osiris. Isis threw herself on the body and brought it back to life. Osiris was raised from the chest in a great ceremony. The 72 villains were discovered and put to death. Osiris, having been raised from darkness, renewed his vows to serve his people. He returned to Egypt and continued to teach his people how to make their soil fertile, how to produce crops of corn and how to feed the people.

Here we see the similarities with the Legend of Hiram Abif. Certainly the Hiramic legend does not come from the Old Testament. There is no record of the murder of Hiram, not even any indication that he died. It is evident that he had dropped out of the picture by the time that the temple was dedicated.

We do not know where the Legend of Hiram originated, but we certainly can tell that all the ingredients are there; the murder of a productive god, the disposal of the body by the powers of darkness, the discovery of the body by the powers of light, the raising of the body from darkness to light, and the return to productive living. In addition there are the accompanying signs and symbols, which are kept secret. There is also the dedicated journey of those who sought for the body and the ultimate discovery of it, and the punishment of those who sought for the hero's death and the honour bestowed upon the person who was raised.

We must also point out, however, that the Legend of Hiram has been carefully refined and adapted to the lessons that the Freemasonry teaches and there are at least four (4) fundamental differences:

  1. Hiram, in the Masonic Legend, is not restored to life as are the gods of the Mystery Religions and the Christian Religion. The writer of the Hiramic Legend appropriately ends it with having the remains properly interred. However, the signs and symbols remain. They are transferred to the candidate, who is urged to remember the noble example of a man who would rather suffer death than betray a sacred trust.

  2. The raising of Hiram in the Legend symbolizes the entrance of the human soul into a new and better stage of experience. It points out that it is the duty of all men to prepare themselves for a new life, by following the glorious example of dedication and perfection. An element of resurrection remains, although the bones are interred, the new life, the resurrected one, is transferred to the candidate, giving us the encouragement that the goodness of the person who has died lives on in those for whom he lived?

  3. The Hiramic Legend in Freemasonry does not have the magical elements that are common to the legends of the Mystery Religions. In one of the versions of the Osiris Legend, Isis, a virgin, throws herself on the dead body of Osiris and immediately becomes pregnant, and later is the virgin mother of the god Horus. In Freemasonry, the reason for raising the body was so that it might be interred in consecrated ground. Certain signs are learned by those who raise the body, but they are not the genuine secrets. Those have yet to be discovered. The quest does not end with the raising of the body. The search must go on � the unending search for eternal truth.

  4. The Hiramic Legend does not end in material gain, as do most of the mysteries. The conclusions of the Legends of the Mysteries indicate that the ancient peoples, because of their exploits, assure themselves of material gain, such as the return of food after the winter barrenness. The lesson we learn in Freemasonry is that there is another way of living that is far higher than the material one. It is the world of brotherhood and service in this present life.

As I have said earlier, it is impossible to assert with any certainty exactly where the Legend of Hiram Abif originated, or to find any documented account of its direct relationship to the Mystery Religions of the ancient cultures. It is reasonable for us to say, though, that the Hiramic Legend and all the ancient legends form a part of humanity's great quest for the meaning of life and death, and teach us that there is more to life than material wealth and strength.

I hope you enjoyed this speculative journey through the Mystery Religions. It has enhanced and enriched the meaning of the Legend of Hiram Abif for me. Hiram is no longer only a man of honour who is willing to sacrifice his life rather than betray a sacred trust. In this perspective he stood for something far greater. He became a part of humanity, reaching out to an unknown power seeking for some assurance of permanency and love.

(Adapted from an Article by M.W.Bro. W. J. Collett, P.G.M., G.L. of Alberta)


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