Unlocking the Door of Silence
Access to the mysteries of Freemasonry is granted by means of a contract – the obligation. In it, all of us bound ourselves never to speak on the mysteries of Freemasonry, lest you pay a rather steep penalty. Upon agreeing to the terms of this contract, we each were promptly invested with… not one iota pertaining to our mysteries. Upon completion of the obligation a candidate is invested with a word, and apron, basic instruction on protocol, and a heavily edited and refined lecture of recent composition. Indeed the Brother asks why.
Textual analysis of the degree, the lecture, and the charge reveals no logically derived conclusion. Some argue this is a test of your fidelity, for if you can’t keep an open secret, or patiently wait for a secret, how could we trust you with the real secrets. This logic collapses under scrutiny however, because we know by the investigation and the petition the trustworthiness of the candidate. Such a test of fidelity serves no practical purpose to demonstrate the trust reposed in the Candidate.
Using a thematic model, the lived-through experience of the degree within an initiatic context, I believe we can both understand why, and unlock the mysteries of the Craft.
Before we continue it is best to narrow down on the definition of secrets, and mysteries. A secret is some information kept private because anyone can apply it and benefit from it, e.g. the modes of recognition – signs, words, tokens, grips. All of these data can be applied and used by anyone, without benefit of Masonry. A mystery is an experience paired with an understanding one must apprehend in order to invigorate and transform one’s spiritual and the psychic life.
An appreciation of the differences between secrets and mysteries is essential to our work and our discussion, for without this clarity, we will never have benefit of the mysteries of the Craft.
Here we talk not about the secrets of Masonry, rather the mysteries of Masonry and how we take the step to transforming our spiritual and psyche life, to improve ourselves in Masonry. We call this illumination, which Masonry develops through a series of instructive experiences we call degrees. There is no coincidence that each degree has a corresponding step.
The first step on the path of Masonic Illumination, as we find in obligation of the Entered Apprentice degree, is silence.
But wait you ask, how do we know?
Masons often talk about the famed inscription above the portal to the Pythagorean school, know thyself. What Masons fail to mention with equal frequency, is that for the first five years after initiation, students took an oath of silence, and were referred to as hearers (Akousmatikoi). The lesson in the Pythagorean school is that in order to know thy self, you first had to be silent. These ancient Initiates learned, as some yogi say, to still the oscillations of the mind. Within the Pythagoran, and Yogic traditions, in order to know oneself, one first had to stop talking, and start listening.
The step of silence is not limited to just these schools. Examples abound within the mystery traditions of the West where Initiates were bound to silence, and not just for the practical reason of discretion and secrecy. These so-called ancients were very aware of the practical and internal effects of silence, as a means of spiritual development. Of late the psychology of a still mind has been the subject of scientific inquiry, which has confirmed the manifold benefits of this practice, which include increased mindfulness, more compassion, and added grey matter. And while these correspond to, and support, our core tenets of brotherly love, relief, and truth, there the is a more noble and glorious of spiritual growth, and the reason for our continuation of the step of silence in our first degree.
In stilling the principle organ noise generation the initiate starts to listen and understand the world, instead of attempting to control it. Once we begin to listen, insignia naturae ratio illustrat (INRI) becomes a reality not just a poetic motto, for we may now apply our reason to decipher Nature’s hieroglyphics. By this, we affirm the truth in as above, so below… as within, so without. The stilled mind of the Initiate travels inwardly, coming to know the ray of light within, and reveal the internal and true nature of oneself.
To bring this back to a Masonic milieu, I offer Genesis, Chapter 1, Verses 2 and 3 .
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
If the waters, representing us individually, are disturbed by ours passions and unruly character, then our internal reflection of God distorts. However should we quiet our mind, should we subdue our passions and still the face of the water, a near perfect image of God is captured in us, and we may improve ourselves in Masonry.
I also offer for your consideration our patron, John the Beloved. Traditional Christian belief, holds John was present at the Crucifixation. Some religious denominations vary on this thought, but predominantly, during the formative years of modern Speculative Freemasonry, this was the belief. While having divorced itself politically from the Vatican, the Church of England nevertheless remained part of the apostolic succession, and thus contained the doctrine of the two churches – the church of Peter and the Church of John. This doctrine is reduced as such – while Peter was the leader of the Church official, the guiding and animating force was John for he had laid his head upon the chest, and heard the beating heart of the Master of Nazerath.
This act symbolically represents John hearing the Word, without use of the vocal organ. Through this, the spirit of the Word was transmitted directly to him in a way no earthly method could.
Like our patron, the Entered Apprentice, through his silence takes the first step towards Masonic illumination developing brotherly love, relief, and truth. Once he has mastered his own silence, he may, like our patron Saint, come to hear the beating heart within, the ray of divine light, contained in us all and, into time with further development achieve Masonic illumination, or at least some part of it.
This answers the question, why. What remains is to understand how.
Perhaps the best symbol presented to the Entered Apprentice as a practical tool for instilling silence is discipline is the point within the circle. As a glyph it contains a single point suspended in a void equidistant from all other points. As a contemplative exercise this symbol starts by contracting the mind inward to a simple dot, focusing ones attention and removing all other extraneous chatter in the mind. As the mind rebels and vomits forth ideas to distract itself, one gently dismisses them and returns toward their inward contemplation.
Initial attempts will prove difficult if not fruitless, but with time a training silencing the mind, disciplining it to listen and not talk results in an internal and spiritual awakening, a rebirth into Freemasonry and prepares one for the step of a Fellowcraft.