by Jason E. Marshall
Originally Published in the Vol. 2, Issue 8 August 2012, Edition of Living Stones Magazine
Masonic ritual is ingenious in that it has the ability to convey masonic teachings on multiple levels. For the more exoteric Mason, the rituals provide valuable moral lessons, which support the fraternal and charitable aspects of the fraternity. For the esotericists, the rituals convey deeply transformative teachings that can be used for personal and spiritual transformation. No matter the individual member’s exoteric or esoteric leanings, you will be hard pressed to find a mason who considers masonic ritual to be useless or unimportant. Even though masonic ritual has undergone several iterations in its history, and numerous versions of ritual are practiced in various jurisdictions, ritual is the tie that unites the fraternity.
Ritual is important because it: 1) Separates the members (initiates) from the profane, 2) Allows for an initiatic experience, and 3) Provides a manner of transmitting the inner or secret knowledge of the fraternity to the initiate. The ritual and structure of the fraternity, especially the Hiramic legend as presented in the third degree, powerfully resonates with each member on a deep level, regardless of their exoteric or esoteric tendencies. One possible reason for this, is that the blue lodge degrees, and the journey that they take each brother on, parallel “The Hero’s Journey”, as identified by Joseph Campbell.
The American mythologist and philosopher Joseph Campbell (who was heavily influenced by the Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung) dedicated his life’s work to studying the myths, rituals, and legends of the world’s cultures and religions. Through his studies, Campbell began to see a basic formula that was present in almost every world myth, regardless of the culture or religion that developed or perpetuated it. Campbell called the basic myth formula “The Hero’s Journey”, or the “Monomyth”. According to Campbell, the hero’s journey contained three (3) main parts and seventeen (17) subparts: Departure (Call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid/meeting with the mentor, the crossing of the first threshold, and the belly of the whale), Initiation (The road of trials, the meeting with the goddess, woman as the temptress, atonement with the father, apotheosis, and the ultimate boon), and Return (refusal of the return, the magic flight, rescue from without, the crossing of the return threshold, master of the two worlds, and freedom to live). This basic formula (not all subparts are always used) has not only been the foundation for ancient myths, but it has also been the formula for modern myths, such as the Star Wars movies, J.R.R.’s Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings books, and pretty much every superhero comic book or movie ever made.
The Hero’s Journey always involves a hero leaving the comfort of the world he knows, in order to undertake a quest or adventure into an unknown and mysterious world. The world the hero ventures into doesn’t necessarily have to be a supernatural world, but it at least involves another country or kingdom, that the hero has either been previously unaware of, or been forbidden to venture into. During the journey, the hero must undergo several trials and tribulations that he must overcome, almost always with the aid others. Ultimately, the hero must complete his journey (receive the boon) and return back to his home, and bring with him his boon (a blessing or a gift such as a sacred object or great wisdom/knowledge). The ultimate lesson or goal of the Hero’s Journey, is not in the hero’s external journey, rather the ultimate goal of the Hero’s Journey is to tell the story of the hero’s transformation from an ordinary person into a true hero. On an inner level, the various stages and trials that the hero encounters during his journey represent many of the archetypes and stages of development identified by Carl Jung. Therefore, Jungians will recognize the Hero’s Journey, as being a journey of self-discovery towards psychological wholeness, or the “individuation” of the hero. Since the masonic fraternity is ultimately about the transformation of its members, it is natural that its structure and rituals mirror the timeless formula of Hero’s Journey.
The Masonic Hero’s Journey, begins when the brother begins his “Departure”, which in the masonic system would be the E.A. degree. In the masonic system each candidate must seek to join the fraternity pursuant to his own freewill and accord. Therefore, each candidate must heed his own internal call to leave the world of the profane that he knows, in order to enter into the mysteries of the fraternity that await him. Before the member (hero) can begin his journey, he must come into contact with a mentor, which in the case of the masonic fraternity would be the individual member recommending (top-lining) the brother’s Petition, or even the S.D. who in most jurisdictions propounds the interrogatories upon the candidate prior to his initiation, and who also conducts the brother during his initiation and later degrees. The candidate must then cross over the “first threshold” in order to actually begin his journey. The first threshold represents the point where the hero actually steps onto the path in order to begin his journey away from the world that he knows, and into the unknown. In the E.A. degree the threshold would be the point where the brother crosses the boundary of the preparation room, and into the lodge room where the S.D. awaits to receive him. The final subpart of the Departure stage, involves the “belly of the whale”, which is the point of no return, where the hero undergoes his first metamorphosis that will separate him from his previous world, and set him firmly on his new path. In the E.A. degree this would be when the brother is first brought to light after his obligation, and is greeted for the first time as a brother.
The second stage, “Initiation”, is the portion of the hero’s journey where he must undergo trials and tribulations as he journeys further into his new world of adventure (self-discovery). During these trials the hero is always aided by either physical or spiritual beings that provide him with advice, teachings, magical amulets, tools, etc., so that the hero can ultimately reach the object of his quest. In the masonic system, the brethren should act as mentors and guides in order to aid the brother on his newly minted masonic journey. While many masons will undoubtedly think that the “Initiation” occurred in the E.A. degree, in the Hero’s Journey, the initiation takes place under pressure as the hero labors in his quest. In the masonic system the E.A.’s are supposed to labor amongst their brethren prior to receiving their F.C. degree. Therefore, it can be said that the real initiation portion of the E.A. occurs in the interim period between the E.A. and F.C. degrees. During this interim the E.A. should be beginning to discover and refine his inner-self, in addition to the normal catechism work. The brother must also use the tools of the E.A. to ward off the temptations of the profane world that is full of vices and superfluities, overcome the “Temptress”, before he can continue his journey in the F.C. degree. The “Apotheosis” occurs when the hero moves beyond the material world and enters into a state of divine knowledge or wisdom. This occurs in the F.C. degree when the brother journeys with his spiritual guide and mentor (the S.D.) into the spiritual realm, where he is taught lessons regarding the physical and spiritual realms. Finally, the “Initiation” stage is completed when the hero receives the final or ultimate “boon”, which is the ultimate goal of the quest. In the Jungian model, the ultimate boon would occur when the hero (individual) reaches psychological wholeness, or individuation. In the masonic system, this occurs when the brother, due to his previous work and newfound knowledge, is allowed to enter into the M.C. of King Solomon’s Temple, and have his name added to the roll of the workmen.
The final portion of the Hero’s Journey, involves the hero’s “Return” to his former world, in order to impart his boon (knowledge/wisdom) onto his fellowman. This can be a difficult journey for the hero, either because the hero doesn’t want to return to his old world, or there is some sort of dangerous/evil force that seeks to prevent the hero from leaving with the boon, hence why there is an initial refusal to return. In the masonic system the Return is symbolized by, and played out in, the Hiramic legend of the third degree. During the Hiramic legend, the brother is representing the transcended master, H.A., who has completed his Hero’s Journey by obtaining his boon and working not only as a Master Mason in a foreign land, but as one of the three Grand Architects involved in building King Solomon’s Temple. Hiram possesses the secret knowledge (word) that only the Grand Architects possess, and as such he has great power. During the drama of the third degree, H.A., attempts to make a desperate flee from the ruffians that attack him (magic flight), however he is unable to escape their grasp; however, he dies with his boon (knowledge/secrets) intact. The “Rescue from Without” subpart involves the hero being rescued form his peril by his guides or mentors. The “Crossing of the Return Threshold” involves the hero leaving, or being resurrected from his world of adventure, and being brought back to his original world. Both the “Rescue from Without” and “Crossing of the Return Threshold”, are played out when H.A. is resurrected.
The most important part of the Hero’s Journey takes place at the end of the Hero’s “Return”, which is composed of the “Master of the Two Worlds”, and “Freedom to Live” subparts. These are the portions of the journey where the hero begins to inculcate the boon (blessings/wisdom/knowledge obtained on the quest) into his every day life, and into the lives of those in his original world. These are important because without putting the boon to use, the entire journey is for naught. In the masonic system the M.M. should inculcate the boon (teachings, wisdom, knowledge, etc.) of the fraternity into his life, and use them to impact the material and spiritual worlds around him. If the brother fails to impart his masonic boon out into the world, then he has either failed to actually fully obtain the boon that the masonic fraternity offers, or he has failed in the Return portion of his journey, and as such is not acting as a true Master Mason.
The Hero’s journey provides a powerful blue print for transformation, and it is no coincidence that the ritual experience of the blue lodge follows this timeless formula. Just as the hero’s quest calls seemingly ordinary men to undertake feats of greatness, which have far reaching impacts, the masonic fraternity calls men of all backgrounds to undertake their own hero’s journey, to not only transform themselves, but the world around them.
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