As I have traveled upon this Level of Time towards that undiscovered country, I have personally experienced, and witnessed others as they experience, three progressive and critical levels in the Masonic Journey. These levels can be linked symbolically to each of the three degrees, but can also be viewed independently of Masonry as simply stages in a man’s life. I feel it is important to highlight these three levels in order to both offer guidance for those seeking to improve themselves in Masonry, as well as potentially admonish those who are missing this progression due to their inability to subdue the Ego. These progressive stages are Knowledge, Intelligence, and Wisdom. Now an explanation.
As an Entered Apprentice, we are offered our first glimpse at the Light of Masonry. All five of our senses are bombarded by an Initiatic Experience that our Profane life has left us ill-equipped to comprehend. Strange words…ancient Rituals…Character tests…after which (under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ohio) we are offered what appears to be an explanation of everything that has occurred. As the Entered Apprentice sits and listens to the Lecture and Charge of the Degree, he will either consciously, or unconsciously, decide whether or not he is going to seek to learn more. This gives us a glimpse at the first phase in development. Knowledge.
The zealous Entered Apprentice soon finds himself studying the Lecture, Charge, and Degree work that he has experienced. Eventually, he finds himself able to recite with precision the entire Lecture, the entire Charge, and explain in detail the steps required to confer the Degree that he has now had the honor of experiencing. He has now achieved the first level: Knowledge.
As his journey continues, he finds himself, as a Fellow Craft, being encouraged to study the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences. Now faced with yet another Lecture and Charge filled with unfamiliar words that carry with them an air of importance. He applies the same zeal to this Lecture and Charge and soon finds himself with the ability to confer, with exceptional skill, this Degree as well. He has now achieved, or rather maintained, the first level: Knowledge.
Finally, that night is upon him. The night that he has been anticipating since he signed his name to the Petition for Degrees. He is Raised to the Sublime Degree. He is finally in possession of the “secrets of Masonry”. Not wanting to break the streak, he soon becomes proficient in the Master Mason Degree. He has risen in both honor and esteem within the Lodge. Lauded as a Masonic Scholar, he is called upon any time a degree is conferred due to his uncanny ability to deliver each with such precision that the others in the Lodge, or even Masonry at-large, can only aspire to. At last, he has arrived at the first level: Knowledge.
Sadly, this level is where most men end their journey. They feel, and are often told, that they have reached the pinnacle. This is most certainly not the case, and yet, the majority of these men have little chance of ever realizing just how far they still have to go on their journey. It is difficult to fault these men, for they are reassured with regularity that they are scholars. That they have done all that can be expected. Ego allows them to believe this poor counsel. In most circles they are held in extremely high-esteem, and often attain the highest titles bestowed upon members of our Gentle Craft. Yet, in reality they are nothing more than Entered Apprentices who have not yet learned to apply the Working Tools that have been provided.
Out of those few who put for the effort to learn the Lectures, Charges, and Degree work, there will be a small group of men who seek to not only “know” the work, but to “understand” the work. They are in the truest sense, Speculative Masons. They will seek out ancient texts, symbolic interpretations, and even converse with “more knowledgeable Brothers” in an effort to really understand what it all means. Many of these men then take it upon themselves to share this Light with the Craft. They write papers, books, articles, and are often found speaking to not only their own Lodge, but to any other Lodge seeking Masonic Scholars. These men have taken the knowledge that they were gifted with, and done the work required to understand the meaning behind it. They have arrived at the second level: Intelligence.
These men can not only identify each and every symbol, allegory, and allusion within the Degrees, but can most likely speak to the symbolic meanings, history, and intention of our Masonic Forefathers who put them there. As with those at the first level, Knowledge, this is where many end their journey. Many are well intentioned and carry themselves as simple seekers of Light. They increase in intelligence, not to outshine those around them, but to illuminate their own personal path with little regard for the esteem to which they are now privy. Yet among some Brothers at this level, Ego is often found to be in control. They fabricate around them, with the help of less informed Brethren applauding them at every turn, an impenetrable wall of Masonic knowledge that few dare to challenge. They speak with not just confidence, but with arrogance. Humility is a concept about which they can pontificate with amazing skill, all the while doing so in a condescending tone. They are given not only the grandiose titles bestowed upon those who have mastered “Knowledge”, but now venture further into the Light by being not only revered, but sought after as experts, or men of extreme “intelligence”.
These Brothers are not difficult to pick out of the crowd. In fact, they will most likely do all that they can to stand out and be noticed. Ego is what feeds them. They do not seek answers because they believe, and are constantly reassured, that they have already found the answers. They pose a significant risk to the long-term stability of not only our Noble Order, but to society as a whole. They avoid or oppress open debate whenever they are faced with it and, in general, do more harm than good for the Order. I once read that one should seek out those who ask questions, and be cautious of those who claim to have all of the answers. I would admonish all who read this to follow that counsel.
At last, there are the very few who arrive at the third level of our Masonic Journey. Wisdom. These men have spent years laboring in the quarries of Freemasonry to find that which was Lost. What they find, I cannot say, because I have yet to find it. What can be said is that at a very minimum, these men have not only learned the lessons of Freemasonry, but have put them into Practice. That is the journey, Brethren. In keeping with the number three, which resides in nearly every corner of the Mysterious Temple, we find that the progression of our Masonic Status is from Operative, to Speculative, to Operative. A man enters the West Gate as a man who lives his life each and every day without regard for the secrets behind the veil. He is Operative in that he resides only in the terrestrial world. As he labors, he finds himself upon that Level of Time that leads to Speculation. He becomes a Seeker of Light. Alas, he arrives at the Inner Chamber and finds that he must now take what he has learned, and apply it…not only in the terrestrial, but in the spiritual realm of his existence. He now applies that which he has discovered Above, to that which he has discovered Below. He has achieved the third level. Wisdom.
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