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General Ahiman Rezon, by Daniel Sickels, [1868], at


THE institution of Freemasonry—reaching backward until it loses itself among the mythological shadows of the past, its grand ritual and eloquent language of signs and symbols, originating in those distant ages—offers a field for exploration which can never be thoroughly traversed. Transmitted to us by remote generations, it is plain that, before we can, in any degree, appreciate Freemasonry, or understand the significance of its mysteries, we must go back to the Past, and question the founders of the Order. We must learn in what necessities of human nature, and for what purpose it was created. We must discover the true genesis of our rites, and become familiar with the ideas which the Fathers intended to shadow forth through them, and impress upon the mind. It is not enough for us to accept the letter of the ceremonial, and perform it blindly, interpreting its meaning in whatever way fancy or imagination or convenience may dictate. We should know what the Ancients meant to say through it: what truth each rite and each symbol represented to their minds.

From age to age, through countless generations, these Rites have read their sublime lessons of wisdom and hope, and peace and warning, to the "Sons of Light." These same lessons, in the same language, they read to us to-day. But do we see in them what they did? Do they impress us as they impressed them? Or do they pass before our eyes like a panorama of some unknown land, which has no delineator to tell us what or where it is, or give us any intelligible notion regarding it? Accepting the symbol, have we lost its sense? Our Rites will be of little value to us if this be the case. It is our duty, then, to make Freemasonry the object of a profound study. We must consult the Past. We must stand by the sarcophagus of the murdered, but restored Osiris, in Egypt; enter the caverns of Phrygia, and hold communion with the Cabiri; penetrate the "Collegia Fabrorum" of ancient Rome, and work in the mystic circles of Sidon. In a word, we must pursue our researches until we find the THOUGHT that lay in the minds of those who created the institution and founded our mysteries. Then we shall

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know precisely what they mean. We shall see in them a grand series of moral and philosophical dramas, most eloquent and instructive, gleaming with sublime ideas, as the heavens glow with stars. And, finally, we shall discover that our Rites embrace all the possible circumstances of man—moral, spiritual, and social—and have a meaning high as the heavens, broad as the universe, and profound as eternity,

The Rite of the Wanderer, or the Symbolic Pilgrimage, is entirely puerile and unmeaning, unless we have learned in what ideas it originated, and what its authors intended to represent by it. Happily, this is not a difficult task. In Egypt, Greece, and among other ancient nations, Freemasonry was one of the earliest agencies employed to effect the improvement and enlightenment of man. CICERO tells us that "the establishment of these Rites among the Athenians, conferred upon them a supreme benefit. Their effect was to civilize men, reform their wild and ferocious manners, and make them comprehend the true principles of morality, which initiate man into a new order of life, more worthy of a being destined to imortality."—Consequently, the mystic journey primarily represented the toilsome progress of Humanity, from its primitive condition of ignorance and barbarism to a state of civilization and mental enlightenment. The Neophyte, therefore, wandering in darkness over his winding way, meeting with various obstructions and delays, was a typo of the human race, struggling onward and upward by devious stages, from the gloom and darkness of the savage state to the light, intelligence, and comforts of civilized life.

This symbolic journey is also emblematical of the pilgrimage of life, which, man soon enough discovers, is often dark and gloomy, surrounded by sorrow, and fear, and doubt. It teaches him that over this dark, perplexed, and fearful course lays the way to a glorious destiny; that through night to light must the earth-pilgrim work his way; that by struggle, and toil, and earnest endeavor, he must advance with courage and hope until, free of every fetter, and in the full light of virtue and knowledge, he stands face to face with the mighty secrets of the universe, and attains that lofty height, whence he can look backward over the night-shrouded and tortuous path in which he had been wandering, and forward to sublimer elevation—to more glorious ideals, which seem to say to him, "On, on for ever!"

Such, then, is the grand and inspiring lesson which this Symbolic Pilgrimage is perpetualy repeating to the brethren. Let them study

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it well, and labor with faith; for it announces a progress in science and virtue, which will reach through eternity.

The Lodge, when revealed to an entering Mason, discovers to him a representation of the world; in which, from the wonders of Nature, we are led to contemplate the great Original, and worship him for his mighty works; and we are, thereby, also moved to exercise those moral and social virtues, which become mankind to observe, as the servants of the Great Architect of the world, in whose image we were formed from the beginning.

The following passage of Scripture is rehearsed during the ceremony:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.

It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that went down to the skirts of his garment.

As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

"The great teaching of this Psalm is Brotherly Love, that virtue which forms the most prominent tenet of the Masonic Order. And it teaches the lesson, too, precisely as we do, by a symbol, comparing it to the precious ointment used in the consecration of the High-Priest, whose delightful perfume filled the whole place with its odor. The ointment was poured upon the head in such quantity, that, being directed by the anointer in different ways in the form of a cross, it flowed at length down the beard, and finally dropped from the flowing skirts of the priestly garment.

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"The fifteen Psalms, from the 120th to the 134th, inclusive, of which this, of course, is one, are called by the Hebrews 'songs of degrees,' because they were sung on the fifteen steps ascending from the court of Israel to the court of the women in the Temple."

Or the following ODE may be sung:

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Behold! how pleasant and how good,
  For brethren such as we,
Of the Accepted brotherhood
  To dwell in unity!
’Tis like the oil on Aaron's head
  Which p. 60 to his feet distills;
Like Hermon's dew so richly shed
  On Zion's sacred hills!

Click to enlarge

For there the Lord of light and love
  A blessing sent with power;
Oh, may we all this blessing prove,
  E’en life for evermore!
On Friendship's altar, rising here,
  Our hands now plighted be,
To live in love, with hearts sincere,
  In peace and unity.

It is the duty of the Master of the Lodge, as one of the precautionary measures of initiation, to explain to the candidate the nature and design of the institution; and while he informs him that it is founded on the purest principles of virtue; that it possesses great and invaluable privileges; and that, in order to secure those privileges to worthy men, and worthy men alone, voluntary pledges of fidelity are required; he will at the same time assure him that nothing will be expected of him incompatible with his civil, moral, or religions duties.

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