The Temple Legend
8. The Essence and Task of Freemasonry from the Point of View of Spiritual Science II
9 December 1904, Berlin *
Source for the text.
Shorthand notes by Franz Seiler, re-edited for publication.
Last time I spoke about Freemasonry, and today I wish to add something to that. I should like you to consider that I am in a different position with regard to Freemasonry than to the other subjects we have spoken about, or which we still intend to discuss, as I usually only speak about things of which I have personal experience. In the present instance I should stress to you that I am speaking to you as a non-mason 1 Rudolf Steiner entered later (1906) into a purely formal relationship with the Memphis-Misraim Freemasonry, cf. The Course of My Life,Chapter 36. and only from a theosophical point of view, whereas to do full justice to the subject of what Freemasonry really is, it should be treated by one who is himself a Freemason. He would not do this, but this is for other reasons which it is best not to discuss. At the same time I would request that you treat what I have to say with reserve.
When I said to you that only a Freemason himself could speak about what it really represents in its innermost core, so I would beg you to take into account that, in spite of that, there is probably no such Freemason in existence in the whole of Europe. This may strike you as odd, but it is so. Since the eighteenth century Freemasonry has been in a very peculiar stage of its development, and I would ask you to regard everything I told you about it last time as being applicable to what it probably would have been like if it had remained as it was in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. As this is not the case, Freemasonry is, so to speak, only a kind of husk devoid of its true content. It can be compared to a petrified plant which is no longer the same as what the plant formed, but is a crust or shell made up by something else.
The ordinary craft masonry does not come into consideration where the things we are going to discuss are concerned, for this craft masonry, with its three degrees of apprentice, journeyman and master, took its start from the Charter of Cologne in 1535. 2 According to a work by Friedrich Heldmann, contained in Rudolf Steiner's private library: Die drei ältesten geschichtlichen Denkmäler der teutschen Freymaurerbrüderschaft, (‘The three oldest historical documents of the German Freemasonry Brotherhood’). The Charter of Cologne of 1535, together with the oldest statutes of the Strasbourg Lodge of 1459 and its revision of 1563, form the oldest documents of German Freemasonry, Heckethorn, however, among others, holds it to be apocryphal, otherwise spurious. (See also note 11 of this lecture). Today it is not really anything more than a union for mutual stimulation with regard to higher education and schooling, a union for the purpose of mutual support andstimulation among its members. It is true that these first three degrees are, as it were, only the last remaining vestiges of the original Three Degrees of Freemasonry, and if the ceremonies were to take place as in former times — which they do not — then apprentice, journeyman and master would be initiated in the way I described last time. The regulations are certainly that they should take place in this way, but only a few people know that these regulations exist, and still fewer know the meaning of these things. Everything I have told you about the effect of these ceremonies on the astral plane is something of which craft masonry has no clear understanding.
Now both the British and also the St. John Lodges in Germany possess these three degrees which I have named. And they are actually all in the same state as I have just described. But the possibility is there, within these three degrees, through the very fact that the symbols exist, of penetrating through them to the deeper wisdom which underlies them. A proof of this is provided by the fact that a mason whom you all know well by name has addressed his brother masons in such a way that the germ of his theosophical awareness is thereby revealed; that he was able, in a certain sense, to speak in theosophical terms to an audience of masons. The Freemason of whom I speak is Goethe. 3 Goethe became a member of the ‘Amalia’ Lodge in Weimar. See also the commentary on Goethe's relationship to Rosicrucianism at the end of this volume.
As theosophists you will immediately find something very familiar when I read to you two verses of his Freemasonry poem 4 The last two verses of his Freemasonry poem, Symbolum. which he intended for his brethren of the Lodge.
Yet call from beyond
The voices of spirits,
The voices of masters:
Omit not to practise
The powers of the good.
Crowns here are woven
In quiet eternal
Rewarding with plenty
Those who are active!
We beg you, have hope.
Goethe speaks here of the masters and he speaks of them within the precincts of the Lodge — in spite of the fact that he knows that those sitting around him have no inkling of the profundity of his words — because he is also aware of the fact that through the atmosphere which surrounds a Freemasonry Lodge, through the presence of symbols, vibrations are set in motion which influence the astral body and thereby bring about a certain result. That is something which scarcely enters into the consciousness of Freemasons but upon which those who know can still build today.
Those who are led beyond the first three degrees to the higher degrees possess rather more consciousness. The first of these higher degrees is the Royal Arch degree, 5 In his description of this degree Rudolf Steiner is again basing himself on Heckethorn: Secret Societies, Book 8, Chapter 7. the degree of royal art. This degree is distinguished by the fact that its ‘chapter’ or ‘union’ has a special organisation, which is filled with deeper meaning. In their gatherings — especially in those in which a new member is to be initiated into the secrets — never more than twelve fellow members are allowed to be present, so that — after the manner of occult brotherhoods — they really represent something other than themselves, something which lives among them in a mysterious fashion. They are not regarded just as persons, but as the personification of particular qualities.
The first, who represents the most important in the circle of twelve, is called Zerubbabel. 6 According to Heckethorn, p. 180, the name Zerubbabel is ‘a compound word, meaning: “the bright Lord, the Sun”. He rebuilds the temple and therefore represents the sun, risen again.’ It supposedly is connected with the Zerubbabel of the Old Testament, a noble from the family of David, who, on return from captivity in Babylon, completed the building of the Temple of Jerusalem. He is a leader, the sun from whom radiates the light which is to illuminate the others. He must needs be the cleverest and has to have a certain knowledge of the essence and meaning of the secret sciences. That is seldom the case with present fashions in the Royal Arch degree. I am talking about an ideal situation, in fact, which only very rarely arises when suitable people happen to be present. 7 At the end of this sentence a very unclear statement follows, which could be rendered as follows: ‘Only a kind of memory is there, an indication of a memory of it, but the effect is missing.’
The next officer is Jeshua, the high priest; 8 According to Heckethorn, p. 180: ‘The next officer is Jeshua, the high priest; the third, Haggai, the prophet. These three compose the grand council. Principals and senior and junior sojourners form the base; Ezra and Nehemiah, senior and junior scribes, one on each side; janitor or tyler without the door.’ the third, Haggai the prophet. Together with Zerubbabel these three compose the Grand Council. The first and second Principals come next, then the two scribes, Esra and Nehemia and the Janitor or Tyler without the Door. After that come the so-called lesser companions. Not more than twelve people may be present at any time. These twelve represent the twelve signs of the zodiac. The whole is a portrayal of the sun's passage through the twelve signs of the zodiac. That reminds us of what I have told you about the masons having taken their start in reproducing astronomical laws in particular buildings, in churches, cathedrals, etc.
The arrangement of the Lodge — though this is not always the case — is a large square hall with a vaulted ceiling, 9 According to Heckethorn, p. 260: ‘The Lodge must have a vaulted ceiling, painted blue and covered with golden stars, to represent the heavens.’ ‘... the brethren take their places according to their rank; the grandmaster in the Last, the master in the south, and the novices at the north.’ painted blue and covered with golden stars to represent the heavens. The positions taken up by the participants is closely prescribed by ceremony. The novices, who are last to enter, take their places in the North, as they are not yet able to endure warmth. In the East stands Zerubbabel. In the West is the High Priest Jeshua, and the Prophet Haggai. And those who take their places in the South are roped together. Each of them has the rope wound around him three times, uniting him with his fellows at a distance of three or four decimeters. 10According to Heckethorn, p. 281: ‘Nine companions must be present at the opening of a Royal Arch Chapter; not more nor less than these three are permitted to take this degree at the same time, the two numbers making up the twelve, the number of zodiacal signs. The candidates are prepared by tying a bandage over their eyes, and coiling a rope seven times round the body of each, which unites them together, with three feet of slack rope between them.’
He who is initiated into this Fourth Degree, the first of the higher degrees, which in certain regions still provides an inkling of the significance of the Temple Legend, has to pass three veils. 11According to Heckethorn, p. 265: ‘Without the Royal Arch Degree Blue Masonry is incomplete.’ The ‘Blue Masonry’ of Heckethorn is what Rudolf Steiner calls ‘Johannesmaurerei’ (St. John Masonry) and is usually known simply as Craft Masonry in this country. This Order got its name ‘St. John Masonry’ from the Charter of Cologne, 1535 (see note 2). Heckethorn, Book 8, Chapter 2 (end), says: ‘The Freemasons have also frequently been said to be descended from the Knights Templars, and thus to have for their object to avenge the destruction of that Order, and so to be dangerous to Church and State; yet this assertion was repudiated as early as 1535 in the “Charter of Cologne”, wherein the Masons call themselves the Brethren of St. John, because St. John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Light.’ To continue the quotation from Heckethorn regarding ‘Blue Masonry:’ ‘Without the Royal Arch Degree Blue Masonry is incomplete, for we have seen in the Legend of the Temple that, through the murder of Hiram, the Master's word was lost; that word is not recovered in the Master's Degree, its substitute only being given; hence the lost word is recovered in the Royal Arch Degree. Blue Masonry, in fact, answers to the lesser mysteries of the ancients wherein, in reality nothing but the exoteric doctrines were revealed: whilst “spurious Masonry”, or all subsequent degrees — for no one can be initiated into them who has not passed through the first three degrees — answers to the greater mysteries.’ At each passing of a veil one of the secrets is imparted to him. He is told the secret meaning of a particular verse from the Pentateuch. After this the secret of the Tau sign is explained, and the Holy Word, the Master Word, is given him, which is the word by which masons of the Fourth Degree recognise one another. And then, before all else, it is made clear to him in his first instruction how ancient Freemasonry is. The craft masons do not usually get to know that, or if they do hear it, they have not the slightest understanding of these matters. The history of Freemasonry is related to them in the following way: The first true mason was Adam, 12According to Heckethorn, p. 248, Freemasons claim to be not contemporary with the creation of man, but with that of the world; because light was before man, and prepared for him a suitable habitation, and light is the scope and symbol of Freemasonry.’ Edward Spratt, an Irish author, described Adam as the first Freemason, who, even after his expulsion from Paradise, possessed great knowledge, especially in the field of geometry. Edward Spratt: Konstitutionenbuch für irländische Logen, (1751). the first man, who had an extraordinary knowledge of geometry at the time of his expulsion from Paradise. He was recognised as the first mason because, being the first man, he was a direct descendant of the Light. The true, deeper origin of Freemasonry, however, pre-dates humanity entirely. It resides in Light itself which existed before mankind.
That is most profound and reveals, for those who can understand it, what theosophical wisdom has again made public through its description of the formation of the earth through the first two Root Races and into the third (the time of Lemuria). Whoever can apprehend this through Freemasonry has received into himself something of tremendous importance. But that takes place in only the rarest cases because Freemasonry is, as it were, degenerate today. This has come about because, since the sixteenth century, man has had little understanding of the true meaning of Freemasonry, namely that a temple has to be built in such a way that its proportions are a reflection of the great cosmic proportions, that a cathedral has to be built in such a way that its acoustics reproduce something of the harmony of the spheres, which is the source of all acoustics in the outer world.
A knowledge of this original insight was gradually lost. Thus it came about that when Desaguliers 13John Theophilus Desaguliers, 1683–1744. From 1719 he was the Grand Master of the first English Grand Lodge. Desaguliers passes for the strongest personality of the so-called ‘Revival’ movement in Freemasonry. As a renowned scientist (pupil of Isaac Newton) he is numbered among those who prepared the way for the founding of the theory of electricity. reunited Freemasonry in England during the first half of the eighteenth century, no one had any proper understanding of the fact that the word Freemasonry had to be taken literally; that it really did concern the work of the practising mason and that the mason was one who built churches and temples and other great buildings according to cosmic laws and incorporated into them heavenly and not earthly proportions.
This original insight and its reflection in Freemasonry was lost; there was no longer any conscious appreciation of the transformation wrought by a proper use of acoustics in a building where the speaker's words are thrown back and are thereby changed in their effect. Those who built the great cathedrals of medieval times were the great Freemasons. They were aware of the importance of the fact that what was spoken by the priest should be reflected back from the individual walls and the whole congregation immersed in a sea of sound, breathing and fluctuating in significant vibration which would exercise still greater effect on the astral body than on the physical ear. That has all been lost and it was inevitable that this should be so in the new age. That is what I meant when I told you that what is left of Freemasonry is only the husk of what it was in former times.
Apart from these three degrees there are also the higher degrees. And those are possessed in a fairly complete form by the larger communities of Great Britain, America, Italy, Egypt, and also by eastern Freemasonry — especially that known as Oriental or Memphis Masonry. 14See note 1 to next lecture (lecture 9, 16th December). In Germany, where there is a branch of the Memphis-Misraim Freemasonry with world-wide masonic connections, 15Rudolf Steiner bases his statement here on an assertion in the Historische Ausgabe der Oriflamme. Der Schottische, Memphisund Misraim-Ritus der Freimaurerei, A.D. 1904, Berlin, according to which, at that time, friendly relationships existed between the twelve Grand Orients and Supreme Grand Councils of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite and the Sovereign Sanctuaries of America, Egypt, Rumania, Spain, Cuba, Naples and Palermo. In Germany, however, the Memphis and Misraim Freemasonry was at that time considered ‘irregular’ and was not recognised. the higher degrees are also functioning. But in Germany, within the St. John Freemasonry, there is so little understanding of the real significance of the higher degrees that the St. John masons there generally look upon the higher degrees as nonsense. The Grand Orient of Germany is obliged, for this reason, merely to let the St. John masons in general pass properly as masons.
In this respect there are great differences between the masonry practised in Germany and that of England or Great Britain. In British masonry a kind of reconciliation has been achieved through the Articles of Union of 1813 between craft masonry with its three degrees and those branches of masonry which recognise the higher degrees. 16In the last Article of 1st December 1813, it is stated that: ‘It is explained and expressed that the pure and ancient, Freemasonry shall consist of only three Degrees and no more, namely, the Degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craftsman and Master Mason, with the addition of the High Grades of the Holy Royal Arch. But this Article shall not bind any Lodge or any Chapter to hold a gathering in accordance with the constitution of the said Order.’ (History of Freemasonry, by Heinrich Boos. From Rudolf Steiner's own library). Thus, as an apprentice in craft masonry one is allowed to enter and also graduate into the fourth, fifth and sixth degrees, that is, into the higher degrees. The degrees pertaining to craft masonry are credited to one in England; that is not the case in Germany. The German Grand Orient of the Memphis and Misraim Order undertakes the working of the three lowest degrees itself. The Orient Freemason must therefore have passed the first three degrees at the outset. He must furthermore commit himself to rising at least to the eighteenth degree. He may not rest until he has done so. A German mason of the St. John's Order is therefore never admitted to the higher degrees of Orient masonry [without having attained the three lesser degrees]. The Orient masonry consists of a graded instruction in occultism. As I said last time, it gives a picture of the teaching given in the higher degrees, those which succeed the Royal Arch degree: these provide a kind of astral training which leads up to the eighteenth or twentieth degrees. Then comes that which provides a kind of mental training, a training which leads to a kind of life on the mental plane, and advances to the sixtieth or seventieth degree. Lastly comes the highest training of all, the most profound occult instruction, which can be undertaken in the Grand Orient up to the ninety-sixth degree.
There are only very few in Germany who have advanced to the ninety-sixth degree. But in spite of everything there is something in all this which will presently prove to you how little is left in present-day masonry of what it formerly encompassed. The most interesting point is that those who have progressed to the ninety-sixth degree have not always been through a masonic training, and that there is scarcely anyone at all who has completed the whole gamut of the training. There are indeed a few who have higher degrees. They have been invested with the third or the thirty-third or the ninety-sixth degree, but those who possess these distinctions have not gained them through masonic training but through other occult institutions, and they have allowed their knowledge to be used to bring about the redemption of Freemasonry. If someone has attained to the ninety-sixth degree, it has not been achieved through masonic training. Bluntly, it is considered that in this respect Freemasonry is indebted to the occult training of other schools.
In this sense we have to interpret the manifesto which has been given by the Grand Orient of the Memphis and Misraim rite 17Rudolf Steiner read out the whole of the manifesto in the present lecture. as a kind of ideal document. I will read it to you with one or two explanations. What is given here must not be construed as though it could be put into practice in the present day. It must be pointed out today that no Freemason — not even one who has the ninety-sixth degree — would take responsibility for taking another Freemason through these prescriptions, since he himself has not undergone them.
‘Concerning the Secrets of the Higher Occult Degrees of our Order. A Manifesto of the Grand Orient.
‘One of the secrets belonging to the highest degree of our Order consists in providing the appropriately conditioned Brother with the practical means of erecting the true Temple of Solomon within Man; of restoring the ‘Lost Word’, that is, our Order provides the initiated and selected Brother with practical means enabling him to gain proof of pure immortality during his present earthly life.’
That is one of the points which are of utmost importance. The next point is one which exists in all centres of occult training: no calling-up of spirits or spiritualistic activities. Anyone who practises spiritualism is strictly excluded.
‘This secret is one of the true masonic secrets and rests solely in the possession of the higher occult degrees of our Order. It has been handed down by word of mouth in our Order from the ancestors of all true Freemasons, “the Wise Men of the East”, and will only be transmitted by us in like manner.’
That is the practice in occult societies.
‘Naturally, however, the success of this practical instruction for the attainment of this secret again depends entirely on the candidate himself.
‘For of what use are the best and most tested and detailed instructions given to a candidate wishing to learn to swim if he is not himself prepared to move hands and feet when he comes into contact with the water? Or of what use is the most comprehensive guidance in learning to paint, or the exposition of the most vivid colours by way of example, if the candidate to whom painting is being taught will not take the paintbrush into his own hand and seek to mix the colours himself? He will never become an artist unless he does so.
‘Those brothers, the discoverers of this secret, guarded it as a rare,self-acquired possession and, in order not to be misjudged or even derided by the man in the street, they concealed it by means of symbols, as we do to this day.’
These symbols are no longer decipherable for the Freemason of the present day. Such symbols are not arbitrarily chosen. These are not things by means of which someone can portray something, like a professor who says: I will illustrate this graphically. These symbols have been taken from the objects themselves, which have been engraved by Nature. He who recognises them for what they are, who can really read what they contain, comes into contact with their innermost being, he is led by them into their inner nature. These symbols portray the thing itself and do not have a merely symbolical meaning. Within Freemasonry there is noone who is able to give guidance which would enable a person to arrive at the object itself.
‘These symbols are, however, no arbitrarily chosen pictures and they do not rest upon any chance occurrence, but are founded on the attributes of God and of man, and must be regarded as archetypal. But we will never take the form, the vessel, the ritual, the symbols for their content, but will seek the spiritual content within the form’
These words show [Gap] for the symbol itself portrays the object.
‘and when we have found this the spiritual content — and have absorbed it into ourselves, we shall recognise through this spiritual content the absolute necessity of the form, the ritual, the symbolism.
‘Our higher degrees themselves provide the brother with certain proof of the immortality of man.’
This they would do if they were worked.
‘That is and has been the great longing of mankind ever since human beings who could reason existed. Mankind needs to have this assurance of a life after death in order to be truly happy in this present life. Therefore all the mysteries contained in the religions and centres of hidden wisdom have occupied themselves with this question as their highest and principal task. The Church has naturally also occupied itself with this question of the “Lost Word”; the “Lost Immortality”, but it directs the candidate along the path of grace and portrays it as a gift from above and not as something to be achieved by personal effort. Our Order, however, places it within the power of each individual seeker, by practical means, to unite himself consciously and voluntarily with the World Consciousness, with the ultimate forces of Creation.’
That means, therefore, to provide insight into and union with that world which otherwise is only accessible through the portal of death.
From all this you may draw the conclusion that what belongs to the world's profundities was once found in Freemasonry, but is no longer there in the empty husk which it presents today. You must ask yourselves why. Now, the meaning of the Temple Legend, the meaning of operative masonry, like all intuitive knowledge, had to be lost to humanity, because the fifth cultural epoch is actually the epoch of understanding. Intuition had for a time to lie dormant in the world and Freemasonry is intuitive in its whole attitude and manner. I would like to draw your attention to Vitruvius 18See note 7 to lecture 7 (2nd December 1904). and to the true symbolical building instructions which he gave. Only those, however, who have the right intuition for it can follow these instructions. Today these symbolical instructions have been replaced by intellectual, rational ones. Reason had to become the keynote of man's development for a while, because everything which has meanwhile come to us through great conquests of nature must be incorporated in the whole organism of human activity.
Understand what it means: the whole of the mineral kingdom will be included in the progress of the world during the present Round of evolution. It will be included in such a way that man will gradually transform the whole of nature through his own spirituality. That is the meaning of the Molten Sea, that the whole of mineral nature will effectively be transformed.
Man works in industry, so as to weave Organisation [his own spirituality?] into mineral nature. If you consider a machine ... [Gap]
In this way man thus works the whole mineral kingdom back and forth with his own spirit. This re-casting of Nature, this re-casting of what is mineral, will be perfected when our present Round of evolution has come to an end. The whole of mineral nature will then have been changed. Man will have put his stamp on it, just as he imprints his stamp on a quantity of metal when, for example, he fashions a watch. Thus, when a new Round of evolution begins, the mineral kingdom can be sucked in, absorbed.
In order completely to finish the development in this sphere, the whole way of thinking which has gripped man since the sixteenth century, must be carried right into the atom. Thus, only when reasoned thinking can grasp the atom can Freemasonry again revive. In the first stage, the outer form will be grasped. The next step will be when man has learned to think right into the mineral atom, when he has an understanding of how to make use of what lives in the atom and place it in the service of the whole. It is true that only now — and perhaps only during the last five years — human thinking has turned to tracing natural forces as far as the atom, and indeed, he who would understand this precisely must follow the latest phase of the various developments in electricity. The speech which the English Prime Minister Balfour has made 19The speech made by Balfour to the British Association on 17th August 1904, appeared the same year in translation under the title: Unsere heutige Weltanschauung (‘Our present outlook’), Leipzig 1904. At the time of the present lecture this speech had already been discussed in the November issue of Luzifer-Gnosis, under the heading: ‘Present-day culture as reflected in Theosophy,’ in which the relevant passages from Balfour and Blavatsky are set over against one another. This discussion has been published in German in the complete edition of Rudolf Steiner's works as Volume 34, Luzifer-Gnosis. (For text of Balfour's speech, see note 22 to the next lecture, 16th December 1904). on the subject of our contemporary world outlook is interesting in this connection, albeit only in its outward implications. What he said there [about new electrical theory] is something of enormous importance. He hints at the critical turning point in the development of man's thinking. He is to a certain extent conscious of this and mentions it in one part of his speech. Thus we see how something is dawning in the consciousness of natural science which plays into the future. This has been known to occultists since 1879. I emphasise this, although I cannot prove it. 20At a later date Rudolf Steiner has often spoken in greater detail about the decisive importance of the year 1879, as, for instance in: ‘Fall of the Spirits of Darkness’ (typescript translation). The occultist knows that this will come about: a new point of departure from the atom into the mineral-physical world. That will be what will enter into the world in the sixth cultural epoch, and through this Freemasonry will also be regenerated. In Freemasonry the occultist has something very remarkable, something unprecedented, for it has something primeval in its foundation. It belongs to the most ancient of traditions, which has preserved almost a hundred degrees,in a precisely specialised structure, in spite of the fact that it has lost nearly all of its content, and that none of those belonging to it in Europe are able to form an adequate conception of it. But still: the thing is there and one will only need to fill the whole outer husk with new content. The thing is there, waiting to be brought to life again.
Points from the subsequent discussion.
Rites of Memphis, Oriental Rites and Grand Orient Rites. A conference of occultists discussed whether the occult doctrine could be made public or not. From that it became clear that there are two tendencies, a left and a right tendency, 21See in this connection Rudolf Steiner's detailed description in: The Occult Movement in the Nineteenth Century. For this statement Rudolf Steiner apparently made use of the publication by the Englishman, C.G. Harrison: The Transcendental Universe. one which is free-thinking and one which is conservative.