From the East – October 2012

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Oct 132012

Freemasons often refer to the experience of receiving the degree of Entered Apprentice as being “initiated” with perhaps little care or thought for what that word implies. In exploring human history, we find that “initiation” often signifies a specific moment in which someone becomes a recognized part of a group. This commonly requires a ceremony or ritual that may or may not be held privately or secretly, and may be accompanied by one or more tests or trials. In extreme examples, these trials can even involve life-threatening, and occasionally fatal, situations. Once accepted and passed, the shared experience of these trails permanently cements the bond between the group and the new initiate.

Additionally, we find that “initiation” can designate an event which marks a significant change or transformation of the candidate. As an example, in many cultural or spiritual traditions, older boys might be initiated into manhood. This can involve secret ceremonies in which the initiate is provided some of the traditions or stories illustrating the ideals and archetypes of manhood within the tradition.  In other cases, as with the Bar Mitzvah practiced within Judaism, it might be a public recognition by the community that a boy has earned the privileges and responsibilities that come with his transition into manhood. In any case, the ceremony of initiation leaves the candidate forever changed. There is no stepping back into the place from which he came.

Finally, we can consider the word itself, “to initiate”, as a reference to something that is newly started or undertaken. In this context, initiation marks the beginning of something which transcends one particular moment or event. It leads the initiate into a journey, which he must begin to follow for himself. The candidate is literally set upon a path, the way is shown, and any ensuing challenges or difficulties willing  accepted. This is the moment that Frodo accepts the “one ring” from his uncle Bilbo and leaves the Shire with his friends, or when Luke Skywalker accepts his father’s light saber from Obi-wan Kenobi and seeks to learn the ways of the Jedi. Of course, as the stories of great heroes often teach us, the initiate seldom knows where the path will lead him and how it will change him in the process.

It is easy to see that initiation into Freemasonry utilizes all of these important facets when we confer an Entered Apprentice degree. The candidate is united to his new Brethren by his share in that experience, and we formally recognize him in his new status as a Freemason. We share our legends and stories with him so as to impress upon his mind the ideals and lessons of the Fraternity. And finally, if we have done our job well, the candidate is forever changed. If he is open to this process, the new Apprentice is set upon a journey toward self-knowledge, new challenges and discoveries, and the substantial labor of self-improvement. Amid all of the joyful wages Masons earn and  experience in practicing the tenets of our Order, let us never forget that it is a most solemn duty to take men who already know within their hearts that they are part of our Fraternity, to initiate them into our peculiar Mysteries, and, through that process, to show them the Light they already have within themselves.

Kevin Main