From the Wise Master (March 2018)

posted Mar 7, 2018, 2:11 PM by San Jose Scottish Rite

Thoughts on Mystery Schools, the Lesser Mysteries and Freemasonry”

I believe it is generally accepted that the Egyptians, more than any other ancients, were the most learned in the occult sciences. The wisest of philosophers from Greece went to Egypt to be initiated in the sacred mysteries by the priests of Thebes, Memphis and Hermopolis. Thales, Solon, Pythagoras and Plato all traveled to the delta of the Nile in quest of knowledge. On their return to Greece, these scholars announced and confirmed the Egyptians to be the wisest of mortals and their temples to be the repositories of the most sublime doctrines concerning the history of the gods and the regeneration of men.

It is both interesting and instructive to relate this story concerning Pythagoras and his experience gaining entry to the Egyptian Mystery School. It is commonly believed that initially his application was denied. Finally, after many years of waiting and preparation, he was elected into the Mysteries of Isis at Thebes. It was only for the very few.

Let’s quickly review the dynamics of a mystery school: it is posited by many scholars that a Mystery School fulfills the following conditions or criteria: 1—There is a Founder, or authoritative leader, dead or alive; 2—There is a community, physical or virtual, of autonomous individuals with a common intention, searching and being open to the mystery of life; 3—There is a doctrine, a philosophy or an ideology; 4—There is a path of initiation; 5—There are specific practices or rituals that form the methodology of the school.

It is usual to examine the mysteries by differentiating between the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries. The Lesser Mysteries are the foundation for the initiate to prepare him for the Greater Mysteries through various degrees of purification and discipline along with training in intellectual and spiritual perception. Generally, the first 4 degrees of say, 7, comprised the Lesser Mysteries. Usually, the 4th Degree was employed as a decision or testing point to determine those who are deemed prepared to move on to more stringent discipline and purification as well as a more intimate relationship between initiate and teacher.

The trials of the Lesser Mysteries are comparatively simple, but as the initiate proves his worth and ability to stand the tests, the training becomes more rigorous and the demands on his nature more severe and errors are more sternly dealt with by the teacher. The Lesser Mysteries are marked by two features: 1—instruction in the deeper sciences of the cosmos; and 2—dramatic rites portraying that which the initiate must go through without outside assistance in the Greater Mysteries. In the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, for example, the sacred rites acted as a spiritual aid in stimulating the candidate to live the higher life, as well as familiarizing him with the path of the initiatic process. These teachings are passed down through the oral tradition from teacher to student in an unbroken lineage of physical initiation. This physical initiation empowers the initiate on their life path as they strive to achieve their full potential and life purpose. The power of this process helps the initiate gain a greater connection to the supreme power and there the “Great Work.” The Mystery Schools were more than cultural forces—they were the culture and civilization of the time!

Early on, I had found the expressions “Freemasonry is a progressive, moral science” and that “it makes good men better men” somewhat unfulfilling in trying to describe our gentle craft. So, when asked, this is how I describe Masonry — It is a modern day Mystery School where the initiate undergoes a transformation from darkness to light by the progressive teaching of our moral science through a series of degrees, self study and the practice of our lessons outside the Temple in all facets of life.

So, I leave this for you to consider: is Freemasonry a Mystery School in the tradition of the Egyptians and the Greeks and so many other Mystery Schools of ancient times and today? If not—then just what is Freemasonry?

Fraternally,  Chuck Cowden, Wise Master