The Rite of Illumination - Revisit

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. James E. Fry 32°

*Editors Note - In "light" of some of the reading I've been doing (David Chaim Smith), it made me think about this piece in particular by Bro. James E. Frey. Enjoy!

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis, 1:1-3) 
My Brethren, within the Masonic system the Rite of Illumination is of vital importance in the Ancient Craft Degrees. In each degree the candidate is sent on a search for the light in the darkness circumambulating in the path of the sun. In each journey he over comes trials, in each journey he reaches the apex of his search and finds himself at the altar of masonry. This is the point where the candidate is brought to light and receives the Masonic secrets of that certain degree. This ceremony within the ritual is associated with the moment of creation found in the Old Testament Book of Genesis.

The moment of creation begins with a profound and transcendent statement which in Hebrew translates to “ALEM BRA BRAChIT AT EchIM UAT EARTz” or in English “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.” This first line is profound in the fact that it sums up a cosmos process involving billions of years and innumerable amounts of energy. This universal emanation which manifests in the ‘physical’ in many ways is never to be truly understood by man. It is interesting that at this moment the candidate is brought to light his new life as a mason is created, his new sense of the materialized world around him.

The significance of this moment to the Masonic system can only be properly appreciated if you interpret it through the Cabbalistic philosophy. The Cabbala is thought of as a mystical system dedicated to understanding the manifestation of deity. This manifestation is mapped out through a series of steps creating the Tree of Life, which is seen as a path working system which is the foundation for the Scottish Rite. Even in the Ancient Craft there are numerous Cabbalistic influences throughout the ritual veiled behind allegory to hide the secret teachings of the Craft.   This divine manifestation begins in the mitts of nothingness symbolized by the Hebrew word Ain, meaning boundless. Ain is seen as the eternal root of all existence. Ain has the characteristic of being incomprehensible in nature, the absolute equilibrium to all which is manifested as a universal state of suspension. This suspension is in turn a sense of nothingness, but this concept should be viewed as Absolute Being not lacking any form of completeness. Ain is seen as “without form or void” complete but without definition. This is the first manifestation of a Transcendent being which then emanates itself as Ain Soph, meaning boundless life.

Ain Soph is all potential existence as a condition without polarity incapable of experiencing absence of itself. But life by definition is not completely self-sufficient so is perceived as being reabsorbed back into this state of Being. Ain Soph acts as a way for potential energy to be distributed throughout the substance of the boundless. Ain Soph emanates itself in all directions from its own root which creates life in the image of itself as being diverse in nature and ever existing. This state of Being emanates itself into Ain Soph Aur, or boundless light. Ain Soph Aur is the first witness of Being in the “darkness on the face of the deep” thus making light the universal symbol of the concealed mystery. When God claims “Let there be Light” he is announcing the manifestation of all possibility. Ain, Ain Soph, Ain Soph Aur, form the Triune divinity, the one that is three.

“The three-fold nature of the Eternal Cause is manifested in the three-fold constitution of all created things. Thus mankind has a body crystallized from light, a soul of the substance of life, and a spirit sharing the equilibrium of the eternal profundity.” (Manly P. Hall 33, Old Testament Wisdom, pg. 36)

This Triune manifestation emanates itself into the first of the Sepera Kether, or the Crown. Kether is the primordial point which manifests within itself the manifested Sephiroth or generative existence or orders. This is the face of the Eternal which is manifested from the causeless.  It is manifested as Ehjeh or “I Am” because it is the first cause serving as a channel dissemination of all.

The terms heaven and earth from a Cabalistic perspective represents two states of primordial differences, or separation of causes. Heaven can be seen not as a collection of constellations and Earth as a planet, but Heaven representing spirit and the Earth as matter. “In the Beginning” is also a result of mistranslation as Jewish mystics and scholars held that the correct phrase is ‘from that which was first’.

The word “created” is often thought to mean a creation of something new, but in the Cabalistic sense it is the generation of the physical, because creation from a human perspective is seen as a formation for something through skill made from elements or materials already available. Creation is a form of expression of the self through internal inspiration and the use of interments and tools used by the Creator. Creation in the Cabbalistic sense implies the formation of things from their root or source. So the first verse of Genesis may be interpreted as “From the eternal principles and essences which are the substances of the beginnings of existence, the forces, makers, or fashioners of the world, the androgynous creator-gods, modeled, sculpted, or carved, and thus brought into manifestation, the substances of the superior and inferior creation, or related archetypally the positive and negative aspects of eternal Being.” (Manly P. Hall 33, Old Testament Wisdom, pg. 97).

The word God, or the creator, is not written in Genesis as Jehovah, but appears as Elohim which is a plural word from the Phoenician El. So it is a plural word representing multiple creative energies. Elohim, or the great builders, sat over the face of deep void of Da’at  and their motion in the depths of space brought forth the will-born universe. The Elohim are symbolically represented by the invisible energies of the seven sacred planets which have been perceived by deities by all the ancient cultures. “And the spirit of Elohim moved upon the face of the waters.” This shows that Elohim descended upon the void and impregnated its essence upon universal negation. In the original text the word Tohu is interpreted as form, and Bahu as void. Tohu encompasses the creation which emanates from darkness, and Bahu is an abyss of potentiality. So the Elohim did not fashion the physical universe but manifested a vast metaphorical system of energies and power of which the physical creation is the seventh and lowest part manifested. Within in Hindu doctrine this is referred to as “the churning of space” or the primum mobile, or the first motion of Divine power.

The consciousness of the individual mason is a reflection of the collected consciousness of Elohim. As within the spheres of the Elohim manifestation of the universe occurs, so in the mind of the candidate the vast metaphorical system of the Masonic universe is manifested. This is significant to the development of the individual consciousness of the individual, because the candidate creates within himself his own manifested universe supported by further developing Masonic mythology and teachings.

This is the secret understanding of the Rite of Illumination, to have the spirit of the Deity descend into the dark void of the candidate’s unconsciousness and establish a new world view of the Masonic character. This newly established consciousness is what fuels the mason’s ascension form the darkness of  the quarries to the light with the rough ashlars in hand. Upon this consciousness the builder gains the proper tools to sculpt and shape his stone into a true perfect ashlar, it is this understanding that allows the candidate to be raised and discover the divinity within himself and strive toward further aspirations of light.


James E Frey, 32° is a Past Sovereign Prince and current librarian of Valley of Danville AASR. Founder of the R.E.B.I.S Research Society he sits on two Blue Lodge Education committees as well as a guest lecturer on Occultism and Esoteric studies in masonry. He is also a Member of the Oak Lawn York Rite, Medinah Shriners, and Golden Dawn Collegium Spiritu Sancti. He also works as a counselor with emotionally and behaviorally challenged children.


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