Understanding The Mysticism in Freemasonry

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Joseph Covell

Many great historians of Masonry, and those concentrated on The Mystery Schools in general have hypothesized that the G in Masonry represents Gnosis, or simply The Soul. Naysayers from the profane and non-profane worlds may say Gnosis means knowledge. The meaning behind the “G” is not meant to serve as debate, only to set the wheels in motion for understanding the Mysticism in Freemasonry

The source material to serve as the foundation for the points presented, come from R. Swinburne Clymer, MD’s, “The Mysticism of Masonry,” and J.D. Buck, MD’s, “Mystic Masonry,” with the latter serving as a huge influence for the former. Both men were heavily involved in Freemasonry, in their respective eras achieving prestigious accolades, recognition, and held offices within various fields of study.  The two works will be cited in a way to serve as a high-level esoteric (and exoteric) overview of various symbolism, initiation, and degree work, and will then encompass the overall Philosophy of Freemasonry. “All Masonry of the past dealt largely with the ethics and symbolism of the Ancient Mysteries. If the Masons of the present age will but seek for the spirit of the symbolism upon which the degrees are based, the grandest achievements in knowledge and reconstruction will be possible and the mysteries concealed in the Greater Mysteries of Antiquity will be recovered to them,” The Mysticism of Masonry, Page 36. 

In ancient days what was the relationship of Masonry (or the equivalent predecessor of its time) to other Schools of both the Lower and Greater Mysteries (Mystery Schools)? Masonry might arguably be considered as, the Outer Guard to The Inner Temple. “Among all the ancient there was both a public and a secret worship. The secret worship did not originate in Egypt but in Atlantis and from thence was carried into Egypt. This secret worship always was known as the ‘Mysteries’ and all of these Mysteries were the same in substance or spirit, and in the religious philosophy their legends and fundaments were identical with only a variation of characters. These mysteries could be obtained in no other manner than by Initiation, and the members of these Priesthoods were not known by outward signs and tokens but by the color of the spiritual fire with which they were enveloped and which easily was recognized by all true Initiates. The secrecy of the Initiation was not because the Priests did not want the people to know the inner Mysteries but due to the fact that they would not receive them in the spirit in which they would be given. The mass could not comprehend the application of material and even gross substances, toward divine ends and would degrade the most sacred functions of God’s divine creation, to gross purposes. The masses never were ready to receive the Mysteries nor are they today, much as the Initiates wish to confer them upon all of God’s children.” The Mysticism of Masonry, Page 131. 

When the term initiation is nonchalantly tossed about, the profane might become entrenched with the act of pledging a college fraternity or sorority during rush week. As time has gone by and Freemasonry’s numbers have continued to dwindle from that great peak in the 1960s, many Grand Lodges operating in the United States (and elsewhere) have had to compromise long-standing traditions and adapt new recruiting methods such as the one-day class. The one-day class is a trend for an incoming candidate to receive all three degrees of “Blue Lodge” masonry within the same day. The format has also been adopted by many other appendage bodies, there has existed the Man to Mason to Noble Program to bring men into the Shriners organization. Although this may be convenient to not only receive all three degrees within the same day, and helpful to those brothers conferring the degrees, especially those coming from lodges that struggle to have enough qualified brothers to execute properly, it has been contested whether this method has been a success regarding retention. Whether or not this is the right way to confer degrees is inconsequential for purposes here, but no sincere ritual purist brother can make the argument that this does not hinder the intent of the rituals, for the degree in general terms is an invocation meant to be experienced in its original format. Dr. J.D. Buck had this to say regarding initiation, “All real Initiation is an internal, not an external process. The outer ceremony is dead and useless only so far as it symbolizes and illustrates, and thereby makes clear the inward change. The ceremony instructs, but it can not transform.” Mystic Masonry pg. 86 

To expand on the concept of Initiation even further, Dr. R.S. Clymer has the following to add to the subject at hand, which all good Masons can of course relate to the self-Freemasonry of fortifying that inner temple, “Initiation is not what it is generally supposed to be. All Masons are familiar with the ceremonial form of Initiation but in reality, this is no more than an outward symbolization of an inner, esoteric work, which should take place within each man seeking the Mysteries. A man may have received the degrees of the Blue Lodge and may be an honor to that lodge and yet be wholly unfamiliar with the method of procedure which would bring into manifestation the results of the personification of the life as symbolized in these three degrees. It is this outcome of which, not only Masons but the entire human race are now so very in need.” The Mysticism of Masonry, Page 6

The Topic of Initiation has held the focal point long enough for this piece, let’s now bring up the tall cedar in the room and address the whole secret society element that non-masons reading this may have previously developed preconceived notions. As to why certain information can only be received in ways and much must remain secretive (although you can google anything), Dr. Clymer offered the following support, ““It never was the intention of the Priest-Initiates that the Mysteries should be profoundly secret as they ultimately became. The initiates were only too willing to accept the Aspirants who applied in sincerity. Moreover, they were willing to teach the people all of the profound truths they would accept. Then, as now, the people were more ready to place their own interpretations on the symbols and what they believed – erroneously – to be the inner teachings of these Masters, than they were to accept the actual truths from the Priests. The people, then as now, were wholly unwilling to obey the Law in the right spirit and condemned the initiates for having other than the letter, in other words, for reaping the fruits of their) the Initiates’) obedience.” The Mysticism of Masonry, Page 35

A fellow brother once said that most of our Blue Lodge Rituals can be found in printed form, without needing to look very hard for it. Dr. Buck may have agreed with these sentiments in the following, “It is in the ancient symbols of Freemasonry that its real secrets lie concealed, and these are as densely veiled to the Mason as to any other unless he has studied the science of symbolism in general, and masonic symbols in particular. In place of the term Mystic Masonry, the term Symbolic Masonry might have been used alone, but just here lies the whole secret, a profound mystery, and few Masons up to the present time have had the interest or the patience necessary to such investigation.” – Mystic Masonry pg. xxv. To expand further on that thought, “The most profound secrets of Masonry are not revealed in the Lodge at all… these secrets must be sought by the individual himself.” – Mystic Masonry pg. xxvi

At this point, one may be ever more fueled to question further the secretness of the craft. After all who gets to determine what information should be withheld and who should even administer such information?  Occultists believed and practiced that within man lay many unrealized abilities to utilize thoughts and harness certain partials out of the very air breathed. Dr. Buck summarizes, “There are latent powers and almost infinite capabilities in man, the meaning of which he has hardly yet dreamed of possessing. Nor will leisure and intellectual cultivation alone reveal these powers.” – Mystic Masonry pg. 2. If he was around today to ask to explain the reason why a greater number of people in the current era aren’t pursuing the quest for more knowledge, or as we Masons relate to as Light, Dr. Buck might state, “We have neither the time, the energy, nor the disposition to discover the real meaning and aim of life because all our energies are absorbed in the bare maintenance of existence.” Mystic Masonry pg. 5. 

Freemasonry is often labeled as a secret society and henceforth has drawn various degrees of critics, with those of the most extreme spawning offspring of some very imaginative and far-fetched conspiracy theories and concepts. In the age of 5G Internet connectivity where one can quickly learn all the secrets of a “secret society” with no sweat broken as only the fingertips are doing the heavy lifting, and through the medium of various perspectives of “whistleblowers” or “infiltrators,” it can be asked what truly secrets are left? Dr. Buck’s writings might support the ideas picked up from one’s favorite podcast here, “The real secrets of Masonry lie concealed in its Symbols, and these, constituting as they do a Picture Language or Art Speech, are made to carry a complete philosophy of the existence and relations of Deity, Nature, and Man.” Mystic Masonry pg. 140. In response to those students of the Esoteric variety out there searching for the hidden or occult meaning to the symbolism of Masonry, Dr. Buck has the subject covered, “Freemasonry, though not a lineal descendant of the ancient mysteries, may justly be regarded as a connecting link between the ancient wisdom and modern times”… “The grips, signs, and passwords, by which a Mason recognizes a Brother, pertain to the Lesser Mysteries. The real Master knows his fellows by other signs. It has been elsewhere shown that the true Adept is both clairvoyant

and clairaudient.” Mystic Masonry pg. 123.

If Dr. Clymer was here to address a gathering of historians in the field of Ancient symbolism he might have ascertained the idea in this, ““The one thing in which historians make their great and inexplicable mistake is to accept the symbol for the spirit. Few races, even among the heathen, have worshipped idols. They worshipped that which these idols represented. In future centuries the Christmas of the present will be accused with equal justice, of worshipping pictures and images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.” The Mysticism of Masonry

Freemasons experience all sorts of interrogation from the profane, and many can get entertaining, especially when asked about the various “levels” (an intrigue one who has known a Mason having held such degree or level may offer as a platform to relate in conversation). In the days of the Mystery Schools degrees were not experienced as a formality, they were the achievement to be attained after a long epic of trials and tribulations were endured. Dr. Buck had this to say, “It must not be supposed that in the Ancient Mysteries, every Initiate became a Master in the sense outlined in the preceding chapters. There were the Lesser and the Greater Mysteries. To the Lesser all were eligible; to the Greater, very few’ and of those few, fewer still were ever exalted to the sublime and last degree. Some remained for a lifetime in the lower degrees, unable to progress further on account of constitutional defect or mental and spiritual incapacity.” Mystic Masonry pg. 107. 

Taking a break from how Freemasonry and its symbolism can intellectually and spiritually stimulate the student or candidate, the examination zooms in on the granular and broader meanings of various Masonic symbols. Dr. might have opened up the floor with, “The triangle in the square symbolizes potential Being before evolution: Man in the Garden of Eden. The square in the triangle symbolizes regeneration; the purification of the lower earthly nature so that it may “ascend to the Father;” return to Paradise. This is symbolized by the careful position of the compass and square in relation to the Holy Bible, while the three Greater lights and three Lesser lights again make a double triangle; one greater – because, above, one lesser -because below, which every Mason will understand.” Mystic Masonry pg. 74. 

On an even broader scale of the symbolism Dr. Buck explains regarding the first degree, “The first lesson we are taught in Masonry is to be good men and true.’ And the first declaration made by the neophyte in Masonry is that he comes to the Lodge to ‘learn to subdue his passions, and improve himself in Masonry.’ i.e.  to engage in the building of a fit temple for an indwelling soul.” Mystic Masonry pg. 112. 

The ante can be increased even further in respect to those transformations which are occurring in our subconscious selves i.e. that inner temple we are constructing within as the master builders that we’ve been taught to be. Dr. Clymer offered the following, “. “The “bringing to Light” in the third degree is synonymous with the “finding of the Light” in the process of development taught and practiced in the true Fraternities but with this difference: in the Masonic initiation, it is symbolic or ritualistic, in the true Initiation, it is an actual growth or development within the Aspirant, and when this Light is found, he is not told of it but himself informs the Master-Teacher. To become a Master Mason, one must pass through the ritualistic initiation of the Third Degree. This is again symbolic of the initiatory work of the Secret Fraternity when one finally has reached the Third Degree – which is the finding of the Light of the First Degree and is known as Soul Illumination – the unraveling of the Mystery of the Serpent in the next degree, and finally the attainment of Mastership which is synonymous with becoming a Master Mason in the exoteric organization. There is this difference: when the candidate finally has become a Master Mason, he is given a substitute word for the Word but having attained the Third Degree in the Secret Fraternity, he also has found the Word.” The Mysticism of Masonry pg. 50 – 51.

As many concepts in Masonry and for that matter life in general often come full circle, it cannot be stressed enough that not only is there a transformation from within while taking an oath and obligation during receiving a degree as a candidate, but there is also an inward transformation on the part of those participating in such work as an officer, guide, or other position on the floor and including those on the sidelines. Dr. Clymer too felt passionately on the matter and offered, “When we assume an obligation, we call certain forces into being. These forces are held in suspension – or under control – so long as we act in harmony with them. If we betray the spirit, then all control ceases and the created vibrations held in suspension become malicious toward the creator of them and return to rend and destroy. One who is false to an obligation has loosened a destructive force that can return only to the creator of it. God does not punish man. So-called punishment is the return to himself – ‘chickens come home to roost’- of the forces created by himself, which, on betrayal, return to destroy. In other words, man is not punished for his deeds but by his deeds. It is for this reason that almost forty percent of those who enter the Secret Fraternity ultimately bring about their own destruction, entering as they do, for utterly selfish, though hidden, reasons. Then because of their inimical spirit, betray the spirit and purpose of their obligation and so bring upon themselves swift and undefiable punishment.” The Mysticism of Masonry pg. 52

Elaborating on the subject even further, brings yet another example from the Ancient Mystery Schools of past ages, with the central theory of what might have been racing through the candidate for initiation’s mind. Dr. Buck perhaps often struck a nerve amongst Freemasons with the following, “In the Ancient Mysteries, Life presented itself to the candidate as a problem to be solved, and not as certain propositions to be memorized and as easily forgotten. The solution of this problem constituted all genuine initiation, and at every step or degree, the problem expanded. As the vision of the candidate enlarged in relation to the problems and meaning of life, his powers of apprehension and assimilation also increased proportionately. This was also an evolution.” – Mystic Masonry pg. 14 

Having been heavily influenced by Dr. Buck’s Mystic Masonry, Dr. Clymer’s following quote could serve as the perfect complement to the prior quotation from Dr. Buck from the following excerpt, “All basic religious systems and all true secret societies teach, in some way and to some degree, concerning the attainment of the Immorality but most of them fail clearly to indicate that Immortality must be won – that is a personal achievement and can be attained only through the Spiritual evolution (Soul Development) of each person.” The Mysticism of Masonry pg. 178. 

When studying mysticism and the ancient mystery schools, time and time again the conversation ends up with a discussion on the role of the Pineal Gland. The Egyptian Eye of Horus is widely hypothesized to have been a symbolization of this little gland, and its usage and origin are to this day hotly contested and debated. Dr. Buck goes on to support, “The action of this little gland” may be likened to the bridge of a violin. It renders the nerve chords more tense, and thus raises the vibrations of the brain tissues. It is atrophied, and therefore dormant in the average individual because the relaxed chords (using a symbol) correspond to the vibrations on the physical plane; and it is one of the well-known laws of physiology that every organ will become atrophied from disuse. Mystic Masonry pg. 90.

Having made a brief layover in Pineal Gland-ville, the path further leads to the invisible forces which all are capable of cultivating for higher purposes, the highest being sole consciousness. Dr. Buck would make the following point with conviction, “This force is the universal Life agent, as Bro. Pike says, ‘Wherein are two natures' and a double current of love and wrath. This ‘ambient fluid penetrates everything. Hence it is the “First Matter” of the Alchemists. It is concentrated in man as the magnetic living force directed by the Will. He who knows its ‘chord of mass, or the “keynote” of its vibrations can, by his Will, waken it. from Space and send it in mighty waves to do his bidding. The real Word of the Master, therefore, in a scientific sense, is this tone-key by which the ‘Principalities and Powers of the Air; can be made to do his bidding.” Mystic Masonry pg. 93.

It is the intent to stimulate the reader to dive even further into the subjects presented in this piece, the following will serve as Dr. Clymer’s parting gift, “Due to the unwillingness of many of these seekers to forget the self and to obey those who know, progress is necessarily slow and uncertain and most of these attempts have given rise, more or less, to fantastic flights of the imagination resulting in confusion rather than enlightenment and, in many cases, ending in downright, soul-destroying frauds of the worst and most criminal type. The gross result has been to bring the whole subject under contempt and to make the term “mysticism” mean something vague and uncertain, frequently foolish and questionable, to those ignorant of what the term embraces in its true meaning.” The mysticism of Masonry pg. 37. 

Drawing it all to a whimsical finale, the focal point of the Mysticism within Masonry or simply Mystic Masonry will conclude with this final Dr. Buck quote, “There is a Grand Science known as Magic, and every real Master is a Magician. Feared by the ignorant, and ridiculed by the “learned” the Divine Science and its Masters have, nevertheless, existed in all ages, and exist today. Masonry in its deeper meaning and recondite mysteries constitutes and possesses this science, and all genuine Initiation consists in an orderly unfolding of the natural powers of the neophyte so that he shall become the very thing he desires to possess.” - Mystic Masonry pg. 34


Joe Covell is new to Masonry, having been raised in March of 2022 at Quakertown Lodge No. 512 in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. He is a student of Esoteric Philosophy since 2016 and loves to discuss it with like-minded brethren. He is involved in The Valley of Allentown AASR where he helps administer the Valley’s social media accounts. He is a member of Lansdale Royal Arch Chapter No. 301, Doylestown Cryptic Council No. 51, Damascus Commandery No. 95, and a Noble of LuLu Shrine. He has plans to highlight Masonic Education by facilitating study groups on various topics at his Blue Lodge. He is currently going through the chairs at Quakertown Lodge No. 512, as well as the other bodies of which he is a member.  

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