ast month, the Ancient Mysteries were recognized as venerable institutions present in virtually all cultures and cities of the ancient world. Under the thin veil of allegory and symbol, the heirophants, or custodial priests of the Mysteries, taught candidates the sublime universal truths regarding morality, metaphysics and mysticism. Though the Mysteries revealed this information in successive degrees, as does Freemasonry in continuing the tradition, the very nature of such knowledge caused it to be divided into two parts or categories, namely the Lesser and Greater Mysteries or rites. "The Mystery colleges," as Grace Knoche explains in her The Mystery Schools, "have been divided into two parts: the exoteric [the prefix exo denoting outer] form commonly known as the Lesser Mysteries, open to all sincere and honorable candidates for deeper learning; and the esoteric [eso denoting inner] form, or the Greater Mysteries, whose doors open but to the few and whose initiation into adeptship is the reward of those whose interior nobility enables them to undergo the solar rite." Both the Egyptian schools and the Eleusinian Mysteries in Greece were so divided, the latter here serving as a wonderful contextual example.

In the first place, it should be understood that such a division of knowledge signifies a variety in the depth of the Mystery teachings. Nature plainly shows us, as worded by a certain little book on Hermetic philosophy, that "Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites," (The Kybalion). Common examples of this are day and night, hot and cold, inner and outer. Thus, the allegorical ceremonies of the Lesser Rites, being one end of the pole of the Mystery teachings, constituted the outer doctrine and appertained both mystically to the incarnate condition of the human soul and morally to the requirements of purity and the necessary elimination of all self-will in order to be worthy and well qualified to receive the Greater Rites. Thomas Taylor, in his Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries, notes that the Lesser Mysteries were "designed by the ancient theologists, their founders, to signify occultly the condition of the unpurified soul invested with an earthy body, and enveloped in a material and physical nature." This teaching was even given to the masses, many thousands being simultaneously initiated thereinto at the annual Spring festival of Eleusis in Agrae, Greece. 

The temple at Attica was even capable of holding twenty-five thousand people at once. Candidates for these Lesser Rites were made to bear a thyrsus, or the caduceus, which is essentially an elaborate rod. "The thyrsus-bearers," says Plato, "are numerous, but the Bacchuses [or perfected initiates of the Greater Mysteries] are few." Brother Manly P. Hall, 33°, elucidates this in Freemasonry of the Ancient Egyptians: "From the scanty records available, it appears that only a few hundred people passed successfully the Greater Mysteries and achieved the divine state." Profound symbolic value is contained in the thyrsus, and according to Brother Walter Wilmshurst, it is preserved to this day in Freemasonry through the staff carried by the Senior Deacon who conducts the candidate.

The Entered Apprentice degree of Freemasonry is said to be closely associated with birth into a new world or way of living. Naturally, the soul incarnates or descends into the body during the prenatal epoch in order to be born into the world. As Brother Manly P. Hall mentions in The Secret Teachings of All Ages, "To the Eleusinian philosophers, birth into the physical world was death in the fullest sense of the word, and the only true birth was that of the spiritual soul of man rising out of the womb of his own fleshly nature." The main theme of the first degree, one of the Lesser Rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries, was the abduction of Persephone, symbolically understood as the human soul or divine spark, into the underworld, a term which designates the body or the physical world. Brother Walter Wilmshurst notes that this myth is "the story of the soul and is of the same nature as the Mosaic myth of Adam and Eve" in their expulsion from Eden (The Meaning of Masonry). We recall that the two were clothed with "coats or garments of skin" in Genesis 3:21 prior to their exile. Furthermore, Wilmshurst regards the Masonic apron with which the candidate is invested as a symbol of the body into which the soul is incarnated. As the descent of the soul and the subsequent experience of suffering necessary for its development during earthly life is the main focus of the Lesser Rites, the Greater Rites, as the other end of the pole, allegorize the soul's liberation from the body by using the theme of figurative death, the literal phenomena resulting from the withdrawal of the immortal soul from its mortal vestment. Mysticism holds that the divine part of man, prior to its embodiment and personified throughout the allegories of the Mysteries, is effectively killed further by man's own immoral conduct, also often personified as three distinct agencies. On the Mysteries, particularly that of the Cabiri, Albert Mackey recalls Clement speaking thereof as "the sacred Mystery of a brother slain by his brethren." However, a resurrection, or raising of that which was considered dead, is promised in all cases. Contemplation upon the matter reveals that the teachings and themes inculcated in the degrees of Masonry are the same to be found throughout the Mystery Tradition as a whole, of which Freemasonry is a part. The Greater Rites and the knowledge contained therein we shall examine next month.

Brother Tanner Willhite

Senior Deacon 

Redmond Lodge #154

A.F.&A.M.