This evening we have witnessed a third degree. In these days the relation of Masonry to the ancient mystery religions is de-emphasized. This de-emphasis is, in part, because exaggerated speculations can be (and have been) made which are wholly unjustified and which can only lead, at best, to nonsense and, at worst, to a false and distorted view of our order and, in part, because today's society is too far removed, in its customs and civilization, from the time the mystery religions flourished for any widespread appreciation of their methods of communicating and transmitting truth.
The fact remains, however, that the third degree has undeniable esoteric roots. It did not come from the mason guilds of the middle ages. Mackey is strongly of the opinion that it appeared in English freemasonry in the 1720's, that is after the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England, and that it was the creation of that remarkable freemason Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers, fellow of the Royal Society and Chaplain in Ordinary to his Grace, James, Duke of Chandois, General Master of Mason Lodges in England. In taking this view neither Mackey nor anyone else suggests that the degree was a mere piece of brilliant imaginative writing conceived out of whole cloth. It was, on the contrary, a restatement, a recasting, a redrawing from ancient sources of one of the profoundest hopes of the human race, the hope of survival of the human soul beyond one physical life span.
In one of his books, Albert Pike reproduces this hieroglyphic picture copied from an Egyptian monument. Assuming that the drawing is not a fake, and Pike would not have reproduced it if he had been really suspicious of its authenticity, we do not need anything more to establish a strong link betweeen the third degree and the ancient religions.
Pike goes much further. He takes the view that the name which has come down to us in English translation as "Hiram" is actually "Khur-om". The syllable "Khur", or its near variants, is, in many ancient languages, associated with the Sun. Pike translates the Hebrew word "Khur" as "an aperture of a window", or as "the eye" or as the colour "white". He translates the Parsi word "Khur" as "the literal name of the Sun". (OM is, even today, a name used in India and the Far East for the Supreme Diety.
If we follow this reasoning, Hiram becomes the aperture of a window to God, the personification of light, a symbol of the much desired Mediator, a Redeemer, a Savior of mankind. Whether the real significance is merely the concept of order as demonstrated by the progress of the sun through the seasons ("if winter comes can spring be far behind"), whether it reflects the Egyptian legend of Osiris, or the Scandinavian legend of Balder, or any of the legends documented by Sir James Frazer in the Golden Bough, or whether it refers to the founder of the Christian religion, is not for me to say. I think that it has something to do with all of them and if Desaguliers did "create" the third degree I would venture the speculation that he thought so too.
Now what I have said appears at first sight to conflict with the obvious story. In the first book of Kings we are told of Hiram -
" He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass: and he was filled with wisdom and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to King Solomon and wrought all his work. "
His skill as an artificer (not, please note, as a stone mason) is obvious from the list of his works in Chapter 7 of the first book of Kings, and in Chapter 4 of the second book of Chronicles. His title "Abif", "his father", is certainly a title of great honour although it has resulted in some confusing translations of the Hebrew texts.008
There is wonderful encouragement in the thought that the son of a widow, and of mixed parentage at that, could, by his skill and integrity, rise to become a chief artificer of the Temple, the companion of kings . The embellishment that he was one of three Grand Masters who bore sway at the building of this great edifice is little more than an expression, in masonic terms, of the story from the Old Testament. But nowhere in the Old Testament is there anything from which the legend of the third degree could be derived.
Now whether Desaguliers created the third degree or not is really of little importance . Whoever created it had the genius to see that by combining, in darkness visible which the eye of human reason cannot penetrate, the lion's paw with the story of a truly great man of humble parentage, there was symbolism of universal import to all men for all time .
The essential elements are there. It is no reflection on or discourtesy to the individual faith of any one of us as to the hereafter, nor does it impair any of our individual beliefs to say that we don't know what lies on the far side of the veil. The story of our degree is purposely incomplete. The word is lost. Death reduces us all to the same level. But if there is hope for any of us, surely it must be apparent through the best of the human race. Why not then, using symbolism to impart truth, as in the ancientmysteries, through a widow's son who became filled with wisdom and understanding, and worked^ and worked magnificently on the temple of God.
So, as a masonic thing we live by, I give you the lion's paw in darkness visible and with it the inspiration of a hope that the Lord of Life will enable us to trample the king of terrors beneath our feet and the injunction to raise your eyes.