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Inner Meaning

Originally Published in Carl H. Claudy's Old Tiler Talks - 1925

"Does the third degree of Masonry mean something

else than what it says?" The New Mason sat beside

the bearer of the sword in the anteroom and offered

his cigar case.

"What does it say?" inquired the Old Tiler, extracting a

cigar and lighting it.

"Why, you know what it says! Fancy asking me that!

Any one would think you never saw one!"

"Oh, I have seen many a third degree," answered the

Old tiler. "So have a lot of other men. But the third

degree seems to say something different to each man

who receives it, and to all who see it. So before I

answer as to whether it means something different to

what it says, I will have to know what it means to you,

won't I?"

"But that's just the point! I don't know what it means to

me!" cried the New Mason. "It's all so new and

strange. It must have a deeper inner meaning than

just the ceremony. It can't just be a repetition of what

may or may not have been a historical fact!"

The Old Tiler puffed at his cigar. "I think the third

degree of Freemasonry is one of the most beautiful of

the symbols which mankind has ever erected, to

teach himself what he already knows, to teach others

what they must know. Its immediate and obvious

lessons are fidelity to trust, fortitude in face of danger,

the fact that the good a man does lives after him, the

inevitability of justice. But there are other teachings-

immortality, for instance."

"I can see that the Master degree teaches

immortality," responded the New Mason, eagerly,

"and that the drama can be interpreted as one of

resurrection. Indeed, the ritual so explains part of it."

"There is an inner meaning to teaching of immortality,"

continued the Old Tiler. "Have you a piece of string

with only one end?"

"What? There isn't any such thing! It either has no

ends, if it is a circle, or two ends."

The Old Tiler looked his questioner in the eye.

"Immortality can't have one end only, either! Anything

that is to continue to live forever must always have

lived. If it had a finite beginning, it must have a finite


"Do you mean that Freemasonry teaches the theory

of reincarnation- that we have all lived before, and will

again?" demanded the New Mason aghast. "I am no


"I don't mean anything of the kind!" explained the Old

Tiler. The Buddhist theory of reincarnation is only one

way of using the idea of immortality which has neither

beginning nor ending. Surely it is possible to believe

that the immortal part of us, which must have come

from God, has always lived, without thinking that it

has lived in the body of some other man, or in an

animal, as the animists believe. But I do not see how

anyone who believes in endless life, can also believe

that our souls began when our bodies were born.

"If I am to be immortal in the future, and have a soul

which has been immortal in the past, I must have an

immortal soul now. I am just as much in immortality

and eternity at the present moment as I will be when

my body is in the brow of a hill, and the brethren have

invested my mortal remains with a lambskin apron

and a sprig of acacia has been dropped upon my

lifeless form.

"So that I must hunt farther than a mere teaching of

immortality to extract the inner meaning of the third

degree, I do not need a Master Mason degree to

teach me the common sense of a piece of string

which has but only one end!

"All men are, in one sense, haunted houses. The

ghosts of their long dead ancestors rise up and walk

with them. The good man who does something

wrong, the clever man who does something stupid,

the stupid man who does something enormously

clever, is haunted with the ghosts of those whose

loins he sprang. We are not just one person, but a lot

of persons. We have an everyday self, and a better

self; a selfish, self-seeking self, and a self-sacrificing,

loving self. Sometimes one is in control and

sometimes another.

"The third degree is to me not only the teaching of

immortality of the soul, but the raising of my better self

in my own house- my 'temple not made with hands.' It

teaches me how to subdue my passions- my selfish

and inconsiderate self- and to allow my better self, my

Master Builder self, to rise from wherever my 'brow of

a hill' is, in which the ruffians of selfishness,

meanness, dishonesty have buried him, to shine

eternal as the stars, within me."

The Old Tiler paused. The New Mason broke his spell

to ask, "Old Tiler, did you ever study to be a


"I don't know enough!" he answered laughing. "What

put such an idea in your head?"

"Maybe you don't know enough to preach," was the

slow answer. "But you certainly know enough to

teach. When next I see a third degree it will be with

new eyes."

"That's nice of you." The Old Tiler was pleased. "My

ideas are just thoughts of a common Mason."

"They are the common thoughts of the best Mason!"

declared the New Brother.