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,
"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
"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
"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
"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.