1904 - "The Temple Legend" by Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner
Founder of the Anthroposophical Society



An anthroposophical point of view...( ! )


Rudolf Steiner

First lecture - Berlin, 2nd December 1904

Today I wish to make a brief survey of the Rites and Orders of Freemasonry, as I agreed to do. Of course I can only impart to you the main essentials, as the whole subject is so comprehensive, and so many inessential things are connected with it.

The basis for the whole of Freemasonry is to be found in the Temple Legend concerning Hiram-Abiff or Adonhiram about whom I have already spoken in connection with the Rosicrucian Order. Everything to do with what is called the secret of Freemasonry and its tendency is expressed in this Temple Legend. We are led to a kind of Genesis or theory of evolution of the human race. Let us therefore recall to mind the essentials of this Temple Legend.

One of the Elohim united himself with Eve and out of this union of a divine creative spirit with Eve, Cain was born. Then another of the Elohim, Jehovah or Adonai, created Adam, who is to be regarded as the primal man of the third Root Race. This Adam then united himself with Eve, and from this union Abel was born. Thus at the outset of human evolution there are two starting points: Cain, the direct descendant of one of the Elohim with Eve, and Abel, who, with the help of a divinely created human being, Adam, is the true representative of Jehovah.

The whole conception underlying the creation story according to the Temple Legend is based upon the fact that there is a kind of enmity between Jehovah and everything which is derived from the other Elohim and their descendants, the ‘Sons of Fire’ — this being the designation of the descendants of Cain according to the Temple Legend. Jehovah creates enmity between Cain and his race, and Abel and his race. The outcome of this was that Cain slew Abel. That is the arch-enmity which exists between those who receive their existence from the divine worlds, and those who work out everything for themselves. The fact that Abel makes the sacrifice of an animal to Jehovah, while Cain brings the fruits of the earth, is an illustration, which the Bible gives too, of this contrast between the race of Cain and the race of Abel. Cain has to wrest from the earth with hard labour the fruits which are necessary for the sustenance of mankind; Abel takes what is already living, what has been prepared for his livelihood. The race of Cain creates, as it were, the living out of the lifeless. Abel takes up what is already alive, what is already imbued with the breath of life. Abel's sacrifice is pleasing to God, but Cain's is not.

Thus we find two kinds of human being characterised in Cain and Abel. The one consists of those who accept what God has prepared for them. The others — the free humanity — are those who till the soil and labour to win living products out of what is lifeless. Those who regard themselves as Sons of Cain are they who understand the Temple Legend and wish to live by it. Out of the race of Cain spring all those who are the creators of the arts and sciences of mankind: Tubal-Cain who is the first true architect and the God of smithies and working tools; and also Hiram-Abiff, or Adonhiram, who is the hero of the Temple Legend. This Hiram is sent for by King Solomon, famous for his wisdom, who belongs to the race of Abel, those who receive their wisdom from God. Thus this contrast appears once more at the court of Solomon — Solomon the wise, and Hiram the independent worker, who has achieved his wisdom through human striving.

Solomon called to his court Balkis, the Queen of Sheba, and when she arrived her impression of him was as of a statue made of gold and precious stones; it was as though she were looking at a monument bestowed on mankind by the gods. As she gazed in wonderment at the great Temple of Solomon, her desire was to meet the architect of this wonderful building, and her wish was fulfilled. Merely through a single glance which the architect cast on her, she was able to appreciate his true worth. Solomon was immediately seized by a kind of jealousy of Hiram. This grew as Balkis demanded that all the workers engaged in the building of the Temple should be presented to her. Solomon declared that this was impossible, but Hiram conceded to her wishes. He climbed onto a slight eminence, made the mystical sign of the Tau and, behold, all the workers streamed towards him. The will of the Queen had been fulfilled.

Because of this, Solomon is disinclined to oppose the enemies of Hiram and to stand out against them. A Syrian stonemason, a Phoenician carpenter and a Jewish miner were antagonistic towards Hiram. These three fellow craftsmen had been totally denied the Master Word by Hiram-Abiff. The Master Word is that which would have enabled them to work independently as master builders. The Master Word is a secret which is imparted only to those who have made the grade. Therefore they came to the decision to do Hiram some harm.

The opportunity for this came about as Hiram-Abiff was about to fulfil his masterpiece, the casting of the Molten Sea. The movement of the waters was to be held fast in Form. The surging sea was to be preserved alive artistically in a rigid form. That is the point. The three apprentices conspired to make the casting in such a way that instead of flowing into the mould it would flow out over the surroundings. Hiram tried to arrest the flow of the fiery mass by throwing water over it, but this caused the metal to spray up into the air and descend again with great force in a rain of fire. Hiram was powerless to do anything. But suddenly a voice called out to him: ‘Hiram! Hiram! Hiram!’ He was ordered by the voice to plunge into the sea of fire. This he did and he sank down ever deeper until he reached the centre of the earth where fire has its origin. There he met two figures, his ancestor Tubal-Cain, and Cain himself. Cain was irradiated with the brightness of Lucifer, the angel of light. Then Tubal-Cain gave Hiram his hammer which had the magical property of restoring all things to their proper order and he said to him: You will beget a son who will gather about him a race of wise folk, and you will be the progenitor of those who have been born out of fire which brings wisdom and makes man thoughtful. The Molten Sea was now restored by means of the hammer.

Hiram and Queen Balkis then met again outside the city. She became his wife, but Hiram was unable to avert the jealousy of Solomon and the revenge of the three fellow craftsmen. He was slain by them. The only thing he was able to save was the Triangle with the Master Word engraved upon it, which he threw into a deep well. Then Hiram was buried and a branch of acacia was planted on his grave. The acacia branch betrayed the whereabouts of the grave to Solomon, and the Triangle was also discovered. It was sealed up and buried in a place known to only a few people — twenty-seven in all. [It was agreed that] the new Master Word should be the word first uttered after the finding of the corpse — it is the word which is used by the Freemasons. The Freemasons trace back their origin, with some justification, to the Temple Legend and to the old days in which the Temple was built by Solomon as a lasting memorial to the secret of the fifth Root Race.

And now we have to learn to understand how mankind can benefit by Freemasonry. That is not so easy. A person who gets to know something of the complicated initiation ceremonies of Freemasonry might be inclined to ask: is what takes place in such ceremonies very trivial and petty?

I will now describe to you the initiation ceremony of an apprentice wishing to join the Order of Craft Masonry. Just imagine someone has decided that he wants to become a member of the Craft Masonry. It consists of three degrees: Apprentice, Fellow Craftsman and Master Mason. After these three degrees come higher degrees which lead the candidate into occult knowledge. I will now describe what happens to a novice about to be initiated into the first degree, that is the degree of apprentice. When he is brought into the Lodge building for the first time, he is led into a remote chamber by the Brother Warden and left for some minutes to his own thoughts. Then he is deprived of all metal he has about him, such as gold, silver and other metals, his clothes are rent at the knee and the heel of his left shoe is trodden down. In this condition he is led into the midst of the brethren who are assembled in another room, a cord is passed round his neck and a sword is pointed at his naked breast. In this state he is confronted by the Worshipful Master, who asks him if he is still determined to undergo initiation. Then he is cautioned very seriously and during the further procedures the meaning of the treading down of the heel and other procedures are explained to him. There are three things which he is obliged to forego. If he is unable to forswear these three things he will never be accepted as a Freemason. He is told: If you retain the slightest curiosity about anything, then you must leave this house immediately. Secondly, he is told: If you should hesitate to acknowledge every one of your failings and mistakes, then you must leave this house immediately. Thirdly: If you are unable to rise in spirit above all things which differentiate one human being from another, then you must leave this house immediately. These three things are most strictly required from every candidate for initiation.

Then a kind of frame is held in front of the candidate. through which he is thrown, while at the same time an unpleasant noise is produced, so that he flies through the frame with the worst of feelings. In addition to this they shout to him that he is being thrown into Hell. At that same instant, a trapdoor is closed with a bang, and he is given the impression of being in very peculiar surroundings. His skin is then scratched slightly, so that blood is made to flow, and at the same time a gurgling sound is made by those around him, giving him the impression that he is losing a great deal of blood. After that three hammer blows are struck by the Worshipful Master. What is said thereafter in the Lodge must be treated in the strictest secrecy. Were the candidate to reveal it, his connection with Freemasonry, would be changed, just as the drink he is offered also changes: sweet from the one side, bitter from the other. This drink is handed to him in an artfully constructed vessel, so that the drink is sweet from one side, but when turned around it changes to bitter. That is to symbolise how it will be for the candidate if he betrays the secrets.

After these proceedings he is led to a flight of stairs in a room which is very dimly lit. This staircase is so constructed that it moves and thereby gives the impression that one has descended a long way, whereas one has really only descended a short distance. It is the same when the candidate falls. When he thinks he has fallen into a deep well, he has in reality only fallen a very short way. At this point it is explained to him that he has arrived at a decisive moment. In addition to this he is blindfolded again when he is by the staircase. Then the Brother Warden is asked: ‘Brother Senior Warden, deem you the candidate worthy of forming part of our Society?’ If the answer is ‘Yes’ he is then further asked: ‘What do you ask for him?’ He is obliged to answer: ‘Light’. Then the bandage is removed from the candidate's eyes and he sees himself in an illuminated chamber. Then follows the basic question: ‘Do you recognise who is your Master?’ He makes answer: ‘Yes, it is he who is wearing a yellow jacket and blue trousers.’ The blue trousers refer to the rank he possesses. Then he receives the three attributes of apprenticeship: Sign, Grip and Word. The Sign is a symbol of the same kind as occult symbols ... [Gap] The Grip is a special kind of handclasp to be used when shaking hands. These handclasps are different in the case of an apprentice and in the case of a Master. The Word changes according to degree, It does not behove me to reveal what the Words are.

After that, the person concerned can be admitted to his apprenticeship. On admission he is asked: ‘How old are you?’ He makes answer: ‘Not yet seven years.’ He has to serve seven years as an apprentice before he can progress to become a journeyman.

When someone has progressed so far that he is eligible for his Master I s degree, the initiation ceremony is somewhat more difficult. The main thing is, however, that what is contained in the Temple Legend is actually carried out in practice on the candidate himself. He who wishes to attain to the Master's degree is led into one of the rooms in the Lodge building and has to lie in a coffin and to undergo the same fate as the Master-builder Hiram suffered. Then the new Sign, Grip and Word are revealed to him. The Word is the same as the Master Word which was uttered at the finding of Hiram's body. The signs by which a Master is known are extremely complicated. Recognition is achieved with the help of many forms and gestures.

The Freemasonry Masters call themselves ‘Children of the Widow’. Thus the Company of the Masters is directly derived from the Manicheans. I shall still speak about the connection between Manicheism and Freemasonry. 

The task of Freemasonry is connected with that belonging to the whole of the fifth Root Race. You could, of course, from the point of view of modern rationalist thinking, dismiss all I have told you about the initiation of an apprentice and the various ceremonies connected therewith as mere tomfoolery and play acting. But that is not what it is. All the things I have mentioned are the outward symbolical enactment of ancient occult practices which once took place on the astral plane through the mystery schools. Such proceedings, therefore, which take place symbolically among Freemasons, are carried out on the astral plane in the mystery temples. The initiation into the degree of a Master, the lying in the coffin and so on, is actually something which takes place on a higher level. However, in Freemasonry, it only takes place symbolically.

One could now ask: Where does all this lead? A Freemason should be conscious of the fact that one should act on the physical plane in a way which will maintain a connection with the spiritual worlds. It makes a difference whether one is a member of a community which believes in symbols which help to create a higher community, or whether ... [Gap] A Freemason need not necessarily have different thoughts from the man in the street, but his feelings are quite different. Feelings are connected with symbolical enactments, and it is not a matter of indifference whether or no a feeling of this kind is aroused, because it corresponds with a certain rhythm on the astral plane.

The meaning behind the first part of the ceremony — the taking away of metal objects — is that the candidate should not retain about his person anything which he has not produced by his own labours. A feeling for this is necessary for anyone who has had his attention drawn to the significance of symbols. He should also retain an enduring memory of the tearing of the trousers at the knee. He should think upon the fact that he ought to present himself in life as if he were appearing completely naked in the eyes of his fellow men. In like manner, the treading down of the heel should act as a constant reminder that — even though he may be strong as far as Freemasonry is concerned — he nevertheless is made vulnerable through his heel of Achilles. All subsequent parts of the ceremony have basically a meaning of this kind — particularly in the case of the eerie feeling which is engendered when a cold, sharp-edged sword is laid against his breast. That is a feeling which persists for a long time and becomes focussed in a suggestion which returns to his mind at important moments and reminds him that he should develop a kind of cold-blooded attitude. Cold-bloodedness should be the suggestion he receives. Complete responsibility for his own actions is what is symbolised by the cord laid about his neck which can be drawn tight at any moment. Presence of mind is suggested by the procedures connected with trapdoors, moving stairways, etc. Those are procedures which take place quite differently in the mysteries because they are performed on the astral plane.

The candidate must then take the oath. Everything about him is horrible, dark, the room only lit by one or two tiny flames. I want you to consider this oath in its full portent: ‘I hereby swear that by Word, Sign and Grip I shall never disclose anything which is henceforth revealed to me within this Lodge. Should I betray any of the secrets, I will allow any of the Brethren who may get to know about it, to slit my throat and wrench out my tongue.’ That is the oath of the apprentice. Still more dreadful is the oath of the journeyman, who consents to having his breast cut open and his heart torn out and thrown to the birds. The oath which the Master has to swear is so terrible that it cannot be repeated here.

These things are used as a means of evoking a certain kind of rhythm in the sensations of the astral body. The result of this is that the spirit is influenced intuitively. This influencing of the spirit was the main purpose of the masonic initiation in ancient times — Freemasonry is really very ancient.

The Freemasons of old were actually stonemasons. They performed all the duties of a mason. They were the builders of temples and public buildings in ancient Greece, where they were known as Dionysiacs. The building work was carried out in the service of the temple of Dionysus. In Egypt they were the builders of the pyramids, in ancient Rome, the builders of cities, and during the Middle Ages they built cathedrals and churches. After the thirteenth century they also began to build independently of the authority of the Church. At this time the expression ‘Freemason’ came into use. Before that they were under the authority of the religious communities and were the recognised architects.

Let us take our start from the fact that the Freemasons were the builders of the pyramids, of the mystery temples, and of the churches. You will easily gain the conviction — especially by reading Vitruvius — that the manner in which architecture was formerly studied is quite different from our present method. One did not study it at that time by making calculations, but instead, definite intuitions were imparted by means of symbols.

If you read in Luzifer how the Lemurians developed their building capacity you will get an inkling of the way in which this art was then practised. It is not possible today to build in that manner. With amazement and wonder we behold the buildings of the ancient Chinese and of the Babylonians and Assyrians, and know that they were constructed without a knowledge of our present-day mathematics. We behold the wonderful engineering feat of Lake Moeris in Egypt; a lake which was constructed to collect water which could be diverted into irrigation channels in times of need. It was not built with our modern engineering technique. The wonderful acoustic effects produced in old buildings were achieved in a way which modern architects are not yet able to imitate. At that time men were able to build by means of intuitive faculties, not through rational understanding.

The whole of this kind of architecture stood in relationship to a knowledge of the universe. If you take the Egyptian pyramids, for instance, their measurements correspond to certain measurements in heavenly space, to the distances of the stars in space. The whole configuration of stellar space was depicted in these buildings. There was a connection between the individual building and the dome of heaven. The mysterious rhythm presented to our gaze when we behold the starry heavens — not just with our outer sense, but with an intuitive gaze which penetrates to higher relationships, to rhythmical relationships — that was what the original architects included in their building, because they were building out of the universe.

This art of building was taught in a fashion as different from our own as the teaching of the art of medicine among certain primitive tribes today differs from our own. Our teaching today stems from the intellect. In primitive tribes the doctor is not trained like our doctors, but has certain occult forces developed in him. He has to undergo a bodily training which would be horrible for anybody of a nervous or weak disposition living in our modern culture. This training teaches him indifference to joy and pain and he who is indifferent to these is already in possession of occult powers. The extent to which the astral body could originally be trained was so great that it led to the development of powers which were designated as the Royal Art, which is an art derived from the mighty symbols of heavenly proportions.

Now you will have an idea of what Freemasonry used to be and you will realise that it had to outgrow its real task. It was bound to lose its significance as the world became rationalistic. It had its meaning when the fourth cultural epoch was still being developed. The fifth epoch brought about the loss of its importance. Today, Freemasons are no longer masons. Anybody can become a member. For occultists, symbols have a real meaning. A symbol that is merely a symbol, merely a copy or image, has no meaning; there is only significance in what can become a reality, in what can become a living force. If a symbol acts upon the spirit of humanity in such a way that intuitive forces are set free, then we are dealing with a true symbol. Today, Freemasons say they have symbols which mean this or that. An occult symbol, however, is one which takes hold of the will and leads over into the astral body. Inasmuch as our culture has become an intellectual culture, Freemasonry has lost its meaning.

Regarding connections with Manicheism ... [Gap] And after that come the high degrees, which extend as far as the ninetieth, indeed the ninety-sixth degree, and start at the fourth degree. The importance of the first three degrees has gradually been transferred to the high degrees. There is a kind of residue still remaining in what is called the ‘Royal Arch’, which is still extant in Freemasonry today. About these lighter sides and some of the darker sides of Freemasonry we shall have to speak again.