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Sacred Space in Freemasonry


A version of this was published in the May 2015 Edition of Living Stones Magazine

We are taught as an Entered Apprentice that a Masonic Lodge is a symbolic copy of King Solomon’s Temple, and as a Brother progresses through the Blue Lodge degrees he gains access to increasingly sacred parts of the temple. In the Master Mason Degree we are also taught that a Tyled Lodge of Master Masons meets in the unfinished space, where once completed the divine presence of G*d would reside on the “mercy seat” atop the Ark of the Covenant. This Holy of Holies was so sacred to Jews, that only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and he could only enter on the holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

We should take note of the fact that the authors of our Masonic ritual chose to symbolically hold a meeting of a Lodge in the most sacred place imaginable to Jews, where only the holiest of men could enter, and only on a special occasion. This wasn’t chosen by accident, or as a mere addition to a storyline or a narrative. A Masonic Lodge meets in the unfinished holy of holies because a Tyled Lodge is a sacred space, and it should be reverentially treated as such during every meeting and every degree.  General levity, tomfoolery, or any unseemly or off-colored conduct perverts the purpose and sanctity of a Tyled Lodge. The time spent in a lodge is not supposed to be ordinary time; instead, it is meant to be sacred time that is set apart from the profane and material world. Also, the men who enter the sacred space of a Lodge are not supposed to be ordinary men, rather they are initiates that have been set apart from the profane.

This setting aside of special sacred spaces and time in order to conduct sacred rituals and conduct spiritual work is not unique to Freemasonry, because it is present in almost every spiritual and religious tradition.  The Romanian religious historian Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), developed a theory that has become known as “the myth of the eternal return”, which is also the name of his most well known book. According to Eliade spiritual traditions are based on, and depend upon, hierophanies, which are manifestations of the sacred into the material physical world. According to Eliade religions, myths, and spiritual traditions, require splitting the world into a sacred world (gods, ancestors, mythic beings/creatures, heaven) and the profane world (the material world in which we normally reside), and these two worlds are polar opposites. According to Eliade, “all the definitions given up till now of the religious phenomenon have one thing in common: each has its own way of showing that the sacred and the religious life are the opposite of the profane and secular life”.[1]

If the two sacred and profane worlds remained at a perpetual distance religion would be pointless, so there has to be a bridge between the sacred and the profane worlds that allows for a hierophany to take place. This bridge takes place in sacred places, where through the use of rituals the adherents return to a mythical age in order to commune with the sacred world, thus creating a hierophany. The sacred spaces that allow for the hierophany cannot be ordinary everyday places; instead, these special places must be set-aside (sanctified) for the particular spiritual purpose.

According to Eliade:

The architectonic symbolism of the Center may be formulated as follows:

1.   The Sacred Mountain – where heaven and earth meet – is situated at the center of the world.

2.   Every temple or palace – and, by extension, every sacred city or royal residence – is a sacred                   mountain, thus becoming a center

3.   Being an axis mundi, the sacred city or temple is regarded as the meeting point of heaven, earth,            and hell.[2]

Holy places such as churches, cathedrals, mosques, monasteries, and temples are quite literally the “center” of spiritual life, because they serve as the bridge between the sacred and profane worlds. According to Eliade, “The experience of sacred space makes possible the ‘founding of the world,’ where the sacred manifests itself in space; ‘the real unveils itself,’ the world comes into existence.”[3] The Masonic Lodge follows this sacred model, because the Masonic Lodge is where initiates are brought from the darkness of the profane world into the world of Light. Also, we are taught that the Masonic Lodge not only represents the layout of King Solomon’s Temple, but also encapsulates the entire world and universe:

A Masonic lodge is therefore to the instructed brethren a symbol of the world… and the world and the universe are made synonymous, when the lodge becomes, of course, a symbol of the universe. But in this case the definition of the symbol is extended, and to the ideas of length and breadth are added those of height and depth, and the lodge is said to assume the form of a double cube. The solid contents of the earth below and the expanse of the heavens above will then give the outlines of the cube, and the whole created universe will be included within the symbolic limits of a Freemason’s lodge.”[4]

However, a sacred space alone is not enough for a hierophany to take place, because the rituals and time spent in the space must be of a sacred nature. According to Eliade, “…the reality and the enduringness of a construction are assured of by the transformation of profane spaces into a transcendent space (the center) but also by the transformation of concrete time into mythical times, ‘once upon a time’ … that is, when the ritual was performed for the first time by a god, an ancestor, or a hero.”[5]

Masonic ritual is steeped in the mythical folklore surrounding the building of King Solomon’s Temple, and the rituals that we undertake transform the normal everyday material time into sacred spiritual time. The rituals transport the candidates and members back into a sacred (mythologized) time and place, and the candidates and members take on the roles of mythical figures. Also, in Masonic ritual phrases and gestures that would otherwise have little meaning or significance become the passwords and tokens that prove membership, and provide for the transmission of Light. According to Eliade:

 “We have distributed our collection of facts under several principal heading:

  1. facts which show us that, for archaic man, reality is a function of the imitation of a celestial archetype.
  2. facts which show us how reality is conferred through participation in the ‘symbolism of the center’: cities, temples, houses become real by the fact of being assimilated to the ‘center of the world.’
  3. Finally, rituals and significant profane gestures which acquire the meaning attributed to them, and materialize that meaning, only because they deliberately repeat such and such acts posited ab origine by gods, heroes, or ancestors.”[6]

Our Masonic forefathers took care to make the Masonic experience a sacred and transformative experience. Although Masonic ritual as we now know it predates any theories by Eliade, our ritual follows the patterns and traditions of every spiritual and sacred tradition since time immemorial, and we must respect and follow the sacred formula in order for Light to manifest (to allow a hierophany to take place). We must remember that a tyled Lodge is a special place that is intentionally set apart from the outer profane and material world, so we must treat the Lodge room with the respect that it deserves. We must also remember that a Lodge meeting is a sacred time where our ancient rituals are performed and the craftsmen lay down the working tools of the material world in order pick up the Masonic working tools, so that we can be transported into the very place where Light resides and is transmitted.

Within our hallowed walls, our rituals turn profanes into initiates, and allow Masters to continue to hone their craft. The laudable pursuit of the craftsman is a journey, a quest, to discover and manifest Light, and this cannot be done passively; instead, it requires active engagement and purpose. When a lodge takes the time and energy to purposefully undertake the spiritual work of the fraternity, Freemasonry becomes much more than just a mere social club, it becomes a sacred endeavor that is truly transformational on the individual and collective level. This is the experience that many of us sought upon our first admission into the Lodge, and it is an experience that is attainable. It just requires work and intentional action. Brethren must purposefully join together for a sacred purpose, and we cannot be content with mere rote memorization and recital of Masonic ritual. Instead, the entire egregore, the collective conscious and purpose of the Lodge must be centered around manifesting and transmitting the sacred Light from the GAOTU into the sacred space of the Lodge, where it can be experienced by brethren. This experience of the sacred Light was essential to illuminating the pathway of our forefathers, and with proper stewardship and intention it will continue to illuminate the pathway of current and future craftsman.




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[1] Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion, Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1996. P. 1.

[2] Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return or, Cosmos and History, Princeton Univ. Press, 1991, P. 12.

[3] Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane : The Nature of Religion: The Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987, P. 65-66.

[4] Mackey, Albert, The Symbolism of Freemasonry, The Masonic History Company,  P 104-105.

[5] Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, P. 20-21.

[6] Id at P. 5.

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