My Memorial to W L Wilmshurst

On the Seventieth Anniversary of his Death

WL Wilmshurst

Once in a while a person is born whose thoughts live on long after their death. One such man, Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, was born 22 June 1867 in Sussex. Seventy-two years later, on 19 July 1939, he was hailing a taxi in North London when he collapsed on the street. By the time help reached him he was dead. W hen he died Brother Wilmshurst left an incredible legacy from his fifty years as a Freemason.

He was a cautious and private man, who took as his motto 'govern the lips, they are the palace doors, and the king is within'. He was a Freemason of his time and didn't speak of his Masonry outside the Lodge. Yet he thought deeply about it and shared his thoughts. He published books, he wrote lectures to deliver to his lodge, he created private teaching materials to help his junior brethren, he held discussions in Lodges of Instruction and kept detailed notebooks of his thoughts. I have been a student of Wilmshurst for over fifteen years, since I read his book The Meaning of Masonry. I found that book interesting but difficult to follow. It was made up of five disparate lectures, originally given as talks in lodges, and did not seem to have been edited into a coherent narrative. Yet it was clear that Bro. Wilmshurst knew much more than he was prepared to write about. He admitted as much when he said:

In giving these pages to publication care has been taken to observe due reticence in respect of essential matters. An elementary and formal secrecy is requisite as a practical precaution against the intrusion of improper persons and for preventing profanation.

Recently I have been looking closely at how Masonic ritual works, and what effect it has on people. As part of that study I did a complete survey of all that Wilmshurst had written on Freemasonry. I looked at his published and unpublished work, his private and public statements, his printed and handwritten writings, and I made a fascinating discovery. There was a scattered thread running through his work.

I realized that when I combined his unformed thoughts in his notebooks, his private statements in his lodge lectures, his musings in the annotations on the margins of his personal books and the content of his published books, this corpus made up an advanced course in the secret science of Masonry. At first I used my insights to create a series of lodge lectures which started from the question "Why become a Mason?" and worked through the steps of the Masonic degrees to end up describing what it means to be a Masonic Initiate, and how to work towards such a state.

I have given these lectures many times and received much supportive feedback. But I was still troubled that these ideas, so useful for any brother who wants to make his daily progress in Masonic knowledge, were not available to the Craft in general. The original idea of Bro Wilimshurst had been to create a lodge to spread these ideas more widely. So, as the sevenieth anniversary of his death approached, I decided to write a book, specifically for the Masonic fraternity which summed up my understandings of 'The Craft' of Freemasonry and this is it, The Secret Science of Masonic Initiation. What is its purpose?

Let me quote the words of my long dead inspirational master to explain what prompted me to write it.

Throughout the ages the aspirant to Initiation has found it essential to pass under the personal tuition of some expert teacher who knows the way and can give him help suited to his personal requirements. Hence the Craft, following this traditional method, declares that every new Apprentice shall find a Master and from him gain instruction. For the opened Lodge was never intended to be a place for instruction; it is a place for corporate realization of the truths in which we are to be instructed privately elsewhere.

It rests upon not only the moral duty of every more advanced Brother to help the less advanced, but upon the spiritual principle that whoever has freely received must as freely give, that no one is initiated for his private advantage but must pass on his light to someone below him on the life-ladder.

I was first inspired by the thoughts of Walter Wilmshurst then, as I structured my reflections into a series of self-contained narrative modules, I came to a set of answers to my questions about Masonic Initiation. Perhaps these answers could have some wider appeal, and by writing this volume I might spread knowledge about the inner meaning of Freemasonry to a new generation of Masons. But, I warn you, if you are not yourself a Mason, you will find that much here makes little sense to you. I have set out to inform the Master Mason about the great adventure that Initiation offers; if you do not already know the rituals, you will struggle to follow its reasoning. This book is not an exposť, neither is it a step-by-step guide to make you a Mason. If you want to be made a Mason, then you will need to join a lodge, and there are many lodges, both male and female, that will welcome you if you only ask. Masonry is not a solitary occupation; it is an inspirational ritual practice carried out by groups of consenting adults in private.

Freemasonry offers a system of training the soul. Whether or not you believe in the concept of a soul, the Masonic system works and improves your life. To benefit from Masonic Initiation you must be prepared to accept that you can train your soul (whatever that might be) and that if you do so you will benefit.