One of the greatest thinkers about Freemasonry in the last century was a Huddersfield Solicitor by the name of Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, he was born in Chichester in 1867 and died in London in 1929.
In 1922, thirty-three years after being made a Mason in Huddersfield Lodge, No. 290, he wrote a book expressing his thoughts and reflections on the Craft as he understood it. That book, The Meaning of Masonry, was 58,000 words trying to explain the inexplicable. He knew there was something deep at the centre of Masonic ritual which give Masonry meaning and he said this about it:
'For those who see Masonic "science" as nothing but ceremonial and social pleasantries tempered with elementary ethics, my interpretations will be discredited as fanciful. For such, however, they are not written. They are meant for the happily increasing number of Brethren who realise the Craft to be a custodian of the "knowledge of oneself" and to enshrine profound truths of spiritual science beneath its veil of allegory.'
Since I joined the Craft I have been convinced there is more to it than a social and dining club. If anybody wanted to set up such a 'gentleman's club' they would never have bothered to create such powerful and enigmatic rituals for the diners to perform as appetisers. It is the power of the rituals which has impressed me, and the more I investigated the origins of Freemasonry the more convinced I became that there that they have a positive spiritual effect on anybody who works them.
Then I found the writings of W. L. Wilmshurst and realised he had also experienced many of the emotions and intellectual surprises that I had.
While researching The Book of Hiram, and creating the Masonic Testament which that book contains I had got into the habit of scanning all my research material into electronic format so that I could search it. (This is particularly useful for older Masonic material which is rarely indexed.)
Much of the older ritual material I used to create the Masonic Testament, had come from the special collections of Bradford University Library, so when I had finished my research for The Book of Hiram I offered the electronic sources, I had created, to the University to add to it's electronic special collections. This was the beginning of what has turned into a popular and useful Masonic archive, known as The Web of Hiram. It contains much out-of-copyright Masonic material of general interest which was in great danger of being lost to later generations of scholars. The material is provided freely and openly by the university web-server to any interested scholars.
Adding to this online collection has become a ritual for me now and whilst researching all the published writings of Wilmshurst I have followed the same way of working and transferred my research material into electronic form. The result is a new archive of many of W. L. Wilmhurst's book and articles. In particular many of the papers he wrote for the Occult Review are little known, but give great insight into his thinking.
To co-inside with the publication of Turning the Hiram Key I intend to open a new section of the Web of Hiram, called the Works of Walter Leslie Wilmshurst. It will have all the publicly available material of Wilmshurst's that I have used in researching this new book. In particular it has three of his most important Masonic books in full as well as the complete text for his articles he published in various magazines with titles such as The Fundamental Philosophic Secrets with Masonry, The Mystical Basis of Freemasonry, The Working Tools of an Old York Master and thoughts on Spurious Ecstasy and Ceremonial Magic. All these little known works by Wilmshurst will be available to all Masonic researchers and form a permanent part of the Web of Hiram on-line Masonic resource.
Typical of his insight is this comment he made about the value of silence during Masonic rituals.
'The active acquisition of knowledge by reading and working upon abstract problems needs balancing by reflection and meditation. Paradoxical as it may sound, moments of profoundest mental passivity are found by those experienced in these things to be moments of intensest illumination. The unruffled "still waters" of the contemplative mind involve the highest mode of mental activity. Supreme knowledge comes when we still and empty the mind and are content to know nothing.'
I have found Wilmshurst to be a great inspiration to my own Freemasonry, as I have outlined in my forthcoming book, but this addition to the Web of Hiram will enable any other interested Brethren to read some of his almost forgotten thoughts for themselves. John Hammill, when in charge of the library of UGLE, memorably accused Wilmshurst as 'having his feet planted firmly in the clouds.' Fortunately such an elevated position gives his writing a great breadth of vision, which will not now be lost to the present generation of Masons.
Click here to go to Wilmshurst on the Web of Hiram. Wilmshurst on the Web of Hiram