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The word degree, in its primitive meaning, signifies a step. The degrees of Freemasonry are, then, the steps by which the candidate ascends from a lower to a higher condition of knowledge. Albert G. Mackey, The Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, 6878. The degrees are:,, and. They are all of a very serious nature and not in the least demeaning of the candidate.

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Masonic catechisms are a series of memorized questions and answers pertaining to a specific degree. Usually, the candidate meets with a lodge member who knows these catechisms and helps him to memorize the work. The catechisms simply reiterate the degree work that the candidate recently completed and proves his proficiency with them. Once a catechism is completed the candidate can proceed to the next degree. The qualifications to be a Mason are clear and distinct. There are physical, moral and spiritual qualifications. In California, the petitioner must be a man of at least 76 years of age. He must be free of any previous felonious criminal convictions and be of good moral character. He must also believe in a Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. The physical qualifications are necessary because the person must be free to make his own life decisions and be responsible for himself. The moral qualifications are self-evident for the viability of any brotherhood and the lofty ideals of our society. The two spiritual qualifications not only inform the entire structure of Freemasonry but also align the Fraternity with the great Mystery Schools and religions of the world. It is the transition from belief to knowledge that seals the mark of true spiritual initiation. To be elected, he must receive an affirmative vote from each and every member present at that meeting. But that is not the case.

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Many, many more are elected than are rejected. That fact is testimony to the generally good judgment of those who recommend applicants, and it also indicates that the fraternity, by and large, attracts good men. Much has been said and written, pro and con, about the secret ballot. Others argue, also logically, that if even one member knows something negative about a petitioner, then that one member should have the right and the opportunity to prevent the entrance into Freemasonry of one he feels would bring discredit to it. Again, though, these instances are relatively rare. Ideally, the candidate should find his way to the door of Freemasonry on his own. If a man senses the stirrings in his heart for a deeper understanding of life than that he has heretofore found, he will seek until he finds the Fraternity. This turning of the heart is really the beginning of his initiation. Therefore, each candidate who comes seeking light is said to be first prepared in his heart. While Freemasonry is not a religion, its ceremonies are of a serious nature, dignified in their presentation and impart teachings that, if properly understood, obligate a man to lead a better life. To get the greatest good from the ceremonies, a candidate should first prepare his mind to understand and absorb these teachings. The candidate should pay strict attention to every part of the ceremony, in order that he may gain some understanding of the teachings of Freemasonry. The methods we use in teaching may be new and unusual to the candidate, but these methods have been used for many centuries and have not changed significantly since they originated. Finally, he should remember that every Mason in the Lodge room is his friend and brother. Being duly and truly prepared refers to the wearing of special garments furnished by the Lodge to emphasize our concern with man's internal qualifications, rather that his worldly wealth and honors.

By wearing these garments, the candidate signifies the sincerity of his intentions. The symbolism of the Rite of Destitution reverts to those ancient times when men believed that the soul descended through the planetary spheres and vested itself with the qualities attributed to each sphere before birth. Each planetary quality corresponds to a specific metal. In ancient initiations, candidates were compelled to leave all metals behind, lest they bring into the assembly disturbing planetary influences. While this symbolism may no longer have an astrological character, the old point about excluding disturbing influences remains. The candidate is not to bring into the Lodge room his passions or prejudices, lest that harmony, which is one of the chief concerns of Masonry, be destroyed. Being duly and truly prepared also refers to the state of a man's heart and soul as he seeks admission into our Order. Seek and ye shall find. Ask and it shall be given unto you. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. There are other factors involved in the preparation of the candidate that we will address in the next degree. The symbolism of the hoodwink is twofold: first, it emphasizes the veil of secrecy and silence surrounding the mysteries of Freemasonry secondly, it represents the mystical darkness, or ignorance, of the uninitiated. It is removed at the appropriate time that is, when the candidate is in the proper attitude to receive Light. The Cable-Tow is a rope such as would be used to tow or restrain.

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It is also generally regarded as a symbol of the voluntary and complete acceptance of, and pledged compliance with, whatever Masonry may have in store. To many, the Cable-Tow is symbolic of the umbilical cord, which is necessary to begin life but is severed when love and care replace it, and the individual grows on his own. The length of the Cable-Tow is frequently referred to in the language of Freemasonry, but many of the new Brethren do not understand its meaning. Formerly, a Cable-Tow was deemed to be the distance one could travel in an hour, which was assumed to be about three miles. In California this is any reasonable distance from which a summons may be answered, health and business permitting. Each Mason is bound to all other Masons by a tie as long and as strong as he himself determines his ability will permit. One may also consider the idea of the silver cord (Ecclesiastes 67: 6) and the Cable-Tow. As an Entered Apprentice takes his first step into the Lodge room, he enters into a New World: the world of Masonry. He leaves the darkness, destitution and helplessness of the world for the light and warmth of this new existence. It is not an idle formality, but a genuine experience, the beginning of a new career in which duties, rights and privileges are real. If a candidate is not to be an Apprentice in name only, he must stand ready to do the work upon his own nature that will make him a different man. Members are called craftsmen because they are workmen. Lodges are quarries because they are scenes of toil.

Freemasonry offers no privileges or rewards except to those who earn them it places working tools, not playthings, in the hands of its members. To become a Mason is a solemn and serious undertaking. Once the step is taken, it may well change the course of a man's life. The reception of the candidate into the Lodge room is intended to symbolize the fact that our rituals are serious and confidential and that there are consequences for violating this confidence. It also reminds a man that his every act has a consequence, either in the form of a reward or a penalty. The method of reception also points out the value of a certain virtue needed to gain admission into the mysteries of Masonry. No Lodge can be opened or be closed without prayer, which is offered by the Master or Chaplain. The prayer is universal in nature, and not peculiar to any one religion or faith. But the act of invoking the blessings of Deity is a central Masonic practice. At the end of prayer, each member responds with the words So Mote it Be, which means in Modern English, So may it ever be. Circumambulation means to walk around some central point or object. In Masonry, the act is performed in a clockwise manner, patterned after the movement of the sun as it is seen from the earth, moving from East to West, by way of the South. The candidate's journey around the Altar also enables the brethren to observe that he is properly prepared. Circumambulation is an ancient practice found all over the world. Much the same idea as the labyrinth, it portrays the path of initiation as that of a journey.

There are references to circuitous routes in Psalms 76: 6 and Job 77: 69. And one may remember the action at Jericho. The central piece of furniture in the Lodge is the Altar. The Altar is symbolic of many things. As a temple symbolizes the presence of Deity, the altar symbolizes the point of contact. Its location in the center of the Lodge also symbolizes the place which God has in Masonry, and which he should have in every Mason's life. The candidate approaches the Altar in search of light and assumes his obligations there. In the presence of God and his Brethren, he offers himself to the service of the Supreme Architect of the Universe and to mankind in general. The Altar is the point on which life in our Masonic Lodges is focused and it should be accorded the highest respect. The wisdom of the Master is said to flow from his station in the East to the Altar. Thus, one should never cross between the Master's Station and the Altar when a Lodge is in session. The Obligation is the heart of the Degree for when it is assumed by the candidate, he has solemnly bound himself to Freemasonry and assumed certain duties which are his for the rest of his life. The taking of the Obligation is visible and audible evidence of the candidate's sincerity of purpose.

The Obligation has a two-fold purpose. In addition to binding the candidate to Freemasonry and its duties, it also protects the Fraternity against someone revealing the modes of recognition and symbolic instruction.