While many Masons do not get involved with esoteric ideas
and may even consider some of the concepts along that line to be nonsense,
since at least 1737, there has been an association between Masonry and the esoteric.
We do use allegory and symbols in our degree work. Perhaps there is some deep
meaning to be found in the degrees. Exploring hidden meanings in Masonry may
aid a bother in finding the deeper meaning of his life.
I prefer to keep most of my esoteric studies, such as astrology and kabbalah separate from my involvement with Masonry. Even so it is possible to look at some of the esoteric ideas and concepts often considered to be associated with Masonry. One should be careful as many of the strongest proponents of esoteric masonry are involved with bodies which are considered irregular and clandestine. Much of the available information also seems to come from anti-Masonic organizations.
We exist to make good men better. The study of alchemy seems to include turning lead into gold. We certainly do not have any knowledge to change the actual metal of lead into that of gold. That was not really what the alchemists were trying to do. The idea was to metaphorically refine oneself from a lead like state to a more golden one. Through Masonic teachings we aid the initiate to better understand himself so as to strive to be a better man who is metaphorically gold.
Why is the candidate expected to wear a special garment, rather than his own clothing, for the initiation ceremonies? In the Illinois ritual, the secretary explains, before the candidate even enters the main room of the lodge, that this symbolizes the lack of merit in his earthly achievements. It might be said to be the start of a breaking down of oneís ego before the main ritual takes place so that the lessons of the degrees can be accepted.
Several things occur which impress the importance of a belief in a deity upon the candidate. The candidate is asked to affirm his belief, take an oath on a volume of the sacred law, and listen to various prayers. He is not asked to believe in any specific religion, but to have a religion to guide him.
There is a vow of secrecy. We are taught to be circumspect in our dealings with others. It is not clear just what secrets we are to keep. Generally we do not freely discuss the means of recognition or the experience of the initiation ceremonies with outsiders. There are some matters discussed in lodge that are no business of others. I doubt that the secrecy goes much further than that.
In a similar manner, one can look at much of what occurs during the initiatory degrees and seek deeper meaning. Perhaps something can be found if one thinks about what happens or is said.
Much of the lectures that are delivered as explanation can be described as allegorical. There probably is hidden meaning behind many of the concepts that are mentioned. These concepts can be explored by one who has the inclination to do so. Perhaps these allude to ideas that were obvious to the authors of the ritual, but are more difficult to understand today. They might make sense to one who thinks about them.
Another area of esoteric study involves something known as the ancient mysteries. Some moral and religious ideas are said to go way back in to time to ancient Egypt and beyond. There is a line of thought that these ideas are now found in Masonry. There are various theories as to how these ideas came into Masonry. One is that certain adepts hid within the ranks of Masonic lodges as they were forming. Another is that some of the Knights Templar became stone masons in Scotland and brought knowledge that was obtained in the Holy Land into the lodges with them. Still another is that natural truth can be found by any intelligent person who seeks it.
The Hiramic legend in the third degree is said to come from these mysteries as it deals with the idea of death and re-birth. The treatment and meaning is different, but outwardly they are similar. One involves a sort of religious re-birth while the other seems to involve magical restoration. One interpretation is that this similarity is only a surface appearance, while the real lesson might relate to something like loyalty and remaining true to oneís vows, even in the face of death.
If you are interested in this possible relation, a book entitled, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, by Manly P. Hall might be a good place to start. While other books relating the ancient mysteries to Masonry have been written and published, this one is probably the most easily available. It has been reprinted many times and is usually stocked by Masonic suppliers and book sellers. It is also available online.
Many of the ritual elements of Masonry can be found in some form as part of initiation rites in many different cultures. It is unlikely that they come from some common source as these cultures often have no significant knowledge of others. Perhaps these are common ideas found by all mankind. Perhaps authors borrowed ideas to form the lodge rituals.
Still another way to explore esoteric Masonic concepts is through some of the appendant bodies, such as the Scottish and York Rites. The degrees in those rites teach moral lessons which are veiled in allegory.
If the esoteric aspects of Masonry are of interest to you, enjoy your studies and have fun. You may improve yourself with what you learn. However, take care with what you seem to learn. Sometimes one can go overboard with a small point. For example, astrology can be related to a sentence or two in the Masterís Middle Chamber Lecture of the second degree. This may be farfetched, but still related. Probably the passage is more concerned with astronomy or cosmology than attempting to get meaning through astrological techniques.
When studying Masonic esoterica, one should be careful to examine the implications of what is said. Some ideas are expressions of deep truths; while others are nonsense. You must judge for yourself.