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                                             By George S. Draffen

                                                  Short Talk Bulletin: October 1989

During the ceremony of the Third Degree, which is so well named the Sublime Degree, you can
hardly fail to have been deeply impressed by the tragedy of Hiram Abiff. To understand it, and to
appreciate to the full its profound richness of meaning, is something that will remain with you as
long as you live.

It is first of all important to understand that the drama of Hiram Abiff is a ritualistic drama. We all
know what a drama is. It is a conflict between a man and other men or between a man and other
forces, resulting in a crisis in which his fate or fortune lies at stake. The crisis, or problem, is
followed by a solution or resolution. If it turns out in favor of the man the drama is a comedy, in
the true and original meaning of that word as a happy ending. If it turns against him, and as a result
he becomes a victim or a sufferer, it means that the drama is a tragedy. By drama in either sense I
do not refer to plays as they are acted on the stage, which are not dramas at all, but representations
of dramas. I refer to drama as it occurs in our own lives, to every one of us, and in our daily
experience. The only reason for our interest in reading or seeing stage plays is because they mirror
the drama in which in real life we ourselves are the actors.

But the ceremony of Hiram Abiff is not only a drama, it is a ritualistic drama, and the major
emphasis should be placed on the world "ritualistic." What is a ritual? It is a set of fixed ceremonies
which address themselves to the human spirit solely through the imagination. A play in the theatre
may be built round some historical figure or some historical event, as in the case of Shakespeare's
plays about the English kings and about Macbeth or Hamlet. And if the figures and events are not
actually historical, they are supposed to be, so that the facts of time, place and individual identity
are of some importance to it.

A ritualistic drama, on the other hand, does not pay any heed to historical individuals, times or
places. It moves wholly in the realms of the spirit, where time, space and particular individuals are
ignored. The clash of forces, and crises and fates of the human spirit alone enter into it, and they
hold true of all men, everywhere, regardless of who they are, or where and when they are.

Since the drama of Hiram Abiff is ritualistic, it is a mistake to accept it as history. There was a
Hiram Abiff in history, but our Third Degree is not interested in him. Its sole concern is with a
Hiram Abiff who is a symbol of the human soul, that is, its own Hiram Abiff. If, therefore, you
have been troubled with the thought that some of the events of this drama could not possibly have
ever happened you can cease to be troubled. It is not meant that they ever happened in ancient
history, but that they are symbols of what is happening in the life of every man.

For the same reason it is an inexcusable blunder to treat it as a mere mock tragedy. Savage peoples
employ initiation ceremonies as an ordeal to test the nerve and courage of their young men, but
Freemasonry is not savage. Boys in school often employ ragging, which is horseplay caricature of
the savage ceremonial ordeals, but Freemasonry is not juvenile. The exemplification of our
ritualistic drama is sincere, solemn, and earnest. He who takes it trivially betrays a shallowness of
soul which makes him unfit ever to become a Mason.

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