“No more needed and useful work is to be done in the Masonic Order today than the education of its members in the true purpose of rites of initiation, that they may better appreciate the reason, the importance, and the seriousness, of the work the Order was designed to achieve.” – Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, Masonic Initiation
By nature, Freemasonry is an esoteric brotherhood. Our rituals, symbolism, and philosophies largely remain secrets known only to our members. And even members who have dedicated their lives to the study of Freemasonry still must work hard, analyze, and contemplate our teachings to unlock new insights and gain a greater understanding of Masonic mysteries.
Ever the intellectually and spiritually curious bunch, many Freemasons have spent their lives dissecting the symbolism and hidden meanings within Masonic texts and rituals. One Walter Leslie Wilmshurst, an English Freemason, and author, is known for his extensive writing about Freemasonry, is famous among these minds.
The solicitor and philosopher
Walter Leslie Wilmshurst was born in Chichester, England, on June 22, 1867. When he was 15, he moved to Huddersfield, Yorkshire, to begin his career as a solicitor. This lifelong journey ultimately led him to serve as the Huddersfield Law Society president. Wilmshurst was still a young man when he first came to Freemasonry, becoming a Master Mason at 22 on February 5, 1890, as a member of Huddersfield Lodge No. 290.
Brother Wilmshurst was immediately fascinated by the deeper meaning of Masonic ritual and symbolism. Over the next few decades, Wilmshurst’s admiration for Freemasonry grew while also becoming convinced many Freemasons lacked a genuine appreciation and comprehension of the craft. To rectify this and help his brethren gain a stronger connection to the fraternity, Wilmshurst began to write.
Wilmshurst published his first book, The Meaning of Masonry, in 1922, becoming a best-seller. It was composed of a collection of essays that illustrated the greater utility of Freemasonry. Rather than just a body for promoting fellowship and charity in Masonic communities, Wilmshurst believed Freemasonry should be used as a tool for spiritual rejuvenation. The text examines this notion, as well as the beliefs behind the craft, rites, and symbols. It remains a valuable resource for Masons considering the significance of Masonic teachings and symbolism.
In 1924, Wilmshurst published his follow-up book, The Masonic Initiation, which discussed the significance of Masonic rituals and cemented his name among the great Masonic writers of the day. On the heels of his first two books, which were each commercial successes, Walter’s momentum as an author and Masonic scholar remained strong.
“The deeper secrets in Masonry, like the deeper secrets of life, are heavily veiled; are closely hidden. They exist concealed beneath a great reservation; but whoso knows anything of them knows also that they are “many and valuable”, and that they are disclosed only to those who act upon the hint given in our lectures, “Seek and ye shall find; ask and ye shall have; knock and it shall be opened unto you”. – Walter Wilmshurst, The Meaning of Masonry
During the second half of the 1920s, Brother Wilmshurst published other Masonic books and essays. He wrote for the magazine The Occult Review, publishing pieces such as The Mystical Basis of Freemasonry, The Working Tools of an Old York Master, The Ideal Masonic Lodge, and The Ceremony of Passing, among many others.
Freemasonry for future generations
Wilmshurst was not only devoted to exploring the craft in his writing. He was an active presence inside the lodge room, belonging to Huddersfield Lodge No. 290, and Lodge of Harmony No. 275. He also proudly served in Masonic leadership roles, including as Provincial Senior Grand Warden of West Yorkshire in 1926.
In 1927, Wilmshurst founded the Lodge of Living Stones No. 4957 in Leeds, England. The establishment of this lodge was arguably his crowning achievement as a Freemason, as the lodge was created to study the more esoteric meaning behind Masonic ritual and symbolism. Wilmshurst wrote about the purpose and aims of the lodge:
“This lodge has been formed to meet a demand that nowadays is increasingly heard in the craft for a fuller understanding and realisation of the latent teachings of our Order than usually obtains. It is our design to try to meet the need of a growing minority of brethren who are not content with the routine formalities and social amenities of their lodges, but feel that the craft was intended to mean more than this and who are eager to learn what that ‘more is.”
Two years later, in 1929, he was also appointed Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies of the United Grand Lodge of England. WB Wilmshurst passed away a decade later in Huddersfield on July 10, 1939.
Remembering a scholar
Walter Leslie Wilmshurst created a memorable legacy for himself during his nearly 40 years in Freemasonry. The Lodge of Living Stones remains operational today, almost a century later, with regular meetings intended to promote a deeper interpretation of the craft and its ritual.
For Freemasons interested in visiting Wilmshurst’s texts, they often present a challenging read. The style of writing in Wilmshurst’s day was dense and highly formal, a significant departure from more recent writings on the craft. However, Masonic scholars, such as Robert Lomas, have attempted to make Brother Wilmshurst’s philosophies on the craft more attainable for modern Freemasons by creating annotated editions of his writing.
Brother Wilmshurst provided a truly unique contribution to the history and development of Freemasonry. His commitment to unraveling the mysteries of our traditions inspired him to dedicate years of his life to the study and analysis of Masonic symbols and teachings. Modern Freemasonry owes much to his interpretations of Masonic philosophy and ardent devotion to ensuring future generations of Freemasons could enjoy a rich experience in the craft.