The three great Lights situated around the altar have many symbolic meanings.
Many of these meanings have been lost to the minds of the brethren. While attending the many lodges in our jurisdiction, I have observed several different ways in which the Senior Deacon lights the candles around the altar.
Sometimes they are lit with a handy cigarette lighter. Sometimes a brother tries to light all three lights with one match. There is a growing practice in a number of lodges when lighting the three Lesser Lights, in which the Senior Deacon obtains the light from the East. He uses that light to light the three Lesser Lights. This practice tends to bring a far more reverend attitude toward the ceremony of lighting.
It is painful to watch the Senior Deacon pulling the trigger of an old and worn out lighter multiple times before getting a flame to light the first candle. This painful practice is then repeated at the next two stations. The lighter is then returned to its place where the Senior Deacon discovers that it does not work any better the next time lodge is opened.
It has also been observed that many of the candles do not sit correctly in their candlesticks. Sometimes the candles show a 10-degree lean. It has been known that some of the candles have actually fallen out of the candleholder because they have not been properly seated.
Often during this part of the ceremony there is a lot of chatter and comments being made by the brethren in the columns. Some of the lighting practices, along with the chatter, rob the ceremony of the dignity and solemnity that should be observed while invoking the presence of Deity.
There are several reasons why these conditions exist in the opening of a lodge. First and foremost there needs to be a reorientation of our attitude to what is actually taking place during the opening of the lodge, particularly in the ceremony of lighting. It is during this particular part of the ceremony that we prepare the environment for the invocation of Deity. A due reverence toward the solemnity of this ceremony can only be accomplished by the example set by the more experienced brethren and to instruct the newer brethren that a due reverence for the occasion should be observed. There is plenty of time for jokes and conversations after the lodge has been properly opened.
There needs to be someone who makes sure that the source of fire, whether it be a lighter, match, or bringing the light from the East, has been readied for the ceremony.
The candles need to be prepared as well. It is a real show stopper when the Senior Deacon has to pull out a pocket knife or, worse, asking someone else to provide one, in order to pry the wick from the wax of a candle. Making sure that the candles are prepared and of sufficient length to last the duration of the meeting is often neglected.
While not required, my preference is to see the light brought from the East. If this is not desirable for the lodge, I would recommend a thin, elegant tapper left near the altar to be lit and used for the lighting of the Lesser Lights. This method avoids the endless clicking of the dying lighter, or the striking of matches.
These simple practices will elevate the ceremony of lighting and will remove it from the realm of a comedy routine.
There is another component, when added, that will take this part of the ceremony to a new level. This addition regards the choice of candles and how they are attended to.
There is nothing like beeswax candles for the Lesser Lights. There are several reasons for this.
Sometime around the 4th Century A.D. the liturgical ceremonies of the time began to employ beeswax candles. Today instead of 100 % beeswax candles, it is common practice to use 51% beeswax keeping the amount of beeswax over 50%. There are several symbolic and theological reasons for the use of beeswax.
Beeswax candles contain the three alchemical principals, the four elements, and the essence of the five kingdoms of nature.
The wax itself is from the mineral kingdom and symbolic of the element of earth. It is estimated that bees must fly 150,000 miles in order to collect enough nectar to produce six pounds of honey. In producing the six pounds the bees will secrete one pound of beeswax. The beekeeper, on the other hand, can only harvest one to two pounds of beeswax for every 100 pounds of honey produced by the bees.
The pollen and nectar from the plants is of the vegetable kingdom. The bees secrete enzymes which produce the wax and honey. The bees are of course from the animal kingdom.
The dew which falls from heaven to earth becomes incorporated into the plant. As the bees collect the pollen and nectar, they likewise collect the dew. Alchemists have long collected dew, asserting that the Spirit of God, the Life Force, is contained in the dew.
Man brings the human kingdom to bear when the candles are ignited. While giving off the flame, the beeswax candles release the Spirit of Deity from the dew into the room.
A second reason for the use of beeswax candles is the bees that make the wax do not mate. Therefore the wax is considered pure and consequently of virgin birth. The wax has symbolically represented the Body of the Christ.
Furthermore, the work of the bees is a collective effort. As the hive represents industry, the bees work together in creating not only this magnificent substance, but they demonstrate within their hive geometrical exactitude in the forming of the hexagonal honeycomb.
When lighted, beeswax candles produce negative ions. The negative ions assist in neutralizing a variety of pollutants in the air. This helps eliminate odors, molds, dust, and allergens. This can help improve the breathing for those in the room.
Beeswax candles have a higher melting point than conventional candles. While considerably more expensive, they last two to five times longer than conventional cradles.
When the lodge is about closed and the Senior Deacon attends to the altar, it is recommended that the candles be snuffed rather than blown out or pinched with the fingers. This allows a couple of things to occur. First, when candles are gently snuffed, the flame is deprived of oxygen. During that time there is a coat of wax that builds up around the wick which supports a more rapid lighting of the candle. From an esoteric point of view the candle is not combined with other elements such as air from blowing them out or water when fingers are licked and candle pinched out.
These are simple steps. When these steps are implemented they add a higher degree of dignity and solemnity to the opening and closing of the lodge. Much is lost in the ceremony when it is not treated with dignity. A more reverend attitude toward our ceremonials is well worth the trouble.