In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we examine the text of Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the symbolism of Hope.
Much derided, today, hope is one of those indispensable utilities that carries many of us over the final miles of a trying journey through life. In a masonic context, the symbol is simplified (almost overly) to represent a moment by which the individual may enter into the bliss of eternity.
In the video component, we explore the more broadly understanding of Hope and its origins from a small box out of the mists of antiquity.
Hope in Freemasonry
The second round in the theological and Masonic ladder, and symbolic of a hope in immortality. It is appropriately placed there, for, having attained the first, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation. The ancients represented Hope by a nymph or maiden holding in her hand a bouquet of opening flowers, indicative of the coming fruit; but in modern and Masonic iconology, the science of Craft illustrations and likenesses, it is represented by a virgin leaning on an anchor, the anchor itself being a symbol of hope.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we consider a reading of Albert Mackey’s text on the subject of Faith as it pertains to Freemasonry. Distilled to a single word, Mackey gets to the essence of what that faith means in the fraternity and why it is so critical to the becoming of an Apprentice mason. Rather than give away Mackey’s conclusion, I’ll let his words speak for themselves as we explore them.
Faith in Freemasonry
In the theological ladder, the explanation of which forms a part of the instruction of the First Degree of Masonry, faith is said to typify the lowest round. Faith, here, is synonymous with confidence or trust, and hence we find merely a repetition of the lesson which had been previously taught that the first, the essential qualification of a candidate for initiation, is that he should trust in God.
In the lecture of the same Degree, it is said that “Faith may be lost in sight; Hope ends in fruition; but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity And this is said, because as faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” when we see we no longer believe by faith but through demonstration; and as hope lives only in the expectation of possession, it ceases to exist when the object once hoped for is at length enjoyed, but charity, exercised on earth in acts of mutual kindness and forbearance, is still found in the world to come, in the sublime form of mercy from God to his erring creatures.
Freemasonry is steeped in history and ritual, but this doesn’t mean Masons lack a sense of humor (although I know a few whose faces would probably crack if they smiled). To demonstrate Masons do indeed have a sense of humor, I sent out a request over the Internet for some humorous anecdotes pertaining to the fraternity.
Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air.
Bro. Jack Benny, Waukegan Lodge No. 78 A.F.& A.M., Waukegan, IL
What follows are some true stories from the Brethren. I hope you will enjoy them:
FROM GEORGIA, USA
I found this quite funny and it happened last night. After a long night we were about to close the Lodge. The WM said,
“Bro. Senior Warden… Bro. Senior Warden… BRO. SENIOR WARDEN!” (who was off day dreaming). Suddenly, he came out of his trance and said, “It’s Time to Milk the GOAT!” Priceless.
FROM NEW ZEALAND
A few years ago, when I was chairman of the selection panel for the Freemasons Scholarships at the University of Waikato, one recipient, a young lass, was unable to attend the formal presentation because her studies had taken her on a field trip that weekend. I subsequently arranged for her and the District Grand Master to attend my Lodge so that he could present her certificate. She was accompanied by her grandfather (who is a Past Grand Sword Bearer), her father (who is not a Freemason) and a friend. We conducted our business, closed the Lodge then invited the visitors in where the District Grand Master did the appropriate honors.
We sat the lass at the top table in the refectory and, as we usually do, sold raffle tickets with the lass being presented with a few. The treasurer approached the young lady to draw for the first prize and as he approached her he commented, loudly, that it always seemed incredible to him how many times the person he asked to draw a ticket drew one of their numbers. It was not entirely obvious but it did seem as though he was trying to eyeball the tickets sitting on the table in front of her. When she actually drew one of her own numbers he was stunned! Some considerable hilarity resulted.
The next morning I received an e-mail from the lass thanking me for the Scholarship and our hospitality and requested, in particular, that I convey her thanks to the guy who rigged the raffle!
V:.W:.Bro Gary Kerkin, Grand Lecturer
On entering Masonry, I turned up at Lodge for my initiation full of the usual, worried, anxious and apprehensive thoughts about how it is going to be, what are they going to do, until it was time for me to be attired in the same manner as many who have gone before me.
The then DoC came to my aid outside the door of the lodge after being introduced briefly to members on their way in, giving me knowing looks, and sneaky grins about what is about to come.
This was in a back room of a hotel which we used for our Lodge. I got dressed as instructed, was checked and asked if I was ready for this, I was then blindfolded, when I heard a knock at the door, and was taken by the hand by what one of the deacons, who on raising his rod, clipped a light bulb on the ceiling and caused the whole hotel to fuse out and go into darkness. Of course I was already in this state of darkness, when he turned to me and said, “DON’T MOVE, I WILL BE RIGHT BACK.” I thought, “Don’t move?” I am already blindfolded, where did they expect me to go? The Brothers were all running around panicking about getting some light and order back to the Lodge and indeed the hotel.
I hope you find this as amusing as I did once I actually found out this is not part of any ceremony.
FROM QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
One of our most respected Brethren in University of Queensland Lodge was W:.Bro. Arch Stoney, a long time lecturer at the University and a veteran Freemason. He retired at 83 but worked on until 87. Students, aware of his Masonic activities, described him in their magazine as “Killing himself by Degrees.”
Then there was the time when a Governor of Queensland and M:.W:.Grand Master of United Grand Lodge of Queensland took his team to an installation in a small country town. Prior to the meeting he attended a dinner at the local army base wearing his Colonel’s dress uniform. He kept this on when dressing for Lodge and the time arrived for him and team to enter in procession. The Grand D of C knocked and the young inexperienced Inner Guard responded. DC announced that M:.W:.Col X, Governor of Queensland was about to enter the Lodge and Brethren should prepare to receive him in due form. The Inner Guard, totally flustered, announced before the assembled Brethren, “WM, the Great Architect of the Universe seeks admission to this Lodge.”
Here’s another one: Many years ago my friend Don did his First in a Brisbane Lodge. He was a workshop technician in the University Chemistry Department and soon after his initiation the then Professor of Chemistry congratulated him and told him to be sure he was informed when the Second was due. Don duly informed him and the Professor asked him if he could attend the Lodge for the ceremony. In due course he drove his boss to the Masonic Temple but as they were entering he suddenly said, “Oh dear! I have just realized that never having sat with you in Lodge I cannot vouch for you.” The Professor chuckled and said he did not anticipate any problems. Don donned his plain white apron and the Professor put on a wondrous apron trimmed with gold and a very fancy collar. Fact is, he was the current Most Worshipful Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Queensland.
Bro. Tom McRae
FROM NEW YORK, USA
At one of our hardworking Brother’s funeral service, as we passed a group of ladies standing near the coffin, one noticed our white gloves that we wear during the services. She stated, “This must be the Meals on Wheels group that Robert drove for,” referring to the gloves and aprons.
Bro. Leon Randall
FROM CALIFORNIA, USA
One night, the Stewards went out to prepare a candidate for Initiation. There was some delay in the preparation. It was later that we were told that the candidate didn’t, as a matter of course, wear any underwear. The candidate, was apparently so embarrassed, that he has yet to return for his advanced degrees.
Bro. Richard Mullard
FROM CONNECTICUT, USA
It was the final meeting before we break for summer, and it was a very hot and humid day in central Connecticut. Of course, our Lodge doesn’t have air conditioning, so the lodge room was quite stuffy. We had no degree work and only a little business to conduct, so the Master opened the lodge and all officers who had speaking parts went through the opening ritual with speed talk. Suffice it to say it was very funny to witness the opening and closing ritual spoken so fast. We all wanted to get out of that room as soon as possible because it was so uncomfortable, and it probably didn’t help matters that all members in attendance were laughing hysterically at the sped up ritual, putting more moisture in the air!!!
Bro. Scott McCarthy
FROM FLORIDA, USA
Here’s another “Hot One” for you…
We had a “Hot” MM degree about three years ago when our AC broke down. You can probably imagine how hot a Florida Lodge can get, particularly when it was held upstairs in the Lodge room. Fortunately, I sat on the sidelines in casual clothes, but the officers were all dressed up in tuxes and they melted. Everyone was sweating so bad that I took a role of Bounty towels and threw it around the room like a football (with the Master’s permission) so everyone could wipe their faces. It was brutal!
FROM MAINE, USA
A couple of funnies from when I was a member of Augusta Lodge No. 141, A.F.& A.M. in Maine (now part of Bethlehem Lodge No. 35 F.& A.M. (Ohio) of which I am still a member).
First, back at the turn of the last century, there used to be a small Lodge in a small town somewhere just north or Farmington, Maine. Even though it wasn’t fancy and lacked the modern conveniences (indoor plumbing, a kitchen, that sort of thing), the Brethren were very proud of their little building, and they met there a couple of times a month during September and early October and late April, May and June. In the winter they met once a month on the full moon (for the extra light at night since there was no such thing as electricity yet). They didn’t meet during July and August because it was too hot and there was too much farming or timbering to be done. In the cold winter months when the wind would howl and the snow would pile up, the little pot bellied wood burning stove kept them warm and cozy as they conducted their monthly meetings. Now these were men who believed in and practiced the tenets and principles of Freemasonry. Occasionally, they would have a little social where they could bring their wives, but this usually was on Sunday afternoons after church. Beyond that, no women were allowed in the building!
Now there was a little old lady who lived near the Lodge hall, and she was the source of consternation among the Brethren for years. Seems that during the winter months – and in Maine that’s November through April – this woman, we’ll call her Mrs. Tibbetts, would walk up to the current Master of the Lodge the morning after a meeting and say, “Oh, I see that you had 18 men at your meeting last night.” Sometimes the number was higher, and sometimes the number was lower, but Mrs. Tibbetts was always right. This went on for years, and drove the Brethren crazy. Every morning after a meeting the Master would dread Mrs. Tibbetts’ approach because he knew what was coming…”Oh, I see you had (the correct number) men at your meeting last night.” And darn it, she was right, but how did she know? Did she have a way of sneaking in the Lodge and spying on us?
Finally, as Mrs. Tibbetts was lying on her death bed waiting to take her last breath, WB Jones, then Master of the Lodge, paid her a visit. Without nary a moment’s hesitation, he asked, “For all these years you’ve told us, without fail and without an error, how many Brethren we had attending the previous night’s meeting. How did you do it? Where was your spy hole? I’ve got to know.” Well, Mrs. Tibbets looked up at the perplexed and frustrated man and smiled. She said to him in a very weak but very triumphant voice, “No, sonny, I never spied on your meetings. But it was easy enough to tell how many of you men were there. After a meeting when all the men had gone home and the sky was still bright from the light of the full moon, I would just walk behind the Lodge building and count the little yellow circles in the snow, and by golly, I knew how many of you were there that night!” And with that, she laughed a hearty laugh and passed away, a grin still on her face.
This next one was told by Peter C. Schmidt, PGM and Past Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Maine. He always made himself the object of the story…
MWB Schmidt used to have speaking engagements all around the state. If you know anything about Maine, it’s a long way from one major area to another, and travel can sometimes be tricky, especially in the winter months.
One particularly cold winter’s evening, MWB Schmidt had to leave his home near Portland for a speaking engagement in Bangor, normally a little over a couple of hours away. Now MWB Schmidt was not known for his maintaining the posted speed limit. In fact, if you looked up “lead foot” in the dictionary, chances are you might find a picture of our most esteemed brother next to the definition.
But on this particular evening, MWB Schmidt was running extremely late and really didn’t want to disappoint his Brethren in Maine’s second largest city. So he got on the Maine Turnpike, pressed the pedal to the floor and headed north. He was making great time until he passed Freeport. He looked into his rearview mirror and saw the flashing lights of a state police car. MWB Schmidt pulled over, got his license and registration ready and waited for the officer. The state trooper tapped on the window and MWB Schmidt rolled it down.
“License and registration, please,” the trooper said.
MWB Schmidt handed the documents to the officer and while he was examining them, MWB Schmidt asked the trooper if he was a Traveling Man.
“Indeed I am,” was the reply.
“Sir, I am Peter Schmidt, the current Grand Master of Masons in Maine, and I am going to be very late for a meeting in Bangor. Can you help me out?” our Most Worshipful Brother asked.
“Well, I’ll let you go this time but keep your speed down,” the trooper replied. “And it was a pleasure to meet you, MWB Schmidt.”
Once again, MWB Schmidt headed north and as soon as he felt comfortable that he was way past the trooper, he pressed the pedal to the metal. He whizzed past Augusta and was now about an hour or so away. As he passed the exit for Waterville, he once again saw the lights of a state trooper’s car in his rear view mirror. Again, MWB Schmidt pulled over, got his license and registration out and waited for the officer. Tap, tap, tap on the window. “License and registration, please.”
“Are you a Traveling Man?”
“Yes, I am.”
Well, after a brief exchange, MWB Schmidt was let off with just a warning. And again, as soon as he was sure it was OK, MWB Schmidt let his foot do the talking, so to speak.
“I’m making great time,” he thought. “Only a half hour away.”
The exit for Bangor was now only a couple of miles away.
“I’m going to be almost on time!” MWB Schmidt thought. Suddenly there were the lights of another police vehicle visible in his mirror.
“Here we go again,” he thought.
Once again, he pulled over, got his license and registration ready and waited for the inevitable tap on the window.
“License and registration, please,” the trooper stated.
“Are you a Traveling Man?” MWB Schmidt asked.
“Yes, I am” was the reply.
Once again, MWB Schmidt identified himself, and pleaded his case. But this time the officer began writing a ticket.
“Officer, Why are you writing that? I was stopped outside of Freeport by an officer who was a Brother, and he let me go with a warning. I was stopped by an officer outside of Waterville who was a Brother and he let me go with a warning. Why are issuing me a ticket?”
The officer looked at MWB Schmidt very calmly and with just the hint of a grin on his face and replied.
“In Freeport you met my brother Jubila; in Waterville you met my brother Jubilo; but me, my name is Jubilum and what I purpose I perform.”
And with that, the officer finished writing, tore the ticket from his book, gave it to our Grand Master and wished him a safe journey.
W:.Jeff Kaplan, PM
FROM OHIO, USA
Probably the longest-running gag is for someone to slightly unscrew one of the light bulbs in one or two of the Lesser Lights. Sometimes, the switch will be thrown in conjunction with the slightly unscrewed bulb. Of course, during the opening of Lodge, the tampered-with lights fail to come on when the Senior Deacon flips the switch, and with embarrassment he has to screw in the bulb, flip the switch, etc. to fix the “problem.” Harmless but humorous to some “sideliners” or PM’s with too much time on their hands! (Of course, this gag is NEVER pulled during “special” meetings when dignitaries are present.)
Another fun gag is to unscrew the handle from the gavel of one of the officers. It is humorous to some of us when the gavel-head goes flying when the officers raps!
Sometimes, accidents are funny… Once, during an Annual Inspection (Ohio Lodges are inspected for proficiency annually), our Worshipful Master picked up his gavel with a nervous sweaty hand to give a rap. Upon rapping, the gavel handle squirted out of his sweaty hand and went flying into the floor directly in front of him. A helpful Brother, discreetly as possible, retrieved the gavel for him. Many muffled snickers were heard!
One of the funniest (to me now, not at the time) was a gag played on me by a couple of men on the Fellowcraft team during the Second Section of the MM – at our Annual Inspection! These two guys (JA and JO) were baldheaded fellows who got my wife to draw smiley-faces on their heads with her lipstick. Their heads were covered during the degree up until the point where they kneel to confess their deeds. After confession, these two hoodlums bowed their heads and their head coverings fell away, revealing the smiley faces on top of their bald heads! I had to take a couple extra breaths before proceeding with the ritual, when there was heard several muffled snickers around the room! Even the District Deputy Grand Master (my examining officer) was in on the gag! This story still surfaces when a bunch of us are sitting around reliving Lodge meetings of the past… even after 25 years!
The most enjoyable part of going to Lodge is the fellowship before and after Lodge. We have a comfortable sitting room where we have coffee or soft drinks and sit and swap stories and jokes. I have gone home after Lodge many times with aching sides. We have some very accomplished joke-tellers in our Lodge!
– Anonymously submitted
PLEASE NOTE: I’m still collecting Masonic humor. If you’ve got a story you would like to share with the Craft, please do not hesitate to e-mail it to me.
Keep the Faith.
Freemasonry From the Edge
Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company(M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:
Article reprinted with permission of the author and www.FreemasonInformation.com
Please forward me a copy of the publication when it is produced.
In this edition of Freemason Information’s Symbols and Symbolism we consider, together, the four cardinal virtues of Freemasonry as gathered form Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Mackey (and Freemasonry) originally sourcing the virtues from Plato’s scheme, discussed in Republic Book IV, 426–435. Mackey writes of the cardinal virtues saying, The pre-eminent or principal virtues on which all the others hinge or depend. They are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice. They are referred to in the ritual of the first degree, and will be found below under their respective heads. Oliver says (Revelation of a Square, ch. i.,) that in the eighteenth century the Masons delineated the symbols of the four cardinal virtues by an acute angle, variously disposed. Thus, suppose you face the east, the angle symbolizing temperance will point to the south, It was called a Guttural. Fortitude was denoted by a saltire, or St. Andrew’s Cross. This was the Pectoral. The symbol of prudence was an acute angle pointing towards the south-east, and was denominated a Manual; and justice had its angle towards the north and was called a Pedestal or Pedal.
Of the particular virtues, Mackey says:
One of the four cardinal virtues; the practice of which is inculcated in the First Degree. The Freemason who properly appreciates the secrets which he has solemnly promised never to reveal, will not, by yielding to the unrestrained call of appetite, permit reason and judgment to lose their seats and subject himself, by the indulgence in habits of excess, to discover that which should be concealed, and thus merit and receive the scorn and detestation of his Brethren. And lest any Brother should forget the danger to which he is exposed in the unguarded hours of dissipation, the virtue of temperance is wisely impressed upon is memory, lay its reference to one of the most solemn portions of the ceremony of initiation. Some Freemasons, very properly condemning the vice of intemperance and abhorring its effects, have been unwisely led to confound temperance with total abstinence in a Masonic application, and resolutions have sometimes been proposed in Grand Lodges which declare the use of stimulating liquors in any quantity a Masonic offense. Put the law of Freemasonry authorizes no such regulation. It leaves to every man the indulgence of his own tastes within due limits, and demands not abstinence, but only moderation and temperance, in anything not actually wrongs.
Plato’s text on temperance says, “the virtue of temperance has more of the nature of harmony and symphony…Temperance…is the ordering or controlling of certain pleasures and desires; this is curiously enough implied in the saying of ‘a man being his own master;’ “ Something he finds as a “ridiculous in the expression ‘master of himself;’ for the master is also the servant and the servant the master; and in all these modes of speaking the same person is denoted,” but to which he denotes “…in the human soul there is a better and also a worse principle; and when the better has the worse under control, then a man is said to be master of himself; and this is a term of praise: but when, owing to evil education or association, the better principle, which is also the smaller, is overwhelmed by the greater mass of the worse—in this case he is blamed and is called the slave of self and unprincipled.”
One of the four cardinal virtues, whose excellencies are dilated on in the First Degree. It not only instructs the worthy Freemason to bear the ills of life with becoming resignation, “taking up arms against a sea of trouble,” but, by its intimate connection with a portion of our ceremonies, it teaches him to let no dangers shake, no pains dissolve the inviolable fidelity he owes to the trusts reposed in him. Or, in the words of the old Prestonian lecture, it is “a fence or security against any attack that might be made upon him by force or otherwise, to extort from him any of our Royal Secrets.”
Spence, in his Polymetis, when describing the moral virtues! says of Fortitude: “She may be easily known by her erect air and military dress, the spear she rests on with one hand, and the sword which she holds in the other. She has a globe under her feet; I suppose to shows that the Romans, by means of this virtue, were to subdue the whole world.”
Plato encapsulates courage (fortitude) as “a kind of salvation…[a salvation] of the opinion respecting things to be feared, what they are and of what nature, which the law implants through education; and I mean by the words ‘under all circumstances’ to intimate that in pleasure or in pain, or under the influence of desire or fear, a man preserves, and does not lose this opinion.”
This is one of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated upon the Entered Apprentice. Preston first introduced it into the Degree as referring to what was then, and long before had been called the Four Principal Signs, but which are now known as the Perfect Points of Entrance. Preston’s eulogium on prudence differs from that used in the lectures of the United States of America, which was composed by Webb. It is in these words: “Prudence is the true guide to human understanding, and consists in judging and determining with propriety what is to be said or done upon all our occasions, what dangers we should endeavor to avoid, and how to act in all our difficulties.” Webb’s definition, which is much better, may be found in all the Monitors. The Masonic reference of prudence to the manual point reminds us of the classic method of representing her in statues with a rule or measure in her hand.
In Plato’s Republic, Wisdom is harder to tease out as a virtue, but can essentially be distilled down as knowledge “first among the virtues…” where “good counsel is…a kind of knowledge, for not by ignorance, but by knowledge…so by reason of the smallest part or class, and of the knowledge which resides in this presiding and ruling part of itself, the whole State, being thus constituted according to nature, will be wise; and this, which has the only knowledge worthy to be called wisdom, has been ordained by nature to be of all classes the least.” The takeaway, perhaps, is that knowledge (education) leads to wisdom.
One of the four cardinal virtues, the practice of which is inculcated in the first degree. The Mason who remembers how emphatically he has been charged to preserve an upright position in all his dealings with mankind, should never fail to act justly to himself, to his brethren, and to the world. This is the cornerstone on which alone he can expect ” to erect a superstructure alike honorable to himself and to the Fraternity.” In iconography, Justice is usually represented as a matron with bandaged eyes, holding in one hand a sword and in the other a pair of scales at equipoise. But in Masonry the true symbol of Justice, as illustrated in the first degree, is the feet firmly planted on the ground, and the body upright.
Justice, Plato encapsulates as, “being concerned however, not with the outward man, but with the inward, which is the true self and concernment of man: for the just man does not permit the several elements within him to interfere with one another, or any of them to do the work of others,—he sets in order his own inner life, and is his own master and his own law, and at peace with himself; and when he has bound together the three principles within him, which may be compared to the higher, lower, and middle notes of the scale, and the intermediate intervals—when he has bound all these together, and is no longer many, but has become one entirely temperate and perfectly adjusted nature, then he proceeds to act, if he has to act, whether in a matter of property, or in the treatment of the body, or in some affair of politics or private business; always thinking and calling that which preserves and co-operates with this harmonious condition, just and good action, and the knowledge which presides over it, wisdom, and that which at any time impairs this condition, he will call unjust action, and the opinion which presides over it ignorance.
I haven’t said much on the subject of membership in Freemasonry (in general) and in the United States in particular, for some time. But with the buzz and interest in the last few posts (Freemasonry Is Dying, Bait & Switch, I Quit and Masonic Anti-Intellectualism A Crying Shame), I thought it necessary to pen a few thoughts on the matter.
So often, articles like these end gathering comments saying “…lodges just need to do the work and things will get better…we need to guard the west gate” or “…we need to focus on the people with a real interest in Masonry.” I like “Freemasonry isn’t dying…we’re refining.”
In all of these instances, the insinuation of doing nothing except what was done before, only better, is tantamount to putting your head in the sand and pretending that the problem isn’t really a problem. This isn’t a new realization. I gave the numbers my own rudimentary examination in 2007, concluding with saying So What? You can’t stem the change without acknowledging it.
That change, no longer on the horizon, will only result in a better fraternity with true believers of likeminded men. Some Masons get it, or at least see why its so hard to have the conversation in the first place. And sure, Freemasonry as an entity, isn’t dying. What’s dying is the Freemasonry as we know it today.
The situation as I’m reading and seeing today in the numbers, is membership declining precipitously which will mean sooner, rather than later, revenue from lodges will dry up and lodges will close. This story ran just yesterday in the Daily Times, a news outlet out of Delaware County, PA: End of Era in Chester: Masons hold final meeting.
The long and the short of it: lodge membership dropped, it lost its charter, the Grand Lodge took the charter and keys of the lodge and sold it.
As things progress in this period of refinement, Grand Lodges will take possession of old charters and buildings, selling the latter in high-value markets to keep their own coffers full sustaining what remains of Grand Lodge programs and retirement homes.
As member dues continue to shrink, the relationship between the lodge and grand lodge will be reevaluated and charters will start being deconstructed, flowing back along their lines of dispensation. In that process, Freemasonry will cease to exist in a meaningful way in the manner it does today.
No more lodge buildings. No more organized charity. No more institutional presence, turning to vapor 300 years charity, initiation and enlightenment.
They’ll be a few folks around doing something like Freemasonry, but it won’t be in the manner it was today.
It’s actually a fascinating thought experiment to consider how the business end of things will transpire as revenue dries up.
Cause and Effect
This is the cause and effect of change. Change in membership numbers, change in interest, change in cultural norms.
Gone are the days of men in suits lunching on three martinis or fellas in blue collar work shirts building things in factories. The bygone days are gone.
Chris Hodapp posted a great piece on how the era of the “woke generation” has mostly forgotten about Freemasonry—seeing what’s left as an anachronistic throwback club wearing racially biased costumes in gender excluding male hang-outs (Read: Freemasonry in the Age of Woke). In some respects, the age of woke probably isn’t too far off the track on their assessment. You can see, in one instance, what happens to the temples when their caretakers have to turn over the keys because they can’t keep up the rent.
This is the change that’s happening, right now, as the number of dues-paying members declines.
Masonry is going to change, not because it wanted to, but mostly because it will run out of the fuel that sustains it—namely people and money.
History Repeats Itself
This isn’t the first time Freemasonry has faced change.
During the Morgan Affair, membership in Freemasonry recoiled and nearly went extinct in the fires of the Anti-Masonic Political Party. Over the centuries masons gathered in conclaves, held meetings, met in lodges, and traveled to regional congresses—all to debate the changes they faced and the direction they should move.
In one early period, a rough conglomeration of stand-alone lodges in England organized themselves in a tavern to become the United Grand Lodge of England and the progenitor of American Freemasonry.
This was change. And it meant bucking the convention of the age.
From its inception (and baring a few making-of Masons at sight) lodges have been the defacto entry point to membership. To be a mason, you join a lodge, which meant you joined Freemasonry.
But membership is exclusive. You join “a” lodge to facilitate your dues and catalog your membership, which in turn rolls up to the state level grand lodge which takes a portion of your dues to pay some leadership and finance its operation.
By operation I mean how it controls and distributes charters, funds homes, controls communications between states and works organizationally (albeit loosely) with the other states and appendant bodies to say who’s “regular”, and who’s not. Think of dues as an affiliation fee, or a tax. The more members a lodge has, the more it pays to the grand lodge. The fuller the coffers the more it can do.
Catalyst for Change
The issue with modern Freemasonry, as practiced today, isn’t wholly the teachings. It isn’t wholly the philosophy. It isn’t in the message or ideals.
Certainly, the history and cultural norms bring a measure of baggage in the broad exclusion of women and the history of racial separation. But these “issues” have evolved their own solutions within the system. The problem facing modern Freemasonry, and its decline in membership, is its membership model.
To require interested seekers to pay to join a lodge that offers no “intrinsic” value or no “tangible” service isn’t working.
Sure, by joining a lodge dues payers get access to an esoteric library (maybe), something we all use these days. Members get access to a Masonic funeral (if you stay current in dues for a set number of years). And, if you fit into the culture, you can develop good relationships with people (maybe) who are interested (mostly) in the same things you are. In-between you might get to eat or serve (maybe) decent meals, argue over paying the bills (out of the dues you’ve paid) and support closely associated charities that exist to give family of some members something to do other than attending lodge dinners.
This is a gross oversimplification of the Life Masonic, but in a nutshell this is the bread and butter of the Masonic lodge system.
Why lodges lose most newly made masons is that they join, see this process, lose the value proposition (or never find a place in the old boys club) and within a fairly set amount period of time, stop attending and stop paying dues.
The issue isn’t lodges. The Issue is who’s using them. Not the leadership. The issue is in the members. Without them, there isn’t a reason to exist.
Follow the Money
It’s this layer of non-paid dues that really amplifies the loss. (read: There’s a Hole in Our Bucket) It’s the cessation of dues-paying members that ramps up the attrition.
This is what is wrong with the current model of Freemasonry.
No better meals, no better educational programs or improved ritual performance is going to bring people back once they’ve walked away. How would they know unless someone reaches out to sell them on the improved value proposition?
Doing Freemasonry Differently
The situation is that being a mason is dependent on paying dues to a local lodge that just doesn’t offer a value proposition.
Is there a different model? A disruption of the death spiral?
I think a temporary solution could be a separate layer of membership tied to the state or perhaps a national body that removes the barrier of belonging to a local lodge and allow, if even for a few years, membership in Freemasonry to start to grow again. This would allow for a needed infusion of membership (and their dues) to cycle back into the craft something of value for the membership. What does that look like? Quarterly programs, some kind of media that’s interesting to new AND old Masons keeping them interested, rather than a cut and paste photocopied newsletters full of borrowed articles from around the web.
Freemasonry isn’t dying a natural death. Freemasonry is slowly strangling itself in the grip of suicidal inaction over the fear of its own history under the glare of modernity.
The system of dues making the mason at the local lodge level is the noose strangling what’s left of the fraternity.
The antiquated modalities of doing things the way they were done before, right down to how and where dues are paid, is a noose around Freemasonry’s neck as we watch the options escape us like the last gasps of life on the gallows.
Some quick thoughts worthy of exploration to do Freemasonry differently:
Change the membership system from the old lodge dues and Grand Lodge tax system
Eliminate the necessity of belonging to “a” lodge
Invite SNPDs (suspension of nonpayment of dues) back into the fold under the “new” system of membership
Craft quality content, relevant to the program, to keep the membership engaged (Think how the AARP, Scouts or even the NRA are engaging their audiences)
Look hard at the issues of race and gender
Reevaluate the state by state system of management.
If not, doing nothing will still track the decline in membership. Doing something differently? Maybe it can slow things down.
Initiations could be handled by extant lodges with exceptional ritual which would begin to help them thrive again with returning members not tied to one lodge by dues and nurtured in meaningful ways. It’s a change from what’s been done before, in control of the change rather than letting the change control the future. Appendant bodies could leverage their above and beyond the blue lodge activities, and masonry can remember what it was to be flush again.
It means taking control of the future and leaning into it—steering the chaos as best possible—rather than letting the chaos of change control where the fraternity is headed.
Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Freemasonry hasn’t changed in nearly a century. Now is the time to seek perfection, before it’s too late and Freemasonry really is dead.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the subject of Death. More broad than a mere memento mori, or skull and bones. Rather, Mackey equates the sentiment ones passing as the entrance to eternal existence.
The Scandinavians, in their Edda, describing the residence of Death in Hell, where she was east by her father, Loke, say that she there possesses large apartments, strongly built, and fenced with gates of iron. Her hall is Grief; her table, Famine and Hunger, her knife; Delay, her servant; Faintness, her porch; Sickness and Pain, her bed; and her tent, Cursing and Howling. But, the Masonic idea of death, like the Christian’s, is accompanied with no gloom, because it is represented only as a sleep, from whence we awaken into another life.
Among the ancients, sleep and death were fabled as twins. The Greek sophist, Old Gorgias, when dying, said, “Sleep is about to deliver me up to his brother;’’ but the death sleep of the heathen was a sleep from which there was no awaking.
The popular belief was annihilation, and the poets and philosophers fostered the people’s ignorance, by describing death as the total and irremediable extinction of live. Thus Seneca says—and he was too philosophic not to have known better—that “after death there comes nothing,” while Vergil, who doubtless had been initiated into the Mysteries of Eleusis, nevertheless calls death “an iron sleep, an eternal night,” yet the Ancient Mysteries were based upon the dogma of eternal life, and their initiations were intended to represent a resurrection. Freemasonry, deriving its system of symbolic teachings from these ancient religious associations, presents death to its neophytes as the gate or entrance to eternal existence. To teach the doctrine of immortality is the great object of the Third Degree. In its ceremonies we learn that live here is the time of labor, and that, working at the construction of a spiritual temple, we are worshiping the Grand Architect for whom we build that temple. But we learn also that, when that live is ended, it closes only to open upon a newer and higher one, where in a second temple and a purer Lodge, the Freemason will find eternal truth.
Death, therefore, in Masonic philosophy, is the symbol of initiation completed, perfected, and consummated.
Additionally, Mackey’s entry on Death in the Ancient Mysteries reads,
Each of the ancient religious Mysteries, those quasi-Masonic associations of the heathen world, was accompanied by a legend, which was always of a funereal character representing the death, by violence, of the deity to whom it was dedicated, and his subsequent resurrection or restoration to life. Hence, the first part of the ceremonies of initiation was solemn and lugubrious in character, ,while the latter part was cheerful and joyous. These ceremonies and this legend were altogether symbolical, and the great truths of the unity of God and the immortality, of the soul were by them intended to be dramatically explained.
This representation of death, which finds its analogue in the Third Degree of Freemasonry, has been technically called the Death of the Mysteries. It is sometimes more precisely defined, in reference to any special one of the Mysteries, as the Cabiric death or the Bacchic death, as indicating the death represented in the Mysteries of the Cabiri or of Dionysus.
Continuing the series of the broken column and the weeping virgin, in this episode of Symbols and Symbolism we look at Albert Mackey’s entry into the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry as he examines the figure of time in the Jeremy Cross statue of early American Freemasonry. the statue, a newer invention in the collection of symbols, it remarkably follows in the vein of the 24 inch gage and the hourglass.
The image of Time, under the conventional figure of a winged old man with the customary scythe and hour-glass, has been adopted as one of the modern symbols in the Third Degree. He is represented as attempting to disentangle the ringlets of a weeping virgin who stands before him. This, which is apparently a never-ending task, but one which Time undertakes to perform, is intended to teach the Freemasons that time, patience and perseverance will enable him to accomplish the great object of a Freemason’s labor, and at last to obtain the true Word which is the symbol of Divine Truth. Time, therefore, is in this connection the symbol of well-directed perseverance in the performance of duty.
This symbol with the broken column, so familiar to all Freemasons in the United States is probably an American innovation.
In this episode of Symbols and Symbolism we look at a short entry from Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry examining the figure of the weeping virgin. A newer invention in the symbolism of Freemasonry, Mackey draws an ancient parallel to its cryptic iconography.
The Weeping Virgin with disheveled hair, in the Monument of the Third Degree used in the American Rite, is interpreted as a symbol of grief for the unfinished state of the Temple.
Jeremy Cross, who is said to have fabricated the monumental symbol, was not, we are satisfied, acquainted with Hermetic Science. Yet a woman thus portrayed, standing near a tomb, was a very appropriate symbol for the Third Degree, whose dogma is the resurrection.
In Hermetic Science, according to Nicolas Flammel (Hieroglyphics, chapter xxxii), a woman having her hair disheveled and standing near a tomb is a symbol of the soul.
Jeremy Cross (b.1783, d. 1861) became a mason in 1808 and soon became a student of Thomas Smith Webb. In 1819 he published The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor, in which he borrowed liberally from the previous work of Webb. The Weeping Virgin first appeared as an illustration as rendered by the American copperplate engraver Amos Doolittle, appearing in Crosse’s The True Masonic Chart.
Symbolic, even among the symbols of Freemasonry, the moon plays an essential part in the esoteric nature of Freemasonry. Not a primary component of the ritual, the celestial body none-the-less features prominently in the rites and rituals of the lodge harkening back to older and more esoteric traditions.
The adoption of the moon in the Masonic system as a symbol is analogous to, but could hardly be derived from, the employment of the same symbol in the ancient religions. In Egypt, Osiris was the sun, and Isis the moon; in Syria, Adonis was the sun and Ashtaroth the moon; the Greeks adored her as Diana, and Hecate; in the mysteries of Ceres, while the hierophant or chief priest represented the Creator, and the torch-bearer the sun, the officer nearest the altar represented the moon. In short, moon-worship was as widely disseminated as sun-worship. Masons retain her image in their Rites because the Lodge is a representation of the universe. where, as the sun rules over the day, the moon presides over the night; as the one regulates the year, so does the other the months, and as the former is the king of the starry hosts of heaven, so is the latter their queen; but both deriving their heat, and light, and power from him, who has the third and the greatest light, the master of heaven and earth controls them both.
From The Master Mason
In its culmination, [the third degree] is the transition through life and death in order to be reborn anew with an understanding of the spiritual world that has always been around us but now made visible. The moon, here, is key as Yesod leads to our understanding of becoming an emblem of the reflective nature we assume in this transformation. Like the moon, we reflect the light of the Great Architect capturing what is impossible to see without becoming blinded by its radiance. This is, of course, a metaphor but no less appropriate to the change we undergo and the purpose we assume in becoming masters. Like the moon, each of us reflect the glory of the divine sun in phases, exerting our gravitational force over the tides of our interactions.
The Great Work is, above all things, the creation of man by himself; that is to say, the fall and entire conquest which he effects of his faculties and his future. It is, above all, the perfect emancipation of his will.
For a good many years, I’ve written about the idea of producing to contribute to the Great Work. Yet, I don’t think I’ve taken the time to address what that idea means, to me or to the wide world when it comes to your self-development.
In basic terms, the Great Work is the idea of completing the development of our soul. By completing it, I mean finding within ourselves that spark of the cosmic consciousness and nurturing it to a state of understanding the wider universe around us.
A lofty goal and, not surprisingly, one that is seldom, if ever, brought to completion.
But, in undertaking such an endeavor, it’s important to not try and put the cart before the horse. While considering the Great Work as the length and breadth of a career, the reality is that the work itself is an ongoing pursuit made by degree, the production of which making small, nearly imperceptible changes to the inner life that slowly make themselves known in the external domain.
So then, what is the Great Work? The easiest way to define what it is is to say that The Great Work is the quest for knowledge that ends in wisdom.
It seems almost too simple. It seems like a process many of us already undertake. In many respects it is. But what happens in the pursuit of the Great Work is the myriad distractions and attention-stealing interruptions that take us away from the pursuit of that work.
Like all the Mysteries of Magism, the Secrets of “the Great Work” have a threefold signification: they are religious, philosophical, and natural. – Albert Pike
To further simplify the term, the Great Work is the betterment of oneself. Be it through learning and doing our trade, perfecting our life, providing for the health and welfare of our family or contributing to the uplifting of mankind. It’s in the undertaking of these tasks that the effort of the Great Work begins to shape the world around us.
The hardest part of understanding what the Great Work represents is knowing that the work is just that—work.
It isn’t something that you can buy on a shelf or order online. It isn’t something you can achieve in the simple reading of a text. No, the Great Work manifests itself in the assimilation of information and application in the real world. It comes out of the understanding of perspectives other than one’s own and seeing meaning from the eyes of the stranger. Think in terms of walking a mile in another person’s shoes. In this aphorism, the purpose is the development of empathy for the world around you, much in the way of the Golden Rule.
With knowledge comes wisdom. From wisdom comes empathy. And yet, there is another component necessary to square the circle. That fourth component is the willpower to undertake such a change with the knowledge that it means a reexamination of past lessons learned in the past.
This is the purpose of the Great Work.
Without doubt, this path implies a measure of agreed upon change that, once begun, inculcates itself into your day to day existence. The seeker, desiring change (knowingly or not) wanting to assimilate knowledge must take the first step in this process by exercising their will to acquire it, fearless of where ever it may take them.
Many Paths, One Destination
Where does that knowledge come from? What path should one follow to pursue the Great Work? Many groups and organizations suggest theirs is the one true way. But, in reality, there is an infinite number of means to obtain knowledge, and just as many in applying it. The effort of undertaking the Great Work is in your mindful daily living, applying the lessons learned and when finding an impasse, seeking further enlightenment beyond where you find yourself now. This is the process of the Great Work, not the Great Attainment. It is work. It is an effort. It is a continually tested result and attunement to the world in increasingly broadening strokes and circles.
It is for this that the pursuit of the Great Work is called the Search for the Absolute; and the work itself, the work of the Sun.
This attunement happens in meditation. It happens in prayer. It happens in mindful interactions with other human beings in the world at large—both in your community and outside of it. One could argue that it happens in the comments in social media if they offer something constructive to the dialog seeking to uplift rather than tear down.
Pike, in Morals and Dogma, writes:
For all that we familiarly know of Free-Will is that capricious exercise of it which we experience in ourselves and other men; and therefore the notion of Supreme Will, still guided by Infallible Law, even if that law be self-imposed, is always in danger of being either stripped of the essential quality of Freedom, or degraded under the ill-name of Necessity to something of even less moral and intellectual dignity than the fluctuating course of human operations.
It is not until we elevate the idea of law above that of partiality or tyranny, that we discover that the self-imposed limitations of the Supreme Cause, constituting an array of certain alternatives, regulating moral choice, are the very sources and safeguards of human freedom; and the doubt recurs, whether we do not set a law above God Himself; or whether laws self-imposed may not be self-repealed: and if not, what power prevents it.