square and compass, freemasonry, S&C, freemason information

Freemasonry’s Religion

For some reason, I have noticed a lot of people talking about how religion influences Freemasonry lately. Some folks have proclaimed that the foundations of Masonry are found in Kabbalah or Hermeticism. Others argue that Masonry is essentially a Christian art.

Quite frankly, I disagree with both camps and find both sides a bit annoying. I am a firm believer that Freemasonry is impartial to religion. However, I am also familiar with the old saying “those that live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

So why do I reside in a glass house? Because at one point in my life I was guilty of these very transgressions. Early in my Masonic career, I found myself expending all of my energy to prove to myself and everyone else that Freemasonry was truly Christian. The reasons for this were numerous. First, I was raised in a church which declared that its communing members could not be Freemasons. Second, I was in hot pursuit of a young girl who belonged to the aforementioned church. But most importantly, I was not comfortable being a Freemason if it wasn’t a Christian organization.

I think that trying to determine what religion Masonry is derived from is a perfectly natural thing to do. We become Freemasons to discover truth and for most of us, we are preconditioned to believe that there is one correct answer to every question. Therefore, when we become Freemasons we understand that the craft is tolerant of all religions, but we also believe that if it teaches the Great Truth that it must point to one individual religion. We want one path, one plan, and one True Religion. So we set out to compare various religious teachings to the lessons taught in the Masonic lodge to determine which religion gave birth to Freemasonry. This is where we begin to err, for the man that studies the Blue Lodge degrees would observe that Freemasonry is Jewish, the reader of Morals and Dogma may determine that Freemasonry is alchemical, and the Sir Knight would learn that the craft is indeed Christian.

The problem with this process is that the approach is entirely incorrect. Why must we automatically assume that Masonry’s truth was taken from religion? Why don’t we assume that religion learned its truth from Masonry? Or let me put it a different way: Would the introduction of religious teachings into Masonry make it perfect or would the introduction of Masonic teachings into the world’s religions make them perfect?

This is how I finally learned to approach Freemasonry. Over a number of Sundays, I would sit and listen to preachers give their sermons. The thought that kept penetrating my brain was “How much better would that lesson be if it incorporated some Masonic teachings?” No matter what the subject of the religious meditation was, I realized that Freemasonry taught more about it in less time through its symbolism than the minister could ever cover in one of his sermons. I realized that Freemasonry wasn’t teaching the truths of my religion. Instead, my religion was attempting to teach the truths of Freemasonry.

Of course, this realization didn’t happen overnight. All things change over time. I eventually left the church and the girl dumped me. I have studied several different religions trying to find the almighty truth. Yet, I keep discovering that Masonry’s lessons are more universal and all encompassing than those of any particular creed. More than ever before, I realize that Freemasonry is not partial to any religion because it teaches only truth and does not attempt to answer questions which cannot be answered. Instead, it leaves the individual Brother to discover these answers for himself.

Freemasonry’s religion is simply the teaching of truth. Its initiates may flock to any religion that they choose to find salvation, but in the Masonic lodge only truth is discussed. That is what makes Freemasonry so appealing to so many men. It is the only organization that divests itself of man-made dogma and canonical law and serves only to shine a light on the bridge that runs between man and his Creator. It is not the vessel to the realms of Deity, but instead a lamp to light the path.

That is the religion of Freemasonry.

Flyover Country

Ferris Thompson sat on the airplane, passively listening to Brother Dave’s chatter. They belonged to the same Masonic lodge and happened to be on the same connecting flight to Denver. Dave was not a very active member in the lodge. He had been the Senior Steward at one time, but had lost interest in attending meetings over the past two years. He had not seen Ferris in quite some time and was anxious to discuss all of the lodge’s problems with him.

“Boy, I tell you what Ferris! I am just disgusted by what has happened to that lodge. There seems to be some sort of dramatic argument at every meeting about the lodge’s finances or how our new members should have to prove up on the degrees. I just can’t stand it. And the bad part is if you get on the internet and have a look around, everybody seems to be in the same predicament. Lodges are falling apart, Masonic organizations are having feuds, and just about everyone seems to complain that nothing’s going on in their lodge!”

“Is that so?” Ferris responded without interest.

“Yup, there just doesn’t seem to be much that could get me back to lodge,” Dave continued as he looked out the window at the Kansas prairie far below the plane. “Would you look at that! The ground down there looks pretty boring, I guess that is what they call flyover country. Can you imagine living in such a depressing place?”

Ferris briefly leaned toward the window to contemplatively observe the scenery before settling back into his seat.

“From up here, the Great Plains do not seem very exciting. You may wonder was made the pioneers even consider stopping there.”

“You got that right!” exclaimed Dave.

“But you obviously haven’t spent much time in the region, because you would know that miles below us is some of the most beautiful scenery on the continent. It is spring time and the seasonal rains produce clear, glittering streams cutting through fields of green grass. Beautiful wildflowers of violet, yellow, and blue are blooming all over. The soil is fertile and the food for grazing cattle is plentiful. It must have seemed like paradise to those early settlers. And even though the summers could be insufferably hot and the winters were bitterly cold, every spring they were reminded of the beauty of the land that they inhabited.”

“Well, I guess I haven’t ever visited the prairie in the spring time,” Dave said apologetically.

“You know Dave, you may find that the concept of spring time on the prairie also applies to Masonry.”

“How so?”

“Well, much like the winter on the prairie, Masonic lodges can become dull and lead the Brethren into discontent. But just as the prairie experiences its own rebirth in the spring, you can experience a Masonic rebirth by attending a degree ceremony, a new lodge, a Scottish or York Rite reunion, a lodge dinner, or reading a book on Freemasonry. Make a connection with some new Brothers or learn something new about your fraternity. You will find that you can create your own Masonic spring time. Maybe you can spread a bit of it back to the lodge by providing refreshments for fellowship or presenting some Masonic education. I challenge you to find the beauty in what you described as a dreary Masonic landscape.”

“Boy Ferris, that is what I always liked about you. You always find a way to relate to something symbolically,” Dave responded with enthusiasm.

Ferris chuckled, “Well, my craft is veiled in allegory.”


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Harmful Interference

Almost every day, I seem to read an article or watch a news cast which discusses the controversy surrounding some religious principle. These stories fascinate me because of the variety of religious views that people hold. It seems hard to believe that humans could all descend from one common ancestor and yet have so many different religions. It’s even harder to believe that two people who belong to the same religion can have nearly opposite spiritual beliefs.

Of course, when you consider the course of history the plethora of religious disagreements isn’t so surprising. Throughout the centuries there have been countless prophets, texts, and religious leaders preaching different ideals. If you examine any major religion, there seems to be very little unity among its followers. Every religion has numerous sects and denominations and each one of those divisions has several leaders which teach their own particular view of their faith.

With all of these differing opinions, it is hard to distinguish what the Almighty would really want for his creation. Unfortunately, God doesn’t have his own radio or television station.

Or does he?

The proliferation of different religious ideologies through rhetoric can cause harmful interference to communication between man and God.

FDD, harmful interference, definitionThe Federal Communications Commission defines harmful interference as

“any emission, radiation or induction that endangers the functioning of a radio navigation service or of other safety services or seriously degrades, obstructs or repeatedly interrupts a radio communications service…”

The radio communication I refer to is the beautiful language of symbolism. The earliest men used symbolism to explain abstract spiritual principles. Symbolism is pure in its form and is more appropriate for describing the complexities of the Deity. They can only become controversial when man uses rhetoric to ascribe absolute explanations to them.

As many have properly noted, symbolism is the language of God.

Luckily for Freemasons, we belong to an organization that relies on symbolism to teach moral precepts. It allows us to be free from spiritual dissent by allowing its concepts to be illustrated rather than explained through language. It is a beautiful way to reduce the harmful interference that is continuously found outside of the lodge.

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Is it time for some national unity among Masons?

Recently, I attended an Entered Apprentice degree at a local lodge here in Kansas and was allowed to assist in conducting one of the candidates through the degree. It was an experience that I greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Degree work has been my favorite part of being a Freemason since I was raised to the sublime degree and I hadn’t witnessed any degrees in a couple of years.

I was thoroughly enjoying the experience when the new Brothers entered the lodge room to receive the lectures when my enthusiasm suddenly disappeared. The two Brothers were positioned in front of a television screen where they watched a video of a man giving the lectures.

I was abhorred.

I had heard rumors from different places throughout the country that some lodges had been using such methods, but I honestly regarded them as a dirty rumor. This was not the impressive and solemn degree conferral that these new Brothers deserved. So, I decided to get involved and talked to the lodge’s leadership after the degree. I explained that I knew nearly all of the lectures by memory. The only issue is that I had memorized South Dakota’s ritual. I was sure that it wouldn’t be a problem. I had seen Brothers from other states give lectures before with the appropriate level of approval. Why would this be any different?

Unfortunately, in this situation I was told that I must give the lectures straight from the Kansas ritual. Only being slightly disappointed by this, I decided to learn the lectures. However, I was not ready for how difficult it is to re-learn a lecture with a slightly different cadence and verbiage.  I am still working on that little project, but my motivation has waned. I realized that I do not plan on living in Kansas for a long time and that eventually, I will have to learn some other state’s ritual. It is a lot of work just to learn a new way to convey the same information, especially since every Masonic lodge in the U.S. could receive some greatly needed assistance if a few Grand Masters would get together and have a little conversation about this subject.

In a world where people move long distances and rarely stay in one place throughout their whole life, why can we not perform another state’s ritual in our lodges? Now, some would say “We can’t have a nationalized ritual!” I am not so naive to think that this would be a simple undertaking. We wouldn’t develop a solution to that in a century. What I’m proposing is that when one grand lodge recognizes another as regular and recognized, that it also accepts that grand lodge’s ritual as being acceptable to be performed in that state.  It is a simple concept (that I’m sure would meet resistance) that could make a huge difference. I have met a number of Freemasons that have moved to another jurisdiction during their Masonic career and had to give up administering a lecture solely because they were in another state. In many of those instances, the new lodge that they were attending was in need of someone new to give that same lecture!

I’m not proposing some sort of sweeping change. I’m not proposing that we teach ritual from other states in our lodges. I’m just proposing that we give the individual lodges and the individual Masons an opportunity to provide a better ritualistic experience to our new Brothers by giving a them a little bit of latitude to use Brothers from other jurisdictions to accomplish this.

I think that this little bit of national unity among Masons is a very reasonable proposal.

square and compass, freemasonry, S&C, freemason information

The Universality of Freemasonry

“[The Lodge] is of such vast dimensions to show the universality of Masonry and that Masonic charity should be equally extensive.”

Throughout the Masonic degrees, symbols are used to show the universal nature of Freemasonry. The idea that Masonry is universal is a grand idea and there is no doubt that it captures the attention of any new Brother by way of Freemason beliefs. But many Freemasons have probably asked themselves “How is Freemasonry universal?”

When we examine the definition of ‘universal‘ in the dictionary, we find a plethora of definitions. Two of these seem particularly applicable to the universality of Freemasonry. The first of these definitions is “existent or operative everywhere or under all conditions.”

Masonry is existent or operative everywhere, it does not exist solely within a lodge. Freemasons are taught to use the symbolism of the square and compasses in their transactions with all mankind. The charges of our order are intended to give us guidance for our conduct not only in the lodge, but when abroad in the outside world. Freemasonry’s symbolism is the product of those philosophical, moral, and spiritual principles which are universally accepted by man. The ideals of living a virtuous life, acting upon the square and walking upright by the plumb, and providing to relief to our fellow man are universally accepted ideas. Freemasonry only takes these concepts and removes the divisive and argumentative dogma that man tends to attach to them in order to provide a moral code with which all men may agree.

Freemasonry also accepts all men without regard to race, creed, or class. It only asks that they be men of good moral character with a belief in a Supreme Being. It is perhaps the only fraternity in the world that requires no further distinctions in order to become a member. This is a crucial element of Freemasonry for if it ever did distinguish between men because of their beliefs or background, it would no longer be a universal order.

The second definition applies to the universality of Masonic charity: “including or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception.” Masonic charity has no limitations. Recently, this is a concept that has often been forgotten by our fraternity. Masonry is not intended to support one specific charitable cause like many other organizations. Instead, Masonic charity is intended to provide relief to all men and all Brothers for any reason when it is needed. The only limitations for Masonic charity is that those providing the relief should not cause material injury to themselves. Masonic charity can only be described as universal if we accept this all-encompassing approach to relief.

When we take a moment to consider the far-reaching effects of Masonry, it isn’t difficult to see that the fraternity is a universal institution. As Masons, we can use this knowledge to apply the lessons learned within the lodge universally and uphold the dignified reputation of our noble art.

A Visit to the George Washington National Masonic Memorial

The George Washington National Masonic Memorial

The George Washington National Masonic Memorial

Last week, I visited the Washington, D.C. area and had an opportunity to visit the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA. I had long wanted to visit the memorial which is a tribute to George Washington as a Freemason and the fraternity as a whole. Since I had to travel through Alexandria in order to get to the nation’s capital, it was a convenient stop during my trip.

The monument’s property is gorgeous. The grounds surrounding the building are well kept and complement the beautiful stone building. When approaching the memorial from the parking lot, its size is awe inspiring. As you get closer and see the quality of the perfect ashlars which compose this edifice its beauty becomes more apparent. It will make any Freemason contemplate the value of the fraternity to our Masonic predecessors. The construction of this building was no small achievement and those Freemasons that assembled to create it must have placed great worth in our noble art.

The interior of the building boasts a number of grand halls, lodge rooms, and Masonic displays. The building is kept in excellent condition and is appealing to the eyes. The main floor features two beautiful lodge rooms each with its own display of various Masonic memorabilia. I would love to be a spectator of degree work in these lodge rooms as they are quite awe inspiring.

A view of the hall as you enter the memorial.

A view of the hall as you enter the memorial.

The lower floor features the Grand Masonic Hall as well as museums dedicated to Freemasonry and the Shrine. The Freemason’s museum was one of the more informative, accurate, and tasteful displays of Masonic history that I have ever seen. Some artifacts that caught my attention were Lafayette’s Masonic apron, a copy of Webb’s Freemason’s Monitor, and a copy of the Constitutions of 1723.

The tower of the building features more displays and an observation deck. In order to access the tower, you must take a guided tour which occurs several times throughout the day. The tour guides at the memorial will be more than happy to assist you in taking one of these tours which cost only $5 (access to the main and lower levels is free).

The memorial is conveniently located right across the street from the King Street Metro Station, which makes it an easy commute from anywhere in the D.C. metro area. The memorial is open daily and you can find more information on the George Washington National Masonic Memorial at its website.

karma, spirituality

A Victim of Biblical Karma

In the Entered Apprentice degree, the new Masonic initiate is taught about Jacob’s Ladder and how it applies to Masonic symbolism. Of course, in Masonic symbolism, three of the rungs on Jacob’s Ladder represent faith, hope, and charity. The story of Jacob’s Ladder and its symbolism is beautiful and a wonderful example of God’s relationship with mankind. However, for many years I have struggled with the fact that Jacob received this vision—and God’s favor—immediately after deceiving his father Isaac and taking his brother Esau’s blessing. How could God let such a sin be committed without any negative reaction? When examining the whole story of Jacob we discover that Jacob’s biography is a great example of religious universality. Just as Jacob’s ladder is a story which appeals to many outside of the Jewish faith, Jacob’s betrayal of his brother and father is atoned for by a principle from the East when he becomes a victim of Karma.

karma, spirituality

Does the Buddhist idea of Karma exist in Christianity?

Karma is the Buddhist ideal that for every action there is an equal and just reaction. It is the age old principle of cause and effect. Give charity to your brother and in turn you will be given charity when you need it. Wrong your brother and you too will be wronged. It is the Golden Rule: do unto others as you wish they should do unto you. People often visualize Karma as being cosmic, but not necessarily the direct justice of the Almighty. However, when God hands out punishment in the Old Testament, this is in fact a version of Karma. But the story of Jacob is different from most in the Old Testament because no where in the scripture does the author clearly state that God was displeased with his dishonesty. This is where Jacob becomes a perfect example of the cosmic force of Karma.

In the 27th chapter of Genesis, Rebekah helps Jacob deceive his blind father Isaac in order to obtain a blessing meant for Esau. While Esau is out hunting for game in order to cook a meal for his father, Rebekah and Jacob prepare a meal and Jacob takes it to his father, lying when his father asks him if he is Esau by saying “I am.” Of course, Jacob wrongly receives the blessing and when Isaac realizes that he has been deceived he does nothing to correct the error. Later, Jacob has the famous vision of the ladder extending from the earth to heaven where God promises him that his descendants will be as the dust on the earth.

karma, jacobs ladder, god, jacobs vision, stairway to heavenHow could God remain silent about this injustice? In Genesis 29, Jacob once again seems to find favor in the eyes of the Lord. Jacob goes to work for a man named Laban and falls in love with Rachel, his youngest daughter. Jacob is so enamored with Rachel that when Laban asks him what he deserves in return for his work Jacob agrees to work for seven years in order to marry Rachel. Laban agrees to this and after seven years Jacob asks him for his daughters hand. However, when the long awaited night comes for Jacob to lay with Rachel, Laban deceives him and sends his oldest daughter Leah to Jacob’s bed. When Jacob awakes the next morning he is incensed at the fact that he has been betrayed. Laban simply states that the oldest daughter should be married first and that Jacob will have to work for seven more years in order to marry Rachel.

This is the perfect cosmic justice for Jacob. Not only is he forced to work seven more years to earn what he wants—essentially a seven year sentence for the betrayal of his brother—he is the victim of a similar birthright situation. Its irony is nearly comedic. We indeed discover that Karma is always at work.

This story shows the true universality of many religious concepts. While Karma may be Buddhist in its origins, we see that it plays a great role in the Old Testament. It also is alluded to throughout the world’s many great religions and one may astutely note that it also has a role in Masonry when one considers the purpose of acting upon the square. Jacob’s story is an excellent example which reminds us that Karma can affect everyone and that no matter what creed we may follow, we share the same values.

KST, Solomon, first temple, Sanctum Sanctorum

The Lodge as a Sanctum Sanctorum

Recently, I asked the members of The Euphrates‘ mailing list to send me any subjects that they would like me to cover in my articles. I received a number of great ideas and am going to work my way through them over the next few months. This week, I’m going to cover a subject that really captured my attention. One Brother asked me to cover the subject of “how to use the lodge as a true sanctum sanctorum and treat it as such.”

holy of holies, king solomons temple, ark

The Holy of Holies

In order to discuss this subject, we must first examine the term ‘sanctum sanctorum’ and what it means in Freemasonry. Sanctum sanctorum is a Latin term that may be literally translated translated as “Holy of Holies.” This term is used to describe the innermost chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.

It was here in this most sacred place that the Ark of the Covenant was placed during the dedication of the temple. Masons are taught in the third degree that when the lodge is opened in the Master Mason degree that it represents the sanctum sanctorum of King Solomon’s Temple.

I’m sure that any Freemason that takes a moment to consider this will realize that we do not treat the tyled lodge room as a sanctum sanctorum. It is true that there are certain regulations and protocol that we follow while in the lodge room. Most lodges make sure that general order is kept, that proper courtesies are given to officers, and that particular parts of the ritual are done correctly, but often the lodge room is simply a place to discuss business.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with discussing the business inside a tyled lodge. In fact, a little bit of research into the protocol of Freemasonry in its earliest days reveals that this is where business was intended to be conducted. Whether it is a discussion about paying the lodge’s bills, conducting a charitable event, or electing officers, it is perfectly acceptable to discuss business within the sanctum sanctorum of today’s Masonic lodges. However, it is the reverence with which the Brethren treat the forms for opening and closing the lodge and the pursuit of Masonic knowledge that can really make the lodge feel like a sanctuary.

KST, Solomon, first temple, Sanctum Sanctorum
The rituals that we use to open and close are lodge are more than just an elaborate form of parliamentary procedure. These ceremonies remind us of the very lessons and symbols that are taught in the degrees. Every time that we open or close a lodge we can be reminded of our obligations and the solemn duty that we must perform as Freemasons. I think that all Masons will agree that a degree conferral should be conducted with reverence and professionalism and the process of opening and closing a lodge should be treated no differently. In order to assist the Brethren in feeling the need to treat these rituals appropriately, a lodge can adopt a dress code that is representative of the desired atmosphere. The way that Masons conduct themselves in lodge can change almost instantaneously when they go from wearing blue jeans to wearing a suit.

Additionally, we can treat our lodges as a true sanctum sanctorum by conducting Masonic education. Every single lodge meeting should have some form of Masonic education as a part of the agenda. I personally believe that a lodge should start with requiring 15 minutes of education and adding time as the educational program improves. Unfortunately, most Masons have never seen true Masonic education. Masonic education is not reading from the Short Talk Bulletin. Masonic education is not giving a short biography of a famous Mason or telling an amusing anecdote. Masonic education is having a discussion about the symbolism of the degrees, explaining how to properly perform the ritual, learning about Masonic history, or even discussing the sciences or liberal arts. Some of the best examples of Masonic education that I have seen conducted are an explanation of the difference between the Antients and Moderns, a new program for educating kids in a local school, and a demonstration of how to properly conduct a candidate during a degree.

Using these simple suggestions can help any lodge to seem like a true sanctum sanctorum. If our Brethren feel like the lodge is a sanctuary to be treated with reverence, they will conduct themselves accordingly. A lodge that treats the tyled lodge room appropriately just might be surprised at the positive effect it can have on the organization.

I hope that these ideas can help you to improve your lodge and treat it as a sanctum sanctorum.

The Rite of Circumambulation


The rite of circumambulation is perhaps the most overlooked of all Masonic rituals. This action is an inherent part of almost every Masonic degree and plays a critical role in the three degrees of the Symbolic Lodge. However, few Masons have ever truly examined this ritual or its symbolism. Even a short inquiry into its purpose will reveal that the rite of circumambulation is among the most universal and widely practiced religious rites in the world.

When I became a Freemason, my excellent Masonic mentor explained that the reason I was conducted once around the lodge (or circumambulated the lodge) was to allow the three principle officers to observe that I had been properly prepared and was worthy to receive the degrees of Masonry. That is a correct explanation, but it is only a functional explanation. The truth is that the purpose of circumambulating the lodge has a greater symbolism.

Albert Mackey links the Masonic rite of circumambulation to the practices of the Greeks and Romans who used it as part of their sacrificial rites. Mackey hypothesizes that this was done to imitate the movement of the sun from the east to the west by way of the south. He claims that this is the influence of the pagan mysteries on what he calls the “Spurious Freemasonry of Antiquity.”1 While we will avoid discussing the concept of Spurious Freemasonry in depth, it will be enough to explain that Mackey speculated that the ancient pagans practiced a form of Freemasonry which was tailored to fit their spiritual beliefs. However, a look at the use of circumambulation in the world’s major religions will give us another perspective.

In the Old Testament, God ordered the Israelites to complete a circumambulation during the siege of Jericho.

“Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.’”
Joshua 6:2-5

Muslims practice the rite of circumambulation during the annual pilgrimage to the Ka’ba in Mecca (Hajj). Those participating in the pilgrimage make seven trips around the Ka’ba to imitate the movement of the constellations or in other words to imitate movement of the universe as created by God.2 Hindus and Buddhists also use circumambulation to imitate the movement of the constellations. In the Catholic religion, the circumambulations used to purify the sacrificial rites of the Romans have become part of the modern religion’s rituals. But is this rite’s presence in these religions merely the impact of pagan traditions on more advanced theologies?

Let us take a look at a verse from the Old Testament, which can also be found in the Fellowcraft Degree:

The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.
Psalm 19:1

Astronomy has long been a part of every religion. Often, the movement of the stars and constellations is seen as a representation of God. The act of admiring his creation is among the purest forms of worship. Therefore, it is no surprise that the rite of circumambulation appears in our lodges. The act of replicating the movement of the heavens around the lodge—which we are told in the first degree is representative of the universe—is among the most time-honored methods of appreciating God’s great creation.

  1. The Symbolism of Freemasonry by Albert Mackey
  2. No god but God by Reza Aslan

Masonry-An Ancient School of Symbolic Instruction

A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”

The above quote is the description of Masonry that is most often given to the initiate in order to describe the nature of the institution. It is so oft repeated that I suppose many Freemasons don’t give much thought to its meaning. However, when examined closely this description of our order gives us a clear picture of the purpose of our fraternity.

Let us take the first part of the phrase: “A beautiful system of morality.” This is fairly easy to understand. Freemasonry is school of moral instruction. Throughout the three degrees, the initiate is taught numerous lessons on the subject of morality. These degrees discuss many different aspects of that concept including the physical and spiritual components of morality. In many ways, religion serves a similar role in a man’s life. Every religion teaches man to walk upright before God, gives him a sense of good and evil, and encourages him to pursue righteous ventures throughout his life. While Masonry is not a religion, it shares the purpose of moral instruction. However, Masonry’s method of teaching morality is very peculiar in modern times.

At this point, let us shift our focus to the following words: “veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” The word ‘allegory’ is described by the dictionary as being “a symbolical narrative.”

A sketch of George Washington's Masonic apron which features some of Masonry's deep symbolism.

A sketch of George Washington’s Masonic apron which features some of Masonry’s deep symbolism.

A symbolical narrative is any story crafted in order to portray a deeper meaning. The Masonic symbols in the legend of the Third Degree, Aesop’s Fables, and Jesus’ parables are all examples of allegory. Masonry uses allegorical tales throughout the Symbolic Lodge, York Rite, and Scottish Rite in order to teach its system of morality. In addition to the legends of each degree, a multitude of symbols are used to illustrate and reinforce the concepts of the degrees. This is where Masonry differs from many modern systems of moral instruction. Today, most religions and philosophies convey their moral teachings through a series of long lectures presented either written or orally. They utilize very little symbolism in order to educate their followers. Albert Mackey explains this in The Symbolism of Freemasonry.

The older the religion, the more symbolism abounds. Modern religions may convey their dogmas in abstract propositions; ancient religions always conveyed them in symbols. Thus there is more symbolism in the Egyptian religion than in the Jewish, more in the Jewish than in the Christian, more in the Christian than in the Mohammedan, and, lastly, more in the Roman than in the Protestant.”

Masonry as an organization may only be a few centuries old, but its philosophical lessons can claim the most ancient of lineages. The moral education found inside the lodge is similar to that taught by any great religion, initiatic order, or school of philosophy. Take a second to think about your personal Masonic journey. Consider the moment when you were brought to light and received your first symbolic instruction. Think about how the solemn and deep language of symbolism enhanced your experience. Now imagine that the same lessons had been explained to you without the use of allegory or illustrated symbols. If you realize that the symbolic instruction provided a greater understanding of those moral precepts, you have discovered the true nature of Freemasonry.

The core of Freemasonry, and its Masonic symbols, is its allegorical and symbolic instruction. Without it, the order would not exist for it would have no purpose. It is Masonry’s language of symbolism that makes it appeal to the candid and industrious inquirer. It is Masonry’s allegorical legends that expose those ancient truths concealed within the fraternity. Symbolic instruction is our language, it is our identity, and it unveils the whole of Freemasonry.