Why did an organization founded in the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in St. Paul’s Churchyard in 1717, go on to spread over the entire face of the habitable earth, and become the largest fraternal society in the history of mankind? And why is Freemasonry dying, in England, the place of its birth? Freemasonry is one of history’s success stories. Under the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland we have an estimated membership of over 500,000. But the universal appeal of Freemasonry is not limited to the British Isles; world-wide we have an estimated membership of over 5 million!
Even within Freemasonry it is not widely appreciated how rare and unusual a phenomenon this is. No other fraternal organization has ever spread so quickly, spread so widely or grown so large. To have done this Freemasonry must contain some idea that exerts a firm grip upon the imaginations of a considerable body of humanity, regardless of race, language or upbringing. Something about Freemasonry appeals to the very basic nature of humanity. What is it?
Today all organizations are having problems retaining membership, many Masonic lodges are having to close. Perhaps it is time to look at what got us into our successful historical position and what attracted our present level of membership. To recreate these achievements in the future, we need to understand what Freemasonry has that other organizations, founded at the same time did not. We must ask what distinguishes our Craft from superficially similar organizations.
Our society provides many and varied chances for social and fraternal intercourse amongst individuals who choose to split off into distinctive fraternities. It offers many chances for charity and friendship. But this is not exclusive to freemasonry. There are a huge number of societies that offer similar opportunities, but none boast even half our membership, and none attract such men of distinction as we. By a process of elimination, we arrive at the only remaining raison d’etre for the spread and attractiveness of the Masonic system, namely, the significance and implications involved within our ceremonial rites. There is something very special about our rituals.
A wonderful thing about Masonic ritual is that it acts like an ink blot test on the human mind. Each Freemason sees something slightly different in the working of the Craft depending on his situation in life, his personal background and his level of development. Sometimes I wonder if lack of firm knowledge of our origins is one of the greatest gifts Freemasonry has. This ambiguity allows the ritual to speak directly to us all without preconceptions.
Masonic ritual is a system of moral and spiritual transformation. It inspires men to look at themselves and change the way they interact with the world; and it always has. Freemasonry is a system of mental control and self-development comparable to Buddhism, yoga and many other paths of self-improvement to be found around the world. But it is a unique western tradition.
The special thing about Freemasonry is that it is free of dogma or religious bigotry. It is truly open to all religious persuasions. Each ritual is progressive, building on the work that was set before the candidate in the previous ceremony. It was the effectiveness of our teachings that inspired men the world over to don the Masonic apron. The rituals of Freemasonry tap into the basic human urge to want to improve one’s self, and to make the world a better place for all. Our Masonic philosophy should direct and aid us in this quest.
Freemasonry teaches us that our personal characteristics are neither random nor immutable. We are not stuck with the nature we are born with. We can change ourselves just as a builder changes his surroundings. We are living stones to be reshaped by the Masonic tools of the ritual. This is a powerful lesson. I believe it is the idea that originally drove the success of freemasonry and made it appeal to so many people. We all want to be better. If Masonic membership is dwindling, could it be that we are no longer putting this message across.
The lessons of freemasonry could be summarized as follows, the first degree teaches the principles of morality, the second degree the importance of learning, and the third the discipline of self knowledge.
As a young Freemason looking at Freemasonry in the modern world, I believe that it is at this final step that we falter. Lack of self-recognition and self-knowledge is not just lacking in the membership but also in the organization itself.
Freemasonry as a collective has still to master its third degree. We know the principles of morality, we understand the outside world. But we still have not realized our Order’s own true nature. The value of self knowledge is immeasurable. A man or a society must know its vices and its failures before it can eliminate them. It must know its virtues and successes to build on them.
Everywhere I go I hear Brethren earnestly saying that “Freemasonry has no secrets!”
If this is true then it is no surprise that young men join and then leave.
We are misleading them, because Freemasonry does hold secrets. Its traditional secrets tell how to turn vice into virtue. We are a school of self-improvement and self-development. This is the point of Freemasonry. If we Freemasons lose this focus then only failure can result. If we have no secrets, what’s the point in joining? If a school has no lessons it will attract no pupils. We will only get more men into Freemasonry, if we get more Freemasonry into men. Our success in the past was due to men being inspired to join to learn how to improve themselves. Freemasonry is about inspiration. If we do not practice our teachings we will fail to be attractive. A rose only becomes beautiful as it grows from a bud into a full flower. We are only going to progress if we truly engage with our own teachings. I don’t mean doing “sincere” ritual, I mean applying the “peculiar system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols” to ourselves. No matter how many rituals or meetings you turn up to you can’t absorb the virtue of morality by osmosis (Though you may absorb extra weight as you eat your way through numerous festive boards.). To make a daily progress in Masonic knowledge you have got to work hard in your spare time. You need to contemplate the working tools, and apply their principles to your daily life until they become second nature. You need to study the ritual, slowly cultivate the control and progress it demands. When others see Masons on this path they will flock to join us, as they did in the past.
The task that Freemasonry puts before each one of us, is monumental, hard and painstaking. It is easy for modern Freemasons to push their efforts and time into other matters, which though laudable can lead to them becoming distracted from the purpose of the Craft.
Many Freemasons become expert on the history of Freemasonry in general and their own Lodge in particular. Knowledge of Masonic history is interesting and fun, but it should always be second to the transformational work of Freemasonry. Many Freemasons work hard to be charitable. Charity is commendable and is one of the virtues all Freemason should try to cultivate. But Charity should be a side effect of our personal development not its focus. It is not, and should not, become the point in our organization. If we are a charity then our ritual is of no purpose. If we are a moral School the important thing is that our students are learning. I believe it is time for Freemasonry to take a close, critical look at itself.
The United Grand Lodge of England is leading the way with the message of its pamphlet Freemasonry An Approach to Life which makes clear to the public that freemasonry is system of self-improvement. But the brethren need to get serious and back up this message by demonstrating its application by their actions.
If we are to regenerate Freemasonry from within, we need to look to the future not the past. We need to enjoy the solution, not suffer the problem. I opened this article by saying Freemasonry in England is Dying. Our third degree teaches us that a wonderful thing about death is it can lead to a rebirth. Let is concentrate on putting this Masonic lesson at the center of our Freemasonry.
Freemasonry will never be extinguished by outside forces. Tyrants, religious zealots, conspiracy theorists, and the jealous have attempted to stamp out the oldest fraternity and have repeatedly failed. At times the Society of Freemasons has gone into ultra-secret mode when faced with attack and this simple defensive mechanism enabled it to survive until the storm passed. Freemasonry can be killed, however, in two ways – one of which is not realistically going to happen anytime soon.
Freemasonry can die simply because it is no longer needed. That would require, however, an unprecedented and unlikely — at least in the imaginable future — change in all of human society. All humans would have to actively seek enlightenment while dealing with each other on the level. Humankind is nowhere near this utopian ideal.
The other, more possible, cause of death would be as the result of Masonic suicide. Masonic suicide could come in many forms, but the very real potential scenario involves making the mistake of thinking that humankind has reached that utopian level previously mentioned. If a large segment of the Freemasonic fraternity believing that all of mankind is ready for the teachings of Freemasonry — pushes for the inclusion of all people into the organization, an unraveling of the very fabric of the fraternity could easily occur. To understand how this could happen, an examination of what makes Freemasonry work is necessary.
Like any fraternity, Freemasonry is a collection of — despite some amount of diversity — a gathering of like-minded men. The Brethren of the Craft must have, by necessity, some common ground even before they became members of the Fraternity. Without this basic foundation there could be no way to keep the fraternity from crumbling into chaos. An easy example of a portion of this common ground is a belief in a Supreme Being. Without this belief — held by all the members of Freemasonry — there would be no starting point. There would be no foundation. There can certainly be organizations without this important building block but they just can not be classified as Freemasonic.
Another important aspect of why Freemasonry works and sustains herself is the existence of a structure – a government. Though there is no doubt that Freemasonry contains a philosophy, one would be remiss if he did not recognize that it is — first and foremost — a structured government. It is a society that has a philosophy. The rules, regulations, and diplomatic protocols drive the philosophy — not the other way around. The governmental side of Freemasonry is what keeps the philosophy from becoming fractured and it also ensures that the common ground, or foundation, remains intact. Without the governing structure, the philosophy of Freemasonry would quickly splinter into many different philosophies as individuals attempt to remake the Fraternity into their own images.
If large enough numbers of the Brethren start failing to recognize the importance of the governmental side of Freemasonry and its role in maintaining the foundation and the philosophy, fraternal suicide is imminent. Chaos will replace Freemasonry as she splinters and fractures herself to death. Those Masons of yesteryear that orchestrated the union between the Ancients and Moderns understood this concept, as well – to a certain extent – as did the ones that arranged the creation of the United Grand Lodges of Germany. Freemasons of the past worked hard to correct the fractures and splinters and Freemasons of today should not allow the fraternity to travel that road again. Correction may not be possible the second time around.
Do you agree with these sentiments, or are they a limiting factor in the growth of the fraternity?
You can find more from the Palmetto Bug at the Masonic Line.
Someone check the Old charges and see if they require us to use paper plates. I’m just back from looking at them and I don’t find any reference, so I thought perhaps I would draft my own.
III. Of LODGES (Amended 2009).
A LODGE is a place where Masons assemble and work: Hence that Assembly, or duly organiz’d Society of Masons, is call’d a LODGE, and every Brother ought to belong to one. The LODGE shall be caparisoned in SHAG CARPET and there shall be many avocado-coloured appliances – which provided they still operate shall not suffer themselves to be upgraded. INTERNET IS RIGHT OUT, as is such decoration or appurtenances that may not be made by hand or purchased for less than two SHILLINGS.
In ancient Times, the LODGE was gloriously decorated in crimson, purple, bronze and gold, but these artifices being deemed too difficult to execute by modern Masons are to be hereunto cast aside in favor of vinyl tablecloths, paper plates and paper napkins which are easier. The persons admitted Members of a LODGE must be good and true Men, free-born, and of mature and discreet Age, who may abide forever the serving of meatloaf, green bean casserole and roast beef the texture of boot leather.
There. Much better. Now, they’ll be no more harping among the young upstarts about how we need to “spruce things up a bit” or “take pride in ourselves.” We’re Masons, damn their eyes, and if we stand for anything, we stand for immovable change with an unshakable, mulish, bull-headed conviction that any and all change is not only untoward, but simply wrong.
Recently this issue came to a head when the Grand Lodge decided to hold its Warden’s School here. No problem, we’ve held the statewide Warden’s School off and on at my lodge since the 1950s – which is actually rather convenient because we still had some of the original leftovers and the menus were already printed. We’d just scratch out the names of the old Grand Masters and pencil in the names of the new ones – neatly mind you – and it took about 30 seconds worth of work, which if you ask me is time well spent for Masonry.
But then, a young Turk decided that we should change the menu and actually serve a meal that the guests would like to eat: smoked prime rib, new potatoes, that kind of stuff. Catered. Yes, you heard me, CATERED.
Now over and above the fact that this was a slap in the face to Euna Stubbs who had been cooking meals for us since Pontius Pilate, the cost was simply astronomical: $14.00 per plate. Euna and the Star Chapter only charge us $5.50 a plate and that’s always been good enough for us in the past. The young Turks told us that since Grand Lodge was going to foot the entire bill, we might as well take them up on their offer, and serve a really nice meal (another slap in the face to Euna). Well, I voted for it in lodge of course, but don’t you worry, I spent the next month bitching about it to everyone who would listen about how extravagant it was, all this folderol and for what? Dinner with the Grand Master? In my view, if you start feeding them like that, you might as well set out food for all the stray cats in the neighborhood, too, as you’ll never be shed of any of them.
Now on the night of the dinner things really came to a head. This young Turk and his wife bought linen tablecloths – I hope it was with their own money – and (get this): FRESH FLOWERS to put on all the tables. Now over and above the fact that this was a slap in the face to Beulah Longbottom who made the centerpieces we always use for banquets during the Truman administration (now THERE was a Mason – no smoked prime rib for that man), God rest her soul, she’s dead now, of course – hard to believe it’s been over thirty years ago – but I digress… she made these centerpieces, all eight of them, by hand, from plastic forget-me-nots and yellow…I dunno… spikey-looking flower thingies, and Vernon Mantooth, who was master in ’71, stapled some aluminum square and compasses onto them (he ran the plumbing supply store back then and he had one of the kids who worked for him cut them out of scrap flashing), and they’ve always been good enough in the past, but oh no! Not now. We have to have fresh flowers. And you know what? Those fresh flowers won’t even keep a week. Beulah’s flowers have been going strong for almost sixty-five years. Progress. Yeah, right.
I was all set to start unrolling the vinyl table-cloth covering thing from the roll we keep in the boiler room. It’s like a roll of trash bags, but instead of being black, it’s white. What? It looks good. Anyway, we cut it to length on each table and then tape it down at each of the four corners so that the table is covered nice and neatly. I was just getting started when all of a sudden the Jr. Warden says they want to use cloth tablecloths. I guess that saves on tape, which can be kind of expensive…you know, I’ve lobbied for years to just glue the vinyl down on each table and then after dinner is over, we can just take the tables out to the parking lot and spray them off, but it’s never gone anywhere. Anyway, so, you save on scotch tape with these newfangled cloth tablecloths, but then you have to wash them! I told the Jr. Warden this and he said he didn’t mind, he would wash them at home – which if you ask me is absolutely insane, but whatever: it doesn’t cost the lodge anything and if this guy is crazy enough to waste two hours of his time with the washer and dryer, I guess it’s OK with me.
So we have dinner, which was fine, although for $14.00 a plate, you’d think they’d give you Baked Alaska and Lobster Thermidor served by real French waiters flown over from France. I haven’t been to a restaurant in a while – I don’t get out all that much — but last time I ate at the Diner, I could have bought half the restaurant for fourteen dollars. Anyway, afterwards, the Grand Master and his group were very complimentary of the effort the lodge put forth, and they were specifically pleased with the meal – like they are too good for Euna’s meatloaf (another slap in the face, if you ask me), or something. But all the ladies could talk about were the fresh flowers. I tried telling one of them that it was a shame they wouldn’t last the week, but she said she didn’t mind and that she thought they were beautiful. Go figure. Now, normally we’d have been done right after this. We’d rip off the vinyl table covers, brush the crumbs off, stack the tables and chairs and then we could go upstairs and drink coffee for another two hours by ourselves, but not this time. You know why? Because some genius decided we should use real plates and silverware instead of paper plates and plastic forks. Luckily we had had about ten brothers there helping, but it still took us almost FORTY minutes to wash, dry and put all the stuff away.
The younger guys were all having fun with it, but I thought it was ridiculous. And you want to know what the worst part of it was? Grand Lodge was so “impressed” that they want us to do the same thing next year.
No good deed goes unpunished — isn’t that the truth.
But I still think gluing the vinyl table covering to the table would look a lot classier than taping it. And it would be much easier.
The Foundation of the First Grand Lodge in Context
Leon Zeldis, FPS
It is difficult to imagine the way of life of our early Masonic ancestors. It is equally difficult to understand the social milieu in which the founders of the premier Grand Lodge acted, but such understanding is essential if we want to understand the motives that led to the creation of that body and its later development.
Let us make an imaginary journey back in time to the London of 1717. That was a city without sewers, the streets filled with dung from the thousands of horses and wet with sewage thrown out of the window. The houses were black with the soot blowing out of numberless chimneys. Some children died asphyxiated while being used as live chimney brushes. It was dangerous to walk about in the streets after dark (some street lamps were installed beginning in 1677, but public lighting with gas started only in 1786). Criminality was rampant, punishment brutal, prison for debt was common.
Witchcraft was still believed. The Scottish teenager Patrick Morton was allegedly bewitched in 1704.  The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1712.
Autos-da-fe were still held in other countries, the public burning of recanting Jews forcibly converted to Christianity. The last burnings in Portugal took place in 1781 (17 persons in Coimbra and 8 in Evora).
The industrial revolution had not yet started – that would come in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries – but a numerous class of have-nots already existed, homeless, beggars, criminals of every kind.
This brings us to the marked class differences. The aristocracy and the land owners, generally the same, whose wealth was based on the land, were on top. Below them came the bourgeoisie, merchants, lawyers, doctors, educators, shippers, men of arms. All these constituted a small minority. And then the vast mass, those who would eventually be called the proletariat. There were no factories as yet, but numerous workshops, craftsmen of many trades, and many, masses of servants, butlers, footmen, cooks, housemaids, porters, gardeners, and also farm workers, shepherds, miners, fishermen, all of them completely separated from the upper classes by their lack of education, their language, customs, with no possibility of moving up the social scale.
This was also the time when the increase of wealth of the upper classes created the beginnings of what would later be known as the “consumer society”. 
There was a parliament, and there were elections, but the vast majority of Englishmen had no right to vote, that would take another hundred years to become true for the men, and two centuries for women (only in 1918). Common law allowed marriage at fourteen for boys and at twelve for girls. Only in 1929 legislation was introduced for the first time, prohibiting marriages under the age of sixteen. 
The Christian religion, which had dominated the life of the people during the Middle Ages, codifying in the least detail the way of life, the practice of trades, the separation of classes, was only now recovering from the sanguinary wars caused by its internal divisions. The various reformers, though rejecting the dominion of Rome, were different, but no more liberal.
Inside this stratified society, voices began to be heard proposing changes, making appeal to reason instead of subservience to dogma; these thinkers regarded society as a living organism, they were aware of its defects and wanted to find solutions to improve it.
Science and philosophy, which were then almost indistinguishable, were the tools in the hands of the intellectuals to implement their aspirations. The Rosicrucian manifests, published a century earlier (1613-1615) had made a strong impact on European intelligentsia, announcing the political and social revolution to come. In 1690 John Locke published his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, maintaining that all our knowledge is derived from what we receive through the senses, that our will is determined by our mind, guided by the desire for happiness, and defending the possibility of studying the world rationally, without being shackled by dogmas or preconceived ideas.
This was the Age of Reason. Rationalism and science would open the way to make a perfect society. The 17th century had marked a turning point in the interests of scholars, who now began to focus their attention on the natural sciences and started researching nature, making experiments in all its areas. Astrology gradually gave way to astronomy, alchemy to chemistry; the study of anatomy and physiology revolutionized medicine, for long the province of barbers and quack doctors. New fields of study opened every day.
This is reflected in the creation of numerous scientific academies which joined the literary and philosophical ones, such as the French Academy, founded in 1635.
Already in 1621 Cósimo de Médici established in Florence the Platonic Academy, while in Rome the Academia dei Lincei, dedicated to scientific research, especially astronomy, was founded in 1603; one of its members was Galileo Galilei. And in 1607 Florence saw the creation of the Academia del Cimento, likewise destined to serve as forum for experimenters. Later, in 1666, the Royal Academy of Sciences was created in Paris, while four years earlier, in 1662, the Royal Society had started meeting in London, providing a platform for researchers and scholars. Some of the most prominent founders of the premier Grand Lodge were also active in it.
The Society of Antiquaries, which had been organized originally in 1572 by Archbishop Parker, and had been disbanded in the reign of James I, was revived in 1717 owing to the efforts of William Stukeley, a prominent Mason. The Society received a charter in 1751. 
We must remember, however, that sciences were in their early stages of development. Robert Boyle died in 1691, Leibnitz in 1716 and Newton in 1727, but Priestly was born only in 1733, Cavendish in 1731 and Faraday seventy years later. Lavoisier was born in 1743 and Alexander Humboldt even later, in 1769.
England still used the Julian calendar dating from the time of Julius Caesar. The Gregorian calendar was adopted only in 1752, almost 200 years after being established by Pope Gregory XIII.
European thought was strongly influenced by esoteric thinking, the Rosicrucians, the Cabbala, alchemy and tarot. Hebrew was highly regarded, as the sacred language of the Bible, and also as the language spoken by God when addressing man. Some scholars believed that all other languages were derived from Hebrew.
In 1684, Knorr von Rosenroth published Kabbalah Denudata (Kabbalah Unveiled), a translation of passages from the Zohar and essays on the meaning of Kabbalah (including portions of Cordovero’s Pardes Rimonim) examined from a Christian point of view. Rosenroth’s work was the most important non-Hebrew reference book on the Kabbalah until the end of the 19th century and it became the major source on this subject for non-Jewish scholars.
After Cromwell allowed — unofficially — the return of Jews, a small community began to assemble in England, integrated almost exclusively by Sephardic Jews, mainly immigrants from the Netherlands, where many Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal had found refuge and freedom to practice their religion openly. The strength of the Jewish community in Amsterdam can be judged by the fact that the first Hebrew newspaper appeared in that city in 1728 (5488), edited by a Sephardic Rabbi, Shlomo Salem. It was a religious newspaper called Pri Etz Hayim (Fruit of the Tree of Life). British lodges, too, opened their doors and Jewish Masons appear in lodge registers as soon as the Grand Lodge was founded, and it is almost certain that some Jews were accepted in the lodges even earlier.
The study of nature was still based on the treatises of the Greek philosophers, which began to be translated. The evolution to more scientific studies was driven by the development of technology and changes in the economic structure of the country. The beginnings of the industrial revolution are linked with the mechanization of the textile industry. For centuries, spinners and weavers worked together at home. Four spinners were required to keep a weaver supplied with cotton yarn, and ten spinners were required to keep a wool weaver busy. In 1733 John Kay patented his “flying shuttle” and suddenly the productivity of each weaver was multiplied several-fold, creating unprecedented demand for more yarn. The first spinning machine was invented as early as in 1738, but it was unsuccessful. In 1764 Hargreaves patented his “spinning jenny” (named, according to legend, for his daughter), a machine based on the spinning wheel but with several spindles working in tandem; the machine, however, was slow and inefficient. Only in 1769 Arkwright built his roller-spinning machine (the “water frame”) and the first industrial spinning mill was established, using horses for power, and in 1779 Samuel Crompton patented his “spinning mule” combining the principles of the water frame and the spinning jenny, a ten-yard long machine with hundreds of spindles working simultaneously. These machines, with some improvements, were still in use until the middle of the 20th century.
In 1712 Thomas Newcomen patented the atmospheric steam engine, designed to pump water from the coal mines. James Watt, the inventor of the double-action steam engine, was born in 1736, when the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (its original name) was less than 20 years old.
As we can see, the principal discoveries and inventions of science and technology were unknown in 1717, and only in the course of that century and the next were the developments made which set the foundation for modern science. Explorers, too, were still operating at full sail. Easter Island was discovered only in 1722, by Dutch seamen. Africa was largely unexplored.
Let us now examine other aspects of society at the time we are studying, starting with the situation of arts and letters.
In music, string orchestras began to be formed. Stradivarius (1644-1737) was building his famous violins. The clarinet had been invented in 1690, and in 1709 the Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano. The Englishman John Shore invented the tuning fork in 1711. Dance masters still played the pochette, the miniature fiddle that could be held in a pocket while not in use.
Purcell had died in 1695, but Bach, Haendel, and Domenico Scarlatti were 32 years old in 1717 (all three had been born in the same year: 1685). Haendel’s Water Music, was played for the first time on July 17, 1717, celebrating the sail of George I’s royal barge on the Thames, only a few weeks after the foundation of the Grand Lodge. Corelli wrote his 12 Concerti Grossi in 1712, and died a year later.
In the theater, Congreve and Racine were the current star playwrights. Molière had died in 1673 and Corneille in 1684. In Japan, the Kabuki theatre was in its infancy, replacing the more conservative No.
In literature, John Dryden had died in 1700, but the satirist Jonathan Swift, the novelist Daniel Defoe and the poet Alexander Pope were well known and productive. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719. A few years later, some thirty unsigned pamphlets, ballads, plays and other pieces were published about the lives of a criminal called John Sheppard and his nemesis, Jonathan Wild, which can be considered the first popular biographies written about contemporary subjects. Five of the pamphlets were attributed to Defoe, published between 1724 and 1725.
The poet and artist William Blake was 60 years old in 1717. The novelist Henry Fielding and Dr. Samuel Johnson on the other hand, were only 10 years old.
All the great Russian novelists belong to a later age. In Spain, Calderón de la Barca had died in 1681, and then Spanish letters, after its brilliant Golden Age (17th century), became strangely poor.
D’Alembert, the immortal creator of the Encyclopedia, was born in the same year as the Grand Lodge, 1717.
In painting, Gainsborough was born only in 1727, but Hogarth was in his most productive epoch. His etching “Night”, published in 1727, is justly famous for showing the tipsy Master of the lodge walking on the street supported by the Tyler while a disgruntled housewife throws water or some other liquid (!) from an upper floor window.
Rembrandt had died in 1669, closing a brilliant era of Flemish painters. In France, Watteau (1684-1721) and Boucher (1703-1770) enchanted the court of the Sun King, while in Venice, Canaletto (20 years old) and Tiepolo (21) would achieve fame later. Spain, after a 17th century plethoric of great artists had an 18th devoid of masters. An artistic disaster took place in 1718, when a fire destroyed all thirty-nine ceiling paintings by Van Dyck in the Jesuit church in Antwerp. Those were “the only secure touchstone for Van Dyck’s work in collaboration with Rubens” 
Let us now turn to the political developments in England. The 17th century was a time of endless struggles and tragedies. The Turks had failed to conquer Vienna in 1683, but the memory of that siege and the threat of Moslem advances in Europe were still fresh in 1717. London had suffered the scourge of the Black Death, the bubonic plague, which reached its peak in 1665; a year later the great fire devastated the city, but at the same time extirpated most of the rats that transmitted the plague. Reconstructing the capital city gave great impulse to the building trades, and was perhaps one of the antecedents for the development of masons’ lodges.
The religious wars between Catholics and Protestants which desolated Europe for a century resulted in England’s civil war, the execution of Charles I (in 1649) and the Commonwealth presided by Oliver Cromwell, the “Protector”. England then had its single period as a republic, which lasted only 11 years. And then, in 1660, the Stuart king Charles II, son of Charles I, returned to power. He was followed by his brother James II until Parliament, fearing that the Catholicism of the king would result in renewed warfare, deposed him in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, offering the British throne to protestant William, Prince of Orange, born in Holland, but grandson of King Charles I.
James II did not accept his dethronement with grace. He continued plotting his return, gaining the support of Catholic Spain. His military aspirations, however, suffered a dramatic defeat at the battle of the Boyne, in Ireland, on July 12, 1690. James fled back to France putting an end to the Stuart dynasty. William III reigned together with his wife Mary II until her death in 1694, and continued ruling alone until 1702.
The Stuart king and his son, in exile in Europe, continued dreaming of recovering their lost kingdom. In fact, a Spanish force supporting the Stuarts landed in Scotland in 1719 (two years after the foundation of Grand Lodge), but the invaders were roundly defeated in the battle of Glenshiel. That was not the end of Stuart ambitions, which continued plotting throughout the period that interests us.
Some Stuart supporters, mainly Scots, followed him in exile and were involved in the creation of the first Masonic lodges in the continent. Here they received the influence of the mystic trends current in Europe, and they created the additional degrees which, not surprisingly, were called “Scottish.” In later years, after a long evolution, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite was born.
King William was not much loved by his subjects. He was a Dutchman at heart, and his willful character did not win him popularity. However, he accepted the Act of Consent, which banned any Catholic from ever becoming king. During his reign the first insurance company was formed (1699). At his death was crowned Anne, the second daughter of James II, who ruled only from 1702 to 1714. Her short reign was marked, however, by several important developments. During her reign Scotland and England became finally united in 1707, which for the Scots meant the loss of their Parliament. This situation continued until a few years ago, when Scotland recovered a measure of autonomy. Anne’s reign also marked the issue of the Copyright Act (1708-09) which gave absolute control on all printed matter to the Stationers’ Company in England, later extended to Scotland, Ireland and the American Colonies, thus abolishing in fact freedom of the press. However, this also gave limited-term protection on the “literary property”, for the first time anywhere in Europe. 
A postal system was instituted in England in her time, and a Prime Minister was appointed for the first time (1710).
This was the “golden age” of piracy in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  Roughly between 1716 and 1726 there would be between 1,000 and 2,000 pirates in the Atlantic at any time. “Nearly half of them were by origin English, about a tenth Irish, and another tenth combined from Scotland and Wales. The remainder came from British North America or the West Indies, with a scattering from Holland, France, Portugal and other European countries, and Africa…. Over the ten years on which Rediker focuses, pirates probably captured and plundered about 2,400 vessels…” 
A radical change in the British throne came about in 1714, when George I, ascended to the throne. Although he was the son of a German princess, and had only a distant relationship with the English royal line, he was the closest Protestant candidate.
George I, founder of the House of Hanover, was a stolid German soldier without imagination, who never learned to speak English and preferred to continue living in Hanover rather than London. He allowed his English ministers to run the country, while he devoted himself to hunting and ruling with iron hand his German subjects.
The British government was left in the hands of ministers like Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of England. During his term of office the financial scandal known as the South Sea Bubble broke out. A stock company established in 1710 called the South Sea Company engaged in triangular trade, sending ships with English merchandise (mainly whiskey, weapons and textiles) to western Africa, buying there African slaves, transporting them to America, and returning home with goods like sugar and tobacco. This commerce was so profitable that the company could give its stockholders enormous dividends, reaching 100% in a year. Frenzied speculation followed, the company issued additional shares without any control, and many copycat companies were formed, some of them existing only on paper. Finally, the soap bubble burst in 1720, the price of the stock dropped 98.5% and the unfortunate investors were left penniless. It is said that Dr. James Anderson, the author of The Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723, 1738) also invested in the Bubble and lost heavily. The memory of this scandal lasted for many decades.
France, too, had been rocked by scandal, the rash of accusation and convictions for poisoning which gripped Versailles in 1679-80, culminating in suspicion that the king’s mistress, Mme. De Montespan, had made at attempt to poison Luis XIV.
When George I died of a stroke in 1727, his son George II succeeded him. The young king was a soldier like his father, his morals were uncertain, but his reign lasted longer, until 1760. Canada was conquered during this period, the last rebellion of the Stuart pretender was suppressed, and the foundations of the Indian empire (later developed by Disraeli) were established. These also were the years when Freemasonry flourished amazingly both in Great Britain and in the European continent, especially in France and Germany. A second Grand Lodge was formed in London, known as the “Antients”, founded mainly by Irish immigrants who disliked the innovations introduced by the older Grand Lodge, which they designated disrespectfully as the “Moderns”. Possibly, another factor leading to the creating of a competing Grand Lodge was the poor reception given by the British to the Irish Masons.
To conclude this survey, I’ll broaden the scope to look at the world in general at the beginning of the 18th century. In France, King Louis XIV, the Roi Soleil governed until 1715. During his reign he revoked the Edict of Nantes (1685), leading to the emigration of many Huguenots, some of whom became active in the creation of the Grand Lodge of London, and in formulating its principles of tolerance. His attempt to annex Spain to create a joint Bourbon kingdom led to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713), in which France fought the armies of the Grand Alliance (England, the United Provinces and the Habsburg empire), finally being defeated. He was succeeded by his great-grandson, who was only 5 years old, so France was governed for many years by a regent, starting with the Duke of Orleans.
In Russia, Peter the Great was building Saint Petersburg (which celebrated the third centenary of its foundation in 2003). The Turks declared war on Russia in 1711, defeating the Tsar. King Phillip IV, the first Hapsburg, reigned in Spain, while in India the Mogul rulers (descendants from Tamerlan) completed their conquest and Mohammed Shah was the Grand Mogul. In 1722, Pathan tribesmen under Mahmud Ghilzai destroyed the Safavid Empire. In China, Emperor Kangxi was nearing the end of his reign (1662-1722). He was the first of the Three Emperors of the Qing dynasty (1662-1795) of Manchu invaders, who had overthrown the Ming dynasty of Han Chinese. 
Although the great wars of religion of the 17th century had concluded, military spending did not drop; on the contrary, about 1700, countries like France, Austria and Sweden devoted between 75 and 90 percent of total government expenditure for military purposes. Britain became the most highly taxed nation; between 1688 and 1815, taxes increased sixteen-fold and borrowing 240 fold. 
Let us now return to the way of life of London citizens at that time, the early 18th century. Their world lacked any fast means of communication. The fastest transport was by horse. No daily newspapers existed – the first English papers were weeklies, and the first daily was born only in 1769, and had very small circulation. Mass journalism came about only in 1811 when the rotary press was invented.
High society met at home, of rather, in their mansions. The well-to-do gentry lived mostly in the country, and came to the capital only for the “season” of balls and soirées, focused on the royal court. Garden design was the newest fashion in all Europe. Germans were building Chinese pavilions in 1707, before the English did the same.
William Kent, born in 1685, was an interior designer and architect. In the 1720’s he made popular the Palladian style for the houses of the rich, later he invented the “Gothick”, and then caused a revolution in the design of English gardens, freeing them from the straightjacket of formality.
Which were the public meeting places? The word public indicates it: the pub (from “public house”), an inn where people gathered to drink, eat, sing, and exchange ideas. It was at the same time hostel, restaurant and club.
The clubs played an important role in the social life of the upper classes. One of the most famous, or infamous, was the Hellfire Club, widely believed to be a secluded heaven for secret rituals and orgiastic sex. The club was officially known as The Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, the Monks of Medmenham or The Order of the Knights of West Wycombe. It was organized by Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), who was initiated in a Masonic lodge while sojourning in Florence. 
The first London lodges logically met in pubs, in a separate room or a second floor, where they conducted their ceremonies between one course and another or else, as practiced in some lodges to this day, had dinner after the ceremony. 
According to what we know of the manner of operating the lodges in that period, we can infer that the ceremonial part of the meeting was very brief, symbolism was limited to the lodge panel, the brethren wore gloves and – a very important point -were armed with swords.
The room where the ceremony was conducted had no special furniture. The symbols of our tools and other lodge implements were drawn on a panel or board, the well-known Tracing Board, or else they were drawn on the floor with chalk and coal, to be erased after the ceremony using bucket and mop. Hogarth’s engraving mentioned earlier shows a mop being carried by one of the lodge brothers.
Masonic meetings were marked by conviviality. As stated, dinner was an important, in fact an integral part of the ceremony. Music and singing were in order. It is only necessary to open the first book of Anderson’s Constitutions (1723) to confirm this fact. Sixteen of its 90 pages are dedicated to the songs of the Master, the Wardens, the Fellow-Craft and the Apprentices, all of them with the corresponding music scores.
The second edition of the Constitutions, of 1738, much more extensive, also has 16 pages of songs, more numerous but only with the words. Apparently the music was too well knows to waste good paper reproducing it.
More impressive in this connection is the Book of Constitutions of the “Ancients” Grand Lodge, Ahiman Rezon, written by its Grand Secretary Lawrence Dermott; the volume contains almost 100 pages of songs; and probably the most popular Masonic book of the 18th century, William Preston’s Illustrations of Masonry – a work that enjoyed numerous printings from the 70’s of the 18th until the first decades of the 19th centuries – held no less than 44 pages of odes, hymns and songs.
A last remark concerning the songs; when mentioning the Master’s Song in the first edition of the Constitutions, that of 1723, this refers to the Master of the Lodge, not a Master Mason. As we know, the split of the Second Degree creating the two degrees known today dates from a few years later.
The Masonic lodge was a refuge of peace and tranquility at a time of political uncertainty, when the memory of religious warfare was fresh in the memory of all men, when the first discoveries and inventions were transforming the economy, and opening new perspectives of progress, when the hope that rationality and humanism would banish from the hearts of men the evils of fanaticism and intolerance. This was the fertile ground on which early speculative Freemasonry germinated and grew, spreading its branches throughout the western world.
The actuarial tables and my aching joints proclaim insistently that I have reached middle age, a notification that few receive gratefully and I am no exception.
Apart from the aches and pains of life which suddenly and mysteriously appear like a thief in the night, middle age is that betwixt and between part of life where one is thought to begin accruing the benefits of life while still being young enough to enjoy them for a few years before the AARP, senility and Prostatitis hurry one along into old age proper, and the accompanying bills not covered by Medicare. Still, it’s better than the alternative, I suppose.
Two recent events put paid to any notion I had about being a young man.
The first was the unshakable conviction of my optometrist that I could no longer dodge a pair of bifocals without going blind, and the second was my refusal to drive another mile in my old but faithful pickup truck. I’ve never been a sports car guy , I didn’t even lust for one in high school, although I did own a fairly muscular 1968 Chevy Malibu, stock, with 307 cubic-inches of V8 that would run like a scalded dog and lay a scratch shifting into third. After nearly killing myself by knocking a chunk out of the federal interstate system infrastructure, however, I decided that a slower and less tempting pickup truck would provide more sensible transportation and I’ve driven one ever since.Trouble was, none of them were very comfortable – at least none of the ones I owned.So, like a typical maladjusted mid-life American male, I decided that my troubles could be easily solved by getting a hot car, and that’s just what I did, not a new Charger, no Corvette, not even a Mustang.No. I bought a Lincoln, a 2002 Continental (the last year for that model), with heated leather everything – even the dual speed fuel pump is made out of leather, and yes, it’s heated too.This baby is, as my wife would say, a Man Boat without apology. The Man Boat does not solve all of middle-age’s problems, but while you’re fiddling with all the buttons and switches inside, and rubbing Meguiar’s Gold Class Leather Cleaner on the interior, you tend to forget about them for a while, which again, is better than the alternative.
I didn’t think that owning a Man Boat would have anything to do with Masonry, but, boy, was I was wrong.
It turns out, it has everything to do with Masonry. In fact, if Masonry was the official sponsor of a car, it would be the Lincoln Town Car, the big brother and successor in interest of my Continental. The Cadillac De Ville is maybe a close second, but still way back there. Masons drive Lincolns. If you doubt me on this, cruise the parking lot at Grand Lodge next time and count the Lincolns – more Town Cars than you can shake a stick at. In fact Masons love Lincolns – and none of this Navigator crap, either – I’m talking Lincoln Town Cars, and they love them for a number of very definite reasons. First of all, they’re comfy, which is good because old guys hate squeezing into an Astin Martin DB5 which has zero head room, less leg room and you can’t fit your apron case and Shrine hat box in and still have room for the Trouble in Strife. They’re powerful too, but not like a hot rod: classier. But perhaps more importantly, Lincolns are motor-ologically speaking both elemental and changeless, just like Masonry.
Henry Ford (Palestine Lodge No. 357, Detroit, Michigan) owned the first Continental (a one-off model), and they have been in continuous production since 1939. Not fuel efficient you say? Yes, you’re right. Neither is Masonry. At least not yet. So, let’s recap: big, roomy, comfy, racy in an old guy sort of way, horsepower aplenty, and with the exception of some exterior trim and the odd opera window and rag top, they haven’t changed one jot since 1939. That sounds like Masonry to me. And if it was good enough for Henry Ford, it’s good enough for us, right? Change, you understand, is not only overrated, but damned dangerous.
Which brings me to Wilmshurst.
Eighty-seven years ago, which oddly enough seems like when I graduated from high school, the great Masonic commentator Walter Leslie Wilmshurst wrote that the “Meaning of Masonry… is a subject usually left entirely unexpounded and that accordingly remains largely unrealized by its members save such few as make it their private study; the authorities of what in all other respects is an elaborately organized and admirably controlled community have hitherto made no provision for explaining and teaching the ” noble science ” which Masonry proclaims itself to be and was certainly designed to impart.” 
In The Meaning of Masonry, Wilmshurst goes on to say that Masonry, which eclipses every other fraternal organization, does so only to the degree that its spirituality demands serious commitment from its members. Stripped of that esotericism, Wilmshurst argues, Masonry is no more than the Salvation Army with aprons. And, I hasten to add, Lincoln Town Cars.
And while I’m no alchemist, I acknowledge that Masonry encompasses more, so very much more than that. If I understood Albert Pike, or if I gave credence to Manly P. Hall, or any of our other soothsayers, perhaps I could readily agree with many of my fellows who seem to know just what exactly Masonry does encompass in the less-than-tangible realm, but despite my uncertainty, I am sure that there is something, and I am still searching. Judging from the comments I hear each year at Grand Lodge, I am one of the few Lincoln drivers who have reached that point, but now that I have infiltrated their camp, I intend on finding out how many other fellow travelers there are. I’m not optimistic, though.
Soon, perhaps by next week the way things are going, I will be forced to give up my Lincoln and ordered to buy a Ford Focus which is a crappy car for me but better for everyone else (which is all that matters, apparently), but in the meantime, if you spot a waterfall grille in your rear-view, it might just be me.
The bifocals, by the way, should be in by next week, damn them.
 The Meaning of Masonry, Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 1993, p. 5.
Diogenes (c. 412- c. 323 B.C ) was a very playful philosopher who liked to use great wit when challenging the values and beliefs of his fellow citizens in ancient Athens. He lived in great poverty, probably begging and stealing his food, and steadfastly disdained all forms of luxury. It was because of his determination to follow his own dictates and not adhere to the conventions of society that he was given the epithet “dog,” from which the name “cynic” is derived.[i]
As a lover of history I am always looking for masonic connections. Lately I have come across some writings of Diogenes and they immediately struck a cord. I am a mentor at my lodge and I always stress to every candidate that masonry isn’t a service club. It is more an individual effort rather than a group effort that makes you a mason. This doesn’t come over night; it takes some time even years to fully realize the commitment to your own personal growth. Eventually you will have an epiphany and realize that what you do in your daily life is linked directly to your masonic thinking.
Masonic growth has had its ups and downs over the centuries; the latest growth surge was just after the Second World War, however by the end of the 1960’s masonry’s growth had slowed and the next decline had started. The seventies and eighties saw several generations by passing joining the order as it appeared too old and too conformist. However with the spread of the internet and a growing middle age population who were now yearning for a purpose in a very fast paced society, people are beginning to try and make sense out of their lives. Masonry once again has become a beacon to those who wish to find themselves and a purpose in their hectic lives.
There have been many changes to freemasonry over the centuries that we all have taken for granted and all too often you hear that tired old refrain “this is how its always been done”. Well it may have in the past but now is the present and the future is waiting to greet us tomorrow. I hope by looking at the teachings of a great philosopher such as Diogenes we can learn that change rests on the individual and is timeless. So I have selected some very choice teachings of Diogenes and over the next while I shall compare them to the principles of masonry and show how we can make ourselves better masons and individuals.
Lesson No. 1
Plato was discoursing on his theory of ideas and, pointing to the cups on the table before him, said “While there are many cups in the world, there is only one ‘idea’ of a cup, and this cupness precedes the existence of all particular cups.”
“I can see the cup on the table,” interupted Diogenes, “but I can’t see the ‘cupness.'”
“That’s because you have the eyes to see the cup,” said Plato, “but”, tapping his head with his forefinger, “you don’t have the intellect with which to comprehend ‘cupness’.”
Diogenes walked up to the table, examined a cup and, looking inside, asked, “Is it empty?”
“Where is the ’emptiness’ which precedes this empty cup?” asked Diogenes.
Plato allowed himself a few moments to collect his thoughts, but Diogenes reached over and, tapping Plato’s head with his finger, said “I think you will find here is the ’emptiness’.”
I find this one of the greatest lessons a Mentor has to learn. Plato disdained Diogenes, he thought him to be uncouth and called him a “dog” or in Greek “cynic”. But the lesson taught by Diogenes is most arguments are made from false assumptions. Plato deemed that the purest form, or ideal, of the cup was in the minds eye and that the cup before them was but an imperfect copy and to further his line of logic the most imperfect was a picture of the cup drawn by an artist.
But Diogenes pointing out the empty cup found the chink in Plato’s logic and I have no doubt with great glee pointed out where to find the ideal emptiness! A few years ago I made the mistake of accepting an interesting paper “Joshua’s Missing Day” to use for lodge education with out checking its facts. I had my Plato moment when I received an email several days later that informed me that though the paper sounded good it was indeed fact less. I could have found this out had I just researched it before I used it. Strangely enough it can be found on Snopes.com, an urban legend website.
Many of us who joined masonry 25 or more years ago now find we are the mentors of the younger members of our lodges. Not all want this responsibility however for those who take up the challenge there is a constant need to educate ourselves so we don’t; first, fall into the trap of assuming masonry is unchanging and second, that we realize we have the power to make change.
If the mentoring is done properly the student will suddenly get that epiphany that brings Freemasonry into sharp focus. As a Mentor of young minds, whether the candidate is 21 or 101, you must always be sure of your teachings. Everyone has their own ideas as to what Masonry is, but it is up to the mentor to make sure they have the right idea. You can’t just say the Principles are Truth, Relief and Brotherly Love; your actions have to be their shining example! That way no one can come up to you and tap you on the head and say Freemasonry is an empty cup. We must study the history of freemasonry and we must also interpret it to today’s society.
Masonry should not be a stagnant unchanging society. Its principles are universal and it in some part should change, however it does get stuck and needs a push from time to time and that’s the job of good mentors.
Join us for this episode from March 8, 2009, as Greg and Dean are joined W. Kirk MacNulty, who is an exceptional Freemason and author of several books on the fraternity. A longtime Freemason, MacNulty brings a special understanding of Freemasonry delving into the esoteric and deeper “mystical” underpinnings of the craft. In this conversation we go deep about finding the divine presence through Freemasonry.
Br. Kirk has been an inspiration for many on the mystical ideas of Freemasonry and its deep rooted ties to the Renaissance and scientific revolution that followed. But interestingly, his take on Masonic Mysticism does did not originate from the familiar sources that we associate with it today. Also, we plan to explore the meaning and need of allegory and myth, as it pertains to the fraternity.
I do think generally speaking, that there is probably a greater interest now in the in the mystical or metaphysical dimension than there used to be.
W. Kirk MacNulty
With perhaps in a more poignant tone, this episode talks about the reawakening of the new age idea and philosophy of the the development of the inner Temple and how that act is shaping the face of Freemasonry in the 21st Century.
Our age glories in skepticism and high technology. Science explores every corner of the universe, from the infinitesimal level of subatomic particles to that of the millions of galaxies spreading in an ever expanding universe, overwhelming us with an endless flood of new facts, while imagination is banished to the sidelines of fiction, and faith is condemned as irrational. Science attempts to find unifying theories that will make the world simple, but daily experience teaches us the opposite, that the world is in fact complex and variegated.
If such is our current world, why do Freemasons insist in conveying their messages through the medium of symbolism? Why do we continue performing long and complicated ceremonies? Why is Ritual the foundation of masonic teaching? Why, in the structure of Masonry, we have to perform a special symbolic ceremony to advance from one to degree to another?
Anthropologists tell us that even the most primitive societies have their rituals, often very elaborate. And in our present, “civilized” world, we are immersed in ritual, though we may not be aware of it. From nurseries to armed forces, from law courts to tennis courts, we see old and newly-born rituals performed every day.
Ritual is intimately connected with symbolism. The national flag, the logo of a company, and the colors of a traffic light, they are all symbolic.
The physicist, the modern demiurge, creates his invisible particles in a world of infinitely precise measurements, elaborate instruments, powerful computers and mathematical analysis.
However, the human mind does not appear to work following the rules of computer logic; rather, it works on the basis of symbolic networks. Apprehension and abstraction are symbolic in nature. The language we use to think with and to convey information to others is no more than a generally accepted system of symbols. Words do not correspond to measurable physical entities. They are but shadows, images that flash in the mind and evoke associations, memories and expectations. Furthermore, most of the brain’s activity goes on underneath the surface, so to say, below the level of consciousness. This activity, revealed sometimes in dreams and myths, is nothing but symbols and analogies.
Say I hold in my hand the score for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. You see a book, yet in your mind you hear the four stating notes of the music, destiny knocking on the door, or V for Victory, if you remember Churchill. I say this a symphony, but a scientist might claim that it is only an object weighing 400 grams, composed of wood pulp beaten into sheets, partly covered with a mixture of carbon black and glue. Who is closer to the truth? Which truth is closer to us?
I now pick up a plastic disk and say this too is Beethoven’s Fifth. In my mind, they are closely related; the book and the disk are almost twins. More surprising still, they are both somehow representations of another, totally different experience, the actual concert performance of the music. The human mind has this extraordinary ability to abstract these various experiences: attending a concert, listening to a recording, reading a score, and conflating them into a single symbol: Beethoven’s Fifth.
Symbols, then, are tools for thought, ways to grasp reality and to relate it to ourselves. We sometimes forget that all measurements started as proportions of the human body. An inch is a thumb’s length; a palm, a yard (an arm’s length), a foot, a fathom (length of outstretched arms). The scientist has dehumanized his measurements, because his work is not done with tools adapted to the human body, but with instruments adapted to the machine.
In Masonry we look back to our human dimensions. The symbolic tools we use are intended to reveal direct insights about man, the microcosm, and the world about, the macrocosm. Masonry does not teach like in a classroom. We have no professors; rather we all are apprentices, learning through work, through practice, through personal experience.
Masonic teachings are acquired and developed only by personal effort and involvement, by experiencing the ritual ceremonies. Masonic degrees cannot be received by mail or through the Internet, like diplomas after concluding a course of study. Ritual and symbol are dead letter when on the printed page. Only when words and actions come to life, only by personal experience the symbols become reality.
Masons assemble in lodge in order to work. We hold work is such high esteem, because work is essentially a personal experience. Working we must use our hands, minds and heart.
Seeing only the external aspects of ritual, one may be inclined to call it a theatrical game. Indeed, when ritual is performed without proper preparation, as a charade, a series of actions, words and gestures carried out without thinking, ritual becomes a parody.
But ritual can also become the key to unlock a deeper, more immediate understanding of human nature than can be imparted by logical discourse. Ritual incorporates the accumulated experience of wise men who lived in ages before science and the scientific method were dominant, an experience expressed in legends and symbols. When Freemasonry itself is considered as a philosophical institution, that is, an association of free men lovers of knowledge, then, and only then, can we begin to appreciate the value of ritual and symbol in our Masonic work.
Yes, we do play a game in Masonry. It is a very ancient game, ever full of surprises. It is called the game of life. The tools that Masonry puts in our hands allow us to play the game better, with personal enjoyment and for the benefit of others.
S. Brent Morris, joined the Masonic Central podcast where he discussed the importance of the Scottish Rite in the 21st Century, the differences/similarities between the Scottish Rite and the York Rite, American Masonry today and shared his thoughts on how to proceed into 21st century Masonry.
In this podcast Morris discusses his personal Masonic journey including his time as the first (and only) American to head the Quatuor Coronati lodge of research and delve into the nuanced history of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in America.
We also talk about the development of the Scottish Rite Journal (the largest Masonic publication in the world with more than 250,000 circulation) from its former incarnation as the the New Age Magazine.
In this episode we dig deep into the issues facing Freemasonry (member retention), masonic literacy and the future of the gentle craft. This was a fascinating conversation to get to know Brent and his amazing work in furthering the fraternity.
This podcast was originally recorded on Sunday, November 9, 2008.