In this final installment of the Faith Hope and Charity series, we consider the symbolism of charity, or perhaps better called love. It is this attribute that allows the fraternity to “find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home,” the subtext of which Mackey defines in his text from his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry.
Charity in Freemasonry
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinth. xiii. 1, 2.)
Such was the language of an eminent apostle of the Christian church, and such is the sentiment that constitutes the cementing bond of Freemasonry.
The apostle in comparing it with faith and hope calls it the greatest of the three, and hence in Masonry, it is made the top most round of its mystic ladder. We must not fall into the too common error that charity is only that sentiment of commiseration which leads us to assist the poor with pecuniary donations. Its Masonic, as well as its Christian application, is more noble and more extensive. The word used by the apostle is, in the original, αγάπη (agápi – agapi) or love — a word denoting that kindly state of mind which renders a person full of goodwill and affectionate regard toward others. John Wesley expressed his regret that the Greek had not been correctly translated as love instead of charity, so that the apostolic triad of virtues would have been, not “faith, hope, and charity,” but “Faith, Hope and Love.” Then would we have understood the comparison made by St. Paul, when he said,
“Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.”
Guided by this sentiment, the true Mason will “suffer long and be kind.” He will be slow to anger and easy to forgive. He will stay his falling brother by gentle admonition, and warn him with kindness of approaching danger. He will not open his ear to his slanderers, and will close his lips against all reproach. His faults and his follies will be locked in his breast, and the prayer for mercy will ascend to Jehovah for his brother’s sins. Nor will these sentiments of benevolence be confined to those who are bound to him by ties of kindred or worldly friendship alone, but, extending them throughout the globe, he will love and cherish all who sit beneath the broad canopy of our universal Lodge. For it is the boast of our Institution, that a Mason, destitute and worthy, may find in every clime a brother, and in every land a home.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we examine the text of Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry on the symbolism of Hope.
Much derided, today, hope is one of those indispensable utilities that carries many of us over the final miles of a trying journey through life. In a masonic context, the symbol is simplified (almost overly) to represent a moment by which the individual may enter into the bliss of eternity.
In the video component, we explore the more broadly understanding of Hope and its origins from a small box out of the mists of antiquity.
Hope in Freemasonry
The second round in the theological and Masonic ladder, and symbolic of a hope in immortality. It is appropriately placed there, for, having attained the first, or faith in God, we are led by a belief in His wisdom and goodness to the hope of immortality. This is but a reasonable expectation; without it, virtue would lose its necessary stimulus and vice its salutary fear; life would be devoid of joy, and the grave but a scene of desolation. The ancients represented Hope by a nymph or maiden holding in her hand a bouquet of opening flowers, indicative of the coming fruit; but in modern and Masonic iconology, the science of Craft illustrations and likenesses, it is represented by a virgin leaning on an anchor, the anchor itself being a symbol of hope.
In this installment of the Symbols and Symbolism of Freemasonry, we consider a reading of Albert Mackey’s text on the subject of Faith as it pertains to Freemasonry. Distilled to a single word, Mackey gets to the essence of what that faith means in the fraternity and why it is so critical to the becoming of an Apprentice mason. Rather than give away Mackey’s conclusion, I’ll let his words speak for themselves as we explore them.
Faith in Freemasonry
In the theological ladder, the explanation of which forms a part of the instruction of the First Degree of Masonry, faith is said to typify the lowest round. Faith, here, is synonymous with confidence or trust, and hence we find merely a repetition of the lesson which had been previously taught that the first, the essential qualification of a candidate for initiation, is that he should trust in God.
In the lecture of the same Degree, it is said that “Faith may be lost in sight; Hope ends in fruition; but Charity extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity And this is said, because as faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” when we see we no longer believe by faith but through demonstration; and as hope lives only in the expectation of possession, it ceases to exist when the object once hoped for is at length enjoyed, but charity, exercised on earth in acts of mutual kindness and forbearance, is still found in the world to come, in the sublime form of mercy from God to his erring creatures.
In this episode we look at a reading of Frank C. Higgins from The Beginning of Masonry. In this piece, Higgins explores the philosophical relationship of God and Freemasonry.
There is no place in Masonry for dogmatic controversy affecting the current convictions of brethren of the craft. In its highest contemplation, Freemasonry solely regards and addresses itself to the “Great Architect of the Universe,” respecting the Names under which this Unique Identity is apostrophized in every clime, by every race, and by every school of thought.
There are no religious differences attached to the adoption of the Supreme Being. Men differ alone with respect to some of His manifestations of love and solicitude for humanity, making claims to an exclusiveness in one respect or another, which are too often the outgrowth of fast-vanishing racial isolation and the diverse trends of thought consequent upon differences of origin, climate, and environment.
In quibbling over these differences, so frequently the result of misunderstandings of identical premises, viewed from diverging angles, men are too prone to forget that the goodness and providence of Almighty God is forever pouring in a mighty deluge upon us, manifesting itself unceasingly and impartially in everything that either experience or can be experienced. From the selfish standpoint of the unintelligent ego, each individual is alternately blessed with satisfactions and cursed with deprivations or distresses, the extremes predominating in many instances without apparent reason. Many of the ancient philosophers, therefore, taught that man could attain supreme contentment only by realizing his identity with the All. Sensing this, he perceived the resistless operation of the great laws of Being, in perfect poise, harmony, and impartiality, requiring only to be heeded for man to escape the evils and enjoy the benefits thereof during his allotted term, the accidents and mishaps befalling him not being subject to the caprices of an unpropitious Ruler, but consequent upon his own unguarded collisions with unchangeable law.
There are no religious differences attached to the adoption of the Supreme Being.
Therefore, the whole problem of human life became the attainment of greater and ever greater knowledge of the natural law, upon which all progress and all security to life and happiness depended in so eminent a degree, and the divine gift of the reasoning faculties, which rendered the possible, was appreciated as God’s most precious blessing to man. Thousands of years of experiment and ceaseless vigilance on the part of eager watchers have never resulted in the detection of a single principle so unrelated to the rest of the universal machine as to have no dependence upon it. Even where the wonders of science have disclosed marvels so intricate as to baffle explanation or analysis, they have at least proved so entirely subject to certain conditions of known factors as to be easily provoked into manifestation or suppressed from view, at the will of man.
Year by year, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, the infinite details of this great cosmic-pervading law keep on unfolding to human perception, filling all space with their greatness and mocking pursuit in their ultra-microscopic perfections and yet nothing is discovered that had not existed ages before the human mind began to concern itself with its intricacies. The capacity of mind to see and understand has limitations and history-that of which it takes cognizance through the medium of the senses-is limitless and without historical beginning or end.
Every past age has attempted to place bounds upon that which it is legitimate for man to know or think he knows about the origin and constitution of the wonders about him. Each era has closed its book of human knowledge with a flaming “Finis” at the end of an ultimate chapter, and yet the dawn of every other day has ushered in new wonders, new visions, and new truths.
“Dogma” is the name given to all these futile finalities which do not finish, to the barbed wire entanglements and chevaux de frise set by each generation at the limit of its attainments, in the vain thought that the “End” had been achieved.
In most cases dogmas will be found to revolve round the privilege of classes to rule masses, irrespective of the fact that part of the cosmic law is as sure and continual an oxygenation of the sea of humanity by waves of upheaval as is manifest in seas of water, in which that which is the sluggish depth of today may be the foam-crested wave of tomorrow. Yet the mind of man, framed in the image of the Creator, even as the receiver of an acoustic instrument must be attuned to the vibrations of the transmitter, that the message may be received as it is sent, has discovered constant and unchanging elements in this stupendous order of varied manifestations, has discovered chaos-banishing laws which must be the same in an atom as in a sun, and so may be exhibited in symbols of dimensions convenient to the stature of contemplative man.
Such are the symbols of Freemasonry – evidences of the truth attributed to Triple-great Hermes, the mystic founder of our craft, that “that which is above may be discovered by examination of that which is below.”
The Masonic student may concern himself with every branch of research that is capable of throwing light upon the causes that have led men to crystallize their perceptions of immutable law in emblems and symbols. He may pursue each of the various paths of investigation indicated by the obscure phraseology of ritual until he emerges into the full blaze of Masonic light embracing its fundamental truth. He may unravel the intricacies of ancient philosophies and mythologies, in order to convince himself of their ultimate source in the fountain of revealed wisdom, and he may set his own value upon anthropomorphisms or the embodiment of attributes and principles in fleshly guise, so that what really are the play of natural forces, the sport of the elements, the cycles of worlds, are described in terms taken from the vocabulary of human life. Yet, with all this, he may not consciously offend his brother, by striking at the latter’s highest individual spiritual contemplation in a humor of disdain or ridicule. Each mind is a universe in little, a cell of the universe in great, one as eternal as the other, and subject to the same law of gradual unfoldment. Some day we shall all know the intricate and the complicated as we at present know that which is simple and few of parts; but of the infinite aggregate, the unfathomable indivisible total, our Masonry teaches us the value.
In this episode of Masonic Symbols and Symbolism, we explore the symbolism behind the Volume of Sacred Law as used in Freemasonry. Few elements are as contentious as this “indispensable book” in the lodge. Perhaps because of the diversity of faiths who claim ownership of the “one true religion…” Whatever the case, Freemasonry being the religion upon which all men agree. So which Volume of the Sacred Law is the right one?
What holy book does your lodge place on the altar? Let us know in the comments below.
Taken from The Builder magazine from 1920, it says “As the Trestle Board is for the Master to lay lines and draw designs on to enable the brethren to carry on the intended structure with regularity and propriety, so the Volume of the Sacred Law may justly be deemed the spiritual trestle board of the Great Architect of the Universe in which are laid down such divine laws and mortal precepts that were we conversant therewith and adherent thereto they would bring us to an ethereal mansion not built with hands but one eternal in the heavens.”
The Volume of the Sacred Law is considered one of the landmarks of Freemasonry and Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, defines it as “an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge.” “Advisedly,” he says, “a Book of the Law, because it is not absolutely required that everywhere the Old and New Testaments.”
Mackey goes on to say, “The Book of the Law is that volume which, by the religion of the country, is believed to contain the revealed will of the Grand Architect of the Universe. Hence, in all Lodges in Christian countries, the Book of the Law is composed of the Old and New Testaments; in a country where Judaism was the prevailing faith, the Old Testament alone would be sufficient; and in Islamic countries, the Koran might be substituted.
Masonry does not attempt to interfere with the particular religious faith of its disciples, except so far as relates to the belief in the existence of God, and what necessarily results from that belief. The Book of the Law is, to the speculative Mason, his spiritual Trestle board; without this he cannot labor; whatever he believes to be the revealed will of the Grand Architect constitutes for him this spiritual Trestleboard, and must ever be before him in his hours of speculative labor, to be the rule and guide of his conduct. The Landmark, therefore, requires that a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind, purporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form in essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.”
In its most distilled essence, one could interpret the idea of the Book of Law, as an amalgam of all sacred texts (in so far as all faiths are represented) or, as in some iterations of Freemasonry, as a blank book that is emblematic of all faiths including non-traditional acknowledgements of agnostics, hermetic, pagan or even perhaps atheism.
Masonic Traveler, the book, was something I looked at often on the site I am part of, Freemason Information, and said to myself I have to order that book. Next month I reminded myself, order that book but I didn’t. Next month I reminded myself again but I didn’t. Next month…and so it went until the day I met Greg Stewart in person for the first time and he gave me a copy as a gift. And I am so glad he did because this is a book that fills in a lot of blanks, those parts of Freemasonry that were never questioned and never answered.
Masonic Traveler is a book that will bring many Freemasons into the esoteric part of Freemasonry that a Mason never gets in Lodge. It is a journey, the journey of Gregory Stewart who is a Masonic Traveler.
Brother Tim Bryce, no stranger to either one of us or Freemason Information, wrote the introduction to the book in which he said,
Bro. Greg Stewart is a Renaissance Mason with a ravenous curiosity for all things Masonic.
The content of the book comes from a number of essays, some of which have been reworked, on Stewart’s Masonic Traveler blog from 2005-2008. Stewart is the type of individual that always has questions, always wants to know why, always wants the story behind the story and the philosophical underpinnings behind the answers if there are any. He tells us,
Of all the conclusions I have come to the most prominent to me is that the system of Freemasonry today is not merely one of a weekly social hour or ‘fish fry’ as is so often the accusation, but instead a rich philosophical society with fingers both in the ‘third way’ of faith and in the ‘new age’ idea of a metaphysical spiritual development.
So Stewart takes us on his journey. We are on board with him and as the train leaves the station we are introduced to some simple concepts such as The Beehive and Anno Lucis, then proceeding to the slightly heavier subjects of esoterica, education and the place of religion in Freemasonry, from there on to the really heavy topics of symbolism, King Solomon’s Temple, Hermetic tradition and its intertwining with Freemasonry, and the same for the Kybalion, the First Degree Tracing Board finally to Faith ,Hope and Charity.
On this journey we feel a real need to spread the light of some really good Stewartisms.
Chapter One titled “What Is A Freemason” starts us off with a simple basic explanation.
“A Freemason,” Stewart writes,
is a man who in searching for life’s ineffable questions, finds his way into the company of fellow seekers. Comprised of men from every nation, races, social and economic level, all hold similar ideals and beliefs. The uniting idea is a faith in the divine founded in the certitude in an afterlife. This ‘belief’ is grounded by certain landmark tenants and virtues which ultimately lead in exploration of those invisible questions, leading ultimately to the betterment of all mankind.
Later on he says, “Freemasonry strives in its membership to bring like minded men together to explore the four cardinal virtues in hopes to glimpse the divine transcendence of God.”
Next we do some basic “Digging” into esoterica before we later are treated to the real heavy stuff.
What I have come to see is that at some point early in the 1600s, Freemason and Rosicrucian thought crossed paths and likely merged for a time together to form a large degree of esoteric (occult) and organizational knowledge.
He goes on to say,
These ideas came from the alchemists and proto scientists who brought an air of this Hermetic Magick born anew in the coalesced ideas of the Rosicrucian movement, to manifest in the writing of texts such as the Fama Fraternitas.
Expounding on this theme further in Chapter Five, Stewarts writes, “Some writers such as Anderson, Mackey, and later Hall, have made great strides in linking allegorical meanings and symbolic teachings to a broader history with an ethereal connection to the past.”
From the Ziggurats of Ur to the Egyptian mysteries, the breadth of Hinduism and the creation of the Torah, the school of Pythagoras, the Hermetic traditions, the Evolution of Christianity and later Islam the Kabbalah traditions to the Christian mysticism and unfoldment of the self in the new age and in modern psychology, each of these ideas evolving through time to later merge and meld with a Rosicrucian alchemy whose roots go back to the Roman empire and passed from one seeker to another, one esoteric group to another, to eventually be taken in by the societies sub rosas and emerge in the hands of the Free-stone masons and practiced in Lodge.
Many Masons reject this connection of esotericism and see only an institute that caters to the community aspect, basing the fraternity on their own personal faiths and choosing not to see its associations with other seekers.
But I believe that the true nature of Freemasonry at its core exists in both realms, a balance of fraternity and ceremonial initiation of letter and law whose value is in the creation of its shared experience. From it we can delve into this esoteric past from whence we came and explore the ideas of our generations and shape them in our time for how the future will study them.
When we turn to Masonic education Stewart even is philosophical here:
Perhaps it is that Freemasonry is not really a ‘thing’ as such, but instead the essence, ethereal and intangible. It is not necessarily a cause of an action but a contributor, the unseen impetus of our existence.
Directly I see Masonic light coming from within. We carry the light, learning from its reflection on the things we illuminate with our wisdom.
The illumination we seek is an internal understanding of our relationship to the divine and I would argue that all light leads to the same divinity though known by different names in different lands. Freemasonry is but one path to that end. It not being a faith, it is rather a way to conceive the divine, a way to conceive God.
Moving on to Oaths in chapter seven Stewart writes:
That the idea of God does not just exist in one conception; it instead resides in all of us and in all of our myriad faiths and faith teachings. With that in mind and our own individual beliefs at bay, is any one faith greater than the other? Remember there is a divine spark in man that bears a close resemblance to the supreme intelligence of the universe. In a situation where men meet upon the level and in a faith neutral environment, should one text be held above another? How could we not see the value in all faiths?
Next comes my personal favorite chapter in the book – “Freemasonry, The Religion Of Not Being A Religion,” not only because it is a subject I have written about, researched and taken to heart myself but also because of the outstanding job Stewart does with the subject.
Ready for some more Stewartisms?
Masonry is the universal morality which is suitable to the inhabitants of every clime, to the man of every creed. It has taught no doctrines, except those truths that tend directly to the well- being of man; and those who have attempted to direct it toward useless vengeance, political ends, and Jesuitism, have merely perverted it to purposes foreign to its pure spirit and real nature.
With these quotes in mind is Freemasonry a faith? No, not at all. Is Freemasonry a Religion? Perhaps in its practice, yes, as it carries forward a tradition from the past to be taught to generations in the future, but not a dogmatic belief system with specifics to salvation. Is Freemasonry tolerant of all faiths? Yes. Does that frighten, distance and otherwise disenfranchise all fundamental ideologues? Yes, it does which is why every organized dogmatically proscribed faith denounces Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is the religion of not being a religion, the faith of all faiths. It says that no one faith is right, and no one faith is wrong, which is diametrically opposed to what any fundamentalist body wants to tell you is right.
One of the aspects I have found in Freemasonry is that it is like a religion, but not a faith. The practice is liturgical and the catechism is universally teaching a message, but the message is not on divinity, or on faith. It is, the religion of not being a religion. It is a difficult concept, as there is nothing else to compare it to, as no other system promotes faith without saying in who that faith resides, which is how we come to the idea of the Great Architect. In this embodiment, we can collect all ideas of the divine as the creation of the universe, the Monad, or point of creation.
It is in this lack of a dominating opinion of how the practice should be conducted where we find the most infuriating issue. Because of the open stance of the Fraternity and the willingness that it has as being an ecumenical and non sectarian practice, it puts all faiths on an equal footing, not allowing any one faith to leverage power or authority over another.
Our symbols today speak to an era long gone by and have become lost to the uninitiated on their meaning, purpose, and importance which has been drowned by an overload of icons. The studies of these internal symbols are quickly becoming relegated to a modern history that is forgetting its near past, by ignoring its archaic origins, and decrying its ideals. Ironically, they are the very ideas that are in even more need today.
The book then segways right into the deeper philosophical contributions of Hermeticism and the Kybalion.
Today this tradition may seem antiquated and even superfluous, but it is the model of our origin and a shining example of the progress towards the city upon the hill. History may consider the secret societies as below the sight of the mainstream, but it was not the membership that passed itself on through the ages, but rather the ancient communication of the development of the self, the vestige of Thoth and the Thrice great Hermes, as the message brought forward to us today. It is that message of self discovery that is transferred to us, as we become the inheritors of its memory to be re-communicated to the future.
It is to Hermes that all western esoteric teaching is said to have originated, in that through this philosophy, Hermes planted the ‘great seed of truth’ instead of founding a teaching school as many other great philosophers of his age did. It was by mouth to ear communication that this wisdom was passed through the ages. But also it was cautioned that it is not for everyone in that the lips (words or wisdom) are closed, except to those with the ears of understanding. To preserve the wisdom, the ancient teachers warned against allowing the secret doctrine to become crystallized into a creed which would allow it to become dogmatic and inflexible.
Much of this history is fanciful and well imagined, but the Hermetic teachings have been linked to a late period of Egypt, and like most ancient or religious in nature texts their true origin and history is in shadow. It is from this tradition that it is supposed that Freemasonry originated. As a continuation of the Egyptian mystery schools, the method of teaching, and the philosophy taught was promulgated forward. Perhaps of significance is the point of preventing the philosophy from becoming dogmatic or crystallized into a specific creed. But even faced with that question, the philosophy has at various points been studied and adopted as an aspect of their faiths, including Christianity and Judaism. And it is in this connection that we can draw parallels to Gnosticism, which was in a sense a middle way between them.
From there the book goes into the seven applied Hermetic principals from the Kybalion.
THE PRINCIPLE OF MENTALISM
THE PRINCIPLE OF CORRESPONDENCE
THE PRINCIPLE OF VIBRATION
THE PRINCIPLE OF POLARITY
THE PRINCIPLE OF RHYTHM
THE PRINCIPLE OF CAUSE AND EFFECT
THE PRINCIPLE OF GENDER
By understanding these principles and the Kybalion, we can better attune their operation and function in our daily lives. By doing this, we can embark on a path to Mastery and unfold that inner lotus of knowing. By knowing, we take on the word of creation ‘I am” and become creators and shapers ourselves. It is here that we find the lost word in the lessons of the Kybalion which is the key to our Mastery as a Mason.
On the chapter on King Solomon’s Temple Stewart has this to say:
The presence of King Solomon’s Temple in ancient thought, from the earliest Old Testament writings to the pinnacle of renaissance occult philosophy has preserved it as an iconographic representation of the path of the divine. Solomon’s temple is not a solitary place in history, used as a simple metaphor in which to base an allegorical play. Instead, it is a link in early Christian Cabala and Hermetic thought, which is just as vital today, as it was then, to the tradition of Freemasonry, to define and create a construct to relate our movement through its several chambers . Just as it represented the pinnacle of holy practice, so too can it be equated to our own spiritual development by progressive degrees. It is still a metaphor worthy of deeper reflection and thought.
Further chapters deal with St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist and the many symbols and their meaning of a First Degree Tracing Board . What is noteworthy here is Stewart’s excellent treatment of The Point Within A Circle.
Then it is on to Faith, Hope and Charity and we are done. Stewart does a commendable job of intertwining Charity with love and on Faith he has this to say:
By seeking Sophia, that wisdom and knowledge, those things to which we hold our faith inviolate can only then be understood. Through wisdom, we can coalesce our ideas of divine revelation into tangibles that we can then attribute as a part of our faith.
Normally I am not enthralled by a collection of essays merged into a book because the message seems to get so splintered. But Stewart does a great job in creating a flow where one topic naturally flows into the next, with one exception. A chapter we didn’t mention “So What” which is a dissertation on the decline of Freemasonry accompanied by statistics that show the trouble that Freemasonry is in, seemed to be just artificially inserted into the middle of some deep philosophical thought in chapters surrounding it. It stuck out like a sore thumb as being out of place and might have fit better as a lead off first chapter.
But withstanding that criticism there is nothing else to say that would put this book in a less than a stellar light. The great thing about it is that in reading Masonic Traveler it will open and expand your mind and you will be taken on an adventure of possibilities and insights that you might not yet have come across. For that reason, among many, I highly recommend this book.
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.
The following comes from a piece I wrote in 2007 on the Masonic Traveler blog. It addressed, at that time, question of Freemasonry being a religion. While the ideas may have evolved some over the years, the message in it seems to still bear resonance in light of the question rearing its head once again.
Is Freemasonry a Religion?
What perplexes me is why does it matter? Why does answering the question even matter any more to the cackling hens of the I’m right your wrong neener neener neener bunch. They have their opinion, and to them, were just wrong and ALL going to hell. So, here is my hat, I’m coming into the ring….
The quick observational answer is no, Freemasonry is not a religion, in that it does not teach FAITH. It does, however, strive to bring a philosophical and allegorical set of ideas forward and, in that sense could be construed as one which requires the observer to separate the two from one another. Faith is separate from Religion.
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
5. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
6. something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.
7. religions, Archaic. religious rites.
8. Archaic. strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one’s vow.
9. get religion, Informal.
a. to acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious beliefs and practices.
b. to resolve to mend one’s errant ways: The company got religion and stopped making dangerous products.
[Origin: 1150–1200; ME religioun (<>This is NOT faith, though the two share some defining terms.
1. confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
2. belief that is not based on proof: He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.
3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.
4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.: to be of the same faith with someone concerning honesty.
5. a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.
6. the obligation of loyalty or fidelity to a person, promise, engagement, etc.: Failure to appear would be breaking faith.
7. the observance of this obligation; fidelity to one’s promise, oath, allegiance, etc.: He was the only one who proved his faith during our recent troubles.
8. Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.
9. in faith, in truth; indeed: In faith, he is a fine lad.
[Origin: 1200–50; ME feith]
Freemasonry does not proclaim a belief not based on proof. It is a system of ethics, but then so are the Boy Scouts. It does proclaim a confidence in a person, the candidate who is forming his ashlar. But it does not suggest a belief not based on proof.
Note the difference in word origins, religion comes from the latin root meaning to tie, fasten, bind. Faith’s origin is to trust.
The Masonic Religion
The difference here is that in all of the writings in the past refer to Freemasonry in some way as a “religion” NOT as a faith. The problem today is that the fundamental argument that Freemasonry is a religion confuses the two and presumes that any religion must also be a faith. The difference here being that that assumption is false and the two are not dependent on one another.
Pike does say that Freemasonry is perhaps a representation of all religion in a passage from the 10th degree p161/162 saying:
Masonry is not a religion. He who makes of it a religious belief, falsifies and denaturalizes it. The Brahmin, the Jew, the Mahometan, the Catholic, the Protestant, each professing his peculiar religion, sanctioned by the laws, by time, and by climate, must needs retain it, and cannot have two religions; for the social and sacred laws adapted to the usages, manners, and prejudices of particular countries, are the work of men.
But Masonry teaches, and has preserved in their purity, the cardinal tenets of the old primitive faith, which underlie and are the foundation of all religions. All that ever existed have had a basis of truth; and all have overlaid that truth with errors. The primitive truths taught by the Redeemer were sooner corrupted, and intermingled and alloyed with fictions than when taught to the first of our race. Masonry is the universal morality which is suitable to the inhabitants of every clime, to the man of every creed. It has taught no doctrines, except those truths that tend directly to the well-being of man; and those who have attempted to direct it toward useless vengeance, political ends, and Jesuitism, have merely perverted it to purposes foreign to its pure spirit and real nature.
I suggest that Pike backs this up by saying on p.160, that the key is toleration, and without it, it becomes a pissing match for my faith is bigger than yours.
Toleration, holding that every other man has the same right to his opinion and faith that we have to ours; and liberality, holding that as no human being can with certainty say, in the clash and conflict of hostile faiths and creeds, what is truth, or that he is surely in possession of it, so every one should feel that it is quite possible that another equally honest and sincere with himself, and yet holding the contrary opinion, may himself be in possession of the truth, and that whatever one firmly and conscientiously believes, is truth, to him–these are the mortal enemies of that fanaticism which persecutes for opinion’s sake, and initiates crusades against whatever it, in its imaginary holiness, deems to be contrary to the law of God or verity of dogma. And education, instruction, and enlightenment are the most certain means by which fanaticism and intolerance can be rendered powerless.
Perhaps in its practice, but not as a dogmatic belief system with specifics to salvation.
Is Freemasonry tolerant of all faiths? Yes. Does that frighten, distance, and otherwise disenfranchise all fundamentalist ideologues? You bet your ass it does, which is why every organized dogmatically proscribed faith HATES and denounces Freemasonry.
Freemasonry is the religion of not being a religion. The faith of all faiths. It says no one faith is right, and no one faith is wrong, which is diametrically opposed to what any fundamentalist body wants to tell you is right.
Yes, Freemasonry Is Religion, And Is Incompatible With Some Christian Beliefs. Here’s Why.
I’ve been a Freemason for only about four years, but I’ve already done a lot of changing in my views. One view I used to have, which I think most first years have is that Freemasonry and Christianity are totally compatible.
Oh the many internet arguments we enter, arguing “no, we don’t have a problem with Catholics, but the Catholic Church has a problem with us,” and “Evangelical Christianity is perfectly compatible with Freemasonry.” These kind of skirmishes happen all the time. And then there’s the biggest trope in all of Masondom: Freemasonry is not a religion.
This is all, of course, entirely from our point of view. We are an open, welcoming, tolerant fraternity, and we search for the connections that bind each other together, and not the dividers that keep us apart. Tolerance is a cornerstone of freemasonry, so it’s naturally abhorrent to us to be dragged into any argument that certain sects should be excluded. And I think this is entirely true, but that is from my point of view; the point of view of a guy who thinks he’s totally right.
In all fairness, though, whether freemasonry is compatible with certain religions isn’t only up to us. Many practitioners of those religions make great points. I’ve even got some favorites.
Freemasonry distracts you from God, taking time away from your family, and your worship, and that is Satan’s work.
There are certainly men who have utterly lost themselves in Freemasonry, and it hurts their families. One only knows what it does to the man’s personal relationship with his creator. But then the same thing is easily said about any activity. People lose themselves in hobbies when they seek distractions. I’ve even seen people lose themselves in their church; so focused on the inner workings, the politics, jazzing up the service, being on the lighting committee, etc, and they eventually wonder where God went in all is this. This is not a problem with freemasonry. It’s a problem with people, and one freemasonry actually attempts to remedy in its earliest instruction to new brethren. We come right out and say: divide your time correctly, keeping time for God, family, work, etc. And that freemasonry never comes first. Ever.
The things you do in lodge are things you should be doing in church.
Well, woulda, coulda, shoulda. And feel free to, if you like. Nothing says you can’t flip hotcakes for your lodge on Saturday and waffles for your church on Sunday. And nothing says you can’t focus on being a better man in lodge and in church. A little double coverage never hurt anyone.
The teachings don’t contradict, and should you find a contradiction, masonry insists you side with the obligations to God, family, and to yourself before you ever consider your lodge.
Masons seek light, but the Bible tells us that Jesus is the light and the way.
Right, but in freemasonry, spoiler alert, the light is the Volume of Sacred Law, which, if you’re a Christian, is the Bible. It will be sitting there, open, on the altar. And I’m personally not a Christian, but I’m pretty sure Jesus is in there. Somewhere in the back, I believe.
Now, that’s all well and good, but these are not things I can dictate. If you, as a Christian, or are of some other faith, and you don’t find these explanations convincing, that just fine. I would say that you are in the minority of your faith, but that you have a point of view, and you have legitimate practical concerns about freemasonry. Compatibility is, I suppose, a matter of educated opinion. I would not say your faith is incompatible with freemasonry.
There are some views that are completely incompatible with freemasonry. I will let the Christians argue among themselves whether these views are legitimately Christian, but there is some grist we just won’t grind.
If you have a problem with the tolerance off freemasonry, then there’s a legitimate problem here. I got into a discussion recently with a Christian whose argument against freemasonry was that his religion taught him he was not to pray with those who practice idolatry, but run from them. In a nutshell, because masons come from all different faiths, but will pray together in lodge, a good Christian can’t be a part of that.
This never happens.
Now I’ve heard probably the most common Christian argument against Freemasonry, mainly given by Catholics; there is one true way to Heaven and that is by accepting Jesus; Masonry essentially teaches that your goodness can get you to Heaven; ergo Masonry is incompatible with Christianity. I could answer that by saying that Masonry doesn’t propose any particular way to get anywhere, and that even if that were the case, one needn’t accept such a premise to join or participate in a lodge. But this prayer thing is something that I’ve never, ever run into before.
I asked this gentleman if he would apply the same standard to a non-denominational public prayer, like at a graduation commencement or some kind of national moment of prayer after a disaster. He would. And…my brain just broke a bit. I realized, not for the first time in my life, that some people–perfectly nice people–are just completely different. And not just in a “same goals but different paths” way. Just. Completely. Different.
Obviously there are only a relative minority of Christians with this notion. But I do, basically, get the idea. I see how the thought can be derived from scripture. It’s a Christian belief, though not a widely held one. And it’s not a belief I’d assign only to Christians. Many faiths have an extremely orthodox element that is utterly intolerant of certain ideas. For instance, the idea that regardless of what gets you into Heaven, and your religion may have very specific requirements, God still wants you to be a good, peaceful, generous person. That’s the kind of wild idea that some religious practitioners reject out of hand.
I really don’t think you can be a freemason and not think that.
If you believe you should run from people practicing different faiths, rather than stand with them as you each pray to Deity for peace and harmony, then no, I really don’t think that is compatible with freemasonry.
Worse yet, I don’t think that’s compatible with the American Way, because much like the masons, America is founded on the idea of tolerance, and from many–one. If this is a closely-held belief you espouse, then you have to admit to yourself that America, in its very founding principles, is doing it wrong.
Religion is a lot of things to a lot of people, and I’m not going to define it for you, but it’s certainly easy to see why so many non-freemasons see it as a religion. There is an awful lot of crossover, here. Masonry doesn’t tell you what god to pray to, it doesn’t teach you how to get to Heaven, but it does teach you that being a good, honest, just person is morally and spiritually valuable, and it does teach you how to be that. And that altar in the middle of the lodge room floor is the Altar of God. And I’m hardly the only mason who has said this. There’s a beautiful passage in a Masonic play, A Rose Upon the Altar.
Freemasonry, my brother, is, truly, not a religion. But it is religion–religion in its truest, purest sense. We don’t worship a God here–we worship the Great Architect. We have His word for it–inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it to me. At this Altar…good men and true worship their Creator. At this Altar the sore distressed find comfort. Around this Altar glows the Shekinah, the heavenly light from Him to whom it is erected, for those who have eyes to see. The Divine Presence is here! This Altar is as much a holy of holies as a church. If you want comfort, kneel here and ask for it. If you want aid, here you shall find it. Here is the Book in which the promise is made…come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…This Altar is God’s.
And there it is. I mean, argue if you want. You don’t have to agree. You may even be right. I’m sure I’ll get flack from masons and Christians alike. A Masonic lodge is no substitute for your church or house of worship, and I’d never claim it is. But neither is in, nor any of these, an adequate substitute for the world God has made, or the people he put in it, and religion exists everywhere among us. And it can be practiced everywhere.
I wish more young Masons would put their thoughts on paper. It is vital to us all, especially Freemasons, to know the thoughts and contemplations of those who will follow us.
In today’s article Brother Gallagher seems a bit torn between Masonry as a religion and Masonry as not a religion. That is totally understandable given the history of the Craft and the practice of Freemasonry since the formation of this great nation.
Freemasonry’s biggest problem is that it is so tolerant that it will allow Brothers to remake and transform the Fraternity into the mores and customs of their particular region. That’s how you end up with the Grand Master of Florida expelling two Brothers for not being Christians.
Dr. Fels in the video is equally confused as he tries to walk a tightrope whereby everybody is right and nobody is wrong.
So let us start by looking back at the formation of modern speculative Freemasonry.
A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the Moral Law, and if he rightly understand the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ‘tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves, that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatsoever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished.
The key phrase here is “that religion in which all men agree.” What Anderson is saying here is that Freemasonry agrees with and accepts the tenets that all religions have in common. So it is the tenets that all religions have in common that Freemasonry adopts but not the specific paths of practicing them. This is what Dr. Fels misses.
No specific Holy Book
No ordained clergy
No definition of Deity
No dogma, no creed – that is no ideological doctrine
No means to salvation
The problem enters as to the question of Freemasonry as a religion because there are many religious people in Freemasonry. The Lodge offers prayers but so does my book club, my household at mealtime and Congress before it convenes. Prayer does not make a group a church. Neither does scriptural lessons.
And because Freemasonry accepts the basic tenets of all religions that does not make us some sort of new super amalgamated religion.
If we look at the most widely accepted definition of Freemasonry we can see where we are going wrong.
Masonry is said to be,
a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.
The key words here are, SYSTEM OF MORALITY. Freemasonry is a system of morality and when it says that it borrows the religion in which all men agree it is saying that it accepts the same morality that is found over and over again in most religions.
Your religion deals with your relationship with God. Freemasonry deals with your relationship with your fellow human beings.
It is more than coincidental that those who declare that Freemasonry is a religion are those who are not Freemasons. They say they know more about the Craft than those of us who practice Freemasonry.
Once you remove the argument that Freemasonry is a religion and convince those that are criticizing it from a religious viewpoint that it is merely a society then you remove all possibility of a religious objection to it. If Freemasonry is not a religion than it cannot be criticized as one. And that stops the bitter resentment and ridiculous attacks on the Craft. Well not quite. You still have to prove that Freemasonry does not want to take over the world.
Truth be known, Freemasonry makes no ruling about religion. FREEMASONRY MAKES NO RULING ABOUT RELIGION. It’s not for any sectarian religions and it is not against any sectarian religions. FREEMASONRY IS NEUTRAL. It makes no religious rulings nor declares any means to salvation. FREEMASONRY IS NEUTRAL. It is a society of friends devoted to the Brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God.
As one site put it:
Freemasonry is kindness in the home; honesty in business; courtesy toward others; dependability in one’s work; compassion for the unfortunate; resistance to evil; help for the weak; concern for good government; support for public education; and above all, a life-practicing reverence for God and love of fellow man.
Originally published on Jan 10, 2013, in the video author and publisher James Wasserman shares his experience in the development of the modern Thelemic movement, some observations on the contemporary scene, and his continued enthusiasm for the spiritual teachings of Aleister Crowley.
Wasserman, you may recall, was a guest on Masonic Central in 2009 discussing his work The Mystery Traditions and other more esoteric topics.
This video was recorded at Swirling Star Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis in Pompano Beach, Florida.
It includes numerous photos of influential figures in the development of Thelema as well as the early years of TAHUTI Lodge in New York City.
The video offers some interesting insights into the one time Masonic organization Ordo Templi Orientis, better known as the OTO.