A book review by Frederic L. Milliken
“ Do men exist who cannot see Past Surfaces? Ritual repeatedly tells us they do. They only Grasp the Superficial Aspects of Life and this includes other males. They cannot See ‘in Depth’, nor do they Seek to See anything other than what is Seen upon the Surfaces when they gaze. They cannot Cross Perpetual Bournes and are themselves unpassably hampered by their Burdens and lauded Weaknesses.”
No one else can transform their thoughtless ways. Their choices create their Limitations. Their Progress lessens each day they refuse to do Rudimentary Work intended to Improve them. Corruption eventually Ruffian’s its way through their Every Manner and, in time, even their very Looks Betray them. No overall good comes by Passing Brothers Unprepared to take Manhood’s reins. Doing so Pollutes our Numbers and Sabotages our Aims.”
“Yet, Choices to do so, based upon fears of doors closing and coffers shrinking, directs our ranks away from our Professed Principles. Titular Progression is to these Brothers’ detriment and to our collective Body as well. Bestowing Youths with unmerited titles rather than Maturing them toward Manhood is the Antithesis of Craft Ideals and Goals. For the Craft to regain its original Value, it must as a whole ‘grow up’ and do so unapologetically and without fear of losing lost boys. Restoration demands that it ‘man up’ in every way and to do so Masterfully. It shall not occur though until each member does so for himself. Only Men can lead Youths into Manhood, Without Manhood, males are Bound and not Free.”
So begins Coach John Nagy’s book, “BUILDING FREE MEN, Uncommonly Freeing Masonic Education.”
“Far too many Brothers truly believe that what they are told during their Craft training is the whole of what needs to be conveyed to them. They don’t realize that this training was only laying a foundation for further learning and that it was not their entire education.”
Adding to the confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation according to Nagy is not realizing the true meaning of many Masonic words and their historical context. Chief among those Masonic words is the distinction between Masonry and Freemasonry.
“Masonry is about ‘making things,” says Nagy. “In essence, Mason are Builders.”
“To be called a ‘Freemason’, one must belong to a duly Recognized Organization and, furthermore, one does not require anything more from oneself than this legitimate association to wear this label.”
That is why a Freemason pledges to improve himself in Masonry (not Freemasonry).
Nagy goes on to say, “As membership exists in this moment, a Freemason does not have to Build anything whatsoever. He does not have to Speculate in any way. He does not even have to do anything other than pay his dues on time and be moral in his actions; he only has to be an Accepted Member. In essence, today Freemasons are Members.”
Nagy then proceeds to destroy the myth that Freemasons were named after Masons who worked with Freestones. This leads to a whole discourse on the original meaning of the word “Free.”
Nagy tells us that the word Free comes from the French Franc or Franche which means superior or excellent.
As he says, “What is not clear to most Brothers is that how the word ‘free’ is used and understood within words today is not how it was used and meant originally. The word ‘free’ as it was originally understood and used years ago referred solely to the superiority or excellence or both.
We then get into the definitions of “Accepted,” “Initiated, “ “Received,” and “Entered.” All these terms refer to Brothers coming into the Lodge, non-Masons being “made” Masons. Accepted is one who has already joined, Nagy reports.
So why go through the historic meanings of words that have different meanings today? We do so because it changes the history of the Craft and today’s understanding of its origins.
Nagy tells us that because of not understanding the original meanings on the words Free Masons and Accepted Masons that we now erroneously consider that – “’Free Masons’ were Operative and ‘Accepted Masons’ were speculative.”
Not true says the coach.
“As shared previously, the word ‘Free’ came from the word ‘Franche’, whose original and now obsolete meaning was ‘Superior; Excellent’. Masons who wore the title ‘Free Mason’ were Masterful Craftsmen. Our current modern day label for such Brothers is, ‘Master Masons’.”
“Contrast this with those Masons who were only beginning their education in the fraternity. These newly ‘Made’ Masons were initiated, but had yet to begin learning. These Brothers were ‘Accepted’ but they were far from being masterful in any way.”
“They were ‘newly Made’, ‘newly initiated’, ‘newly Entered’, and, as the term clearly implies, ‘newly Accepted’. Our current modern day label for such Brothers is, ‘Entered Apprentices’.”
“When you add the two original, now obsolete meanings into the universally used Fraternal phrase ‘Free & Accepted’ Masons’, you begin to see that the phrase, as interpreted by unknowing Brothers for nearly three hundred years, does not mean ‘Operative & Speculative’ Masons. It means ‘Superior & Initiated’ Masons, or, in more modern terms, ‘Master & Apprentice’ Masons
This all has enormous connotations as to the origin of Freemasonry and helps bolster the argument that Freemasonry did not originate from the Medieval builders Guilds. For further development of this theme, I would refer you to Coach Nagy’s book, “The Craft Unmasked.”
What followed was definitions of the words “Speculative” and “Operative.” In regards to Speculative Nagy says:
“Its original meaning denoted ‘prolonged theoretical thought’ and connoted ‘the liberal arts as opposed to the “mechanic” arts (i.e., arts requiring manual skill)’. It is clear that the intent of the word ‘speculative’ was not to engage in unfounded thinking but to use it as a bridging metaphor for building toward the application of techniques used to ‘build builders of men’ by way of the liberal arts study rather than the manual arts. In essence, Speculative Masons are supposed to be ‘Well-Founded Cultivated Thinkers’. Such Cultivation doesn’t occur without Operative elements. This means it requires work.
That leads to an interesting question posed by Nagy.
“If Operative members of the Organization did all the labor and Speculative members did all the thinking, wouldn’t the Organization need both functioning together to accomplish anything of significance?”
After all, says Nagy, “Even Rituals today in many different Jurisdictions state quite succinctly that ‘our ancient brethren worked at (wrought in) both Operative and Speculative Masonry.”
And here is where we get to a conclusion that is vital to Masonic Education.
“Unfortunately, creating a division, due the Speculative belief that Spiritual Temples require no Operative involvement to bring them forth only confuses the Builders of such Temples.”
This first third of the book is only the set up for the deeper discussion of Masonic Education and Building Free Men. Now we can see why Nagy set the table as he did and where he is going with all this.
“Furthermore, what maintains members maintains organizations, but what maintains Organizations won’t necessarily maintain its members.”
I would like to frame that and put it on my wall! And furthermore, I would send it in a plaque form to my Grand Lodge.
Nagy goes on to say, “This is because Organizations are mechanical while its members are living beings. Each requires different support. Each requires different methods. Each requires different mindsets to survive and thrive. When Brothers confuse the two and try to treat one as the other, much is lost for all those involved.”
“Freemasonic teachings conceal Masonic mysteries while Masonic teachings reveal Freemasonry mysteries.”
And I will frame that last paragraph also. We now see why Nagy makes a clear distinction between Freemasonry and Masonry. This distinction is even further emphasized when Nagy tells us, “Freemasonic Secrets differ from Masonic Secrets. The former are given to members by Brothers by simply showing up and complying with what is Ordered by the Craft. The latter are revealed to Masons through diligent personal Work and are not usually directly revealed by others.”
A better case could not be made for Masonic reading, study and education outside the tyled Lodge room. Nagy really is “Uncommonly Freeing Masonic Education.”
Nagy goes on to say that this kind of investment into Masonic study will yield spiritual results. Those that come to Lodge and confine their study to only that which takes place inside the Lodge room are practicing superficial Masonry and “shall find no more with the Organization than a soul-less machine to serve.”
“When Perpended thoroughly, nurturing Fraternal activities keep focused at all times on our humanity, especially when called to serve. Freemasonry was never intended to be soulless!”
“Men may enter Freemasonry, but it is only builders who take Masonic Steps thereafter.”
“Look closely and you’ll see that Masonry is Spiritual Journey. To do Masonry any other Way or for any other Reason corrupts its intent.”
When Masonry is practiced in this manner, Nagy tells us that Brothers will have many insights into life that others may lack and that they are poised to do great things.
Then we are back to definitions again. Following the Free emphasis of the book Nagy investigates Freeborn.
It is commonly assumed that “Freeborn” alludes to a man who has never been a slave. But Nagy’s criticism of this interpretation leads him to say, “The definitions for the most part merely break the compound word apart and then switch around the words to define itself.”
One historical definition that he points to is, “ Free Born: A free soul; one having attained mastery of himself by self-discipline. It is a misconception that this refers to one not born into slavery.”
What follows is looking into the derivation and interpretations of the words Able ( Able at birth, Able in all degrees), Bondman, and Freo. That led to the word Noble which Nagy says, “Freeborn, if taken for all the evidence found associated with noble within dictionaries, did not mean ‘not born a slave’ but something very different. It meant someone born into the upper classes of society.”
Here we are right back again with the previous discussion of Freestone and Freemasonry and the word Free for Nagy continues, “it (dictionary) said that ‘nobel’ had an archaic meaning. That meaning was of excellent or superior quality.”
“On the surface, the profane world would look at the words written in these Old Charges and assume that freeborn meant free or unbound as it is understood today. They might never gather that it alluded to being from the higher tiers of society.”
“And just as the stones being brought from the quarry required careful scrutiny to assure they were free, as in ‘excellent-superior’ quality, to assure the Work that was to commence upon them was not in vain, the men being brought into the Craft needed to be just as free for the exact same reasons.”
Getting into the heart of Masonic education, study and learning Nagy informs us that Masonry teaches in Allegory.
“What is the key to Allegorical Understanding? You must accept that allegory is not presented as ‘fact’; it is presented to help realize and recognize ‘truths’. Allegory is about truth being conveyed; not fact.”
What was intended here was scholarship.
“What was the Scholastic end-in-mind for Freemasons?” asks Nagy. “To cultivate Free thinking men with the full capacity to recognize and understand symbols within theological and philosophical writings and to do so in such a way as to render their wisdom and insights into everyday use.”
“And Modified Behavior indicates learning has occurred.”
Nagy tells us that “Apprentice work transforms the heart.” Fellowcraft work deals with the head. Thus Masons, “Move from adulthood to Age and from Maturity to Wisdom.”
Unfortunately, today’s Freemasonry has dumbed down the Craft. Nagy tells us, “Within our modern Craft, Mastery no longer means a man is skilled in anything other than being able to repeat back words in the same manner that he was taught. He need not be able to explain or understand any of these words, past how he was told to understand or explain them. He need not even be what these words express, save the bare essence of him being accepted by his Brothers.”
“…there are some Brothers within the current Order who want others to believe they could do Justice to a man by making him a Brother, then a Fellow and then hang a ‘Master’s’ title upon him within hours.”
“It leaves outside observers with the impression that: 1) These Brothers did not care about Cultivating any Apprentice’s character or abilities. 2) They did not care about investing time with him or if the man has time to invest with them. 3) They do not want to be troubled by seemingly unnecessary Work. 4) They did not want to assure him that he can and will succeed in the world as a result of his Efforts.”
“Moreover, it leaves the impression that all they are interested in is ‘progressing’ him toward a title that permits him to be a dues paying member of the Lodge and potentially someone who will engage in the same activities that they endorse through their actions. All this is at the cost of each Brother’s future successes.”
Again it is the superficiality of Freemasonry that Nagy is attacking. That is those Brothers that refuse to delve into the meanings of words, symbols, penalties and Masonic virtues and then apply them to their daily lives. Yes, we should all learn our proficiencies but in the process there should be Lodge structure to teach the new Brother how to apply them and what it really means to be a Mason.
This is a profound work that will pause many a Mason to stop and think about what Nagy is saying here. Perhaps it will spur a Brother or two or three or more to pick up a Masonic book, to ask some questions, to sit at a roundtable Masonic discussion. For the goal here is spiritual and philosophical and the development of the individual and his soul. Being a Mason is more than paying dues, memorizing and repeating ritual and doing activities. To be a Mason involves WORK. Coach Nagy has done what he set out to do. He has coached Freemasons to become all that they can be, to study, learn and educate themselves and to understand the historical context wherein Freemasonry grew. For this reason, this is a must book for every member of the Craft.
You can purchase the book here: http://www.coach.net/BuildingFreeMen.htm