What makes something a “ritual?” Is it an evil connotation? Is it something sinister? Why then is Freemasonry considered a ritual practice? How could something so full of moral virtues practice something ritualistic?
The use of the word ritual is described as the regular practice of the same series of ceremonies at each meeting.
Often there is a connotation of something sinister or counter to popular practice by the use of the term ritual.
To the contrary, it is instead meant to imply that the degree rituals are an established or prescribed practice to convey the knowledge and symbolism of the Fraternity in a repetition to impart their teachings.
What this means is that the same ritual ceremony is practiced with each candidate to induct him into the fraternity so that each man undergoes the same experience creating a unifying shared experience. That practice imparts the three principal tenets of the fraternity which are Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.
A common connection with Freemasonry is that it is a patriotic organization. While it suggests certain attributes of patriotism, the multi-national spread of the fraternity would suggest something other than a direct form of nationalistic adherence.
So then, is Freemasonry a patriotic body?
The answer is a challenging one. Simply put, it is and it isn’t.
The aims of Freemasonry are not specifically to embolden specific patriotism. It does, however, promote a strong affinity towards, and a passionate adherence to the nation in which the Freemason resides. It encourages more than a passive interest in the development of civil society and our roles as citizens in it.
The patriotism that is displayed is the result of that interest in the well-being of society itself. The fraternity does strongly encourage the adherence to and following of the principles and laws of the country in which the member resides.
What is Freemasonry hiding? Is there some great mystery at work in the secret workings of the Masonic Lodge? Why are Freemasons so Secretive?
Many masons will not answer questions about the fraternity as they believe it is supposed to be a secret. In the end this becomes a loss for the fraternity as any time someone asks a question about Masonry, it’s a great opportunity to talk openly about it.
A common reaction to this idea is that Masonry is a “Society with Secrets”, rather than a “Secret Society”, but this is equally confusing. There are aspects to Freemasonry that are kept and taught to only those who go through the initiations and ceremonies so as to keep them in a proper perspective and contextual meaning. These aspects are not secrets but instead knowledge that is best communicated in a specific and concise manner.
Many of the secrets have been published and written about, in many instances by Freemasons themselves, but the foundations of the teachings can be found throughout the spectrum of faiths and philosophical teachings of the past and present. It is in the process of their teaching that it could be best suggested where they are truly secret.
In this installment of Symbols and Symbolism, we explore the origins of the Latin phrase ordo ab chao better known as order out of chaos. Often taken as an esoteric alliteration of transformation, the source of this oft used Latin phrase has its roots deeply embedded in the origin story of the Scottish Rite in the Americas.
While philosophically esoteric, the phrase holds closer to the literal movement from darkness into light, with the formation of the Scottish Rite at Charleston.
Mackey, in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, describes the phrase, thus:
A Latin expression, meaning Order out of Chaos. A motto of the Thirty-third Degree, and having the same allusion as lux e tenebrious(this Latin phrase belongs to the Latin translation of the Gospel of John: “et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt,” meaning “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it”). The invention of this motto is to be attributed to the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite at Charleston, and it is first met with in the Patent of Count Alexandre Francois Auguste de Grasse, dated February 1, 1802. When De Grasse afterward carried the rite over to France and established a Supreme Council there, he changed the motto, and, according to Lenning in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry 1822 or 1828,Ordo ab hoc, Order Out of This, was used by him and his Council in all their documents.
The phrase appears on the grand decorations of the Order of the Sovereign Grand Inspectors General. The decoration rests on a Teutonic Cross which sits below a nine-pointed star, formed by three triangles of gold, one upon the other, and interlaced. From the lower part of the left side toward the upper part of the right extends a sword, and, in the opposite direction, a hand of Justice. In the middle is the shield of the Order, blue; upon the shield is an eagle like that on the banner; on the dexter side of the shield is a golden balance, and on the sinister a golden compass resting on a golden square. Around the whole shield runs a stripe of blue, lettered in gold with the Latin words ” ORDO AB CHAO;” and this stripe is enclosed by a double circle formed by two serpents of gold, each holding his tail in his mouth. Of the smaller triangles formed by the intersection of the principal ones, those nine that are nearest the blue stripe are coloured red, and on each is one of the letters that constitute the word S. A. P. I. E. N. T. I. A. (Latin: wisdom, discernment, memory)
You can read more installments of Mackey’s Encyclopedia under Symbols & Symbolism here on this site and video of these segments on YouTube.
I recently completed digesting Dr. John Nagy’s book Building Hiram. It is another in a series of Catechism Primer formats that Nagy has published for increasing Light in Freemasons. This method of instruction follows what many Masons received as they went through the Degrees. Yet I must admit that since I last had that pleasure 27 years ago, I have not again come across this format until becoming acquainted with Coach Nagy’s work. At first it was difficult to adjust to this style of imparting information, but in Building Hiram it all seemed so natural and I have come to appreciate what the Catechism style has to offer. It makes learning follow a sequence where one building block is added to another and then another, yet at any time one may jump into the middle of the book, randomly picking any page, and jump right in without discomfort.
Building Hiram is for the Master Mason and Nagy says, “The Word before you is what I wish I had been given when I was Raised.”
Nagy goes on to say this for newly Raised Masons and I suppose even those who were Raised many moons ago:
“Should Masons take a step back and reflect on the actual picture painted before them, much more may be gleaned. In fact, further Masonic Benefit occurs only by considering the interconnections between the symbols, the overlap of themes and the rhythm of the patterns continually played out from beginning to end.”
In a paper written by Worshipful Brother Alphonse Cerza titled AND GIVE THEM PROPER INSTRUCTION Cerza says:
There is no question that the Masonic ritual is the foundation of the Craft. In it we find the message that Freemasonry has for the candidate, its philosophy, and its moral teachings. If one knows these lessons fully and complete- ly, he is indeed a wise man. Too many of us are concerned more with perfection of the words rather than securing a full understanding of the spirit and the meaning of the ritual.
Let us not make the mistake of believing that the ceremony of initiation makes a man a Mason. True, this ceremony is vital and necessary, but unless the lessons of the ceremony and the spirit of the ritual is understood it is nothing. For example, for hundreds of years in the ancient world there were a number of associations that we now call the Ancient Mysteries. These organizations had a number of things in common. One element stands out above all others: the belief that the ceremony of the Mystery purified the can- date. This basic belief more than any other factor brought these organizations to an end. Let us learn one lesson from this page of history: The ceremonies of the three degrees are of no value unless they are understood by the candidate and are grafted into everyday life. An informed and enlightened membership is a better and more successful one. This is not idle talk. Brother William H. Knutt, in 1952, at the Mid-West Conference on Masonic Education, gave a report in which it was clearly shown that when the great depression of the thirties came along, the jurisdictions in which the Craft had been offering educational programs lost the least number of members.
The Craft should be put to WORK. That there be perfection in the ritual, that members receive instruction in the ceremonies of the Craft, and that our degree work be retained is of vital importance. No fault can be found with the ritualistic work for it is the foundation of our Order. Fault should be found with the view that we stop our efforts with the conferring of the degrees. We are amiss in our duty to the Craft when we do not properly prepare our candidates and then abandon the newly-made Mason to his own devices. Lodges that devote their entire time to conferring degrees will soon find that quantity is not a substitute for quality. The quality of the membership is determined not only by the careful screening of applicants for the degrees but also in making the new member Mason in fact. This can be done by putting the new Mason to work.
John “Coach” Nagy
And this is what Nagy has consistently done in all his books maybe with a bit of a modification. Instead of putting Masons to work Nagy puts them into thinking and realizing what it all means. He connects the dots so that a Mason can get an idea of the whole picture. He puts all the pieces of the puzzle together so the Mason can now see the big picture.
Nagy works a jigsaw puzzle, one piece goes here, one piece there, then another and in the end you have a picture that forms concepts and paths to betterment and a philosophy.
Nagy tells us, “ One of the sad results that discovered Light gave to me was a picture of Masonry that was filled with gaps. The vast majority of practicing Blue Lodge Masons I’ve encountered have no more Masonic Education than what they learned and did during Degree Work. They memorized and repeated back what had been memorized and repeated to them; they had no real fundamental understanding of the wonderful Light and guidance being offered to them.”
So Nagy sets out to weave a tale of the integration of Masonic symbols, Masonic tools, Masonic illustrations and Masonic concepts into a better understanding of not only what Masonry is all about but how to use Masonry.
He starts with the Ashlars and ends with The Master’s Wages. Along the way we learn in depth about the Stone Builder’s Tools, The Orders of Architecture, The Staircase, The Four Ruffians (yes I said 4), The Ancient Penalties, The 3-4-5 Triangle, The Sacred Triad, The Square and Compasses, The Temple and The Lost Word.
On the Ashlars he says, “There is nothing whatsoever that is added to any stone selected. Removal merely reveals the Beauty that is already there within the Stone.”
On the Stone Builder’s Tools he says, “The Working-Tools are specifically designed to make sure the Work we do as Masons has Integrity. No structure, however, grand, can stand long and well if its Integrity is compromised. Masonic Ritual is a constant reminder of this truth. In fact, it is the structural theme of Masonic Ritual. As a Builder, if you do not understand this, your ability to use what you know may eventually cause your structure to fail as well.”
You are the structure, you are the stone. The Temple is you and your soul.
There is a lot of talk about Wisdom, Strength and Beauty; who represents these three virtues and what they can do for us personally.
If you read this book you will learn who the Fourth Ruffian is, that the Ancient Penalties were not enacted by others upon those who violate their Word but are self-inflicted and occur without fail, what three conditions are necessary to give the Master’s Word, what season is silently represented, What the Sacred triad is, the meaning of ABN, why you descend the winding staircase, what three Tools, when one is missing, still have three, what Officer maintains the etiquette of the Lodge, who was Gomer, what is the Death Triplet, the significance of “As Above, So Below,” how the Word is made flesh, what the Last Wage is, and much, much more. But we don’t want to tell you everything about the book for then you might not read it. And that would be a shame since it is the way in which Nagy connects everything together, the reasoning used to make a whole, that leads to the light bulb coming on for you.
This is by far the best book I have run into for Masonic education of Master Masons both individually and in a group at the Lodge. Its crowning glory is the ability Nagy has to combine many individual teachings and concepts into one big one, to make the whole of Masonry, what constitutes its nobleness, righteousness and virtues into a philosophy. What Nagy does is explain Masonic philosophy by explaining and connecting all its component parts. This philosophy we call Masonry is a way of life. A Freemason cannot live this way of life unless he can understand it. And that’s the job that Nagy does. He articulates the philosophy of Masonry so that Masons are able to practice it because they understand it. For that reason alone this book must be part of your library and the library of your Lodge.
On a weekend late in February of 2016, I traveled to Oklahoma for a special Masonic event. It was the Spring Festive Board (untyled) for Lodge Veritas No 556, Grand Lodge of Oklahoma.
(Turn up the volume full for Bro. Flynn’s presentation)
We met at The Greens Country Club in Oklahoma City in full Masonic dress. There we started off the evening with cigars and the adult beverage of choice on the deck outside. As the sun slowly faded behind the horizon and the moon readied to take over, we gathered around a table with a mini fire pit and let the brotherly love flow. Some notable attendees were PGM Richard Massad and 33rd Bob Davis.
There Was Camaraderie
What seemed like all too soon, we adjourned to the dining room for toasts, prayer, singing and great food.
Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast
Lodge Veritas No 556 Masonic Toast
Lodge Veritas No 556 Singing
There Was A Great Gastronomic Experience
The special guest speaker was Masonic artist Ryan Flynn who made an enlightening presentation on art in Freemasonry from the Middle Ages to the present. Flynn showed us how to look for hidden meanings and symbolism and where they were in some of the great works in history.
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
Masonic Artist Ryan Flynn’s Presentation
There Was Masonic Education And Shared Knowledge
After closing the Festive Board we retired once again to the place from which we had started, the deck outside with the fire pit in the table. This time, it was dark. But that did not dampen the Masonic spirit in the slightest. Stories flowed back and forth and for some, new friendships were cemented for time immemorial.
There Was More Camaraderie
This experience was a lesson in how the practice of Freemasonry needs to be complimented. It is how our Masonic ancestors often gathered in taverns many moons ago. It makes the business of the Lodge the opening of the Masonic heart, the inspiring of the Masonic spirit and the sharing of esoteric knowledge to widen the Masonic mind all in a festive, celebratory setting. More Lodges should hold events like this. It is great for Lodge morale and Masonic bonding.
I have read many a Masonic book in my time. Some of them are so complicated, grandiose and difficult to read that sometimes I think I am back in school reading a textbook. That is why reading Nelson Rose’s book, A Masonic Journey, is a welcomed change of pace.
Rose has written a book that reads easily and comfortably and you are able to move right along. As Rose says, “I would like to focus on the journey itself.”
He continues, “Perhaps while you read this you can reflect on where you fit, not just within the walls of your lodge, but in your community or even you own home. All of us are bricks in the temple of humanity. When one considers the differences in the bricks used on the outer walls versus the inner chambers, it is easy to see that our diversity does not prevent our unity and that while we can choose to stand alone, we miss out on the grandeur of being a piece of something greater.”
So we get to read how Rose felt being raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason and how he felt being the Worshipful Master of his Lodge.
We also get to read how Rose feels on Masonic subjects. On education he feels the study of Masonic Philosophy is more important than learning ritual.
On Brotherly Love he says, “Our membership is suffering not because of changes in society, but because of our inability to keep the normal cut-throat attitudes of society outside the lodge.” Society isn’t doing so well in Rose’s eyes. “Then I look at our fraternity,” he says. I often wonder if society is suffering as a result of the watered down state of the Craft.”
We can do it; we can be great Rose concludes as he takes us through the concepts of From Darkness to Light, Brotherly Love, Further Light, On the Level, Achieving Balance, Toleration and the Path to Perfection.
“When properly applied all the lessons of Freemasonry will enable a man to find that balance which enables him to spread his influence and love like the mortar of friendship and Brotherly love in all aspects of his life,” Rose exhorts us.
Again he reminds us, “The hopes and fears of all humanity are universal; how we deal with them are not. The lessons of Masonry are designed to help, aid, and assist a man along the journey of life.”
Rose continues, ”We should let the world observe how Masons love one another and we should show the world our love for ALL our fellow man. Of all the organizations known to man, it is Masonry that has focused on a communal and fraternal system of morality. We work together for the good of all, not just ourselves.”
We get a glimpse of Masonic education after Lodge as Masons of Rose’s Lodge go out for pub and grub afterward. This is a very common phenomenon in Freemasonry. A great back and forth and bonding occurs over libation and breaking bread together. Rose lets us in on a bit of that after Lodge conversation with his Brothers.
He also describes some of his in Lodge doings. But the best part of the book comes when Rose waxes philosophical. He actually spells out what he is thinking, saying,
Nelson Rose and Son
The Creator or Grand Architect only designs – thus the name architect. It is the individual choices that a man makes that dictate what will become of his life and what direction he travels is based on his own moral compass. Among us are the hints and clues that the Architect has placed in the most sublime ways.
And then there is, “It is no coincidence that the many men of science who are credited with redefining what was thought of as divine or supernatural, into the laws of nature and science, were Freemasons.”
Followed by, “The ability to learn how to think versus what to think is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned from my studies in Freemasonry.”
There are a lot of Rose-isms in this book. We can’t give them all to you; you’ve got to read the book yourself.
The last third of the book is devoted to a detailed explanation of Masonic lessons that are a part of Masonic education. So we see the importance of the Five Senses and The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, followed by some of the prominent symbols of Freemasonry – The Square, The Compasses, The letter G, The Quadrant, The Sun and finally The Tenets of Freemasonry. Rose concludes the book with some words to the wise for Freemasons and what we should be standing for.
The real gem in this part of the book that we haven’t touched on yet was Rose’s Masonic Education lecture that he delivered in Lodge. So all the non-Masons that read this book if you want to know what goes on inside the closed doors of the guarded Lodge Room, here is your chance. And what makes it so great is that it was an unprepared lecture as Rose was drafted at the last minute, so it was delivered from the heart.
In his lecture, Rose told his Lodge,
The open Bible reminds us that it is the moral law and the essence of deity that sits in the center of the Lodge. Without either, the lodge could not be opened or any obligation be taken. It is this symbol that reminds us that we as individuals are not the center of the Lodge and that we should govern our actions to a higher standard.
A Masonic Journey is not only a book that should be in every Mason’s library, but it is also a great book to give to someone who would make a good Mason or is contemplating becoming one. Very rarely do we get to follow the personal thoughts of a Freemason and learn from him personally how the Craft has benefitted him and society as a whole. It makes this book differ radically from a theoretical treatise on Freemasonry and it is an opportunity you should not miss.
Nelson Rose is a member of the Grand Lodge of Florida and the United Grand Lodge of England and writes for his Blog –
Coach Nagy’s book Building Boaz is aptly described by his subtitle – Uncommon Catechism For Uncommon Masonic Education. Nagy has written twelve new catechisms for the Entered Apprentice.
Nagy defines a catechism as “a book or manual of basic instruction giving a brief summary of the basic principles of a subject, usually by means of rote, formulaic statement or repetition in question and answer form.” It is also, “a close questioning or examination, as of a political figure, student or a person wishing to show their proficiency of a topic or subject.” Furthermore, it is “a body of work expressing fundamental principles or beliefs, especially when accepted uncritically, as a series of searching inquiries and responses on any targeted subject or interest.”
Most Freemasons will recognize this style of learning as many jurisdictions hand out little booklets of questions and answers also containing the obligation that the new Mason must memorize and be able to repeat back to the Lodge. Nagy takes that concept and expands upon it, giving us further insight and meaning into the teachings of the First Degree.
Nagy informs us:
John “Coach” Nagy
“The emphasis of this book is upon the Entered Apprentice Degree. Without a doubt, the focuses at play within this Degree are that of the Temple Foundation and Preparing the Stone that will eventually be Raised, Positioned and Cemented into that House not made by hand. For the benefit of this Temple Work to be long lasting, Masons must have both a Strong Foundation and a Properly Prepared Stone with a Strengthened Inner Core.”
“These two aspects, Strength and Proper Preparation, are critical in the Work of all Masons. They both Establish the Temples Built and guard Masons well against what may impede them in their Travels. Too many Temples fail or Travels cease due to flawed Foundations or yielding Stones – preventable failures all.”
“For new Masons today, the focus of their Work seems different than in years past. It appears now to be more suited toward having Brothers learn Ritual to support Ritual and the Lodge rather than learning what makes for Strong Entered Apprentices and earnestly Working toward Establishing necessary Strength within the newly Entered Stones.”
“The focus of this book is on those connections that come into supportive play for Masons long after the Initial Work is finished. To Travel upon the Masonic Path as an Entered Apprentice is to review and become familiar with Masonic ways. It is to examine and rectify your Morals in the Light of all which you profess to be Sacred. It is to assure that all that can weaken your Stone is removed while you Strengthen your core.”
People often ask how we as Masons make good men better. Even some Masons have no clue as to how this is done. What it involves, as Coach Nagy explains, is not mere memorization of Masonic ritual but rather study and contemplation beyond the Degree work that cements the virtues and the morality of Freemasonry firmly in the mind of the new Mason. The new Brother must understand the why and the how of the philosophy of Masonry in order to make himself a better man.
To facilitate that end, Nagy has put together a series of catechisms to provide a framework of study and reflection. Each catechism will explore the meaning of words. Nagy has the Brother get right down to the basics, the nitty gritty of it all.
For Nagy, the meaning of words is very important. Assign a false meaning to a word and you can destroy a whole philosophy. That is why Nagy uses the catechism format with its question and answer routine, so that meanings do not get mixed up in wrong definitions that can confuse or change the philosophy of Masonry. A word progresses to a concept, which leads to a thought or idea that taken all together as a whole makes a system or philosophy. And this is exactly how Nagy Builds Boaz.
It all starts with a word, and then another word and another and another until we have strung together a concept. Soon a thought or idea – a meaning – is established. Taking all these thoughts or ideas (catechisms) together and you have explained the meaning of the First Degree. Do this with the Second and Third Degree and you now have an understanding of the way of life that is Masonry.
Nagy is the Socrates of Freemasonry, asking question after question after question. It is very fortunate that in Building Boaz – Uncommon Catechism for Uncommon Masonic Education – Volume 2 we get answer after answer after answer. Nagy would be the first to tell you that these are not all the answers. There are many more which each individual Brother needs to discover on his own. But the beauty of Building Boaz is that it gets the new Mason in the frame of mind to make inquires and explore meanings – to ask questions and to search for answers and to get some answers. In so doing he cements the morality of Masonry into his inner core. That inner core will help to govern his outward actions. Many a time I have seen and heard of men who carry themselves above reproach. Their light shines to everybody they come in contact with. Often those around such a person want to know how he got that way. Chances are really good that person is a Freemason who has studied his Craft, built a firm foundation of Masonic understanding and strengthened his inner core.
That’s what Building Boaz is all about. This is not only a book that should be in every Mason’s library it should be presented by the Lodge to every new Entered Apprentice upon the completion of his First Degree. It also should be used for Masonic education for all in the Lodge Room, reinforcing those values that make Masonry truly a way of life.
“ 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.”
And this is what Nagy has dedicated himself to convey:
“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.”
John “Coach” Nagy
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.”
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
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.