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.
Brother John “Coach” Nagy recently sat down with Phoenixmasonry Live and talked about his Masonic mission of informing members of the Craft about its history, origins and how to learn more about the Society to which they belong. It was a session where even greater Light was transmitted to all the Brethren.
Each and every time I talk with Coach Nagy I never fail to learn something new. His research is thorough and far reaching into History, Religion, Masonry, Archaeology, Semantics and Etymology. He has a unique ability to bring all these fields of study together into one coherent whole, thus enabling him to relate to his readers the meaning of the symbolism, origin, sources, and meaning of our great Fraternity.
His book “The Craft Unmasked” is a seminal work that breaks new ground in the understanding of the origins of Freemasonry. That book has been reviewed on Freemason Information and can be viewed HERE.
The Beehive has always admired multi-talented Masons who are experts in many different fields. We can learn so much from such people. And if you follow Coach Nagy he will be your Socrates, asking you one question after another until you “learn how to learn.”
I hope you will enjoy the video above and that it will offer you new insight into Masonry.
Phoenixmasonry is thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview the multi-talented artist, Ari Roussimoff. His Masonic themed paintings are phenomenal, as are his painted Masonic Aprons through which he hopes to revive an interest in the largely lost art form. It is our hope that Masons and non-Masons alike will take an interest in his work, if they haven’t done so already, as it is well worth the time!
Ari Roussimoff’s art has been shown in places such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Nicholas Roerich Museum, and the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library and Museum. Ari’s paintings are colorful, daring, culturally rich, spiritually rounded, geometrically stunning, and a clear reflection of a profound character.
Elena Llamas, Director of Public Relations for Phoenixmasonry (EL): Thank you, Ari, for this interview. Please tell us about your background.
Ari Roussimoff (AR): Thank you, Elena, for inviting me. I have been impressed for years with the Phoenixmasonry site and what it is doing to promote the culture and history of Freemasonry. As to my background, I am one of those people who cannot be pinned down to one specific place. My family and ancestors have lived in Russia, Ukraine, Poland and even Moldavia among other countries. Although I was born in Germany, the Russian and other East European cultures have always been close to my heart, as much of my artwork reflects this.
Literature, music and art were on the daily menu in my home. Over the years I have been privileged to live and work in both Europe and America.
EL: Where do you feel most at home?
AR: For the most part, I am at home inside my head and also in my heart. But certain places are quite special to me.
In Europe, Zürich, Switzerland where Mother Nature is at its finest, Amsterdam, Holland with its great collections of Old Master paintings. Any place Rembrandt lived is great.
In the United States, Miami Beach, Florida with its vivid, tropical color is fabulous. I painted its festive carnivals, cafes and crowds. Sometimes I’d even add a little nod to Freemasonry.
For example, in my panoramic Beach Café painting, I included a merry group of Shriners crossing the street while nearby stands a bearded lady holding her little son’s hand.
Another favorite place is Southern California. When based in San Diego, I’d visit Hollywood and fantasize about the great historic film world of days gone by.
A painting I did of Hollywood Boulevard features many of the classic movie stars congregating in front of the old Masonic Temple (now a television studio where they film the Jimmy Kimmel show).
Featured in the very front of my picture is silent movie legend Harold Lloyd wearing his Imperial Potentate’s Al Malaikah Shriner Fez. There are other masons in there as well: Harpo Marx, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Oliver Hardy.
EL: When and how did you first become interested in art?
AR: My father was a writer. So I grew up in a cultural European household. The first artist that spoke to me was Van Gogh. I discovered him at age seven when watching a television documentary devoted to his life and work. Van Gogh became an early passion.
Since then, I’ve collected many books on him and have hunted down his paintings in museums throughout the world.
At fourteen I discovered Rembrandt. My second passion in art. By the way, I started drawing at age three and did my first oil at seven.
[I] also started to exhibit as a child. Luckily, I had parents who supported my love of art.
EL: How wonderful! Did any current or artist in particular inspire or influence your work?
AR: As an artist, you become a sponge of sorts, soaking up influences from many sources. My breath is taken away by the Old Masters. Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, the list is endless. Leonardo was the ultimate artistic genius. Each of his paintings are hypnotic.
Some of my other loves include Byzantine art, Russian and other folk arts, Van Gogh and numerous of the moderns. Too many to mention.
“This photograph of me was taken around 1990. Salvador Dali once said that an artist should look like his work. Sounds fine to me. In this photo, I am holding a 19th century Italian Paper Mache Commedia dell’arte mask. The coat I am wearing was once worn by the great Russian Opera singer Feodor Chaliapin. He wore the coat while performing as Ivan the Terrible in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Opera, “The Maid of Pskov” in Paris. I cherish this coat with its unique theatrical history.” – Ari Roussimoff
EL: And as a teenager, you were invited to lunch with Salvador Dali and his wife Gala. What was that like?
AR: At the age of fourteen I was being managed by Theodore Karr, a representative of the Shorewood Art publishing company, a noted publisher of lithographs by some of the greatest artists in Europe.
A meeting was arranged for me to meet the great master Dail for lunch at a restaurant in the Hotel St. Regis in New York, where he lived for half the year. Our small group consisted of Dali, his wife Gala, Mr. Karr, my father and myself. Naturally I was very nervous when introduced to Dali. My knees were trembling. Surprisingly, Dali’s personality was completely different from the “crazed” image he promoted. Handsomely dressed in a three piece suit, holding a beautiful cane, Dali was polite, soft spoken and to me, he seemed a bit sad.
Then there was Gala. There was a quiet, but hostile dynamic going on between Dali and his wife. Dali’s command of English was far better than how he presented himself during filmed interviews. Oddly enough, he talked mostly about movies. He liked Hitchcock and John Wayne films. Early on Dali had collaborated with the Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel on two avant garde movies and in later years he worked for Alfred Hitchcock in designing a scene for “Spellbound.” Dali told us he hoped to yet do another film. Toward the conclusion of our lunch, Dali pulled out a portfolio from which he gifted me a signed artist’s proof lithograph. A man in the restaurant had recognized Dali and approached our table to ask for an autograph. Immediately, Dali turned into the eccentric madman he usually portrayed. He propped himself up, soldier like. His eyes bulged and his voice became amplified, with his language having changed into the familiar chaotic Dalinian jargon of English-French-Spanish. He graciously complied and gave the man an autograph. Upon the man’s retreat back to his table, Gala shot up off her chair and berated her husband loudly in French. Customers in the restaurant were glaring. Quite embarrassing! After we left the place, Mr. Karr attempted to explain that Gala’s rant, saying that she resented Dali drawing attention to himself, creating a spectacle. That pretty much describes my encounter with Salvador Dali.
EL: That’s an amazing story! Thank you for sharing it with us, tell us about your relationship with Masonry.
AR: I have always appreciated the great achievements of humanity while also being very much aware of the shortcomings. There isn’t a thing about the human condition that cannot be found in the Bible. Since much of my way of thinking is of biblical origin, I understood that humanity was given the ability by God to rise up to advance itself and achieve wonders to benefit one’s self and mankind.
Art played a significant role in leading me toward Freemasonry. I never felt Art was limited to esthetics. For me it became an expression of the soul. Art is a universal language. French, German, Spanish, Greek, Russian, Polish or African. Any genuine work of art transcends its ethnic origins, and translates into a universal language that speaks to all.
Walking through the streets of Los Angeles, New York and through Europe, my eye often fixated on old buildings that incorporated mystical looking designs. Often I wondered if these were Masonic decorations. My curiosity about Freemasonry started taking form.
I began to read up on the subject and absorb the philosophy and the rich culture accompanying it. What struck me early on is that some of the iconography I had known from early Christian art, such as the All Seeing Eye of God was an important essential component of Freemasonry, as is the Holy Bible. Then I was surprised to recognize similarities between Masonic symbolism and some of the mystical imagery that had been appearing in my own pictures for years.
Fascinated with the moral philosophies of Freemasonry, I was awed by the abundance of illustrious members, the great philosophers, leaders, authors, artists, musicians, philanthropists, scientists, inventors, poets, physicians. Mozart, Goethe, Voltaire, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Booker T. Washington, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Pushkin, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain. In my triptych that currently hangs in the Livingston Library there is a tribute to quite a few illustrious individuals who have been Masons.
Just a matter of note, in comparison to music, literature and entertainment, there were relatively few artists who were Masons.
There were numerous fine engravers. The most important sculptors and painters included Bartholdi, Hogarth, Mucha, Grant Wood, the great German expressionist Lovis Corinth (who did illustrations of lodge ceremony) and the Cubist master Juan Gris (he served as Master of his Lodge in Paris).
My keen interest eventually led me to the point where I wanted to do a film on Freemasonry. With that project in mind, I visited the wonderful Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library & Museum of the Grand Lodge of New York in Manhattan. Their collection of materials is awesome. And everything was generously put at my disposal for study. This was in 2002. Although this particular film project has not as yet materialized, this was my road to joining. It has been an ever inspiring journey.
EL: Your work is a very skilled and inspiring contribution to the smaller body of Freemasonic art. Currently, you have art on display inside the Grand Lodge of New York building. Is there anything you would like to share about the exhibition?
AR: Yes, my paintings called Hiram’s Apron and King Solomon’s Vision, which have become widely known, were the first to be exhibited at the Livingston Masonic Library & Museum.
Currently, the museum is displaying my triptych titled Parable Of Light and Dark which consists of three paintings, which tell a symbolic story about Freemasonry through the past, present and an eye toward possibilities for the future. The first piece is called Foundations. It depicts the beginnings of Freemasonry, starting with Hiram and the building of the Holy Temple. The composition then moves upwards to Medieval times with Knighthoods and Cathedrals paving the way towards modern times.
At the very top in Foundations, I depict art and culture with portraits of Mozart, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Pushkin and Voltaire.
The middle painting is called Eclipse. The idea behind ‘Eclipse’ is that within any darkness, there is a light of inspiration that can, if recognized for the possibilities it offers, lead one to a positive path.
The last painting in this group is called Rebirth. Hiram and King Solomon appear at the bottom amidst the ruins of a city. The King, like Noah years before him, sends a dove out into the future. Inspired by Masonic fundamentals, the future is represented by builders constructing a new and improved civilization.
EL: Profound symbolism. It is nice that you always include your thoughts on each painting on your website and social media. Tell us about your painted Masonic Aprons. What inspired you to make them, what do you hope to accomplish through them?
AR: Painted aprons are a lost art within Freemasonry.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, many Masonic aprons were beautifully hand painted and also embroidered. Some were folksy in style, others elaborate. Eventually came the standardization of aprons and the painted ones were relegated to the pages of history.
For my part, I wish to bring this lost Masonic tradition up into the here and now and also hopefully into the future.
My painted aprons are never imitations. They are highly symbolic, as I instill in them the classic ideals and virtues of Freemasonry. But I do this as a modern artist, with the voice coming from my soul.
Being signed artworks, it is not necessary for my aprons to be worn. They can be displayed on a wall. I am happy to say that my painted Masonic aprons are in fine collections throughout the world. And I very much love making them.
EL: Your aprons are incredible! You also do special Masonic portraits where you combine painting with photography. Tell us about that.
These are pictures I do on commission. I integrate portrait photography with my painting. Likenesses can sometimes be tricky and problematic. Even a great master like Rembrandt had occasional problems in this department.
The story goes that a man commissioned Rembrandt to do a portrait of his wife (or daughter). Upon seeing the final painting, the man was displeased because he did not see a likeness and demanded his money back. Ha. Ha. Can you imagine?!!
What I do can be called mixed-media portraits. No one will ever complain about a lack of likeness. The process consists of first, the client gives me a favorite photograph of themselves or whoever they wish me to create a portrait for.
Next, I have the photo enlarged and transferred onto a canvas of the desired measurements.
The last step is for me to paint a complete composition surrounding the photo, which I do not alter. The painted elements will reflect elements in that person’s life or imagination.
Voila! Never an issue regarding likenesses. A Lodge commissioned me to do one of the retiring Grand Master of California. It was gifted him during a special presentation ceremony. And I did one as my personal gift for the retiring Grand Secretary of New York, a wonderful man.
By the way, these pictures are also made for non-masons. I’ve created them for weddings, anniversaries, births, people’s parents. Anything someone might like to have.
EL: I read that, for you, art is a spiritual experience. Would you share with us something about the process of bringing forth such wonderful images? Spiritually speaking, what is it that you experience?
AR: For me the act of painting is like praying.
It originates in my heart and my soul.
Spirituality in art is not limited to the confines of one or another religion. It is at the very core of all life.
Painting, like prayer, is a spiritual experience. Magical in many ways. And I am certain that being a painter is what God intended for me to be.
Otherwise I’d be doing other things. Too many people depend only on the limitations of their eyesight. They’re not able to touch base with the soul. Hence the four eyes in some of my paintings.
EL: I love your four eyes theme!
AR: In this self-portrait, the two pairs of eyes have a mystical meaning.
It is my belief that one should try to develop two sets of eyes.
One set represents our innermost self: the heart, passions and spirituality. This is the soul. The other set are those of the mind: logic and intellect. All four eyes together can give one excellent vision.
In art, it isn’t required that an artwork depict a religious subject in order to be spiritual. That special spirit is very much embedded within any true work of art. Spirituality can be felt in florals, landscapes, portraits, figurative or abstract compositions and whatever. Same holds true for music, literature and all other arts.
EL: On your website, linked here at the end of this interview, in addition to Masonic subjects, your art is presented in three other categories: Old Russia, Jewish life, Phantasmagoria.
AR: These are among the subjects I have painted throughout my life.
Art has been my lifelong passion. It is easiest to categorize works by subjects. There is also a general section called “Newest Works” featuring a cross section of paintings and also an interview. We are preparing to update the site. There are lots of new additions and improvements coming!
EL: I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next! You are also an award-winning director of motion pictures and have created sets for Broadway shows. You have done costume design, performance art, and have hosted a three-part television music program on MTV.
AR: All the arts are related. Being primarily visually oriented and a lover of classic movies, it had long been a desire to also express myself in film.
My first feature was a surrealist horror film featuring a cast of underground stars, even several Andy Warhol superstars. Federico Fellini, the brilliant Italian filmmaker, saw a rough edit of some of the early footage of bikers, and his admiration brought us further funding.
My best movie was the documentary Freaks Uncensored: A Human Sideshow which took years of research and dealt with the history of physical human anomalies throughout the ages. My significant other of many years Vivian Forlander wrote the screenplay and I directed it. It opened at the Anthology Film Archives in New York, to standing room only crowds and has been released on both VHS and DVD.
As for MTV, I hosted a special three-episode Russian style spoof of the MTV hits countdown. It was called MTV-ski and I was the Russian V-J, all dressed up in fur hat and rubaschka, peasant blouse. My old performance group went under the name “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks”, We performed in theaters, discos and art galleries.
As for the stage, I was chosen by impresario Ralph Mercado to create sets and paint a mural for an Eastern European show he was importing from Argentina.
“LIVE APPEARANCE AT NYC’S LIMELIGHT DISCO (1991)
Here I am on stage in 1991 with my old performance troupe “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks”. We are doing a live multi-media show at the Limelight Club in New York City. While our group lovingly exhibited Russian style, the name cossack was used metaphorically for individualism and inspired rebelliousness against status-quo trends (the initial meaning of cossack was rebel). We performed our uniquely circus-like shows in theaters, art galleries and discos. Venues ranged from the Limelight to Howard Guttenplan’s Millennium Film Workshop. This was a great way to incorporate elements of theater, painting, music and film. Cast members would often be interchangeable (based on locations). Performers included: Big Bob Bear, Clayton Patterson, Valerie Caris, Taylor Mead, The Magnificent Lori “W”, Vivi-Vixen and Brooks Rogers. In this photo at the Limelight, Clayton Patterson is the man holding the flag and the Queen of house music herself, Screamin’ Rachel is doing her wild thing in the far right, under the big screen (where we presented excerpts from one of my films).
It has been quite a few years now since I have retired “The Trans-Siberian Cossacks” (although occasionally, I get an urge to resurrect them). Even nowadays when giving a talk on my paintings, I like incorporating various elements. It makes for a more stimulating and also fun presentation.”
EL: In a way, the group has been resurrected in your work. Ari, what else would you like to mention that I didn’t ask?
AR: Just this week, I completed a Masonic composition which I call Pyramid Of Light.
Currently I am putting finishing touches to a painted apron. There are a multitude of paintings stored inside me, each competing against the others to make its way out and onto canvas first. And I haven’t a clue which one it will be. Freemasonry, with its great teachings of morality and positive energy, provide me with tremendous inspiration. I hope to do many paintings in that direction.
EL: The readers and I are hoping too, Ari, I am sure.
EL: Let’s end this interview with some of your amazing paintings. Thank you very much for letting us pick your brain. We would love to check-in with you periodically to let our readers know what you are up to.
For a long time, Brother Wayne Anderson of Canada has been running a Masonic Newsletter featuring one paper that he sends out every Sunday. I have been a subscriber of his for years and we have become good friends. Recently he sent out a paper of mine which I had long forgotten that I had written. It was written on January 1, 2012. Perhaps you have read it before, perhaps you haven’t. I reprint it here as it seems to reflect thoughts that are universal and never go out of date.
Here is Anderson’s Sunday Newsletter paper that he sent out:
I want to wish each and every member of the Sunday Masonic Paper list a very Happy and Healthy 2016. Today’s paper comes from my long time friend, mentor and good Brother Fred Milliken.
My Masonic New Year’s Resolution
January 1, 2012 by Fred Milliken
Do you believe in coincidences? I don’t.
Do you believe in Angels? I do.
Guess you know where to classify me now.
Before I went to bed on New Year’s eve I read a piece from a friend and Brother who said that he was going to spend his New Year’s day in contemplation of what he had done in 2011 and what he had failed to do and how he could make 2012 Masonically better. Did he visit and help Brothers in need often enough? Did he listen and think about those Brothers who had asked his advice and those that had whispered in his ear? Did he walk the extra mile, did he let anyone down?
He asks himself:
Did I hold true to my values all year-long? Did I lose a friend through lack of communication to too much of it? Did I do all that was required of me in time of need? Did I make new friends? Did I create any enemies? Did I leave something undone that I could have finished, and many more questions that I ask of myself.
These are some of the things that he was going to cogitate on.
On New Year’s morning I read a piece from Canadian Brother Wayne Anderson’s Masonic Newsletter – Sunday Masonic Paper No. 611 – where Brother Doug Gray pondered:
As we approach the count down toward the end of 2011; and the beginning of a New Year, it is a time many use for some reflection! I just wanted to remind everyone that although Masonry is well known as a “Progressive Science”; it should also be remembered as a “Reflective Science.”
The true purpose and value in Masonry is to gain knowledge of ones self; and his own relationship with God.
We must use our Lodge time as a place to think, to consider our fellow-man, to become “Human” and to gain “Wisdom”.
Looking inward is the place to begin, evaluate shortcomings with respect to our obligation, our charges and our commitment to the working tools or each degree.
Brotherhood is our vision in Masonry. How well do you know your Lodge and District Brothers?
Buddha taught: Man is so entangled in the “Tragedy of Life”, they are bound together out of sympathy in a “Brotherhood of pity…” Zoroaster taught: That Men are Brethren because warriors in battle between “Light and Darkness” a “Brotherhood of Battle…” Confucius: Brothers because of “common obligations”, a “Brotherhood of Service.”
In my practice of religion I am quite familiar with “centering prayer” which is much like meditation. You take a symbol, a phrase, an idea or a short scripture reading and you meditate on it for hours, making sure you clear your mind of all else. You contemplate the thought you have chosen, repeating it over and over and listening for an answer. If your mind wanders onto something else you force it back often by repeating out loud your chosen thought. Over and over, hour after hour until you have an answer. Where the answer comes from I am not going to get into. That is up to your own personal belief system.
So not believing in coincidences and getting pushed by my Angel I decide to do some Masonic centering prayer/meditation on the Masonic symbol of the Point Within A Circle.
I cleared my mind of everything but the Point Within A Circle and began. Soon I found myself in a closed maze where I went around and around. At one end I bumped into St. John the Baptist at another end the Holy Scriptures and at a third point St. John the Evangelist. But what was the message, what were they trying to tell me? Over and over I pondered and meditated.
After some time it was clear to me that I was being strongly urged to make a Masonic New Year’s Resolution – a commitment to accomplish something in the coming year. But further meditation yielded no clue as to what that Masonic New Year’s Resolution should be. This was not going to be as easy as I thought.
Maybe this is where free will comes in. It’s all up to me. But I am not sure what I should choose. Perhaps you have some suggestions.
Wayne D. Anderson, FCF, MPS
D.D.G.M. Frontenac District, G.R.C. 2015-16
For the institution that proclaims no man speaks for Freemasonry, the Grand Lodge of Georgia (some 40,000 members strong) took a stand and made just such a proclamation. Their pronouncement, voted upon at a Grand Lodge session, was to proclaim that neither gay men not fornicators (people who have consensual sex out of wedlock) should be allowed admission to the fraternal institution.
The ironic thing is that it seems to be based on the application of an interpretation of the “Moral Law“ which is a theme grasped closely by many who agree with this decision.
The original edict, in a document signed by the Grand Master of Georgia, states (under GEORGIA) Masonic Code 77-108 that:
Masonic Code Section 77-108 shall be hereby amended to add that: Homosexual activity with anyone is prohibited conduct subjecting the offender to Masonic discipline, so that Masonic Code Section 77-108 shall hereafter read as follows:
2015 Masonic Code Section 77-108, Adultery or Fornication
Adultery or fornication with anyone subjects the offender to discipline, but where the women in question is known by the offender to be the wife, widow, mother, daughter, or sister of a Master Mason, there is the added guilt of the breach of a Masonic obligation, and the want of chastity on her part does not excuse the offender. Homosexual activity with anyone subjects the offender to discipline. SO ORDERED and given under my hand and seal as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons for the State of Georgia and under the seal of the said Grand Lodge, this 9th Day of September, 2015.
Douglas W. McDonald Grand Master
Joseph W. Watson, Grand Secretary
Their entry in the October edition of the Georgia Masonic Messenger (the original link since removed, but viewable here: Masonic Messenger 10 2015 ), the official publication of the Grand Lodge of Georgia (on page 3) reads:
Masonic Code Section 71-102.1 authorizes the Grand Master to issue an Edict which would apply to a significant question or issue which may be enacted as Masonic Law by the Grand Lodge. Resting upon that authority, Edict 2015-1 was issued on September 8 declaring that a Freemason is obliged to obey the moral law and Almighty God, the Grand Architect of the Universe, the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; that basic moral laws are not man-made Edicts or Decrees, but spring from the eternal justice and wisdom of Almighty God; Freemasons must constantly strive to keep their integrity intact, for it is our integrity that holds our way of life together, and when integrity is lost, all is lost; that good moral character is a pre-requisite for admission into Freemasonry and a strict observance of the moral law is essential for advancement and retention of good standing within the Fraternity; and the importance of the moral law as a fundamental principle of Freemasonry is exemplified by the fact that any act by one of its members involving a violation of the moral law is a Masonic offense, subjecting the offender to discipline; and that homosexuality is contrary to the moral law. The Edict concluded, Homosexual activity with anyone subjects the offender to discipline.” Let us not forget that Webster’s Dictionary defines “irreligious libertine”* as a person who shows a lack of religion and is morally or sexually unrestrained.
This seems to be heavily influenced by a religious rhetoric.
The argument to the text above is that it was specifically written for Georgia Freemasons and not the broader landscape of Freemasonry in other states or countries.
So, theoretically, it shouldn’t (and doesn’t) apply to anyone other than those with the misfortune of living in the state of Georgia. Yet, to make such an edict on what they see as moral or immoral activity casts a VERY long shadow on an institution that prides itself in claiming it “good men better” or spreading the light of brotherly love in an otherwise darkened world. Is this really an issue of violating some invisible or philosophically plastic moral law? Or is it a means to apply a quasi-religious edict onto a subject that was just recently accepted as the law of the land? Is that an allowable stance for an organization to make, especially when it espouses a zero tolerance for religious and political dialog? Or, is it just another form of discrimination meant to foster a “them versus us” issue as a futile attempt to stand head and shoulders in the ranks of society.
The issue of fornication is equally puzzling given we exist in a modern age where civil society has most of the morality laws under control. With that said, its apparently not enough. Whatever the reason, it’s wrong; it’s stupid and blight on anyone or anything associated with the fraternity. Who are they to put into word and rule their disdain for the personal lives of its immediate members and the broader member community around the world to exert defacto judgment on what they do and who with?
Georgia Masonry should be called to reconcile this and be put out of the fold. To NOT disown them is to say that this act of moral social engineering is acceptable and that Freemasonry, as a body, has lost its way.
*Consequently, irreligious libertine, isn’t in the on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
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.
The question of What is Freemasonry has been one I’ve tried to answer myself for many years. In a recent column, Tim Bryce took a stab at the elusive answer in a very astute and concise fashion coming to the ultimate conclusion that Freemasonry is a fraternity as “… an environment of companionship dedicated to the social development of its members.” While I don’t think his conclusion is to far from the mark, how he got there bares some consideration.
Did his conclusions go far enough?
In his conclusion, Tim says that Freemasonry is, at its core, a fraternity – debunking the notion of it being a club, philanthropy, religion or a corporation. So, allow me to begin by considering what exactly a fraternity is.
The word fraternity has it’s origins in Old French, fraternité , with even older use from Latin, fraternitatem, which was defined as brotherhood. Rightly so, the notion of the word frater, as Tim says, was the Latin equivalent of the word brother, a term still used in some esoteric groups in present day.
The notion of the term fraternity has even older origins dating back to antiquity in the notion of the mystery cults of Rome (such as the Mithraic rites) evolving through the centuries to the trade guilds later to be embodied in American Culture through open organizations of association, at least so the Encyclopedic entry in Wikipedia would suggest. That same article says that the American social enterprise that became Democracy was essentially an outgrowth of this notion of fraternity in that religious freedom gave cause for ideological association giving rise to a “nation of joiners” that Alexis de Tocqueville (1830) and Arthur M. Schlesinger (1944) saw fit to characterize American as.
But, that exploration may take us to far afield. I will say that the de Tocqueville and Schlesinger’s conclusion has been challenged in more recent scholarship not as outgrowths of democracy but as institutionalization’s of civil society and the need for public engagement – an idea that turns the no religion or politics onto its head given the depth to which both are, today, the main focus of our present society.
As a fraternity, Tim’s conclusion is that while not a club, philanthropy, religion or political action committee, Freemasonry is a place where, and I’m paraphrasing here, moral men meet on common ground to act rightly to one another. He concludes saying that men gathered like this for no more reason than to associate so.
While I can’t find a disagreement on that conclusion, one has to ask gather to for what end? Personally, that conclusion has the taste of a mutual appreciation society, where members merely gather to congratulate one another on rank promotion and fine regalia acquisitions while debating on the cost of linen cleaning and the use of pasta sauce. This might sound glib, but if that were the case, why include the initiatic trappings to make an individual a Mason in the first place? It is in that rituals, and the ideas behind them, that I see the difference in there mere aspect of being a fraternity of self congratulators.
But, let’s take some time to analyze the elements Tim suggests the fraternity is not. To do this, I we need to invoke an old Hindu parable on avoiding dogmatism.
In the parable on how to define an elephant we might find a good approach to how to define this conundrum of what Freemasonry is by describing its parts, or more precisely, the elements that Tim says Freemasonry is not. The Hindu telling of the parable goes something along these lines:
A number of blind men came to an elephant. Somebody told them that it was an elephant. The blind men asked, ‘What is the elephant like?’ and they began to touch its body. One of them said: ‘It is like a pillar.’ This blind man had only touched its leg. Another man said, ‘The elephant is like a husking basket.’ This person had only touched its ears. Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently. In the same way, he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that He is nothing else. – Ramakrishna, an Indian mystic of the 19th-century
The conclusion of the parable is that no one individual is capable of defining the elephant by merely describing its parts. That only in the summations of their totality was any consensus possible as to what, exactly, the elephant was, and even then a deaf man could still draw other conclusions rendering even further definitions. Ultimately, the moral is that while we seek to define something, the only way to do so is by adequately and completely describing its parts.
In his piece, Tim gives us several of components saying that Freemasonry has variously been defined as a club, a corporation, a religion, a political action committee, and philanthropy. To each of these he says that they miss the mark in defining the institution coming to the conclusion that it is merely a fraternity of association where these elements may, or may not, take place. I argue that, to the contrary, Masonry is all of these things at various levels and at the same time while cloaked in the old fraternal notion of a fraternal society of common cause.
Is Freemasonry a Club?
While a seeming antiquated notion today, at one point in the 20th century clubs were about as diffuse as the subjects they gathered to associate about. Garden clubs, chess clubs, book clubs, motorcycle clubs, car clubs, hunting clubs, gun clubs, card clubs… the list could go on and on. DMOZ, the open source directory, lists 132,542 clubs and more than 10,000 organizations. In some respects, Freemasonry is one just another one of these affinity clubs.
Is Freemasonry a Corporation?
The U.S. Small Business Association defines a corporation as “an independent legal entity owned by shareholders which means that “the corporation itself, not the shareholders that own it, is held legally liable for the actions and debts the business incurs.” In Tim’s piece, he rightly states that a corporation is profitable in nature, which is the argument he makes for why Freemasonry is not a corporation. Yet, without some profit, the organization cannot grow or anticipate any developments that might necessitate some capital investment (a new lodge, educational materials, new jewels, and so on). At some level, even as a non-profit organization Freemasonry should function as a 501(c)10, which the IRS describes as:
A domestic fraternal society, order, or association must meet the following requirements:
It must have a fraternal purpose. An organization has a fraternal purpose if membership is based on a common tie or the pursuit of a common object. The organization must also have a substantial program of fraternal activities.
It must operate under the lodge system. Operating under the lodge system requires, at a minimum, two active entities: (i) a parent organization; and (ii) a subordinate organization (called a lodge, branch, or the like) chartered by the parent and largely self-governing.
It must not provide for the payment of life, sick, accident, or other benefits to its members. The organization may arrange with insurance companies to provide optional insurance to its members without jeopardizing its exempt status.
It must devote its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes.
It must be a domestic organization, that is, it must be organized in the United States.
So then, in this configuration, essentially, Freemasonry, under the Grand Lodge system, is a Corporation that does not take a profit, dedicating its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes. This may not apply at the lodge level, but I would suspect that most TempleBoards function as corporations to manage the infrastructure investment of the lodge building. Does this make Freemasonry a corporation? I would say yes and no in that while not a “corporate body” with the many denominations of Freemasonry, at its management level, it is a corporation where the lodges annually elected leaders (Worshipful Masters) to vote at shareholder meetings annually in the Grand Lodge communications electing new corporate leadership.
This corporate idea is probably most observable in the Shrine and in the Scottish Rite, both of which having many nonprofit corporations under their dominion.
Is Freemasonry a Religion?
Tim makes another point in his piece that Freemasonry is not a religion, and while nearly every tract written, published and produced repeats this mantra (right down into the very landmarks of the institution) it does promote a religious lifestyle. Further, it embraces a wide acceptance of religious thought (empirically) seeing all faiths as equal by 1) acknowledging all faiths and 2) embracing them in common cause in the lodge.
Interestingly, the early Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing (d.October, 1842) would say that “there is but one thing essential in religion and this is the doing of God’s will” but in doing so in communion, in the same sermon he says:
It is not with the voice only that man communicates with man Nothing is so eloquent as the deep silence of a crowd A sigh a low breathing sometimes pours into us our neighbour’s soul more than a volume of words There is a communication more subtle than freemasonry between those who feel alike How contagious is holy feeling.
The point of making this reference is that while Freemasonry does not espouse a religious practice, it certainly exudes a devout religious timbre that its religious tolerance allows to resonate through its many parts.
Is Freemasonry a Political Action Committee?
This was an interesting inclusion and one that I had not considered before in conjunction to Freemasonry. The purpose of a PAC, says Opensecrets.org, is the “raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates” representing “business, labor or ideological interests.”
While no Masonic PAC exists (you can check yourself by consulting PACRONYMS, which is an alphabetical list of acronyms, abbreviations, initials, and common names of federal political action committees (PACs) identifying committees when their full names are not disclosed on campaign finance reports. My search yielded no Masonic named organizations)
What is interesting is what defines a PAC. At the Federal Level, a PAC is an organization that receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election. Politics is that flip side of the coin to religion as taboo topics to discuss in lodge, a point Tim makes succinctly. But another point that Tim makes is that while Freemasonry believes (and actively promotes) patriotism, citizenship, and good government, its history also boasts a healthy degree of civic activism, especially in it’s fraternal political patriarchs in the likes of Famous Freemasons George Washington and nine of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. Even the Boston Tea party, while unverifiable, was planned in a ‘community center’ that sported a square and compass above its door.
Does that make Freemasonry a Political Action Committee? Probably not, but what it does suggest to me is that the gathering of like minded individuals given to common cause of idealism and faith, could still organize an activity of a political nature outside of the regular opening and closing of a lodge room in the same way they could plan a fishing trip together or organize a lodge movie night.
Is Freemasonry a Philanthropy
Tim makes a good point here in saying that Masons help others within their capacity to do so, without mandate, and peripheral goal. While I see this as fundamentally correct, I think he equates the notion of philanthropy as holding weekly cupcake sales or canned food drives. While I don’t mean this as a slight to Tim, I think when you look at the many charities that Masonry in some way started, influenced, or contributed to; one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the idea of just how much philanthropy is at work behind the scenes. Remember, too, one of the chief articles of incorporation is to give to charitable causes, a task often instituted at the Grand Lodge level. But some other past examples of tremendous Masonic philanthropy include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, built with millions of contributions,subscriptions and donations, in an era of much higher income disparity, to the present day Shrine Hospitals for Children and Scottish Rite Speech and Language programs.
While institutionally, neither of these two examples predicates the reason for being as an organization, both are examples of a deeply invested attribute of Freemasonry, namely brotherly love, which, by its Latin name, is Charity. So while masonry itself may not be philanthropic, its does encompass the notion of a love towards mankind in its expression of brotherly love (hence the maxim brotherly love, relief, truth). In some sense, philanthropy is the very thing that Masonry is trying to instill in those who seek out that common cause.
So What is Freemasonry?
This brings us back to the ultimate conclusion then of what the fraternity is to those who have sought it out. Is it the sum of its parts or the individual definitions of its pieces? How can it be none of the things Tim described when, in its operation and its roots it is, essentially, all of those things? To quote from Tim’s piece:
Freemasonry, therefore, is not a club, philanthropy, a religion, or a PAC. Using symbols from ancient operative Masonry, Freemasonry is a place where men meet “on the level” (to promote equality), act “by the plumb” (rectitude of conduct), and part upon “the square” (to practice morality).
To the contrary, I would suggest that Masonry is a club that, ultimately, promotes philanthropy and religion in the same way a PAC or a corporation functions to grow and promote its own prosperity and agenda. That, the ideas of the fraternity do go back centuries, but go well past the common vernacular of the 17th century to their more ancient usage in antiquity to the mystery cults of association by common cause. The only difference is in how we choose to see ourselves – as the individual that the corporate body represents, or as the incorporation of the idea itself in the individual?
Can Freemasonry, like the elephant, be defined in its totality based upon the descriptions of its parts? Or is it a philosophical idea merely codified in its organization for its conduct? I think Tim got it partially right, but I don’t think you can sum the totality of Freemasonry without rightly considering its parts.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts on What Freemasonry is in the comments below.
The question has arisen if certain religious practices are compatible with Freemasonry, primarily Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism.
Article XIII – LANDMARKS AND CERTAIN LAWS OF FREEMASONRY
Section 2. The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida hereby recognizes, as being Landmarks of Freemasonry, the following:
(a) A belief in the existence of one ever living and true God.
(b) A belief in the immortality of the human soul and a resurrection thereof to a Future Life.
(c) The Volume of the Sacred Law, open upon the altar, is an indispensable furnishing of every regular Lodge while at labor.
Regulation 1.02 Masonic Law is a rule of fraternal conduct, and applies only to the moral and fraternal rectitude of its members. It is based upon the law of Divine Revelation, therefore, any covenant, affirmation, declaration, assumption, prescription, or requirement derogatory thereto, or in conflict therewith, is void. Hence the precept, “a Mason is bound by his tenure to obey the moral law.”………….
Excerpt from THE CHARGES OF A FREEMASON
THE GENERAL HEADS, VIZ.: – I . OF GOD AND RELIGION.
I. CONCERNING GOD AND RELIGION
“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine.”……….
Therefore, as Grand Master, it is my Ruling and Decision that none of the above mentioned beliefs and/or practices are compatible with Freemasonry since they do not believe or practice one or more of the prerequisites to be a candidate for Masonry listed above.
Further, any member of the Craft that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks.
Furthermore, Freemasonry prohibits the change of any of the Ancient Landmarks, and its members admit that it is not in power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry.
Your Humble Servant and Brother,
Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master
”Be A Leader; Make It Happen”
This edict applies to a particular Brother. Full story to follow.