Raised to a Master Mason in 1908, at Harmony Lodge No. 17 in Washington, DC, Carl H. Claudy served as the Master and eventually as Grand Master of Masons in 1943. He served as the executive secretary of the Masonic Service Association in 1929 holding the position until his death in 1957 claiming authorship of nearly 350 Short Talk Bulletins.
The MSANA says of the plays:
[They] are not merely a means by which a lodge may entertain, but attempt to satisfy a desire to understand the inner content of Freemasonry. They accomplish this purpose by drawing aside the veils of ritual, allegory and symbol that the truth behind may shine through.
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.
Albert Pike once wrote: “Freemasonry is the subjugation of the human that is in man, by the Divine; the conquest of the appetites and the passions, by the Moral Sense and the Reason; a continual effort, struggle, and warfare of the Spiritual against the Material and Sensual.”Morals and Dogma, Sublime Prince
I found this definition of Freemasonry to be an appropriate introduction to what I am about to present.
I have always sensed that our ritual had a deeper significance than what appears on the surface. Through my association with other esoteric bodies and their knowledge, I have been able to recognize phrases, analogies, allegories, and symbols from these ancient teachings. Many Masons have either lost sight of, or are not aware of, what our ritual is indicating to us. I have made it my mission to share this discovery with all Masons, and would now like to expose, to you, in the coming chapters, some of the deeper meaning behind the ritual of our degree rituals, in the hope that you will propagate this information to others.
I have come to understand that there are three aspects to our ritual: physical, mental, and spiritual. The first degree is mostly related to the physical; the second degree to the mental (or intellectual), and the third to the spiritual. Also, each degree is built on the one before, so there are three levels: 1st degree – physical also (representing birth), 2nd degree – mental (also representing growth and development), and 3rd degree – spiritual (also representing death).
However, each one of the degree rituals has, within it, those same three levels. The physical relates to the actions and symbols; the mental relates to the moral and intellectual aspects; and the spiritual is what is explained in the following chapters.
First, I must tell you that there is no official view regarding this deeper aspect of our ritual. Grand Lodge cannot provide you with any standard book that contains these explanations (in fact, few Grand Lodge publications refer to the deeper, more esoteric, side of Masonry). Therefore, there are a few different interpretations that you may come across. It doesn’t matter – what matters is what is meaningful to you.
Next, I must put forward some arguments that provide evidence that there is a deeper meaning.
Our ritual tells us that there is. At your initiation, you were announced at the door of the lodge as “a poor candidate, in a state of darkness, humbly soliciting to be admitted to the mysteries and privileges of Ancient Freemasonry.” What are these mysteries? Is Freemasonry ancient?
I will remind you that, during the examination before passing to the second degree, you were asked: “What is Freemasonry?” The answer you were to give is: “A beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” Brethren, in this statement are the first clues that there is something that is hidden. Let’s examine this statement further.
A “System of Morality…” – Are the rituals of Masonry there merely for the purpose of teaching morals: Temperance, Prudence, Justice, Charity, and Brotherly Love. Was Masonry instituted to teach these elementary virtues? As you well know, those who are “fit and proper people to be made Masons” must be “Just and upright men …… and strict morals.” So, ask yourself if Masonry was meant to teach morals to those who are already moral?
“Veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols…” – “veiled” means “hidden or covered,” and that is another clue. “Allegory” means “a story that has a deeper or more general meaning in addition to its surface meaning,” and that is another clue. A symbol is “something used for or regarded as representing something else,” which is yet another clue.
As you can see, this statement of the definition of Masonry refers to something hidden. This is a clear indication of something deeper hidden in our ritual.
What is it that is veiled? The Junior Warden’s Tracing Board lecture begins,
The usages and customs of Masonry have ever corresponded with those of the Egyptian Philosophers, to which they bear a near affinity. Unwilling to expose their mysteries to vulgar eyes, those philosophers concealed their particular tenets and principles under certain hieroglyphic figures and expressed their notion of government by signs and symbols.
What this is suggesting is that, as in the ancient Egyptian mysteries, something is concealed in our customs.
These points indicate the real secret of Masonry: that our ritual hides deeper, more esoteric, spiritual lessons, based on various ancient mysteries and teachings that have been taught throughout the ages, in different forms, and is still being taught today.
These mysteries are not written or taught within Freemasonry. They are embedded for the use only of those who seek the light, through education, contemplation, understanding, and assimilation. It does not matter what religion, if any, you may follow, as these mysteries apply to all. The candidate, if he is to benefit by the light to which the Craft leads, must be prepared to keep his mind open, and seek those mysteries. They contain information which is of vital importance to us all.
The sources of our Initiation Ceremony, while based, perhaps, on old Operative ceremonies, are a blend of various streams of influence, usually called the Ancient Wisdom or “Secret Doctrine“, which is common to all the Ancient Mysteries and Initiation systems from the dawn of history. These are combined with elements from more recent systems, such as Hermeticism, the Hebrew Qabalah, Rosicrucianism, Muslim Sufism, Christian Mysticism, Buddhism, Theosophy, Anthoposophy, and others, drawing symbols from all of them.
Researching these, and there are many books regarding them, it becomes clear that all these sources have been promoters of the same Mysteries, and that they proclaim the same truths. Many of them also have rituals with layered meanings, and many correspond to our Degrees. Some of the founders of Freemasonry, as we know it today, were Rosicrucians, who are teachers of the ancient wisdom. Having studied their teachings myself, I can clearly see the signposts embedded in our ritual. I encourage you to do your own further research to verify this for yourselves. I will go so far as to say that it will be the most important thing you do in your life.
Aquila, better known in Masonic parlance as the Roman Eagle, was considered in ancient times to be a symbol of strength, courage, and immortality. The signa militaria[i] of the Roman military under Gaius Marius (104 BC), the war standard was made of silver or bronze and served more as a holy war relic than mere militaristic emblem of the Roman Legions.
Wells, in his Masonic short talk of 1915, says of the eagle that as it was adopted by the Romans upon their banners it
…signified magnanimity and fortitude, or as in the ancient Sacred Writings, swiftness and courage.
In antiquity, the Romans were not the first to make use of the eagle as an emblem of war, as, Wells cites, the Persians, under Cyrus the Younger[ii], had borne the Eagle upon their spears as a standard.[iii]
In a more modern parlance France, Russia, Prussia, Germany, and the United States have each in turn adopted the Eagle, variously, as a National symbol of identity adorning the U.S. dollar, today, in a style reminiscent of its depiction on similar Roman coinage from when it was adopted into western material culture.
Albert Mackey in his Encyclopedia of Freemasonry says of the eagle that it is a symbol of great antiquity calling into reference Egyptian, Greek, and Persia symbolism where the bird was sacred to the sun.
Among the Pagans it was an emblem of Jupiter, and with the Druids it was a symbol of their supreme god. In the Scriptures, a distinguished reference is in many instances made to the eagle; especially do we find Moses (Exodus xix, 4) representing Jehovah as saying, in allusion to the belief that this bird assists its feeble young in their flight by bearing them upon its own pinions, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” Not less elevated was the symbolism of the eagle among the Pagans. Thus, Cicero, speaking of the myth of Ganymede carried up to Jove on an eagle’s back, says that it teaches us that the truly wise, irradiated by the shining light of virtue, become more and more like God, until by wisdom they are borne aloft and soar to Him.
While Mackey goes deep into the meanings behind the eagle, the suggestion that the Masonic Apron is more noble than the Roman Eagle implies that its receipt is an honor, greater than being a member of the famed Roman Legion which may lend itself to some pull to particular military association with Masonry today. An interesting consideration of the Roman Legion was their early and then later composition.
In the early period of the empire, the legion was composed of levied soldiers who supplied their own equipment that would form as needed disbanding when not. Essentially, to serve meant you were a citizen of the empire. When the Rome army began to experience inadequate staffing because of income or property qualifications of its citizenry, Consul Gaius Marius removed the prequalifications of service (wealth and social class) allowing all free people of the empire eligible for the army. This change created the first volunteer professional standing army. That openness to everyone regardless of class of social standing is a parallel we find amongst the ranks of Freemasonry today.
Some suggest that the Roman Eagle was a European Trade Symbol coming from the Hanseatic League. A confederation of merchant guilds that stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c. 13th to 17th centuries), the Hanseatic league evolved to protect economic interests and diplomatic privileges along trade routes, cities and countries where its members did business. . One Masonic source says of the Hanseatic League that,
…its members had their Headquarters at Lubeck, and adopted the Arms of Lubeck which at this time was the Roman Eagle and appears on the Seal of the Hanse. They also called themselves Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.[iv]
The Leagues coat of arms is of a double headed eagle, rather than an Aquila eagle, so this connection to the Apron seems less legitimate other than its being a pre-enlightenment trade guild, similar to the guild of the Golden Fleece.[v][vi]
An interesting parallel in the Hanseatic League connection is the guilds factory rules which one could find Masonic parallels including:
No man older than fifty years or younger than eighteen winters could be received.
Anyone who committed what had been forbidden was to be cast out, and driven from the community.
No one should have a woman within the burgh
be absent from it for three nights
These rules helped the league work in foreign countries as they “… formed among the alien populations in which they were placed semi-monastic establishments”[vii]
Yet, in this double headed eagle, we can still find some parallels to draw with the Roman Eagle.
Mackey says of the emblem,
The Eagle Displayed, that is, with extended wings, as if in the act of dying, has always, from the majestic character of the bird, been deemed an emblem of imperial power. Marius, the consul, first consecrated the eagle, about eight years before the Christian era, to be the sole Roman standard at the head of every legion, and hence it became the standard of the Roman Empire ever afterward.
As the single-headed Eagle was thus adopted as the symbol of imperial power, the double-headed Eagle naturally became the representative of a double empire; and on the division of the Roman dominions into the eastern and western empire, which were afterward consolidated by the Carlovingian race into what was ever after called the Holy Roman Empire, the double-headed Eagle was assumed as the emblem of this double empire; one head looking, as it were, to the West, or Rome, and the other to the East, or Byzantium.
He goes on to enumerate the orders of knighthoods that adopted the double headed eagle including, The Prussian Order of the Black Eagle and the Order of the Red Eagle, both, Mackey says, are “outgrowths of the original symbol of the Roman Eagle.”
Of the double headed eagle, Mackey goes on to say that its adoption was probably first introduced as a symbol into Freemasonry in 1758. He says,
In that year the Body calling itself the Council of Emperors of the East and West was established in Paris. The double-headed eagle as likely to have been assumed by this Council in reference to the double Jurisdiction which it claimed, and which is represented so distinctly in its title.
The most ornamental, not to say the most ostentatious feature of the insignia of the Supreme Council, 33 , of the Ancient and Accepted (Scottish) Rite, is the double-headed eagle, surmounted by an imperial crown. This device seems to have been adopted some time after 1755 by the grade known as the Emperors of the East and West; a sufficiently pretentious title. This seems to have been its first appearance in connection with Freemasonry, but history of the high grades has been subjected to such distortion that it is difficult to accept unreservedly any assertion put forward regarding them. From this imperial grade, the double-headed eagle came to the “Sovereign Prince Masons” of the Rite of Perfection. The Rite of Perfection with its twenty-five Degrees was amplified in 1801, at Charleston, United States of America, into the Ancient and Accepted Rite of 33, with the double-headed eagle for its most distinctive emblem. When this emblem was first adopted by the high grades it had been in use as a symbol of power for 5000 years, or so. No heraldic bearing, no emblematic device anywhere today can boast such antiquity. It was in use a thousand years before the Exodus from Egypt, and more than 2000 years before the building of King Solomon’s Temple.
The quote, which is quite extensive, gives a sort of psudo-parrallel to antiquity linking the Scottish-Rite double headed eagle to the Babylonian era through a pair of terra cotta cylinders[viii] that depicts a proto-eagle in the form of a lion headed bird.
The long quote reads:
The story of our Eagle has been told by the eminent Assyriologist, M. Thureau Dangin, in the volume of Zeitschrift fur Assyriologie (1904). Among the most important discoveries for which we are indebted to the late M. de Sarzec, were two large terra cotta cylinders covered with many hundred lines of archaic cuneiform characters These cylinders were found in the brick mounds of Tello, which has been identified with certainty as the City of Lagash, the dominant center of Southern Babylonian ere Babylon had imposed its name and rule on the country.
The cylinders are now in the Louvre (see below) and have been deciphered by M. Thureau Dangin, who displays to our wondering eyes the emblem of power that was already centuries old when Babylon gave its name to Babylonia. The cylinder in question is a foundation record deposited by one Gudea, Ruler of the City of Lagash, to mark the building of the temple, about the year 3000 B.C., as nearly as the date could be fixed. The foundation record was deposited just as our medals, coins and metallic plates are deposited today, when the corner stone is laid with Masonic honors. It must be born in mind that in this ease, the word cornerstone may be employed only in a conventional sense, for in Babylonia all edifices, temples, palaces, and towers alike, were built of brick. But the custom of laying foundation deposits was general, whatever the building material might be, and we shall presently see what functions are attributed, by another eminent scholar, to the foundation chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.
The contents of this inscription are of the utmost value to the oriental scholar, but may be briefly dismissed for our present purpose. Suffice it to say, that the King begins by reciting that a great drought had fallen upon the land. ” The waters of the Tigris,” he says, ” fell low and the store of provender ran short in this my city,” saying that he feared it was 3 visitation from the gods, to whom he determined to submit his evil ease and that of his people. The reader familiar with Babylonian methods that pervade the Books of the Captivity will not be surprised to learn that the King dreamed a dream, in which the will of the gods was revealed by direct personal intervention and interlocution. In the dream there came unto the King “a Divine Man, whose stature reached from earth to heaven, and whose head was crowned with the crown of a god, surmounted by the Storm Bird that extended its wings over Lagash, the land thereof.” This Storm Bird, no other than our double-headed eagle, was the totem as ethnologists and anthropologists are fain to call it, of the mighty Sumerian City of Lagash, and stood proudly forth the visible emblem of its power and domination. This double-headed eagle of Lagash is the oldest Royal Crest in the world.
As time rolled on, it passed from the Sumerians to the men of Akhad. From the men of Akhad to the Hittites, from the denizens of Asia Minor to the Seliukian Sultans, from whom it was brought by Crusaders to the Emperors of the East and West, whose successors today are the Hapsburgs and Romanoffs, as well as to the Masonic Emperors of the East and West, whose successors today are the Supreme Council, 33, that have inherited the insignia of the Site of Perfection.
Interesting in its attempt at drawing a parallel to antiquity, in a modern context, it is challenging to find the same level of depth to so abstract an emblem, especially one that is superior to the other. But, a final consideration to include would be a symbolic one, for which we turn to Cirlot, from his Dictionary of Symbols[ix].
In his work, he suggests the symbol of the eagle as a symbol of height “… of the Spirit, as the sun, and of the spiritual principals in general” suggesting it linked to the symbolism found in Egyptian hieroglyphics, where “the Eagle represents the letter A–the first—pertaining to the warmth of life, the origin, the day.”
Cirlot writes “…the eagle is also identified with the father figure” representing heroic nobility. And, in religious terms, In the Vedic tradition, the eagle as the Messenger or in other art forms as “the emblem of the Thunderbolt.”
According to St. Jerome the Eagle is the emblem of the Ascension and of prayer. Since it can fly higher than any other bird, it is regarded as an expression of Divine Majesty. It is said to dominate and destroy baser forces. Thus making it the symbol of Imperial power.
Truly, the Lambskin Apron is greater and more noble emblem of strength, courage and power than the imperial symbol of powers, Aquilla, the Roman Eagle.
I recently received correspondence from old friend, Brother Tim McCurry from Tennessee.
He points out a common problem with Mainstream Lodges. That is that Masonic education equals ritual memorization. But all ritual memorization makes you is a parrot and a parrot doesn’t think it just mimics. Knowledge comes from the art of contemplation that allows us then to internalize that which our senses have encountered.
W. L. Wilmshurst
When a Mason reads Pike, Wilmshurst, Pound, MacKey, Claudy, Butler and others he begins to realize what he has memorized means and how it makes a difference in his life. Thus he has gone from perception to knowledge. When that Mason uses that knowledge to govern his life and make himself a better person he has stepped up from knowledge to wisdom.
The trick is to get Masons to read.
Here is what McCurry had to say:
I watched a most inspiring video last night that was created by a member of the United Grand Lodge of England. Brother Julian Rees has truly inspired me to become a better Mason!
Approximately seven years ago, we had a Worshipful Master sitting in the East who truly and sincerely desired to create more Masonic education within our lodge. Therefore, he first asked for volunteers amongst the Brethren to create ANY small topic concerning a lesson to be learned from Free-masonry. He didn’t place any restrictions on what the Brethren could present; so long as it was something about our rituals, or something that they had learned while being a Mason. I am ashamed to say, that not one Brother ever came to our stated meeting and presented any such lessons. Our poor Worshipful Master ended up having to do this at each of our stated meetings himself.
Sure! We have “Masonic Education.” Many of the Brethren seem to think, that if you can memorize one of the three lectures flawlessly and without error, you have obtained “Masonic Education.” But, my concern is, have we presented enough knowledge to the newly made Mason coming into our ranks? Have we given enough knowledge to that new E.A. to even know what Free-masonry is all about? I don’t think so. No, we impart upon the newly made Mason that he only has three lectures to laboriously memorize as perfectly as he can; but if that new Brother makes a mistake of not “dotting his ‘i’ or crossing his ‘T,’ we strictly enforce the use of such perfection in syntax. Do we explain to him the meaning behind those words? Some would say that we do this with what we call the “Third Section of the Degree.” Here in Tennessee we have the so-called “Stereoptical Lecture” in the First Degree. You know what it is! It is that “so-antiquated slide show” where the pictures look as though they were created way back in the Nineteenth Century. So, we always have a Brother with the “slide clicker,” or the advance button, laboriously spitting out the lecture that accompanies the slide show as though he was reading it from a book. No! As a matter of fact, sometimes the Brother actually does read this lecture out of the book!
But, have we really imparted Masonic Knowledge to that newly made Brethren? Or have we imparted the idea that all you really need to do is laboriously learn the three lectures, pass them on, and become a Master Mason? In essence, are we treating our Masonic ritual as though it were a “Mason’s Mill,” where we pass these young brothers off as soon as we can, and as quickly as we can teach them those three lectures?
Brother Julian Rees inspired me with his words last night! I do not know this Brother. I have never met him. But, his eloquent talk that he gave inspired me to learn more! He taught me, that we as Brothers are on a spiritual journey; that there is more to Masonry than ham sandwiches and coffee. Therefore, I present Brother Rees to you with the hope that he will inspire you with his words as much as he has inspired me. I wish I could present this “little talk” by Brother Rees to the Brethren at my own lodge!
Recently, I attended an Entered Apprentice degree at a local lodge here in Kansas and was allowed to assist in conducting one of the candidates through the degree. It was an experience that I greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Degree work has been my favorite part of being a Freemason since I was raised to the sublime degree and I hadn’t witnessed any degrees in a couple of years.
I was thoroughly enjoying the experience when the new Brothers entered the lodge room to receive the lectures when my enthusiasm suddenly disappeared. The two Brothers were positioned in front of a television screen where they watched a video of a man giving the lectures.
I was abhorred.
I had heard rumors from different places throughout the country that some lodges had been using such methods, but I honestly regarded them as a dirty rumor. This was not the impressive and solemn degree conferral that these new Brothers deserved. So, I decided to get involved and talked to the lodge’s leadership after the degree. I explained that I knew nearly all of the lectures by memory. The only issue is that I had memorized South Dakota’s ritual. I was sure that it wouldn’t be a problem. I had seen Brothers from other states give lectures before with the appropriate level of approval. Why would this be any different?
Unfortunately, in this situation I was told that I must give the lectures straight from the Kansas ritual. Only being slightly disappointed by this, I decided to learn the lectures. However, I was not ready for how difficult it is to re-learn a lecture with a slightly different cadence and verbiage. I am still working on that little project, but my motivation has waned. I realized that I do not plan on living in Kansas for a long time and that eventually, I will have to learn some other state’s ritual. It is a lot of work just to learn a new way to convey the same information, especially since every Masonic lodge in the U.S. could receive some greatly needed assistance if a few Grand Masters would get together and have a little conversation about this subject.
In a world where people move long distances and rarely stay in one place throughout their whole life, why can we not perform another state’s ritual in our lodges? Now, some would say “We can’t have a nationalized ritual!” I am not so naive to think that this would be a simple undertaking. We wouldn’t develop a solution to that in a century. What I’m proposing is that when one grand lodge recognizes another as regular and recognized, that it also accepts that grand lodge’s ritual as being acceptable to be performed in that state. It is a simple concept (that I’m sure would meet resistance) that could make a huge difference. I have met a number of Freemasons that have moved to another jurisdiction during their Masonic career and had to give up administering a lecture solely because they were in another state. In many of those instances, the new lodge that they were attending was in need of someone new to give that same lecture!
I’m not proposing some sort of sweeping change. I’m not proposing that we teach ritual from other states in our lodges. I’m just proposing that we give the individual lodges and the individual Masons an opportunity to provide a better ritualistic experience to our new Brothers by giving a them a little bit of latitude to use Brothers from other jurisdictions to accomplish this.
I think that this little bit of national unity among Masons is a very reasonable proposal.
Recently, I asked the members of The Euphrates‘ mailing list to send me any subjects that they would like me to cover in my articles. I received a number of great ideas and am going to work my way through them over the next few months. This week, I’m going to cover a subject that really captured my attention. One Brother asked me to cover the subject of “how to use the lodge as a true sanctum sanctorum and treat it as such.”
The Holy of Holies
In order to discuss this subject, we must first examine the term ‘sanctum sanctorum’ and what it means in Freemasonry. Sanctum sanctorum is a Latin term that may be literally translated translated as “Holy of Holies.” This term is used to describe the innermost chamber of King Solomon’s Temple.
It was here in this most sacred place that the Ark of the Covenant was placed during the dedication of the temple. Masons are taught in the third degree that when the lodge is opened in the Master Mason degree that it represents the sanctum sanctorum of King Solomon’s Temple.
I’m sure that any Freemason that takes a moment to consider this will realize that we do not treat the tyled lodge room as a sanctum sanctorum. It is true that there are certain regulations and protocol that we follow while in the lodge room. Most lodges make sure that general order is kept, that proper courtesies are given to officers, and that particular parts of the ritual are done correctly, but often the lodge room is simply a place to discuss business.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with discussing the business inside a tyled lodge. In fact, a little bit of research into the protocol of Freemasonry in its earliest days reveals that this is where business was intended to be conducted. Whether it is a discussion about paying the lodge’s bills, conducting a charitable event, or electing officers, it is perfectly acceptable to discuss business within the sanctum sanctorum of today’s Masonic lodges. However, it is the reverence with which the Brethren treat the forms for opening and closing the lodge and the pursuit of Masonic knowledge that can really make the lodge feel like a sanctuary.
The rituals that we use to open and close are lodge are more than just an elaborate form of parliamentary procedure. These ceremonies remind us of the very lessons and symbols that are taught in the degrees. Every time that we open or close a lodge we can be reminded of our obligations and the solemn duty that we must perform as Freemasons. I think that all Masons will agree that a degree conferral should be conducted with reverence and professionalism and the process of opening and closing a lodge should be treated no differently. In order to assist the Brethren in feeling the need to treat these rituals appropriately, a lodge can adopt a dress code that is representative of the desired atmosphere. The way that Masons conduct themselves in lodge can change almost instantaneously when they go from wearing blue jeans to wearing a suit.
Additionally, we can treat our lodges as a true sanctum sanctorum by conducting Masonic education. Every single lodge meeting should have some form of Masonic education as a part of the agenda. I personally believe that a lodge should start with requiring 15 minutes of education and adding time as the educational program improves. Unfortunately, most Masons have never seen true Masonic education. Masonic education is not reading from the Short Talk Bulletin. Masonic education is not giving a short biography of a famous Mason or telling an amusing anecdote. Masonic education is having a discussion about the symbolism of the degrees, explaining how to properly perform the ritual, learning about Masonic history, or even discussing the sciences or liberal arts. Some of the best examples of Masonic education that I have seen conducted are an explanation of the difference between the Antients and Moderns, a new program for educating kids in a local school, and a demonstration of how to properly conduct a candidate during a degree.
Using these simple suggestions can help any lodge to seem like a true sanctum sanctorum. If our Brethren feel like the lodge is a sanctuary to be treated with reverence, they will conduct themselves accordingly. A lodge that treats the tyled lodge room appropriately just might be surprised at the positive effect it can have on the organization.
I hope that these ideas can help you to improve your lodge and treat it as a sanctum sanctorum.
I have had the pleasure of teaching several Brothers their Masonic catechisms over the years. I find it to be good practice for me and keeps me sharp when I’m called upon to provide assistance in degree work. More importantly, it has offered me an opportunity to get to know some very fine men. Very rarely will I instruct more than one person at a time. I find it is better to teach one-on-one since people tend to learn the memory work at their own unique pace. It also allows me to concentrate on the nuances of each person’s ability to absorb the material.
Although I try to teach at a regularly scheduled time and place, I recognize our professional lives make it difficult to do so. Consequently, I am willing to meet the Brother as needs require, be it at the Lodge, his office or mine, my house or his. (Frankly, I prefer the latter as it affords me the opportunity to smoke a cigar as we sit outside.)
When teaching a new Brother the catechism, I am looking for the fire in him to learn the work and, if I see it, I’ll bend over backwards to help him master it. But I have had a couple of occasions where the student really didn’t want to learn the material. In this situation I have offered to help him find another instructor who could possibly help him. Inevitably, it is not the instructor but the individual who simply lacks interest and eventually drops out.
In the past, you have probably heard me say that the only reason we learn catechisms is to perpetuate our degree work. This is why I think it is vital to not only teach the catechism, but to also describe how Freemasonry works, the history of both the fraternity and the Lodge, and the customs to be observed. In addition, I take the student to a Masonic degree so they can observe it from the sidelines (thereby more clearly assimilating the degree). Again, I think it is important to develop a rapport with the student and express your commitment to the person. In turn, the student expresses his commitment to you. I learned this from my own instructor, and we remain fast friends and trusted Brothers to this day.
Sometimes, Lodges appoint a Lodge Instructor to teach the work. Such dedicated people are becoming increasingly hard to find. When a Lodge Instructor is not available, it is wise to get the junior officers to teach the work, particularly the Wardens and Deacons. This does two things: it forces the Lodge officers to sharpen their memorization work, and it provides the means to get to know the new Brothers who may play a vital role for the officer should he ever reach the East.
After a Brother has been raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, I am often thanked by the student for my efforts. But as I tell them, they did all of the hard work, not me. I expect nothing in return other than the Brother does a good job and perhaps teaches someone else down the road. Being an instructor is a big responsibility and should not be taken lightly; you have to be one part teacher, one part coach, and one part Brother. You shouldn’t simply teach the student his catechism, you need to teach them to be a Mason and to seek further light. A little investment of time in the Brother early on will inevitably pay dividends later on for Freemasonry and the Lodge.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:
What are the most common blunders that occur in the Masonic lodge? They might not be as uncommon as you think.
Ritual Without Meaning
Too many times, we are more concerned about performing the ritual perfectly without understanding what it means. I know many men that give great lectures, but will confide that they don’t even know what something means. Ritual for the sake of tradition is worthless. Ritual for the sake of enlightenment is valuable. An understanding of the ritual’s meaning is far more important than just memorizing it.
Fellowship Without Frivolity
Whenever Masons decide to hold a function for fellowship, a discussion typically ensues about how to make the function have the smallest impact on the lodge’s coffers and the wallets of the members. This results in paper plates, meager meals, and boring events. To spend money wisely in order to make fellowship a grand time is wise for the lodge that wants to be successful.
Quantity Without Quality
A lodge with seven great men that believe in the Masonic ideals and actively labor to improve themselves—and therefore the lodge—is far better off than a lodge with one hundred men that show up to lodge just to show up to lodge.
Education Without Philosophy
Many times, we think of Masonic education as being a lesson on the local lodge’s history, a famous Mason, the history of the world wide fraternity, or how to do the ritual properly. But if no philosophy is covered in Masonic education, then little self improvement is accomplished. Discussing Masonic lessons in terms of philosophy, ideas, and a man’s conduct is what truly transforms men into Masons. It is important to discuss topics that are foreign to a lodge’s membership and it is sometimes even necessary to challenge our preconceived ideologies through Masonic education.
Charity Without Connection
Big institutional charities often require that fund raisers be conducted and large checks written to the people that actually perform the charity. This type of charity is devoid of self improvement because it has no real connection. If we extend our hands to our needed Brethren and devote our own skills and time to their problems, then we are engaging in true, meaningful charity.
Frugality Without Discretion
Frugality is not a tenet of Freemasonry, a cardinal virtue, or a Landmark. It is okay for the lodge to spend its funds on worthwhile activities that will enhance the Masonic experience of its Brethren. Not everything should be done in the cheapest way, a habit to which we have become accustomed.
Leadership Without Competence
A man does not deserve to be Master of the lodge solely because he has spent a certain amount of years in the lodge. We elect leaders without any regard for the skills that they possess to function in that capacity. Only competent, qualified men should be elected to preside over the Craft.
Memorizing Masonic ritual has long been an important part of carrying on the work of Freemasonry. Those that masterfully perform Masonic lectures have long been revered as prestigious members of the fraternity and have been pointed out as men worthy of emulation. However, while many Masons have relished the opportunity to memorize one of the lectures, many have avoided such an undertaking.
In modern times, it isn’t unusual to hear Masons say things like “I sure wish I could perform lectures like that” or “I’m going to memorize that lecture one of these days” without ever taking the time to actually do so. Some cite the inability to memorize, which is true in some cases, and others claim that they don’t have the time. It often seems like the few Brothers that are willing to memorize a large part in the ritual end up memorizing all of these parts, while the majority of Masons avoid memorizing anything above and beyond the minimum requirements.
This is a frustrating observation, but the point of this article isn’t to demean the Brothers that haven’t learned a lecture. Instead, it is meant to show those Brothers that haven’t done so what they can gain by making the effort to learn one of the prominent parts in Masonic ritual. The key to becoming motivated to memorize ritual is simple: learn it for your own benefit, not the benefit of the lodge.
But what do I mean by this?
In all Masonic degrees, the lecture contains a vast amount of information that explains the ritual. In the three symbolic degrees, the lectures actually contain the majority of information given to the candidate in the degree. Like with all orations, the listener retains very little information from the lecture given to him when he receives the degree. This is a travesty, since this limits a Mason’s understanding of the symbolism of the ritual. To illustrate this point, think about a lecture that you have not memorized and then consider how much of that lecture you can actually recall. Chances are that it is little to none. In order to properly grasp the degrees of Masonry, learning the lectures is essential.
The Mason that has memorized a lecture has its teachings impressed upon his mind and his heart. The slightest reference to the symbolism of the lecture that he knows brings the explanations Masonry’s allegories to the front of his mind. A person that has not learned a lecture can never understand the full benefit of having this information memorized. It expedites and enhances Masonic study and often serves as a reminder when we are about to do something of an un-Masonic nature.
There is also another benefit to memorizing ritual. Most Masons regard their passage through the degrees of the order as one of the most impressive and influential experiences of their lives. However, there is a Masonic experience which supersedes receiving the degrees: conferring the degrees. Most Masonic lecturers have had the special experience when they see the light of Freemasonry shining in the eyes of the men to which they are reciting the ritual. To see the new candidates “get it” is an incredible feeling. It is the most fulfilling of any opportunities afforded in the fraternity.
Learning a lecture is hard work. Contrary to the misconception by many that those that learn lectures just read them once and are able to perform them, most men that have taken it upon themselves to memorize large parts of the ritual spend months memorizing the work and perfecting their recitation. But the work is worth it and learning a bit of Masonic ritual is like riding a bike, you never lose the ability to perform it.
Understanding Masonic symbolism and transmitting the lessons of Masonry form the instructive tongue to the attentive ear are the actions that preserve Masonry. Do yourself and Masonry a favor and dust off that ritual and take some time to learn a lecture. You will reap what you sow.