The Iberian Center for Masonic Studies (CIEM) calls all Spanish, Portuguese, English and French speaking masons to participate in the Second International Competition of Masonic Essay, which will take place in 2014.
The aim of this competition is to promote the investigation of the following theme:
The initiating tradition in a changing world.
The competition is open to all Masons, without distinction.
The official languages of the competition are Spanish, Portuguese, English and French.
The essays presented must be unpublished and three printed copies are to be sent, double-spaced, typed in 12-point Times Font, in letter-sized sheets. Also, the electronic file must be enclosed in a compact disc.
The essays should not exceed 10.000 words.
The essays should begin on the second page. This page and all the following should not contain information susceptible of identifying the author.
The essays should appear undersigned with a pseudonym, enclosing, in another envelope, a card containing the name, address, telephone number and e-mail address of the author. The envelope will bear the chosen pseudonym. The originals presented will not be returned.
The bibliography should be enclosed as an annex with the essay.
The authors should include a certificate drawn up by the Secretary of their Lodge, attesting to their affiliation and membership to a Masonic Jurisdiction.
The essays should be sent to the following address: Centro Ibérico de Estudios Masónicos (CIEM), Apartado de correos 6.203, 28080 – Madrid (Spain) or via e-mail at: email@example.com
The deadline for presenting essays is the 1st of December, 2014, the prize will be communicated on the 28th of December, 2014.
The jury, made up by Master Masons, will award a first and only prize consisting of a diploma proving their condition as the winner of the competition, as well as the amount of 250 Euros.
The jury may, in the case of it being justified by the quality and interest of other essays, concede an access it or declare the prize void if the essays do not meet the required quality standards.
The essays chosen will be published in the web site www.cienmas.org and transmitted, electronically as well as in print, to the Grand Lodges and the main Masonic institutions.
For further information, contact the Secretariat of the Competition at the following e-mail address:
firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to the Centro Ibérico de Estudios Masónicos (Iberian Centre for Masonic Studies) CIEM, International Competition of Essay, Apartado de correos 6.203, 28080 – Madrid (España)
Esoteric, Spiritual and Religious Traditions all around the world have referred to their teachings, methods and attitudes as “the Path”.
The word “Path” implies action, movement, and an eventually destination. It presumes that willful action must take place before completely understanding the doctrines of the Path. It implies development and change, and seems to tell us that we will make progress, at the beginning, the middle, and end of the Path. It also seems to point out that there must be something else out there, that we are trying to navigate through. In the mundane world, a path always leads through something, a forest, for example, and provides us with a guide whereby we can rightly say, “If I stay on this Path, I will not get lost and will reach my destination. If I stray from this Path, I likely will not know where I am.”
Whether we are speaking spiritually or literally, a Path is something that one moves upon and one experiences first hand. A Path can be described to us, and we can get a general idea of what the Path is like. We can then think upon the idea of the Path, what it means to us, and what ramifications it has within our lives, as well as in the lives of others. Yet at some point, if we truly wish to know “the Path”, our knowledge must become experiential, not simply theoretical.
When I was initiated into the Masonic Fraternity, I was humbled and honored to become a part of such a wonderful institution, and to be surrounded by so many people, so profound. It was great to sit in the Lodge with tolerant, thoughtful, dependable, capable men. The Masonic Brethren I met had such integrity, their word was their bond, and I took it upon myself to do whatever I could to emulate my new brothers whom I truly admired. In short, using my brethren as landmarks, I embarked on my journey on the Masonic Path. During the time I have been in the Masonic Fraternity, I have seen this same reaction among other newly made Masons, who also did their best to imitate the example of their brethren in order to become better men.
It is because of this simple pattern of already good moral men, seeking Freemasonry as a way to improve spiritually, morally and intellectually, that we hold our Fraternity in such high esteem. These new members see something about our tenured members, something they feel will help them grow, something they wish to emulate. This is why, when I see someone with a Masonic ring, or Masonic decals on a car, my first assumption is that the person wearing that ring, or driving that car is a moral, tolerant and good man. Even though we may differ in religious, political and philosophical views, I could trust this man with my life and the life of my family.
This Fraternal trust is the cornerstone of Freemasonry. It is truly, what makes us a genuine Brotherhood. We base our entire Initiatic structure upon the idea of finding friends to be Brothers, then discovering the profound meaning of what it is to be a Brother. Without this trust, this knowledge that when you meet a Mason upon the Path of life, you would not know that you have met a fellow traveler, whom you can trust, and who is willing to share the burdens of life with you. Without this fraternal connection, we are nothing but an odd group with archaic kabbalistic rituals and some funny or strange passwords and handshakes.
There are some profound mystical truths in Freemasonry, it is a true Mystic Path and thus, experiential, and the key to the Path is a deep sense of Fraternity. Masonry is many different things to many different people and it tends to evolve to the needs of each individual member. While opinion may differ even among Masons regarding some of the philosophies of the Order, all Masons agree that primarily in importance is Brotherly Love. It is what cements us together.
Freemasonry, like many Esoteric Fraternities, comes and goes in cycles, that is, fluctuates like the wind. Currently, it is cycling through a period of shrinking membership. As the older members pass on, there are fewer new Masons joining the ranks.
According to The Masonic Service Association of North America (MSANA), membership in the United States was at about 3.1 million members in 1925, spiraled to its highest point of the century in 1959, at about 4.1 million members, and then began declining steadily ever since. Membership in the United States, in 2003, was reported at about 1.6 million members, which was the lowest point in the past 75 years. Obviously, we recognize that in order to pass along the Tradition and keep Freemasonry in the United States as strong and as vibrant, an institution as it is today, we must begin to transmit our Tradition to younger generations. Many of the leaders in the Masonic community have begun to implement programs and introduce new ideas designed to do just that. It is this author’s opinion that membership level will continue in cycles. Furthermore, there is no need to bring Freemasonry’s membership back up to the levels it enjoyed in the 1960’s in order, effectively, to pass along the Tradition. Likewise, even in the face of shrinking membership, our focus should always be on the quality of the prospective members, not on quantity.
During a recent Lodge meeting I attended, a Brother traveling from another part of the state stood up and spoke about our “Membership Crisis”. He had many good points about being more Masonic, suggesting that Lodges do more charity work and get out into the community more. He also talked about what he felt the younger generation expects to get out of a Fraternity like the Masons. He used me as an example of a younger member, as I am 30 years old in a Fraternity dominated by men over 60. He told me that my generation expects excitement, wants to be constantly entertained, and constantly busy or preoccupied. He also said that my generation was a generation of people expecting instant gratification, and that if the Order did not keep men like me busy, instantly, upon becoming members, boredom would cause us to leave.
Apart from being slightly offended by his conception that my idle brain must constantly be bombarded with stimuli of some kind in order to be content, his statements were, otherwise, very enlightening. They explained why some younger candidates for Masonry are thrust through 3-day classes, where they are given all 3 degrees and with very little studying and memorization to do. The Brother’s statements explained why newer ritual rules allowed that multiple candidates could be initiated simultaneously, even as they went through the most profound and personal parts of their initiations. Furthermore, his words explained why certain Lodges have become lax on some very important rules. I have seen the negative effects on the Fraternity when individual Lodges do not enforce the rules that exist for qualifying new membership, by signing petitions for perspective members whom they have not known for the minimum of six months, and by not thoroughly investigating perspective members prior to initiation. I, personally, know of one case where a man initiated into the Fraternity, had such questionable character, that his Lodge was forced to stop his progression on the Masonic Path, so that he could not advance beyond the Entered Apprentice degree. This unfortunate situation came about because the members and officers of this Lodge were trained to be concerned with the number of members, not with quality of members, in their Lodge.
This Masonic Path is not supposed to be thrust upon someone within a few days. Like any other Mystical Path, we must take one step at a time, making sure that as each step is taken, it is taken because it is our free will to do so. Each step upon the Masonic Path builds upon itself in responsibility and commitment, and we cannot ask for this commitment, or even a thorough understanding of it, in a short 3 days.
Masonry contributes millions of dollars to charity each year in the United States. It is partly for this reason, to help support the charitable contributions that our leaders have been pushing for more membership. Should we really be pushing quantity over quality? Ask an individual Brother this question and he will tell you that quality is more important! Yet, our Fraternity keeps trying to figure out how to make more Masons faster, rather than focusing on why we are making these Masons.
Strangely, though, some of our newly made Brothers become Masons so quickly, and they are finished with the degrees so quickly, they have nothing left to do within the Fraternity. They are Masons, but have been rushed through and have not had the time to develop the feelings of Brotherhood with their Lodge brothers. Everything has happened so fast that in many cases, they have missed the profundity of the lessons contained within the degrees. Lacking this understanding, they cannot adequately fulfill any officer’s position, as they do not really understand yet what kind of commitment is expected of them. If new Masons are leaving, it is because they feel as if they have been rushed through the degrees and feel alienated from our tightly knitted group, because of their lack of understanding of what Masonry is. I thought about all of this as the speaker at the Lodge was telling us how we must start changing Masonry to conform to “this new society”, which expects instant gratification, if our Fraternity is to gain any new members; and that the Masons are too boring for the new populace!
To the contrary, every young Mason that I know, who has stayed in the Fraternity for any amount of time, tells me that excitement, entertainment and instant gratification are not the reasons he joined the Fraternity. No one expects to be constantly entertained, nor does anyone feel bored. There are plenty of distractions in the world from which to choose. If we wanted instant gratification, something to keep us satiated and busy, we would buy a Big Mac and play a video game, which would keep our mind occupied and our stomach satisfied. It made me wonder if our Masonic leaders had ever asked the younger membership why they were there! The Masonic Fraternity simply offers many things that are not readily available in Modern Society. In fact, the Path of Freemasonry offers exactly what I found lacking in Modern Society!
Freemasonry must not be made to appeal to the masses. It has never appealed to the masses. No true mystery school ever has!
Our Order contains profound and sublime lessons that are only meant for those who are willing to develop an open and introspective mind, willing to honestly examine and tirelessly work towards the improvement of the self and of humanity. Masonry is designed to encourage study, self-reflection and Brotherly Love. These lessons are wasted on those who are not willing to pursue these qualities and disciplines, or who wish to automatically gain these attributes without a period of work and self-development.
We must never get to the point where we admit men of questionable character into the Fraternity just to meet membership goals, nor out of the need for more funds, nor out of fear that the Fraternity may cease to exist. The fastest and surest way to destroy the Masonic Fraternity would be to pass along the Tradition, irresponsibly, to those who did not respect and cherish it. It is far better for the Fraternity to shrink to a fraction of its size!
However, we do have a sacred responsibility to hand down our Tradition to future generations. How do we do this? Well, I believe that the first thing to do, before we try to figure out how to make Freemasonry “easier” to join, would be to talk with our membership. Why did our members join? Why after joining did our members stay active? Certainly, we do not retain every prospective member because Masonry is not for everyone, but, for those who find it their calling, it can become one of the most important and most meaningful aspects of their lives. By focusing on what is important to the members we have, we ensure that Masonry is as valuable to future generations of Masons as it is to us now.
I joined this Fraternity because I met some men of good character, who were intelligent, well spoken and well learned or versed, in the Western Esoteric Tradition. These men, I knew not only talked about “walking the Path”, but they actually walked it. They spoke of enlightenment, morality and right action, and the actions they took reflected what they were telling me. I stay active because after my Initiation, I met more men who truly have walked the Path, who backed up their speech with action, and I saw myself and others around me change in positive ways because of our choice to become Masons. I admire the men in my Fraternity, and I am still a Mason because I desire to follow their example and become more like them.
It is not that we must alter the Path of Freemasonry so that it is easier and quicker to travel on in order to replenish our membership. Rather we must find more ways to present the Path as it is, so that those who desire membership into our organization know that it exists, and anyone can ask us about it. How do we do this? Masons tend to be active in their communities. If we hold onto our Masonic Ideals, and demonstrate them to the outside world by virtue of our thoughts, words and deeds, we will inspire those seekers, who wish to be a part of our Fraternity to seek us out and request membership. If we continue to work to improve ourselves and dedicate ourselves to the betterment of humanity, then we will attract people of like mind, who will join our ranks.
Let us also make sure that we never seek membership for the revenue it can bring. We are one of the biggest charities in the world, and if we need money, there are many ways to raise it, so that we may continue to be a strong force for the betterment of our communities. We must pass along our Ideals to other generations, and always keep our eye out for those who would seek this Path, but we also have a responsibility to make sure that we transmit the integrity of our Order only to worthy individuals who can understand its meaning and purpose. Otherwise, the secrets of Freemasonry will become hollow and meaningless, the profound wisdom long forgotten; and will become simply words, one must hear in order to get through the degrees and become a member of “the club”.
As we walk the Path that we have chosen, it is important to remember that it is a Path, with obstacles and strange, unforeseen turns. We must constantly remind ourselves of the reasons we have chosen this Path and why we continue to choose to walk down it. We must also understand that as we walk the Path of Freemasonry, we become a part of that Path, and future Masons will look upon us as landmarks and examples of what it means to be a member of this great Fraternity. From the first day we become Master Masons, we are entrusted with a Tradition, and it is our sacred duty to preserve and pass along this Tradition, only to those who will cherish and follow it. If we wish to know the best way to ensure the transference of our Tradition, and what would appeal to prospective members, we must look into ourselves and find out why we desired to join the Fraternity, in the first place, and why we are still members. This [introspection] will lead to better results than trying to determine what is in the minds of persons, whom, we have not yet met. Freemasonry does not have to bring its membership [number] back to what it was in the 1960s in order to be an effective group. There are other ways to bring money into the Fraternity if needed. Our actions, our development as Masons will show others what it means to be a part of the Fraternity.
Above all else, and most important to the future of the Fraternity, we must hold sacred our duty regarding recommendation for degrees. We must not recommend someone for the degrees of Masonry unless we are sure that that person is able and willing to understand the importance of the degrees they may receive. Thereby, we can reasonably believe that all of their future transactions with humankind will reflect the high values and integrity of our Order. If we do this, we will ensure that Our Fraternity remains intact and alive for generations to come.
This was originally published Jan 19, 2011 as a contribution from By Tony Horsnby.
By Bro. C.G.
32nd Scottish Rite Mason,
Valley of Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
I have often wondered the reasons why the Scottish Rite, one of the most complex, complete and fascinating initiatic systems of the Western tradition, is often compressed in a single two- or three day-Reunion in all, or most, to the best of my knowledge, Valleys in the United States. At a time when it was required to be a York or Scottish Rite Mason to be admitted into the Shrine, this probably made sense, although it deprived the Scottish Rite of part of the effectiveness of its ritual. This is not so anymore. Free from the constraints of allowing Masons to rush through its degrees, I believe it would greatly benefit the Scottish Rite and probably the whole of Freemasonry, if candidates were allowed to go through the degrees more gradually.
Freemasons in American Valleys have the rare chance of watching the degree work staged in beautiful halls and auditoriums and rendered with exquisite magnificence, costumes and scenography. I believe American Masons deserve more time to savor the Scottish Rite degrees and to better understand the lessons they heard during the Reunions. I know I would have wanted to be granted more time, when I was initiated to the SR in the US. I needed more time before passing on to the following degree. The amount of teachings that candidates are confronted with is so big that it is doubtful that they can retain everything they are presented. Would it not be better, for instance, to be conferred the degree of Secret Master during the first Reunion, to let the masonic path of the Scottish Rite commence with the gravity it deserves, without rushing?Then, at the following Reunions, maybe at intervals of at least one year, the degrees of Perfect Elu, Knight of Roise Croix, Knight of Kadosh and Master of the Royal Secret could be conferred, so to respectively complete the Lodge of Perfection, the Chapter, the Council and the Consistory. Actually, this is similar to what our brethren in my home country, Italy, do. I think it makes sense. I do not think many Masons would object to this new modus-operandi, because it would allow them to discover a wealth of new degrees that are usually just rushed through. It would allow them to attend meetings in the Lodge of Perfection, in the Chapter, the Council, the Consistory, and display their regalia. It would increase attendance to the SR Reunions, because whole classes would come back to receive the following degrees. It would make the study of the SR ritual and teachings easier, because it would be gradual, slower.
Besides, Masons are Traveling Men, and the goal of Freemasonry is to improve men, to make good men better by letting them progress, step by step, degree after degree, along a masonic path of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Isn’t Freemasonry a journey? Why shorten it, then? By making it quicker we are not helping Freemasonry to achieve its goal, we are actually risking to hinder it and not fully appreciate its power. I think the Scottish Rite has the potential to help generate membership to Freemasonry, but this potential must be unleashed. The Scottish Rite can be on of the brightest gems of Freemasonry, and the power of its ritual could lead the way to attract new members to our Institution. However, as long as it is reined in by the constraints of short Reunions, I am afraid it will just be a shimmer in darker skies.
King Solomon of Israel is referred to in Masonic tradition as being the fraternity’s first Most Excellent Grand Master. He is championed as the man who constructed the magnificent temple for Jehovah and is heralded as the personification of wisdom. However, a closer look at the life of King Solomon shows that he wasn’t always worthy of emulation.
It is true that Solomon had multitudes of wives and concubines, but that will not be the source of any criticism in this article. Many Biblical kings had large harems, including Solomon’s father David. No, Solomon would be condemned for the very sin which had plagued his people for centuries: putting other gods before Jehovah.
As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.
On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.
1 Kings 11:4-7
The Hebrews could be a strange people. God parted the Red Sea and freed the Israelites from slavery. Then he gave them a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them. Then he provided them with manna to nourish them. Yet, the Hebrews worshiped other Gods. In Solomon’s case, he was allowed to complete the Lord’s temple and was blessed by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. Still, he decided to disobey the First Commandment.
Like many main characters in the Old Testament, Solomon’s place of prominence came only through special circumstances. When David was old and frail, Bathsheba convinced him to place Solomon on the throne of Israel (indeed, the influence of women can be great). Solomon was certainly not David’s first choice for his heir. Joseph Heller’s God Knows gives a fictional account of the events surrounding the elderly King David. Heller portrays Solomon in a less than flattering manner in this humorous work. In the story, King David says of his son:
And I was smart enough to appreciate that for Solomon you had to spell everything out. I’ll let you in on a secret about my son Solomon: he was dead serious when he proposed cutting the baby in half, that putz. I swear to God.
While this portrayal may have no real historical basis, this much is true: Solomon was made king only through the unfortunate deaths of David’s older sons, he built his temple only through a blessing secured by his father, and he managed to nearly destroy the promising future which God had given David’s offspring. Nevertheless, 1 Kings 4:29 says that “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.”
Through this knowledge he was able to secure his place in history as the builder of the Lord’s temple and has been given the honor of being a prominent figure in Masonic tradition. Like all men, Solomon may have had faults, but some of his actions have earned him respect. This is a lesson that can benefit all Masons. Masons must recognize that all men have their redeeming qualities as well as their imperfections. The Mason should never hesitate to clearly identify these qualities in the men that they have identified as being worthy of emulation.
This article comes from Jeremy Gross, who you may know better as the 47th Problem Euclid and author of the Masonic blog Corn, Wine, and Oil. His blog is very insightful and it is recommended that you visit his site for more thought provoking articles on Freemasonry.
I have been writing a lot about Jewish Mysticism, but for this article, I’d like to share another Jewish tradition that is somewhat more mundane, and yet possibly more profound. There is an ethical tradition in Judaism called Mussar. While the Modern Mussar movement is less than two centuries old, it taps into a tradition that goes back for nearly a millennium. It is part of Mitnagdim (the opponents of the Hasids) Yeshiva study, especially in the Litvisher (or Lithuanian Jewish) tradition. That’s ironic, because I am much more influenced by Hasidic Mysticism, and I’m a Galitzianer (Gallician Jew), and the Litvishers and Galitzianers traditionally butt heads with each other (kind of like a Jewish version of the Hatfields and the MacCoys). But a good set of techniques is precious, so I will take wisdom where I find it.
Modern Mussar practice was initiated by Rav Yisroel Salanter , who studied with Reb Zundel Salant , of Salantai, Lithuania. There is a story that Rav Yisroel was a dilligent student, but a failure in business. After losing his umpteenth job, he went to Reb Zundel in despair. Reb Zundel suggested that he become a rabbi. Rav Yisroel thought about it long and hard, and went back to his teacher. “I don’t know that I can be a rabbi. People will come to me for advice, and life and death may hang on my decisions. People will take on a career and avoid others based on what I tell them. People will marry based on my suggestions. What if I am wrong? I couldn’t bear to have people led astray because of my error. The very idea of it terrifies me.” Reb Zundel replied, “And you’d rather that a rabbi be a man who didn’t worry about his mistakes and their consequences?”
There are many stories about Rav Yisroel’s moral righteousness. During a cholera epidemic, he turned his students away from the Beth Midrash (house of learning) to attend to the sick, even though the disease was deadly and highly contagious. On that Yom Kippur, everyone is supposed to fast, but he encouraged the sick to eat, because he felt that the preservation of life was more important. When the pious sick refused, he publicly ate a piece of cake at the bimah, after Shacharit services, and begged those who felt weak to join him. For this, he was nearly fired as the head of his school, but his mastery of Torah during his exit interview was enough for him to keep his job.
He believed in Mussar, and believed that Mussar was for everyone, men, women, the Orthodox, even those who were lax in their observance. He worried that someone could study Torah and Talmud, the great works of Mysticism, secular knowledge and business, and still not study himself and his own behavior. He felt that without ethical self-examination, other achievements were hollow.
A disclaimer: I have read two books on Mussar, and studied some of two Mussar classics, and I’m about to start a personal Mussar practice. I haven’t started yet. I have all the spiritual authority of someone who has read a few books on Freemasonry, but has never taken any degrees, writing about Freemasonry. I’m hoping that the mistaken things I say next will come out being more truthful than silence, but I’m not guaranteeing anything.
What is Mussar? Mussar is not designed for the tzaddik, the holy man who is incapable of sin. Neither is it designed for the damned soul who is entirely governed by sin. It is designed for those who strive to do good, who sometimes end up doing evil, but are contrite when their evil deeds are pointed out to them. This is similar to Freemasonry, which cannot make evil men good, but can make good men better.
We are endowed with free will, and yet we fall into patterns that are hard to break. When we analyze where we have free will, we find our choices limited to certain things, while other things in our lives we are currently powerless to change. Anyone who has tried to break an addictive trait knows what I am talking about.
Mussar suggests that we have certain pivot points, called points of bechirah, where we could follow the inclination towards the good (called the yetzer hatov), or the inclination towards the evil (called the yetzer hara). A bechirah-point is a circumstance in our lives where each inclination has about a 50% chance of controlling the outcome. We have many of these points in our lives, with different issues. In Mussar practice, one observes one’s own behavior and actions, and keeps track of where the bechirah-points are on any given day, and if any new bechirah-points have emerged. The work is to use directed consciousness to tip the balance in favor of the yetzer hatov. What makes it hard is that the yetzer hara is really vocal, really loud and really persuasive. The yetzer hatov is pretty quiet. So one trains to listen to the voice of the yetzer hara and then deny it a victory. The metaphor given is one of a battlefield for your soul, with individual actions as soldiers, where some land is occupied by the yetzer hatov, and other land is occupied by the yetzer hara. The places where they share control is no-man’s land, and where they each control about 50% is the front line. One approaches the field of his soul like a general, planning battles, opening salients, and pushing the forces of the yetzer hara back. The yetzer hara is where excuses not to go to lodge this month come from, what urges you to eat a second piece of cake, what impels you to put a cigarette to your lips and persuades you to light it. The yetzer hara is always talking, which is why meditation is a practice designed to silence the inner monologue. The yetzer hatov is very hard to hear, most of the time. It takes silence for it to find a voice.
Mussar says that each of us has a spiritual curriculum, individually tailored to us personally. The two comparison examples given in the literature are, on the one hand, the master thief, raised by thieves, surrounded by thieves, who makes a living off of thievery. While stealing is against the Ten Commandments, the master thief does not struggle with the ethics of stealing on a day-to-day basis. But if the master thief were to be caught, he might have to kill the person who caught him. Or run away. The master thief is not a murderer. Yet. Killing someone now would be submitting to the yetzer hara. Running away without harming the other person would be listening to the yetzer hatov. The second example is that of the pious rabbi who obeys all of the commandments in the Torah. When it comes time for him to give the charity commanded of him by his religion, does he give away his money joyfully, or does he have a pang of regret? The pang of regret before a generous act is the voice of the yetzer hara. The thrill of joy before a generous act is the feeling of the yetzer hatov.
The Mussar practitioner makes a list of thirteen traits of the soul, called middot, that he would like to cultivate, and devotes a week to working on each one. The classical thirteen middot are equanimity, patience, order, decisiveness, cleanliness, humility, righteousness, frugality, diligence, silence, calmness, truth, and separation (isolating oneself when one is unable to behave appropriately). Other middot include fear of God, modesty, trust in God, and generosity. One is free to choose any thirteen virtues that he feels is relevant to himself. At the end of 13 weeks, it begins again. After four cycles, he makes a new list. He keeps a daily journal of what bechirah-points were challenged, and what the outcome was each time.
Also, the great classics of Mussar are consulted, often with a study-partner or chevrutah. The two chaverim take turns reading a paragraph each, and then debate their meaning. This dialectical process has many benefits. It encourages each partner to keep up with his partner, it gives each student a perspective other than his own, and each partner watches over the other to ensure that neither is overwhelmed or loses interest.These classics include Orchot Tzaddikim (The Ways of the Righteous), Mesilat Yesharim (The Path of the Just), by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, Tomer Devorah (The Palm Tree of Devorah), by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Chovot ha-Levavot (The Duties of the Heart), by Rabbi Bahya ibn Pakuda , and Cheshbon ha-Nefesh (An Account of the Soul), by Rabbi Menahem Mendel Leffin (inspired by Grand Master MW Benjamin Franklin’s idea of the Thirteen Virtues). Because Freemasonry has influenced this practice, there is no reason why this practice cannot in turn influence Freemasonry.
Indeed, this whole practice of Mussar seems strongly congruent with Freemasonry. We are instructed to subdue our passions and improve ourselves in Freemasonry. We are given working tools for this purpose, and given some instruction as to their use. But how many masons do you know say to themselves, “I feel like I’m stuck. There is the rubbish of the Temple from past labors in the quarries I no longer need to harbor, gumming up the works. I need to apply the Common Gavel to them, shaping my Ashlar from Rough to Perfect. I also feel like the hinge on my Compasses is a bit sticky– it might need Oil.”? It seems to me that a version of Mussar tailored to masonic usage might give us techniques for using our working tools more effectively.
I’ve studied some of Mesilat Yesharim and Tomer Devorah, and although they are beautiful texts, I don’t believe these are very accessible to someone outside of Jewish scholarship. I studied them with a rabbinical student who was able to translate the Hebrew (we used bilingual translations), locate each scriptural or Talmudic reference, and explain some of the subtleties. Both authors were passionate mystics, and wrote mostly about Jewish mysticism and esoterica, and their works reflect their mystical intents. I think the introduction to Mesilat Yesharim is brilliant. But none of the above books would be entirely appropriate for the average Freemason to study. While I think the partner study of Mussar classics is a necessary component of the technique of Mussar, I’m not well-versed enough in masonic scholarship to provide appropriate substitutes specifically tailored for a Freemason looking to do ethical contemplation. One might start with Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, but I’m sure that better examples exist. At the very least, finding a Brother, expressing the intent to do Mussar together, checking in with each other on a periodic basis to gauge progress, and possibly reading a suitable book of ethics together would be a good start.
Someone check the Old charges and see if they require us to use paper plates. I’m just back from looking at them and I don’t find any reference, so I thought perhaps I would draft my own.
III. Of LODGES (Amended 2009).
A LODGE is a place where Masons assemble and work: Hence that Assembly, or duly organiz’d Society of Masons, is call’d a LODGE, and every Brother ought to belong to one. The LODGE shall be caparisoned in SHAG CARPET and there shall be many avocado-coloured appliances – which provided they still operate shall not suffer themselves to be upgraded. INTERNET IS RIGHT OUT, as is such decoration or appurtenances that may not be made by hand or purchased for less than two SHILLINGS.
In ancient Times, the LODGE was gloriously decorated in crimson, purple, bronze and gold, but these artifices being deemed too difficult to execute by modern Masons are to be hereunto cast aside in favor of vinyl tablecloths, paper plates and paper napkins which are easier. The persons admitted Members of a LODGE must be good and true Men, free-born, and of mature and discreet Age, who may abide forever the serving of meatloaf, green bean casserole and roast beef the texture of boot leather.
There. Much better. Now, they’ll be no more harping among the young upstarts about how we need to “spruce things up a bit” or “take pride in ourselves.” We’re Masons, damn their eyes, and if we stand for anything, we stand for immovable change with an unshakable, mulish, bull-headed conviction that any and all change is not only untoward, but simply wrong.
Recently this issue came to a head when the Grand Lodge decided to hold its Warden’s School here. No problem, we’ve held the statewide Warden’s School off and on at my lodge since the 1950s – which is actually rather convenient because we still had some of the original leftovers and the menus were already printed. We’d just scratch out the names of the old Grand Masters and pencil in the names of the new ones – neatly mind you – and it took about 30 seconds worth of work, which if you ask me is time well spent for Masonry.
But then, a young Turk decided that we should change the menu and actually serve a meal that the guests would like to eat: smoked prime rib, new potatoes, that kind of stuff. Catered. Yes, you heard me, CATERED.
Now over and above the fact that this was a slap in the face to Euna Stubbs who had been cooking meals for us since Pontius Pilate, the cost was simply astronomical: $14.00 per plate. Euna and the Star Chapter only charge us $5.50 a plate and that’s always been good enough for us in the past. The young Turks told us that since Grand Lodge was going to foot the entire bill, we might as well take them up on their offer, and serve a really nice meal (another slap in the face to Euna). Well, I voted for it in lodge of course, but don’t you worry, I spent the next month bitching about it to everyone who would listen about how extravagant it was, all this folderol and for what? Dinner with the Grand Master? In my view, if you start feeding them like that, you might as well set out food for all the stray cats in the neighborhood, too, as you’ll never be shed of any of them.
Now on the night of the dinner things really came to a head. This young Turk and his wife bought linen tablecloths – I hope it was with their own money – and (get this): FRESH FLOWERS to put on all the tables. Now over and above the fact that this was a slap in the face to Beulah Longbottom who made the centerpieces we always use for banquets during the Truman administration (now THERE was a Mason – no smoked prime rib for that man), God rest her soul, she’s dead now, of course – hard to believe it’s been over thirty years ago – but I digress… she made these centerpieces, all eight of them, by hand, from plastic forget-me-nots and yellow…I dunno… spikey-looking flower thingies, and Vernon Mantooth, who was master in ’71, stapled some aluminum square and compasses onto them (he ran the plumbing supply store back then and he had one of the kids who worked for him cut them out of scrap flashing), and they’ve always been good enough in the past, but oh no! Not now. We have to have fresh flowers. And you know what? Those fresh flowers won’t even keep a week. Beulah’s flowers have been going strong for almost sixty-five years. Progress. Yeah, right.
I was all set to start unrolling the vinyl table-cloth covering thing from the roll we keep in the boiler room. It’s like a roll of trash bags, but instead of being black, it’s white. What? It looks good. Anyway, we cut it to length on each table and then tape it down at each of the four corners so that the table is covered nice and neatly. I was just getting started when all of a sudden the Jr. Warden says they want to use cloth tablecloths. I guess that saves on tape, which can be kind of expensive…you know, I’ve lobbied for years to just glue the vinyl down on each table and then after dinner is over, we can just take the tables out to the parking lot and spray them off, but it’s never gone anywhere. Anyway, so, you save on scotch tape with these newfangled cloth tablecloths, but then you have to wash them! I told the Jr. Warden this and he said he didn’t mind, he would wash them at home – which if you ask me is absolutely insane, but whatever: it doesn’t cost the lodge anything and if this guy is crazy enough to waste two hours of his time with the washer and dryer, I guess it’s OK with me.
So we have dinner, which was fine, although for $14.00 a plate, you’d think they’d give you Baked Alaska and Lobster Thermidor served by real French waiters flown over from France. I haven’t been to a restaurant in a while – I don’t get out all that much — but last time I ate at the Diner, I could have bought half the restaurant for fourteen dollars. Anyway, afterwards, the Grand Master and his group were very complimentary of the effort the lodge put forth, and they were specifically pleased with the meal – like they are too good for Euna’s meatloaf (another slap in the face, if you ask me), or something. But all the ladies could talk about were the fresh flowers. I tried telling one of them that it was a shame they wouldn’t last the week, but she said she didn’t mind and that she thought they were beautiful. Go figure. Now, normally we’d have been done right after this. We’d rip off the vinyl table covers, brush the crumbs off, stack the tables and chairs and then we could go upstairs and drink coffee for another two hours by ourselves, but not this time. You know why? Because some genius decided we should use real plates and silverware instead of paper plates and plastic forks. Luckily we had had about ten brothers there helping, but it still took us almost FORTY minutes to wash, dry and put all the stuff away.
The younger guys were all having fun with it, but I thought it was ridiculous. And you want to know what the worst part of it was? Grand Lodge was so “impressed” that they want us to do the same thing next year.
No good deed goes unpunished — isn’t that the truth.
But I still think gluing the vinyl table covering to the table would look a lot classier than taping it. And it would be much easier.
The other morning, I was enjoying my daily shaving ritual. As I lathered the shaving soap with my badger hair brush and spread the rich, white lather over my jaw, I thought about how my morning shave had become a daily routine of renewal and purification. When I took my razor in hand and removed the stubble of the previous 24 hours, I was not only refreshing the appearance of my face, but I was also symbolically divesting myself of the previous day’s imperfections. This allowed me to begin the day anew, with a clean slate and a clean face.
In many ways, this is my personal Rite of Purification.
The Rite of Purification has long been an important part of spiritual ceremonies. For those of us who have grown up in Judeo-Christian religions, this rite was most often manifested in the form of baptism or purification by water. In fact, in the book of Exodus we discover that purification by water was an important part of Jewish custom.
Then the Lord said to Moses ‘Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the Lord by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.’ Ex. 30:17-21)
I found it odd that Masonic tradition dictates that the Tabernacle was a model for King Solomon’s Temple and that this temple was a model for Masonic lodges, and yet I had witnessed no such rite in the craft degrees. In fact, the first time I consciously took part in a Rite of Purification in Masonry was in the 14th Degree of the Scottish Rite where I was required to rinse my hands in a basin filled with water. However, that was certainly not the first time that I had been symbolically purified before taking part in a Masonic ceremony.
If we rid ourselves of the narrow view of purification being accomplished through some sort of baptism with water, we can see that the preparation of the candidates for each degree of Masonry is in fact a Rite of Purification. Wilmhurst says:
Every system of real Initiation, whether of the past or present, is divided into three clear-cut stages; since before anyone can pass from his natural darkness to the Light supernal and discover the Blazing Star or Glory at his own center, there are three distinct tasks to be achieved. They are as follows: first, the turning away from the attractions of the outer world, involving detachment from the allurements of all that is meant by “money and metals,” and the purification and subdual of the bodily and sensual tendencies…This work of detachment and self-purification is our Entered Apprentice work, and to it, as you know, is theoretically allotted the long period of seven years.1
Therefore, divesting ourselves of our outer apparel and removing our possessions of worldly value from our bodies is essentially a Rite of Purification. This symbolically removes the superfluities of the profane world and prepares us to enter the Tabernacle. But as we widen our view of the right of purification, we can see that we are not only purified prior to receiving the degrees. In fact, we take part in a Rite of Purification every time that we step into the place that Exodus terms “the Tent of Meeting.”
The Mason’s apron is a lamb skin or white leather apron, which is described as “an emblem of innocence.” Its color is white, which is the emblem of purity. Every time that we adorn the Mason’s apron we are clothing ourselves with a garment which represents our symbolic purification. However, merely wearing the apron does not complete this action, we must also mentally purify ourselves. Much as the purification through water by the Hebrews before entering the Tabernacle was an admonition to keep one’s thoughts and desires pure in that Holy place, so should the wear of the apron remind us to keep our thoughts and desires pure within our Tabernacle, which is the tiled lodge room.
By doing so, we complete our own Rite of Purification every time that we proceed to enter the quarry and work for the benefit of the craft.