Once and Future Freemasonry
Philosophy and Meaning
“Even after his admission,” writes W.L. Wilmshurst, “[a candidate] remains quite at a loss to explain satisfactorily what Masonry is and for what purpose this Order exists.” And Silas Shepherd notes: “It will be readily conceded that any person who desires to become a member of the Fraternity has little conception of its serious purposes.” Yet, it is clearly stated that Freemasonry is a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols with multiple layers of meaning. To truly improve oneself in Masonry a man must have a basic knowledge of the purposes of Speculative Freemasonry and, ideally, an even more comprehensive sense of his need to utilize the allegories and legends inculcated through the various degrees to address personal issues of fear, hate, greed, intolerance, envy, anger, prejudice, and selfishness. But above all, he should demonstrate his desire for knowledge and his willingness to be serviceable to his fellow creatures. If he does not do these things, he fails to comprehend the essence of Freemasonry—a spiritual quest.
Current research suggests that a significant portion of young people designated as millennials, those between eighteen and twenty-five years of age, consider themselves more spiritual than religious with a common response to survey questions being “we have dumbed down what it means” to be religious. A Pew Research Center report states that “Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life.” This generation interprets the Deity’s wish for man as to be happy and to do good things. They also maintain closer contact with their parents than the previous two generations and feel removed from the political process. They are more interested in world and national affairs than their predecessors and seek strong communal and social ties. They are more motivated toward
learning with a marked percentage seeking education beyond high school. Finally, they are more inclusive than their parents or grandparents, and they find their heroes close and familiar.
This new generation possesses fewer prejudices and biases than their forefathers, and often looks with disbelief and pity on those who still profess such, especially racial, or act in such a manner. This should be nothing new to Freemasons. Theodore Roosevelt wrote that he neither disclosed nor revealed any Masonic secret when he stated that the Fraternity gives men of all walks of life a common ground upon which all men are equal and have one common interest. He also noted that Freemasonry teaches not merely temperance, fortitude, prudence, justice, brotherly love, relief, and truth, it also denounces ignorance, superstition and bigotry. R.W. Gilbert Weisman, W. Grand Orator of the Grand Lodge of Florida, in the Grand Oration given in May 2015 states unequivocally that
you could also define tolerance as freedom from bigotry . . . It is morally correct to encourage people to take a stand against everyday bigotry, apathy, and ignorance. It has no place in our society, our Fraternity, our schools, our place of worship, or our individual neighborhoods . . . your children, and their children’s success depends on it. Success in today’s world—and tomorrow’s—depends on being able to understand, appreciate, and work with others of any race, color, or creed . . .treating others in the way that you would like to be treated.
When asked to name a person they admire, these generations tend not to name past heroes. They list the names of teachers, mentors, people in their community that they respect, and family members with whom they have direct contact and who, to them, exemplify what it is to be a good person. What more fertile ground for growth could Freemasonry seek? The Fraternity offers spirituality without a denominational orientation and timeless guides to ethical decision making and upright action. It condemns prejudice and bigotry and is, as is the generations in question, inclusive. Above all, the Fraternity offers the example of good men made better through Freemasonry; men potential candidates know and interrelate with on a regular basis.
Freemasonry teaches through allegory and ritual that the human body is but a temporary, temporal edifice for an immortal being. This concept is firmly rooted in spirituality which resolutely acknowledges, as did the founders of Freemasonry, the existence of a Supreme Being but a creator who does not always intervene in the universe. This type of spirituality is the outgrowth of an intellectual movement that originated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, parallel with the foundation of Freemasonry, and focuses on the existence of the Creator based on reason rather than supernatural activity. “Get knowledge, get wisdom; but with all thy meaning, get understanding. Wisdom is supreme--so get wisdom. And whatever else you get, get understanding,” writes The Teacher in Proverbs 4:7. The modern Craft of Freemasonry is a successor to the ancient mysteries in its spirituality and teaching technique as well as its ritual. For the millennial and nexter generations therein may lie the future of the Freemasonry. If the Brethren inhabiting the Craft do not seek knowledge, understanding, and wisdom and pass it “through a succession of ages,” Freemasonry will fall to the fate of all human endeavors that have come before from which the spirt as well as intent was lost or ignored.
Cliff Porter writes in A Traditional Observance Lodge that “men entering the fraternity of Freemasonry in the 21st century generally have much higher expectations of their lodge and fraternal experience than did their predecessors. They are remarkably ’old school’ in their spiritual aspirations.” He notes further that these young men have at their fingertips a wealth of information about the institution and have arrived, prior to the submission of their petition, at the conclusion that the Fraternity is dedicated to and focused on truth-seeking, self-development, education, and, above all, their spiritual nature and development. A problem arises, however, when their expectations are not fulfilled. Frustration results and with it goes the concomitant loss of an individual who could have been a dedicated Mason. Gotthold Lessing in the eighteenth century noted the same attraction to the Fraternity. He also reported the same frustration and, eventually, departure.
Freemasonry is, according to Andrew Hammer in Observing the Craft, “a philosophical society which demands of its members the highest standards in all areas of labor.” Tolerance of different opinions is paramount to the success of the Craft and should form the basis for all Masonic discourse. When a society fails to place sound value on the acquisition of knowledge from many sources, it is on the path to self-destruction. Each man who asks to join the Fraternity comes for his own reasons, but most come seeking the opportunity to explore innovative ideas and find new ways of looking at the past and themselves.
Freemasonry from its beginning has offered its members the freedom to determine their own destiny and reach their own understanding of the legends, allegories, and principles inculcated in the lodge. Freemasonry serves to better one’s mind (simply memorizing the catechisms and ritual indicates soundness of mind and a retentive memory) as surely as it serves to better oneself. Freemasonry also requires more than insignificant improvements in a man’s approach to life and his analytical techniques. It requires constant development through reading and self-discipline (see Chapter VII). The ultimate questions a Freemason must ask himself are is this the best I can do? Is this the best I can be? It is through proper decorum, reverence for the Craft, respect for one’s Brothers, excellence in ritual, and sound Masonic Education that Freemasonry will survive into time immemorial.
WHY I BECAME A FREEMASON
I came to Freemasonry late in life even though my father had joined the Fraternity prior to World War II. I mistakenly thought that one had to be asked to join this elite organization so I waited. When I came of age, I spoke to my father of my interest in the Craft but received no response. I went on my way, joined the Army, fought in Vietnam, and came home. On my return, I again asked about his membership, and again received no response. Many years later I asked yet again about Freemasonry and was met with a much different response: “what took you so long.” I learned later of the three knock rule then applicable in that jurisdiction. I did not immediately become a Mason, however, using profession and family as excuses. To my deep regret, I was not initiated until some seven years after my father’s death, but I am now a Freemason. I will forever regret that my father was not present that night.
What originally attracted me to the Lodge of Freemasons in the small southern town where I grew up? First was probably the grandeur of the Masonic Temple. It was the tallest building in town at four stories and the only one with an elevator. It was situated in a prominent position on the town square, but, other than the architecture, it did not advertise its existence. That was not necessary. Masonry was well known and highly respected at that time and in that place. That building and its Lodge room on the top floor are now on the United States’ Register of Historic Places. As I became more familiar with its members, I knew that what was represented there was the kind of man I wanted to be and the kind of men with whom I wished to associate. Two were past governors of my state with one of them having been appointed as Ambassador to the Court of St. James in the early 1940s. Others included elected state and local officials, judges, attorneys, businessmen, bankers, mill owners, ministers, professors, and teachers, and many, many others from a variety of backgrounds and professions.
What most impressed my young mind the was that these leaders in my state and community met with and welcomed my father and his friends. My dad was a policeman who worked as a carpenter in his off hours. His best friend was a butcher and his brother worked in a hardware store. I did not understand it at that time, but these men truly met on the level” with the butcher and the Ambassador sitting together. I did, however, sense that there was a special equality located in that place and that the past governors greeted the policeman and the butcher as Brothers.
My father became an adult during the depression and served in World War II. He was an honorable man who walked the walk and talked the talk. He was my hero and I wanted to be like him especially in the manner he treated his fellow man. He truly did unto them as he wished them to do unto him. He was dedicated to his God and his family as well as his nation. As a policeman, he went far beyond the call of duty in his community. He was what Gotthold Lessing referred to when he wrote “Their true deeds are their secrets.” It was only after his death when I reviewed his life that I learned exactly what his true deeds had been and how secret many of them had been kept. Looking back, I think that review more than anything motivated me to finally become a Freemason. I wanted to be like him.
Seen through the eyes of those not familiar with Freemasonry, I seem to have accomplished so much more than my father. I left home at eighteen; obtained several academic degrees; fought in a foreign war (as did my father); held responsible positions in the military, the church, and the academy; and taught in foreign lands. My dad lived his life in that small southern town, but his deeds live after him. Among his effects were letters and notes from grateful parents, children, and so many others praising his compassion and his dedication to his duty and to mankind.
He was a sergeant and then lieutenant on the small police force in my hometown throughout the turbulent years of desegregation in the south, and he led by example. He selected as his patrol partners two of the African-American officers on the force and rode with them for several years. When he celebrated his eightieth birthday with a small family gathering, one of those patrolmen was an honored guest and, at my father’s funeral, shed tears of loss. My father, true to his innate humanity and his Masonic obligation, treated all men equally, the high and the low, without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, or politics. All were equal in his eyes. Much like Scout and Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird, I learned my lessons at my father’s knee—and he was a Freemason.
If I am half the man he was; I will be well satisfied. And as I look now with a new perspective, I discover each day how Freemasonry provided him with a guide to action and a strong foundation based on morality, brotherly love, relief, and truth; and that throughout his life, he displayed fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice. If I leave the same legacy, I will have followed in his very big footsteps.
SEEKING A DEEPER MEANING
To begin the journey into the mysteries and allegories of Freemasonry that helped create my father and his companions, and, hopefully, will guide me in his paths, let us consider the story of Jephthah as found in the Second Degree as an example of the ancient mystery teaching technique of using allegories about problematic people to impart important lessons, which, upon analysis, contribute to our understanding of man’s condition and serve to teach us how to better live our lives. The story of Jephthah as recounted in the book of Judges is one of the most complex and troubling accounts found in The Bible. It has been the subject of art and literature, and is the only instance in which human sacrifice, condemned so frequently in The Bible, is condoned. Many scholars suggest that this illustrates that in the ancient biblical tradition, extraordinary sanctity was given to a vow, especially when made to God and allowed no choice. Others suggest differently.
Masonically, the story of Jephthah is also significant because it includes the only biblical account of the use of a password. The word shibboleth, which originally meant stream or flood (the story of Jephthah includes a stream or river), was used as a test of tribal affiliation because the sh sound was obviously pronounced quite differently by the two tribes. Outside The Bible there are virtually no references to passwords. The phrase open sesame is found in the tale of Ali Baba and the forty thieves in One Thousand and One Nights and swordfish gains the Marx Brothers’ entry into a speakeasy in Horse Feathers. But the story of Jephthah is much more problematical than the use of a password and has much to teach Masons about the human experience.
To understand the story of Jephthah and the Ephraimites, we must consider the history of Israel as well as the fact that a vow was considered to be a transaction between a person and a deity wherein the former devotes something valuable to the deity’s use. The vow was an oath, with the deity being both the witness and recipient of the promise. The religious nature of the vow indicated that the petitioner’s piety and spiritual attitude outweigh all other considerations.
THE AMMONITES AND THE EPHRAIMITES
Ammon was an ancient nation noted in the Old Testament that was located east of the Jordan River. The Ammonites were the descendants of the incestuous union between Lot and his youngest daughter (traditionally named Aggadah) thus making them related to the Israelites but with no tribal affiliation. In Deuteronomy 2:19, the Israelites are commanded to avoid conflict with them, yet, throughout The Bible, the Ammonites and the Israelites are described as mutually antagonistic. Jephthah lived among the Ammonites after he was expelled from Gilead (Israel).
The descendants of Joseph formed two of the tribes of Israel, Ephraim and Manasseh (Jephthah’s home tribe). The Tribe of Ephraim was part of the loose union of Israelite tribes which was led in times of crisis and war by ad hoc leaders known as Judges who remained in tentative control until the time of the first Israelite king, Saul. When Rehoboam, the grandson of David, ascended the throne in about 930 B.C.E., the northern tribes split from the House of David to form the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam with Rehoboam remaining king over Judah in the south composed of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. The northern kingdom or Israel was conquered by Assyria in 723 B.C.E. and the southern kingdom, Judah, fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.
JEPHTHAH, JUDGE OVER ISRAEL
Jephthah was a member of the tribe of Gilead which was a subgroup of the northern tribe of Manasseh. The Old Testament describes him as a “mighty warrior” and further notes that he was “the son of a harlot” (Judges 11:1). He was driven out of the tribe by his half-brothers and went to Tod east of the Jordan River in the land of Ammon (as in Ammonites) where “worthless [also translated as ’empty’] fellows collected round Jephthah, and went riding with him” (Judges11:3).
When the Ammonites made war on Israel, the elders of Gilead (the tribe of Manasseh) “went to bring” Jephthah to be their leader. Jephthah held out for a more stable position and the elders, who had earlier driven him out of the land, agreed that, when he defeated the Ammonites, his position would become permanent. On behalf of Israel as a whole and relying upon the might of God, Jephthah challenged the Ammonites vowing: “If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30).
Jephthah defeats the Ammonites and upon his return is met first by his daughter, his only child, but he is bound by his vow to God: “For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow” (Judges 11:35). The daughter then says: “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go and wander . . . and bewail my virginity.” When two months had elapsed “she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had made” (Judges 11:39).
At this point in the account, the men of Ephraim come to Jephthah and demand to know why they were not included in the battle and threaten to “burn your house over with fire” (Judges 12:1). Jephthah responds by noting to the Ephraimites that they were the ones who did not answer the summons saying: “I took my life in my hand, and crossed over against the Ammonites” (Judges 12:3). He then gathered the men of Gilead and fought with those of Ephraim taking control of the fords across the river Jordan thus preventing them from escaping and utilizing the word shibboleth to confirm tribal affiliation.
THE REST OF THE STORY
Many biblical scholars as well as the rabbinic tradition note that the death of Jephthah’s daughter is in direct violation of God’s law and that this story is meant to illustrate the terrible tragedy of human sacrifice. Others note the complete lack of censure by God in the biblical account. The victory over the Ephraimites comes after the death of Jephthah’s daughter and “Jephthah judges Israel six years” (Judges 12:7). Sacrifice of the first born is referenced in Exodus 22:27-29 and there appears to be a possible reference to it in Ezekiel 20:25-26. James Kugel, chair of the Institute for the History of the Jewish Bible at Bar Ilan University in Israel and the Harry M. Starr Professor Emeritus of Classical and Modern Hebrew Literature at Harvard University, suggests that such sacrifice was done among the early Israelites otherwise the later admonitions against the practice would not have been necessary.
Other scholars have expressed alternative views and more poetic interpretations of this sacrifice. One suggests that Jephthah’s vow was in some way modified and that the daughter’s fate was perpetual virginity or solitary confinement. This is not supported by the biblical text. Another cites the semantics of the vow noting the word and (“shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up”) suggesting that this is a mistranslation and should be properly rendered as or. A third reiterates the perpetual virginity explanation and suggests that the daughter was committed to the service of God (much like Catholic nuns) rather than physically sacrificed.
These interpretations are in dispute with many scholars noting that the Israelites were at the time a decidedly barbarous people and that there are within The Bible several other examples of rash vows with similarly terrible results such as Saul’s vow in I Samuel 14, Solomon’s in I Kings 2, and Herod’s to Salome in Mark 6. It is worthy of note, as well, that a biblical narrator in the story of Joshua and Gibeon reports that vows were broken. The previously referenced Ezekiel 20:5 may be interpreted to mean that earlier issued laws—the solemnity of a vow, for example--were misplaced: “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live.” Scholars also note that nowhere in the Biblical text are there any negative comments associated with Jephthah’s vow and sacrifice. Be that as it may, the lesson to be learned from Jephthah’s ordeal is not about child sacrifice but about constraint and much more.
LESSONS FOR MASONS
Considering the complexity of the story of Jephthah and the Ephraimites, it is easy to lose the lessons offered in the horror of human sacrifice. This story has much to teach us as Masons. It speaks to equality, oaths, background, and the necessity of being ever watchful and thoughtful in what we say, think, and do. Jephthah was the illegitimate son of a prostitute and from a subtribe—a minority—Gilead. He was thrust out, disinherited, and forced to flee to a foreign nation by his half-siblings. Although surrounded by worthless fellows, Jephthah creates a reputation such that when threatened by the Ammonites the elders of Israel seek him out and bring him back be their leader. He was made equal with the leaders of the confederation and, subsequently, the leader of the confederated tribes for his lifetime. This teaches us that we are not bound by birth to a particular place or level of society but that we have within us the God-given ability to overcome even the most appalling circumstances and achieve by our own merits.
Secondly, this story teaches us that we are capable of overcoming poor associations and are not bound to follow the paths of our fellows when they adhere to ruinous causes and come to debased ends. We may be marked by those with whom we associate but we can we disassociate ourselves from them and we are not bound to follow their lead. Not only are we capable of achieving beyond our birth, we are capable of refusing to allow peer pressure to govern our lives and form our destiny.
Third, the story of Jephthah reminds us of the power of an oath or vow—our word, especially when made to the Deity. The power of the oath is in how Jephthah construes its meaning and his commitment to his faith. We can easily break a vow or oath if we assume it has no meaning and, even when the name of the Deity is included, that the oath has no power and is not binding. For Jephthah, his spirituality appears to have outweighed all other concerns and so it is with Masons.
Fourth, and directly related to number three, is our own tendency to speak before well considering our words; to think in narrow ways; and to act in a manner that is not pleasing to God or man. We are rash creatures. Let prudence and temperance govern our passions, our words, and our vows. The following story is told of Brother Harry Truman during his time as President of the United States. His daughter, Margaret, made her professional singing debut. Her performance was panned. Truman immediately wrote a scathing letter to the critic and the critic’s editor. Truman, who had a strong temper, had assumed the habit of placing such heated missives in a desk drawer until several days had passed when, if he still felt as strongly about the topic, he would reword the letters and send them. In this case, the letter to the critic left the White House immediately. When the story broke in the newspapers, Truman was criticized for intemperate comments and poor judgment.
As Masons, we are taught to subdue our passions, to reflect upon our thoughts and words, and to act only after careful consideration. We are also taught that, once taken, an oath is for an indefinite period and covers all situations, even when what such an oath or obligation covers what may appear to be trivial things. Had Jephthah more wisely considered his words, he may not have been forced to exclaim: “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become a cause of great trouble to me.”
ONCE AND FUTURE FREEMASONRY
Freemasonry currently appears to be experiencing a downward trend in terms of membership numbers and, some suggest, that the quality of the Brothers initiated as well as the experienced gained through membership has slipped markedly. There are about half as many members in Florida Lodges (the author’s Grand Lodge) in 2015 as there were in 1980. Lodges are struggling and Grand Lodges are retrenching and downsizing. A reduction in numbers may not be a bad thing. It is quality for which Freemasonry strives, not quantity. There has been a great deal of hand-wringing and predictions of Freemasonry’s imminent demise. Many have questioned the prohibition against overt recruitment and others point a finger at what they consider the distasteful use of secrets, but as written in Proverbs 11:3, “a tale-bearer revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth them.”
The call is loud and clear, notes John Bizzack in For the Good of the Order: Examining the Shifting Paradigm within Freemasonry. “Freemasonry has been able to pass on its gift of fellowship and its central lessons from one generation to the next because it has held onto its core ideologies and each generation has adapted them to its own needs. . . To attract quality members, Freemasonry must provide a quality experience . . . it must stay true to its principles.” The twenty-first century and the generation of young men who refer to themselves as millennials with their spiritual and knowledge-seeking focus, offer the fertile ground necessary to strengthen the Craft through adherence to its core tenets and principles. But it requires quality to attract quality.
There is little doubt that the Internet has increased interest in Freemasonry. Baby Boomers and their children tended not to be joiners, and current generations seek quality in most of their doings rather that the quantitative aspect of being part of a large group. They are searching for meaning in an ever more complex and diverse world in which there appear to be no heroes and no sound guides to action. They, as did their forefathers, desire freedom and the right to determine their own thoughts and destinies. They seek to better their minds as they seek to better their understanding of the world. They are more educated than previous generations yet they strive to improve themselves, but they are not always focused on material gain. They are in many ways similar to the men who made the Fraternity great in previous centuries.
There is within the Craft a movement to return to what is commonly termed Observant Lodges. These Lodges focus on decorum to include dress and actions within the lodge; excellence in ritual work with the accompanying reverence for the lessons to be learned there; and the belief that they can become better than they are in both a temporal and spiritual sense. They seek an elevated level of unity with and understanding of the Deity which they perceive is not always available through organized religion as now practiced. Finally, they seek knowledge. The development of the modern middle class was dependent on the rise of higher education, but for many of those in the middle class in previous generations that education was financially beyond their reach. The Masonic Lodge provided that sought after education: it can again.
A Stated Communication in a Lodge of Freemasons should not function as does that of other social organizations and clubs. Yet too often Lodges have abandoned or forgotten through disuse what for centuries made them great and important. They have become good old boys’ clubs rather than centers for spiritual and educational advancement and renewal. The lessons of the Symbolic Lodges would easily fill the curriculum of an undergraduate degree as well as several advanced degrees. They are worthy of a lifetime of study and analysis. In the seventeenth century, Accepted Masons gathered to discuss the latest advances in architecture, geometry, mathematics, and other philosophical pursuits. This attracted even more members and provided the Lodges and the world with new insights into the human condition as it contributed to the overall advancement of knowledge. These Accepted Masons made themselves better men through their focused pursuit of enlightenment and, influenced by the concept of the universality of man, they contributed directly to our modern democratic and educational systems. They noted the universal principle laid down in The Book of Constitutions that exclusion based on race or religion is not Masonic.
Freemasonry is not now nor has it ever been a mainly social institution. It has achieved its objectives by removing from the Lodge considerations of national allegiance, partisan politics, and sectarianism. Freemasonry cannot be all things to all people. It is not a religion or a political party but it was not fashioned to accommodate all ideas or all people. It was not created in man’s image, no matter how much man has tried to change that. It is a privilege to be Made a Mason and so it should be treated. The nature of man is that he values least that which is easiest to obtain and comes at the lowest cost in money, energy, or time. He values most those things that are difficult to obtain and which few people possess such as a high-status profession—a physician--or a high rank in the military. He further values those things with markedly higher price tags; otherwise luxury automobiles would not sell as well as they do. Finally, he values most that which requires his skill to obtain. Freemasonry should not be what you get out of it, it must require something of you to be of value.
The key word in Freemasonry should be excellence which comes from the Latin for to rise out from, to rise up, or to rise above. It does this by initiating only those who seek its wisdom and who meet the full test of investigation and the ballot—or it should. In the ancient operative lodges, not all who sought admission were accepted with the records clearly indicating that only a small number were ever advanced beyond the most basic level. Freemasonry was not then nor should it be now, a product to be bought and sold. William Preston in 1861 warned that “the privileges of Masonry have long been prostituted for unworthy considerations. . . Many have enrolled their names on our records for the mere purpose of conviviality . . . but the evil stops not there. . . Persons of this description, ignorant of the true nature of the institution . . . are induced to recommend others of the same cast, to join the society for the same purposes.” The same can be written almost one hundred and sixty years later, and it is this ready availability, this lack of specialness, this open-door policy, that many suggest has contributed to the reduction in the Fraternity’s reputation and the accompanying loss of good men seeking its wisdom.
Freemasonry should not be for the faint of heart or the over-committed. It is not a quick way to enlightenment or fulfillment. Like anything worth having, it demands hard work, dedication, focus, and a significant commitment of time. The essence of Freemasonry is that it must be sought by those willing to meet its demands. The new man coming into the Craft must be willing to give as much as he receives, but he must have sound guidance, solid education, and strong moral leadership. While the word is much overused in modern education, Freemasonry should be a truly transformative experience, but as with any craftsman, just because you possess the basic skills does not make you a master of the trade.
All Lodges operate under the laws, rules, and regulations of their Grand Lodge, but every Lodge can and should also uphold the highest standards of Freemasonry. A quick review of photos of Lodge activities from the last century and before indicate that, based on the clothing worn, the Brothers in attendance took their Craft far more seriously that do many modern Masons. The intent of Symbolic Lodge Freemasonry is not to be a jovial club; there are other organizations that fulfill that need. Symbolic Lodges should be dedicated to the meaning of things philosophical and empirical. They should guard well the gate to the Temple. Potential initiates should meet with well-informed Brothers as well as Lodge officers to discuss their interest in the Fraternity and their reason for knocking at the door. The investigation should not be pro forma, and the background check should be extensive. Candidates should be asked difficult and pointed questions, and it should be understood that Freemasonry is not something one can inherit—it should not grandfather its members.
Too often Freemasonry has penalized a Brother for taking the time necessary to learn our valuable lessons and has enforced too rapid advancement of unprepared individuals resulting in less informed and less Masonically educated Brothers assuming leadership positions in the Lodge. This does not mean that procrastination is acceptable; time is a factor in Freemasonry as it is in real life. Deadlines are deadlines, and meeting them indicates the ability of the initiate as well as his willingness to conform to the Fraternity’s rules and regulations; but it is not unreasonable to allow a new Brother to participate in some Lodge activities other than advanced Degree work while he learns his lessons and proves himself ready for further advancement. Our ancient operative brothers gave a young man seven years or more to learn the mysteries of the craft and many were not successful. Those who did, however, demonstrated more than proficiency in their work when they produced their apprentice piece and met the judgment of the Masters.
Finally, Freemasonry should not be done on the cheap. It is not a public service. All of us find the money to do those things that we consider important personally and professionally, be it tickets to a sporting event or concert or the price of a fine meal at a high-quality restaurant. None of our members NEEDS to be a Mason; they are here of their own free will and accord. Historically, guild dues were set high with reports in England of dues equaling as much as a month’s wages for craftsman and more for a master. Members of the operative guilds dressed in livery or distinctive clothing. Modern Masons should consider the example of their forefathers and dress in accordance with their respect for the Craft and their evaluation of its worth. As in the craft guilds, advancement should be based on merit not seniority. If an officer, elected or appointed, fails to fulfill his obligation and his duties to the Lodge, he should remove himself from the line. It is the nature of Freemasonry that he who would be first should first be last.
Freemasonry gives no man the answers. It provides him with the working tools necessary to the attainment of further light (ongoing light). It presents him with a mirror. The author well remembers a full-length mirror in a barracks at an Army Officer Candidates School. On top of the mirror were the words IS THIS THE BEST YOU CAN BE? Every Masonic Lodge might consider installing such a mirror in its anteroom.
W.L. Wilmshurst. Meaning of Masonry, 1927. (LaVergne, TN: NuVision Publishing, 2007), p.15.
Silas H. Shepherd. “The Spiritual Significance of Freemasonry,” in The Builder Magazine, Vol., No. 11 located at http://www.themasonictrowel.com/masonic_talk/the_builder_magazine/files_month/1926_11.htm.
Cathy Grossman. “Survey: 72% of Millennials ’more spiritual than religious.” USA Today, April 27, 2010.
Pew Research Center. “A Portrait of ’Generation Next.” Located at http://www.people-press.org/2007/01/09/a-portrait-of-generation-next, January 9, 2007.
Theodore Roosevelt quotes located at http://www.lakeharrietlodge.org/lhl277/MainMenu/Home/MasonicEducation/MasonicLibrary/MasonicQuotes/tabid/356/Default.aspx, retrieved 1 October 2015.
Gilbert Weisman. Grand Oration, Grand Lodge of Florida, May 2015. Located at http://grandlodgefl.com/archive-2014/grand_oration_2014.html.
Cliff Porter. A Traditional Observance Lodge: One Mason’s Journey to Fulfillment. (Colorado Springs, CO: Starr Publishing, LLC, 2013), p. 9.
Andrew Hammer. Observing the Craft: The Pursuit of Excellence in Masonic Labour and Observance. (New York: Mindhive Books, 2012), p. ix.
John Bizzack. For the Good of the Order; Examining the Shifting Paradigm within Freemasonry. (Lexington, KY: Autumn House Publishing, 2013), pp. 99-100.
William Preston, Illustrations of Masonry William Preston. 1861. Reprint. (London: Forgotten Books, 2013) p. 14.