I’m what the old guys would call “a tech guy.” What that means to me and what it means to them are two very different things. To them, it means I know how to do something as far as this whole ‘internet thing’ is concerned. While I may get tripped up on the technicalities of specialization of my profession, they’re right about one thing, I’m a millennial through and through.
There’s been a lot of confusion about the word ‘millennial’. I subscribe to a field of thought that views millennials as the post-generation generation. Unlike Generation Y, which is who most people confuse with Millennials, Millennials act in a new way of being human that relies primarily on digital technology as our most natural way to connect with others. That means that it includes any age group, nationality, or culture of human who live and breathe in the digital world as much as they do in the physical.
Millennials, because of our use of technology to connect with others, naturally see the world through a lense that is much broader than people who grew up without a real-time window into the lives of others. Freemasonry across the world has understood that we have “a marketing problem”, however, what many freemasons don’t realize is that you can’t solve it with a new logo or a tagline. We have to adopt new technology in order to speak the new language millennials understand: social media.
For those who don’t really understand why so many social networks exist, the explanation is actually fairly simple. Each social network has its own purpose. Linkedin is ideally used for work connections, Pinterest is used to collect beautiful and inspirational images, Facebook is the place to keep up with friends and acquaintances, Twitter is optimal for connecting with strangers to discuss mutual interests and topics, and Instagram is where we share memories visually. All of these networks help enhance our human experience by connecting with many many more people than we otherwise could.
Jason Silva is someone who I would consider to be an archetype of a 21st century philosopher. This video is a little piece he did that explains the network.
Now comes the interesting phenomenon: following celebrities. People follow them because they want to feel like a part of their life and enjoy in the moments that they feel are special to them. And the oldest celebrity office in the world, the Pope himself, finally joined instagram in March of this year. Frankly, he’s killing it.
Millennials crave authenticity and transparency. These are things that become more and more difficult for institutions as they age, so the Freemasons and the Catholic church face a similar challenge in that regard. However, when an old institution like the Vatican focuses their Instagram account on the humanity of those precious passing moments of the present, old institutions become very relevant.
So my call to action is, every lodge should have someone instagramming, whether they do it personally and include the fact that they are a Freemason in their bio, or by posting on behalf on of their lodge. The focus should be on the fellowship, not the regalia. The secrets of our brotherhood are the bonds between brothers, and everyone can relate to or aspire to that.
Good Evening Brethren, welcome to autumn in the Pacific Northwest. This is actually my favorite time of year. The rainy days upon us have quickly greened up our summer lawns and the sunny-crisp days of September are the last glimmers of summer fading away. We are reminded that the chill of winter will be knocking on our door shortly, and with it comes the shadowed silhouette of leaf-bare branches.
Our year is beginning to draw to an end. For many, this time is reminiscent of the sands in the hour glass noticeably and yet quickly diminishing and as a result we begin to naturally look inward and examine what this year has meant. And this has given me cause to reflect on our Grand Master’s message this year.
Before becoming a Freemason, this fraternity, this society you have joined asks of you one question – simple, yet profound – what came you here to do?
I hope your answer is just as profound.
Because none of us needs to be a Freemason. And want I mean to say is that we all choose to be a Freemason. We choose this life because something in our nature is responding to a mysterious call. And as such, your Masonic journey is really like a mission. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to learn to subdue your passion and improve yourself in Masonry.
Learning to subdue your passion. Which at first blush seems a bit counterproductive. Don’t we learn as a child to be passionate about what we do? For the initiate of our Masonic order, this is one of the first and most important points of Freemasonry and yet this is often vulnerable to misinterpretation, and consequently it merits some examination.
First, we must understand why we use the word passion. As it relates to our ritual, I believe we are talking about an affection of the mind. Oxford Dictionary refers to this type of passion as “Any kind of feeling by which the mind is powerfully affected or moved; a vehement, commanding, or overpowering emotion.”
Which is why we come here, to this temple of virtue, to learn to subdue our overpowering emotions. Because passion taken to an extreme overcomes our reason. And are we not instructed by the virtue of PRUDENCE which teaches us “to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason, and it is that habit by which we wisely judge and prudentially determine all things relative to our present as well as to our future happiness. This virtue should be the peculiar characteristic of every Mason, not only for the government of his conduct while in the Lodge, but also when in the world.”
In other words, when you combine these concepts into one thought, we can say that “to learn to subdue my passions” means to through the virtuous teachings of Masonry one learns to bring commanding and overpowering emotions and desires into subjection and control. This is quite the contrary to the situation in which a man’s passions and emotions have control over his sense of logic and reason – a situation which Masonry seeks to remedy and which is often described through the all too well known cliché of making a good man better. In other words, it is not within the capability of our ego-driven self to keep passion in check. We must learn to do this.
By improving oneself in Masonry. At first this seems like almost an obvious statement – for why else would one be here? It’s so vast it almost seems like the perfect “catch all” statement. But before we gloss over it and commence with scheduling the next feast and celebration, let us consider the nature of this declaration.
For it is a personal commitment. You joined to improve yourself.
Unfortunately, the Masonic experience for some is reminiscent of the fallacy of what has become a tag line for an entire generation – Here we are now, entertain us. But nothing could be more opposite from the truth. Freemasonry exists for YOU to discover her treasure and no one should expect it to be done for them. You come here to improve yourself in knowledge of Masonry. And it is through and from this expansion of knowledge that we begin to learn to conduct ourselves with peace and harmony with those around us.
First with our brethren, but then with the outer world. And consequently, we become a better, more improved version of earlier self.
As Masons, we are called to labor and be laborers. From the very first step in our Initiatic journey we are taught symbolically how to make use of every hour of every day by the 24-inch gauge.
We are taught to divide our time equally between our service to the Supreme Architect and our worthy brethren, to our society through our vocation and to the refreshment of ourselves which includes, presumably, our family.
This is why it is so hard for many of us to sit idle, wasting the hours away accomplishing little but the short lived thrills of passing amusement.
It’s simply not in our nature as Masons.
If you stop and think about it, we are constantly working on a temple – whether it’s our spiritual, temporal, or our personal temple.
We build – that is what we do, and there is no rest for the weary.
You see, this is why our Grand Masters theme this year encapsulates the very essence of what it means to be a Mason. It’s not simply a theme but rather a reminder of the declaration you made when you chose to become a Mason.
‘Be the Difference’ by its very nature is calling our craft from refreshment to labor
So brethren, I ask you again, what came you here to do?
This is an election year, in case you didn’t notice! It seems to be all anyone is talking about, so I guess I will talk about it too! For must of us its harder and harder not to get caught up in the fervor of this election cycle in our ever increasingly media driven society. Whether its your television, computer, tablet or phone you are probably getting news alerts every few minutes to announce the newest political insult to one candidate or the other (in reality these insults are falling directly on our republic, more on that later). Members of both political extremes would have you believe the United State’s survival is hinged on a single issue, and if you don’t agree you are some kind of traitor. The only breaks seem to be when the news reports on celebrity scandals. Its no wonder ever one is on edge.
Its not news to say that fear is the best motivator of people. Our minds and bodies are wired in such a way that fear can easily override our rational mind and our compassionate heart. This makes sense from a survival point of view, when predators waited behind every tree to attack, but in the modern world it is sometimes misplaced, and can be used to manipulate us. It has long been known that base survival instincts manifest as emotions can be used as tools to control our thoughts, limit our freedom and of course sell us things.
Our Constitution guarantees freedom of the press because it’s the best way for the people to communicate with each other and their Government. When it works well it informs citizens of what they need to know to protect their personal interests, and to keep the Government accountable to the people. In principal this is a great and important part of our Republic. Unfortunately like many rights it can also lead to abuses. Much of today’s media has become a platform for retail marketing; this includes social media and with the pretense of reporting important news chooses to bombard you with constant and ever increasing vitriol. Its important to remember that you did not elect the members of the press, and while freedom of the press is crucial to our nation, it is largely a business intended to make money. If they can use fear to do that, well in my opinion, they will do that, its just good business. With twenty four hour a day, seven day a week news telling you to be afraid or angry you have to have come a long way in subduing your passions to resist. I feel I should add here that not all news media is run this way, and not all journalists are profit motivated. I wish I could say that responsible journalism was the norm but I can’t say that.
Because we live such short lives it’s easy to assume this is one of the worst election cycles ever, but that is not true. The election of 1800, between Adams and Jefferson was one of the worst. Through political surrogates they both attacked each other on the most personal issues, portrayed each other in the worst light. In those days our young republic was by no means a sure bet for survival, and everyone knew it. That said, today we remember BOTH Adams and Jefferson as great presidents and patriots and use them as examples of great Americans. This is an important point to remember as we engage in political discussion today. In two hundred years subsequent generations may well wonder what all the fuss was about.
So what has this got to do with Freemasonry? As I have shown in earlier blogs there are elements of our Craft handed down to us that are at least 600 years old. During those centuries we have survived many contentious times, and for the most part have emerged stronger. Operant Masonry survived the great wars over religion in England, as well as wars about the style of government. We survived the wars between England and Scotland, as well as England and France. Speculative Masonry survived the American and French revolutions, as well as the American Civil War. The lessons we learned during those periods of conflict continue to serve us today. A simple example is the prohibition against discussions of politics and religion in Lodge. How long would we have lasted as a guild and then a fraternity if open conflict over monarchy or parliament had erupted or debates between Catholic and Protestant religions? Not long I assure you. Our behavioral strategies go much further than simple prohibitions. A Masonic Lodge culture has evolved in which everyone gets to speak his mind on important decisions, and strong Masters prevent the discourse from becoming contentious and experienced Past Masters soothe ruffled feathers when the decision is made. We can do this because our core beliefs are based in four very important concepts. The first is to preserve the unity of the Craft, a brotherhood based in brotherly love. We can do this because we have as a foundation a belief in Faith, Hope and Charity. Faith in a good God, who will, if we listen, guide us to a better future and a faith in the fundamental good in all men’s hearts, Hope in a better world for ALL people, and Charity which calls all of us to extend a hand in friendship to all people in need, even in the darkest times. I don’t mean to leave you with the impression we are perfect, we are all of us imperfect ashlars seeking to improve ourselves.
I would call upon my brethren to remember these principals in the weeks to come, leading up to our next election. Within our Lodges we have maintained, for the most part, something becoming increasingly difficult to find in the outer world, civility. This is something we as Masons can bring to the larger world. In a time of so much passionate division, men who have learned to subdue their passions can be of crucial importance. We should counter unbridled passions in debate with reason and civility, remembering that like in Lodge when the decision is made we are still a Nation, and we must cherish that nation at least as much as our opinions. As Masons we should recognize that the United States was the first nation to adopt so many Masonic tenets and it remains the best example of the world we would create as any nation on earth. We should meet darkest despair with the light of a divine hope that permeates our Craft, and with Charity in our hearts gently remind our countrymen (and women) that each person has his or her own story that makes their beliefs valid to them. We could remind our friends and family of our shared humanity, that we all have hopes, and dreams as well a fears, no one thinks they are doing wrong.
Finally Brethren, lead through example. While you might leave the Lodge after the Volume of Sacred Law is closed, you carry your obligations in your heart. Lead by example. Become your best version of the embodiment of your obligation as an example of others. Respect the opinions of others as part of respecting their humanity. Remember that at the center of the black and white tiled floor sits the altar of Masonry. It is in balance we find our civility. It is my opinion that this is our opportunity to become ministers of civility to a world that has for now lost sight of the value of civil discourse.
God bless the United States of America, and all good Masons everywhere.
“And now may the blessings of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and may the moral and social virtues cement us.”
In this final look at the closing charge we end the charge with prayer. First to call down the blessings of heaven upon every mason then to ask that we find love in our own brotherhood between one another, and then finally, that both good behavior and courtesy in other words civility will bind us together.
Much like we evoke the blessing of deity “when any great and important undertaking” begins, the closing charge finalizes its admonitions to the brothers in the same way. This may seem curious at first and we might ask, why not pray at the beginning of the charge? But of course, the point is, the prayer is at the end of the charge because it truly is the beginning of the masons work as he leaves the lodge for truly great and important work. The prayer is telling in that our work requires a partnership between the divine described as blessings resting on our efforts as masons here below and that indeed there is a seriousness about our work that we should not take lightly. To have divine providence rest on us is a literary way of saying that we require divine guidance, a partnership with the divine with those present and every mason around the world that has placed the lamb skin apron around him and pledged his life for those values and that more than just our mortal efforts are needed, we require the benefit of the eye of providence to watch over and guide our every action.
At the conclusion of the charge we are at the door, our bag is packed, we have all our provisions, we have been given our instructions and we are setting out on our mission. “Our mission”, you ask? Yes, masonry is not JUST a social club nor a philanthropic organization, no, far from it. Masonry is that repository of ancient esoteric wisdom that has been passed to us from great minds from all ages, often at great cost, for the soul purpose of the improvement of the individual and the advancement of mankind. The father of our country, George Washington, put the mission of our craft this way when he said, “Freemasonry is founded on the immutable laws of truth and justice and its grand object is to promote the happiness of the human race.” Each of us are expected to participate in this grand object to promote happiness and add to that grand objective. That starts first in our own hearts and masonry teaches and promotes those virtues that aid the seeker in discovering love of self and love of others first in his own heart and then through his interaction with his brothers which then leads to others within his sphere of influence in the world at large.
Taking on the work within the lodge helps each mason to work both as an individuals and with others for the common good. These small tasks, from serving others by fixing the coffee, to attending a youth program, a fundraising activity, and other such activities are part of learning the responsibility which makes us better prepared for taking our “grand object” out into the bigger world. Perhaps it would be good to think of lodge as a microcosm of the world where there is a safe place to learn how to more effectively communicate, take on new challenges and responsibilities of working together making us better prepared to take those values out into the world where our example can both be seen as a preferred way of living and be seen as being the difference in our families, communities, and world at large that improves them all.
The closing charge reminds us that we are not an island, that we are a team of unique individuals with individual skills and talents who are bound together of our own free will and accord for the common good of creating a better world. This binding strengthens us, transforms us, teaches us and we become better for it, better men, useful hands in the Great Work begun so long ago by those great visionaries of the past who saw the great need in wearing the humble workers apron and have, with great courage and hope, passed on to us this work into a future world that they hoped would be enlightened, free, loving, and kind. A world much like the one we now live in due in great part to their undying efforts. Yes, there is strife and war, and violence surrounding us still, we are not blind to that unfortunate truth, but as a greater whole, we are an improved nation of good people who freely follow civil laws that keep us safe and moral laws that are motivated by love and that improvement over the darkness of the despotic past should never be lost to us. Our role as masons is to become that continuous catalyst in the world, sentinels to maintain these great ideals and values that have created the world we are free to enjoy, to promote truth that brings peace and happiness to all we encounter, to help the poor, to aid the sick, to guide the lost, and to comfort the widow and orphan, to be the light in the darkness of the world of ignorance and bring clarity to all our existence. Masonry is a force for good in the world and our closing charge is that last great reminder at the end of every meeting of WHO WE ARE.
I hope you have found this deeper, step-by-step look into the anatomy of the closing charge of value and as you stand at the alter and hear its words at your next meeting, I hope you will hear the voices of those who have echoed these sentiments from time immemorial and I hope these seven parts will help remind you of its unique importance to our craft and more especially, YOUR unique importance to not only our fraternity but to the world. The charge is that ancient sacred baton passed into your hand to carry into the next leg of the journey east. Are you ready?
May God add his light to this work,
WB John Lawson
Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington.
“… Finally brethren, be ye all of one mind. Live in peace and may the God of love and peace delight to dwell with you and bless you.”
As we have examined the closing charge from beginning to its closing words, we can follow a prescribed path beginning with reminders of who we are and what we have promised to do, to our corporate responsibilities to our fellow brothers of the fraternity, and then to our obligation to every other human being. Now in this final admonition, our focus is directed upward to our larger self and to the great architect in whom a great or important undertaking here below is of little consequence without His inspiration and blessings.
It can seem almost counter-intuitive to be of “one-mind” in a world that celebrates our individuality, and may in fact evoke us to say, “hey, what about me?”, but again we are reminded as in part 4, that a society of individuals cannot stand strong and like the symbol of the fasces, each reed breaks easily when separated and on their own but when bundled together, they become an unbreakable bond, E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one”. So we are given the reminder to “be ye all of one mind”, not that we are to think the same thoughts in the same way like robots but to bind our thoughts together for the greater good so that our individual thoughts and individual aspirations can be stronger when combined with our brothers in common directions. Masonry is an art that teaches us how to bind our lives together and yet remain comfortably within our own personal view of God and religion. As Albert Pike elaborated, “Masonry propagates no creed except its own most simple and Sublime One; that universal religion, taught by Nature and by Reason. It reiterates the precepts of morality of all religions. It venerates the character and commends the teachings of the great and good of all ages and of all countries. It extracts the good and not the evil, the truth, and not the error, from all creeds; and acknowledges that there is much that is good and true in all.” This certainly aids us in becoming “one mind”. The learned mason understands that truth can only be observed but not possessed. Each observer views it from his or her own perspective and we must respect those perspectives.
We truly are the sum of all our parts. As each of us within the lodge adds our color and flavor to the mix, the fraternity as a whole is changed for good or ill and knowing that brings a renewed sense of responsibilities to our actions. Each lodge takes on a “corporate personality” unique to itself from all its individual brothers. Yes, we share the same rituals and customs in all lodges around the world with the exception of certain cultural or local landmarks here and there, but for the most part, we all are following the same ideals and advocating the same principles, in other words, we share the same mind, a collective consciousness. The collective consciousness is unique to the mix of brothers that make up each individual lodge, leaning it one direction or another and in the same way, all of those local collectives combine to create the collective consciousness of the fraternity of the world, the Great Masonic Empire. The quality and health of each lodge depends greatly on its makeup and no amount of ritual work or superficial improvements can cure an unhealthy lodge. Only when a mason is on the level with his brother can any lodge hope to be the place of regeneration and peace that it was intended to be. Only when our minds are accepting of one another’s unique perspectives and experience, sympathetic to one another’s needs, willing to uphold the rights and belief of others even if not our own, and can work cooperatively in regard to our corporate goals, do we see the health of the lodge improve and thrive. In every way, it begins with the individual and his unique world view but like a fractal, we combine and recombine. The ritual binds us together with our common mission to create better men resulting in a better world and a perfect society, in fact the practical object of Masonry is the physical and moral amelioration and the intellectual and spiritual improvement of individuals and society. The fraternity as a whole binds all our unique attributes into a seamless whole and we gain the strength that we could never possess individually to complete the Great Work. “Freemasonry has endured not because of its antiquity, its influence, or its social standing, but because there have been so many who have lived it. The effectiveness of Masonic teachings will always be the measure by which the outside world judges Freemasonry; the proof of Freemasonry is in our deeds and it is in our deeds that Freemasonry is made known to non-Masons. The only way that the Craft can be judged is by its product. The prestige of Freemasonry lies squarely on the shoulders of each of us.” – G. Wilbur Best
Living in peace is not just a hope in this admonition either. We are being charged with the reminder to “live in peace” as an order. Wayne Dyer, who transitioned in 2015, had an interesting quote about the choices we make in regard to our individual world view. He says it like this, “happy people live in a happy world, angry people live in an angry world…. Same world.” The message here is quite simple. It’s up to us what kind of lodge we will have and when each of us decides we live in lodge filled with potential, opportunity, and purpose, the lodge as a whole becomes a lodge with potential, opportunity and purpose. We become what we believe we are corporately and yes, happiness is a choice. I’m not saying that life is always easy or there aren’t times for unhappiness, even sadness but doing the everyday work in the quarry of the lodge should never be a drudgery or something that is dreaded nor should we be a party to any unhappiness brought unnecessarily to any brother within our ranks. As our brother Albert Pike wrote: “The great distinguishing characteristic of a Mason is a sympathy with his kind, He recognizes in the human race one great family, all connected with himself by those invisible links, and that mighty network of circumstance, forged and woven by God.” Civility plays a major factor not only in the peace of the lodge but also within our own hearts. We need to stay vigilant and keep our behavior in check as a brother not just for ourselves but for the health of the lodge as a whole. Tolerance, long suffering, understanding, are all part of our masonic obligations. When we control our behavior and bridle our tongue, we are doing our part to live in peace, avoiding unnecessary and unproductive quarrels and when we do, the lodge benefits and so does the fraternity. When we remind a brother in the most friendly manor to do the same, we raise a guardrail of standards that aid us in keeping our passion in due bounds and remind ourselves and one another of our high and kind office. We are equally reminded by Pike, “We must do justice to all, and demand it of all; it is a universal human debt, a universal human claim.”
In this final charge we here the blessing of God being placed upon us and our work as we prepare to leave the lodge room. Each man in his own heart and mind sees God in his own way and providing that freedom of thought and vision is one of the unique attributes of the craft that makes it the needed bridge and example for living in our world today. If only we could gain the world’s attention long enough to hear masonry’s reasonable, logical and simple truth. “That God is One, immutable, unchangeable, infinitely just and good; that Light will finally overcome Darkness, — Good conquer Evil, and Truth be victor over Error; — these, rejecting all the wild and useless speculations of the Zend-Avesta, the Kabbalah, the Gnostics. and the Schools, are the religion and Philosophy of Masonry.” – Albert Pike.
May God add his light to this work,
WB John Lawson
Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington
In my last Blog entry I laid out one way to break down the evolution of the Craft from its medieval origins to today. The way I described the development of the Craft through time was from the perspective of a man on the outside, looking in as an observer. In this entry I will take a different perspective, that of a man within the Craft.
As Masons we enjoy a certain amount of homogeneity of the Craft, such that when we travel geographically as Masons we pretty much understand the ritual and customs of the Lodges we visit, but would this be true if we could travel through time? Would you recognize a Lodge from 1390 C.E.? 1425? 1738? To put this in perspective a Lodge in 1390 could have the grandson of a Templar in attendance, 1425 was 67 years before Columbus landed in the Caribbean, and 1738 was before the US Revolution.
To answer these questions I have turned to what are collectively known as the Old Charges. The Old Charges are essentially the documents that spell out the rules, regulations and customs of Lodges in the time before the 1717 founding of the Grand Lodge of England. I have included Anderson’s Constitution (1738 C.E.) as a bookend to the development of Lodges. There are many Old Charges, but I have selected six (including Anderson). These six are, The Regius Poem 1390 C.E., The Cooke Manuscript 1425 C.E., the two Shaw Statues 1598 and 99 C.E., Old Rules of the Grand Lodge of York 1725 C.E. and Anderson’s Constitution 1738 C.E.
I will not be exploring the history of these documents, as that would be a whole blog in itself, but rather will call out familiar Lodge elements first appearing in Craft development in these documents.
My primary source for this blog is “Old Charges of Freemasonry: From the Original Manuscripts”, by WB Walter William Melnyk, Springfield-Hanby Lodge No. 767 in Springfield, Pennsylvania.
Regius Poem 1390 CE
We will begin with the elements of the Craft that are familiar to all of us that are found in the Regius Poem. Before I begin I have to admit that the language of these ancient documents is difficult to read. I have relied on translations and my best guesses when reading them, however any errors are mine, not those whose translations I relied on.
This period relates to what I called in my last Blog the Operative Era, or the period in which Masons were focused on building with stone. Lodges were at this point in history job site specific and Masons moved from one job to the next.
Before I tell you what the Regius Poem said of Masons, lets take just a moment and reflect on the life of a common person. This period is clearly the Middle Ages (476-1400 C.E.), and the feudal and manorial systems were still very much alive. This meant that the ‘average’ person had little property, few freedoms, no education and not much hope for improvement. The Black Death had just passed and the European population was decimated. In short the average person lived a short, difficult life. Now consider the life of a Mason, educated, free to travel and seek better work, free of many of the restrictions of the period. What follows is what these Masons valued and recorded in the Regius Poem.
Geometry, we all know its central place in our Masonic culture, and it shows up immediately in the Regius Poem, as does the man credited with its development Euclid. Its importance to the Craft in 1390 is no less than it is today. What you may not know is that geometry was considered as almost synonymous with architecture. You would also be interested to find the seven liberal arts, more or less as we know them today called out in the poem as valued by Masons.
Education being so important to the early Craft might seem odd, but you have to remember when it came to castles they were the most advanced military technology available at the time, they were the aircraft carriers of their day. Like today those charged with the design and construction of advanced technology, a castle in the Middle Ages, would have had to apply the most sophisticated engineering principals available.
The requirements of candidates would seem familiar, only free men, only men of good reputation (not thieves or murderers), a belief in God is required, as is a healthy body (here it is slightly different than today, but the idea is the same. You must be able to contribute.)
The requirement that a mason be a free man was a little more than you might understand as a modern mason. I have heard many say they thought it was a reflection of ideas concerning slavery in America and that the requirement that a man be free was used as an excuse to prohibit African Americans from membership. While this excuse may have been used, it was not based in fact. In the feudal and manorial systems a common man would have been ‘bonded’ to a lord and his land. You were not free to leave the manor or the service of the lord without the lord’s permission. There were not many free men, so admission to the craft would not have come easily. This apparently is the origin of the requirement that a man be free.
Other elements you would recognize are that all Masters are considered equal, a Mason should respect the chastity of a Brother Masters wife, you must keep secrets, you should obey the law and be a good citizen (subject) and you are expected to aid and support brother Masons. Also the Steward is mentioned as a supplier of refreshment. Masters and Fellows are mentioned, but here I believe Masters are the Masters of Lodges and Fellows are the highest rank under the Master, having the place in Lodge today of a Master Mason.
Cooke Manuscript 1425 CE
The next document I will draw from is the Cooke Manuscript. Even though it was written very near the Regius Poem in time, there are some significant developments in the Craft. I can’t say that these elements did not exist 35 years earlier, but they were not called out.
The Cooke manuscript offers some names we would all recognize, even if they were used differently in the Lodge. This is where we first see the name Tubal Cain and the King of Tyre mentioned. Jabal and Jubal, names similar to names we all know today are discussed. We also see the first mentions of Pythagoras and Hermes in this document.
Much of the wisdom of the Roman world was lost to the West after the fall of Rome, but one book Asclepius of the Corpus Hermeticum (the Corpus is a collection of works attributed to the man Hermes Trismegistus) had survived and Stone Masons were obviously aware of it. The study of geometry had never been lost, nor the names Euclid and Pythagoras.
The importance of two hollow pillars, in which secrets are kept, to the mythology of the Craft is discussed, as is the fact that Masons built King Solomon’s Temple.
To the requirement that a Mason respect the chastity of a Master’s wife a similar requirement for his daughter is added. The use of the word “hele” can be seen in the Cooke manuscript.
Finally, the idea that the Wardens would fill in for an absent Master is spelled out in the Cooke manuscript.
So, while we are talking about men who were definitely stonemasons we can see elements of our Lodge and ritual existed over 600 years ago.
The Shaw Statues 1598 and 1599 CE
The two Shaw Statutes bring us much closer to the Craft we know today. The first thing that they reveal is the presence of geographically fixed Lodges. Kilwinning and Edinburgh Lodges specifically are addressed in the Statutes. Before this period Lodges are generally discussed as temporary buildings and meeting places, here they exist, as we know them today, linked to a location. This is probably due in part to the evolutions of cities and towns in the period between 1390 and 1598. It should be noted that in the new cities and towns the men who governed, Burgesses, were often guild members. This reflects the development of a middle class that was dominated by crafts and businesses.
Other elements that are familiar are the presence of Deacons, the unanimous agreement of Masters, Wardens and Deacons on the admittance of an apprentice (someone different than today) and the idea that Lodges were somewhat sovereign under its master. Today each degree requires a minimum number of members to open, and the Cooke manuscript requires that that least six members be present for the operation of a Lodge.
We also see the first mention of “Cowans”, the election of a secretary and a clear requirement of dues.
Lodge records show that after the Shaw Statues gentlemen, not stonemasons were initiated as “Accepted” or “ Speculative” Freemasons. Some authors mark the Shaw Statutes as the date of the transition from Operative to Speculative. The last Shaw Statue was written in 1599, and we know that Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) was initiated in the 1640s. By anyone’s definition Ashmole was a modern speculative Freemason.
The Old Rules of the Grand Lodge of York 1725 CE
The Old Rules of the Grand Lodge of York adds to the establishment of our craft the use of the gavel (mallet), monthly meetings, strict examination of visitors and of course refreshments after meeting.
Anderson’s Constitutions 1738 CE
The Final document I will explore is Anderson’s Constitutions, 1738. Here we see the requirement in a belief in God, no women can be admitted, no bondsman a requirement that a candidate be of “good report” and a respect for the State’s government and laws. Other familiar developments include that Masters and Wardens be elected based on merit, officers must be fellow-crafts (this was before the Master Mason degree), there will be no talking in Lodge without the Master’s permission, there is now a Grand Master, and Grand Lodge can be called on decide disputes.
The phrase “meeting on the level” makes its first appearance, and probably most important the prohibition against discussing politics and religion in Lodge. By in large these Lodges would be familiar in operation and culture to us. While there were differences that are significant, like the absence of Master Masons and therefore the Master Mason’s degree drama.
This exploration of the evolution of our Craft through its documents has been cursory at best, but I think it shows that even in the earliest operative craft documents we do see a Craft we recognize. It feels to me though that we tend to see these similarities in terms of our present world rather than consider them in terms of the times in which they evolved. For example, the seven liberal arts cited in the Regius Poem. That level of education in 1390 would have been equivalent to a bachelor’s degree today, and when you consider the weight and authority of a Master in 1390 we can imagine that the term “Master’s degree” might apply to the man who became a specialist in geometry/masonry after completing his education in the seven liberal arts.
In the period of Anderson’s constitutions, less than 100 years after the reformation and the English Civil war, the prohibition against politics and religion in Lodge shows a wisdom of brotherhood we may have forgotten in today’s contentious political and religious environment and it might encourage us to tread gently in and out of the Lodge when we espouse our religious and political opinions, for the sake of that brotherhood we love.
There are other elements of culture that do not show up in the documents I cited that have affected the development of Freemasonry. The care of widows and orphans, as an example, is a biblical injunction that was shared as standard behavior in many medieval guilds. Religious drama such as is used in modern craft initiations was common practice (even required by law) in the medieval
guilds, as many were expected to perform religiously inspired plays in public in late medieval times. It’s not hard to imagine this evolving into degree dramas.
Finally I have not addressed the role of the Moderns and Ancients or the evolution of the Scottish or York rites in this analysis. No doubt meaningful insight could be gleaned from the addition of those traditions. It is also possible that some of the elements I have stated originated in a particular document may in fact be present in older documents I have not addressed. I do not intend this to be an exhaustive exploration, but as I said a cursory review intended to demonstrate that our Craft as shared some fundamental traits since its earliest formal documents.
Finally I would hope that you take a moment and reflect on the privilege of being a member in a 600 plus year old tradition that was born in a dark and difficult time, has adapted to and participated in history, science, philosophy and politics, and has managed to preserve its most ancient tenets. Let that sink in as you pin on that lapel pin, and let the weight of it inform you actions in and out of Lodge, but in particular when you consider admitting a man to our Lodge. You will be entrusting our traditions to them for safe keeping, just as they were passed on to you, we owe a debt of obligation to the men who came before us to seek the best of men, rough ashlars they may be, so that they can realize their potential as men and Freemasons.
Up to now, the charge has focused on the obligations and civility of Brothers to one another but in this next and critical sentence, we are asked to look outside of our tiled doors and look onward to those beyond our craft and be the difference in the world in which we live.
“These Generous principles extend further, for every human being has a claim upon your kind office.”
Here we are reminded that although we are fraternal brothers, looking out for one another, there are expectations for our services outside our tiled doors as well. So far, we have concentrated on our relationship within the lodge and our charge has special admonishments for that focus but now it extends our view and we are asked to look up from our mystic ties, and embrace the world around us.
This line of the closing charge can seem almost counter-intuitive because we have clearly distinguished ourselves separately from the profane world outside and claimed a special allegiance and communion with our brothers. It is true that we enjoy a unique masonic environment where ritual, discipline and order affords us the comfort of like minds and common purpose and what an amazing and wonderful environment it is. We can clearly see that the tenets of masonry, when observed, can create the framework for a much improved social structure, however, we are of little value to the world around us if we keep these ideals hidden within the lodges and the work we do here in the quarry to better ourselves and each other are designed for us to venture beyond the comforts of commonality and set out into a world that at best is a patchwork quilt of unpredictable values and a labyrinth of confusing and conflicting ideals. It is easy to fall into the trap of becoming judgmental towards those who are not part of our order as we watch chaos reign supreme while we hold within our teachings the order the world so desperately needs to embrace.
I like the way Kahlil Gibran in the book The Prophet expresses how we should view this generosity we are charged to extend to every human being in the section entitled “on Giving”-
You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? And what is fear of need but need itself? Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little of the much which they have–and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome. And there are those who have little and give it all. These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty. There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward. And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism. And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space. Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding; and to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving. And is there aught you would withhold? All you have shall someday be given; therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’.
You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish. Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you. And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream. And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving? And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed? See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving. For in truth it is life that gives unto life while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.
Our Most Worshipful Grand Master, Jim Mendoza this year has asked us all to focus on “Being the Difference”. That starts with a healthy perspective of who we are as men and as masons, what our motives are and what our goals for being a mason are. All our self-talk needs to be uplifting and healthy. Our fraternal conversations need to be void of conflict and unproductive comments. We must ever ask ourselves if we have squared our actions and are keeping our passions within due bounds. We must ever discipline ourselves to be worthy to call ourselves by the name that Kings and Potentates of many ages have claimed as the greatest title that can be bestowed upon a man in this life, that of a freemason. And we must come to realize that all of this self-improvement of becoming a better man is for a greater purpose than ourselves. Being the difference, one brother, one community, one nation at a time, realizing that we are all equal in the eyes of God and all worthy of his boundless generosity, then further realizing that we are His instruments in a world that needs our understanding, generosity, and sympathy and that we have the power to change the world and bring about the ancient hope of a perfect society. We all need to give ourselves the time to focus on the mission outside the door as well as the work within and this line in the closing charge reminds us that our work is far from over when we pull out of the parking lot because every human being has a claim upon our kind office.
I am pleased to share the words of RW John Keliher, Grand Secretary Emeritus of the Grand Lodge of Washington, said on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the March of Unity.
Time is a river that carries in its current a distillate of everything that exists along its banks. It has carried those of us who were fortunate enough twenty years ago to come together to demonstrate Freemasonry’s breadth, to this moment, and we are privileged to be with you today. Many who marched in that first demonstration of Masonic Unity have demitted our Lodges and been received in a higher Jurisdiction. Yet they are with us still. The memory of that first March of Unity and those who walked together in brotherhood remains vivid, alive, and it warms my heart.
Two-thousand and five hundred years ago a Greek named Heraclitus observed that the universe was comprised of minute particles that were always coming into existence and then, going he knew not where. He said that our existence was so permeated by change that a man could not step in to the same river twice. Some ancient Greek said Heraclitus was only partially right. If we are all made of atoms, and they were always changing, the same man could not step into the same river once because by the time his toe hit the water, his atoms and the river’s had moved on. Everything was changed.
The difference between the river of time and and human history is that time constantly changes and some people cling to the past, hoping that by preserving the past they may dam up the river of time and ease the pain that always accompanies change. That is understandable, not every change turns out to be beneficial. But change is the inevitable consequence of being alive.
Our own bodies replace all their cells every seven years but each cell contains within it the memory of its structure and function, its place in the body, and its purpose. The wonder of life is that every particle of our anatomy possesses this memory. It argues strongly that this is a purposeful universe and that we are a purpose filled people. And in Masonry we have found a fraternity with a purpose, a purpose to inculcate ideas that lift humanity up and build a just society: Masonry teaches the ideals of the brotherhood of all mankind, charity to all in need, and the fatherhood of God, our Creator. We have changed but we have maintained that essential identity.
This is not the same community it was twenty years ago. This not the same Fraternity it was twenty years ago. Despite the anger many of our fellow citizens obviously feel, in spite of the fear – much of it justified – that the scales of justice are not balanced, this is a better community, we are a better Fraternity, and this is – regardless of the headlines in the papers and the media’s love affair with violence, mayhem, and discord – a better world – made better by getting together as we have for twenty years to recognize the the family of man is one. Like the river, mankind is a stream that carries in its current many separate particles but all are part of the same river.
It was our purpose, two decades ago, to demonstrate Masonic unity. Unity is not the same as uniformity. We came together to celebrate the over arching principles that made us Freemasons and left us free to exhibit Masonry in forms that held in veneration the memories of our origins, celebrated the complexity of freedom itself, acknowledged the validity of Masonry’s belief in the dignity and value of all persons, and championed respect for beliefs in a Supreme Being who had created, loved and redeemed creation. Each year, the Brethren have walked together, worshiped together, shared Fraternal ties together, and, perhaps most importantly, broken bread together as Masons, one people, one family.
One can march through DuPont but not seem to travel far but that is deceptive. This march of unity began several hundred years ago in a land divided between those who were free and those who were not. Irish slaves were eventually replaced in the American colonies by African slaves. The freedom of one people was achieved at the cost to the other of that precious right, freedom. After its vicious, divisive civil war, this society stumbled forward, segregated, distrustful of immigrants of all kinds, and polarized over religious differences and moved into the industrial revolution in which people fled the farm to work in the city, but carried with them old prejudices and only slowly, very slowly, developed a tepid tolerance for ethnic, racial, and religious differences. The road to DuPont has wound through Detroit and Pittsburgh, Selma and Watts, and while it runs through DuPont, it does not end here. It leads – well, we don’t know where it leads, not exactly, and we have no idea how long that trek will take. But we are a part of a pilgrimage to a better world. There have been many men and women whose feet, naked or shod, have beaten this path before us, who got us to this point in mankind’s travel toward a just and equitable world, and many more will follow. Although our journey may be rough rugged and dangerous, although we may be haunted by fears and uncertainties, and though we may not live to see the promised land, we will, before we have crossed that last river, have participated in the march of humanity toward its purposed destiny: unity, peace, concord, one family under God. We will have done our part.
You, my Brethren, are a part of history in the making. This humble march is part of an epic journey and your decision to be here today ensures that tomorrow will be a better day for all of our children’s children’s children. Today is a proud day in the saga of Masonry because you are here, here in spirit of Masonic unity.
But our journey is not over. Perhaps it has only begun. The people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness before getting to the promised Land; to date we have walked together only half that time. I do not expect to complete that march with you, my brethren, not physically, anyway. But if you are here in the year 2036, the centennial of my birth, I will be with you at least in spirit. The March for Unity goes on although aging marchers may slip from the ranks. But each of you, is a part of a great movement to build a better world, one person a time, beginning with our selves. And it is my faith in God, my faith you, that gives me hope that in a day not far off, we shall be truly one people, one nation, one fraternal bond of brothers, indivisible with freedom and justice for all.
May God continue bless, preserve and prosper the Most Worshipful Grand Lodges of Masons of Prince Hall and Jurisdiction and the Grand Lodge of Washington, and all Masons, wheresoever dispersed.
In part 4 we take a look at the next line of the charge that like all others is pregnant with meaning but often overlooked.
“You have been enjoined to remind a brother in the most friendly manner of his faults, to aid in his reformation and to defend his character”.
This line in itself speaks so much about ourselves, our brotherhood as a whole and should be looked at very carefully especially in light of our obligations and civility towards us as fraternal brothers.
First, let’s look at the word “enjoined” for a moment. As with much of masonic landmarks, words seldom change from the original making some of the meaning a bit obscure. Such is the case with this word because it is not commonly used in our everyday language. So what does it mean to be “enjoined”? Well, the definition is to “instruct or urge (someone) to do something.” In other words it is more than just a simple recommendation but emphasizes a deeper responsibility to take action.
We have been brought up in a society that most notably, since the 1960-70s, have been known as the “Me generation” and there have been repercussions to those ideals that have rippled through our society since then that have a direct impact on our response to this admonition of the charge. So let’s take a moment to look at how our society has evolved in how we relate towards one another by looking at architecture. You might ask, architecture? What possible connection could there be? Read on…
In the late 1800s houses were built with, manual labor and dependency on one another. We built common wells, common buildings, and common stables all with manual tools that took manpower that often required our neighbor’s assistance out of necessity. Many of our homes were built with the aid and support of the community, most notably we recall the term “barn raising” as an example, everyone banded together to help one another in the most basic of ways as most every labor was by hand. We were a society that had a much greater dependency on cooperation out of necessity and that necessity forged relationships and friendships effecting our social order. We built our homes with large front porches as a result of that kind of society so that most evenings we would share the rest and rewards of a hard day’s work in which many times we had already shared together. We inherently got to know the personal lives of one another creating almost unbreakable bonds. The front porch became a place where everything was discussed, planned, and shared from the work of the day to our personal aspirations and dreams and represented a society that worked and grew together. Helping one another in every aspect of our lives was a given.
By the time World War 2 had come, our country was in the process of building an incredible infrastructure. Many new inventions had already begun to make life simpler, giving individuals and families much more “free time” away from menial tasks that had before taken up the majority of time. Our Brother Henry Ford’s implementation of the assembly lines for automobiles, innovations such as electricity, telephones and television began to take hold. Movies and record players began replacing live performances, a national highway system propelled us anywhere we wanted to go, massive power grids with lock and dams brought electricity and irrigation to the far reaches of the west, all brought about the amazing world we live in today but at the same time changed the way we interacted with one another more profoundly than we could have ever anticipated.
Architecture changed once again as houses began to evolve with larger backyards for families during the baby boom, no longer having the need for a large front porch nor the helpful hands of the neighbors and the front was drafted out of modern house design in favor of the larger private back patio where changes of modern society brought about by all the promises of modern technology had begun to express itself through focusing less and less on the need of community necessity and more and more on the autonomous individual family.
But it didn’t stop there and by the late 1950s it had become clear to sociologists that the children within the families that had slowly begun to separate themselves from community were now separating themselves from each other within their own family structure, Before the 1960s, family’s social structure was for the most part a cohesive social unit, same movies, same music, and same books, but soon with newer and newer inventions and conveniences, the youth of the baby boom generation set out on its own. They coined this phenomenon as “the generation gap” and developed new standards of conduct that were clearly unique from their parents. The need for cooperation that had been lost between the 1800s and the 1940s in society as a whole had now passed on to the family unit.
We are now living in the aftermath of this change in society where even marriage and family are in the minority. In some strange ways we are ever more dependent on the system of automation and technology conveniences we have created than ever before while at the same time have become less and less dependent on social interaction. Today’s homes seldom have a front porch unless it is for ornamentation and the larger backyards and patios are surrounded often with large 5 and 6 foot fences and locked gates to keep the neighbors out. Many of our homes have become fortresses with security signs reminding all who approach that they are being watched. We have come a long way from barn raising and front porch chats to Facebook, blogs, messaging and Instagram. All amazing but with social implications of their own.
Masonry is that sublime education that reaches beyond the effects of the maelstrom of external effects and asks us to “know thyself”. We are taught through our arts and craft to become better men and a large part of becoming a better man is to become aware of not only ourselves but one another, and the world around us, first a brotherhood as a proofing ground of what we have learned, then as all other roles we play in this life. We concentrate first on reclamation self so that we can become useful to our greater goal of creating a perfect society. Never before has masonry and its sublime teachings been so needed as it is in today’s society where we have “gained the world but lost our souls”.
Arguably, nowhere is there any other organization that has the answer to society’s challenges than Freemasonry. Our gentle but transformative craft first sharpens the mind and encourages us to square our own actions and circumscribe our own passions, taking ownership of our destiny but what good is that reclamation if we do not share that great gift of becoming better if it is not shared? It is true, we must square our living stone with personal ethos and accountability, no one can do that for us, but each of us brings to our order a perspective and a vision uniquely ours that aids in the reclamation of one another with perspectives and lessons that we do not have on our own. There is no individual achievement that can compare to what we can achieve collectively and in order to gain that greatness, we must learn how to cooperate once again on the simplest level as we did before and this line in the charge binds us together and urges us to remember that we are not an island nor can we remain so. We often ask why our numbers are in decline. I would offer this as a large part of the reason. Only when we are able to raise masonry’s relevance higher that the noise and confusion of world gone mad with a thousand shinny distractions will we be able to help mankind find its strength in one another again. A society of individuals cannot stand. The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is very difficult to break. This is a common symbol in America on the Dime, the senate building and gold pieces. E pluribus unum, our motto and on the Great Seal of the United States; Latin for “Out of many, one”. Masonry is the solution to bringing these principles back into American society that our modern age of convenience and distraction has inadvertently obscured.
Now comes the rub, as Shakespeare would say. To remind a brother in the most friendly manner of his faults is an art in itself as no one wants having their shortcomings handed to them. Yet we are clearly counselled to do so. Masonry holds us accountable, not only for ourselves but for one another and we are reminded here that although we are most certainly responsible for our own actions, our actions have consequences and sometimes have far reaching implications to our brothers and to the craft. Knowing that we are under the watchful eye of loving brothers who have only our best interest in mind should not only be NOT offensive but should instead be reassuring and necessary.
The risk we take in how we choose our words to our brother when a mistake is made is either where friendships are forged or misunderstandings begun and so great and thoughtful care needs to be taken by using the most friendly manner possible. It helps to not work alone. It is a good rule of thumb to have at least one other brother present when counselling. Especially when you can anticipate potential bad feelings both as witness and as an additional opinion. It is important to not let wrongdoing or error go unchecked either. The slippery slope of complacency begins by doing nothing for fear of doing something wrong and it is often easier to “overlook” issues than to confront them head on and doing “the loving thing” and letting error go is often an excuse for doing nothing and contributes to the erosion of our values. Of course, most often, that just leaves the problem for someone else or worse, to give the impression that it doesn’t matter. The old adage “saying nothing is a cousin to acceptance” is a very true one. Holding our standards high and immovable is what has kept our craft on a firm foundation from time immemorial.
Over the last few generations in our society, we have mastered the art of situation ethics in which the lines are blurred so much that terms like “what difference does it make” or “whatever works for you” are becoming commonplace. Masonry holds to a higher standard beyond mere opinion and we need to be strong enough to hold fast to what we know are immovable truths even when we anticipate speaking to a brother could be uncomfortable. We need to check ourselves to insure that our motives are pure and dispassionate, sticking only to the principles on which we are upholding. Let the truth speak for itself. Truth needs no help from the sidelines. Another good rule of thumb is to ask the question: “If everyone in the lodge were doing what this brother is doing, would it be a better lodge or a worse lodge?” The answer can help you to know when it is appropriate to speak with a brother instead of letting emotion drive your decision. If the decision is to speak to them, then reassure the brother that we are all working together for the common good and all is forgiven and or understood. Maintain confidences and work towards a resolution that is acceptable to all with an expectation of improvement and always offer help.
The last line of the charge admonishes us to defend our brother’s character. In this graceless age of name-calling, accusation and innuendo in faceless emails, text messages and whispers at the water cooler, we need to pay special attention to this last segment of the this sentence and be careful that we are not sending more brothers out the back door than we have coming through the front by our loose tongues and rude comments even when we feel justified. As mentioned above, we have come a long way from the social order of interdependency towards one another and along with that a natural appreciation, respect and care towards each other has suffered as a result. As society moves forward we are becoming autonomous creatures leaving us vulnerable to our weaker natures of selfishness and short sightedness, making it easier to speak ill of one another, share potentially embarrassing and unnecessary personal information or just pass on hurtful gossip. We have an obligation brothers to NOT do that and I know as you read this you all can recall both what has come into your ears that you know shouldn’t have and those things that have rolled off your tongue that you should have remained there.
As we consider this line of the closing charge it is good to remember that we are the sum of all our parts. Both our actions and the actions of our brothers effect the craft in a profound way. We can either choose to improve our craft by our kind and supportive words and work as brothers to aid in the improvement of our society, our families, and our brotherhood or fall into the unbridled nature of the profane outside our doors. If we are to be the difference, it will start and end in the information we exchange and the attitude we assume, not just in the lodge room in the light but in dim hallways and parking lots. As brothers we want to surround ourselves with those who build each other up and give us strength and encouragement and avoid any conversations or comments that tear a brother down. Not only avoid but call out those who make such comments and remind THEM “in the most friendly manner” of their obligation to uphold and defend their brother’s character. We can be the difference and together strengthen and improve the fraternity as a whole and an example to the world outside our doors.
May God add light to this effort,
W.B. John Lawson
Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington
After years of research I have begun to view the evolution of Freemasonry through the lens of a new theory of biological evolution called “punctuated equilibrium.” Punctuated equilibrium holds that evolution, change, in a species does not happen gradually but suddenly. In simple terms it holds that the relationship between a species and its environment reaches equilibrium, balance, and stays static until something changes in the environment and then the species will select only those members who can survive the change to reproduce. This results in a fossil record that shows that long periods of stability in a species with periods of rapid change, then long periods of stability.
In the case of Freemasonry I have found a similar process at work. I have broken the development of the Craft into five distinct periods, each initiated by an event that demanded evolution or extinction. These five periods or eras are, Operant Craft Masonry, Pre-Speculative Masonry, Speculative Masonry, Post-speculative Masonry, and Philanthropic Masonry. I like to imagine each of these stable periods as mountain lakes, ending at a waterfall and feeding the next lake. The waterfalls represent the change or crisis that caused an in-equilibrium (instability) that required the Craft to evolve.
Operant Craft Masonry (ends in 1350) is exactly what it sounds like, stonemason guilds working to build the great stone structures of Europe’s medieval period. This period is characterized by the lack of “accepted masons” and that the work of these masons was centered on construction. In this period masons would move from one job site to another, thereby making Lodges temporary entities that were literally lodges for living and working. Part of what brought stability to this period was the feudal style of government based on the manorial system. In this period the State and the Church limited social mobility. This stable period was ended by the impact of three environmental factors, climate change (Europe cooled considerably), the great famine (caused by climate change) and the Black Death. These three forces all hit in about 50 years and saw Europe’s population drop by more than half. That drop in labor resulted in competition for the remaining work force, enabling the common man and the craftsman to seek better pay and better living conditions. It also saw the beginnings of towns or burgs, which were often governed in part by guild members.
The Pre-Speculative Era (1350-1642) is defined by the decline in the masonic guilds being focused exclusively on construction, the first appearance of “accepted” masons, the involvement of mason’s in the community beyond just building (burgesses in the towns for example), the fixing of Lodges in one geographic location, and a growing interest in the Craft’s mysteries.
The period between 1350 and 1642 saw the beginning of the renaissance, the protestant reformation, the English civil wars, and the growth of the middle class. European educated elite were obsessed with the previously lost knowledge of the Classical age that was flowing back into Western Europe after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Masonic lore held that as a Craft it’s science (geometry/ architecture) had come to them from Euclid and Hermes Trismegistus (See the Cooke Manuscript circa 1425). When gentlemen scholars, already hungry for more ancient wisdom, learned this they were naturally curious about what else was held secret in masonry. Amongst the “accepted masons” a new type of mason shows up “speculative” masons, who tended to be from among the educated nobles of Europe.
In 1599 William Shaw the Warden of Masons in Scotland issued his statues. There were two elements to the Statues that initiated the change that would create the “Speculative era”. First he fixed Lodges in geographic locations, as we know them today and he called Masons to include the “art of memory” in their instructions.
The art of memory was more than just memorizing lines in a ritual, but was an integral part of a spiritual system called “Hermeticism. ” Hermeticism takes its name from Hermes. The subject of hermeticism could easily fill volumes on its own, so I will not dive to deeply here, except to say it touches on topics like astrology, alchemy and Kabbalah. It seems that Shaw had met with famous hermeticist Giordano Bruno, and had been influenced by him. In the Shaw Statutes we see the codified origin of much of the mystical component we know in modern Masonry. Shaw’s motivations for writing these Statutes is unfortunately lost as he died three years later. What we do know is that the stage was set for the great golden age of masonry. It’s important to note that the appearance of Hermetic subjects in the Lodge coincided with its appearance in society in general.
The Speculative Era (1650-1826) was initiated by two events; the Protestant Reformation and the English Civil war. This era is marked by the decline of operative masons, and the ascendance of speculative masons. Back near the end of the Operant era, just before the Templars were arrested the French King Philip manipulated events so that he could place his ally on the throne of St Peter (the Pope). Over the next few years the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignon (1309-1377), so that the King of France could control the Pope. Eventually the Italians named an alternative Pope and for a few decades there was two Popes. These popes famously wrestled for power including but not limited to efforts to use sorcery to defeat their each other. Of course this weakened the sanctity of the Papacy in the eyes of Europeans, and when combined with papal abuses of power obvious during this period a resistance to the power of Rome began to grow, culminating in Martin Luther’s famous 99 theses (1517) that initiated the Reformation.
Protestant or Catholic was the question that decided what side of numerous wars your nation would be on. At the same time, the right of a King to rule based on ‘divine right’ came into question, leading to the second great conflict of this period namely whether kings or parliaments would rule. These competing forces tore Europe apart for over a century.
During this period of uncertainty Masonry, for the most part, seems to have attracted men from both (all four) camps and is probably the source of our prohibition against religion and politics being discussed in Lodge. That said, it is clear from the public lives of many of our Brethren of this period like Benjamin Franklin and François Marie Arouet (Voltaire) that the topic of democracy was important to them and they were active in bringing it to fruition in both the American and French Revolutions. I personally believe it was the safety of association that our tyled lodges provided that was the incubator of much that developed in this period.
The list of prominent Freemasons of this era reads like a who’s who list of revolutionaries, scientist, and reformers of the period. While there is little evidence that Masonry as an order conspired to change the world, there is substantial evidence that the lessons and tenets of Freemasonry held in the hearts and minds of her members did change the world through their participation in many reforming political movements.
Unfortunately with the fame that came to the order during this era were planted the seeds that were nearly her undoing. Three events that occurred between 1776 and 1826 created the crisis that caused our next evolutionary adaptation. The Illuminati, founded in 1776, the French Revolutions de-evolving into the Terror 1789, and the Morgan Affair 1826 all cast a very dark shadow over our order in the eyes of many non-members and the backlash almost destroyed Masonry.
The French revolution (1789-1799) had many causes, but primary among them was the poverty experienced by society that was caused by the Seven Years War (American French and Indian War) and the French participation in the American Revolution (1776-1784). In 1793 the results of the French Revolution degenerated into the Terror (1793-94). After the Revolution was over Freemasonry was accused of being the agitator that caused the revolution. Of course this is not true, but the accusation stuck in the minds of many non-masons.
The Bavarian Illuminati was an order founded on May 1, 1776 by Adam Weishaupt “to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice, to control them without dominating them.” From the start the Illuminati were associated with Freemasons and when they fell in to disrepute the association was exaggerated. In 1798 there was what is known as the ‘Illuminati Scare’ in New England, which held that the Illuminati were infiltrating and manipulating government. Combined with suspicions that they and Freemasons had orchestrated the French Revolution a general air of suspicion was building in the public eye toward Freemasons.
In 1826 a man named William Morgan threatened to publish all of the Masonic secrets he had learned as an initiate. Obviously there were Masons who spoke out against this action, and when Morgan was kidnapped and never seen again, it was assumed Freemasons murdered him. Several prominent Masons were accused of his murder and some did serve prison sentences. Today it is widely believed that individual Freemasons acting on their own murdered him, even though there was reports that Morgan survived and was sighted in Europe. In any event the entire episode set badly with the public and forever blemished the reputation of the order that opened this era with such prominence. It seemed that the claims of a worldwide Masonic conspiracy had been proven on the home front. In New York, where the Morgan Affair occurred, the number of Masons dropped by more than half. Soon after Americas first third political party was formed based on anti-masonic ideology.
The Post Speculative Era (1826-1945) opened with Masonry in decline. For the first time in it’s history being a Freemason was not necessarily a good thing. In the world Napoleon had finally been defeated and France was again a monarchy, America had defeated England in what has been called our second war of independence, and the tensions that would lead to the American civil war had begun to build.
Because of the negative publicity generated at the end of the Speculative era it was less common that a prominent politician would be actively, openly, involved in Masonry.
Most Masons would be at home in the Blue Lodges of this era, our rituals and customs being largely unchanged. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite had come to Charleston, from France, via Jamaica. The period of “higher degree” development ended and the AASR was composed of 33 degrees. While Freemasonry was recovering in some areas it had not regained the vitality it had known before the Morgan Affair.
After the Civil War a former Confederate general and polymath named Albert Pike ascended to the Grand Commander position of the Southern Jurisdiction of the AASR. In an effort to revitalize the fraternity Pike published in 1872 Morals and Dogma, a tome of 861 pages that was a compendium to the degrees of the order. By 1884 he had revised all the degrees, and the Scottish Rite blossomed into a vital and expanding rite.
The degrees are set in historical periods, teaching the moral, ethical and spiritual lessons in the context of antiquity. It is my opinion that by focusing so much of the degree work on ancient subjects Pike unintentionally focused the Craft on past glories. Even today, outside of the philanthropic activities of the craft, much of our scholarship and energy is devoted to the past, not the future. During the Speculative Era the luminaries of Freemasonry applied their energies to advancement of all mankind, thru democratic reforms, scientific discovery and social activism. While there are certainly examples of progressive masons today, where are the specifically Masonic contributions to the modern civil rights movement? Where is our great debate on the moral and ethical issues of our day? Has there been a presentation in your Lodge on scientific breakthroughs? In the last few years there have been many paradigm-shifting discoveries, have we shared in the excitement that they produced? How long after the end of the Civil War, after the Slaves were emancipated, after the African Americans got the vote before White Masonry recognized the Prince Hall Lodges? We certainly were not in the lead. Can you imagine the Freemasons of Franklin and Washington’s era being so slow to champion the cause of civil rights? The power of Pike’s contribution changed the course of the Craft, in order to save it from the ravages that came at the end of the previous era. Our prohibition against discussing politics in Lodge seems to have silenced our voice in world affairs. Its understandable, but perhaps its time to reevaluate.
This era ended with the last of the World Wars. The world had changed and Masonry was as affected as everything else. Unfortunately our retrograde focus left us playing catch up with the rest of the world.
I have named the next era the Philanthropic Era (1945 to present). It opens with thousands of men coming home from war looking for the fellowship they had known in war and found it in Masonry. In many lodges the numbers of members swelled, and many new Lodges were formed. These men brought a sense of public service and patriotism to the Craft, and from that the great Masonic charities grew. Today’s Lodges and concordant bodies raise millions of dollars each year to help the needy. Children’s hospitals, reading programs, support for widows and orphans. Today the face of Masonry is best recognized at the fundraiser.
Unfortunately the upheaval of the sixties saw a change in fortune for Masonry. While the men of the greatest generation flocked to Freemasonry their sons did not. The reasons could fill a book, and I will not go into them today. What is important here is that they did not join. Today, across America numbers are dropping as the men who joined in the 40s and 50s pass away. The threat to the Craft is as great as after the Morgan Affair. My own Lodge has lost approximate 40% of its membership in the last 10 years.
To further complicate things in the early 2000s Dan Brown wrote the Da Vinci code, which later became a blockbuster movie. Nicolas Cage stared in National Treasure, another blockbuster. Both movies had components of the legends of Freemasonry, and as a result interest in our Fraternity grew again. Cable media has been flooded with pseudohistorical documentaries about Freemasonry and as I said in an earlier Blog a new story about Freemasonry is evolving that is not necessarily true and likely will not benefit the Craft in the long run.
What’s next? If the pattern I have described holds we are approaching another crisis. Diminishing numbers alone will threaten the Craft soon and combined with the false history that is being developed in the media we face a real dilemma.
But with crisis comes opportunity. We stand now at a threshold, we can choose to take a leadership role in the world once again. In addition to the great charities we support we are uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in religious tolerance and we have 300 years experience with civility in debate. In a time of such angry bipartisan disagreement and disrespect we could be the example that shows the way forward. Once our great fraternity was leading man toward the great unification of humanity and I think the time has come for us to do that again. While I would willing admit in many small ways we still do, but in the larger sense we seem to have rested comfortably on our laurels for almost 200 years. During the early speculative era we provided Catholic and Protestant, Royalist and Parliamentarian a place to meet that was safe, based in their common humanity and belief in a God. From this grew the tolerance that today allows me a Buddhist to sit comfortably in Lodge with a Christian. As a Democrat I am able to enjoy the fellowship of Republicans. As a white southern man I can take the hand of an African American in friendship and brotherhood and as a scientist I can marvel at the wonders of the universe with a brother who defines himself as a religious man. Because of this experience, I can imagine the Masonic Temples becoming a place where the advancement of science could be presented to the public, a place where difficult topics that currently divide our Nation are discussed in a safe and civil manner. Perhaps the time has come for us to be the shepherds of society, protecting and guiding society to a better, calmer state, not a particular place, but along a particular path that honors the humanity of all people. I am encouraged by the efforts of progressive Masons who are calling for those of us who seek the Light to become the Light for others.