You are preparing to become a Freemason.
How are you preparing? You have the ambition to put upon your breast a tiny pin, representing the Square and Compasses; an ambition to be known as a Master Mason; an ambition to join the great Fraternity of which, perhaps, your father was a member; an ambition to be one of that large brotherhood of which you may have heard so much and of which you know so little.
So you asked a friend, whom you knew to be a Freemason, how to proceed. He gave you a petition to fill out and sign. You were asked to declare your belief in God, and probably your friend explained to you that "God" here means the Supreme Architect of the Universe, call Him by what name you will. He may be to you God or Jehovah or Adonai or Buddha or Allah . . . it makes no difference to Freemasons by what Name you call Him, so there is within you the humble acknowledgement that you are a creature of His, and that He reigns over the heavens and the earth.
It is all very simple; the other questions are of a practical and mundane character, and give you no hint of what a degree may be, in what sort of a ceremony of initiation you will participate, what kind of a fraternity Freemasonry is.
And so there was no hint given you in the paper you signed as to what sort of preparation you should make to become a Freemason. Freemasonry jealously guards her reputation, which is of humility and self-effacement as well as of secrecy and good works.
Freemasonry does not advertise herself. While her contacts with the world are numerous and commonplace, she works so silently, so quietly, that the world knows little of her labors. You seldom hear Freemasonry discussed in public, and references to Freemasonry in the literature of all countries are so cunningly concealed, that you, and all others not members of the Craft, have almost nothing to guide you as to what you should do to and for yourself before you take your Entered Apprentice Degree.
But if you seek, you shall find, in Freemasonry as well as elsewhere. if the friend to whom you went for your petition is a well informed Freemason -- and not all good Freemasons are as well informed, or as articulate about what they know, as you might like -- he will tell you certain things. in case he cannot or will not speak, some of those things are set down here.
You asked a friend to take your petition into his lodge. His lodge is his Masonic home. Around it cluster all those happy memories, all those beautiful thoughts, all those heart-searching experiences, which go with the word "home." You asked him, therefore, to pay you the complement of taking you into one of the sacred places of his life; in the hope that it will be, and the implied promise that if admitted it shall be, to you one of the sacred places of your life.
You asked not a stranger, but a friend, for this. And his first reply was to direct you to express yourself as to your belief in God.
It does not take a very clever man to see that with such a beginning -- the call of friendship, the sacredness of home, and the belief in God -- Freemasonry is not a joke, not a foolish fun organization, not a club of "good fellows"; not an organization to join as one would a Board of Trade, for business purposes. it is obvious to any one who thinks, that Freemasonry must be dignified, beautiful, impressive, that it must have a real meaning, a real part to play in a man's life.
Therefore, Brother-to-be, make your preparations to become a Freemason as you would prepare for any other great and ennobling experience of life.
When your petition was signed and delivered, the matter was out of your hands. The lodge assigned a committee to ascertain if you are worthy, from their standpoint, to be of the lodge. Your name was voted on, in due time. You were elected. Now you are notified to present yourself at the West Gate for initiation.
When you go, go clean in mind, in body and in heart.
Take from your mind and cast away forever all thought that there is a "lodge goat" awaiting you, or that your friends are going to "have fun with you." There are fun-loving organizations which cast aside solemnity and spend most of their evenings in laughter and play. But in a Master Mason's lodge, never! There is not a word spoken, an action performed, which can hurt your dignity or your feelings; there is no torture, physical or mental, to degrade you or Freemasonry. There is no "horse play" or other unhappiness awaiting you.
What is done with you has a meaning; the part you play is symbolic, and intended to make a "deep and lasting impression on your mind" of truths, the full understanding of which make you a better man. Put all fear from your mind; remember that is among friends you go, and that the first question they asked you was of your belief in a common Father; men do not start thus who begin to play a joke.
Go clean in body, as you would go clean to a christening or a baptism. nor resent this instruction here; there is intended no insinuation that you are not always clean. but go made clean expressly for this ceremony; though you have but just come from the bath for the evening, go once more and bathe with the thought that you are preparing now for a great step, that the water which laves your body is also, symbolically, cleansing your mind and your heart. Put on your freshest linen, and let its spotlessness be symbolic of that spotlessness your thoughts should have. For if you neglect these things you will be sorry, afterwards; what Freemasonry does to you is done to you, not your brethren that will be, and Freemasonry will mean more to you as you approach her Altar humbly and purified.
Finally, Brother-to-be, go with a humble and contrite heart. If it is in your power to do so, put from your heart all evil. If you have an enemy, make an effort to forgive him before you enter the portals of the Temple. If you have don a sin, do your best to honestly regret it before you pass through the West Gate. if you have wronged any one, make up your mind to right the wrong; you will be the happier man later in the evening if you do. And just before you leave your home, go alone in a quiet room, and, all unashamed, get upon your knees before that God in whom you believe, and ask His blessing upon what you are about to do. pray humbly for the wit to understand what you are about to hear. Ask that it may be given to you to be a good Freemason, to be a brother to others who will be brothers to you, a real workman in the quarry, erecting to Him a Temple not made with hands.
So shall you become an Entered Apprentice with the greatest benefit to your brethren, and real joy to yourself.
Author: Carl H. Claudy
An essay printed in 1925 by the Committee on Masonic Education and Service of the Grand Lodge of Texas A.F.&A.M. and mentioned in the Short Talk Bulletin "Truly Prepared" (May, 1926)
An experience in freemasonry usually upsetting to the newly-raised brother is his first visit to a lodge in another jurisdiction than his own. Having carefully been taught a certain ritual, in all probability with positive emphasis upon the necessity of being “letter perfect,” he learns with a distinct shock that the ritual in other States differs from his own, and these differ each from the other.
If he converses with those “well informed brethren who will always be as ready to give as you will be to receive instruction” he is more than apt to be met with a puzzled, “I don’t know, I’m sure, just why they are different from us, but of course. ours is correct.”
The riddle becomes much plainer as the neophyte studies Masonic history - but, alas, many never open a Masonic book! Yet divergences in ritual cannot be understood without some historical background. It is necessary to understand, for instance, that Freemasonry came to this country, some time prior to 1731, at a time when English ritual was in a process of formation. We did not receive our Masonry from one central source. but from several; nor did we obtain it as a whole. Several different localities, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia) received Freemasonry from across the sea and from them our forms and ceremonies radiated to other sections. The schism in the first Grand Lodge in England (1753) resulted in two Grand Lodges; the “Ancients” (the younger, schismatic body) and the “Moderns”” (the older. original Grand Lodge). Each had its own ritual; our rituals sometimes lean to one, sometimes to the other, and often to both. Literal ritualism is comparatively a modern matter; and “mouth to ear” in the early days meant nothing more than giving of information, not transmitting it in a set form of words. Most of our Grand Lodges have been formed by a union of particular Lodges, many of which received each its ritual from a different source, with the result that the ritual finally adopted is a combination of several. And finally, Grand Lodges have not infrequently changed, added to and taken from their own rituals, either as matter of legislation or by the easier course (in early days) of adopting with little or no question the variations suggested by positive minded ritualists, Grand Lecturers, Custodians of the Work, ritual committees and so on. Some of these, unfortunately, had little or no Masonic background, and changed and altered, added and subtracted with no better reason than “this seems much better to us!”
Certain fundamentalists are to all intents and purposes the same in every one of our forty-nine Grand Jurisdictions. All American Lodges have a Master and two Wardens, a Secretary and Treasurer, an Alter with the V.S.L. and the other Great Lights, three degrees; unanimous ballot required; make Masons only of men; have the same Substitute Word given in the same way; are tiled; have a ceremony of opening and closing. To some extent all dramatize and exemplify the Master’s Degree, although the amount of drama and exemplification differs widely.
But beyond these and a few other simple essentials are wide variations. Aprons are worn one way in one degree in one Jurisdiction and another way in the same degree in another. Some Jurisdictions have more officers in a Lodge than others. In some Jurisdictions Lodges open and close on the Master Mason’s degree; others on the First degree; others only in the degree which it to be “worked.” Lesser Lights are grouped closely about the Altar, in the stations of the Master and Wardens. In some Lodges the I.P.M. (immediate Past Master) plays an important part, as in England. Other Lodges know him not Some Lodges have Inner Guards and two Masters of Ceremonies - others will have none of these.
Dividing, lettering, syllabling are almost as various in practice as the Jurisdictions. Obligations show certain close similarities in some requirements; but what is a part of the obligation in one jurisdiction may be merely an admonition in another, and “vice versa.”
Discovering all this (and much more) the thoughtful initiate is apt to wonder why it is deemed so important that he memorize his own particular “work” so closely; when he travels he finds that what he knows as familiar words and forms and phrases are strange to the Lodges he visits. Not is this the place to ague for purity of the ritual as taught. There are good and sufficient reasons why we should hand on to our sons and their sons the ritual as we received it - if only to preserve without further alteration and change that which was formed by the fathers. Suffice it that while uniformity in work within a Jurisdiction is fairly well established as good American Masonic practice, it is not universal. there are several “workings” for instance, permitted in English Lodges, and even in some American Jurisdictions (“vide” Connecticut) not all Lodges use the same ritual. The reasons for all this are so involved, complex, and cover such a long period; that a complete understanding is difficult even for the student willing to read the enormous amount of history and authority which may make it plain. Briefly, and in general, the matter becomes clearer if we visualize our sources of ritual.
We received our Masonry from:
The Mother Grand Lodge of England 1717-1753
The Grand Lodge of the “Ancients” 1753-1813
The Grand Lodge of the “Moderns” 1753-1813
The United Grand Lodge 1813 and on -
The Grand Lodge of Ireland 1724- and on -
The Grand Lodge of Scotland 1736 and on -
and From the Pre-Grand Lodge era of Lodges of England, Ireland and (or) Scotland.
Unfortunately for the historian, this list does not signify six or seven different but “pure” forms. The ritual of the original Grand Lodge changed as it flowed, through many years after 1717. The Grand Lodges of “Ancients” and “Moderns both made alterations in ritual so that rival members of each body found it impossible to make themselves known Masonically in the other. Ireland and Scotland were, and are, as different as Pennsylvania and California. From pre-Grand Lodges members came to this country to form themselves into Lodges without Warrant or Charter (as was the custom in early days). A dozen men, bringing “what they remembered of the” ritual they heard when “made,” to form a Lodge, would naturally include in their ritual a little of one original source, some phrases from another beginning, a paragraph from a third wellspring, and so on.
The Mother Grand Lodge ritual (1717 to 1753) was not the ritual of the United Grand Lodge which came into existence in 1813, when the two parts of the original Mother Grand Lodge (“Ancients” and “Moderns”) again came together. The United Grand Lodge, or Grand Lodge of Reconciliation, formed its ritual from the best of the divergent rituals of the “Ancients” and the “Moderns.”
Thus, Lodges in this country which received ritual, in any and all states of purity or impurity, from either of these several sources, would differ decidedly each from the other.
Come we now to the spread of Masonry in the thirteen colonies, and later, through the forty-eight states, territories, and the District of Columbia. To write even one paragraph of Masonic history of ritual in so many subdivisions would make this Bulletin unreadably long. But a few high lights may be noted.
From our primary American sources of ritual, in one way or another all other American Grand Jurisdictions, in part at least, received their “work;” Massachusetts, which at first sent forth what must have been at least an approximation of the work of the original Mother Grand Lodge, though her ritual today is derived from both “Moderns” and “Ancients;” Pennsylvania and Virginia, both giving forth individual variants of a combination of “Modern” and “Ancient,” and North Carolina, almost purely “Modern.”
In 1915 Dean Roscoe Pound showed how various were the next groups of States which received their rituals from the first four American sources. He developed that Maine derived from Massachusetts since the fusion; Vermont derived from the Grand Lodge of “Ancients” in Massachusetts before the fusion; Ohio derived from Massachusetts, from Connecticut, a strictly “Modern” Jurisdiction, and from Pennsylvania; Indiana derived from Ohio and Kentucky, which later represents Virginia after the fusion, Michigan derived from the “Ancient” Grand Lodge of Canada and from New York, which since the Revolution was a Strictly “Ancient” Jurisdiction; Kentucky derived from Virginia; Tennessee derived from North Carolina, a purely “Modern” Jurisdiction; Alabama derived from North Carolina, from South Carolina and from Tennessee, thus representing Virginia and North Carolina; Louisiana derived from South Carolina, from Pennsylvania and from France; Florida derived from Georgia and from South Carolina; Missouri derived from Pennsylvania and from Tennessee, representing therefore, the fusion in Pennsylvania and the “Modern Masonry” of North Carolina; Illinois derived from Kentucky and so represents Virginia; and the District of Columbia derived Maryland (a fusion of “Modern Masonry from Massachusetts and from England direct, with the “Ancient Masonry” from Pennsylvania), and from Virginia.
The further west we go, the more we find a mixture of sources, complicated rather than simplified by such matters as the splitting of the Grand Lodge of Dakota into the Grand Lodge the of South Dakota and North Dakota, when these two States were formed, and the formation of the Grand Lodge of California, which drew its work from many different sources. California Lodge No.13, of the District of Columbia, was formed for the purpose of carrying Masonry to the Golden Gate at the time of the gold rush. That Lodge is now No.1 on the California Grand Lodge Register. But California’s ritual is not more similar to the District of Columbia working than that of any other State, since the District Lodge was but one of several which formed the Grand Lodge of California.
There have been certain unifying influences; the Baltimore Convention of 1843, the conclusions of which were adopted in whole or in part by several American Grand Jurisdictions, and the work of Bob Morris and his conservators, which, despite its chilly reception by many Grand Jurisdictions, undoubtedly left its impression on American ritual. A third unifying influence has been the tremendous impress made on almost all American Jurisdictions by Thomas Smith Webb, and Jeremy Cross, plainly evident in the exoteric paragraphs printed in many State Monitors or Manuals. A fourth has been the honest desire and strenuous efforts of many Grand Lodges through District Deputies, Grand Lecturers, Schools of Instruction and similar machinery, to preserve what they have in its supposedly ancient perfection. But by the time these latter were in operation, ritual was more or less fixed. Because of the reverence of the average Mason for what he is taught, and his fierce resentment of any material change in that which he learns, rituals and degree forms, ceremonies and practices, usages and customs continue to be what he believes them to have been “from time immemorial” even when sober fact shows that they have an antiquity of (in all probability) less than two hundred years.
For the benefit of those Masons to whom divergence of ritual is not the less distressing thing, but that it is understandable, it may be said that most authorities agree that it is really not a matter of great moment. All over the world Freemasonry teaches the same truths, offers the same spiritual comfort, creates and continues the same fraternal bond. In “non essentials, variety; in essentials, unity” might have been written of Masonry. It matters little how we wear the apron in a given degree - so be it that it is worn with honor. The method of giving a sign or a pass matters much less than that what we do is done with understanding.
While Freemasonry continues to observe and revere those few Landmarks which are undisputed everywhere - those which Joseph Fort Newton says are “The Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man, and the hope of Life Everlasting,” it becomes of less moment that different men, in different times, in different localities, have found more than one way to phrase and to teach the ancient verities of the old, old Craft.
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