"It seems to me," began the New Brother, offering a cigar to the Old Tiler, "that we make unnecessary demands on a candidate."
"Thanks," answered the Old Tiler. "Such as what, for instance?"
"A candidate who has received the Entered Apprentice degree must perfect himself in it before he gets his Fellowcraft. After he is a Fellowcraft he must learn that ritual before he can become a Master Mason. I can see the reason why all brethren must understand them and be able to tell about degrees, but I don't see why we must learn word for word and letter for letter. Last meeting we turned back a young fellow because he had not learned his Entered Apprentice degree. If he didn't learn it because he didn't want to he wasn't worth having, but it seems he just couldn't. Refusing him was an injustice. He's only one-third a Mason, and not likely to get any farther."
"You sure think of a lot of things Masonic to find fault with!" countered the Old Tiler. "But we would get along faster if you didn't mix your questions."
"How do you mean, mix them?"
"In one breath you want to know why Masonry requires learning degrees by heart, and don't I think it was an injustice to a certain young fellow because we wouldn't admit him to full membership when he couldn't or didn't, only you don't think it an injustice but a righteousness if he could and didn't. You agree that one of the safeguards of Masonry which keep it pure is what we call the ancient landmarks?"
"And you know one of the landmarks is that Masonry is secret?"
"If we printed the work would it be secret?"
"Certainly not. But you don't have to print it."
"No? But if we can't print it and won't learn it, how are we to give it to our sons?"
"Oh!" The New Brother saw a great light. "We all learn the work and so know when mistakes are made and correct them in the workers, and our sons hear the same work we did and learn it and transmit it. But wouldn't it be enough if only a few men learned the work- those well qualified and with good memories? How would that do?"
"It is good Masonry and good Americanism that the majority rules. Masonry is not a despotism but a democracy. If a favored few were the custodians of the work would not the favored few soon become the rulers of Masonry, just as the favored few have always ruled the lazy, the ignorant, and the stupid?"
"If that happened we'd just put them out of office."
"And put in men who didn't know the work? Then what becomes of your landmark?"
"You are too many for me," laughed the New Brother. "I guess there is a reason why we have to learn the work. But I still think we might make an occasional exception when a man just can't memorize."
"If you read the Bible, you know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump. One bad egg will spoil an omelette. The man who won't learn is not fit to be a Mason, since he is not willing to tread the path all his brethren have trod. The man who can't learn the work hasn't control enough of his brain to enable him to appreciate Masonic blessings. This is no question of education. A brother of this lodge has had so little education that he barely reads and write. His grammar is fearful and his knowledge of science so full of things that are not so that it is funny when it isn't pathetic. But he is a good Mason for all that, and bright as a dollar at learning the work. It's only the stupid, the lazy, the indifferent and dull-witted, the selfish and foolish man who can't learn or won't learn Masonry. They add nothing to it; it is better they are kept out. To make an exception merely would be to leaven our lump with sour leaven."
"But, Old Tiler, many who learned it once have forgotten it now."
"Of course they have! You can't do a quadratic equation or tell me the principle cities in Greenland, or bound Poland, or do a Latin declination. You learned it and forgot it. But you had the mental training. If I told you a quadratic was worked with an adding machine, that Poland was in china, or that hocus-pocus meant Caesar's lives, you'd know I was wrong. Same way with ritual; leaning it is Masonic training, and though we often forget it we never lose it entirely, and through the whole of us it is preserved to posterity."
"Oh, all right! I learned mine, any way. Have another cigar, won't you?"
"Thanks," answered the Old Tiler. "You have learned rather well, I'll admit, that I like your cigars!"
Old Tyler' Talk- Date Unknown
Surely no Mason ever forgets the moment when he is placed in the Northeast Corner of the Lodge, and hears the Master say, that he there stands a just and upright Mason. It is one of the thrills along the great journey of initiation, a point at which the idea and purpose of Masonry begin to take shape in the mind.
A thrill of joy is felt in the Lodge, not only by the initiate but by the Master and the Brethren, as if a son had been born, or a new friend found; a note of exaltation on having arrived at so happy a climax, as when a pilgrim pauses to rejoice in so much of a journey done. And naturally so, because the Corner Stone of a Mason's life has been laid.
Always, as far back as we can go in the story of mankind, the laying of a Cornerstone has been a happy event. It has always been celebrated with solemn and joyous rites. It is the basis of a new building, the beginning of a new enterprise; and the good will of God is invoked to bless the builders and the building.
How much more, then, should it be so when a man takes the first step out of Darkness toward the Light, and begins the adventure of a new life! More important by far then Temple or Cathedral is the building of a moral character and a spiritual personality. Stones will rot and Temples crumble under the attrition of time, but moral qualities and spiritual values belong to the Eternal Life.
The initiate stands in the Northeast Corner on a foundation of Justice, the one virtue by which alone a man can live with himself or with his fellows. Without it no structure will stand, in architecture, as Ruskin taught us, much less in morals. In the Rite of Destitution he has learned to love Mercy, and at the Altar of Obligation prayer has been offered, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet:
"He hath Shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God!"
In the Northeast Corner the initiate stands midway between the North, the place of darkness, and the East, the place of Light, whence healing, revealing rays fall upon the life of man. Such is his position, symbolically, and rightly so. He is an Entered Apprentice, a beginner in the Masonic Art, neither in the Dark nor in the Light. He has come out of the Darkness, his face set toward the Light, and his quest is for more Light, with yet much light to dawn upon him. What is life for? To live, of course; and only by living it do we learn what it is for, much less how live it. It is ever an adventure, a new adventure for each man, despite the millions that have lived before us, since, as Keats said about poets, "We Never Really Understand Fine Things Until We Have Gone The Same Steps As The Author." Only by living can we learn what life is, verifying the wisdom of ages alike by our virtues and our vices.
Yet it means much to have the wisdom learned by ages of living taught us in symbols and told us in a story, as it is taught us and told us in a Masonic Lodge. It brings to us the truth tried by time and tragedy, and the principles wrought out and discovered by the race in its long experience. It gives us a plan, a picture, a prophecy, and the fellowship of men going the same road.
The initiate stands Erect in the Northeast Corner, upright and ready to receive his working tools, a son of the Light, himself a living stone to be polished. What is more wonderful, what more beautiful, than Youth standing erect before God - not cringing, not groveling - seeking the Light by which to make its way through the dim country of this world to the City that hath foundations! Truly, our Masonry is the organized poetry of faith!
But why the Northeast Corner? Would not some other corner of the Lodge do as well? Perhaps it would, but Masonry is very old, going back into a time far gone, when ordinary things had meanings, real or imaginary, beyond their practical use. Such a question opens a window into things quaint, curious, and even awful; and all sorts of explanations are offered us, some of which may be named.
For example, Albert Pike spread out the map of the old world of the East - the mystical territory whence so many of our symbols and legends have come - and found that "The Apprentice represents the Aryan race in it original home on the highlands of Pamir, in the north of that Asia termed Orient, at the angle whence, upon two great lines of emigration South and West, they flowed forth in successive waves to conquer and colonize the world."
Well, what of it, interesting though it may be as a fact of long ago, if a fact it is? What truth can it teach us to our profit, beyond the suggestion that the House of Initiation took the form of the world as it was then mapped in the mind, and that the procession of initiation follows the line of march of a conquering race? It may be valuable, as preserving the dim outline of ancient history - but not otherwise.
Another student, seeking the secret of Masonry in solar symbolism and mythology, looks at the same map of the Eastern World, in the frame of an Oblong Square, studying the movements of the Sun from season to season. He finds that the point farthest North and the point farthest South on the map mark the Summer and Winter Solstices, respectively. In other words, the Northeast Corner of the World, as them mapped, is the point in the annual course of the Sun when it reaches the extreme northern limit; the longest day in the year, which in Masonry we dedicate to St. John the Baptist, the Prophet of righteousness.
Then, turning to the history of religion, he finds, not unnaturally, many rites of primitive peoples - magical rituals and Midsummer Night Dreams - celebrating the Summer Solstice. Many hints and relics of the old Light Religion are preserved for us in Masonry - rays of its faiths and fictions - one of them being that the Northeast Corner of the Universe, and so of the Lodge of which it is a symbol, is the seat of the Sun-God in the prime of his power.
So, too, the Northeast Corner, as the throne of God in hour of his majesty, became a place unique in the symbols of man, having special virtue and sanctity. As we read in the Institutes of Menu: "If he has any incurable disease, let him advance in a straight path towards the invincible northeast point, feeding on water and air till his mortal frame totally decays, and his soul becomes united with the Supreme." What more appropriate a place from which to start an edifice, or to place an Apprentice as he begins to build the Temple of his Masonic life?
Also, because of such magical ideas associated with the Northeast Corner, it was a cruel custom for ages to bury a living human being under the corner stone of a building, to mollify the Gods, and, later, as a token of the sacrifice involved in all building. Horrible as the custom was, here no doubt was a crude sense of the law of sacrifice running through all human life, never to be escaped, even by the loftiest souls, as we see on a dark cross outside the city gate.
In the crude ages all things were crude; even the holiest insights took awful shapes of human sacrifice. Life is costly, and man has paid a heavy price for the highest truth. For there is a law of heavenly death by which man advances - the death, that is, of all that is unheavenly within him - that the purer, clearer truth may rise. Evermore, by a law of dying into life, man grows - dying to his lower, lesser self and releasing the angel hidden within him. Thinking of all these strands of thought and faith and sorrow woven into the symbolism of the Lodge, how can any one watch without emotion as the Apprentice takes his place, upright and eager, in the Northeast Corner. There he stands, against a background of myth, symbol and old sacrifice, erect before God, and one thinks of the great words in the Book of Ezekiel:
"And God said unto me, Son of Man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me." Such is the challenge of God to the manhood of man, asking him to stand erect and unafraid, and commune as friend to friend. Alas, it is not easy to keep the upright posture, physically or morally, in the midst of the years with their blows and burdens. At last, a dark Ruffian lays us low in death, and only the Hand of God, with its strong grip, can lift us from a dead level and set us on our feet forever. So, at least, Masonry teaches us to believe and live:
Lord, I believe Man is no little thing that, like a bird in spring, Comes fluttering to the Light of Life, And out of the darkness of long death. The breath of God is in him, And his age long strife With evil has a meaning and an end. Though twilight dim his vision be Yet can he see Thy Truth, And in the cool of evening, Thou, his friend, Dost walk with him, and talk Did not the Word take flesh? Of the great destiny That waits him and his race. In days that are to be By grace he can achieve great things, And, on the wings of strong desire, Mount upward ever, higher and higher, Until above the clouds of earth he stands, And stares God in the face.
"SO MOTE IT BE"
Short Talk Bulletin 1927 Nov. Vol. 5
All Masons are taught of Wisdom, Strength and Beauty; the words “For there should be Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support and Beauty to adorn” are older than our Rituals.
Attempting, as we do, to convey an outline of Masonic wisdom in three degrees, conferred in three evenings, our work necessarily devotes but little time to any one of our great teachings. We give the hint, refer the initiate to the Great Light, abjure to study the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, instruct him to converse with well- informed Masons, and pass on to offer another outline of a great truth.
It would take pages, where here are but paragraphs, even to list the references to Wisdom in the Great Light; the word occurs in the Bible two hundred and twenty-four times!
For Masons, however, perhaps the most illuminating passage regarding wisdom is from I Kings (IV. 30-32):
“Solomon’s wisdom exceeded the wisdom of all children of the east country and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman and Chalcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the nations round about.”
As might be expected of the man who was wiser than “all children of the East country,” Solomon esteemed wisdom greatly. In Proverbs he says: “Incline thine ear unto wisdom and apply thy heart to understanding. Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver and the gain thereof than fine gold. For wisdom is better than rubies and all things that may be desired are not to be compared to it!”
It is easy, Masonically, to confuse wisdom with knowledge as it is to do so in profane life. Pope is often misquoted:
“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”
What he really said was “a little ‘learning’ is a dangerous thing,” which is as different from knowledge as is wisdom.
Knowledge is the cognizance of facts. Wisdom is the strength of mind to apply its knowledge. A Mason may know every word of our ritual from the beginning of the entered Apprentice Degree to the final words of the Sublime Degree of Master Mason and still have no wisdom, Masonic or otherwise. Many a great leader of the Craft has been a stumbling, halting ritualist; yet possessed in abundance a Masonic wisdom which made him a power for good among the brethren, by whom he was well beloved.
Knowledge comes from study; Wisdom from experience.
Knowledge may be the possession of the criminal, the wastrel, the “irreligious libertine” and the atheist. Wisdom comes only to the wise, and the wise are ever good.
Surely the first of the three Grand Columns which support our Institution should be taken to heart by every Mason as a symbol of the real need of a brother to become wise with the goodness of Masonry, skilled in the arts of brotherhood, learned in the way to the hearts of his brethren. If he knew not, and asked “how may I gain Masonic Wisdom,” let him find the answer not in the ritual, important though it is; not in the form and ceremony, beautiful though they are, and in themselves strong with the strength of repetition and age - let him look to the Five Points of Fellowship, for there is the key to the real wisdom of the brotherhood of man.
The connection between wisdom, strength and beauty is by no means confined to Masonry. The terms have been associated in many great and good minds. Thus, Tupper sings:
“Few and precious are the words which the lips of Wisdom utter
To what shall their rarity be likened, what price shall count their worth?
Perfect and much to be desired, and giving joy with riches,
No lovely thing on earth can picture all their beauty.”
“What is strength, without a double share of wisdom?
Vast, unwieldy, burdensome;
Proudly secure, yet liable to fall By weakest subtleties;
not made to rule But to subserve, where wisdom bears command.”
And the immortal Bard of Avon knew:
“O, how much doth beauty beauteous seem
by that sweet adornment which truth doth give!”
Strength, the second of our Grand Columns, without which nothing endures, not even when contrived by wisdom and adorned with beauty; we know in two forms in our daily lives. First, the strength which lies in action, power, might - the strength of the arm, the engine, the army. Second, that other, subtler strength which is not less strong for being passive; the strength of the column which supports, the strength of the foundation which endures; the strength of the principles by which we live, individually, collectively, nationally - Masonically.
It is the second form of strength with which the Speculative Mason is concerned. Freemasons build no temporal building. True, we do lay the cornerstone of the public building in the northeast corner, but the building is symbolic, not practical. The operative Mason who sets the stone for the Grand Master would place it as strongly in the building without our ceremony as with it. Our building is with the strength which endures in hearts and minds rather than that which makes the sun-dry materials of which an edifice is composed to do man’s will. The Freemason constructs only the spiritual building; his stone is his mind; mentally, not physically, chipped by the common gavel to a perfect ashlar. The strength by which he establishes his kingdom is not a strength of iron but a strength of will; his pillars support not a wall to keep out the cowans and eavesdroppers, but a character, proof against the intrusion of the vices and superfluities of life.
The lesson of the second column is made plain in the second degree.
The “promise of God unto David” may be found by any who will read in II Samuel”
“And when thy days shall be fulfilled and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee which shall proceed out of thy bowels and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house in my name and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
He who reads not merely the promise, but the reason for it, will understand that when David wished to build a house for the Lord, the Prophet Nathan brought him a message of the Lord, that he, not David, will build a “house not made with hands” in the form of sons and their sons forever. Later, in the Great Light, we learn that the house which is “the Temple of the Holy Spirit” is man. If we follow out Masonic teachings, and believe that “the inestimable gift of God to man for the rule and guide of his faith” holds a true interpretation of the Mason’s conception of life and living, the “strength” which Masons should strive to acquire is that which will establish our sovereignty over ourselves, that our kingdom of character may endure.
Beauty is represented in a Masonic lodge by the Corinthian Column, most beautiful of the ancient orders of architecture; by the Junior Warden, who observes the sun at Meridian when the day is most beautiful; by Hiram Abif, who “beautified and adorned the Temple.”
We are taught that it is as necessary that beauty adorn all great and important undertakings as that wisdom contrives and strength supports them. In the story of Solomon’s Temple in the Great Light we find detailed descriptions of what was evidently, to those who went into details of its construction; the most beautiful building possible for the engineering skill, the wealth and the conception of the people of Israel of that day.
Artists have disputed and philosophers have differed about what is beauty. All of us have our individual conceptions of what constitutes it. That the beauty is largely in the mind of the beholder is demonstrated vividly to every traveler! The Turk thinks Ruben’s women are beautiful; while the American admires the pulchritude of the slender woman. Doubtless the pyramids were beautiful to the Egyptians, but modern architecture finds them too plain, too severe for beauty. Harmonies which the trained musical ear enjoys are but sounding brass and tinkling cymbal to the radio devotee, who finds in the spontaneity of a Negro jazz orchestra something to which his conception of musical beauty responds to. The man who finds pleasure in Edgar Guest gets none from Swinburne, or the sonnets to the Portuguese; he who finds beauty in a diatom or a bacteria under a microscope will see none in tiger or a rose.
Obviously then, the beauty of which Masons are taught is that variety which, like the “natural religion” of the Old Charges, is one “in which all men agree.”
As no two men are agreed as to what is beautiful in a material sense, the Masonic conception of beauty cannot be of a material beauty. Its symbol of beauty - the sun at Meridian - is actually blinding to see.
If we think the sun is beautiful, it is, for what it does for us rather than for what it is.
The Masonic Pillar of Beauty then, must be the symbol of an inward loveliness; a beauty of the mind, of the heart; a beauty of idea and ideal; a beauty of the spirit. Our Corinthian Column is to us not merely the support of the building, but that which upholds a character. Our Junior Warden represents not only the beauty of the sun at Meridian, but the illumination by which a life is made beautiful. Hiram Abif is to us not only an exemplary character but an ideal to follow, a tradition to be preserved, a glory for which we may strive.
All about us, among our neighbors, are examples of what we term “a beautiful life.” Such beauty is almost wholly composed of unselfishness. He who walks in beauty thinks of others before himself, of stretching forth his hand, not for personal gain, but to help, aid and assist the poor and the unfortunate. Such a conception of the third Grand Column is foreshadowed in our teaching that “the greatest of these is charity” - charity of thought, of action, of understanding as well as of alms and of giving.
Masonic beauty was wholly an operative matters in the days when the Gothic Cathedrals first lifted their arches and spires to heaven.
Today, when Masonry is purely speculative, Masonic beauty must be considered only as a beauty of the spirit.
It cannot be had by wishing. It is not painted by the brush of desire. No musician may compose it upon any material piano. The poet may write about it, but he cannot phrase it. For it is of the inward essence which marks the difference between the “real good man” and he who only outwardly conforms to the laws and customs of society.
A man may keep every law, go to church three times on Sunday, belong to our Order and subscribe to every charity; and still be mean of spirit, unhappy to live with, selfish, inconsiderate, and disagreeable. Such a one has not learned the inward meaning of the Pillar of Beauty. He has never stood, symbolically in the South.
For him, the sun at Meridian is but the orb of the day at high noon and nothing more.
But for the real Mason, the brother who takes the lessons of the three Grand Columns to heart, Beauty is as much a lamp to live by as are Wisdom and Strength. He finds beauty in his fellow-man because his inner self is beautiful. His “house not made with hands” is glorious before heaven, not because, in imitation of Solomon, he “overlaid also the house, the beams, the post and the walls thereof and doors thereof with gold” but because it is made of those stones which endureth before the Great Architect - unselfishness, and kindness, and consideration, and charity, and a giving spirit - in other words, of brotherhood genuine because it springs from the heart.
For these things endure. Material things pass away.
The Temple of Solomon is but a memory. Scattered are the stones, stolen is the gold and silver, destroyed are the lovely vessels cast by Hiram Abif. But the memory. like the history of the beauty and the glory which was Solomon, abide into this day. So shall it be with our “house not built with hands,” so be it if we build with the Beauty which Masons teach.
In conclusion consider an oddity of this dear old Craft of ours, a coincidence to be cherished in the heart, if only to keep constantly in memory of the real meaning of the three Grand Columns.
The ancient Hebrew word for strength is “Daath.”
The ancient Hebrew word for strength is “Oz.”
The ancient Hebrew word for a hewn stone, our perfect Ashlar, which may well stand here as meaning beauty, is “Gazith.”
According to our ideas, Hebrew is read backwards.
The initials of these three Old Testament words, read backwards, produce our name for Deity!
Surely it is the Great Architect, of whom they speak to the Mason who hath ears to hear, to whom we must look for the inner and spiritual meaning of the three Grand Columns which support our Institution!
Short Talk Bulletins June 1930 Vol. 8
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